CHAP. IV. THE PREVALENCY OF SELFISHNESS IN ALL RELATIONS
Beside all the generals already mentioned, it will not be amiss to give you some particular Instances of the power of selfishness, and the rareness of self-denial in the world, that you may see what cause of lamentation is before us.
- How ready and speedy, how effectual and diligent, how constant and unwearied are they in the service of self? and how slow and backward, how remiss and negligent, how inconstant and tired are they in the works that are merely for God, and their salvation? Do I need to prove it to you? You may as well call for proof whether there are men in the world? I were best for instance begin next home. Many Ministers think it a drudgery and a toil that God requireth at their hands to confer with every family in their Parishes, and instruct them privately in the matters of salvation. But see what self can do: If the same men have but their tithe to gather, they will not think it a needless thing, to go or send to every family, and speak with them all about their own business. At least if it were any considerable sum, they would not lose it for want of speaking for.
Our neighbours do many of them think it much that we should call them to be personally Instructed or Catechized, and they will not come at us; but say, [What needs all this ado? have we not teaching enough at Church? Its Children that must be Catechized, and we are past Children.] You see how little interest God and their Ministers and their own salvation hath in them: But will you see what carnal self can do more? Had I but money enough, I would undertake to make them come to me, and follow me as a horse will follow his provender! Had I but ten pound a piece to give them, yea or but ten shillings, I do not think I should have any refuse to come and fetch it, unless it were those that now are the forwardest in seeking relief for the wants of their souls. Had I but the estates or lives of all these men in my power, how easily would they be ruled and how diligently and submissively would they attend, that now for God and their everlasting life, disdain to come and seek instructions. And yet these men would scarce believe you, if you should tell them that self and the world is made their God, and that God himself is denied and rejected by them.
Moreover, a long time I have been persuading all the families in the Town and Parish, to read the Scripture, and daily call upon God together: I have proved it their duty from Scripture and this doth not prevail. But see what flesh and self can do? If these men were but sure of ten or twenty shillings a time, for every Morning and Evening that they pray together, I warrant you, whatever the heart did, the lips should be taught to do their part. O how busy would all the Town and Parish be to learn to pray, that now look not after it? I do not believe that there is ever a house among them all that would not very shortly set up prayer, if they were but paid for it after these rates? Judge now whether God or self-bear sway among these men, and whether soul or body be more regarded.
Moreover, we have too many drunkards in the Town that no means that we can use will restrain and keep sober. They love the drink, and they cannot forbear; and tell them of God’s word, that doth threaten them with damnation, and they will for all that be drunk the next day. But if one of these wretches might have but ten pound a week on condition he would forbear, I do not think for all this but he could forbear: Or if he were sure that for every cup of drink, he should drink after it a cup of gall, I warrant you he would soon begin to abate.
We have abundance of ignorant sensual men that for love of sin refuse Church-Government, and will not come under it. But if the Magistrate would but make a Law, that all men shall he members of a particular Church and submit to discipline, or forfeit but twenty shillings a month, how few refusers should we have in all the Town or Country?
We have many that seldom come to hear in the public Assemblies; but let the Parliament make a Law that they shall pay for their refusal, and how readily will it bring the most of them? (unless they have hopes that the Law will not be executed) And judge now whether self or God have greater Interests in these men’s hearts.
I see but one piece of self-denial among this sort of people in this Town, and that this: Though the officers are to give the money to the poor which they have from swearers, drunkards, unlicensed and abusive Ale-sellers, profaners of the Lords day, &c. yet that sort of the poor themselves do hate those officers that are zealous in their duties. This is strange, that the love of money doth not change them. But whether it be that they can deny their flesh for the Devil, though not for God; and in enmity to godliness, though not to further it; or whether it be that the officers do use to give their money to an honester sort of poor, and these have none of it, I cannot well tell.
And having given so many sad instances of the power of self and scarcity of self-denial in others, I hope the Magistrates will not take it ill if we help them to discern this enemy in themselves, nor be offended that they come last, unless it were in a more honourable cause. I hear the best and wisest men that I can meet with, complain that in most places, Ale-houses flourish under the Magistrates Noses; and that whoredom, swearing, profaning the Lords days, shall seldom be punished, but when they are very much urged to it, nor then neither if it will but displease a neighbour, or friend, especially if it be a worshipful swearer or drunkard that is to be punished. We see in most places that its more than the Justice can do to put down one Alehouse of many that they confess should be suppressed; and I doubt but few can keep them from increasing: Men say that there is so much ado before they can have Justice from many of them, and those that seek it are counted but for busy troublesome fellows, that many are ready to let all alone: And whence is all this, that men in Power can do so little against those that have no Power to resist them? Why Alas the cause is plain: Self is against it: They have none but God and Ministers, and a few precise fellows to persuade them to it: and they have no greater motives, than what is fetched from Heaven and Hell to move them to it: and these are but small matters with them (I speak of the unsanctified) It must be one that hath greater interest in them than God that must persuade them to it: It must be more powerful matters than the promises of Heaven and the Threatening of damnation that must prevail with such moderate Gentlemen as these. And who is it that can do this that God and their salvation may not do? Why even self, carnal self. If you know but how to engage their own self-interest in the business, I warrant you it will go better on. Let but every informer be well paid for his pains, and every Justice have a hundred pound from the Exchequer for every due execution of such laws, and how roundly would the work go on? Then they would not say [We cannot do it, or We are not bound to look after them.] Do you think I wrong them or speak without proof? I will leave it to your judgement when I have given you but these few instances. Let but the Plague break out in the Town, and infect but a quarter as many houses as here are infectious Alehouses that harbour tipplers and drunkards, and see whether the Magistrates of this or any Town will not a little better bestir themselves, and send to search after infected places, and nail up their doors, and write on them [Lord have mercy on us] that all may take warning and keep away: They will not here be offended with Informers, nor say, [Am I bound to look after them?] And why are they not as zealous against sin as against the plague? Great reason! Self is for sin; and God only is against it: but self is against the Plague, because it is concerned in it: sin doth but hurt the soul, and bring men to Hellfire but the plague destroys their body; and this is the greater matter with them, because they have flesh and sense to judge of it; but they have not faith to believe the other.
Again, let but one house in the Town be on fire, and all are up to quench it, and the Bell is rung, and the Magistrate doth not think that he wants a Call himself to look after it. And when the fire of Hell is kindling in an Ale-house, that’s nothing, but must be let alone: there’s no such zeal, nor no such haste. And why so? Why one they see in good sadness, and perceive that it is fire indeed: but the other they believe in jest, as if it would prove but a painted fire.
Again, let but an ungodly fellow slander the Magistrate, or call him all to naught, especially if he give him but two or three boxes on the ear, and see whether he will let that man alone. But let the same man abuse the name of God, and break his Laws, and with too many he may be let alone, unless they be urged to do Justice. And how comes this difference? Why self is touched in one, and it is but God (But God! O Atheists!) that’s touched in the other. Self can do more with them than God can do (Remember still when I say that self can do more with them than God, that I speak not of what God could do by his Omnipotence if he would; but of the final Causality, or the small interest that God hath in their hearts by holy Faith and Love.)
Again, let but a servant rob the Magistrate, and carry his money and goods to an Ale-seller to reset; and try whether he will look after him and the Ale-seller. And why not as soon and as zealously when Ale-sellers reset men’s sons and servants, and drown men’s understandings and turn them into beasts? Why? because in one it is but God and men’s souls that are concerned: (a matter of nothing) but in the other it is self, (a greater matter with them.)
Shall I give you but one instance more, that the Ale-sellers themselves will take my part in, so far as to bear me witness that its true! Here are Farmers of the Excise that have power to know what Ale-houses are in the Town, and their gain lyeth on it: and there shall scarce a man in Town or Country sell Ale so secretly but they will know it; nor sell a Barrel but what they are acquainted with. They do not say, [I am not bound to go search after them:] nor that they be not able to discover them and to bring them to pay Excise. But the Justices (too commonly) can overlook abundance that the Excise-men can find; and they cannot make one of twenty pay, when the other can; And what’s the matter? Why one works for self and money, and the other works but for God and his own and other men’s salvation (a small matter!) See then beyond denial what self and money can do with such men, when God and men’s salvation can do next to nothing.
But I must desire you not to mistake me, and think I speak this of any honest godly Magistrate, and abuse the good by joining them with the bad! No: far be it from me to be so injurious. For its evident that they can be no good men, nor have any true Love of God in their souls, that are such in a predominant sense as I have here described. It is not in my thoughts to lay this blame on any honest Godly Magistrate: for none but the ungodly would do as I have mentioned, and prefer themselves before the Lord, and the bodies of men before the souls.
And, alas, if the Sovereign Powers of the Nations of the world were not too sick of the same disease, gain would not be accounted Godliness, but Godliness the greatest gain: and carnal Policy would not go for Piety, but true Piety would go for the surest Policy: It would not be so common in most Nations to have the Truth and Cause of Christ disowned, and his servants persecuted, and their lives and blood to be made a sacrifice to carnal Self and worldly Interests. Nor would the breaches of the Churches be so long unhealed, and grow wider and wider, and few much regard them, but all have their own work to do which must be looked after. Yea and the Cause of Christ and the Gospel must be trod down if it stands in the way of their own: And the Churches must be set on fire by their wars and contentions for their selfish Interests. And if Self were not too strong among us, we should not have had such connivance at doctrinal and practical abominations, nor so much delay or neglect of healing the discomposed Churches, and uniting the divided Christians, or attempting it more effectually than we have done. But because I desire to speak to none but those that are within my hearing, I will return home to ourselves.
The holy ordering and instructing of families, and suppressing sin in Children and servants, is one of the most effectual works, for the building up of the Church, and the glory and stability of the Common-wealth. O if Parents and Masters would but sanctify their houses to the Lord, and teach their families the will and fear of God, and do their best (by punishment, when instruction will not serve) to hinder sin, how fast would Reformation then go on? And what hindreth? why carnal Self: If it were but for worldly commodities they would do more: Would you have me prove it? Let experience speak. Let a servant or child go prayer-less to their work, and few regard it: but they will not go without meat, or drink, or clothes. The Master will suffer them to neglect Gods service; but if they neglect his own, and should do him no more or better service than they do to God, they should soon hear of it, and be turned out of door: and they were no servants for him. They will teach their children to do their own work, or set them Apprentices to learn it; but the work of God and their salvation, they shall for them have little teaching in, how plainly so ever God hath commanded it them, Deut. 11. 18, 19. & 6. 6, 7, 8. Ephes. 6. 4.
Let a servant or child reproach his Master or Parent, or call them all to naught, and they think not fit to put up that (nor indeed is it) but let them swear by the name of God or break his Laws, and they can patiently bear with it, and a cold rebuke like Eli’s will serve turn. They can get them into field or shop to work together, but they cannot get them before and after to prayer together. And why is all this? Why one is for Self, and the other is for God: One is for the body, and the other is for the soul. So that you see what Self can do, and how commonly it is the master of Families, Towns and Countries, because it is the master in men’s souls.
God must be loved above all, and our neighbour as ourselves: But if God were allowed but so much love as a very neighbour should have, it would not be all so ill with the selfish world as now it is. But because I have been so long on this first discovery of the power of Self, and the scarcity of Self-denial, I will be shorter in the rest that follow.
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