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The fatal Imposture and Force of Words:
SET FORTH IN
PREACHED ON ISAIAH V. 20.
MAY 9, 1686.
Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, &c.
THESE words contain in them two things:
1. A wo denounced; and,
2. The sin for which it is denounced; to wit, the calling evil good, and good evil: which expression may be taken two ways:
First, In a judicial and more restrained sense; as it signifies the pronouncing of a guilty person innocent, and an innocent,, guilty, in the course of judgment. But this I take to be too particular to reach the design of the words here.
Secondly, It may be taken in a general and more enlarged sense; as it imports a misrepresentation of the qualities of things and actions to the common apprehensions of men, abusing their minds with false notions, and so by this artifice making evil pass for good, and good for evil, in all the great concerns of life. Where, by good, I question not, but good 109morally so called, bonum honestum, ought, chiefly at least, to be understood; and that the good of profit, or pleasure, the bonum utile, or jucundum, hardly come into any account here, as things extremely below the principal design of the Spirit of God in this place.
It is wonderful to consider, that, since good is the natural and proper object, which all human choice is carried out to; and evil, that which with all its might it shuns and flies from; and since withal there is that controlling worth and beauty in goodness, that, as such, the will cannot but like and desire it; and, on the other side, that odious deformity in vice, that it never so much as offers itself to the affections or practice of mankind, but under the disguise and colours of the other; and since all this is easily discernible by the ordinary discourses of the understanding; and lastly, since nothing passes into the choice of the will, but as it comes conveyed and warranted by the understanding, as worthy of its choice; I say, it is wonderful to consider, that, notwithstanding all this, the lives and practices of the generality of men (in which men certainly should be most in earnest) are almost wholly took up in a passionate pursuit of what is evil, and in an equal neglect, if not also an abhorrence, of what is good. This is certainly so; and experience, which is neither to be confuted nor denied, does every minute prove the sad truth of this assertion.
But now, what should be the cause of all this? For so great, so constant, and so general a practice must needs have, not only a cause, but also a great, a constant, and a general cause; a cause every way commensurate to such an effect: and this cause 110must of necessity be from one of those two commanding powers of the soul, the understanding, or the will. As for the will; though its liberty be such, that a suitable or proper good being proposed to it, it has a power to refuse, or not to choose it; yet it has no power to choose evil, considered absolutely as evil; this being directly against the nature and natural method of its workings.
Nevertheless it is but too manifest, that things evil, extremely evil, are both readily chosen, and eagerly pursued and practised by it. And therefore this must needs be from that other governing faculty of the soul, the understanding, which represents to the will things really evil, under the notion and character of good. And this, this is the true source and original of this great mischief. The will chooses, follows, and embraces things evil and destructive; but it is because the understanding first tells it that they are good and wholesome, and fit to be chosen by it. One man gives another a cup of poison, a thing as terrible as death; but at the same time he tells him that it is a cordial; and so he drinks it off, and dies.
From the beginning of the world to this day, there was never any great villainy acted by men, but it was in the strength of some great fallacy put upon their minds by a false representation of evil for good, or good for evil. In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die, says God to Adam; and so long as Adam believed this, he did not eat. But,, says the devil, in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt be so far from surely dying, that thou shalt be immortal, and from a man grow into an angel; and upon this different account of 111the thing, he presently took the fruit, and ate mortality, misery, and destruction to himself and his whole posterity.
And now, can there be a wo or curse in all the stores and magazines of vengeance, equal to the malignity of such a practice; of which one single in stance could involve all mankind, past, present, and to come, in one universal and irreparable confusion? God commanded and told man what was good, but the devil surnamed it evil, and thereby baffled the command, turned the world topsyturvy, and brought a new chaos upon the whole creation.
But that I may give you a more full discussion of the sense and design of the words, I shall do it under these following particulars: as,
First, I shall give you some general account of the nature of good and evil, and the reason upon which they are founded.
Secondly, I shall shew that the way by which good and evil commonly operate upon the mind of man, is by those respective names or appellations by which they are notified and conveyed to the mind. And,
Thirdly and lastly, I shall shew the mischief, directly, naturally, and unavoidably following from the misapplication and confusion of those names.
And, I hope, by going over all these particulars, you may receive some tolerable satisfaction about this great subject which we have now before us.
1. And first for the nature of good and evil, what they are, and upon what they are founded. The knowledge of this I look upon as the foundation and groundwork of all those rules, that either moral philosophy or divinity can give for the direction of 112the lives and practices of men; and consequently ought to be reckoned as a first principle; and that such an one, that, for ought I see, the through speculation of good, will be found much more difficult than the practice. But when we shall have once given some account of the nature of good, that of evil will be known by consequence; as being only a privation, or absence of good, in a subject capable of it, and proper for it.
Now good, in the general nature and notion of it, over and above the bare being of a thing, connotes also a certain suitableness or agreeableness of it to some other thing: according to which general notion of good, applied to the particular nature of moral goodness, (upon which only we now insist,) a thing or action is said to be morally good or evil, as it is agreeable or disagreeable to right reason, or to a rational nature; and as right reason is nothing else but the understanding or mind of man, discoursing and judging of things truly, and as they are in themselves; and as all truth is unchangeably the same; (that proposition which is true at any time being so for ever;) so it must follow, that the moral goodness or evil of men’s actions, which consist in their conformity or unconformity to right reason, must be also eternal, necessary, and unchangeable. So that, as that which is right reason at any time, or in any case, is always right reason with relation to the same time and case; in like manner, that which is morally good or evil, at any time, or in any case, (since it takes its whole measure from right reason,) must be also eternally and unchangeably a moral good or evil, with relation to that time and to that case. For propositions concerning the goodness, 113as well as concerning the truth of things, are necessary and perpetual.
But you will say, may not the same action, as for instance, the killing of a man, be sometimes morally good, and sometimes morally evil? to wit, good, when it is the execution of justice upon a malefactor; and evil, when it is the taking away the life of an innocent person?
To this I answer, that this indeed is true of actions considered in their general nature or kind, but not considered in their particular individual in stances. For generally speaking, to take away the life of a -man, is neither morally good nor morally evil, but capable of being either, as the circumstances of things shall determine it; but every particular act of killing is of necessity accompanied with, and determined by, several circumstances , which actually and unavoidably constitute and denominate it either good or evil. And that which, being performed under such and such circumstances, is morally good, cannot possibly, under the same circumstances, ever be morally evil. And so on the contrary.
From whence we infer the villainous falsehood of two assertions, held and maintained by some persons, and too much countenanced by some others in the world. As,
First, That good and evil, honest and dishonest, are not qualities existing or inherent in things themselves; but only founded in the opinions of men concerning things. So that any thing or action, that has gained the general approbation of any people, or society of men, ought, in respect of those persons, to be esteemed morally good, or honest; and whatsoever falls under their general disapprobation, 114ought, upon the same account, to be reckoned morally evil, or dishonest; which also they would seem to prove from the very signification of the word honestus; which, originally and strictly, signifies no more than creditable, and is but a derivative from honor, which signifies credit or honour; and according to the opinion of some, we know, that is lodged only in the esteem and thoughts of those who pay it, and not in the thing or person whom it is paid to. Thus for example; thieving or robbing was accounted amongst the Spartans a gallant, worthy, and a creditable thing; and consequently, according to the principle which we have mentioned, thievery, amongst the Spartans, was a practice morally good and honest. Thus also, both with the Grecians and the Romans, it was held a magnanimous and highly laudable act, for a man, under any great or insuperable misery or distress, to put an end to his own life; and accordingly, with those who had such thoughts of it, that which we call self-murder was properly a good, an honest, and a virtuous action. And persons of the highest and most acknowledged probity and virtue amongst them, such as Marcus Cato, and Pomponius Atticus, actually did it, and stand celebrated both by their orators and historians for so doing. And I could also instance in other actions of a fouler and more unnatural hue, which yet, from the approbation and credit they have found in some countries and places, have passed for good morality in those places: but, out of respect to common humanity, as well as divinity, I shall pass them over. And thus much for the first assertion or opinion.
Secondly, The second opinion, or position, is, that 115good and evil, honest and dishonest, are originally founded in the laws and constitutions of the sovereign civil power, enjoining some things or actions, and prohibiting others. So that when any thing is found conducing to the welfare of the public, and thereupon comes to be enacted by governors into a law, it is forthwith thereby rendered morally good and honest; and, on the contrary, evil and dishonest, when, upon its contrariety to the public welfare, it stands prohibited and condemned by the same public authority.
This was the opinion heretofore of Epicurus, as it is represented by Gassendus; who understood his notions too well to misrepresent them. And lately of one amongst ourselves, a less philosopher, though the greater heathen of the two, the infamous author of the Leviathan. And the like lewd, scandalous, and immoral doctrine, or worse, if possible, may be found in some writers, of another kind of note and character; whom, one would have thought, not only religion, but shame of the world, might have taught better things.
Such as, for instance, Bellarmine himself; who, in his 4th book and 5th chapter De Pontifice Romano, has this monstrous passage: “That if the pope should through error or mistake command vices, and prohibit virtues, the church would be bound in conscience to believe vice to be good, and virtue evil.” I shall give you the whole pas sage in his own words to a tittle: “Fides catholica docet omnem virtutem esse bonam, omne vitium esse malum. Si autem erraret papa, praecipiendo vitia vel prohibendo virtutes, teneretur ecclesia credere vitia esse bona et virtutes malas, nisi vellet 116 contra conscientiam peccare.” Good God! that any thing that wears the name of a Christian, or but of a man, should venture to own such a villainous, impudent, and blasphemous assertion in the face of the world, as this! What! must murder, adultery, theft, fraud, extortion, perjury, drunkenness, rebellion, and the like, pass for good and commend able actions, and fit to be practised? And mercy, chastity, justice, truth, temperance, loyalty, and sincere dealing, be accounted things utterly evil, immoral, and not to be followed by men, in case the pope, who is generally weak, and almost always a wicked man, should, by his mistake and infallible ignorance, command the former, and forbid the latter? Did Christ himself ever assume such a power as to alter the morality of actions, and to transform vice into virtue, and virtue into vice, by his bare word? Certainly never did a grosser paradox, or a wickeder sentence, drop from the mouth or pen of any mortal man, since reason or religion had any being in the world.
And, I must confess, I have often with great amazement wondered how it could possibly come from a person of so great a reputation, both for learning and virtue too, as the world allows Bellarmine to have been. But when men give themselves over to the defence of wicked interests and false propositions, it is just with God to smite the great est abilities with the greatest infatuations.
But as for these two positions or assertions; That the moral good or evil, the honesty or dishonesty of human actions, should depend either upon the opinions or upon the laws of men; they are certainly false in themselves, because they are infinitely absurd 117in their consequences. Some of which are such as these. As,
First, If the moral goodness or evil of men’s actions were originally founded in, and so proceeded wholly from the opinions or laws of men, then it would follow, that they must change and vary according to the change and difference of the opinions and laws of men: and consequently, that the same action, under exactly the same circumstances, may be morally good one day, and morally evil an other; and morally good in one place, and morally evil in another: forasmuch as the same sovereign authority may enact or make a law, commanding such or such an action to-day, and a quite contrary law forbidding the same action to-morrow; and the very same action, under the same circumstances, may be commanded by law in one country, and prohibited by law in another. Which being so, the consequence is manifest, and the absurdity of the consequent intolerable.
Secondly, If the moral goodness or evil of men’s actions depended originally upon human laws, then those laws themselves could neither be morally good nor evil: the consequence is evident; because those laws are not commanded or prohibited by any antecedent human laws; and consequently, if the moral goodness or evil of any act were to be derived only from a precedent human law, laws themselves, not supposing a dependance upon other precedent human laws, could have no moral goodness or evil in them. Which to assert of any human act (such as all human laws essentially are and must be) is certainly a very gross absurdity.118
Thirdly, If the moral goodness or evil of men’s actions were sufficiently derived from human laws or constitutions, then, upon supposal that a divine law should (as it often does) command what is prohibited by human laws, and prohibit what is commanded by them, it would follow, that either such commands and prohibitions of the divine law do not at all affect the actions of men in point of their morality, so as to render them either good or evil; or that the same action, at the same time, may, in respect of the divine law commanding it, be morally good; and, in respect of an human law forbidding it, be morally evil. Than which consequence, nothing can be more clear, nor withal more absurd.
And many more of the like nature I could easily draw forth, and lay before you. Every false principle or proposition being sure to be attended with a numerous train of absurdities.
But, as to the subject-matter now in hand; so far is the morality of human actions, as to the goodness or evil of them, from being founded in any human law, that in very many, and those the principal in stances of human action, it is not originally founded in, or derived from, so much as any positive divine law. There being a jus naturale certainly antecedent to all jus positivum, either human or divine; and that such as results from the very nature and being of things, as they stand in such a certain habitude or relation to one another: to which relation whatsoever is done agreeably is morally and essentially good; and whatsoever is done otherwise is, at the same rate, morally evil.
And this I shall exemplify in those two grand, 119comprehensive, moral duties, which man is for ever obliged to, his duty towards God, and his duty towards his neighbour.
And first, for his duty towards God; which is, to love and obey him with all his heart and all his soul. It is certain, that for a rational, intelligent creature to conform himself to the will of God in all things, carries in it a moral rectitude, or goodness; and to disobey or oppose his will in any thing, imports a moral obliquity, before God ever deals forth any particular law or command to such a creature; there being a general obligation upon man to obey all God’s laws, whensoever they shall be declared, before any particular instance of law comes actually to be declared. But now whence is this? Why, from that essential suitableness which obedience has to the relation which is between a rational creature and his Creator. Nothing in nature being more irrational and irregular, and consequently more immoral, than for an intelligent being to op pose or disobey that sovereign, supreme will, which gave him that being, and has withal the sole and absolute disposal of him in all his concerns. So that there needs no positive law or sanction of God to stamp an obliquity upon such a disobedience; since it cleaves to it essentially, and by way of natural result from it, upon the account of that utter unsuitableness which disobedience has to the relation which man naturally and necessarily stands in towards his Maker.
And then, in the next place, for his duty to his neighbour. The whole of which is comprised in that great rule, of doing as a man would be done by. We may truly affirm, that the morality of this 120rule does not originally derive itself from those words of our Saviour, Matt. vii. 12. Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them: no, nor yet from Moses or the prophets; but it is as old as Adam, and bears date with human nature itself; as springing from that primitive relation of equality, which all men, as fellow creatures, and fellow subjects to the same supreme Lord, bear to one another, in respect of that common right, which every man has equally to his life, and to the proper comforts of life; and consequently, to all things naturally necessary to the support of both.
Now, whatsoever one man has a right to keep or possess, no other man can have a right to take from him. So that no man has a right to expect that from or to do that to another, which that other has not an equal right to expect from and to do to him. Which parity of right, as to all things purely natural, being undoubtedly the result of nature itself, can any thing be inferred from thence more conformable to reason, and consequently of a greater moral rectitude, than that such an equality of right should also cause an equality of behaviour, between man and man, as to all those mutual offices and intercourses in which life and the happiness of life are concerned? Nothing certainly can shine out and shew itself by the mere light of reason, as an higher and more unquestionable piece of morality than this, nor as a more confessed deviation from morality than the contrary practice.
From all which discourse, I think we may with out presumption conclude, that the rationes boni et mali, the nature of good and evil, as to the principal 121instances of both, spring from that essential habitude, or relation, which the nature of one thing bears to another by virtue of that order which they stand placed in, here in the world, by the very law and condition of their creation; and for that reason do and must precede all positive laws, sanctions, or institutions whatsoever. Good and evil are in morality, as the east and west are in the frame of the world; founded in and divided by that fixed and unalterable situation, which they have respectively in the whole body of the universe: or, as the right hand is discriminated from the left, by a natural, necessary, and never to be confounded distinction.
And thus I have done with the first thing proposed, and given you such an account of the nature of good and evil, as the measure of the present exercise and occasion would allow. Pass we now to the
2nd. Which is to shew, That the way by which good and evil generally operate upon the mind of man, is by those words or names by which they are notified and conveyed to the mind. Words are the signs and symbols of things; and as in accompts, ciphers and figures pass for real sums; so in the course of human affairs, words and names pass for things themselves. For things, or objects, cannot enter into the mind, as they subsist in themselves, and by their own natural bulk pass into the apprehension; but they are taken in by their ideas, their notions or resemblances; which imprinting themselves after a spiritual immaterial manner in the imagination, and from thence, under a further refinement, passing into the intellect, are by that expressed by certain words or names, found out and invented by the mind, for the communication of its 122conceptions, or thoughts, to others. So that as conceptions are the images or resemblances of things to the mind within itself; in like manner are words, or names, the marks, tokens, or resemblances of those conceptions to the minds of them whom we converse with: τὰ ἐν τῇ φωνῇ τῶν ἐν τῇ ψυχῇ παθημάτων σύμβολα, being the known maxim laid down by the philosopher, as the first and most fundamental rule of all discourse.
This therefore is certain, that in human life, or conversation, words stand for things; the common business of the world not being capable of being managed otherwise. For by these, men come to know one another’s minds. By these they covenant and confederate. By these they buy and sell, they deal and traffick. In short, words are the great instruments both of practice and design; which, for the most part, move wholly in the strength of them. Forasmuch as it is the nature of man both to will and to do, according to the persuasion he has of the good and evil of those things that come before him; and to take up his persuasions according to the representations made to him of those qualities, by their respective names or appellations.
This is the true and natural account of this mat ter; and it is all that I shall remark upon this second head. I proceed now to the
3rd. Which is, to shew the mischief which directly, naturally, and unavoidably follows from the misapplication and confusion of those names. And in order to this, I shall premise these two considerations.
1. That the generality of mankind is wholly and absolutely governed by words or names; without, 123nay, for the most part, even against the knowledge men have of things. The multitude, or common rout, like a drove of sheep, or an herd of oxen, may be managed by any noise or cry, which their drivers shall accustom them to.
And he who will set up for a skilful manager of the rabble, so long as they have but ears to hear, needs never inquire whether they have any under standing whereby to judge; but with two or three popular empty words, such as popery and superstition, right of the subject, liberty of conscience, Lord Jesus Christ, well tuned and humoured, may whistle them backwards and forwards, upwards and down wards, till he is weary; and get up upon their backs when he is so.
As for the meaning of the word itself, that may shift for itself: and as for the sense and reason of it, that has little or nothing to do here; only let it sound full and round, and chime right to the humour, which is at present agog, (just as a big, long, rattling name is said to command even adoration from a Spaniard,) and no doubt, with this powerful sense less engine, the rabble-driver shall be able to carry all before him, or to draw all after him, as he pleases. For a plausible, insignificant word, in the mouth of an expert demagogue, is a dangerous and a dreadful weapon.
You know, when Caesar’s army mutinied, and grew troublesome, no argument from interest or reason could satisfy or appease them: but as soon as he gave them the appellation of Quirites, the tumult was immediately hushed; and all were quiet and content, and took that one word in good payment for all. Such is the trivial slightness and levity 124of most minds. And indeed, take any passion of the soul of man, while it is predominant and afloat, and, just in the critical height of it, nick it with some lucky or unlucky word, and you may as certainly overrule it to your own purpose, as a spark of fire, falling upon gunpowder, will infallibly blow it up.
The truth is, he who shall duly consider these matters, will find that there is a certain bewitchery, or fascination in words, which makes them operate with a force beyond what we can naturally give an account of. For would not a man think ill deeds and shrewd turns should reach further and strike deeper than ill words? And yet many instances might be given, in which men have much more easily pardoned ill things done, than ill things said against them: such a peculiar rancour and venom do they leave behind them in men’s minds, and so much more poisonously and incurably does the serpent bite with his tongue than with his teeth.
Nor are men prevailed upon at this odd unaccountable rate, by bare words, only through a defect of knowledge; but sometimes also do they suffer themselves to be carried away with these puffs of wind, even contrary to knowledge and experience itself. For otherwise, how could men be brought to surrender up their reason, their interest, and their credit to flattery? gross, fulsome, abusive flattery; indeed more abusive and reproachful, upon a true estimate of things and persons, than the rudest scoffs and the sharpest invectives. Yet so it is, that though men know themselves utterly void of those qualities and perfections, which the impudent sycophant, at the same time, both ascribes to them, and in his sleeve laughs at them for believing; nay, though 125they know that the flatterer himself knows the false hood of his own flatteries; yet they swallow the fallacious morsel, love the impostor, and with both arms hug the abuse; and that to such a degree, that no offices of friendship, no real services, shall be able to lie in the balance against those luscious falsehoods, which flattery shall feed the mind of a fool in power with: the sweetness of the one infinitely overcomes the substance of the other.
And therefore you shall seldom see, that such an one cares to have men of worth, honesty, and veracity about him; for such persons cannot fall down and worship stocks and stones, though they are placed never so high above them; but their yea is yea, and their nay, nay; and they cannot admire a fox for his sincerity, a wolf for his generosity, nor an ass for his wit and ingenuity; and therefore can never be acceptable to those whose whole credit, interest, and advantage lies in their not appearing to the world what they are really in themselves. None are or can be welcome to such, but those who speak paint and wash; for that is the thing they love; and no wonder, since it is the thing they need.
There is hardly any rank, order, or degree of men, but, more or less, have been captivated and enslaved by words. It is a weakness, or rather a fate, which attends both high and low; the statesman who holds the helm, as well as the peasant who holds the plough. So that, if ever you find an ignoramus in place and power, and can have so little conscience, and so much confidence, as to tell him to his face, that he has a wit and an understanding above all the world besides; and “that what his own reason can” not suggest to him, neither can the united reason 126“of all mankind put together11 The words of a great self-opiniator, and a bitter reviler of the clergy.;” I dare undertake, that, as fulsome a dose as you give him, he shall readily take it down, and admit the commendation, though he cannot believe the thing: Blanditiae, etiam cum excluduntur, placent, says Seneca. Tell him, that no history or antiquity can match his policies and his conduct; and presently the sot (because he knows neither history nor antiquity) shall begin to measure himself by himself, (which is the only sure way for him not to fall short,) and so immediately, amongst his outward admirers and his inward despisers, vouched also by a teste meipso, he steps forth an exact politician, and, by a wonderful and new way of arguing, proves himself no fool, because, forsooth, the sycophant who tells him so is an egregious knave.
But to give you yet a grosser instance of the force of words, and of the extreme vanity of man’s nature in being influenced by them, hardly shall you meet with any person, man or woman, so aged or ill-favoured, but, if you will venture to commend them for their comeliness, nay, and for their youth too, though “time out of mind” is wrote upon every line of their face; yet they shall take it very well at your hands, and begin to think with themselves, that certainly they have some perfections which the generality of the world are not so happy as to be aware of.
But now, are not these, think we, strange self-delusions, and yet attested by common experience almost every day? But whence, in the mean time, can all this proceed, but from that besotting intoxication which this verbal magic, as I may so call it, 127brings upon the mind of man? For can any thing in nature have a more certain, deep, and undeniable effect, than folly has upon man’s mind, and age upon his body? And yet we see, that in both these, words are able to persuade men out of what they find and feel, to reverse the very impressions of sense, and to amuse men with fancies and paradoxes, even in spite of nature and experience. But since it would be endless to pursue all the particulars in which this humour shews itself; whosoever would have one full, lively, and complete view of an empty, shallow, self-opinioned grandee, surrounded by his flatterers, (like a choice dish of meat by a company of fellows commending and devouring it at the same time,) let him cast his eye upon Ahab in the midst of his false prophets, 1 Kings xxii. where we have them all with one voice for giving him a cast of their court-prophecy, and sending him, in a compliment, to be knocked on the head at Ramoth Gilead. But, says Jehoshaphat, (who smelt the parasite through the prophet,) in the seventh verse, Is there not a prophet of the Lord besides, that we may inquire of him? Why, yes, says Ahab, there is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the Lord; but I hate him, for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil. Ay! that was his crime; the poor man was so good a subject, and so bad a courtier, as to venture to serve and save his prince, whether he would or no; for, it seems, to give Ahab such warning as might infallibly have prevented his destruction, was esteemed by him evil; and to push him on headlong into it, because he was fond of it, was accounted good. These were his new measures of good and evil. And therefore those who knew how to make their court 128better, (as the word is,) tell him a bold lie in God’s name, and therewith send him packing to his certain doom; thus calling evil good at the cost of their prince’s crown and his life too. But what cared they? they knew that it would please, and that was enough for them; there being always a sort of men in the world, (whom others have an interest to serve by,) who had rather a great deal be pleased, than be safe. Strike them under the fifth rib, provided at the same time you kiss them too, as Joab served Abner, and you may both destroy and oblige them with the same blow.
Accordingly, in the thirtieth of Isaiah, we find some arrived to that pitch of sottishness, and so much in love with their own ruin, as to own plainly and roundly what they would be at; in the tenth verse, Prophesy not unto us, say they, right things, but prophesy to us smooth things. As if they had said, “Do but oil the razor for us, and let us alone “to cut our own throats.” Such an enchantment is there in words; and so fine a thing does it seem to some to be ruined plausibly, and to be ushered to their destruction with panegyric and acclamation: a shameful, though irrefragable argument, of the absurd empire and usurpation of words over things; and that the greatest affairs and most important interests of the world are carried on by things, not as they are, but as they are called.
And thus much for the first thing which I thought necessary to premise to the prosecution of our third particular.
2. The other thing to be premised is this; That as the generality of men are wholly governed by names and words; so there is nothing, in which they are so 129remarkably and powerfully governed by them, as in matters of good and evil, so far as these qualities relate to, and affect the actions of, men: a thing certainly of a most fatal and pernicious import. For though, in matters of mere speculation, it is not much the concern of society, whether or no men proceed wholly upon trust, and take the bare word of others for what they assent to; since it is not much material to the welfare either of government or of themselves, whether they opine right or wrong, and whether they be philosophers or no. But it is vastly the concern both of government and of themselves too, whether they be morally good or bad, honest or dishonest. And surely it is hardly possible for men to make it their business to be virtuous or honest, while vices are called and pointed out to them by the names of virtues; and they all the while suppose the nature of things to be truly and faith fully signified by their names, and thereupon believe as they hear, and practise as they believe. And that this is the course of much the greatest part of the world, thus to take up their persuasions concerning good and evil by an implicit faith, and a full acquiescence in the word of those who shall represent things to them under these characters, I shall prove by two reasons; and those such as, I fear, will not only be found reasons to evince that men actually do so, but also sad demonstrations to conclude that they are never like to do otherwise.
First, The first of which shall be taken from that similitude, neighbourhood, and affinity, which is between vice and virtue, good and evil, in several notable instances of each. For though the general natures and definitions of these qualities are sufficiently 130distant from one another, and so in no danger of a promiscuous confusion; yet when they come to subsist in particulars, and to be clothed and attended with several accidents and circumstances, the case is hereby much altered; for then the discernment is neither so easy, nor yet so certain. Thus it is not always so obvious to distinguish between an act of liberality and an act of prodigality; between an act of courage and an act of rashness; an act of pusillanimity, and an act of great modesty or humility: nay, and some have had the good luck to have their very dulness dignified with the name of gravity, and to be no small gainers by the mistake. And many more such actions of dubious quality might be instanced in, too numerous to be here recounted or insisted on. In all which, and the like, it requiring too great a sagacity for vulgar minds to draw the line nicely and exactly between vice and virtue, and to adjust the due limits of each; it is no wonder, if most men attempt not a laborious scrutiny into things themselves, but only take names and words as they first come, and so without any more ado rest in them; it being so much easier, in all disquisitions of truth, to suppose, than to prove; and to believe, than to distinguish.
Secondly, The other reason of the same shall be taken from the great and natural inability of most men to judge exactly of things; which makes it very difficult for them to discern the real good and evil of what comes before them; to consider and weigh circumstances, to scatter and look through the mists of error, and so separate appearances from realities. For the greater part of mankind is but slow and dull of apprehension; and therefore, in many cases, 131under a necessity of seeing with other men’s eyes, and judging with other men’s understandings. Nature having manifestly contrived things so, that the vulgar and the many are fit only to be led or driven, but by no means fit to guide or direct themselves.
To which their want of judging or discerning abilities, we may add also their want of leisure and opportunity to apply their minds to such a serious and attent consideration, as may let them into a full discovery of the true goodness and evil of things, which are qualities which seldom display themselves to the first view: for in most things good and evil lie shuffled and thrust up together in a confused heap; and it is study and intention of thought which must draw them forth, and range them under their distinct heads. But there can be no study without time; and the mind must abide and dwell upon things, or be always a stranger to the inside of them. Through desire, says Solomon, a man having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom, Prov. xviii. 1. There must be leisure and a retirement, solitude, and a sequestration of a man’s self from the noise and toil of the world: for truth scorns to be seen by eyes too much fixed upon inferior objects. It lies too deep to be fetched up with the plough, and too close to be beaten out with the hammer. It dwells not in shops or work houses; nor till the late age was it ever known, that any one served seven years to a smith or a tailor, that he might at the end thereof proceed master of any other arts, but such as those trades taught him; and much less that he should commence doctor or divine from the shopboard or the anvil; or from 132whistling to a team, come to preach to a congregation.
These were the peculiar, extraordinary privileges of the late blessed times of light and inspiration: otherwise nature will still hold on in its old course, never doing any thing which is considerable, with out the assistance of its two great helps, art and industry. But above all, the knowledge of what is good and what is evil, what ought and what ought not to be done, in the several offices and relations of life, is a thing too large to be compassed, and too hard to be mastered, without brains and study, parts and contemplation; which providence never thought fit to make much the greatest part of mankind possessors of. And consequently those who are not so, must, for the knowledge of most things, depend upon those who are, and receive their information concerning good and evil from such verbal or nominal representations of each, as shall be imparted to them by those, whose ability and integrity they have cause to rely upon, for a faithful account of these matters.
And thus from these two great considerations premised; 1st, That the generality of the world are wholly governed by words and names; and 2dly, That the chief instance in which they are so, is in such words and names as import the good or evil of things; (which both the difficulty of things themselves, and the very condition of human nature, constrains much the greatest part of mankind to take wholly upon trust;) I say, from these two considerations must needs be inferred, what a fatal, devilish, and destructive effect the misapplication and confusion of 133those great governing names of good and evil, must inevitably have upon the societies of men. The comprehensive mischief of which will appear from this, that it takes in both those ways, by which the greatest evils and calamities, which are incident to man, do directly break in upon him.
The first of which is by his being deceived, and the second by his being misrepresented. And first, for the first of these. I do not in the least doubt, but if a true and just computation could be made of all the miseries and misfortunes that befall men in this world, two thirds of them, at least, would be found resolvable into their being deceived by false appearances of good; first deluding their apprehensions, and then by natural consequence perverting their actions, from which are the great issues of life and death; since, according to the eternal sanction of God and nature, such as a man’s actions are for good or evil, such ought also his condition to be for happiness or misery.
Now all deception in the course of life is indeed nothing else but a lie reduced to practice, and false hood passing from words into things.
For is a man impoverished and undone by the purchase of an estate? Why, it is because he bought an imposture, paid down his money for a lie, and by the help of the best and ablest counsel, forsooth, that could be had, took a bad title for a good.
Is a man unfortunate in marriage? Still it is because he was deceived; and put his neck into the snare, before he put it into the yoke, and so took that for virtue and affection, which was nothing but vice in a disguise, and a devilish humour under a demure look.134
Is he again unhappy and calamitous in his friend ships? Why, in this also, it is because he built upon the air, and trod upon a quicksand, and took that for kindness and sincerity, which was only malice and design, seeking an opportunity to ruin him effectually, and to overturn him in all his interests by the sure but fatal handle of his own good nature and credulity.
And lastly, is a man betrayed, lost, and blown by such agents and instruments as he employs in his greatest and nearest concerns? Why, still the cause of it is from this, that he misplaced his confidence, took hypocrisy for fidelity, and so relied upon the services of a pack of villains, who designed nothing but their own game, and to stake him, while they played for themselves.
But not to mention any more particulars, there is no estate, office, or condition of life whatsoever, but groans and labours under the killing truth of what we have asserted.
For it is this which supplants not only private persons, but kingdoms and governments, by keeping them ignorant of their own strengths and weaknesses; and it is evident that governments may be equally destroyed by an ignorance of either. For the weak, by thinking themselves strong, are induced to venture and proclaim war against that which ruins them: and the strong, by conceiting themselves weak, are thereby rendered as unactive, and consequently as useless, as if they really were so. In Luke xiv. 31, when a king with ten thousand is to meet a king coming against him with twenty thousand, our Saviour advises him, before he ventures the issue of a battle, to sit down and consider. But now a 135false glozing parasite would give him quite another kind of counsel, and bid him only reckon his ten thousand forty, call his fool-hardiness valour, and then he may go on boldly, because blindly, and by mistaking himself for a lion, come to perish like an ass.
In short, it is this great plague of the world, deception, which takes wrong measures, and makes false musters almost in every thing; which sounds a retreat instead of a charge, and a charge instead of a retreat; which overthrows whole armies; and sometimes by one lying word treacherously cast out, turns the fate and fortune of states and empires, and lays the most flourishing monarchies in the dust. A blind guide is certainly a great mischief; but a guide that blinds those whom he should lead, is undoubtedly a much greater.
Secondly, The other great and undoing mischief which befalls men upon the forementioned account is, by their being misrepresented. Now as by calling evil good, a man is misrepresented to himself in the way of flattery; so by calling good evil, he is misrepresented to others in the way of slander and detraction. I say detraction, that killing, poisoned arrow drawn out of the devil’s quiver, which is always flying abroad, and doing execution in the dark; against which no virtue is a defence, no innocence a security. For as by flattery a man is usually brought to open his bosom to his mortal enemy; so by detraction, and a slanderous misreport of persons, he is often brought to shut the same even to his best and truest friends. In both cases he receives a fatal blow, since that which lays a man open to 136an enemy, and that which strips him of a friend, equally attacks him in all those interests, that are capable of being weakened by the one, and supported by the other.
The most direct and efficacious way to ruin any man, is to misrepresent him; and it often so falls out, that it wounds on both sides, and not only mauls the person misrepresented, but him also to whom he is misrepresented: for if he be great and powerful, (as spies and pickthanks seldom apply to any others,) it generally provokes him through mistake to persecute and tyrannise over; nay, and some times even to dip his hands in the blood of the innocent and the just, and thereby involve himself in such a guilt, as shall arm heaven and earth against him, the vengeance of God, and the indignation of men; who will both espouse the quarrel of a bleeding innocence, and heartily join forces against an insulting baseness, especially when backed with greatness, and set on by misinformation. Histories are full of such examples.
Besides that, it is rarely found, that men hold their greatness for term of life; though their baseness, for the most part, they do; and then, according to the common vicissitude and wheel of things, the proud and the insolent must take their turn too; and after long trampling upon others, come at length, plaudente et gaudente mundo, to be trampled upon themselves. For, as Tully has it in his oration for Milo, non semper viator a latrone, nonnunquam etiam latro a viatore occiditur.
But to pass from particulars to communities, nothing can be imagined more destructive to society 137than this villainous practice. For it robs the public of all that benefit and advantage, that it may justly claim and ought to receive from the worth and virtue of particular persons, by rendering their virtue utterly insignificant. For good itself can do no good, while it passes for evil; and an honest man is, in effect, useless, while he is accounted a knave. Both things and persons subsist by their reputation.
An unjust sentence from a tribunal may condemn an innocent person, but misrepresentation condemns innocence itself. For it is this which revives and imitates that unhuman barbarity of the old heathen persecutors, wrapping up Christians in the skins of wild beasts, that so they might be worried and torn in pieces by dogs. Do but paint an angel black, and that is enough to make him pass for a devil. “Let us blacken him, let us blacken him what we can,” said that miscreant Harrison22 A preaching colonel of the parliament-army, and a chief actor in the murder of king Charles the First; notable before for having killed several after quarter given them by others, and using these words in the doing it; Cursed be he who does the work of the Lord negligently. He was by extraction a butcher’s son; and accordingly, in his practices all along, more a butcher than his father. of the blessed king, upon the wording and drawing up his charge against his approaching trial. And when any man is to be run down, and sacrificed to the lust of his enemies, as that royal martyr was, even his good (according to the apostle’s phrase) shall be evil spoken of. He must first be undermined, and then undone. The practice is usual, and the method natural. But, to give you the whole malice of it in one word, it is a weapon forged in hell, and formed by the prime artificer and engineer of all mischief, the devil; and none 138but that God who knows all things, and can do all things, can protect the best of men against it.
To which God, the fountain of all good, and the hater of all evil, be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and do minion, both now and for evermore. Amen.139
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