CHAP. IX. THE GREAT POWER AND PREVALENCY OF SELFISHNESS DISCOVERED
CHAP. IX. THE GREAT POWER AND PREVALENCY OF SELFISHNESS DISCOVERED
And that you may see what causes we have for our Lamentation: Consider the greatness of selfish Tyranny in these Particulars.
- Consider what a Power it is that self beareth down in the world: The Commands of the God of heaven are overcome by it. The promises of eternal life, are trod under foot by it. The threatening of endless torments are nothing to it. It casts by Heaven: it ventures upon Hell: It tramples upon the precious blood of Christ: It will not hear the voice of wisdom itself: Nor the voice of goodness and mercy itself: It refuseth him that speaks from heaven: Love itself is not lovely where self is Judge: It quencheth all the motions of the Spirit: it despiseth Ministers: It turneth mercies into wantonness and sin: Like Sampson, it breaks all bonds that are laid on it: and till it be weakened itself, there is no holding, no ruling, no saving the soul, that’s ruled by it.
- Consider also the exceeding Number of its Subjects: Truly if there were no other proof, that the sanctified and the saved are very few, this one is so full and sad a proof, that it tempteth me some time to think them much fewer than willingly I would do. Alas, how few self-denying persons do you meet with in the world; yea in the Church! yea among the stricter Professors! Look over all the world, and see how few you can find at work for anyone but for carnal self? If you observe the Courts, and see whose work is done most there; and look into the Armies of the world, and see who it is that ruleth there: if you look upon the affairs of Nations, and the wars of Princes, and their confederacies, and see who it is that rules in all; how little will you see (save here and there) but carnal self? It is self that makes the cause and manageth it: It is self that maketh Wars and Peace. Come down into our Courts of Justice, and whose voice is loudest at the bar, but self? and who is it commonly else that brings in the Verdict? at least who is it else that made and followeth on the quarrel? How many causes hath self at an Assize, for one that God hath? Come lower into the Country and who is it that ploughs and sows; who is it that keeps House or Shop but self? I mean what else but carnal self is the Principle? what else but carnal self is the End? what else but the will of self is the Rule? and what else but selfish commodity, or pleasure, or honour are the matter, or some provision that is made for these; and consequently what else but self-respect is the form? For the End informeth the means as means; and therefore all that is done for self is self-service and self-seeking. In a word, as God is all in all to the sanctified, so self is as all in all to the ungodly. And alas how great a number are all these!
- Consider that it is a sin that is nearer us objectively than any other sin; and the nearer the more dangerous. Alas that a man should turn his own substance into poison & feed upon it to his own destruction! If you have drunk poison, you may cast it up again, or nature may do much to work it out: but if your own blood, and humours, and spirits be turned into venom, that should nourish and preserve your life, what then shall expel this venom, and deliver you?
- Moreover it is the most obstinate disease in the world. No duty harder (except the Love of God) than self-denial. O how many wounds will self-carry away and yet keep life, and heal them all. How commonly do we convince some carnal Gentlemen, that One thing is needful, and that it’s a better part than Earth, and honour, and sensuality that must be chosen, or else they are undone; and that the more they have, the more they must forsake, and the more self-denial is required to their salvation; (and that all their lands, and wealth, and honours, and all their wit, and parts, and interest must be at the service of their Maker and Redeemer; and that when they have all in the world that they can get, that all must become Nothing, and God must become all; their treasure must become the dross and dung, and Christ must become their treasure, or they are lost? I say, how oft do we convince men of all estates of these important evident truths? And yet this self is still alive, and keeps the garrison of the heart; and all that we can have from most of them, is, as the rich man, Luk. 18. 23, 24. to be very sorrowful that they cannot have heaven at easier rates, and that Christ will not be a servant unto Self, or they cannot have two Masters! They go away sorrowful (but away they go) because they are rich; which makes Christ say upon this observation, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the Kingdom of God? But when the Disciples were troubled at his observation, he lets them know that it is Self and not Riches that is indeed the deadly enemy. It is the selfish that trust in Riches, and love and use them for themselves, and deny not themselves, and devote not all to God, that will be kept out of Heaven by them; Or in Christ’s own words, Luk. 12. It is [he that layeth up treasure for Himself, and is not rich towards God.] Conquer self and conquer all.
- Moreover self is the most constant malady; the sin that doth most constantly attend us. Many actual sins may be laid by, and we may for the time be free from them. But selfishness is at the heart, and lives with us continually; It parteth not from us sleeping or waking: It goes to the worship of God with us: it will not stay behind in the holiest ordinance: It will not forbear intermixing itself in the purest duties; but will defile them all. So that above all sins in the world, it’s this that must have the strictest, constant watch, or else we shall never have any peace for it.
- Yea this self doth lamentably survive even in the sanctified soul, among the special graces of the Spirit, and lamentably distempereth the hearts and lives of too many of the godly themselves. Not that any godly man is selfish in a predominant sense; or that self is higher or more powerful in his heart than God: for that’s a contradiction: such a man cannot be a godly man (without Conversion:) But yet the very remnants of conquered Self, what a smoke do they make in our Assemblies, and what noisome scent in the lives of many godly men? what a stir have we sometimes with those that we hope are godly, before we can get them to an impartial judgment; to lament their own fowl words, or other miscarriages, and to humble themselves, or freely to forgive another that hath wronged them! especially to confess disgraceful sins in any self-denying manner? How close stick they to their own conceits? how lamentably do they improve them, to the contempt of Ministers, & trouble and division of the Church? How wise are they in their own eyes, and how hardly yield they to any advice that crosseth Self? How hardly are they brought to any dear and costly duty? How much do they indulge their appetites and passions? and how cheap a Religion do many think to come to heaven with? we can scarce please some of them, they are so selfish: either because we cross them in their opinions, or in their ways; or because we allow them not so much special countenance and respect as self would have: or deny them somewhat which self-desires. If they have any use for us, if we leave not more public or greater work which god hath set us on, and allow them not that part in our time or labours, or other helps, which God and Conscience will not allow them, they are offended & take it ill, that self is not preferred before God and the public service. Their selves are so dear to themselves, that they think we should neglect all to serve them.
Let the most useful Minister live in a place that hath the plague, or other contagious mortal sickness; and most that are visited, will take it ill if the Minister come not to them, though they know that his life is hazarded by it, and that his loss to the whole Church is more to be regarded than the content or benefit of particular persons; and it is not the pleasing of them, nor their benefit by him then, that will countervail the Churches loss of him. What is this but too much preferring self (I hope not habitually, but) in that act, before the Church and honour of God?
Let a Minister or any other man resolve to bestow all that God hath given him for his service, on the poor, or pious uses: Perhaps he shall displease as many as he pleaseth, because he hath not enough for all: and if he give to nineteen, the twentieth will say [He passed by me; and I am never the better.] And thus this insatiable, unreasonable self will hardly be pleased; and among the godly how much doth it prevail! O how many Ministers in England can tell by sad experience, how much of self surviveth in Professors! so much that we can hardly rule them or keep them from breaking all to pieces, and every man running away of his own. The ruin of England’s expected Reformation; the fall of our hope in too great a measure, the multiplying of sects: the swarms of errors: the rage against the most faithful Ministers: the neglect of Discipline, and obstinate refusal of penitent confessions, and humbling, self-denying duties: the backwardness to learn: the forwardness to be teachers; the high esteem of weak parts, and weaker grace: the commonness of backbiting, censuring, and slandering, especially those that are not of their fond opinions: the rising designs of many the tenderness of their reputations: the contending for pre-eminence, all these, with many others, do too loudly tell the world how much of self, and how little self-denial is in many that seem godly.
But yet this is not the highest discovery of the power of Carnal self. Though its sad to think that it should be so potent in any that have grace: yet its sadder to think, that it hath too much Power in the wisest and most learned Magistrates and Ministers, that should be the greatest enemies of it in the rest. A Magistrate, as a Magistrate is for the common good. Political societies consisting of Sovereign and Subject, are therefore called Commonwealths, from the final Cause, which is the common good, or weal of all: so that it is essential to a Magistrate to be for the common good. And yet self creeps in, and makes such work with many of them, that its hard to judge whether it have left them the essence of the Magistracy, and whether they should be called Magistrates or no.
But yet its sadder, that the Learned, Godly Preachers of self-denial should have so little of it, as too many have. Alas, that Ministers do not remember how ill Christ took the first contending among his Disciples, who should be the greatest; that they do not imprint upon their minds the image of Christ’s setting a child before them, and after girding himself, and washing their feet. I think those men that make a Sacrament of this, do err much less than those that forget it. And I suspect that our contrariety to this example, will tempt some ere long into this contrary extremal, and it may be set up as a Sacrament indeed. O woeful case! to be daily lamented by all the compassionate members of the Church: that the Learned, Zealous Pastors of it, are the leaders, fomenters, and continuers of her divisions: and when they have opportunity to seek for healing, they want a will; and so much of self surviveth in them, that though God call to them for Peace and Unity, and the bleeding Church is begging it of them on her knees; yet self hath such power over them, that God is not heard, and the Church cannot be regarded; but Peace, and Piety, and all must be sacrificed to the will and Interest of self: As if they were the Priests of self, and the honour of God, and Peace of the Church were the daily sacrifice which they have to offer! Not a motion can be made for Reformation or Unity, but some selfish Ministers rise up to strangle it, under pretence of mending the terms. Not a consultation can be held, but self creeps in, yea openly appears, and ravels the work, and will needs be the doer of all that’s done, or nothing must go on that’s done against it.
O Blessed Nation, if self-denial were more eminent & predominant therein! O precious Ministry, and Great, and Honourable, if we truly sought our honour in the habit of children, and by being the servants of all! O happy Churches, abounding in Holiness and Peace, if once the Pastors and People were better skilled in the practice of self-denial! I must confess, to the praise of God’s grace, many such Ministers and people I have had the happiness to converse with! and how sweet the fruit hath been both to them and me, both they and I are ready to confess. But one self-seeking, unmortified Minister, is enough to disturb a whole society, and break the good endeavours of many: And alas how many such are abroad, that talk of almost nothing but their opinions, or parties, or carnal interests; and are not in the harvest as Reapers to gather, but as wild beasts that are broken in to make spoil, or Sampson’s Foxes to set all on fire; running up and down from Country to Country with fire-brands at their tails, and stings in their mouths, which they call by the reverend name of Zeal.
But you may think I have been long in discoveries, aggravations, and complaints; and therefore I will go no further in that sort of work, but only to adjoin these three or four practical consectaries following.