James II 14
"But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not etc.."
It is a common evil of those who hear the gospel, that they
are not delivered up to the mould and frame of religion that is holden out in
it, but rather bring religion into a mould of their own invention. It was the
special commendation of the Romans, that they obeyed from the heart that form
of doctrine into which they were delivered, (Rom. vi. 17.) that they who were
once servants, or slaves of sin, had now become voluntary captives of truth,
and had given themselves up to the gospel, to be modelled and fashioned by it;
and if so, then certainly the most substantial points of religion would be most
deeply engraven upon them. Every thing would have its own due place with us, if
we were cast in the primitive mould of godliness; but when we cast godliness in
a mould of our own apprehension, they cannot choose but a miserable confusion
and disorder will follow in the duties of religion. For according as our fancy
and inclination impose a necessity upon things, so we do pursue them, and not
according to the real weight that is in them. I find the scripture laying most
weight upon the most common things, placing most religion in the most obvious
and known things; and for other things more remote from common capacity, I find
them set far below, in the point of worth and moment, even these things that
seem least. But I find that order quite perverted in the course of Christians.
Some particular points that are not so obvious to every understanding, are put in the first place, and made the distinguished character of a Christian; and others again, in which true and undefiled religion doth more consist, are despised and set in a low place, because of their ceremonies. I think this apostle hath observed this confusion, and hath applied himself to remove it, by correcting the misapprehensions of Christians, and reducing their thoughts and ways to the frame of true Christianity. Even as Christ dealt with the Pharisees, who brought in such a confusion in religion, by imposing a necessity upon ceremonies, and an indifferency upon the very substance itself, truly, I think, it may be said unto us, you tithe mint, anise, and cummin, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these things ye ought to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, faith and truth, and in the room of these ye have misplaced things, that are higher in God"s esteem from an apprehension of their necessity. Thus by your traditions and opinions of things so remote from the kingdom of God, ye have made the unquestionable commandments of God of none effect, Matth. xv. 6.
You think possibly, if this apostle was coming out to preach unto you this day, that he would certainly resolve you in many controverted points, and would bring some further light to the debates of the time. But truly I think if he knew the temper of our spirits, he would preach over this sermon to us again: "My brethren, be not many masters," &c. I suppose he would bring that old primitive light of pure and undefiled religion, the splendour of which our present ways and courses could not endure, but would be constrained to hide hemselves in darkness. What would you think of such a sermon as this, "If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridileth not his tongue, this man"s religion is vain?" Jam. i. 26. "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man," Jam. iii. 2. This is accounted a common and trivial purpose. But believe it, sirs, the Christian practice of the most common things, hath more religion in it than the knowledge of the profoundest things; and till you learn to do what you know, it is a mockery to study to know further what to do. There is a strange tirring of mind after more light and knowledge in some particulars of the time.
But I would fain know, if there be as much ardour and endeavour to practise that which we have already. To him that hath shall be given; to him that makes use of his knowledge for the honour of God, and the good of mankind, and their edification, more shall be given; but from him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he hath, and yet really and cordially hath not, because he hath no use of it. Therefore he may by inquiry find more darkness, because his old light shall rather be put out. Do you not all know that ye should bridle your tongues, that t is a great point of that Christian victory over the world to tame and danton (*subdue) that undantoned wild beast, to quench that fire-brand of hell? Do ye not all know that we should be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath? And as the apostle Paul speaks on another subject, "Doth not even nature itself teach you" when you have but one tongue, and two ears, that ye should hear much, and speak little? Are not our ears open. and our tongue enclosed and shut up, to teach us to be more ready to hear than to speak?
Now I say, till Christians learn to practise these things that are without all controversy, you may make it your account never to want controversy, and never to get clearness. For to what purpose should more light be revealed, when that which is revealed is to no purpose? But it is in vain to think to reform the tongue, till you have the heart first reformed. They say the belly hath no ears. Truly the tongue is all tongue, and has no ears to take an admonition or instruction. We must, then, with the apostle, retire into the heart, and abate from the abundance of the superfluity and naughtiness that is within; and therefore our apostle descends to the cure of pride, envy and strife in the heart, that are fountains of all that pestiferous flood which flows out of every man"s mouth. "Is there any wise man among you?" &c.
And indeed this is the orderly proceeding both of nature and grace. Nature begins within to probe among the superfluous and noisome humours which abound in the body, and desolate the members, and doth not think it sufficient to apply external plasters. Grace must begin within too, to purge the heart, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, the eye looks, and the feet walk. If there be no destroyer in the members or outward man, it is not the prescribing of rules and cautions that will suffice to restrain, to abate, or to cure, but the disease must be ripped up to the bottom, the cause found within, as our apostle doth here. Hence, says he, proceed all these feverish distempers among you, your hot and passionate words, your evil speakings and reproachings, your contentions and wars about matters either civil or religious. Whence are all these? From a vain persuasion of wisdom, from a foolish imagination of some excellency in yourselves, and some inward affection to be accounted something of among men. "Who is a wiseman," &c.
You would be accounted wise, and so you do account yourselves, and this begets strife and envy in the heart, and predisposeth the mind to strife and contention with others. Aud therefore he takes the mask off, by deciphering the very nature of such a wisdom; he embowels that pretended wisdom in religion and gives it its own name, and because things are best known, and most livelily comprehended in their opposition and comparison with one another, he shows wherein true wisdom and religion consist, and sets the one against the other, that the deformity of the one and the beauty of the other may appear.
We shall then speak a word of this that is supposed, and then of that which is expressed, the descriptions of true wisdom, and pretended wisdom. I conceive this interrogation, "Is there a wise man among you?" imports chiefly these two:
one is, - that it is the natural disease of all men to esteem themselves something, and desire to be esteemed such by others; another is, - that the misapprehension of that wherein true wisdom and excellency doth especially consist, is the ground of many miscarriages in the seeking or venting of that. It was an ancient remark, that " vain man would be wise, though he be born like a wild ass"s colt." Empty man is wise in his own eyes, and would be so in other men"s too. He hath no reality nor solidity, but is like these light things which the wind carries away, or the waters bear above, and tosses hither and thither; yet he apprehends some solid and real worth in himself, and would impose that apprehension upon others. And truly this is a drunkenness of mind, which makes a man light and vain, to stagger to and fro. It is a giddiness of spirit, that makes him inconstant and reeling, but insensible of it. Though he be born as stupid and void of any real wisdom and excellency, as a wild ass"s colt, yet he hath this madness and folly superadded to all that natural stupidity, that he seems to be wise and understanding; and truly it was a more ancient disease than Job"s days.
We may trace the steps of its antiquity to be from the very beginning, and there we shall find the true original of it. What was it, I pray you, did cast the angels out of heaven, down to the lowest hell, to be reserved in chains for everlasting darkness? I do not conceive what their natures so abstracted from all sensual lusts could be capable of, but this spiritual darkness and madness of self-conceit, and an ambitious aspiring after more wisdom, whence did flow that malcontent and envious humour, in maligning the happiness of man. And this was the poison that Satan, the chief of these angels, did drop into man"s nature, by temptations and suggestions of an imaginary wisdom and happiness; "You shall be as gods knowing good and evil." And truly this poison is so strong and pestilent, that having once entered into the body, it spreads through all the members; it infects all the posterity that were in Adam"s loins. Being once distilled into the lump, it diffuses itself through the whole, such a strange contagion is it. That wretched aim at a higher wisdom, hath thrown us all down into this brutish and stupid condition, to be like wild asses" colts. Yet this false and fond, imagination of wisdom and excellence remains within us, which is so much the nearer madness, that now there is no apparent ground left for such a fairly.(* wonder) And if one of a cubit"s height, should imagine himself as tall as a mountain, and accordingly labour to stretch out himself, we would seek no other sign of madness. Truly this malignant and poisonous humour is so subtile that it hath insinuated itself into all the parts and powers of the soul, and steals in without observation into all our thoughts, purposes, affections, ways, and courses. It is of so infectious and pestiferous a nature, that it defiles all that is in the man, and all that comes out of the man. The apostle speaks of covetousness, that it "is the root of all evil." Truly I think that comprehends many inordinate affections in it.
Now, both self-love and earth-love arise from some false imagination of that which is not. Whether it be an imagination of some excellency in ourselves, or some worth in these worldly and earthly things, man first makes a god of it, and then worships it. Therefore covetousness is called idolatry, self-idolatry, and earth-idolatry. We first attribute some divinity to ourselves, like these people (Isa. xliv. 17.) to their idols. We then fall down and worship ourselves; but we do not consider in our heart, that we are but dust. And then we ascribe some divinity to the perishing things of the world, and then worship them; but do not consider that they are earthly and perishing vanities. Thus we feed upon ashes, a deceived heart hath turned us aside, and we cannot deliver our own souls, by discovering the lie that is in our right hand. We feed partly on the element of the air, by seeking that of others that we have of ourselves; and partly upon the element of the earth, by the love of. this world. And these two degenerated evils, are the root of all evils, self-estimation, and creature-affection.
I think this apostle in this one word, "Is there any wise man among you," or any endowed with knowledge? and in that word, "glory not," strikes at the root of all the forementioned and aftermentioned evils. From whence I say doth that promptitude and bensal (t violent inclination) to speak, that slowness and difficulty to hear, that readiness and inclination to pride, (reproved, James i. 19, 20.) proceed? Is it not from an overweening conceit of our own wisdom, that we are so swift to speak, and so slow to hear, and that we would teach others, and yet be taught of none? We are so much in love with our own apprehensions, that we imagine they shall find as much esteem and affection among men; and so being like barrels full of liquor, in our own conceit, we are like to burst, if we vent not, and are as incapable of taking from others as of retaining what is within. The word of God was a fire in Jeremiah"s heart that would have consumed him, if he had not given it vent. Truly self-love is a fire that must vent one way or other, or it would burn up all within by displeasure, and then it is the over-apprehension of some excellency in ourselves, which so disposes us to anger, that makes us combustible matter, like the spirit of gunpowder; for the least spark of injury or offence, will set all in a flame.
It is certainly the fond imagination of some great worth in ourselves, that is the very immediate predisposition to the apprehension of an injury. Humility cannot be affronted, it is hard to persuade of an injury. Why? Because there is no excellency to be hurt or wronged. Therefore Christ conjoins these, "meek and lowly in heart," (Matth. xi. 29,) lays poverty of spirit down as the foundation of meekness, Matth. v. 3 - 5. Whence is it that we accept of men's persons by judging according to the outward appearance, and are so ready to displease our brethren, especially these who are inferior to us in body, or mind, or estate? Is it not from this root, self- admiration? This makes us elevate ourselves above others, and to intrude ourselves among these who are chiefest in account. Whence doth our unmercifulness and rigidity towards other men proceed, but from this fountain, that we allow so much licence and indulgence to ourselves, that we can have none to spare for others and that we do not consider that we ourselves stand in need of more mercy from God, and cannot endure a mixture of judgment in it? Therefore we have judgment to others without mercy, James ii. 13. And is not this self-pleasing humour the fountain of that contentious plea after the pre-eminence, and censorious liberty judging others, and usurping authority over them? James iii. 1, "My brethren be not ye many masters." Truly this is the root of all contentions and strifes. It is this which rents all human and Christian society. This looses all the pins concord and unity. This sets all by the ears, and makes all the wheels reel through other. The conceit of some worth beyond others, and the imagination of some pre-eminence over them, even in the best creatures - he best, and he best, that the plea; he greatest, and he greatest, that is the controversy. As bladders puff up with wind, they cannot be kept in little room, but every one presses another but if the wind were out, they would compact in less room, and comply better together.
The apostle implies this, when he puts every man in mind of his own failing, "in many things we offend all;" and if this were considered, it would abate our security, and cool our heat and fervour, and moderate our rigour towards others. There would not be such strife about places of power and trust, if we were not swelled in our own apprehensions to some eminency. And is not this the very fountain which sends out all these bitter streams of the tongue, these evil-speaking one of another, these sharp and immoderate censures of our neighbours? Truly this is it, every man accounts himself to be wiser and more religious than his brother, to have more knowledge, and so he cannot endure any difference in opinion to have more holiness, and so he cannot bear any infirmity in practice. But the way to help this, would be to humble ourselves before God, James iv. 10. Lowliness and meekness are the ground stones of these Christian virtues which preserve Christian-society, Eph. iv. 2, 3. And is not this, I pray you, the foundation of war? - strifes, contentions, and jealousies? "From whence come wars and fightings among you?" Is it not from these imperious lusts which war in our members? Only from pride cometh contention, Prov. xiii. 10. The head-spring of all envy, also issue out from pride, and this divides, in many streams and waters, all our courses and ways, with putrified and pestilent corruptions. While every man hath this opinion of himself, all is done in strife, no condescendence, no submission one to another. Phil. ii. 3. While all make themselves the centre, it cannot otherwise happen, but designs, courses, thoughts, and ways, must interfere and jar among themselves.
Self-seeking puts all by the ears, as you see children among themselves, if an apple be cast to them. Any bait or advantage of the times yokes them in that childish contention, who shall have it? All come, strive, and fight about it, and it is but few can have it, and these that get it cannot keep it long. Others will catch it fror them. Now what vain things are these, which can neither be gotten, nor kept, but by strife? Oh that we could seek better things, which may be both sought and kept without emulation or strife?
Now the other thing is, that the misapprehension of that wherein true excellence consists is the ground of many evils: "Who is a wise man?" &c. You all affect the title, and ye seek the thing, as ye suppose. But alas! ye mistake that wherein it consists. Truly there is in all men (ever since we tasted of the tree of knowledge of good and evil) a strange innate desire of knowledge, and affectation of wisdom and desire of excellence. But since the first endeavour in paradise succeeded there hath nothing gone well since. We weary ourselves to catch vanities, shadows and lies. "How long, 0 ye sons of men, will ye love vanity, and follow after lies? That divinely taught prophet could not but pity the children of men. And a Paul speaks to the Athenians of another purpose, "Him whom ye ignorantly worship we show unto you," so he declares unto men that which they ignorantly and vainly seek elsewhere. This I assure you consists in this, that ye show out of a good conversation your works with meekness and wisdom. All our mischief proceeds from this, that we misapprehend and mistake that which we would gladly have. And so once being in the wrong way, that can only lead to our purposed end; the faster we run, the farther we go from it. The more we move in affection and diligence, the less we indeed promove in reality to the thing what we seek.
How greatly have we fallen! I might instance this in many things, but I shall be content with these two. There is a desire in all men for happiness, but there is a fundamental error in the imagination supposing it consist in the enjoyment of temporal pleasure, honour, advantage, or the satisfaction of our own natural inclinations. Now this leads all mankind to a pursuit in these things. But how base a scent is it? And how vain a pursuit is it? For faster they move in that way, the further they are from all solid and true contment. Again, in all godly men, there is something of this rectified, and they pose religion to be the only true wisdom, and this wisdom the only true happiness. But oftentimes there are even mistakes in that too. As many of the world call sweet bitter, and bitter sweet, because of the vitiated and corrupted palate ; so godly men, being in some measure distempered, call that which is not so sweet the sweetest, and that which is not so bitter, bitterest. They change the value of things, and misplace them out of that order in which God hath set them.
One great mistake is this. We impose a great deal of weight and moment upon these things in religion, which are but the hay and stubble, or pins in the building, and esteem less that wherein the foundation and substance of true religion consists. We have an over-apprehension of a profession, and an undervaluing thought of practice. We overstretch some points of knowledge, and truth of the least value; and have less value for the fundamental statutes of the gospel, faith and love, mercy judgment. This our Saviour reproved in the Pharisees. "I will have mercy says God and not sacrifice." A ceremony of the time in some particulars of the other hath more necessity with us than the practice of true godliness: and this is root of the most part of these vain janglings, strifes of words, and perverse disputings of men, whereof cometh envy, strife, malice, evil surmisings, and no edification in faith and love, which were so frequent in the primitive times, and so often hammered down by Paul. This is it, a misapprehension of the value of them. Faney imposes a worth and necessity upon them. But Paul doth always oppose to them true godliness (1 Tim. vi. 3. chap. iv. 7.), and prescribes that as the cure, the true godliness in practice of what we know, and charity towards our brethren,may be bigger in our apprehension, and higher in our affection. Would ye then know, my brethren, wherein true religion consists, and wherein genuine Christianity stands? It is in showing out of a good conversation, our works with meekness and wisdom." I reduce it to these two words, in joining practice to knowledge, meekness to both; and this makes our religion to shine before men, and glorify our heavenly Father.
Wherein then do ye think this mystery of wisdom which the gospel reveals consists? Not in the profound and abstracted speculations of God, or the secrets of nature, - a work about which learned men have racked their inventions, and beaten their brains to no other purpose, than the discovery of the greatness of man's ignorance. It doth not consist in the sounding of the depths of divinity, and loosing all so perplexing knots of questions, and doubts, which are moved upon the scripture, in all which men really bewray their own ignorance and misery. "The world wisdom knew not God." Living right is the first point of true wisdom. It costs many men great expenses to learn to know their own folly, to become fools, that ye may become wise, 1 Cor. iii. 18. Man became a fool by seeking to become greater than God who made him; and that is all the result of our endeavours after wisdom, Rom. i. 22. But here is the great instruction of Christianity, to bring man a law from the height of presumption and self-estimation, and make him see himself. Just as he is by nature a fool, and a wild ass's colt. Nebuchadnezzar had much ado to learn this lesson. It cost him some years brutality to learn his brutishness, and when that was known his understanding returned to him.
Now this is the first and hardest point of wisdom. When it is once learned and imprinted on the heart, 0 what a docility is in the mind to more! What readiness to receive what follows! It makes a man a weaned child, a little simple child, tractable and flexible as Christ would have all his disciples. A man thus emptied and vacated of self-conceit, these lines of natural pride being blotted out, the soul is as an "an unwritten table," to receive any impression of the law of God that he pleases to put on it; and then his words are all "plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge," Prov. viii. 9. Then I say it is not difficult to understand and to prove what is the good and acceptable will of God, Rom. xii. 2; Eph. v. 10 - 17. It is not up unto heaven, that thou shouldest say, who shall ascend to bring it down? Neither is it far down in the depth, that thou shouldest say, who shall descend and bring it up from hence? But it is near thee, "in thy mouth, and in thy heart," &c. Rom. x. 6, 7, 8. "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good, and what is required of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God," Micah vi. 8. There is the plain sign of Christian wisdom, the abridgment of all that is taught in the school of Christ. Here is the course of moral philosophy, "The grace of God hath appeared, to teach us to deny ungodliness, and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this world." And when the scholar is brought along by these degrees, he is at length laureated (*having a degree conferred upon them) in that great day of our Saviour's appearance. Then he hath the degree of glory and immortality conferred upon him. He is a candidate of immortality and felicity, Tit. ii. 12, 13.
We are in the Christian school like many scholars who labour to know so many things, that indeed they know nothing well; as the stomach that devours much meat, but digests little, and turns it not into food and aliment, incorporates it not into the body. We catch at many great points of truth, and we really drink in none of them; we let none sink into the heart, and turn into affection and practice. This is the grand disease of the time, a study to know many things, and no study to love what we know, or practise any thing. The Christian world is all in a flame, and the church is rent asunder by the eager pursuit and prosecution of some points of truth, and this is the clamour of all men, who will show us our light? Who will discover some new thing unto us? But in the mean time we do not prove the unquestionable acceptable will of our God; like a fastidious squeamish stomach, that loathes what it receives, and always longs for something else. Thus the evil is vented here. Who is a wise man, do ye think? Not he who knows many things, who hath still a will to controversy, who hath attained some further light than others of them; not he, brethren, but he that shows out of a good conversation, his works with meekness of wisdom, he that proves and practiseth as well as knows, the good will of God. "For hereby do we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keeps not his commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him," 1 John ii. 3, 4. This proves that knowledge is not in the head, but in the heart, and that it is not captivated and shut up in the mind, but that a man is delivered up as a captive to the truth, Rom. vi. 16.
All men complain of the want of light and knowledge, though perhaps none think they have much. But is the will of God so dark and intricate? Is it so hard to understand? Truly it is plain, "He hath showed. thee what is good," he hath showed thee what to do; but that thou neglectest to do, and therefore men know not what to do further. Do ye not all know that ye should walk soberly, righteously, and piously, and humble yourselves to walk with God, and in lowliness of mind each should esteem another better than himself? Ye should forbear and forgive one another, as God for Christ"s sake hath forgiven you. Ye should not seek great things for yourselves, especially when God is plucking up what he hath planted, and casting down what was built. Ye should mind your country above more, and live as sojourners here. Are not these words of wisdom all plain and obvious to the meanest capacity? Now, my beloved, with what face can ye seek more knowledge of God, or inquire for more light into his mind, when you do not prove that known and perfect will of his? When you do not occupy your present talent, why do ye seek more? "To him that hath shall be given." Truly it is the man that fears and obeys as far as is revealed, to whom God shows his secret, and teaches the way he should choose, Psal. xxv. 12. I know not a readier way to be resolved in doubtful things, than to study obedience in these things that are beyond all doubt. To walk in the light received, is the highway to more light. But what hope is there of any more light from the Lord, when our ways and courses, and dispositions and practices, even in our endeavours after more knowledge, cannot endure the light of that shining will of God, that is already revealed? In ordering our conversation, we catch at the shadow of our points of truth, and lose the substance that was in our bands, lowliness, meekness, charity, long-suffering, sobriety of mind and actions, and heavenly-mindedness. All these substantials we let go, that we may get hold of some empty unedifying notions. We put out our candle that is already enlightened, that is, the knowledge of good conversation, that we may seek more light; and that is the way to find darkness and delusion. Because they received not the truth in love, that they might be saved, God gave them up to strong delusions, and the belief of lies, 2 Thess. ii. 10, 11. There is the ground of delusions, truth received, but not loved or obeyed, many things known, but the stamp and seal not impressed on the heart we express in the conversation. Therefore God is provoked to put out that useless light of truth, and deliver that man captive to delusions, who would not deliver his soul a captive to truth. And is not this righteousness, that he who detained the known truth in unrighteousness of affection and conversation, be himself detained and incarcerated by strong delusions of mind and imagination?
As a good conversation and good works should be joined to knowledge, and meekness must be the ornament of both, this meekness of wisdom is the great lesson that the wisdom of the Father came down to teach man: "Learn of me, for I am meek." And truly the meekness of that substantial wisdom of God Jesus Christ, is the exact pattern and copy, and the most powerful motive and constraint to this kindness of Christian wisdom. Our Saviour did not cry nor lift up his voice in the streets. He made little noise, nor cried with pomp, he was not rigorous, nor rigid upon sinners. Though he was oppressed and afflicted yet he opened not his mouth; being reviled, he reviled not again; being cursed, he blessed. Though he could have legions of angels at his command, yet he would show rather an example of patience and meekness to his followers, than overcome his enemies. If many of us, who pretend to be his disciples, had the winds, rains, heavens, and element,s at our commandment, I fear we would have burned up the world. We would presently have called for fire from heaven, to devour all whom we conceived enemies o him, or ourselves, and that under the notion of zeal. Zeal it is indeed, but such as is spoken of in the next verse: "If ye have bitter envying (the word is bitter zeal) "n your hearts, glory not, nor lie against the truth." Christ"s zeal was sweet zeal. It might well consume or eat him up within, but it did not devour others without. The zeal of thy house (says he) hath eaten me up."
But our zeal is like the Babyonian furnace, that burnt and consumed these that went to throw the pious children into it. At the first approaching it gets without the chimney, and devours all around it. If the meekness or gentleness of a person who received the greatest injury that ever any received, and to whom the greatest indignities were done, and who endured the greatest contradiction of sinners, if his calm composed temper do not often our spirits, mitigate our sharpness, and allay our bitterness, I know not what can do it, I do not think but if any man considered how much long-suffering God exercises towards him, how gentle and patient he is, after so many provocations; how Jesus Christ doth still forgive infinite numbers of infinite wrongs done to his race, how slow he is to wrath, and easy to be entreated, surely such a man would bate much of his severity towards others; he would pursue peace with all men, nd esteem little of wrongs done unto him, and not think them worthy of remembrance, he would not be easily provoked, but he would be easily pacified. In a word, he could not but exercise something of that gentleness and meekness in forgetting and forgiving, as Christ also forgave him: and truly there is no ornament for a man like that of a meek and quiet spirit, 1 Pet. iii. 4. It is both comely and precious, it is of great price in God's sight. It is a spirit all composed and settled, all peace and harmony within. It is like the heavens in a clear day, all serene and beautifu1; whereas an unmeek spirit is for the most part like the troubled sea, tossed with tempests, winds, and dashed with rains; even at the best, it is but troubled with itself. When there is no external provocation, it hath an inward unrest in its bosom, and casts out mire and dirt.
Meekness is so beseeming every man, that is even humanity itself. It is the very nature of a man restored, and these brutish, wild and savage dispositions put off. Meekness is a man in the true likeness of God. But passion, and the evils which accompany it, is a man metamorphosed and transformed into the nature of a beast, and that of a wild beast too. It hath been always reckoned that anger is nothing different from madness, but in the continuance of it. It is a short madness. But what is wanting in the continuance is made up in the frequency. When spirits are inclined to it, there is a habitual fury and madness in such spirits. It is no wonder then, these are conjoined, meekness and wisdom, for truly they are inseparable. Meekness dwells in the bosom of wisdom. It is nothing olse but wisdom, reason, and religion ruling all within, and composing all the distempered lusts and affections; but anger rests in the bosoms of fools, it cannot get rest but in a fool's bosom, for where it enters, wisdom and reason must go out, Eccles. vii. 9. "A fool's wrath is presently known," Prov. xii. 16. For if there were so much true and solid wisdom as to examine the matter first, and to consider before we suffer ourselves to be provoked, we would certainly quench anger in the very first smoking of an apprehension of a wrong. We would immediately cast it out, for there is nothing so much blinds and dimmeth the eye of our understanding; and when this gross vapour rises out of the dunghill of our lusts, nothing so much uncovers our shame and nakedness. "A prudent man covereth shame," but hastiness and bitterness takes the garment off our infirmity, and exposes us to mockery and contempt, Prov. xii. 16. There is not a greater evidence of a strong solid spirit, than this, to be able to govern this unruly passion, whereas it is taken far otherwise.
Meekness is construed by some to be simplicity and weakness ; and many imagine some greatness and height of spirit in the hotter natures, but truly it is far otherwise. " For he that is slow to anger, is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his own spirit, than he that takes a city." Wrath is an impotency and weakness. It hath no strength in it, but such as ye would find in madmen. But this is true magnanimity, to overcome thyself, and "overcome evil with good." As there is nothing which is a greater evidence of wisdom, so there is nothing a better help to true wisdom than this. For a meek spirit is like a clear running fountain, that ye see the bottom of; but a passionate spirit is like a troubled fountain, the shadow of truth cannot be seen in it. A glass that is pure and cleanly, renders the image lively; but if it be besmeared with dust, you can see nothing: so is a composed mild spirit apt to discern the truth without prejudice. And indeed it is the meek whom God engages to teach his ways, Psal. xxv. 8, 9. He that receives with meekness the ingrafted word, is in the readiest capacity to receive more. When the superfluity of naughtiness is cast out, and all the faculties of the soul composed to quietness and calmness, then his voice will best be heard, and himself readiest to receive it. Our affection keeps a continual hurry within the tumultuous noise of our disordered lusts, that are always raging and controlling the voice of God, so that we cannot hear his teaching. A passionate temper of spirit is very indocile. There are so many loud sounds of prejudices within, that the truth cannot be heard. But a meek spirit hath all quietness and silence, as Cornelius and his house had waiting for the mind of the Lord. And such he delights to converse with most, and reveal most unto; for it gets readiest entertainment.
Let me tell you, beloved in the Lord, you disoblige the Lord (if I may speak so) and hinder him to reveal any more of his mind to you; ye disengage him to teach you his way in those dark and untrodden paths, because ye do not study this meekness in the wisdom and knowledge ye have already, nor his meekness and moderation in seeking further knowledge. And it is no wonder he be provoked by it, to choose your delusions, because it is certainly these graces of meekness, charity, patience, gentleness, long-suffering, humbleness of mind, and such like, which go always in a chain together. These are an ornament of grace upon the head, and a crown of glory, and that chain about the neck, Solomon mentions, Prov. iv. 9. Now when you cast off your crown of glory, your noblest ornament, your chain of dignity, should he give such precious pearls to swine? When you trample under foot the greater commandments of mercy, judgment, sobriety, humility, meekness, and charity, should he reveal lesser commandments, or discover his will in lesser matters? Consider the mamer of expression here, "Let him show forth out of a good conversation," &c. Truly it is good works with meekness of wisdom, it is a good conversation, with a true profession, that shows forth a Christian, and shows him most before men. "Let your light (says Christ) so shine before men."
What is the shining beauty of Christian light? It is the works of piety, charity, equity, and sobriety. These glorify the Father, and beautify all his children. You may easily conceive what that is, that chiefly commends religion to the ignorant world. Is it not the meekness of Christian wisdom? Is it not this harmless simplicity, that divine-like candour, that shines in every true Christian? Will rigidity, severity, passion, blood, violence, persecution, and such like, ever conciliate the hearts of men? Have such persons any beauty, any light in them, except a scorching consuming light? The light of a good Christian is like the light of the sun, of a sweet, gentle, and refreshing nature, conveying influence to all, doing good to the household of faith. Peter will tell you what that is, that will most engage the hearts of the world, to a reverend esteem of true religion, 1 Pet. ii. 12. It is a conversation honest, and void of offence, giving to every one their own due, honouring all men, loving the brotherhood, not using our liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, and not overstretching it, to the loosing of other natural or civil bands. When men see Christianity making us do that really and cheerfully, which even nature itself teacheth all to do, that makes the light of it shining and beautiful. Are not these higher mysteries of faith, than some conceive? It is not other points of truth and profession, that are either above natural reason, or seem something opposite to it, that can engage natural beholders; and far less the prosecution of a temporal worldly interest of the people of God, to the destruction of all opposite to it, at least to the diminishing of all other men's gain and advantage, the engrossing of all earthly privileges into the hands of saints. That is such a thing, that never entered into the heart of the shining lights of the primitive times. 0 how doth the stream of their exhortations run cross to this notion! I am sure there is nothing, in its own nature, such a stumbling-block to the world, or represents religion so odious and abominable to other men, as when it stands in the way, and intercepts all these natural immunities or privileges of life, our estate. This makes natural men to hate it, even at a distance, and become rreconcilable enemies unto it. Since it will not let them live by it, they are engaged not to let it live by them. I wish indeed all the places of power and trust in every nation, were in the hands of godly men, not so much for the interest of the godly, as for the public interest; because "men fearing God, and hating coveousness," can only rule justly and comfortably. But to monopolize all power and trust to such a particular judgment and way (as it is now given out), is truly, I think, inhuman and unchristian. These deserve not power and trust who would seek it, and engross it wholly to themselves.* But there is another thing which avours greatly of the flesh, at least of that spirit which Christ reproved in his disiples, to take away men's lives, liberty, and livelihood given by their Creator, upon every foot of opposition and enmity to our way and interest. Is this to love our enemies, blessing them that curse us, or praying for them that despitefully use us, or persecute us? Let us remember we are Christians, and this is the rule of Chrisianity, that stops even the mouth of adversaries. But some still find an evasion or this. They will say they are God's enemies, and not my particular enemies only. But I pray you, were not the enemies of Christians in these days more properly enemies to Christ than now? For they had nothing then to persecute them for, but the very profession of that name. And truly I confess in our days we make more particular enemies, by particular injuries and disobligements, than either our profession or practice of religion make. But to put it out of all doubt, we learn at they are persecutors, and do all manner of evil against us, for Christ's name sake. I have said this, because I know nothing that more darkeneth and obscures religion, nor such worldly and temporal interests, so eagerly pursued; and nothing makes it more to shine among men, than a good conversation with meekness wisdom.
* [These are the generous sentiments of an enlightened Christian. They would lead us to infer that the author's views, as a Protester, had been modified somewhat before he died, or that he had never taken such high ground, as some others, on this score. - ED.]
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