|« Prev||Sermon IX. The Wisdom of This World.||Next »|
PREACHED AT WESTMINSTER-ABBEY,
APRIL 30, 1676.
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.
THE wisdom of the world, so called by an Hebraism, frequent in the writings of this apostle, for worldly wisdom, is taken in scripture in a double sense.
1. For that sort of wisdom that consists in speculation, called (both by St. Paul and the professors of it) philosophy; the great idol of the learned part of the heathen world, and which divided it into so many sects and denominations, as Stoics, Peripatetics, Epicureans, and the like; it was professed and owned by them for the grand rule of life, and certain guide to man’s chief happiness. But for its utter insufficiency to make good so high an undertaking, we find it termed by the same apostle, Col. ii. 8. vain philosophy; and 1 Tim. vi. 20. science falsely so called; and a full account of its uselessness we have in this, 1 Cor. i. 21. where the apostle speaking of it, says, that the world by wisdom knew not God. Such a worthy kind of wisdom is it: only making men accurately and laboriously ignorant of what they were most concerned to know.230
2. The wisdom of this world is sometimes taken in scripture for such a wisdom as lies in practice, and goes commonly by the name of policy; and consists in a certain dexterity or art of managing business for a man’s secular advantage: and so being in deed that ruling engine that governs the world, it both claims and finds as great a preeminence above all other kinds of knowledge, as government is above contemplation, or the leading of an army above the making of syllogisms, or managing the little issues of a dispute.
And so much is the very name and reputation of it affected and valued by most men, that they can much rather brook their being reputed knaves, than for their honesty be accounted fools; as they easily may: knave, in the mean time, passing for a name of credit, where it is only another word for politician.
Now this is the wisdom here intended in the text; namely, that practical cunning that shews itself in political matters, and has in it really the mystery of a trade, or craft. So that in this latter part of verse 19. God is said to take the wise in their own craftiness.
In short, it is a kind of trick or sleight, got not by study, but converse, learned not from books, but men; and those also, for the most part, the very worst of men of all sorts, ways, and professions. So that if it be in truth such a precious jewel as the world takes it for, yet, as precious as it is, we see that they are forced to rake it out of dunghills; and accordingly, the apostle gives it a value suitable to its extract, branding it with the most degrading and ignominious imputation of foolishness. Which character 231running so cross to the general sense and vogue of mankind concerning it, who are still admiring, and even adoring it, as the mistress and queen regent of all other arts whatsoever, our business, in the following discourse, shall be to inquire into the reason of the apostle’s passing so severe a remark upon it: and here, indeed, since we must allow it for an art, and since every art is properly an habitual knowledge of certain rules and maxims, by which a man is governed and directed in his actions, the prosecution of the words will most naturally lie in these two things.
I. To shew what are those rules or principles of action, upon which the policy or wisdom here condemned by the apostle does proceed.
II. To shew and demonstrate the folly and absurdity of them, in relation to God, in whose account they receive a very different estimate, from what they have in the world’s.
And first, for the first of these; I shall set down four several rules or principles, which that policy or wisdom, which carries so great a vogue and value in the world, governs its actions by.
1. The first is, That a man must maintain a constant continued course of dissimulation, in the whole tenor of his behaviour. Where yet, we must observe, that dissimulation admits of a twofold acception. (1.) It may be taken for a bare concealment of one’s mind: in which sense we commonly say, that it is prudence to dissemble injuries; that is, not always to declare our resentments of them; and this must be allowed not only lawful, but, in most of the affairs of human life, absolutely necessary: for certainly it can be no man’s duty, to write his heart 232upon his forehead, and to give all the inquisitive and malicious world round about him a survey of those thoughts, which it is the prerogative of God only to know, and his own great interest to conceal. Nature gives every one a right to defend himself, and silence surely is a very innocent defence.
(2.) Dissimulation is taken for a man’s positive professing himself to be what indeed he is not, and what he resolves not to be; and consequently, it employs all the art and industry imaginable, to make good the disguise; and by false appearances to render its designs the less visible, that so they may prove the more effectual: and this is the dissimulation here meant, which is the very groundwork of all worldly policy. The superstructure of which being folly, it is but reason that the foundation of it should be falsity.
In the language of the scripture it is damnable hypocrisy; but of those who neither believe scripture nor damnation, it is voted wisdom; nay, the very primum mobile, or great wheel, upon which all the various arts of policy move and turn: the soul, or spirit, which, as it were, animates and runs through all the particular designs and contrivances, by which the great masters of this mysterious wisdom turn about the world. So that he who hates his neighbour mortally, and wisely too, must profess all the dearness and friendship, all the readiness to serve him, (as the phrase now is,) that words and superficial actions can express.
When he purposes one thing, he must swear and lie, and damn himself with ten thousand protestations, that he designs the clean contrary. If he really intends to ruin and murder his prince, (as 233Cromwell, an experienced artist in that perfidious and bloody faculty, once did,) he must weep and call upon God, use all the oaths and imprecations, all the sanctified perjuries, to persuade him that he resolves nothing but his safety, honour, and establishment, as the same grand exemplar of hypocrisy did before.
If such persons project the ruin of church and state, they must appeal to God, the searcher of all hearts, that they are ready to sacrifice their dearest blood for the peace of the one, and the purity of the other.
And now, if men will be prevailed upon so far, as to renounce the sure and impartial judgments of sense and experience, and to believe that black is white, provided there be somebody to swear that it is so; they shall not want arguments of this sort, good store, to convince them: there being knights of the post, and holy cheats enough in the world, to swear the truth of the broadest contradictions, and the highest impossibilities, where interest and pious frauds shall give them an extraordinary call to it.
It is looked upon as a great piece of weakness and unfitness for business, forsooth, for a man to be so clear and open, as really to think, not only what he says, but what he swears; and when he makes any promise, to have the least intent of performing it, but when his interest serves instead of veracity, and engages him rather to be true to another, than false to himself. He only nowadays speaks like an oracle, who speaks tricks and ambiguities. Nothing is thought beautiful that is not painted: so that, what between French fashions and Italian dissimulations, the old, generous English spirit, which heretofore made this nation so great in the eyes of all 234the world round about it, seems utterly lost and extinct; and we are degenerated into a mean, sharking, fallacious, undermining way of converse; there being a snare and a trepan almost in every word we hear, and every action we see. Men speak with designs of mischief, and therefore they speak in the dark. In short, this seems to be the true, inward judgment of all our politic sages, that speech was given to the ordinary sort of men, whereby to communicate their mind; but to wise men, whereby to conceal it.
2. The second rule or principle, upon which this policy, or wisdom of the world, does proceed, is, That conscience and religion ought to lay no restraint upon men at all, when it lies opposite to the prosecution of their interest.
The great patron and coryphaeus of this tribe, Nicolas Machiavel, laid down this for a master rule in his political scheme, That the shew of religion was helpful to the politician, but the reality of it hurtful and pernicious. Accordingly, having shewn how the former part of his maxim has been followed by these men in that first and fundamental principle of dissimulation already spoken to by us; we come now to shew further, that they cannot with more art dissemble the appearance of religion, than they can with ease lay aside the substance.
The politician, whose very essence lies in this, that he be a person ready to do any thing that he apprehends for his advantage, must first of all be sure to put himself into a state of liberty, as free and large as his principles: and so to provide elbowroom enough for his conscience to lay about, and have its full play in. And for that purpose, he must 235resolve to shake off all inward awe of religion, and by no means to suffer the liberty of his conscience to be enslaved, and brought under the. bondage of observing oaths, or the narrowness of men’s opinions, about turpe et honestum, which ought to vanish, when they stand in competition with any solid, real good; that is, (in their judgment,) such as concerns eating, or drinking, or taking money.
Upon which account, these children of darkness seem excellently well to imitate the wisdom of those children of light, the great illuminati of the late times, who professedly laid clown this as the basis of all their proceedings; That whatsoever they said or did for the present, under such a measure of light, should oblige them no longer, when a greater measure of light should give them other discoveries.
And this principle, they professed, was of great use to them; as how could it be otherwise, if it fell into skilful hands? For since this light was to rest within them, and the judgment of it to remain wholly in themselves, they might safely and uncontrollably pretend it greater or less, as their occasions should enlighten them.
If a man has a prospect of a fair estate, and sees way open to it, but it must be through fraud, violence, and oppression; if he see large preferments tendered him, but conditionally upon his doing base and wicked offices; if he sees he may crush his enemy, but that it must be by slandering, belying, and giving him a secret blow; and conscience shall here, according to its office, interpose, and protest the illegality and injustice of such actions, and the damnation that is expressly threatened to them by the word of God; the thorough-paced politician must 236presently laugh at the squeamishness of his conscience, and read it another lecture, and tell it, that just and unjust are but names grounded only upon opinion, and authorized by custom, by which the wise and the knowing part of the world serve themselves upon the ignorant and easy; and that, whatsoever fond priests may talk, there is no devil like an enemy in power, no damnation like being poor, and no hell like an empty purse; and therefore, that those courses, by which a man comes to rid himself of these plagues, are ipso facto prudent, and consequently pious: the former being, with such wise men, the only measure of the latter. And the truth is, the late times of confusion, in which the heights and refinements of religion were professed in conjunction with the practice of the most execrable villainies that were ever acted upon the earth; and the weakness of our church discipline since its restauration, whereby it has been scarce able to get any hold on men’s consciences, and much less able to keep it; and the great prevalence of that atheistical doctrine of the Leviathan, and the unhappy propagation of Erastianism; these things, I say, with some others, have been the sad and fatal causes that have loosed the bands of conscience, and eaten out the very heart and sense of Christianity amongst us, to that degree, that there is now scarce any religious tie or restraint upon persons, but merely from those faint remainders of natural conscience, which God will be sure to keep alive upon the hearts of men, as long as they are men, for the great ends of his own providence, whether they will or no. So that, were it not for this sole obstacle, religion is not now so much in danger of being divided, and torn piecemeal 237by sects and factions, as of being at once devoured by atheism. Which being so, let none wonder, that irreligion is accounted policy, when it is grown even to a fashion; and passes for wit with some, as well as for wisdom with others. For certain it is, that advantage now sits in the room of conscience, and steers all: and no man is esteemed any ways considerable for policy, who wears religion otherwise than as a cloak; that is, as such a garment as may both cover and keep him warm, and yet hang loose upon him too.
3. The third rule or principle, upon which this policy, or wisdom of the world, proceeds, is, That a man ought to make himself, and not the public, the chief, if not the sole end of all his actions. He is to be his own centre and circumference too: that is, to draw all things to himself, and to extend nothing beyond himself: he is to make the greater world serve the less; and not only, not to love his neighbour as himself, but indeed to account none for his neighbour but himself.
And therefore, to die or suffer for his country, is not only exploded by him as a great paradox in politics, and fitter for poets to sing of, than for wise men to practise; but also, to make himself so much as one penny the poorer, or to forbear one base gain to serve his prince, to secure a whole nation, or to credit a church, is judged by him a great want of experience, and a piece of romantic melancholy, unbecoming a politician; who is still to look upon himself as his prince, his country, his church; nay, and his God too.
The general interest of the nation is nothing to 238him, but only that portion of it, that he either does or would possess. It is not the rain that waters the whole earth, but that which falls into his own cistern, that must relieve him: not the common, but the enclosure, that must make him rich.
Let the public sink or swim, so long as he can hold up his head above water: let the ship be cast away, if he may but have the benefit of the wreck: let the government be ruined by his avarice, if by the same avarice he can scrape together so much as to make his peace, and maintain him as well under another: let foreigners invade and spoil the land, so long as he has a good estate in bank elsewhere. Peradventure, for all this, men may curse him as a covetous wretch, a traitor, and a villain: but such words are to be looked upon only as the splendid declaimings of novices, and men of heat, who, while they rail at his person, perhaps envy his fortune: or possibly of losers and malecontents, whose portion and inheritance is a freedom to speak. But a politician must be above words. Wealth, he knows, answers all, and if it brings a storm upon him, will provide him also a coat to weather it out.
That such thoughts and principles as these lie at the bottom of most men’s actions; at the bottom, do I say? nay, sit at the top, and visibly hold the helm in the management of the weightiest affairs of most nations, we need not much history, nor curiosity of observation, to convince us: for though there have not been wanting such heretofore, as have practised these unworthy arts, (forasmuch as there have been villains in all places and all ages,) yet nowadays they are owned above-board; and 239whereas men formerly had them in design, amongst us they are openly vouched, argued, and asserted in common discourse.
But this, I confess, being a new, unexemplified kind of policy, scarce comes up to that which the apostle here condemns for the wisdom of the world, but must pass rather for the wisdom of this particular age, which, as in most other things it stands alone, scorning the examples of all former ages, so it has a way of policy and wisdom also peculiar to itself.
4. The fourth and last principle that I shall mention, upon which this wisdom of the world proceeds, is this:
That in shewing kindness, or doing favours, no respect at all is to be had to friendship, gratitude, or sense of honour; but that such favours are to be done only to the rich or potent, from whom a man may receive a further advantage, or to his enemies, from whom he may otherwise fear a mischief.
I have here mentioned gratitude, and sense of honour, being (as I may so speak) a man’s civil conscience, prompting him to many things, upon the accounts of common decency, which religion would otherwise bind him to, upon the score of duty. And it is sometimes found, that some, who have little or no reverence for religion, have yet those innate seeds and sparks of generosity, as make them scorn to do such things as would render them mean in the opinion of sober and worthy men; and with such persons, shame is instead of piety, to restrain them from many base and degenerous practices.
But now our politician having baffled his greater conscience, must not be nonplused with inferior obligations; 240and having leaped over such mountains, at length poorly lie down before a mole-hill: but he must add perfection to perfection; and being past grace, endeavour, if need be, to be past shame too. And accordingly, he looks upon friendship, gratitude, and sense of honour, as terms of art to amuse and impose upon weak, undesigning minds. For an enemy’s money, he thinks, may be made as good a friend as any; and gratitude looks backward, but policy forward: and for sense of honour, if it impoverisheth a man, it is, in his esteem, neither honour nor sense.
Whence it is, that nowadays, only rich men or enemies are accounted the rational objects of benefaction. For to be kind to the former is traffic; and in these times men present, just as they soil their ground, not that they love the dirt, but that they expect a crop: and for the latter, the politician well approves of the Indian’s religion, in worshipping the devil, that he may do him no hurt; how much soever he hates him, and is hated by him.
But if a poor, old, decayed friend or relation, whose purse, whose house and heart had been formerly free, and open to such an one, shall at length upon change of fortune come to him with hunger and rags, pleading his past services and his present wants, and so crave some relief of one, for the merit and memory of the other; the politician, who imitates the serpent’s wisdom, must turn his deaf ear too, to all the insignificant charms of gratitude and honour, in behalf of such a bankrupt, undone friend, who having been already used, and now squeezed dry, is fit only to be cast aside. He must abhor gratitude as a worse kind of witchcraft, which only 241serves to conjure up the pale, meager ghosts of dead, forgotten kindnesses, to haunt and trouble him; still respecting what is past; whereas such wise men as himself, in such cases, account all that is past, to be also gone; and know, that there can be no gain in refunding, nor any profit in paying debts. The sole measure of all his courtesies is, what return they will make him, and what revenue they will bring him in. His expectations govern his charity. And we must not vouch any man for an exact master in the rules of our modern policy, but such an one as hath brought himself so far to hate and despise the absurdity of being kind upon free cost, as (to use a known expression) not so much as to tell a friend what it is a clock for nothing.
And thus I have finished the first general head proposed from the text, and shewn some of those rules, principles, and maxims, that this wisdom of the world acts by: I say some of them, for I neither pretend nor desire to know them all.
II. I come now to the other general head, which is, to shew the folly and absurdity of these principles in relation to God. In order to which we must observe that foolishness, being properly a man’s deviation from right reason in point of practice, must needs consist in one of these two things:
1. In his pitching upon such an end as is unsuitable to his condition; or,
2. In his pitching upon means unsuitable to the compassing of his end.
There is folly enough in either of these; and my business shall be to shew, that such as act by the forementioned rules of worldly wisdom, are eminently foolish upon both accounts.242
1. And first, for that first sort of foolishness imputable to them; namely, that a man, by following such principles, pitches upon that for his end which no ways suits his condition.
Certain it is, and indeed self-evident, that the wisdom of this world looks no further than this world. All its designs and efficacy terminate on this side heaven, nor does policy so much as pretend to any more than to be the great art of raising a man to the plenties, glories, and grandeurs of the world. And if it arrives so far as to make a man rich, potent, and honourable, it has its end, and has done its utmost. But now that a man cannot rationally make these things his end, will appear from these two considerations.
(1.) That they reach not the measure of his duration or being; the perpetuity of which surviving this mortal state, and shooting forth into the end less eternities of another world, must needs render a man infinitely miserable and forlorn, if he has no other comforts, but what he must leave behind him in this. For nothing can make a man happy, but that which shall last as long as he lasts. And all these enjoyments are much too short for an immortal soul to stretch itself upon, which shall persist in being, not only when profit, pleasure, and honour, but when time itself shall cease, and be no more.
No man can transport his large retinue, his sumptuous fare, and his rich furniture into another world. Nothing of all these things can continue with him then, but the memory of them. And surely the bare remembrance that a man was formerly rich or great, cannot make him at all happier there, where an infinite happiness or an infinite misery shall 243equally swallow up the sense of these poor felicities. It may indeed contribute to his misery, heighten the anguish, and sharpen the sting of conscience, and so add fury to the everlasting flames, when he shall reflect upon the abuse of all that wealth and greatness that the good providence of God had put as a price into his hand for worthier purposes, than to damn his nobler and better part, only to please and gratify his worse. But the politician has an answer ready for all these melancholy considerations; that he, for his part, believes none of these things: as that there is either an heaven, or an hell, or an immortal soul. No, he is too great a friend to real knowledge, to take such troublesome assertions as these upon trust. Which if it be his belief, as no doubt it is, let him for me continue in it still, and stay for its confutation in another world; which if he can destroy by disbelieving, his infidelity will do him better service, than as yet he has any cause to presume that it can. But,
(2.) Admitting, that either these enjoyments were eternal, or the soul mortal; and so, that one way or other they were commensurate to its duration; yet still they cannot be an end suitable to a rational nature, forasmuch as they fill not the measure of its desires. The foundation of all man’s unhappiness here on earth, is the great disproportion between his enjoyments and his appetites; which appears evidently in this, that let a man have never so much, he is still desiring something or other more. Alexander, we know, was much troubled at the scantiness of nature itself, that there were no more worlds for him to disturb: and in this respect, every man living has a soul as great as Alexander, and put under 244the same circumstances, would own the very same dissatisfactions.
Now this is most certain, that in spiritual natures, so much as there is of desire, so much there is also of capacity to receive. I do not say, there is always a capacity to receive the very thing they desire, for that may be impossible: but for the degree of happiness that they propose to themselves from that thing, this I say they are capable of. And as God is said to have made man after his own image, so upon this quality he seems peculiarly to have stampt the resemblance of his infinity. For man seems as boundless in his desires, as God is in his being; and therefore, nothing but God himself can satisfy him. But the great inequality of all things else to the appetites of a rational soul appears yet farther from this; that in all these worldly things, that a man pursues with the greatest eagerness and intention of mind imaginable, he finds not half the plea sure in the actual possession of them, that he proposed to himself in the expectation. Which shews, that there is a great cheat or lie which overspreads the world, while all things here below beguile men’s expectations, and their expectations cheat their experience.
Let this therefore be the first thing, in which the foolishness of this worldly wisdom is manifest. Namely, that by it a man proposes to himself an end wholly unsuitable to his condition; as bearing no proportion to the measure of his duration, or the vastness of his desires.
2. The other thing, in which foolishness is seen, is a man’s pitching upon means unsuitable to that which he has made his end.245
And here we will, for the present, suppose the things of the world to have neither that shortness nor emptiness in them, that we have indeed proved them to have. But that they are so adequate to all the concerns of an intelligent nature, that they may be rationally fixed upon by men as the ultimate
I end of all their designs; yet the folly of this wisdom appears in this, that it suggests those means for the acquisition of these enjoyments, that are no ways fit to compass or acquire them, and that upon a double account.
(1.) That they are in themselves unable and insufficient for, and,
(2.) That they are frequently opposite to a successful attainment of them.
(1.) And first for their insufficiency. Let politicians contrive as accurately, project as deeply, and pursue what they have thus contrived and projected, as diligently as it is possible for human wit and industry to do; yet still the success of all depends upon the favour of an overruling hand. For God expressly claims it as a special part of his prerogative, to have the entire disposal of riches, honours, and whatsoever else is apt to command the desires of mankind here below, Deut. viii. 18. If is Lord thy God that giveth thee power to get wealth. And in 1 Sam. ii. 30. God peremptorily declares himself the sole fountain of honour, telling is, that those that honour him shall be honoured, and that those that despise him shall be lightly esteemed.
And then for dignities and preferments, we have the word of one, that could dispose of these things much as kings could do, Prov. xxix. 26. where he 246tells us, that many seek the ruler’s favour: that is, apply themselves both to his interest and humour, with all the arts of flattery and obsequiousness, the surest and the readiest ways (one would think) to advance a man; and yet, after all, it follows in the next words, that every man’s judgment cometh of the Lord. And that, whatsoever may be expected here, it is resolved only in the court of heaven, whether the man shall proceed favourite in the courts of princes, and after all his artificial attendance come to sit at the right hand, or be made a foot stool. So that upon full trial of all the courses that policy could either devise or practise, the most experienced masters of it have been often forced to sit down with that complaint of the disciples, We have toiled all night, and have caught nothing. For do we not sometimes see that traitors can be out of favour, and knaves be beggars, and lose their estates, and be stript of their offices, as well as honester men?
And why all this? Surely not always for want of craft to spy out where their game lay, nor yet for want of irreligion to give them all the scope of ways lawful and unlawful, to prosecute their intentions; but, because the providence of God strikes not in with them, but dashes, and even dispirits all their endeavours, and makes their designs heartless and ineffectual. So that it is not their seeing this man, their belying another, nor their sneaking to a third, that shall be able to do their business, when the designs of Heaven will be served by their disappointment. And this is the true cause why so many politic conceptions, so elaborately formed and wrought, and grown at length ripe for delivery, do 247yet, in the issue, miscarry and prove abortive; for, being come to the birth, the all-disposing providence of God denies them strength to bring forth. And thus the authors of them, having missed of their mighty aims, are fain to retreat with frustration and a baffle; and having played the knaves unsuccessfully, to have the ill luck to pass for fools too.
(2!.) The means suggested by policy and worldly wisdom, for the attainment of these earthly enjoyments, are unfit for that purpose, not only upon the account of their insufficiency for, but also of their frequent opposition and contrariety to, the accomplishment of such ends; nothing being more usual, than for these unchristian fishers of men to be fatally caught in their own nets: for does not the text expressly say, that God taketh the wise in their own craftiness? And has not our own experience sufficiently commented upon the text, when we have seen some by the very same ways, by which they had designed to rise uncontrollably, and to clear off all obstructions before their ambition, to have directly procured their utter downfall, and to have broke their necks from that very ladder, by which they had thought to have climbed as high as their father Lucifer; and there from the top of all their greatness to have looked down with scorn upon all below them?
Such persons are the proper and lawful objects of derision, forasmuch as God himself laughs at them.
Haman wanted nothing to complete his greatness but a gallows upon which to hang Mordecai; but it mattered not for whom he provided the gallows, when Providence designed the rope for him.
With what contempt does the apostle here, in the 24820th verse of this third chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians, repeat those words of the psalmist, concerning all the fine artifices of worldly wisdom; The Lord, says he, knoweth the thoughts of the wise that they are vain. All their contrivances are but thin, slight, despicable things, and, for the most part, destructive of themselves; nothing being more equal in justice, and indeed more natural in the direct consequence and connection of effects and causes, than for men wickedly wise to outwit themselves, and for such as wrestle with Providence, to trip up their own heels.
It is clear therefore, that the charge of this second sort of foolishness is made good upon worldly wisdom; for that having made men pitch upon an end unfit for their condition, it also makes them pitch upon means unfit to attain that end. And that both by reason of their inability for, and frequent contrariety to, the bringing about such designs.
This, I say, has been made good in the general; but since particulars convince with greater life and evidence, we will resume the forementioned principles of the politician, and shew severally in each of them, how little efficacy they have to advance the practisers of them, to the things they aspire to by them.
1. And first, for his first principle, That the politician must maintain a constant, habitual dissimulation. Concerning which I shall lay down this as certain; that dissimulation can be no further useful, than it is concealed; forasmuch as no man will trust a known cheat: and it is also as certain, that as some men use dissimulation for their interest, so others have an interest as strongly engaging them, 249to use all the art and industry they can to find it out; and to assure themselves of the truth or false hood of those with whom they deal, which renders it infinitely hard, if not morally impossible, for a man to carry on a constant course of dissimulation without discovery. And being once discovered, it is not only no help, but the greatest impediment of action in the world. For since man is but of a very limited, narrow power in his own person, and consequently can effect no great matter merely by his own personal strength, but as he acts in society and conjunction with others, without first engaging their trust; and moreover, since men will trust no further than they judge a person for his sincerity fit to be trusted, it follows that a discovered dissembler can achieve nothing great or considerable; for not being able to gain men’s trust, he cannot gain their concurrence, and so is left alone to act singly, and upon his own bottom; and while that is the sphere of his activity, all that he can do must needs be contemptible. We know how successful the late usurper2020 Cromwell. was, while his army believed him real in his zeal against kingship. But when they found out the imposture, upon his aspiring to the same himself, he was presently deserted, and opposed by them, and never able to crown his usurped greatness with the addition of that title which he so passionately thirsted after. Add to this the judgment of as great an English author as ever wrote, with great confidence affirming, “that the ablest men that ever were, had all an openness and frankness of dealing; and that, if at any time such did dissemble, 250their dissimulation took effect, merely in the strength of that reputation they had gained by their veracity and clear dealing in the main.” From all which it follows, that dissimulation can be of no further use to a man, than just to guard him within the compass of his own personal concerns; which yet may be more easily, and not less effectually done, by that silence and reservedness that every man may innocently practise, without the putting on of any contrary disguise.
2. The politician’s second principle was, That conscience, or religion, ought never to stand between any man and his temporal advantage. Which in deed is properly atheism; and, so far as it is practised, tends to the dissolution of society, the bond of which is religion. Forasmuch as a man’s happiness or misery in his converse with other men depends chiefly upon their doing or not doing those things which human laws can take no cognizance of: such as are all actions capable of being done in secret, and out of the view of mankind, which yet have the greatest influence upon our neighbour, even in his nearest and dearest concerns. And if there be no inward sense of religion to awe men from the doing unjust actions, provided they can do them without discovery; it is impossible for any man to sit secure or happy in the possession of any thing that he enjoys. And this inconvenience the politician must expect from others, as well as they have felt from him, unless he thinks that he can engross this principle to his own practice, and that -others cannot be as false and atheistical as himself, especially having had the advantage of his copy to write after.251
3. The third principle was, That the politician ought to make himself, and not the public, the chief, if not the sole end of all that he does.
But here we shall quickly find that the private spirit will prove as pernicious in temporals, as ever it did in spirituals. For while every particular member of the public provides singly and solely for itself, the several joints of the body politic do thereby separate and disunite, and so become unable to sup port the whole; and when the public interest once fails, let private interests subsist if they can, and prevent an universal ruin from involving in it particulars. It is not a man’s wealth that can be sure to save him, if the enemy be wise enough to refuse part of it tendered as a ransom, when it is as easy for him to destroy the owner, and to take the whole. When the hand finds itself well warmed and covered, let it refuse the trouble. of feeding the mouth or guarding the head, till the body be starved or killed, and then we shall see how it will fare with the hand. The Athenians, the Romans, and all other nations that grew great out of little or nothing, did so merely by the public-mindedness of particular persons; and the same courses that first raised nations and governments must support them. So that, were there no such thing as religion, prudence were enough to enforce this upon all.
For our own parts, let us reflect upon our glorious and renowned English ancestors, men eminent in church and state, and we shall find, that this was the method by which they preserved both.
We have succeeded into their labours, and the fruits of them: and it will both concern and become us to succeed also into their principles. For it is no 252man’s duty to be safe or to be rich; but I am sure, it is the duty of every one to make good his trust. And it is a calamity to a whole nation, that any man should have a place or an employment more large and public than his spirit.
4. The fourth and last principle mentioned was, That the politician must not, in doing kindnesses, consider his friends, but only gratify rich men or enemies. Which principle (as to that branch of it relating to enemies) was certainly first borrowed and fetched up from the very bottom of hell; and uttered (no doubt) by particular and immediate inspiration of the devil. And yet (as much of the devil as it carries in it) it neither is nor can be more villainous and detestable, than it is really silly, senseless, and impolitic.
But to go over the several parts of this principle; and to begin with the supposed policy of gratifying only the rich and opulent. Does our wise man think, that the grandee, whom he so courts, does not see through all the little plots of his courtship, as well as he himself? And so, at the same time, while he accepts the gift, laugh in his sleeve at the design, and despise the giver?
But, for the neglect of friends, as it is the height of baseness, so it can never be proved rational, till we prove the person using it omnipotent and self-sufficient, and such as can never need any mortal assistance. But if he be a man, that is, a poor, weak creature, subject to change and misery, let him know, that it is the friend only that God has made for the day of adversity, as the most suitable and sovereign help that humanity is capable of. And those (though in highest place) who slight and disoblige 253their friends, shall infallibly come to know the value of them, by having none, when they shall most need them.
That prince that maintains the reputation of a true, fast, generous friend, has an army always ready to fight for him, maintained to his hand without pay.
As for the other part of this principle, that concerns the gratifying of enemies; it is (to say no more) an absurdity parallel to the former. For when a man shall have done all he can, given all he has, to oblige an enemy, he shall find, that he has armed him indeed, but not at all altered him.
The scripture bids us pray for our enemies, and love our enemies, but no where does it bid us trust our enemies; nay, it strictly cautions us against it, Prov. xxvi. 25. When he speaketh thee fair, (says the text,) believe him not; for there are yet seven abominations in his heart: and, in good earnest, it would be a rarity worth the seeing, could any one shew us such a thing as a perfectly reconciled enemy. Men are generally credulous at first, and will not take up this great and safe truth at the cost of other men’s experience, till they come to be bitten into a sense of it by their own; but are apt to take fair professions, fawning looks, treats, entertainments, visits, and such like pitiful stuff, for friendship and reconcilement, and so to admit the serpent into their bosom: but let them come once to depend upon this new made friend, or reconciled enemy, in any great or real concern of life, and they shall find him false as hell, and cruel as the grave. And I know nothing more to be wondered at, than that those reconcilements that are so difficult, and even next to impossible 254in the effect, should yet be so frequent in the attempt; especially since the reason of this difficulty lies as deep as nature itself; which, after it has done an injury, will for ever be suspicious; and I would fain see the man that can perfectly love the person whom he suspects.
There is a noted story of Hector and Ajax, who having combated one another, ended that combat in a reconcilement, and testified that reconcilement by mutual presents: Hector giving Ajax a sword, and Ajax presenting Hector with a belt. The consequence of which was, that Ajax slew himself with the sword given him by Hector, and Hector was dragged about the walls of Troy by the belt given him by Ajax. Such are the gifts, such are the killing kindnesses of reconciled enemies.
Confident men may try what conclusions they please, at their own peril; but let history be consulted, reason heard, and experience called in to speak impartially what it has found, and I believe they will all with one voice declare, that whatsoever the grace of God may do in the miraculous change of men’s hearts; yet, according to the common methods of the world, a man may as well expect to make the devil himself his friend, as an enemy that has given him the first blow.
And thus I have gone over the two general heads proposed from the words, and shewn both what those principles are, upon which this wisdom of the world does proceed; and also wherein the folly and absurdity of them does consist.
And now into what can we more naturally improve the whole foregoing discourse, than into that practical inference of our apostle, in the verse before 255the text? that if any man desires the reputation of wisdom, lie should become a fool, that he may be wise; that is, a fool to the world, that he may be wise to God.
Let us not be ashamed of the folly of being sincere, and without guile; without traps and snares in our converse; of being fearful to build our estates upon the ruin of our consciences; of preferring the public good before our own private emolument; and lastly, of being true to all the offices of friendship, the obligations of which are sacred, and will certainly be exacted of us by the great judge of all our actions. I say, let us not blush to be found guilty of all these follies, (as some account them,) rather than to be expert in that kind of wisdom, that God himself, the great fountain of wisdom, has pronounced to be earthly, sensual, devilish; and of the wretched absurdity of which, all histories, both ecclesiastical and civil, have given us such pregnant and convincing examples.
Reflect upon Ahithophel, Haman, Sejanus, Caesar Borgia, and other such masters of the arts of policy, who thought they had fixed themselves upon so sure a bottom, that they might even defy and dare Providence to the face; and yet how did God bring an absolute disappointment, like one great blot, over all their fine, artificial contrivances!
Every one of those mighty and profound sages coming to a miserable and disastrous end.
The consideration of which, and the like passages, one would think, should make men grow weary of dodging and shewing tricks with God in their own crooked ways: and even force them to acknowledge it for the surest and most unfailing prudence, wholly 256to commit their persons and concerns to the wise and good providence of God, in the strait and open ways of his own commands.
Who, we may be confident, is more tenderly concerned for the good of those that truly fear and serve him, than it is possible for the most selfish of men to be concerned for themselves: and who, in all the troubles and disturbances, all the cross, difficult, and perplexing passages that can fall out, will be sure to guide all to this happy issue; that all things shall work together for good to those that love God.
To which God, infinitely wise, holy, and just, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.257
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