TO THE HONOURABLE COLONEL JAMES BERRY, &C
Providence having deprived me of the opportunity of nearer converse with you, which heretofore I have enjoyed, yet leaving me the same affections, they work towards you as they can; and have chosen here to speak to you in the hearing of the world, that my words may remain to the ends intended, when a private Letter may be burnt or cast aside. Flattery I am confident you expect not from me, because you know me, and know me to be your friend. (And yet my late Monitor hath made many smile, by accusing me of that fawning crime.) I am told what it is to bless my friend with a loud voice, Prov. 27. 14. I have learned myself, that [Open rebuke is better than secret love; and that faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful] Prov. 27, 5, 6. And therefore I shall do as I would be done by. Faithfulness and Usefulness shall be the measure of my message to you. And they have commanded me to set before you this lesson of Self-denial, and earnestly to entreat you, and again entreat you, that you will faithfully Read, and Learn, and Practice it. Though I judged you have learned it long ago, I think it not needless to mind you of it again; my soul being astonished to see the power of Selfishness in the world, even in those that by Confessions and Prayers, and high Professions, have frequently condemned it. Yet this is the Radical-mortal sin. Where this lives, all sins virtually live. Saythat a man is Selfish, and (in that measure) you say all that is naught of him as to his inclination. That Selfishness is the sum of Vice, and the Capital enemy of God, of Common-wealth, of Order and Government, of all Grace and Virtue, of every holy Ordinance and Duty, especially of Unity and Brotherly Love, and of the welfare of our neighbours, and of our own salvation, I have manifested to you in the following Discourse. But alas, what need we words to manifest it, when the [cpDonation key=’1′]flames of discord and long-continued divisions among Brethren do manifest it! When hatred, strife, variance, emulation, backbiting, violence, rebellions, bloodshed, resisting and pulling down of Governments, have so lamentably declared it! When such havoc is made by it before our eyes, and the evil spirit goes on and prospered, and desolation is zealously and studiously carried on, and the voice of Peacemakers is despised or drowned in the confused noise! [Presumptuous are they, self-willed, they have not been afraid to speak evil of dignities, 2 Pet. 2. 10.] To speak evil? was that the height of presumption and self-willedness then? Alas, how much further hath it proceeded now? even under the Cloak of Liberty and Religion? How many Conquerors that have often triumphed over their enemies, are conquered by themselves, and live in continual captivity, under this home-bred most imperious Tyrant?
Whence is it but for want of self-denial, that there is such scrambling for Rule and Greatness, for Riches and Honours among all? As if they thought it more desirable to fall from a high place than a low! and at death to part with Riches than with Poverty! and at Judgment to have much to answer for, than little! and to go to Heaven as a Camel through a needles eye, than by the more plain and easy way!
Whence is it but for want of self-denial, that men are so hardly convinced of their sins, be they never so open, and odious, and scandalous, if they be but such as will admit of an excuse before the world? Most sins that are confess, are such as seem not to be disgraceful, or such whose justification would double the disgrace, or such as are confess in pride, that the Confessor may gain the reputation of humility.
Whence is it but for want of self-denial, that Christian Love is grown so cold, while all profess it to be the badge of Christ’s Disciples? And that so many professors have so little Charity for any but those of their own opinions: unless it be a slandering Charity, or a persecuting, or murdering Charity? That all is commendable or excusable, that is done by men of their own conceits; and all condemnable, or a diminutive good, that is found in those that differ from them; especially if they dispute or write against them?
Whence is it but for want of self-denial, that men who know that whoredom, and drunkenness, and theft are sins, can yet be ignorant (in the midst of light) that discord and Church-divisions are sins? And that they hear him with heart-rising, enmity, or suspicion that doth declaim against them? As if Uniting were become the work of Satan, and Dividing were become the work of Christ. I mean not Dividing from those without, but Dividing in his Church, and among his Members; who are all baptized with one Spirit into one body, 1 Cor. 12. 13. even the Body of Christ, (not of the Pope) of which even Apostles are but members (and therefore Peter was not the Head) 1 Cor. 12. 27, 28. which is so tempered together by God, that there should be no schism in it, but that the members should have the same care one of another, 1 Cor. 12. 24, 25. And that for all the plain and terrible passages against Divisions, that are found in the word of God, it seems to some a Venial sin, and to others a commendable Virtue, if not a mark of Christian Piety. I may seem to speak incredible things of the delusions of selfish Professors of Religion, if they were not attested by the common and lamentable experience of the times.
And whence is it but for want of self-denial, that Peace-makers succeed no better in their attempts? That while all men cry up Peace and Unity, most men are destroying them, and few are furthering them, and fewer do it with zeal and diligence; so few, that they are born down in the crowd, and speed no better than Lot among the rabble of the Sodomites, that cried out against him [This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: Now will we deal worse with thee than with them] Gen. 19. 9. How long have some been longing, and praying, and moving, and labouring for Peace among the professed sons of Piety and Peace, in England? and all (for ought I see) almost in vain: unless to the condemnation of a selfish unpeaceable generation. (But yet let the sons of Peace plead for it, as long as they have a tongue and breath to speak.)
Whence can it be but for want of self-denial, that Magistrates professing a zeal for Holiness, regard no more the interest of Christ? but that the name (& but the name) of liberty, (a liberty that hath neither Moral good or evil in it) is set in the balance against the things of everlasting consequence, and thought sufficient to over-weigh them? And that the mere pretense of this indifferent-carnal Liberty, is thought an argument of sufficient weight, for the introduction of a wicked damning Liberty, even a Liberty to deceive and destroy as many as they can, and to hinder those that endeavour men’s salvation? And what’s the argument pleaded for all this? It’s partly a pretense of tenderness and mercy: and partly because men cannot be made Religious by force. And must such ignorant or juggling confusions serve turn, to cheat a Nation of their Religion and Liberties, and many thousands of their salvation?
As if all the controversy were, whether we should force others to be of our Religion? When it is only or principally, whether we may hinder them from robbing us of our own? and from tempting unstable souls to sin and to damnation? and from hindering the means of men’s salvation? and from the open practice of Idolatry or ungodliness? If we cannot force them to the Christian faith, cannot we hinder them from drawing others from it? And are unmerciful to them, if we give them leave to damn themselves (for that’s the mercy that is pleaded for) and only hinder them from damning others? Is it cruelty or persecution to hinder them from enticing souls to Hell, as long as they may freely go thither themselves? I should rather think, that if we did our best to save themselves, it were far from circuity. For example, if Infidel or Papists Books be prohibited, what cruelty or persecution is this? If Quakers be hindered from railing at Gods Ordinances in the open streets and Assemblies, what cruelty or persecution is this? But some think it enough for this Toleration, that they think as confidently they are in the right, as we do that they err!
And so do Heathens, Mahometans, and Infidels. And what! Shall every man have leave to do evil that can but be ignorant enough to think, (or say he thinks) that he doth well? And must Magistrates rule as men that are uncertain whether there be a Christ, or a Church, or a Heaven, or Hell, because some are found in their Dominions so foolish or impious as to be uncertain of it? In plain English, is it any hindrance to men’s salvation, and furtherance of their damnation, to be made Infidels, Papists, and such as deny the Essentials of Christianity, or not? If not; then away with Christianity and Reformation. Why do we pretend to it ourselves? But if it be; will merciful Rulers set up a trade for butchering of souls? and allow men to set up a shop of poison for all to buy and take that will? yea to proclaim this poison for souls, in streets and Church assemblies, as if men’s souls were no more worth than Rats or Mice, or hurtful vermin, or it were some noble achievement to send as many as may be to the Devil. Judge impartially, whether all this be not for want of self-denial? If selfish interest led them not to this, and if they were tenderer of the Interest of Christ than of their own, and of men’s souls than of their flesh, it would not be thus.
But the same argument that tempts the sensual to Hell, doth tempt such Magistrates to set up Liberty for drawing men to Hell. The wicked sell their souls to spare their flesh, and let go Heaven to enjoy the Liberty of sinning; and run into Hell to escape the trouble of an holy life: And such Magistrates sell the peoples souls to spare the flesh of the deceivers; and in tenderness and mercy to their bodies, they dare not restrain men from seeking their damnation. Is faith and holiness propagated by persuasion, and not by force? Surely then Infidelity, Popery and Ungodliness, are propagated by persuasion too! Again I tell you, self-love doth make such Rulers wiser than to grant Commission or Liberty to all that will, to tice their soldiers to mutinies or rebellion, their wives to Adultery, their children to prodigality, or their servants to thievery: But the love of Christ and men’s salvation is not so strong as to satisfy them whether men should be hindered from raising mutinies in his Church, and from destroying souls! Forsooth, they tell us that Christ is sufficient to look to his own cause. Very true (and they shall one day know it.) But must he not therefore teach or rule by men? Is not Adultery, Murder, Theft, Rebellion, against the Cause of Christ, and his Laws, as well as Popery and Infidelity? And must they therefore be let alone by man? Christ is sufficient to teach the world, as well as to govern. But doth it follow that men must be no Teachers under him? Nothing but selfishness could cause this blindness.
And because I know, that this stream proceeds from the Roman spring, and it is their great design to persuade the world, that it belongs not to Magistrates to meddle with Religion, but
only to cherish them that the Pope approved of, and to punish those whom the Pope condemns, and that Christ must Govern and judge of matters of Religion himself, that is, by his pretended Roman Vice Christ, I shall only now say this: that if Rome were acquainted with self-denial, and if the selfish carnal interest of Riches and Rule and worldly greatness, had not blinded them, they could never have believed themselves, that Christ did appoint the Pope of Rome to be his Universal Vicar; and that Princes and Magistrates in their own Dominions, have not more Power to judge who is to be tolerated or punished by the sword, than the Pope of Rome: when no Priest or Prelate upon earth (as such) hath anything to do with such a judgment, no not in the places where they live. All that they have to do herein, is to judge who is the Heretic or offender in order to his censure and excommunication: But it’s Magistrates only that must judge who is the Heretic or offender in order to corporal punishment or restraint. And this I undertake to make good against all the Papists in the world: much more that the Roman Tyrant, hath no such Power at the Antipodes, and in all the Christian Nations on earth.
Remember in all this, that I speak not against a Toleration of Godly tolerable men, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Independent, Anabaptist, &c. that will walk in Charity, Peace and Concord; we shall never be well till these are closed.
But do we not know that Papists have Italy and Spain and Germany and France at hand to help them? And that if we grant them such a liberty as shall strengthen them and make way for their power, we give away our own liberty, and are preparing faggots for our martyrdom, and giving away the Gospel that by wonders of mercy hath been till now preserved, (and I hope shall be preserved in despite of Rome and Hell.) Nor yet do I plead for any cruelty against a Papist, but for a necessary Defense of the interest of Christ and the souls of men, and the hopes of our posterity. True Humanity abhorred cruelty.
Did Magistrates well know their dependence upon God, and that they are his officers, and must make him their end, they would not take their flocks to be their masters, though they may take them for their charge; nor would they set up a carnal interest of the multitude, against the pleasing of God, and men’s salvation: nor would they think so highly of men’s conceits and wills as to judge it a matter of so much moment, to allow them in Religion to say or do what they list. If allowing a man’s self in the practice of Known sin, is inconsistent with a state of grace, and a sign of a miserable slave of Satan: I leave it to you to consider, what it will prove to allow others even Countries and Nations in Known sin. And if Rulers know not that setting up an Universal Vice Christ, and worshipping bread (though they think there is no bread) with Divine worship, and serving God in an unknown tongue, with other points of Popery, are sin; and that opposing and reproaching the holy Scriptures, Ordinances, and Ministry, are sin; woe to such Rulers, and woe to the Nations that are Ruled by such. O what a blessing is a holy self-denying Magistracy to a Nation! If one could have told you twenty years ago, that you and such as you should be Rulers in this Land, how confidently would you have promised an universal encouragement to godliness, and a vigorous promoting the cause of Christ, and a zealous suppressing of all that is against it! Little would you or I have thought that after Professors of godliness were in power, so many years should have been spent in destroying Charity and Unity, and cherishing almost all that will stand up for the Devil, and plead his cause against the Doctrine and Discipline and Worship and Churches and Officers of Jesus Christ. And that in their days it should have been put to the Question, whether the Ministry itself should be taken down. And that men in power should write for Liberty, for all that will call itself Religion, even Popery not excepted (nor I think, Infidelity or Mahumetism itself) and that those that write so should be men in Power? My heart would have risen against him as an odious calumniator, that should have presumed to tell me, that such men as have attempted this, would ever have come to such a pass: and I should have encountered them with Hazaels question, Are they dogs, that they should do so vile a thing? and exercise such cruelty on souls, and seek to bring back the people of God to the Romish vomit, and set up the greatest tyranny on earth, and all under pretense of a Religious Liberty?
But alas, it is not Magistrates only that are so wanting in self-denial. Ministers also are guilty of this crime: Or else we should not have been so forward to divisions, and so backward to the cure; nor would men of this profession, for the interest of their opinions and parties, have cherished dissension, and fled from concord, and have had a hand in the resisting and pulling down Authority, and embroiling the Nations in wars and miseries. And whence is it but for want of self-denial, (for our own faults must be confessed) that the Ministers of Christ are so much silent in the midst of such heinous miscarriages as the times abound with? I know we receive not our Commission as Prophets did, by immediate extraordinary inspiration! But what of that? The Priests that were called by an ordinary way, were bound to be plain and faithful in their Office, as well as the Prophets: And so are we. How plainly spoke the Prophets even to Kings? and how patiently did they bear indignities and persecutions? But now we are grown carnally wise and cautious; (for holy wisdom and caution I allow) and if duty be like to cost us dear, we can think that we are excused from it: If Great men would set up Popery in the Land by a Toleration; alas, how many Ministers think they may be silent, for fear lest the contrivers should call them seditious or turbulent or disobedient, or should set men to rail at them and call them Liars and Calumniators: or for fear lest they should be persecuted, and ruined in their estates or names! If they do but foresee, that men in power or honour in the world, will charge them with Lies or unchristian dealing, for speaking the words of Truth and Soberness, against the Introduction of Popery and impiety, and that they shall be made as the scorn and off-scouring of all the world, and have all manner of evil saying falsely spoken of them, for the sake of Christ, his Church and truth, they presently consult with flesh and blood, and think themselves discharged of their duty: when God saith, Ezek. 33. 6. &c. [If the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the Trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.] And were we no watchmen, yet we have this command, Lev. 19. 17. [Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.] Yet now many Ministers will be cruelly silent, lest they should be charged with malice and hating those whom they are commanded to rebuke. The sword of violence I persuade them not to meddle with: but were it not for want of self-denial, the sword of the spirit would be more faithfully managed against the sins of the greatest enemies of Christ and of the Gospel, than it is by most, though it should cost us more than scorns and slanders, and though we know that bonds and afflictions did abide us.
And verily I cannot yet understand, that the contempt and scorn of the Ministry in England, is fed by anything so much as selfishness. Could we be for all men’s Opinions and Carnal interests, (O what experience have I had of this!) all men, for ought I see, would be for us: Is it a crime to be a Minister? Doubtless it’s then a crime to be a Christian: And he that rails at us as Ministers today, it’s like will rail at us as Christians tomorrow. But if such will vouch safe to come to me, before they venture their souls, and soberly debate the case, I undertake to prove the truth of Christianity. The world may see in Clem. Writer’s exceptions against my Treatise of Infidelity, what thin transparent Sophisms, and silly Cavils, they use against the Christian cause. When they have well answered, not only that Treatise, but Du Plessis, Grotius, Vives, Ficinus Micraelius, & the ancient apologies of the Christian writers of the Church, let them boast then that they have confuted Christianity. The Devil hath told me long ago in his secret temptations, as much against the Christian Faith, as ever I yet read in any of our Apostates: But God hath told me of much more that’s for it, and enabled me to see the folly of their Reasoning, that think the mysteries of the Gospel to be foolishness.
But if it be not as Ministers and Christians that we are hated; what is it then? If because we are ignorant, insufficient, negligent or scandalous, why do they not by a legal trial cast us out, and put those in our places that are more able, diligent and godly, when we have provoked them to it, and begged it of them so often as we have done? If it be because we are not Papists, it is because we cannot renounce all our senses, our Reason, the Scripture, the Unity, Judgment and Tradition of the far greatest part of the Universal Church? If I have not already proved that Popery fighteth against all these, and am not able to make it good against any Jesuit on earth, let them go on to number me with Heretics, and let them use me as they do such when I am in their power. If we are hated because we are not of the Opinions of those that hate us, it seems those Opinions are enemies to Charity; and then we have little reason to embrace them. And if this be it, we are under an unavoidable necessity of being hated: For among such diversity of Opinions, it is impossible for us to comply with all, if we durst be false to the known truth, and durst become the servants of men, and make every self-conceited Brother the Master of our Faith. If we are so reviled, because me are against an Universal Liberty of speaking or writing against the truths and ways of Christ, and of labouring in Satan’s harvest, to the dividing of the Churches and the damnation of souls, it is then in the up-shot, because we are of any Religion, and are not despisers of the Gospel, and of the Church, and of men’s salvation, and because we believe in Jesus Christ. I have lately found by their exclamations, and common defamations, and threatening, and by the Volumes of reproaches that come forth against me, and by the swarms of lies that have been sent forth against me through the Land, that even the present Contrivers of England’s Misery (Liberty, I would say) and of Toleration for Popery, and more, are themselves unable to bear contradiction from one such an inconsiderable person as myself; and they have got it into the mouths of soldiers, that my writings are the cause of wars, and that till I give over writing, they shall not give over fighting (though I do all that I am able to do for Peace.) And if this be so, what a case would they bring the Nation into, by giving far greater Liberty to all, than ever I made use of! Unless they still accept a Liberty of contradicting themselves, they must look for other kind of usage, when Libertinism is set up. Yea if they will seek the ruin of the Church and Cause of Christ, they must look that we should take Liberty to contradict them, and to speak for Christ and the souls of men, till they have deprived us of tongues, or pens, or lives; And they must expect that we obey God rather than men, and that, as Paul did Peter, Gal. 2. 11. we withstand them to the face; and that Satan shall not be unresisted, because he is transformed into an Angel of Light; nor his Ministers be un-resisted, because they are transformed into the Ministers of Righteousness; nor the false Apostles and deceitful workers, because they are transformed into the Apostles of Christ] 2 Cor. 11. 13, 14, 15. Nor must they think to do so horrid a thing, as to weave their Libertinism, & Toleration of Popery into a new Fundamental Constitution of the Common-wealth, which Parliaments must have no power to alter, and that the ages to come shall curse us for our silence, and say that Ministers, and other Christians were all so basely selfish, as for fear of reproaches or sufferings, to say nothing, but cowardly to betray the Gospel, and their Country. If the rattling of the hail of persecution on the tiles, even on this flesh, which is but the tabernacle of our souls be a terrible thing; how much more terrible is the indignation of the Lord, and the threats of him that is a consuming fire! If you can venture your life against an enemy in the field, we are bastards and not Christians if we cannot venture ours, and give them up to persecuting rage, as long as we know that we have a Master that will save us harmless, and that the God whom we serve is able to deliver us, & that he hath charged us not to fear them that kill the body, and after that can do no more, &c. and that he hath told us that we are blessed when men revile us and persecute us, and say all manner of evil against us falsely for his sake; bidding us, Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is our reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the Prophets that were before us, Mat.5 :10, 11, 12. and when we are told that he that will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life, for the sake of Christ, shall find it, Mat. 16. 25. and when we know that we own a cause that shall prevail at last, and resist them whose end shall be according to their works, 2 Cor. 11: 15.
And what though this be unknown to the opposers? That will not warrant us to betray a cause that we know to be of God; nor will the ignorance of others excuse us, for neglecting known truth and duty. If the souls of private persons be worth all the study and labour of our lives, and we must deal faithfully with them, whatever it shall cost us: surely the safety of a Nation, and the hopes of our posterity, and the public interest of Christ, is worthy to be spoken for with much more zeal, and we may suffer more joyfully, for contradicting a public destroyer of the Church, than for telling a poor drunkard or whoremonger of his sin and misery.
Hither to I have permitted my pen to express my sense of the common want of self-denial in the Land: Now give me leave, as your most affectionate faithful friend, to turn my stile a little to yourself, and earnestly to entreat of you these following particulars.
In general, that as long as you live you will watch against this common deadly sin of Selfishness, and study continually the duty of Self-denial. We shall be empty of Christ, till we are nothing in ourselves. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Self is the strongest and most dangerous enemy that ever you fought against. It is a whole Army united; and the more dangerous because so near. Many that have fought as valiantly and successfully against other enemies as you, have at last been conquered and undone by Self. And conquer it you cannot without a conflict: And the conflict must endure as long as you live: And combating is not pleasing to the enemy: And therefore as long as self is the enemy and self-pleasing so natural to corrupted man, (that should be wholly addicted to please the Lord) Self-denial will prove a difficult task: And if somewhat in the advice that would engage you deeper in the conflict, should seem bitter, or ungrateful, I should not wonder. And let me freely tell you, that your prosperity and advancement will make the work so exceeding difficult, that since you have been a Major General, and a Lord, and now a Counsellor of State, you have stood in a more slippery perilous place, and have need of much more grace and vigilance, than when you were but Baxter’s Friend. Great places and employments have great temptations, and are great avocations of the mind from God. And no error scarcely can be small, that is committed in public great Affairs; which the honour of God, and the temporal and spiritual welfare of so many, do, in some sort, depend upon. These times have told us to our grief, what Victory and Prosperity can do, to strengthen the selfish principle in men: They have swallowed Camels since they were lifted up, that would have strained at Gnats in a lower state. The Ministry, and Ordinances, and Holy Communion that once were sweet to them, are grown into contempt. Centaury and Wormwood are excellent helps to procure an appetite, and strengthen the stomach; but marrow and sweetness breed a loathing. The Vertiginous disease is not so strong with them that are on the ground, as with them that stand on the top of a steeple. I had rather twenty times look up at them that are so exalted, than stand with them, and have the terror of looking down. Had not professors been intoxicated by prosperity, they had not believed and lived so giddily. I have often seen men’s reason marred with a cup or two too much, but seldom by too little. And too many I have known, that have wounded conscience and sold their souls for the love of Prosperity and Wealth; but none that ever did it for Poverty. For a rich man to be saved is impossible to man, though all things are possible with God, Matt. 19. 26. Luke 18. 27. For my own part, I bless God that hath kept me from greatness in the world, and I take it as the principal act of Friendship that ever you did for me, that you provoked me to this sweet, though flesh-displeasing life, of the Ministry, in which I have chosen to abide. I had rather lie in health on the hardest bed, than be sick upon the softest. And I see that a feather-bed maketh not a sick man well. The sleep of the labouring man is sweet: The ploughman’s brown bread and cheese, is more savoury to him, and breedeth fewer sicknesses, than the fullness and variety of the rich. This Country Diet doth not cherish Voluptuousness, Arrogance, Vain-glory, Earthly-mindedness, Uncharitableness, and other selfish diseases, so much as worldly greatness doth.
Experience telleth us that most men are best in a low estate: insomuch that a bad man in sickness will speak better, and seem more penitent and mortified, than many better men in health. It’s a wonderful hard thing to live like a Christian in a full prosperity; and to be above this world, and have lively apprehensions of the invisible things, and live a heavenly conversation, in Health and Wealth, when our flesh hath so much provision at hand, to accommodate and please it. Prosperity doth powerfully corrupt the mind: It breedeth many dangerous errors, and vices; and it maketh useless that knowledge which men have: so that though such men can speak the same words as another, about the matters of the life to come, it is but dreamingly, and without life. Their Knowledge hath but little power on their hearts and lives. The world is so great with them, which is as nothing that God and everlasting life are as nothing to them which are all. They are so full of the creature that they have no room for Christ: and so busy about Earth, that they have but little time for Heaven: and taste so much sweetness in their present pomp, that they cannot relish the true and durable delights. They know their Morals, as they know some Astronomical, or Geometrical verities, by an opinion or ineffectual Knowledge: so that indeed they Know not what they Know, Pausanias in his prosperity desiring to hear some secrets of Philosophy, had no more from Simonides but, Remember that thou art a man: He condemned this at the present, as a ridiculous Memento of that which no man could forget: But when he was reduced to an extremity, he then remembered the Philosophers Lesson, and perceived there was more in it than he understood when he condemned it.
How little is there in a prosperous state, that should seem desirable in a wise man’s eyes? why is it that great Travellers and Statesmen, and all that have most tried the world, desire to withdraw from it toward the evening of their Age, and to retire themselves into a private life, that they may there look towards eternal things, and cry out of the Vanity and Vexation which they have here found? Must we not conceive them wiser after much experiences than before? and therefore wiser in their recess, than in their aspiring? and therefore that it’s folly to be ambitious, and wisdom to condemn the world? why else do dying men most contemn it? Dear friend, you’ll think of these things more understandingly and more feelingly one of these days, when you come to die, than you can do now. I would not for all the world have been without the advantages of looking death so often in the face, as I have done since you first knew me. If I have been but a while without this sight, and have but conceited that yet I have many years to live, alas, how it hath enervated my Knowledge and my Meditations! So that twenty times thinking the same holy thoughts, will not do so much as once will do, when I seem to be nearer my everlasting state.
And what doth worldly greatness add to your real worth in the eyes of God or of wise men? Magistracy as a thing Divine I honour: But James hath taught me, not to be partial to the rich as rich, and call up the man with the Gold Ring and gay attire, and say to the poor, Sit there at my footstool. As to be proud of fine clothes is a childish or womanish piece of folly, below a man: so to be proud of Victories, and Dignities and wealth, and worldly honours, is the vanity of an Infidel or Atheist, and below a Christian that hath the hopes of heaven. If a man be holy, he is above his worldly greatness, and beareth it as his burden, and feareth it as his snare. And if he be Carnal, he is the faster in his misery; and golden fetters are stronger than any others. A pebble-stone on the top of Atlas is but a pebble: and a Pearl is a Pearl in the bottom of the Sea. A nettle on the top of a mountain is but a nettle: and a Cedar in the lowest valley is a Cedar. If God dwell with the contrite, and have respect to him that is poor and humble, and trembleth at his word, it seems they are most to be respected, and are the most honourable, if God can put more honour upon us by his approbation than man. God will not ask us, where we have grown (in order to our Justification) but what fruit we have born? nor whether we were Rich or poor? but whether we were Holy or unholy? nor what was our station? but How we behaved ourselves in it?
Prosperity usually breedeth a tenderness and sickly frame of soul, so that we can scarce look out of door, but our affections take cold; and can scarce feed on the most wholesome food, but we receive it with some loathing, or turn it to the matter of some disease. But to worldly vanities, it breeds a Canine appetite: so that ambitious wretches are like Dogs that greedily swallow the morsel that you cast them, and presently gape for more. But wholesome poverty hardeneth us against such tenderness and infirmities, and breedeth not such diseases in the soul. [A poor man’s rod when thou dost ride, is both a weapon and a guide] saith our serious Poet. I sleep most sweetly when I have travelled in the cold; frost and snow are friends to the seed, though they are enemies to the flower. Adversity indeed is contrary to Glory, but it befriendeth Grace. Plutarch tells us, that when Caesar past by a smoky nasty Village, at the foot of the Alps, some of his Commanders merrily asked him, [Whether there was such a stir for Commands and Dignities and Honours among those Cottages, as there was at Rome?] The answer’s easy. Do you think that an Antony, a Mark, a Hierom, or such other of the ancient retired Christians, were not wiser and happier men, than a Nero or a Caligula, yea or a Julius, or Augustus Caesar? Is it a desirable thing to be a Lord or Ruler, before we turn to common earth? and as Marius that was one day made Emperor, and reigned the next, and was slain by a Soldier the next; so to be worshipped to day, and laid in the dust, if not in Hell tomorrow? It was the saying of the Emperor Severus, Omnia sui, sed nihil expedit; And of King David, I have seen an end of all perfection. O value these things but as they deserve! Speak impartially; Are not those that are striving to get up the Ladder, foolish and ridiculous, when those that are at the top, have attained but danger, trouble and envy; and those that fall down are accounted miserable?
There are more draughts of poison given in Golden than in earthen Vessels, saith the Poet. The Scythian therefore was no fool, that when the Emperor Mich. Palaeologus sent him precious Ornaments and Jewels, asked, what they were good for? Whether they would preserve him from calamity, sickness or death? and sent them home, when he heard they were of no more use. You desire not the biggest shoes, or clothes, but the meetest; So do by your Dignity and Estate: As you must ask but your Daily bread, so must you desire no more: Neither Poverty, nor Riches, but convenient food: yet so as to learn to abound and to want, and in every state to be content: bearing Riches and Dignity if cast upon you, without seeking; but not desiring or gaping after them, nor glorying in them: Undergoing them as a burden with patience and self-denial, and carefully using all for God; but neither desiring nor using them for Carnal self. [They that will be rich (or great) fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition: for the love of money is the root of all evil, which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows] 1 Tim. 6: 9, 10.
Remember where you began, and where you must end. Naked you came into the world, and naked you must return to dust. You brought our Riches hither, and none shall you take hence, unless you learn the blessed art of making friends of the unrighteous Mammon, and laying up a good foundation against the time to come, and laying up a treasure in Heaven, by the right improvement of your present mercies. Though our life be nor circular, but progressive, the end as to our naturals, is liker to the beginning than to the middle. If we die not children, yet liker to Children than we live. It’s sad that the height and perfection of our Age should be the height of our folly: And that childhood and retired Age should be least entangled with these vanities. And it is a lamentable stupidity that alloweth self so confidently to play its game, so near eternity; where one would think the noise of damned souls, and the triumphant joys of blessed Saints, that past to rest by the way of self-denial, should mar the sport, and turn their pride into shame and trembling; and the great things of mortality that are even at hand, should drown the noise of pomp and pleasure, and make the Greatness of this world appear an inconsiderable thing. The Lord grant that you be no less humble, and heavenly, and true to Christ, and above this world, than when you and I had our first familiar converse, (and sure by this time you should be much better.) It’s said of Agathocles King of Sicily, that having been a Potters Son, he would always have together Earthen and Golden Vessels at his Table, to remember him of his Original. You tread on earth and bear about you such evidences of your frailty as serve to tell you, whence your and whither it’s going, and how it should be used now: Remember also your spiritual new birth, by what seed you were begotten, and by what milk you were nourished, and see that you degenerate not, and do nothing unworthy that noble birth, and the heavenly nature then received.
- And remember that self-denial is never right, unless it be caused by the love of God; and as you deny yourself, so you entirely and unreservedly devote yourself to him. To this end I crave your observation of these few unquestionable precepts.
- Take heed of Unbelief, and dread all temptations tending to it, and live by that faith which maketh absent things to be to you as present, and things unseen as if they were seen. When Heaven once loseth its interest in the soul, the world may play Rex and delude and destroy us at its pleasure.
- Take heed of all intrusions of selfishness: Especially overvalue not your own understanding in the things of God. Draw not a great picture of a little man. Be not easily drawn to condemn the judgements of those that have searched the Holy Scriptures with equal diligence and humility, and with much more advantages of retiredness, and time, and helps than you.
3.Take heed of engaging your hand, or tongue, or secret thoughts, against the faithful Ministers of Christ: But further the work of Christ in their hands with all your power. I am no Prophet, but yet presume to say, that if the reproaches of a faithful Ministry in England be purged away without some dreadful judgment of God on the Apostate reproaches, or else a desertion of the Nation, by a removing of our glory, I shall wonder at the patience and forbearance of the Lord. It’s a dreadful observation, to see so much of the spirit of Malignity possessing those that once said, they fought against Malignant. And that the Ministers and servants of the Lord, are railed at by many of them, as formerly they were by the worst of those that their hands destroyed: And with this dreadful aggravation, that then it was but some that were reviled, and now with many it is all: then it was under the name of Puritans and Round-heads, and now it is openly as Ministers under the name of Priests, and Black-coats, and Presbyters, and Puppeteers. What have these souls done, that they are so far forsaken by the Lord! The judge of all the world is at the door, that will plead his servants cause in righteousness. It is hard kicking against the pricks. He that despiseth, despiseth not men, but God. Persecution under pretense of Liberty, is heightened with hypocrisy, and is one of the greatest sins in the world. But men are not caught in Spiders webs, though flies are: our Lord will make us a way to escape. Persecution never conquered Christ, And because he lives, we shall live also. Here is the faith & patience of the Saints.
I know that malice wants not words to cloak their iniquity, He that hath will and power to do hurt, hath so much wit as to pretend some reason for it: Though I think that malice did never walk more nakedly, since the Primitive persecutions, than it doth in England at this day. Their principles and profound contrivances they can hide; but their Malignity goes stark naked, and is almost grown past shame. They talk against Mercenary Ministers as if they had never read 1 Cor. 9. Mal. 3. and such other Scriptures: Or, as if they envied food and raiment to them that watch and labour for their souls, to whom they are commanded to give double honour, 1 Tim. 5. 17. when they envy not Provender to their Horses, nor Fodder to their labouring Ox, nor the crumbs to their very Dogs. But the matter is, that their wit is too scant and narrow for their malice; and therefore the Popish and Malignant enemies have no fairer pretense to cast out the Ministry, than by this engaging the Covetousness of the ignorant and ungodly sort against them. They talk of our want of a just call: But what is it in point of Calling that is wanting? Abilities say some; Succession say others; Miracles say others; and indeed it’s what the Interest of selfish men doth dictate to the accusers. O that they would tell us what is the due Call; and where is the Ministry on Earth that hath it, if we have not? If they would have all laid by that work not Miracles, we may see what they would have done to the Church. If we are not what they would have us be, and do not what they would have us do, why do they not come in charity and meekness, and shew us the course that we should take? If we are fools or besides ourselves, it is for them. The God whom we serve, that will shortly judge us, is our witness, that we have chosen the Calling that we are in, for their salvation, and for his glory; and that we labour in it in season and out of season to please Christ, and to profit them, rather than to please or accommodate our flesh. You brought me into the Ministry: I am confident you know to what ends, and with what intentions I desired it: I was then very ignorant, young and raw: Though my weakness be yet such as I must lament, I must say, to the praise of the great Shepherd of the slock, that he hath since then afforded me precious opportunities, much assistance, and as much encouragement as to any man that I know alive. You know my Education and initial weakness was such as forbiddeth me to glory in the flesh: But I will not rob God of his Glory, to avoid the appearance of ostentation, lest I be proud of seeming not to be proud. I doubt not but many thousand souls will thank you, when they have here read that you were the man that led me into the Ministry. And shall I entertain a suspicion, that you will ever hearken to those men, that would rob you of the reward of many such works, and engage you against the King of Saints? Is it gain, or ease, or worldly advantages that continued me in this work? Let me speak as a fool, seeing it is for the Lord in imitation of Paul that was no fool. Was I not capable of Secular and Military advancement as well as others that are grown great? Did I ever solicit you so much as for my Arrears (which is many hundred pounds?) You could scarce do the thing that would gratify my flesh more, than to silence and depose me from the Ministry. Might I consult with the flesh, I should be more against my own employment than many of my enemies are. Did I but turn Physician, I could get more worldly wealth: And my Patients would not be so forward, and quarrelsome, and unthankful, as most Ministers find their carnal Auditors to be. When men come to me for Physic for their Bodies, how submissive are they? and how do they entreat? and what thanks after will they return? But when we would help their souls, what cavils, and quarrels, and unthankful obstinacy do we meet with? We must be much beholden to them to accept our help, and all will not serve sin. My Patients that have bodily Diseases will pay me, if I would take it: But if by giving them twice as much as I receive, I could satisfy and further the cure of diseased souls, how joyful should I be? And must we deny ourselves and all things in the world, for our people’s sakes, and after all be reproached as if we were a mercenary generation, and sought ourselves! O how will God confound this ingratitude, when he comes to judge!
Something they might say if the Ministers of England had the provision of the French and other Popish Clergy. (I will not presume to compare now our Calling, fidelity and maintenance, with Magistrates, Judges and men of other professions.) Should I suppose the Magistracy epitomized in you, and the Ministry in me, I should give you an undue advantage: For I suppose there are far more Ministers better than me, than there are Magistrates better than you. And yet I think you would not judge of me, as the Ministers are judged of. As there are no such Commissioners for ejection of scandalous insufficient negligent Magistrates, as are for the ejection of such Ministers, so if there were, I should not doubt, but you would quickly see which part were liable to more exceptions. But when I took on the faithful Ministers round about me, (how many of them could I name!) with whom my conscience tells me I am not worthy to be compared in Holiness, I am then amazed at the ingratitude of the Apostates of this age. How constantly and zealously do they preach in public, at home and abroad, some of them many times a week? How diligently do they instruct the ignorant in private, from house to house? How unblamably, and meekly, and self-denyingly do they behave themselves? And are men that once made profession of Religion, become the enemies of such a Ministry? [O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their Assembly mine honour be not thou united] Gen. 49. 6. I had rather be in the case of Turks, yea of Cannibals, than of those men.
I know that many think our very ignorant Dividers to have more illumination, and that the Pastors of the flocks are carnal ignorant men: (As the blind man that rushed against another, and asked him, whether he was blind, that could not go out of his way.) But I have long tried the spirits; and I have found that these Chameleons have nothing within but lungs: and that straw and little sticks may make the quickest and the lightest blaze, but will not make a durable fire, as the bigger fuel doth. A Bittern hath a loud a voice than a Swan or Eagle. And in some one thing a bungler may excel a better work-man. And what if one Minister excels in one gift, and another in another, and few in all? Is not this like the Primitive administration? You be not angry with your Apple-tree that it bears not Plumbs, nor with your Pear-tree that it bears not Figs?
But I have been too tedious. I beseech you interpret not any of these words as intended for accusation or unjust suspicion of yourself: God forbid you should ever fall from that integrity, that I am persuaded you once had. But my eye is on the Times with grief, and on my Ancient, Dearest Friend with Love. And in an age of Iniquity and Temptation, my conscience and the world shall never say that I was unfaithful to my friend, and forbore to tell him of the common dangers.
Dear Friend, take heed of a glittering flattering world. Remember that greatness makes few bad men good, and few good men better. As Seneca saith, The Carcase is as truly dead that is embalmed, as that which is dragged to the grave with hooks. [And this I say, the time is short: It remaineth that they that weep be as if they wept not, and they that rejoice as though they rejoiced not, and they that buy as though they possessed not, and they that use this world as they that use it not, for the fashion of this world passeth away.] 1 Cor. 7. 29, 30, 31. And when the soul of the worldly fool is required of him, then whose shall all their Dignities, and Honours, and Riches be? In the meantime God judgeth not by outward appearance, as man judgeth, nor honoureth any for being honoured of men.
These Truths (well known to you) I thought meet here to set before your eyes, not knowing whether I shall any more converse with you in the flesh; and also to desire you seriously to read over these popular Sermons (persuaded to the Press by the importunity of some faithful Brethren, that love a mean Discourse on so necessary a subject:) Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation. I rest,
Your Friend, Richard Baxter.
Sept 12. 1659.