« AnteriorContinuar »
fixed upon by men as the ultimate end of all their designs; yet the folly of this wisdom appears in this, that it suggests those means for the acquisition of these enjoyments, that are no ways fit to compass or acquire them, and that upon a double account,
(1.) That they are in themselves unable and insufficient for, and,
(2.) That they are frequently opposite to a successful attainment of them.
(1.) And first for their insufficiency. Let politicians contrive as accurately, project as deeply, and pursue what they have thus contrived and projected, as diligently as it is possible for human wit and industry to do; yet still the success of all depends upon the favour of an overruling hand. For God expressly claims it as a special part of his prerogative, to have the entire disposal of riches, honours, and whatsoever else is apt to command the desires of mankind here below; (Deut. viii. 18,) "It is the Lord thy God that giveth thee power to get wealth." And (1 Sam. ii. 30) God peremptorily declares himself the sole fountain of honour, telling us, that "those that honour him shall be honoured, and that those that despise him shall be lightly esteemed."
And then for dignities and preferments, we have the word of one, that could dispose of these things as much as kings could do, (Prov. xxix. 26,) where he tells us, that "many seek the ruler's favour:" that is, apply themselves both to his interest and humour, with all the arts of flattery and obsequiousness, the surest and the readiest ways (one would think) to advance a man; and yet, after all, it follows in the next words, that " every man's judgment cometh of the Lord." And that, whatsoever may be expected here, it is resolved only in the court of heaven, whether the man shall proceed favourite in the courts of princes, and after all his artificial attendance come to sit at the right hand, or be made a footstool. So that upon full trial of all the courses that policy could either devise or practise, the most experienced masters of it have been often forced to sit down with that complaint of the disciples, "We have toiled all night, and have caught nothing." For do we not sometimes see that traitors can be out of favour, aud knaves be beggars, and lose their estates, and be stript of their offices, as well as honester men ?
sneaking to a third, that shall be able to do their business, when the designs of Heaven will be served by their disappointment. And this is the true cause why so many politic conceptions, so elaborately formed and wrought, and grown at length ripe for delivery, do yet, in the issue, miscarry and prove abortive; for, being come to the birth, the all-disposing providence of God denies them strength to bring forth. And thus the authors of them, having missed of their mighty aims, are fain to retreat with frustration and a baffle; and having played the knaves unsuccessfully, to have the ill fuck to pass for fools too.
And why all this? Surely not always for want of craft to spy out where their game lay, nor yet for want of irreligion to give them all the scope of ways lawful and unlawful, to prosecute their intentions; but, because the providence of God strikes not in with them, but dashes, and even dispirits all their endeavours, and makes their designs heartless and ineffectual. So that it is not their seeing this man, their belying another, nor their
(2.) The means suggested by policy and worldly wisdom, for the attainment of these earthly enjoyments, are unfit for that purpose, not only upon the account of their insufficiency for, but also of their frequent opposition and contrariety to, the accomplishment of such ends; nothing being more usual, than for these unchristian fishers of men to be fatally caught in their own nets: for does not the text expressly say, that "God taketh the wise in their own craftiness?" Aud has not our own experience sufficiently commented upon the text, when we have seen some, by the very same ways by which they had designed to rise uncontrollably, and to clear off all obstructions before their ambition, to have directly procured their utter downfall, and to have broke their necks from that very ladder, by which they had thought to have climbed as high as their father Lucifer; and there from the top of all their greatness to have looked down with scorn upon all below them?
Such persons are the proper and lawful objects of derision, forasmuch as God himself laughs at them.
Haman wanted nothing to complete his greatness but a gallows upon which to hang Mordecai; but it mattered not for whom he provided the gallows, when Providence designed the rope for him.
With what contempt does the apostle here, in the 20th verse of this third chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, repeat those words of the Psalmist, concerning all the fine artifices of worldly wisdom; The Lord," says he, "knoweth the thoughts of the wise that they are vain." All their contrivances are but thin, slight, despicable things, and, for the most part, destructive of themselves; nothing being more equal in justice, and indeed more natural in the direct consequence and connection of effects and causes, than for men wickedly wise to outwit themselves, and for such as wrestle with Providence, to trip up their own heels.
It is clear, therefore, that the charge of this second sort of foolishness is made good upon worldly wisdom; for that having made men pitch upon an end unfit for their condition, it also makes them pitch upon means unfit to
attain that end. And that both by reason of their inability for, and frequent contrariety to, the bringing about such designs.
This, I say, has been made good in the general; but since particulars convince with greater life and evidence, we will resume the forementioned principles of the politician, and shew severally in each of them, how little efficacy they have to advance the practisers of them, to the things they aspire to by them.
1. And first, for his first principle, That the politician must maintain a constant, habitual dissimulation. Concerning which I shall lay down this as certain; that dissimulation can be no farther useful, than it is concealed; forasmuch as no man will trust a known cheat: and it is also as certain, that as some men use dissimulation for their interest, so others have an interest as strongly engaging them, to use all the art and industry they can to find it out, and to assure themselves of the truth or falsehood of those with whom they deal; which renders it infinitely hard, if not morally impossible, for a man to carry on a constant course of dissimulation without discovery. And being once discovered, it is not only no help, but the greatest impediment of action in the world. For since man is but of a very limited, narrow power in his own person, and consequently can effect no great matter merely by his own personal strength, but as he acts in society and conjunction with others, without first engaging their trust; and moreover, since men will trust no farther than they judge a person for his sincerity fit to be trusted, it follows that a discovered dissembler can achieve nothing great or considerable; for not being able to gain men's trust, he cannot gain their concurrence, and so is left alone to act singly, and upon his own bottom; and while that is the sphere of his activity, all that he can do must needs be contemptible. We know how successful the late usurper * was, while his army believed him real in his zeal against kingship. But when they found out the imposture, upon his aspiring to the same himself, he was presently deserted, and opposed by them, and never able to crown his usurped greatness with the addition of that title which he so passionately thirsted after. Add to this the judgment of as great an English author as ever wrote, with great confidence affirming, "that the ablest men that ever were, had all an openness and frankness of dealing; and that, if at any time such did dissemble, their dissimulation took effect, merely in the strength of that reputation they had gained by their veracity and clear dealing in the main." From all which it follows, that dissimulation can be of no farther use to a man, than just to guard him within the compass of his own personal concerns; which
yet may be more easily, and not less effectually done, by that silence and reservedness that every man may innocently practise, without the putting on of any contrary disguise.
2. The politician's second principle was, That conscience, or religion, ought never to stand between any man and his temporal advantage. Which indeed is properly atheism; and, so far as it is practised, tends to the dissolution of society, the bond of which is religion. Forasmuch as a man's happiness or misery in his converse with other men depends chiefly upon their doing or not doing those things which human laws can take no cognizance of such as are all actions capable of being done in secret, and out of the view of mankind, which yet have the greatest influence upon our neighbour, even in his nearest and dearest concerns. And if there be no inward sense of religion to awe men from the doing unjust actions, provided they can do them without discovery; it is impossible for any man to sit secure or happy in the possession of any thing that he enjoys. And this inconvenience the politician must expect from others, as well as they have felt from him, unless he thinks that he can engross this principle to his own practice, and that others cannot be as false and atheistical as himself, especially having had the advantage of his copy to write after.
3. The third principle was, That the politician ought to make himself, and not the public, the chief, if not the sole end of all that he does.
But here we shall quickly find, that the private spirit will prove as pernicious in temporals, as ever it did in spirituals. For while every particular member of the public provides singly and solely for itself, the several joints of the body politic do thereby separate and disunite, and so become unable to support the whole; and when the public interest once fails, let private interests subsist if they can, and prevent an universal ruin from involving in it particulars. It is not a man's wealth that can be sure to save him, if the enemy be wise enough to refuse part of it tendered as a ransom, when it is as easy for him to destroy the owner, and to take the whole. When the hand finds itself well warmed and covered, let it refuse the trouble of feeding the mouth or guarding the head, till the body be starved or killed, and then we shall see how it will fare with the hand. The Athenians, the Romans, and all other nations that grew great out of little or nothing, did so merely by the publicmindedness of particular persons; and the same courses that first raised nations and governments must support them. So that, were there no such thing as religion, prudence were enough to enforce this upon all.
For our own parts, let us reflect upon our glorious and renowned English ancestors, men
eminent in church and state, and we shall find, that this was the method by which they preserved both.
We have succeeded into their labours, and the fruits of them: and it will both concern and become us to succeed also into their principles. For it is no man's duty to be safe or to be rich; but I am sure, it is the duty of every one to make good his trust. And it is a calamity to a whole nation, that any man should have a place or an employment more large and public than his spirit.
4. The fourth and last principle mentioned was, That the politician must not, in doing kindnesses, consider his friends, but only gratify rich men or enemies. Which principle (as to that branch of it relating to enemies) was certainly first borrowed and fetched up from the very bottom of hell; and uttered (no doubt) by particular and immediate inspiration of the devil. And yet (as much of the devil as it carries in it) it neither is nor can be more villainous and detestable, than it is really silly, senseless, and impolitic.
But to go over the several parts of this principle; and to begin with the supposed policy of gratifying only the rich and opulent. Does our wise man think, that the grandee, whom he so courts, does not see through all the little plots of his courtship, as well as he himself? And so, at the same time, while he accepts the gift, laugh in his sleeve at the design, and despise the giver?
But, for the neglect of friends, as it is the height of baseness, so it can never be proved rational, till we prove the person using it omnipotent and self-sufficient, and such as can never need any mortal assistance. But if he be a man, that is, a poor, weak creature, subject to change and misery, let him know, that it is the friend only that God has made for the day of adversity, as the most suitable and sovereign help that humanity is capable of. And those (though in highest place) who slight and disoblige their friends, shall infallibly come to know the value of them, by having none, when they shall most need them.
That prince that maintains the reputation of a true, fast, generous friend, has an army always ready to fight for him, maintained to his hand without pay.
As for the other part of this principle, that concerns the gratifying of enemies; it is (to say no more) an absurdity parallel to the former. For when a man shall have done all he can, given all he has, to oblige an enemy, he shall find, that he has armed him indeed, but not at all altered him.
The Scripture bids us pray for our enemies, and love our enemies, but no where does it bid us trust our enemies; nay, it strictly cautions us against it, (Prov. xxvi. 25.) "When he speaketh thee fair," says the text,
"believe him not; for there are yet seven abominations in his heart:" and, in good earnest, it would be a rarity worth the seeing, could any one shew us such a thing as a perfectly reconciled enemy. Men are generally credulous at first, and will not take up this great and safe truth at the cost of other men's experience, till they come to be bitten into a sense of it by their own; but are apt to take fair professions, fawning looks, treats, entertainments, visits, and such like pitiful stuff, for friendship and reconcilement, and so to admit the serpent into their bosom: but let them come once to depend upon this new made friend, or reconciled enemy, in any great or real concern of life, and they shall find him false as hell, and cruel as the grave. And I know nothing more to be wondered at, than that those reconcilements that are so difficult, and even next to impossible in the effect, should yet be so frequent in the attempt; especially since the reason of this difficulty lies as deep as nature itself; which, after it has done an injury, will for ever be suspicious; and I would fain see the man that can perfectly love the person whom he suspects.
There is a noted story of Hector and Ajax, who having combated one another, ended that combat in a reconcilement, and testified that reconcilement by mutual presents: Hector giving Ajax a sword, and Ajax presenting Hector with a belt. The consequence of which was, that Ajax slew himself with the sword given him by Hector, and Hector was dragged about the walls of Troy by the belt given him by Ajax. Such are the gifts, such are the killing kindnesses of reconciled enemies.
Confident men may try what conclusions they please, at their own peril; but let history be consulted, reason heard, and experience called in to speak impartially what it has found, and I believe they will all with one voice declare, that whatsoever the grace of God may do in the miraculous change of men's hearts; yet, according to the common methods of the world, a man may as well expect to make the devil himself his friend, as an enemy that has given him the first blow.
And thus I have gone over the two general heads proposed from the words, and shewn both what those principles are, upon which this wisdom of the world does proceed; and also wherein the folly and absurdity of them
And now into what can we more naturally improve the whole foregoing discourse, than into that practical inference of our apostle, in the verse before the text? that "if any man desires the reputation of wisdom, he should become a fool, that he may be wise;" that is, a fool to the world, that he may be wise to God.
Let us not be ashamed of the folly of being sincere, and without guile; without traps and snares in our converse; of being fearful to build our estates upon the ruin of our consciences; of preferring the public good before our own private emolument; and lastly, of being true to all the offices of friendship, the obligations of which are sacred, and will certainly be exacted of us by the great judge of all our actions. I say, let us not blush found guilty of all these follies, (as some account them,) rather than to be expert in that kind of wisdom, that God himself, the great fountain of wisdom, has pronounced to be "earthly, sensual, devilish ;" and of the wretched absurdity of which, all histories, both ecclesiastical and civil, have given us such pregnant and convincing examples.
Reflect upon Ahithophel, Haman, Sejanus, Cæsar Borgia, and other such masters of the arts of policy, who thought they had fixed themselves upon so sure a bottom, that they might even defy and dare Providence to the face; and yet how did God bring an absolute disappointment, like one great blot, over all their fine artificial contrivances! Every one of those mighty and profound sages coming to a miserable and disastrous end.
The consideration of which, and the like passages, one would think, should make men grow weary of dodging and shewing tricks with God in their own crooked ways; and even force them to acknowledge it for the surest and most unfailing prudence, wholly commit their persons and concerns to the wise and good Providence of God, in the strait and open ways of his own commands. Who, we may be confident, is more tenderly concerned for the good of those that tr fear and serve him, than it is possible for the most selfish of men to be concerned for themselves; and who, in all the troubles and disturbances, all the cross, difficult, and perplexing passages that can fall out, will be sure to guide all to this happy issue, "That all things shall work together for good to those that love God."
To which God, infinitely wise, holy, and just, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.
GOOD INTENTIONS NO EXCUSE FOR BAD ACTIONS.
PREACHED AT CHRIST-CHURCH, OXON, BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY, MAY 3, 1685.
"For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not."2 COR. viii, 12.
IN dealing with men's consciences, for the taking them off from sin, I know nothing of so direct and efficacious an influence, as the right stating of those general rules and principles of action, that men are apt to guide their lives and consciences by; for if these be true, and withal rightly applied, men must needs proceed upon firm and safe grounds; but if either false in themselves, or not right in their particular application, the whole course that men are thereby engaged in, being founded in sin and error, must needs lead to, and at length end in, death and confusion; there being (as the wise man tells us) a way that may seem right in a man's own eyes, when, nevertheless, the end of that way is death."
Now, as amongst these principles or rules of action, the pretences of the Spirit, and of tenderness of conscience, and the like, have been the late grand artifices, by which crafty and designing hypocrites have so much abused the world; so I shall now instance in another of no less note, by which the generality of men are as apt to abuse themselves; and that is a certain rule or sentence got almost into every man's mouth, that God accepts the will for the deed. A principle (as usually applied) of less malice, I confess; but, considering the easiness, and withal the fatality of the delusion, of more mischief than the other.
And this I shall endeavour to search into, and lay open, in the following discourse.
The words hold forth a general rule or proposition, delivered upon a particular occasion; which was, the apostle's exhorting the Corinthians to a holy and generous emulation of the charity of the Macedonians, in contributing freely to the relief of the poor saints at Jerusalem: upon this great encouragement, that in all such works of charity, it is the will that gives worth to the oblation, and, as to God's acceptance, sets the poorest giver upon the same level with the richest. Nor is this all, but so perfectly does the value of all charitable acts take its measure and proportion from the will, and from the fulness
of the heart, rather than that of the hand, that a lesser supply may be oftentimes a greater charity; and the widow's mite, in the balance of the sanctuary, outweigh the shekels, and perhaps the talents, of the most opulent and wealthy; the all and utmost of the one, being certainly a nobler alms than the superfluities of the other; and all this upon the account of the great rule here set down in the text, That, in all transactions between God and man, wheresoever there is a full resolution, drift, and purpose of will to please God, there, what a man can do, shall, by virtue thereof, be accepted, and what he cannot do, shall not be required. From whence these two propositions, in sense and design much the same, do naturally result.
I. The first of them expressed in the words; to wit, That God accepts the will, where there is no power to perform.
II. The other of them implied; namely, That where there is a power to perform, God does not accept the will.
Of all the spiritual tricks and legerdemain, by which men are apt to shift off their duty, and to impose upon their own souls, there is none so common, and of so fatal an import, as these two; the plea of a good intention, and the plea of a good will.
One or both of them being used by men, almost at every turn, to elude the precept, to put God off with something instead of obedience, and so, in effect, to outwit him whom they are called to obey. They are certainly two of the most effectual instruments and engines in the devil's hands, to wind and turn the souls of men by, to whatsoever he pleases. For,
1. The plea of a good intention will serve to sanctify and authorize the very worst of actions. The proof of which is but too full and manifest, from that lewd and scandalous doctrine of the Jesuits concerning the direction of the intention, and likewise from the whole manage of the late accursed rebellion. In which, it was this insolent and impudent pretence, that imboldened the worst of men to wade through the blood of the best of kings, and the loyalest of subjects; namely, that in all that risk of villainy, "their hearts," forsooth, were right towards God;" and that all their plunder and rapine was for nothing else, but to place Christ upon his throne, and to establish amongst us the power of godliness, and the purity of the Gospel; by a farther reformation (as the cant goes) of a church, which had but too much felt the meaning of that word before.
an act in itself materially good; yet he who does it with an ill intention, comes to God's house upon the devil's errand; and the whole act is thereby rendered absolutely evil and detestable before God. But on the other side, if it were possible for a man to intend well, while he does ill, yet no such intention, though never so good, can make that man steal, lie, or murder with a good conscience; or convert a wicked action into a good.
For these things are against the nature of morality; in which nothing is or can be really good, without an universal concurrence of all the principles and ingredients requisite to a moral action; though the failure of any one of them will imprint a malignity upon that act, which, in spite of all the other requisite ingredients, shall stamp it absolutely evil, and corrupt it past the cure of a good
And thus, as I have shewn that the plea of a good intention is used by men to warrant and patronize the most villainous and wicked actions; so, in the next place, the plea of a good will will be found equally efficacious to supersede and take off the necessity of allholy and good actions. For still (as I have observed) the great art of the devil, and the principal deceit of the heart, is, to put a trick upon the command, and to keep fair with God himself, while men fall foul upon his laws. For both law and gospel call aloud for active obedience, and such a piety as takes not up either with faint notions, or idle insignificant inclinations, but such an one as shews itself in the solid instances of practice and performance. For, "Do this and live," saith the Law, (Luke, x. 28;) and, "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them," says the Gospel, (John, xiii. 17;) and, "Not every one that saith, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven," (Matt. vii. 21;) and, "Let no man deceive you; he that doeth righteousness is righteous," (1 John, iii. 7,) with innumerable more such places. All of them terrible and severe injunctions of practice, and equally severe obligations to it.
But then in comes the benign latitude of the doctrine of good will, and cuts asunder all these hard, pinching cords; and tells you, that if this be but piously and well inclined, if the bent of the spirit (as some call it) be towards God and goodness, God accepts of this above, nay, instead of all external works; those being but the shell, or husk, this the kernel, the quintessence, and the very soul of duty. But for all this, these bents and propensities and inclinations will not do the business: the bare bending of the bow will not hit the mark without shooting the arrow; and men are not called to will, but to work out their salvation.