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As, therefore, we must be careful to have our consciences duly regulated, by the infallible word of God; so must we be no less careful still, to follow the guidance of our conscience, in all our ways. And, that all these things may be performed with effect, we must be sure that we do constantly observe all our set exercises of piety; hearing; reading; receiving the blessed sacrament; prayer; and, especially, strict self-examination, whereby we may come to espy our first failings, and correct our very propensions to evil. One * said well, that "nature doth not more abhor vacuity, than grace doth idleness." Now all these, if they seem harsh and tedious to corrupt nature; yet, to the renewed heart, familiarly conversant in them, nothing is more pleasing and cordial. The Philosopher could say, and find, that "virtuous actions are delightful to well disposed minds;+" insomuch as it is defined for the surest argument of a good habit fully acquired, that we find contentment and delectation in good performances.
[5. Lastly, because ill-used prosperity is apt to obdure the heart, we must be sure to settle in selves a Right Estimation of all these Worldly Things: which, indeed, are, as they are taken.
Estimation of Worldly
I may well say of riches, as the Jewish Rabbins had wont to say of their Cabala; with a good heart, they are good: otherwise, they are no better than the mammon of iniquity; and, indeed, worse than want: but, at their best, they are such, as are utterly unable to yield true contentment to the soul. They are good, for use; ill, for fruition: they are for the hand to employ, not for the heart to set up his rest in.
Hereupon it is, that the holiest men have still both inclined and persuaded to their contempt. That great master of meditation applauded it in his friend, the Cardinal of Cambray, as the happiest condition; That all these earthly and temporal things, which his eye beheld, were tedious unto him. And St. Bernard & magnifies, in this name, his dear acquaintance, Gilbert, Bishop of London; That, even in that state, he would live poor: and the same Father would have his Monk to take most joy, and think himself then welcomest, when the coarsest fare was set before him. Answerable whereunto, but beyond it, was the diet of Valentine ¶, a rigorous votary; who, for ten years together, would eat nothing but bread dipt in water, wherein wormwood was steeped and of that other his fellow, who steeped his bread in lye, that he might eat ashes, with the Prophet.
Not to run into extremities, it is sure and necessary counsel, which the Psalmist gives us, to resolve, if riches increase, not to set our hearts upon them; Ps. lxii. 10. to account them no other,
* Gers, ser. de Domin, Evangel. Plus abhorret gratia otium, quàm natura † ̔Αι καθ ̓ ἀρετὴν πράξεις τοῖς φιλοκάλοι; εἴσιν ἡδεῖαι Arist. Eth. lib. i. Benè habet, quòd molestant te omnia, qua cernis, utique temporalia et mor talia, &c. Gers. epist. ad Card. Cameracens. § Ep. 24. ad Gilbertum LonLib. Conformitat: Conform. 8.
Ber. Specul. Monachorum.
than as good helps, and needful impediments; and all worldly con tentments such, as are not worthy to take us up.
It was a question, moved to the founder of some strict devotionists, "Whether they might laugh with all their heart*:" and it is answered negatively; Non licet. And the devout governor of the votaries of Clareval could give charge to his religious; Non debet totus manducare: and it is reported by the writer of his life, if he heard any of his Dorter snorting in his sleep, he would chide that man, as sleeping carnally and securely. Surely, the world is and should be the same to them and us, who have no less engaged ourselves to a professed hostility unto all the vanities thereof; and have no more hearty share in the pomps and pleasures of it, than the most reclused Anchorites.
At the best, this earth can be no other than our valley of tears, and region of our pilgrimage. Our Giraldus Cambrensis † tells us, that his St. Brendan, upon long and wearisome travel, at last went so far, as to come to the sight of the earthly Paradise. They may, that list, believe it: but, sure I am, never any mortal eye, since the angel brandished his sword there, could find ought worthy the name of a Paradise, in this inferior world. Here is purgatory enough; and, perhaps, some hell above ground: but if, as Ortelius of late held, that all the whole earth was, at the first, Paradise, any man shall now think that any part of it is so still; I shall pity him, and think him worthy the pleasure of these earthly tor
For us, if we would have our souls safe, we must learn, with the blessed Apostle, so to use the world, as if we used it not and strive to attain to the equable temper of that holy man §, whose face was neither darkened with sorrow nor smoothed with laughter; as well knowing, that, what affection soever the world wins of us, is lost unto God. Thus, if we shall keep ourselves carefully from the trade of sin, and from the fascination of the world, we shall be sure that our hearts shall not thus be deaded with security.
Of Presumption; ano-
Presumption of the
2. The no less direct, but more active opposite to holy fear, is PRESUMPTION.
(1.) We presume, when, out of an unjust self-love, we entertain a higher opinion of our spiritual estate, than there is cause; whether in respect of the Way, or of the End: God's Favour, as the Way; Salvation, as the End. We are apt to over ween our interest in God's favour, and our assured safety thereby commonly, upon a double ground, either matter of Event, or matter of Ability: for,
* Si ex toto corde ridere non licet: Resp. negativè Reg. Benedicti. c. 32. + Girald. Cambr. Prefat. ad Tract. de Mirac.
Abrah. Ortel. In the Geograph. Ego verò Paradisum ubique fuisse puto, nempe ante Adami lapsum; et non locum significare, sed loci naturam et qualitatem. § S. Martin. Cujus faciem non fuscavit mæror, nec levigavit risus. Ber. Spec. Monach. || Quanto inferiùs delectamur, tanto à superno umore disjungimur. Ber. de Interiore Domo.
either we misinterpret fair events, as pledges of happiness and safety; or, we mistake those qualities, for true graces, which are either mere appearances, or, perhaps, no better than very enorinities. Millions of men miscarry, both ways; and are, therefore, so far from fear, as that they go dancing towards their heil.
[1.] It was the strong bulwark, which the Egyp- _in matter tian Jews set up against all Jeremy's menaces, We of Event: will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven, and pour out drink-offerings to her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem : for then, we had plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil; Jer. xliv. 17. Had their belly been their God, the argument had held well : that deity is best pleased with store of cates; but the true God, many times, even with quails sends lean
Carnal hearts know not how to measure felicity, but by the affluence of what most pleases them; and that pleases them most, which gives most contentment to their sense and appetite: wherein, if their desires be answered, they are soon transported from themselves; and now, can be no other, than the great favourites of heaven. If Uzziah once feel himself grown strong, his heart is lifted up; 2 Chron. xxvi. 15, 16: why should not a censer fit him, no less than a sceptre? The great dragon of Egypt, when he hath lain at ease a while, in the swollen waters of his Nilus, can say, My river is my own, and I have made it for myself ; Ezek. xxix. 3. And, who is there, that hath fished successfully in this sea of the world, but is ready to sacrifice unto his own nets; and
within himself, “ Had I not been so good, I had not sped so well?”
Our naturalists truly observe, that the most poisonous flies are bred in the sweetest fruit-trees : so are these most dangerous presumptions, in an outward happiness of condition. Let an Amalekitish Agag be but a little made of, he comes in delicately, and says; " Surely, the bitterness of death is overpast; 1 Sam. xv. 32: when a king hath been indulgent, a prophet will not be bloody: all is safe: there may be hope of my crown; there can be no danger of my head.” Hereupon it is, that, as those whose heads are laid upon down pillows are not apt to hear noise, the over-prosperous have their ears precluded against all threats of peril, all counsels of reformation; as thinking, they neither need to wish themselves better, nor to fear being worse.
And, while they applaud themselves as the only darlings, they look overly and scornfully upon the meaner estate of others; and pass deep censures upon the adversities of their miserable neighbours, as if they could not fare ill, if they were not so. Job cannot be afflicted, if he were not a hypocrite. Doth the tower of Siloe, like some dreadful pitfall, overwhelm eighteen citizens of Jerusalem? Luke xiii. 4. they were more heinous sinners than their fellows. Doth a viper seize upon St. Paul's hand ? Acts xxviii. 4. Doubtless, this man is a murderer, whom vengeance would not suffer to live.
Thus, the vain hearts of sensual men are carried with those outward events, which God never meant for the distinction of either love or hatred. Those, that are rich in these proud conceits, make their imaginary wealth their strong city; which they please themselves, in thinking impregnable: and, as foolish Micah argued a necessity of God's future beneficence to him, by the good that he had done, in procuring a levite to his priest; Judges xvii. 13. so these flatter themselves, with an assurance of God's present favour, by the benefits which God hath showered down upon them: wherein it falls out oft, as it did with the riflers of Semiramis's tomb; who, where they expected to find the richest treasure, met with a deadly poison.
-in matter of Ability.
[2.] Neither is it easy to know, whether that other presumption of Abilities be not, at least, equally frequent and dangerous. The proud Angel of the Church of Laodicea could say, I am rich, and encreased with goods, and have need of nothing; not knowing, that he was wretched, miserable, poor, blind, naked.
How many have we heard to boast of those graces, whereto they have been perfect strangers! How have we known some, that have pretended to no less illumination than Pisanus* reports of John of Alverne; who, in a rapture, was elevated above every creature, and his soul swallowed up in the abyss of the Divinity: when it hath been, indeed, nothing but a fanatical illusion! How ordinarily do we find men challenging no mean share in a lively faith, spiritual joy, fervent zeal, true sanctity; when, in the mean while, they have embraced nothing but the clouds of their own fancies, instead of these heavenly graces; and, by this means, have stript themselves of the possibility of those holy virtues, which they falsely soothed in themselves! For, who can care to seek for that, which he thinks he hath already?
Men do not so much covet, as arrogate spiritual gifts. Every Zidkijah can say, Which way went the Spirit of God, from me, to speak unto thee? 1 Kings xxii. 24: and, like a spiritual epicure, can clap himself on the breast, with, "Soul, take thy ease, thou hast grace enough laid up for many years."
From this opinion of satiety, arises a necessary carelessness of better endeavours; and a contemptuous undervaluation of the poor stock of grace in others: it being commonly incident into these presuming souls, that was of old wont to be said of the Tartars, that they are better invaders of other men's possessions, than keepers of their own: those censures then, which they should spend upon their own secret corruptions, they are ready to cast upon the seeming enormities of their neighbours; and, as if they would go contrary to the Apostle's charge, Be not high-minded, but fear; these men are high-minded, and fear not.
Presumption of the End.
(2.) The Way leads to the End; the presumption of the way, to the presumption of the End; over-ween
* Lib. Conformit.
ing and misprision of grace, to an over-reckoning of an undue salvation.
Good God*, with what confidence have I heard some, not overconscionable men, talk of the assurance of their heaven! as if the way thither were so short and so plain, that they could not miss it; as if that passage had neither danger nor difficulty; as if it were but a remove from the lobby to the great chamber, wherein they can neither err nor fall. Here need no harsh exercises of mortification. Here are no misdoubts of God's desertions; no self-conflicts; no flashes of troubled consciences : but all fair and smooth. Have they sinned ? the score is crossed by their surety: have they forfeited their souls? their ransom is paid: is justice offended? mercy hath satisfied. Shortly, they have, by Acesius's ladder, climbed
into heaven; and stolen the sight of the Book of Life, and found their name there; and who can obliterate it?
I cannot forget a bold word, which, many years ago, I heard fall from a man, whom I conceived not to have had any extraordinary reason of confidence: “ If I should hear God say, "There shall but one man be saved; I would straight say, ' That is I, Lord’.” Surely, the man was in good favour with himself, in what terms soever he stood with the Almighty.
Not that I condemn a holy and well-grounded resolution of our spiritual estate. I know who hath charged us, to give diligence to make our calling and election sure: had it not been at all feasible, our wise and good God had not tasked our diligence with it; and, had it been easy and obvious, it might, even without diligence of study and endeavour, have been effected.
Now, as onet said of Evangelical Councils, I must say of this high pitch of Christianity; It is not for every man, to mount up this
steep hill of assurance: every soul must breathe, and pant towards it, as he may; even as we would and must, to perfection: he is as rare as happy, that attains it. Give me a man, that hath worn out himself with a strict austerity; who, by many secret bickerings, hath mastered his sturdy and rebellious corruptions ; who, in a trembling awfulness, walks constantly with his God, keeping a severe watch over all his ways, assiduous and fervent in his devotions; shortly, who hath spent his time in heaven, beforehand: why should I not believe, that God hath sealed up to such a soul an assecurance of his future glory? Some transient acts of interposed doubting may and wilì glance into the holiest heart ; but, a formed habit of doubt falls not into such an eminence of grace. This is not a lesson for every novice to take out; whose main care must ever be, to work out his salvation with fear and trembling. As for spiritual security, let him labour towards it, as that, which
* The reader must be aware, that the author uses this exclamation, here and in a few other places where it occurs, in a very grave and serious sense; and with nothing of that profanation of the Third Commandment, with which it is almost universally attended, in present usage. EDITOR.
+ Non est omnium volare ad alta montana Consiliorun. Gers.