Taken from The Power of the Spirit or A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law.
Self is the root, the tree, and the branches of all the evils of our fallen state. We are without God, because we are in the life of self. Self-love, self-esteem, and self-seeking, are the very essence, and life of pride; and the devil the first father of pride, is never absent from them, nor without power in them. To die to these essential properties of self, is to make the devil depart from us. But as soon as we would have self-abilities have a share in our good works, the satanic spirit of pride is in union with us, and we are working for the maintenance of self-love, self-esteem, and self-seeking.
All the vices of fallen angels and men have their birth and power in the pride of self, or I may better say, in the atheism and idolatry of self; for self is both atheist and idolator. It is atheist, because it has rejected God; it is an idolator, because it is its own idol. On the other hand, all the virtues of the heavenly life are the virtues of humility. Not a joy, or glory, or praise in heaven, but is what it is through humility. It is humility alone that makes the unpassable gulf between heaven and hell. No angels in heaven, but because humility is in all their breath; no devils in hell, but because the fire of pride is their whole fire of life.
What is then, or in what lies the great struggle for eternal life? It all lies in the strife between PRIDE and HUMILITY: all other things, be they what they will, are but as under workmen; pride and humility are the two master powers, the two kingdoms of strife for the eternal possession of man.
And here it is to be observed, that every son of Adam is in the service of pride and self, be he doing what he will, till a humility that comes solely from heaven has been his redeemer. Till then, all that he doth will be only done by the right hand, that the left hand may know it. And he that thinks it possible for the natural man to get a better humility than this from his own right reason (as it is often miscalled) refined by education, shows himself quite ignorant of this one most plain and capital truth of the gospel, namely, that there never was, nor ever will be, but one humility in the whole world, and that is the one humility of Christ, which never any man, since the fall of Adam, had the least degree of but from Christ. Humility is one, in the same sense and truth, as Christ is one, the mediator is one, redemption is one. There are not two Lambs of God that take away the sins of the world. But if there was any humility besides that of Christ, there would be something else besides him that could take away the sins of the world. "All that came before me," says Christ, "were thieves and robbers": we are used to confine this to persons; but the same is as true of every virtue, whether it has the name of humility, charity, piety, or anything else; if it comes before Christ, however good it may pretend to be, it is but a cheat, a thief, and a robber, under the name of godly virtue. And the reason is, because pride and self have the all of man, till man has his all from Christ. He therefore only fights the good fight, whose strife is, that the self-idolatrous nature which he hath from Adam may be brought to death, by the supernatural humility of Christ brought to life in him.
The enemies to man's rising out of the fall of Adam, through the Spirit and power of Christ, are many. But the one great dragon-enemy, called anti-Christ, is SELF-EXALTATION. This is his birth, his pomp, his power, and his throne; when self-exaltation ceases, the last enemy is destroyed, and all that came from the pride and death of Adam is swallowed up in victory.
There has been much sharp looking out, to see where and what anti-Christ is, or by what marks he may be known. Some say he has been in the Christian world almost ever since the gospel times, nay, that he was even then beginning to appear and show himself. Others say he came in with this, or that pope; others that he is not yet come, but near at hand. Others will have it, that he has been here, and there, but driven from one place to another by several new risen Protestant sects.
But to know with certainty, where and what anti-Christ is, and who is with him, and who against him, you need only read this short description which Christ gives of himself." (1) I can do nothing of myself. (2) I came not to do my own will. (3) I seek not my own glory. (4) I am meek and lowly of heart." Now if this is Christ, then self-ability or self-exaltation, being the highest and fullest contrariety to all this, must be alone the one great anti-Christ, that opposes and withstands the whole nature and Spirit of Christ.
What therefore has everyone so much to fear, to renounce and abhor, as every inward sensibility of self-exaltation, and every outward work that proceeds from it. But now, at what things shall a man look, to see that working of self which raises pride to its strongest life, and most of all hinders the birth of the humble Jesus in his soul? Shall he call the pomps and vanities of the world the highest works of self-adoration? Shall he look at the fops and beaux, and painted ladies, to see the pride that has the most of anti-Christ in it? No, by no means. These are indeed marks, shameful enough, of the vain, foolish heart of man, but yet, comparatively speaking, they are but the skin-deep follies of that pride which the fall of man has begotten and brought forth in him. Would you see the deepest root, and iron-strength of pride and self-adoration, you must enter into the dark chamber of man's fiery soul, where the light of God (which alone gives humility and meek submission to all created spirits) being extinguished by the death which Adam died, satan, or which is the same thing self-exaltation became the strong man that kept possession of the house, till a stronger than he should come upon him. In this secret source of an eternal fiery soul, glorying in the astral light of this world, a swelling kingdom of pomps and vanities is set up in the heart of man, of which, all outward pomps and vanities are but its childish transitory playthings. The inward strong man of pride, the diabolical self, has his higher works within; he dwells in the strength of the heart, and has every power and faculty of the soul offering continual incense to him. His memory, his will, his understanding, his imagination, are always at work for him, and for no one else. His memory is the faithful repository of all the fine things that self has ever done; and lest anything of them should be lost or forgotten, she is continually setting them before his eyes. His will, though it has all the world before it, yet goes after nothing, but as self sends it. His understanding is ever upon the stretch for new projects to enlarge the dominions of self; and if this fails, imagination comes in, as the last and truest support of self, she makes him a king and mighty lord of castles in the air.
This is that full-born natural self, that must be pulled out of the heart, and totally denied, or there can be no disciple of Christ; which is only saying this plain truth, that the apostate self-idolatrous nature of the old man must be put off, or there can be no new creature in Christ.
Now what is it in the human soul that most of all hinders the death of this old man? What is it that above all other things strengthens and exalts the life of self, and makes it the master and governor of all the powers of the heart and soul? It is the fancied riches of parts, the glitter of genius, the flights of imagination, the glory of learning, and the self-conceited strength of natural reason: these are the strongholds of fallen nature, the master-builders of pride's temple in the heart of man, and which, as so many priests, keep up the daily worship of idol-self. And here let it be well, and well observed, that all these magnified talents of the natural man are started up through his miserable fall from the life of God in his soul. Wit, genius, learning, and natural reason, would never have had any more a name among men, than blindness, ignorance, and sickness, had man continued, as at first, an holy image of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Everything then that dwelt in him, or came from him, would have only said so much of God, and nothing of himself, have manifested nothing to him but the heavenly powers of the triune life of God dwelling in him. He would have had no more sense or consciousness of his own wit, or natural reason, or any power of goodness in all that he was, and did, than of his own creating power, at beholding the created heavens and earth. It is his dreadful fall from the life of God in his soul, that has furnished him with the substantial riches of his bestial appetites and lusts. And when the lusts of the flesh have spent out their life, when the dark thick body of earthly flesh and blood shall be forced to let the soul go loose, all these bright talents will end with that system of fleshly lusts, in which they begun; and that of man which remains will have nothing of its own, nothing that can say, I do this, or I do that; but all that it has or does, will be either the glory of God manifested in it, or the power of hell in full possession of it. The time of man's playing with parts, wit, and abilities, and of fancying himself to be something great and considerable in the intellectual world, may be much shorter, but can be no longer, than he can eat and drink with the animals of this world. When the time comes, that fine buildings, rich settlements, acquired honors, and rabbi, rabbi, must take their leave of him, all the stately structures, which genius, learning, and flights of imagination, have painted inwardly on his brain and outwardly on paper, must bear full witness to Solomon's vanity of vanities.
Let then the high accomplished scholar reflect, that he comes by his wit, and parts, and acute abilities, just as the serpent came by his subtlety; let him reflect, that he might as well dream of acquiring angelic purity to his animal nature by multiplying new invented delights for his earthly passions and tempers, as of raising his soul into divine knowledge through the well exercised powers of his natural reason and imagination.
The finest intellectual power, and that which has the best help in it towards bringing man again into the region of divine light, is that poor despised thing called simplicity. This is that which stops the workings of the fallen life of nature, and leaves room for God to work again in the soul, according to the good pleasure of his holy will. It stands in such a waiting posture before God, and in such readiness for the divine birth, as the plants of the earth wait for the inflowing riches of the light and air. But the self-assuming workings of man's natural powers shut him up in himself, closely barred up against the inflowing riches of the light and Spirit of God.
Yet so it is, in this fallen state of the gospel church, that with these proud endowments of fallen nature, the classic scholar, full fraught with pagan light and skill, comes forth to play the critic and orator with the simplicity of salvation mysteries; mysteries which mean nothing else but the inward work of the triune God in the soul of man, nor any other work there, but the raising up of a dead Adam into a living Christ of God.
However, to make way for parts, criticism, and language-learning, to have the full management of salvation doctrines, the well-read scholar gives out, that the ancient way of knowing the things of God, taught and practiced by fishermen-apostles, is obsolete. They indeed wanted to have divine knowledge from the immediate continual operation of the Holy Spirit, but this state was only for a time, till genius, and learning entered into the pale of the church. Behold, if ever, "the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place!" For as soon as the doctrine is set up, that man's natural parts and acquired learning have full right and power to sit in the divinity chair, and to guide men into that truth which was once the only office and power of the Holy Spirit, as soon as this is done, and so far as it is received, it may with the greatest truth be said, that the kingdom of God is entirely shut up, and only a kingdom of scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites, can come instead of it. For by this doctrine the whole nature and power of gospel religion is much more denied, than by setting up the infallibility of the pope; for though his claim to infallibility is false, yet he claims it from and under the Holy Spirit; but the Protestant scholar has his divinity knowledge, his power in the kingdom of truth, from himself, his own logic, and learned reason. Christ has nowhere instituted an infallible pope; and it is full as certain, that he has nowhere spoke one single word, or given the least power to logic, learning, or the natural powers of man, in his kingdom. He has never said to them, "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven"; never said to them, "go ye and teach all nations," no more than he has ever said to wolves, "go ye, and feed my sheep." Christ indeed said of himself, according to the flesh, it is expedient for you that I go away. But where has he said of himself according to the spirit, "It is also expedient for you that I go away, that your own natural abilities and learned reason may have the guidance of you into all truth?" This is nowhere said, unless logic can prove it from these words, "Without me ye can do nothing," and, "Lo, I am with you to the end of the world."
The first and main doctrine of Christ and his apostles was, to tell the Jews, "that the kingdom of God was at hand," or was come to them. Proof enough surely, that their church was not that kingdom of God, though by God's appointment, and under laws of his own commanding. But why not, when it was thus set up by God? It was because it had human and worldly things in it, consisted of carnal ordinances, and had only types, and figures, and shadows of a kingdom of God that was to come. Of this kingdom, Christ says, "My kingdom is not of this world"; and as a proof of it, he adds, "if it was of this world, then would my servants fight for me"; which was saying, that it was so different in kind, and so superior in nature to this world, that no sort of worldly power could either help, or hinder it. But of this world, into which the kingdom of God was come, the holy one of God says, "In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good comfort, I have overcome the world." Now how was it that Christ's victory was their victory? It was, because he was in them, and they in him, "Because I live, ye shall live also; in that day ye shall know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you."