« Prev Sermon I. Prov. iii. 17. Next »

Prov. iii. 17.

Her ways are ways of pleasantness.

THE text relating to something going before, must carry our eye back to the thirteenth verse, where we shall find, that the thing, of which these words are affirmed, is wisdom: a name by which the Spirit of God was here pleased to express to us religion, and thereby to tell the world, what before it was not aware of, and perhaps will not yet believe, that those two great things that so engross the desires and designs of both the nobler and ignobler sort of mankind, are to be found in religion; namely, wisdom and pleasure; and that the former is the direct way to the latter, as religion is to both.

That pleasure is man’s chiefest good, (because in deed it is the perception of good that is properly pleasure,) is an assertion most certainly true, though under the common acceptance of it, not only false, but odious: for according to this, pleasure and sensuality pass for terms equivalent; and therefore he that takes it in this sense, alters the subject of the discourse. Sensuality is indeed a part, or rather one kind of pleasure, such an one as it is: for plea sure in general is the consequent apprehension of a suitable object, suitably applied to a rightly disposed faculty; and so must be conversant both about the faculties of the body and of the soul respectively; as being the result of the fruitions belonging to both.

Now amongst those many arguments used to press upon men the exercise of religion, I know 4none that are like to be so successful, as those that answer and remove the prejudices that generally possess and bar up the hearts of men against it: amongst which, there is none so prevalent in truth, though so little owned in pretence, as that it is an enemy to men’s pleasures, that it bereaves them of all the sweets of converse, dooms them to an absurd and perpetual melancholy, designing to make the world nothing else but a great monastery. With which notion of religion, nature and reason seems to have great -cause to be dissatisfied. For since God never created any faculty, either in soul or body, but withal prepared for it a suitable object, and that in order to its gratification; can we think that religion was designed only for a contradiction to nature? and with the greatest and most irrational tyranny in the world to tantalize and tie men up from enjoyment, in the midst of all the opportunities of enjoyment? To place men with the furious affections of hunger and thirst in the very bosom of plenty; and then to tell them, that the envy of providence has sealed up every thing that is suitable under the character of unlawful? For certainly, first to frame appetites fit to receive pleasure, and then to interdict them with a touch not, taste not, can be nothing else, than only to give them occasion to devour and prey upon themselves; and so to keep men under the perpetual torment of an unsatisfied desire: a thing hugely contrary to the natural felicity of the creature, and consequently to the wisdom and goodness of the great Creator.

He therefore that would persuade men to religion, both with art and efficacy, must found the persuasion of it upon this, that it interferes not with 5any rational pleasure, that it bids nobody quit the enjoyment of any one thing that his reason can prove to him ought to be enjoyed. It is confessed, when, through the cross circumstances of a man’s temper or condition, the enjoyment of a pleasure would certainly expose him to a greater inconvenience, then religion bids him quit it; that is, it bids him prefer the endurance of a lesser evil before a greater, and nature itself does no less. Religion therefore intrenches upon none of our privileges, invades none of our pleasures; it may indeed some times command us to change, but never totally to abjure them.

But it is easily foreseen, that this discourse will in the very beginning of it be encountered by an argument from experience, and therefore not more obvious than strong; namely, that it cannot but be the greatest trouble in the world for a man thus (as it were) even to shake off himself, and to defy his nature, by a perpetual thwarting of his innate appetites and desires; which yet is absolutely necessary to a severe and impartial prosecution of a course of piety: nay, and we have this asserted also, by the verdict of Christ himself, who still makes the disciplines of self-denial and the cross, those terrible blows to flesh and blood, the indispensable requisites to the being of his disciples. All which being so, would not he that should be so hardy as to attempt to persuade men to piety from the pleasures of it, be liable to that invective taunt from all mankind, that the Israelites gave to Moses; Wilt thou put out the eyes of this people? Wilt thou persuade us out of our first notions? Wilt thou demonstrate, that there is any delight in a cross, any comfort in 6violent abridgments, and, which is the greatest paradox of all, that the highest pleasure is to abstain from it?

For answer to which, it must be confessed, that all arguments whatsoever against experience are fallacious; and therefore, in order to the clearing of the assertion laid down, I shall premise these two considerations.

1. That pleasure is in the nature of it a relative thing, and so imports a peculiar relation and correspondence to the state and condition of the person to whom it is a pleasure. For as those who discourse of atoms, affirm, that there are atoms of all forms, some round, some triangular, some square, and the like; all which are continually in motion, and never settle till they fall into a fit circumscription or place of the same figure: so there are the like great diversities of minds and objects. Whence it is, that this object striking upon a mind thus or thus disposed, flies off, and rebounds without making any impression; but the same luckily happening upon another, of a disposition as it were framed for it, is presently catched at, and greedily clasped into the nearest unions and embraces.

2. The other thing to be considered is this: that the estate of all men by nature is more or less different from that estate, into which the same persons do or may pass, by the exercise of that which the philosophers called virtue, and into which men are much more effectually and sublimely translated by that which we call grace; that is, by the super natural, overpowering operation of God’s Spirit. The difference of which two estates consists in this; that in the former the sensitive appetites rule and 7domineer; in the latter, the supreme faculty of the soul, called reason, sways the sceptre, and acts the whole man above the irregular demands of appetite and affection.

That the distinction between these two is not a mere figment, framed only to serve an hypothesis in divinity; and that there is no man but is really under one, before he is under the other, I shall prove, by shewing a reason why it is so, or rather indeed why it cannot but be so. And it is this: because every man in the beginning of his life, for several years is capable only of exercising his sensitive faculties and desires, the use of reason not shewing itself till about the seventh year of his age; and then at length but (as it were) dawning in very imperfect essays and discoveries. Now it being most undeniably evident, that every faculty and power grows stronger and stronger by exercise; is it any wonder at all, when a man for the space of his first six years, and those the years of ductility and impression, has been wholly ruled by the propensions of sense, at that age very eager and impetuous; that then after all, his reason beginning to exert and put forth itself, finds the man prepossessed, and under another power? So that it has much ado, by many little steps and gradual conquests, to recover its prerogative from the usurpations of appetite, and so to subject the whole man to its dictates: the difficulty of which is not conquered by some men all their days. And this is one true ground of the difference between a state of nature and a state of grace, which some are pleased to scoff at in divinity, who think that they confute all that they laugh at, 8not knowing that it may be solidly evinced by mere reason and philosophy.

These two considerations being premised, namely, that pleasure implies a proportion and agreement to the respective states and conditions of men; and that the state of men by nature is vastly different from the estate into which grace or virtue transplants them; all that objection levelled against the foregoing assertion is very easily resolvable.

For there is no doubt, but a man, while he resigns himself up to the brutish guidance of sense and appetite, has no relish at all for the spiritual, refined delights of a soul clarified by grace and virtue. The pleasures of an angel can never be the pleasures of a hog. But this is the thing that we contend for; that a man having once advanced himself to a state of superiority over the control of his inferior appetites, finds an infinitely more solid and sublime pleasure in the delights proper to his reason, than the same person had ever conveyed to him by the bare ministry of his senses. His taste is absolutely changed, and therefore that which pleased him formerly, becomes flat and insipid to his appetite, now grown more masculine and severe. For as age and maturity passes a real and a marvellous change upon the diet and recreations of the same person; so that no man at the years and vigour of thirty is either fond of sugar-plumbs or rattles: in like manner, when reason, by the assistance of grace, has prevailed over, and outgrown the encroachments of sense, the delights of sensuality are to such an one but as an hobby-horse would be to a counsellor of state, or as tasteless as a bundle 9of hay to an hungry lion. Every alteration of a man’s condition infallibly infers an alteration of his pleasures.

The Athenians laughed the physiognomist to scorn, who, pretending to read men’s minds in their foreheads, described Socrates for a crabbed, lustful, proud, ill-natured person; they knowing how directly contrary he was to that dirty character. But Socrates bid them forbear laughing at the man, for that he had given them a most exact account of his nature; but what they saw in him so contrary at the present, was from the conquest that he had got over his natural disposition by philosophy. And now let any one consider, whether that anger, that revenge, that wantonness and ambition, that were the proper pleasures of Socrates, under his natural temper of crabbed, lustful, and proud, could have at all affected or enamoured the mind of the same So crates, made gentle, chaste, and humble by philosophy.

Aristotle says, that were it possible to put a young man’s eye into an old man’s head, he would see as plainly and clearly as the other: so could we infuse the inclinations and principles of a virtuous person into him that prosecutes his debauches with the greatest keenness of desire and sense of delight, he would loathe and reject them as heartily as he now pursues them. Diogenes, being asked at a feast, why he did not continue eating as the rest did, answered him that asked him with another question, Pray why do you eat? Why, says he, for my pleasure. Why so, says Diogenes, do I abstain for my pleasure. And therefore the vain, the vicious, and luxurious person argues at an high rate of inconsequence, 10when he makes his particular desires the general measure of other men’s delights. But the case is so plain, that I shall not upbraid any man’s understanding, by endeavouring to give it any farther illustration.

But still, after all, I must not deny, that the change and passage from a state of nature to a state of virtue is laborious, and consequently irksome and unpleasant: and to this it is, that all the forementioned expressions of our Saviour do allude. But surely the baseness of one condition, and the generous excellency of the other, is a sufficient argument to induce any one to a change. For as no man would think it a desirable thing, to preserve the itch upon himself, only for the pleasure of scratching, that attends that loathsome distemper: so neither can any man, that would be faithful to his reason, yield his ear to be bored through by his domineering appetites, and so choose to serve them for ever, only for those poor, thin gratifications of sensuality that they are able to reward him with. The ascent up the hill is hard and tedious, but the serenity and fair prospect at the top is sufficient to in cite the labour of undertaking it, and to reward it, being undertook. But the difference of these two conditions of men, as the foundation of their different pleasures, being thus made out, to press men with arguments to pass from one to the other, is not directly in the way or design of this discourse.

Yet before I come to declare positively the pleasures that are to be found in the ways of religion, one of the grand duties of which is stated upon repentance; a thing expressed to us by the grim names of mortification, crucifixion, and the like: and 11that I may not proceed only upon absolute negations, without some concessions; we will see, whether this so harsh, dismal, and affrighting duty of repentance is so entirely gall, as to admit of no mixture, no allay of sweetness, to reconcile it to the apprehensions of reason and nature.

Now repentance consists properly of two things:

1. Sorrow for sin.

2. Change of life.

A word briefly of them both.

1. And first for sorrow for sin: usually, the sting of sorrow is this, that it neither removes nor alters the thing we sorrow for; and so is but a kind of reproach to our reason, which will be sure to accost us with this dilemma. Either the thing we sorrow for, is to be remedied, or it is not: if it is, why then do we spend the time in mourning, which should be spent in an active applying of remedies? But if it is not, then is our sorrow vain and superfluous, as tending to no real effect. For no man can weep his father or his friend out of the grave, or mourn himself out of a bankrupt condition. But this spiritual sorrow is effectual to one of the greatest and highest purposes, that mankind can be concerned in. It is a means to avert an impendent wrath, to disarm an offended omnipotence, and even to fetch a soul out of the very jaws of hell. So that the end and consequence of this sorrow sweetens the sorrow itself: and as Solomon says, In the midst of laugh ter, the heart is sorrowful; so in the midst of sorrow here, the heart may rejoice: for while it mourns, it reads, that those that mourn shall be comforted; and so while the penitent weeps with one eye, he 12views his deliverance with the other. But then for the external expressions, and vent of sorrow; we know that there is a certain pleasure in weeping; it is the discharge of a big and a swelling grief; of a full and a strangling discontent; and therefore, he that never had such a burden upon his heart, as to give him opportunity thus to ease it, has one plea sure in this world yet to come.

2. As for the other part of repentance, which is change of life, this indeed may be troublesome in the entrance; but it is but the first bold onset, the first resolute violence and invasion upon a vicious habit, that is so sharp and afflicting. Every impression of the lancet cuts, but it is the first only that smarts. Besides, it is an argument hugely unreasonable, to plead the pain of passing from a vicious estate, unless it were proved, that there was none in the continuance under it: but surely, when we read of the service, the bondage, and the captivity of sinners, we are not entertained only with the air of words and metaphors, and, instead of truth, put off with similitudes. Let him that says it is a trouble to refrain from a debauch, convince us, that it is not a greater to undergo one; and that the confessor did not impose a shrewd penance upon the drunken man, by bidding him go and be drunk again; and that lisping, raging, redness of eyes, and what is not fit to be named in such an audience, is not more toil some, than to be clean, and quiet, and discreet, and respected for being so. All the trouble that is in it, is the trouble of being sound, being cured, and being recovered. But if there be great arguments for health, then certainly there are the same for the 13obtaining of it; and so keeping a due proportion between spirituals and temporals, we neither have, nor pretend to greater arguments for repentance.

Having thus now cleared off all, that by way of objection can He against the truth asserted, by shewing the proper qualification of the subject, to whom only the ways of wisdom can be ways of pleasantness; for the further prosecution of the matter in hand, I shall shew what are those properties that so peculiarly set off and enhance the excellency of this pleasure.

1. The first is, That it is the proper pleasure of that part of man, which is the largest and most comprehensive of pleasure, and that is his mind: a substance of a boundless comprehension. The mind of man is an image, not only of God’s spirituality, but of his infinity. It is not like any of the senses, limited to this or that kind of object: as the sight intermeddles not with that which affects the smell; but with an universal superintendence, it arbitrates upon and takes them in all. It is (as I may so say) an ocean, into which all the little rivulets of sensation, both external and internal, discharge themselves. It is framed by God to receive all, and more than nature can afford it; and so to be its own motive to seek for something above nature. Now this is that part of man to which the pleasures of religion properly belong: and that in a double respect.

1. In reference to speculation, as it sustains the name of understanding.

2. In reference to practice, as it sustains the name of conscience.

1. And first for speculation: the pleasures of which 14have been sometimes so great, so intense, so ingrossing of all the powers of the soul, that there has been no room left for any other pleasure. It has so called together all the spirits to that one work, that there has been no supply to carry on the inferior operations of nature. Contemplation feels no hunger, nor is sensible of any thirst, but of that after knowledge. How frequent and exalted a pleasure did David find from his meditation in the divine law! All the day long it was the theme of his thoughts. The affairs of state, the government of his kingdom, might indeed employ, but it was this only that refreshed his mind.

How short of this are the delights of the epicure! How vastly disproportionate are the pleasures of the eating and of the thinking man! Indeed as different as the silence of an Archimedes in the study of a problem, and the stillness of a sow at her wash. Nothing is comparable to the pleasure of an active and a prevailing thought: a thought prevailing over the difficulty and obscurity of the object, and refreshing the soul with new discoveries and images of things; and thereby extending the bounds of apprehension, and (as it were) enlarging the territories of reason.

Now this pleasure of the speculation of divine things is advanced upon a double account.

(1.) The greatness.

(2.) The newness of the object.

(1.) And first for the greatness of it. It is no less than the great God himself, and that both in his nature and his works. For the eye of reason, like that of the eagle, directs itself chiefly to the sun, to 15a glory that neither admits of a superior nor an equal. Religion carries the soul to the study of every divine attribute.

It poses it with the amazing thoughts of omnipotence; of a power able to fetch up such a glorious fabric, as this of the world, out of the abyss of vanity and nothing, and able to throw it back into the same original nothing again. It drowns us in the speculation of the divine omniscience; that can maintain a steady infallible comprehension of all events in themselves contingent and accidental; and certainly know that, which does not certainly exist. It confounds the greatest subtilties of speculation, with the riddles of God’s omnipresence; that can spread a single individual substance through all spaces; and yet without any commensuration of parts to any, or circumscription within any, though totally in every one. And then for his eternity; which nonpluses the strongest and clearest conception, to comprehend how one single act of duration should measure all periods and portions of time, without any of the distinguishing parts of succession. Likewise for his justice; which shall prey upon the sinner for ever, satisfying itself by a perpetual miracle, rendering the creature immortal in the midst of the flames; always consuming, but never consumed. With the like wonders we may entertain our speculations from his mercy; his beloved, his triumphant attribute; an attribute, if it were possible, something more than infinite; for even his justice is so, and his mercy transcends that. Lastly, we may contemplate upon his supernatural, astonishing works: particularly in the resurrection, and reparation of the same numerical body, by a reunion 16of all the scattered parts, to be at length disposed of into an estate of eternal woe or bliss; as also the greatness and strangeness of the beatifick vision; how a created eye should be so fortified, as to bear all those glories that stream from the fountain of uncreated light, the meanest expression of which light is, that it is unexpressible. Now what great and high objects are these, for a rational contemplation to busy itself upon! Heights that scorn the reach of our prospect; and depths in which the tallest reason will never touch the bottom: yet surely the pleasure arising from thence is great and noble; forasmuch as they afford perpetual matter and employment to the inquisitiveness of human reason; and so are large enough for it to take its full scope and range in: which when it has sucked and drained the utmost of an object, naturally lays it aside, and neglects it as a dry and an empty thing.

(2.) As the things belonging to religion entertain our speculation with great objects, so they entertain it also with new: and novelty, we know, is the great parent of pleasure; upon which account it is that men are so much pleased with variety, and variety is nothing else but a continued novelty. The Athenians, who were the professed and most diligent improvers of their reason, made it their whole business to hear or to tell some new thing: for the truth is, newness especially in great matters, was a worthy entertainment for a searching mind; it was (as I may so say) an high taste, fit for the relish of an Athenian reason. And thereupon the mere unheard of strangeness of Jesus and the resurrection, made them desirous to hear it discoursed of to them again, Acts xvii. 23. But how would it have employed 17their searching faculties, had the mystery of the Trinity, and the incarnation of the Son of God, and the whole economy of man’s redemption been explained to them! For how could it ever enter into the thoughts of reason, that a satisfaction could be paid to an infinite justice? Or, that two natures so unconceivably different as the human and divine, could unite into one person? The knowledge of these things could derive from nothing else but pure revelation, and consequently must be purely new to the highest discourses of mere nature. Now that the newness of an object so exceedingly pleases and strikes the mind, appears from this one consideration; that every thing pleases more in expectation than fruition: and expectation supposes a thing as yet new, the hoped for discovery of which is the pleasure that entertains the expecting and inquiring mind: whereas actual discovery (as it were) rifles and deflowers the newness and freshness of the object, and so for the most part makes it cheap, familiar, and contemptible.

It is clear therefore, that, if there be any pleasure to the mind from speculation, and if this pleasure of speculation be advanced by the greatness and newness of the things contemplated upon, all this is to be found in the ways of religion.

2. In the next place, religion is a pleasure to the mind, as it respects practice, and so sustains the name of conscience. And conscience undoubtedly is the great repository and magazine of all those pleasures that can afford any solid refreshment to the soul. For when this is calm, and serene, and absolving, then properly a man enjoys all things, and what is more, himself; for that he must do, 18before he can enjoy any thing else. But it is only a pious life, led exactly by the rules of a severe religion, that can authorize a man’s conscience to speak comfortably to him: it is this that must word the sentence, before the conscience can pronounce it, and then it will do it with majesty and authority: it will not whisper, but proclaim a jubilee to the mind; it will not drop, but pour in oil upon the wounded heart. And is there any pleasure comparable to that which springs from hence? The pleasure of conscience is not only greater than all other pleasures, but may also serve instead of them: for they only please and affect the mind in transitu, in the pitiful narrow compass of actual fruition; whereas that of conscience entertains and feeds it a long time after with durable, lasting reflections.

And thus much for the first ennobling property of the pleasure belonging to religion; namely, That it is the pleasure of the mind, and that both as it relates to speculation, and is called the understanding, and as it relates to practice, and is called the conscience.

II. The second ennobling property of it is, That it is such a pleasure as never satiates or wearies: for it properly affects the spirit, and a spirit feels no weariness, as being privileged from the causes of it. But can the epicure say so of any of the pleasures that he so much dotes upon? Do they not expire, while they satisfy? And after a few minutes refreshment, determine in loathing and unquietness? How short is the interval between a pleasure and a burden? How undiscernible the transition from one to the other? Pleasure dwells no longer upon the appetite, than the necessities of nature, which are 19quickly and easily provided for; and then all that follows is a load and an oppression. Every morsel to a satisfied hunger, is only a new labour to a tired digestion. Every draught to him that has quenched his thirst, is but a farther quenching of nature; a provision for rheum and diseases, a drowning of the quickness and activity of the spirits.

He that prolongs his meals, and sacrifices his time, as well as his other conveniences, to his luxury, how quickly does he out-sit his pleasure! And then, how is all the following time bestowed upon ceremony and surfeit! till at length, after a long fatigue of eating, and drinking, and babbling, he concludes the great work of dining genteelly, and so makes a shift to rise from table, that he may He down upon his bed: where, after he has slept himself into some use of himself, by much ado he staggers to his table again, and there acts over the same brutish scene: so that he passes his whole life in a dozed condition between sleeping and waking, with a kind of drowsiness and confusion upon his senses; which, what pleasure it can be, is hard to conceive; all that is of it, dwells upon the tip of his tongue, and within the compass of his palate: a worthy prize for a man to purchase with the loss of his time, his reason, and himself.

Nor is that man less deceived, that thinks to maintain a constant tenure of pleasure, by a continual pursuit of sports and recreations: for it is most certainly true of all these things, that as they refresh a man when he is weary, so they weary him when he is refreshed; which is an evident demonstration that God never designed the use of them to be continual; 20by putting such an emptiness in them, as should so quickly fail and lurch expectation.

The most voluptuous and loose person breathing, were he but tied to follow his hawks and his hounds, his dice and his courtships every day, would find it the greatest torment and calamity that could befall him; he would fly to the mines and the gal leys for his recreation, and to the spade and the mattock for a diversion from the misery of a continual unintermitted pleasure.

But on the contrary, the providence of God has so ordered the course of things, that there is no action, the usefulness of which has made it the matter of duty, and of a profession, but a man may bear the continual pursuit of it, without loathing or satiety. The same shop and trade that employs a man in his youth, employs him also in his age. Every morning he rises fresh to his hammer and his anvil; he passes the day singing: custom has naturalized his labour to him: his shop is his element, and he cannot with any enjoyment of himself live out of it. Whereas no custom can make the painfulness of a debauch easy or pleasing to a man; since nothing can be pleasant that is unnatural. But now, if God has interwoven such a pleasure with the works of our ordinary calling; how much superior and more refined must that be, that arises from the survey of a pious and well governed life! Surely, as much as Christianity is nobler than a trade.

And then, for the constant freshness of it; it is such a pleasure as can never cloy or overwork the mind: for surely no man was ever weary of thinking, much less of thinking that he had done well or virtuously, 21that he had conquered such and such a temptation, or offered violence to any of his exorbitant desires. This is a delight that grows and improves under thought and reflection: and while it exercises, does also endear itself to the mind; at the same time employing and inflaming the meditations. All pleasures that affect the body, must needs weary, because they transport; and all transportation is a violence; and no violence can be lasting, but determines upon the falling of the spirits, which are not able to keep up that height of motion that the pleasure of the senses raises them to: and therefore how inevitably does an immoderate laughter end in a sigh! which is only nature’s recovering itself after a force done to it. But the religious pleasure of a well disposed mind moves gently, and therefore constantly: it does not affect by rapture and ecstasy; but is like the pleasure of health, which is still and sober, yet greater and stronger than those that call up the senses with grosser and more affecting impressions. God has given no man a body as strong as his appetites; but has corrected the boundlesness of his voluptuous desires, by stinting his strengths, and contracting his capacities.

But to look upon those pleasures also that have an higher object than the body; as those that spring from honour and grandeur of condition; yet we shall find, that even these are not so fresh and constant, but the mind can nauseate them, and quickly feel the thinness of a popular breath. Those that are so fond of applause while they pursue it, how little do they taste it when they have it! Like lightning, it only flashes upon the face, and is gone; and it is well if it does not hurt the man. But for 22greatness of place, though it is fit and necessary that some persons in the world should be in love with a splendid servitude; yet certainly they must be much beholding to their own fancy, that they can be pleased at it. For he that rises up early, and goes to bed late, only to receive addresses, to read and answer petitions, is really as much tied and abridged in his freedom, as he that waits all that time to present one. And what pleasure can it be to be incumbered with dependences, thronged and surrounded with petitioners? And those perhaps sometimes all suitors for the same thing: where upon all but one will be sure to depart grumbling, because they miss of what they think their due: and even that one scarce thankful, because he thinks he has no more than his due. In a word, if it is a pleasure to be envied and shot at, to be maligned standing, and to be despised falling, to endeavour that which is impossible, which is to please all, and to suffer for not doing it; then is it a pleasure to be great, and to be able to dispose of men’s for tunes and preferments.

But farther, to proceed from hence to yet an higher degree of pleasure, indeed the highest on this side that of religion; which is the pleasure of friendship and conversation. Friendship must confessedly be allowed the top, the flower, and crown of all temporal enjoyments. Yet has not this also its flaws and its dark side? For is not my friend a man; and is not friendship subject to the same mortality and change that men are? And in case a man loves, and is not loved again, does he not think that he has cause to hate as heartily, and ten times more eagerly than ever he loved? And then to be an 23enemy, and once to have been a friend, does it not embitter the rupture, and aggravate the calamity? But admitting that my friend continues so to the end; yet in the mean time, is he all perfection, all virtue and discretion? Has he not humours to be endured, as well as kindnesses to be enjoyed? And am I sure to smell the rose, without sometimes feeling the thorn?

And then lastly for company; though it may reprieve a man from his melancholy, yet it cannot secure him from his conscience, nor from sometimes being alone. And what is all that a man enjoys, from a week’s, a month’s, or a year’s converse, comparable to what he feels for one hour, when his conscience shall take him aside, and rate him by himself?

In short, run over the whole circle of ah 1 earthly pleasures, and I dare affirm, that had not God secured a man a solid pleasure from his own actions, after he had rolled from one to another, and enjoyed them all, he would be forced to complain, that either they were not indeed pleasures, or that plea sure was not satisfaction.

III. The third ennobling property of the pleasure that accrues to a man from religion, is, that it is such an one as is in nobody’s power, but only in his that has it; so that he that has the property may be also sure of the perpetuity. And tell me so of any outward enjoyment that mortality is capable of. We are generally at the mercy of men’s rapine, avarice, and violence, whether we shall be happy or no. For if I build my felicity upon my estate or reputation, I am happy as long as the tyrant or the railer will give me leave to be so. But when my concernment 24takes up no more room or compass than myself; then so long as I know where to breathe and to exist, I know also where to be happy: for I know I may be so in my own breast, in the court of my own conscience; where, if I can but prevail with myself to be innocent, I need bribe neither judge nor officer to be pronounced so. The plea sure of the religious man is an easy and a portable pleasure, such an one as he carries about in his bosom, without alarming either the eye or envy of the world. A man putting all his pleasures into this one, is like a traveller’s putting all his goods into one jewel; the value is the same, and the convenience greater.

There is nothing that can raise a man to that generous absoluteness of condition, as neither to cringe, to fawn, or to depend meanly; but that which gives him that happiness within himself, for which men depend upon others. For surely I need salute no great man’s threshold, sneak to none of his friends or servants, to speak a good word for me to my conscience. It is a noble and a sure defiance of a great malice, backed with a great interest; which yet can have no advantage of a man, but from his own expectations of something that is without himself. But if I can make my duty my delight; if I can feast, and please, and caress my mind with the pleasures of worthy speculations or virtuous practices; let greatness and malice vex and abridge me if they can: my pleasures are as free as my will; no more to be controlled than my choice, or the unlimited range of my thoughts and my desires.

Nor is this kind of pleasure only out of the reach 25of any outward violence, but even those things also that make a much closer impression upon us, which are the irresistible decays of nature, have yet no influence at all upon this. For when age itself, which of all things in the world will not be baffled or defied, shall begin to arrest, seize, and remind us of our mortality, by pains, aches, deadness of limbs, and dulness of senses; yet then the pleasure of the mind shall be in its full youth, vigour, and freshness. A palsy may as well shake an oak, or a fever dry up a fountain, as either of them shake, dry up, or impair the delight of conscience. For it lies within, it centers in the heart, it grows into the very substance of the soul, so that it accompanies a man to his grave; he never outlives it, and that for this cause only, because he cannot outlive himself.

And thus I have endeavoured to describe the excellency of that pleasure that is to be found in the ways of a religious wisdom, by those excellent properties that do attend it; which, whether they reach the description that has been given them, or no, every man may convince himself, by the best of demonstrations, which is his own trial.

Now from all this discourse, this I am sure is a most natural and direct consequence, that if the ways of religion are ways of pleasantness, then such as are not ways of pleasantness are not truly and properly ways of religion. Upon which ground, it is easy to see what judgment is to be passed upon all those affected, uncommanded, absurd austerities, so much prized and exercised by some of the Romish profession. Pilgrimages, going barefoot, hair-shirts, and whips, with other such gospel artillery, are their only helps to devotion: things never enjoined, 26either by the prophets under the Jewish, or by the apostles under the Christian economy; who yet surely understood the proper and the most efficacious instruments of piety, as well as any confessor or friar of all the order of St. Francis, or any casuist whatsoever.

It seems, that with them a man sometimes can not be a penitent, unless he also turns vagabond, and foots it to Jerusalem; or wanders over this or that part of the world to visit the shrine of such or such a pretended saint; though perhaps, in his life, ten times more ridiculous than themselves: thus, that which was Cain’s curse is become their religion. He that thinks to expiate a sin by going barefoot, does the penance of a goose, and only makes one folly the atonement of another. Paul in deed was scourged and beaten by the Jews, but we never read that he beat or scourged himself: and if they think that his keeping under of his body imports so much, they must first prove that the body cannot be kept under by a virtuous mind, and that the mind cannot be made virtuous but by a scourge; and consequently, that thongs and whipcord are means of grace, and things necessary to salvation. The truth is, if men’s religion lies no deeper than their skin, it is possible that they may scourge themselves into very great improvements.

But they will find that bodily exercise touches not the soul; and that neither pride, nor lust, nor covetousness, nor any other vice, was ever mortified by corporal disciplines: it is not the back, but the heart that must bleed for sin: and consequently, that in this whole course they are like men out of their way; let them lash on never so fast, they are not at 27all the nearer to their journey’s end: and howsoever they deceive themselves and others, they may as well expect to bring a cart as a soul to heaven by such means. What arguments they have to beguile poor, simple, unstable souls with, I know not; but surely the practical, casuistical, that is, the principal, vital part of their religion savours very little of spirituality.

And now upon the result of all, I suppose, that to exhort men to be religious, is only in other words to exhort them to take their pleasure. A pleasure, high, rational, and angelical; a pleasure embased with no appendant sting, no consequent loathing, no remorses or bitter farewells: but such an. one, as being honey in the mouth, never turns to gall or gravel in the belly. A pleasure made for the soul, and the soul for that; suitable to its spirituality, and equal to all its capacities. Such an one as grows fresher upon enjoyment, and though continually fed upon, yet is never devoured. A pleasure that a man may can as properly his own, as his soul and his conscience; neither liable to accident, nor exposed to injury. It is the foretaste of heaven, and the earnest of eternity. In a word, it is such an one, as being begun in grace, passes into glory, blessedness, and immortality, and those pleasures that neither eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man to conceive.

To which God of his mercy vouchsafe to bring us to whom he rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both, now and for evermore. Amen.

« Prev Sermon I. Prov. iii. 17. Next »


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |