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For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
OF the sins and ill qualities that the corruption of man’s nature has poisoned and polluted his mind with, there is none of greater malignity and baseness than envy. For the condemnation of which, we need not bring it to the bar of religion and Christianity; there being enough to sentence and condemn it from bare reason and philosophy.
For the prosecution of the words I shall do these four things.
I. I shall shew what envy is, and wherein the nature of it does consist.
II. What are the grounds and causes of it.
III. What are its effects and consequences. And
IV. And lastly, make some use and improvement of the whole.
And first for the first of these; what envy is, and wherein the nature of it does consist. And for this we shall find, that moralists generally give us this description of it; that it is a depraved affection or passion of the mind, disposing a man to hate or malign another for some good or excellency belonging to him, which the envious person judges him unworthy 103of, and which for the most part he wants himself. Or yet more briefly; envy is a certain grief of mind conceived upon the sight of another’s felicity, whether real or supposed: so that we see that it consists partly of hatred and partly of grief. In respect of which two passions, and the proper actings of both, we are to observe, that as it shews itself in hatred, it strikes at the person envied; but as it affects a man in the nature of grief, it recoils, and does execution upon the envier; both of them are hostile affections, and vexatious to the breast which harbours them. Acts of love indeed have naturally something of pleasure still attending them, and please the mind, while they proceed from it. But no man perfectly enjoys himself while he hates another; hatred being a quality that sours the whole soul, and puts all the faculties of it, as it were, into a posture of offence. It is really war begun, and commonly so, before it is proclaimed; it gives the first charge, and strikes the first stroke in all acts of hostility. And can there be any thing of enjoyment in all this? A battle certainly can be no present pleasure, though it should end in a victory. And during a man’s actual pursuit of his hatred, he is much in the same condition, restless and unquiet; his head contriving, and his hands laying about them to do the hated person all the mischief he can: in a word, he lives in the fire, fighting and fencing, and forced to carry on a constant opposition. For hatred being too active and mercurial a passion to lie still, never takes up with the bare theory of mischief, with sluggish thoughts and secret grudges, but, as opportunity serves, will certainly be doing; and till such opportunity falls in 104 with it, which frequently it does not, it must needs afflict, and grate, and feed upon the man himself, and make him as miserable as he wishes others.
And thus hatred having done its part towards the disturbance of the mind in which it is, the other passion of grief is hereupon presently set on work: for when any of the other passions are defeated about their respective objects or operations, then this passion immediately comes upon the stage, and takes its turn to act. So that, when a man cannot vent his rage outwardly, he is sure to grieve and mourn, and bleed inwardly; like a wretch falling on his own sword, because he cannot thrust it into the body of his enemy. This is the nature of envy, always exerting itself in and by these two afflicting passions; first, in the way of hatred carrying its mischievous influence abroad, and then in the way of grief playing the tyrant at home; but whether in the one or in the other, guilt and sadness are its inseparable companions: it being utterly impossible upon all principles, both of nature and religion, for an envious person to have either a good conscience or a cheerful mind.
But to shew the malignity of this ill quality yet further, it is observable, that in all or most of the other passions of the mind, there is, as to the general nature of them, an indifference to good or evil; as being, under that consideration, determined to neither. Thus, for instance, we find it, in the forementioned affections of grief and hatred, taken singly and by themselves, and likewise in fear, anger, despair, and the like; of all which there is none but what may be lawful in the respective actings of each, provided they pitch upon right objects, and 105proceed in a due manner: for a man may grieve, hate, fear, be angry, and despair of the accomplishment of this or that design, without transgressing any of the rules of morality. So that there may be such things as an honest grief, hatred, fear, anger, and despondency, as we have said, if duly placed and directed; but notwithstanding all this, there can be no such thing in nature as an honest and a lawful envy; but it is intrinsically evil, and imports in it an essential obliquity, not to be taken off or separated from it. For though I have shewn, that envy was made up of hatred and grief, and have since also affirmed, that these two affections may be good and lawful in their respective actings; yet we are to remember, that this is so only when they act singly, and withal upon due objects; but (when by being combined together, and pitched upon a wrong object, they both make up the passion of envy,) they then receive thereby such a different formality and nature, as stamps them absolutely evil, and that so unchangeably such, as no consideration or circumstances whatsoever can possibly render them otherwise; which shews, and proves too, an original necessary disagreeableness between envy and the soul of man: for nothing can agree with this, which consists not with its innocence; and for a man to be envious and innocent too, is contradictious and impossible. And this, by the way, will serve also to demonstrate to us what affections or passions are natural to the soul of man, and what is unnatural. And thus much for the nature of envy, shewing what it is, and wherein it does consist. I proceed now to the
Second thing proposed, viz. to shew what are 106 the grounds and causes of envy; and these are two fold.
1. Either on the part of the person envying; or,
2. On the part of the person envied.
And first for those of the first sort, we may reckon these.
1. Great malice and baseness of nature. In which I am forced to use a general word, not being able to give it a particular and more expressive name. But the thing which I mean and design by it, is such a temper of mind, as makes men for the most part love mischief for mischiefs sake; and though they serve no real interest, and reap no advantage by the hurt they do, yet it is so peculiarly suitable to their ill nature and constitution to do and to wish it, that the work itself is its own wages and reward. Just as it is observed in some beasts of prey; which, having filled their ravenous appetites, so that hunger can prompt them to no further cruelty, yet out of mere savageness shall tear and destroy whatsoever they meet with, and take pains to kill, though they leave it presently, when they have done.
It is a common saying, that there is no disputing of the reason of facts; forasmuch as each man’s particular fancy and humour determine him to like this and dislike that: and so it is in the pleasures of the mind; some men affect this, and wonder that others hate it; and they on the other side wonder as much, that any one can hate what they so much love. But as philosophy teaches that all wonder springs from an ignorance of the causes of things; so this proceeds from a particular inexperience, and want of observing matters of daily occurrence. In 107which we shall see many things, of which we can give no clear account, or reason, from the common principles of human nature: but they seem to be some of those irregular, monstrous productions, which the general corruption of it preternaturally shoots out into; and which, not keeping the stated course and road of human nature, must not be measured by the usual actings and inclinations of it. Which being so, why should he, whose temper inclines him to be gentle, candid, and beneficial to all who come within his converse, be at all surprised to find another fierce, malicious, and shrewd to every one whom he has to do with; any more than a dove, which feeds upon corn and other seeds, should wonder that a crow or a raven can feed so heartily upon carrion? For every particular temperament has its particular pleasure. And the mind of a Nero will make him hiss, and sing, and play, and enjoy himself as much in beholding the bravest city in the world all in a flame, as others could rejoice at the sight of a triumph and the glories of a victory.
Now this is the reason that some dispositions do really delight themselves in mischief; and love to see all men about them miserable. It is that ἐπιχαιρεκακία, as the Greeks call it, that vile quality that makes them laugh at a cross accident, and feast their eyes and their thoughts with the sight of any great calamity: and indeed, morally speaking, they cannot do otherwise. It is meat and drink to them to see others starve; and their own clothes seem then to sit warmest upon them, when they behold others ready to perish with nakedness and cold; like Ætna, never hotter, than when surrounded with snow. Now this disposition, this blessed, human, 108 Christian disposition, (to express a thing contrary to nature by words as contrary to itself,) is the very groundwork and first foundation-stone of envy.
2. The second ground or cause of envy is an unreasonable grasping ambition. For the design of the envious person is not only to obtain, but to engross all honour and greatness to himself. He thinks he can never trade to his advantage, unless he can have the monopoly of every thing he values. Other kinds of ambition indeed will hardly brook any thing above them, but this envious ambition will endure nothing considerable about it. It is remarked of Alexander as a very great fault, and, in truth, of that nature, that one would wonder how it could fall upon so great a spirit; namely, that he would sometimes carp at the valorous achievements of his own captains. Suae demptum laudi existimans, quicquid cessisset alienae, says the historian: because he thought, that whatsoever praise was be stowed upon another, was took from him. A great meanness certainly; and enough to make the conqueror himself as much the object of men’s pity, as his conquests could be of their envy.
Now this is directly the temper of the envious person, whose ambition is not merely ambition, but an odd compound of ambition and covetousness too: for he would have all to himself, and not so much as a good word must fall beside him; so that whatsoever commendation is given to another, is looked upon as an invasion of his property, and a reproach to his person: and to do any thing excellent or praiseworthy, is to pass an affront upon him not to be put up. And therefore he bids the whole world, as it were, stand off, while he alone puts himself 109upon every public performance, catches at every occasion of popularity, and thrusts himself into every man’s business; he puffs, and he blows, and he swells, as if the whole world were not enough to afford him elbow-room; for it will not content such an one to be the prime, unless he be also the only man. In a word, he would needs be every thing, did not the same ill quality certainly make him fit for nothing.
But then, if this temper comes also to be backed with interest and power, and the favour of great ones, how grievous and intolerable is it to all persons of modesty and sobriety? What a bluster does it make in all places? Such an one lives in the world like a continual storm, blowing down all before him: and men (better than himself) must be willing to lie prostrate under his feet, and account it an honour (forsooth) to be trampled upon, and made a pedestal only for him to get up by and ride.
But surely it concerns all wellwishers to society to oppose and pursue such an one, as they would a wild boar, for his design is the same, which is to waste and spoil and forage all that is about him. Society neither shall nor can be saved by the parts and virtues of others, till such an obstacle to both be stript of all power, and removed out of the way; who is to the body politic like an enormous excrescence or great wen to the natural; drawing the proper aliment and juice of all the parts to itself, and so feeding upon and supporting itself by the bane and ruin of the whole. Now this disposition may pass for a second ground of envy.
3. Another cause of envy is an inward sense of a man’s own weakness and inability to attain what he 110 desires and would aspire to. I do not say, that envy universally and always proceeds from hence, or supposes this for the cause of it, but generally and for the most part it does: nor does this carry in it the least contrariety to what I said before, in making ambition one of the causes of envy; for upon a due estimate of the qualities that affect the mind of man, we shall find that no minds are weaker than the haughty and ambitious; much like the uppermost branches of trees, lofty but slight, and much more easily broke, than those which they overtop.
Now nothing stirs up envy more than a despair of being what the envied person is; and that despair is founded upon a man’s consciousness of his not being able to reach the same pitch of perfection: and this consciousness sticks so close to the mind, that for all a man’s flattering himself, and his boasting to others, yet he can neither boast nor flatter it away; but that it is a perpetual check to his spirits, and will be sure to keep him under in the inmost judgment he passes upon himself. Some have observed, that there is no creature whatsoever but by a kind of natural instinct knows its match; and no doubt, by consequence, its superior and overmatch too. And when a man knows this by an impartial comparison of himself with his rival, (the inward apprehensions of the soul being generally impartial and true, what disguise soever they may put on in men’s carriage and expressions,) upon such a comparison, I say, he sinks and sneaks inwardly; and weighing himself in the balance with the other, quickly sees which scale rises and which falls. Sight and sense are his conviction; and in such cases men seldom or never dissemble with themselves. And this inward intimate sense of a 1llman’s own impotence, I affirm to be one ground of envy, and a principal one too. In a word, a man is envious, because his desires are vast and immoderate, and he finds them cramped and stinted by the bounds which nature has put to his abilities. He would fain rise, but he finds something within that pulls him back, and stakes him down; and therefore he casts an evil eye upon others, because he finds such poor entertainment for it in himself.
4. The fourth and last cause of envy that I shall assign, is idleness; for this often makes men envy the high offices, honours, and accomplishments of others. They will not be at the pains to fit themselves for preferment, and yet malign those who have it for their fitness, and owe that fitness to their pains. No, they would lie still and be great, sleep or play and be learned. Honours and dignities must come to their bedside, wait the time of their rising, (forsooth,) and even court their acceptance. But nature and providence has cast the course of things much otherwise; and honour and greatness will wait upon none but such as first wait upon them; which men must not think to do by lazing and sleeping; for as wisdom generally brings men to honour, so study and labour must bring them to wisdom, and the way to be wise is to consult their pillow less. Industry, for the most part, opens the way to preferment, but always to improvement; and it is the sweat of the brow that entitles it to the laurel. And therefore Caius Marius, a person of a plebeian extraction, but one who by his valour and labour had made himself the envy of the Roman nobility, defends himself against them in his speech to the people with great reason. Invident, says he, honori meo; ergo invideant labori, 112 innocentiae, periculis etiam meis, quoniam per haec illum cepi. In like manner one man perhaps envies another’s greatness or reputation; but why then does he not also envy his labour, his abstinence, his night-watches, and all his other severities, which were the proper ways and means by which he acquired it? If men would be but true to themselves, in employing their parts, their time, and opportunities, they would probably have no provocation to envy their superiors; for this would be the direct way to keep them from having any, and to make them as great and eminent as the greatest. But their idle hours, or rather years, their cups and their sports, their gossipping visits and vain courtships, not suffering them to exert those faculties which God and nature had endowed them with, are the only things that keep them low; and being so, they look upon such as ascend, and get into a region above them, like so many black clouds riding over their heads, and by a dark malign shade always obscuring and eclipsing them; though the true cause of all such eclipses is from men themselves standing in their own light.
But because I have stated envy upon idleness as one cause of it, we ought by all means to note the difference between envy and emulation; which latter is a brave and a noble thing, and quite of another nature, as consisting only in a generous imitation of something excellent; and that such an imitation as scorns to fall short of its copy, but strives, if possible, to outdo it. The emulator is impatient of a superior, not by depressing or maligning another, but by perfecting himself. So that while that sottish thing envy sometimes fills the whole soul, as a great dull fog 113does the air; this on the contrary inspires it with a new life and vigour, whets and stirs up all the powers of it to action. And surely that which does so, (if we also abstract it from those heats and sharpnesses that sometimes by accident may attend it,) must needs be in the same degree lawful and laudable too, that it is for a man to make himself as useful and accomplished as he can.
Having thus shewn the causes of envy on the part of him that envies, let us in the next place see the causes of it on his part also that is envied. Where in the first place we are to observe, that it is always caused by something either good or great; for no man is envied for his failures, but his perfections. Envy sucks poison out of the fairest and the sweetest flowers, and, like an ill stomach, converts the best nutriment into the worst and rankest humours. So that if we would give in an exact catalogue of all the motives of envy, we must reckon up all the several virtues, ornaments, and perfections, both internal and external, that the nature of man is capable of being ennobled with. But I shall only mention some of the principal: as,
1. Great abilities and endowments of nature.
2. The favour of princes and great persons.
3. Wealth, riches, and prosperity. And
4. And lastly, a fair credit, esteem, and reputation in the world. And,
First, for the first of these; great natural parts and abilities usually provoke men’s envy. God is pleased to send some into the world better furnished and more liberally endowed with the gifts of nature than others, with a quicker apprehension, a further and a deeper reach, and generally a greater fitness for business and weighty affairs than others; which 114 qualifications, as they set them above the common level of mankind, so they make them to be maligned and struck at by most below them; for let a man stand never so low, he can yet shoot at him that stands higher; much as it is with the lower parts of the world, the earth and the sea, which, not being able to vie with the upper and nobler parts of it, the heavens, for brightness, quit scores with them at least by obscuring them with mists and exhalations.
Envy makes a man think another of greater faculties only a continual blemish to himself. He thinks his candle cannot shine in the presence of the other’s sun; that is, in truth, he is angry with God for not making him better, and wiser, and stronger. He expostulates the supposed injuries of his creation, and questions his Maker for not coming up to his measures. For while envy spits its venom directly at men, much of it falls obliquely upon God himself; and while it quarrels with the effects of his goodness towards others, does by consequence blaspheme the cause.
So that we see how it strikes both at God and man with the same blow; in which, though God will be sure to maintain his own honour, yet it is seldom in the power of men to secure theirs; many having had but too frequent and sad cause to complain of the very bounties of nature towards them, that it made them too excellent to be safe and happy; so hard is it for any one to keep what another thinks it his interest to take away; according to that man’s case, who, while he was rescuing from being drowned, had a ring spied upon his finger, which quickly procured him another death.
2. A .second provocative of men’s envy is the favour 115of princes and great persons; which yet, one would think, no envy should presume to control: for the grace of God and the favour of princes are absolute and unaccountable, and so far from being founded upon merit, that for the most part they serve instead of it, and are never more liberal than where they find none at all. Princes claim a sovereignty in their affection, as well as in their office and condition.
Nevertheless envy will be interposing its thwarting, countermanding power even here also, shutting up the breasts, and tying up the hands of princes, so that they must neither give nor do any thing but by law; and envy must give that law. Whereupon, if a prince casts an eye of favour upon any person of worth, and parts, and fitness for public service, if such an one commences favourite one day, envy shall vote him an evil counsellor the next; and then the public good and the rights of the subject run all presently to wreck, till the envious person steps into his place. Merit is an unpardonable piece of popery, with respect to men as well as to God, and to the rewards of this world as well as of the next.
But if, on the other side, a prince shall think fit to cast his eye downwards, and by the shine and warmth of his favour draw up some earthly, ignoble vapour to the upper region, and there make it glister like a star, envy shall never cease till it brings this down also; and then, though it is a pleasure to most eyes to view a star falling, yet none look after it when it is fallen.
So that we see, that whether sovereignty would serve itself by preferring men of sufficiency, or divert and sport itself by advancing men of none, envy 116 equally protests and plants its engines against both; neither allowing sovereign rulers (who yet are men, and sometimes not without the infirmities of men) meet helps and ministers to govern by, nor so much as an illustrious simpleton sometimes to refresh themselves with; which is very hard and severe usage certainly, especially since it has been always looked upon as one of the most allowed, uncontested royalties of princes, to make their will the sole rule and reason of their kindness, to dispense their benefactions as they please, and, in a word, to be as free and arbitrary as fortune herself, by bestowing their favours upon such as she usually bestows hers; not the wisest always in the world.
3. A third ground or motive of envy is from the wealth, riches, or plenties of another. No man willingly would be poor, and no envious person would have another rich; every one who is remarkably so being commonly looked upon but as a kind of injury to all the poor ones about him; not that he does or ever did them any injury, but that by being rich, he is reckoned one himself. For whosoever has a great deal to lay up, will be always an intolerable grievance to him who has nothing to spend; and to look upon a full bag, and to have nothing to do with it, is no small mortification to such a one. The learned Verulam observes, that diseases arising from emptiness are generally the most dangerous, and most hardly cured; and amongst the diseases of the mind, envy, grounded upon domestic penury, is certainly of the same nature; especially where a neighbouring opulence shews what the remedy is, but not how it may be had; like the thirst of Tantalus, where the thing thirsted for was near enough, and yet out of reach too. And in 117such a case envy will be sure to work and boil up to a more than ordinary height, while the envious person frets, and raves, and swells at the plenties and affluence of his abounding neighbour, and (as I may so express it) is even ready to burst with another’s fulness.
What made the Devil (the grand exemplar of envy) so much malign Job, but the bounties of Providence to him in a large estate, great revenues, and a flourishing family; and all of them watched over and guarded by the wakeful eye and the powerful hand of him who gave them? And no doubt the Sabeans and Chaldeans, with the rest of his good neighbours, (who did such terrible execution upon all that be longed to him,) were acted and led on by the same spirit. They could not brook the splendour and greatness of so potent and (as they thought) overgrown a neighbour. He was an eyesore to them upon the throne, but (for all his noisome ulcers) none at all when they saw him upon the dunghill.
What made that wretch Ziba accuse his lord and master to David, (a judge after Ziba’s own heart?) The accusation indeed charged treason upon Mephibosheth; but whatsoever the treason was, it was only his land which was the traitor: for when his envious accuser had once swallowed that, the accusation was at an end presently, and poor Mephibosheth quickly became innocent Mephibosheth.
In fine, if the envious person be poor and beggarly, he would have all about him as arrant beggars as himself; but if rich, he would have all beggars but himself; like Gideon’s fleece, filled with the dew of heaven, and every thing else dry about it; so that wheresoever you see any one of a plentiful fortune 118 and large possessions, you are not at all to wonder, if you also see such an one maligned, envied, and pursued with all imaginable spite and rancour by some pitiful malecontent or other, who perhaps could never call so much land his own as might serve to bury him when dead, and much less suffice to maintain him while alive. And it is too well known to all the world, not to be justly detested by it, that there is a certain profession of men who shall never cease to be maligned and persecuted, while there is any thing of revenue either to support the dignity of their function, or procure a common respect to their persons; but they shall be followed with all the odious, false, and base imputations of pride, covetousness, and luxury, still rattling about their ears, and whatsoever else the envy of a gaging avarice and a domineering insolence can belch out against them. But after all, I would gladly learn wherein this monstrous pride and covetousness of the church shews itself. Why, in this, that the ministers of it are not yet clothed in rags or sackcloth; that the church itself is neither for naked gospels66 See a vile book so entitled, and reflecting upon the clergy, though (to the shame of the author) written by a clergyman. nor naked evangelists; and that her poor clergy can just (or very hardly) find enough to pay taxes and other public duties, and yet make a shift to keep themselves from quite starving or begging afterwards. This, this is the pride and covetousness of our clergy. And then, lastly, for their luxury, that will be found (if at all) in their not being willing to lick the crumbs at the end of their rich neighbour’s table, and much less under it; that they scorn to sneak here and there 119for a dinner, or to beg their daily bread of any one but of God himself.
This, I say, is the real and true account of all these loud and impudent clamours made by envy and atheism, popery and puritanism, against the English clergy. And the truth is, that as long as that small remainder of land belonging to the church shall continue yet untorn from her, and as long as there shall be those about her (as there will ever be very many) who will never think that they themselves have enough, the church and clergy of England shall always be inveighed against and struck at, as having too much.
But fourthly, the fourth and last grand motive and ground of envy that I shall mention is, a man’s having a fair reputation and name in the world; a thing upon which envy has always a cross and malign aspect: though surely nothing in nature can be imagined less liable to any rational exception, than for a man of merit to be praised and commended, that is, to have a few good words sprinkled upon him without offence to any one; and that fame, which is nothing but air and voice, should not be able to raise such storms in any breast whatsoever. But experience has declared it much otherwise, and that some men can hear the applauses of none but themselves, but with the utmost indignation and impatience; nay, so boundless and unreasonable are they, that they would even engross the vogue of the whole world, and confine the very popular breath, and unlimited, boundless freedom of men’s tongues to their own persons. Such an one perhaps is hated by his neighbour to the very death. And what, I pray, may be his fault? Why, he is generally well spoken of, the world gives him the character of a virtuous, 120 a just, or a discreet person; and this the envious wretch thinks casts a dark shadow upon himself, who never reckons himself so fine, as when he plumes and decks himself with the spoils of his brother’s reputation, and can refresh his base mind in all companies with malicious, reproachful stories of him; often repeating and improving what the malice of report has brought to him to be commented and enlarged upon by his own more malicious invention. Nay, that very worth and virtue which deservedly draws after it the highest panegyrics from some, often proves matter of the bitter est satires from others; a very odd and strange thing, I confess; but envy will easily unriddle the strangeness, and take off the wonder. The due consideration of all which has founded the truth of a saying much more significant, I own, than believed, and more believed than practised, namely, that he of all men lives the safest who lies the closest; and that none are so much out of the reach of the world, as those who are most out of the view of it too. For what is every step into the public, but a further advance into danger? an engaging in fresh troubles and contentions, and a drawing after one those eyes, which, like the basilisk, kill whatsoever they look upon, if but capable of worth enough to be looked to death by them. It is not safe for any one to be much commended, to be borne upon the wings of fame, and ride in triumph upon the tongues of men; for the tongues of some do but provoke the teeth of more; and men, we know, do much more heartily detract than they use to commend. And thus I have shewn four of the chief motives of envy; for I never pretended to recount or rip them up all: but 121yet, if I should endeavour to make such an attempt, and to comprise them all in one general representation, I think I might very properly give it you in this one word, that every thing will make a man to be envied, which shall set him above being pitied.
I come now to the third general head proposed for the handling of the words; which is, to shew the effects and consequences of envy, expressed by confusion, and every evil work.
The proper and grand effect then of envy, we see, is confusion; and this also is twofold, upon the account of a twofold relation. 1. To the envious man himself. And 2. To those who are envied and maligned by him. And,
First of all, this ill quality brings confusion and calamity upon the envious person himself, who cherishes and entertains it; and, like the viper, gnaws out the bowels which first conceived it. It is indeed the only act of justice that it does, that the guilt it brings upon a man it revenges upon him too, and so torments and punishes him much more than it can afflict or annoy the person who is envied by him, We know what the poet says of envy; and it is with the strictest truth, without the least hyperbole, that Phalaris’s brazen bull, and all the arts of torment, invented by the greatest masters of them, the Sicilian tyrants, were not comparable to those that the tyranny of envy racks the mind of man with. For it ferments and boils in the soul, putting all the powers of it into the most restless and disorderly agitation. It lies at the heart like a worm, always gnawing and corroding, and piercing it with a secret invisible sting and poison; it even changes the way of man’s ordinary conversation, sours his behaviour, 122 sharpens and envenoms his discourse, and very often proceeds so far as to leave its marks upon his very countenance, and the habit of his body, making that pale and pining, of a ghastly look and a declining constitution; the livery which is heretofore bestowed upon Brutus and Cassius, a livery every way suited to the worthy service it had engaged those wretches in. And now does not this remarkably shew the peculiar unreasonableness and sottishness of this vice? For there are few other vices but prevail upon men upon the account of some supposed pleasure, as that they afford some short gratification to their sensuality, or at least bring with them something of profit or emolument; but he who will be envious, can design nothing but to make himself miserable, because he sees another happy; he must resolve to be dejected and cast down, whensoever he sees his neighbour prosperous, and as the poet describes Envy, ready to weep for this very cause, that she could see nothing to be wept at: Vixque tenet lacrymas, quia nil lacrymabile cernit. We need not seek for arguments to dissuade a man from being envious upon the score of charity to his neighbour, but even of love and mercy to himself. Let him but be prevailed upon not to be his own tormentor, his own executioner, and his envy will be at an end. Let not his neighbour’s rest break his sleep. Let not his friend’s for tune or reputation make him out of love with himself, and neglect his own. For why may not I come in as a sharer, instead of being a maligner of his joy and felicity? Forasmuch as there is a real pleasure in the congratulation of another’s good; the very society of joy redoubling it: so that while it lights directly upon my friend, it rebounds upon myself; and 123the brighter his candle burns, the more easily will it light mine. Whensoever the Romans conquered an enemy, it was indeed the general himself only who was said to triumph, but the whole army and all the people equally rejoiced. But the envious person will bear no part in the festivals of a public mirth: he shuts himself up and snarls, while others laugh and sing. And if all the world were of this temper, it would be an useless (which yet has ever been accounted the noblest) property of good, that it naturally spreads and diffuses itself abroad. And therefore I shall say no more of such a person but this; that he who maligns and envies others, is, of all men living, least to be envied himself.
In the next place we are to consider the effects of envy, in respect of the object of it, or the person envied; and these may be reduced to the following three.
1. A busy, curious inquiry, or prying into all the concerns of the person envied and maligned; and this, no doubt, only as a step or preparative to those further mischiefs, which envy assuredly drives at. For most certain it is, that no man inquires into another man’s concerns, or makes it his business to acquaint himself with his privacies, but with a design to do him some shrewd turn or other. Such an eye is never idle, but always looking about to see where a man lies open to a blow, and accordingly to direct the hand to take a sure stroke. It is withal an in defatigable teller and hearer of base stories. It is said of the priests and scribes, (who bore so cruel an envy to our Saviour for the acceptance he found amongst the people,) that they were almost continually sending forth spies, that they might catch him 124 in his words, Luke xx. 20. And it is this blessed quality, forsooth, that so insinuates into families, that puts them upon hiring servants to betray their masters, and inveigling one friend, if possibly they can, to supplant another: it is this that listens at doors and windows, that catches at every breath or whisper that is stirring; so that it will concern the person envied to be still upon his strictest guard, having an enemy so constantly upon the watch. Watching, for the most part, imports hostility, and no man observes the motions of his enemy, but that he may the more advantageously find a time to fight him. The eagle is a very sagacious bird, but a very devouring one too; and the quickness of its sight is only in order to the better seizing of its prey.
2. The second effect of envy, with reference to the envied person, is calumny or detraction. We have already seen the first effort made by it against him by an insidious diving into his most reserved and secret affairs, and the next to this always works out at the mouth; so that if a man cannot rival and overbear his neighbour by downright violence of action, he will attempt it at least by slander, and vilifying expressions, and, that there may not want art as well as malice, to carry on the attack more sure and home. Has a man done bravely, and got himself a reputation too great to be borne down by any base and direct aspersions? Why then envy will seemingly subscribe to the general vogue in many or most things, but then it will be sure to come over him again with a sly oblique stroke in some derogating but or other, and so slide in some scurvy exception, which shall effectually stain all his 125other virtues; and like the dead fly in the apothecary’s ointment, which (Solomon tells us) never fails to give the whole an offensive savour. And peradventure, to weave the dissimulation with yet a finer thread, and so to make it the more artificial and less discernible, the disgrace shall be insinuated and cast in with words of pity. As, after a man has been commended in company for several good qualities and perfections, the sneaking, envious wretch shall then put in, and seem to assent to every thing so spoken of him; but shall add withal, what an unhappiness is it, that a person endued with such accomplishments should be so unluckily surprised, as to be guilty of such or such actions; and that there should be any thing to allay or blemish the clearness of his reputation. When perhaps the rest of the company were either wholly ignorant of any such matter, had not his malicious ill-favoured pity brought it fresh into remembrance. This is the way which envy takes to undermine a man’s honour, when the universal vogue of men is on his side, and so makes art and caution necessary to support and fix the slander. But if a man be quite unknown, and his virtue has lain private and obscure, envy will then prevent, and be beforehand with such an one, loading him with direct impudent and down right lies, and represent him as vile and infamous as it would have him thought by all. So that when he shall appear and step forth into the world, he shall find it prepossessed, and a mighty prejudice against him for him to break through and conquer; a prejudice sown and cherished in men’s minds by a long, a diligent, and malicious detraction. In which case, if it so falls out, as oftentimes it does, that what an 126 envious tongue reports, a credulous ear drinks in and believes; but withal conceals and hides from the injured, defamed person, and thereby deprives him of all power to clear and vindicate himself: it is evident and unavoidable, that, so far as the malice of one and the greatness of the other can blast him, he must of necessity be ruined; as being for the present utterly destitute of all other relief, but the conscience of his own innocence, and a reliance upon that Providence, which alone is able to bring light out of darkness, and in its own good time to make an injured and abused innocence, in spite of all the conjunctions of envy and power, clear and victorious.
3. The last and grand effect of envy, in respect of the person envied, is his utter ruin and destruction; for nothing less was intended from the very first, whatsoever comes to be effected in the issue. Its methods of destroying are indeed various; some times it assaults a man with open violence; some times it smites him secretly; sometimes it flies in his face; and sometimes it reaches him more spite fully with some backstroke; and so, like the worst of cowards, comes behind him, and runs him through. For (as I said before) nothing can satisfy envy, but a man’s utter confusion, and (if it were possible) his very annihilation. It is not content only to asperse or defame a man, nor regards his mere infamy otherwise than as it is an instrument of his absolute and total ruin. No, it would see him begging at a grate, drawn upon an hurdle, and at length dying upon a gibbet. It would make him odious to his friends, and despised by his enemies. Nothing under death clothed with all the circumstances of 127misery and disaster that human nature is capable of, can assuage the rage and fury of envy, which in all its persecutions of a man is as cruel as death, and as insatiable as the grave. What says the wise man of it, Prov. xxvii. 4. Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?
It hunts and pursues a man without remorse or pity, and never rests nor gives him over, till it has sucked his blood, and drawn out his very breath and soul together. Nor does it stop here, or expire with the bare life of the envied person, but it tramples even upon his ashes also, lashes and tears his surviving memory, and possibly wreaks itself likewise upon his posterity. So that the child, as heir apparent, shall inherit all the calamities, succeed into all the enormities and disgusts, that worried the father while living; they shall, I say, all of them be charged upon the son’s person, as debts are upon his estate. And lastly, envy has a peculiar malignity in it, that the grudges arising from it admit of no reconcilement. There is no buying a man’s peace with an envious person: but the burnings of such an hatred are, like those of hell, intolerable and perpetual. For the truth is, all sort of reconcilement, in the very nature of the thing, supposes a deprecation of, or a satisfaction for some injury, which first caused a breach between the persons thus to be reconciled. But envy grounds not itself upon any in jury offered or done it by any man; it has no provocation but its neighbour’s virtue or felicity; crimes never pardoned by envy, wheresoever in any topping degree it finds them.
And thus having given some account of this vile 128 and accursed quality, and that both as to its nature and consequences; and likewise both in respect of him who envies another, as likewise of him also who is envied by him; come we now to the third and last thing proposed for the handling of the words, and that was, to make some use and improvement of the subject hitherto treated of by us: and what bet ter and more important use can we make of it, than to convince and remind us of these following things?
1. First, of the extreme vanity of even the most excellent and best esteemed enjoyments of this world. How do riches and honour, wit and beauty, strength and learning, shine and glister in the eyes of most men! and no doubt, but as all of them are the gifts, so are they also the blessings of God to those who can make a wise and sanctified use of them. But such is our unhappiness in this vale of weakness and mortality, that, like Jonah’s gourd, no sooner do these things shoot out and flourish about us, and we begin to delight and please ourselves under the shadow of them, but God quickly provides a worm, even that killing one of envy, to smite the root of them, and then presently they decline, wither, and die over our heads. Shadows do not more naturally attend shining bodies, than envy pursues worth and merit, always close at the very heels of them, and, like a sharp blighting east wind, still blasting and killing the noblest and most promising productions of virtue in their earliest bud, and, as Jacob did Esau, supplants them in their very birth. For what made Saul so implacably persecute David? Was it not the greatness of his valour and the glory of his actions, which drew after them the applause of the whole kingdom, and consequently the envy of the king 129himself? How comes history to tell us of so many assassinations of princes, downfalls of favourites, underminings and poisonings of great persons? Why, in all or most of these sad events, still only worth has been the crime, and envy the executioner. What drew the blood of Caesar, banished Cicero, and put out the eyes of the brave and victorious Belisarius, but a merit too great for an emperor to reward, and for envy to endure? And what happiness then can there be in such things, as only make the owners of them fall a woful sacrifice to the base suspicions and cruelties of some wicked and ungrateful great ones; but always worse than they are or can be great? He indeed who is actually possessed of these glorious endowments, thinks them both his ornament and defence; and so does the man think the sword he wears, though the point of it may be sometimes turned upon his own breast; and it is not unheard of for a man to die by that very weapon, which he reckoned he should defend and preserve his life by.
2. This may convince us of the safety of the lowest, and the happiness of a middle condition. Take the poorest wretch who begs his bread from door to door, yet he does not this in fear of that life which he begs for the support of: for that he accounts safe, and thinks he needs no watch to guard it against the motions or designs of any potent adversary, but walks unconcernedly, and sleeps securely; for his poverty is his guard, and his rags his armour. No poisons or daggers are prepared in hospitals: these are entertainments which envy treats men with in courts and palaces. Only power and greatness are prize for envy; whose evil eye always 130 looks upwards, and whose band scorns to strike where it can place its foot. Life and a bare competence are a quarry too low for so stately a vice as envy to fly at. And therefore men of a middle condition are indeed doubly happy. First, that, with the poor, they are not the objects of pity; nor, 2. with the rich and great, the mark of envy. Give me neither poverty nor riches, said Agar: and it is a question, whether the piety or prudence of that prayer were greater. The honest country gentleman, and the thriving tradesman, or country farmer, have all the real benefits of nature, and the blessings of plenty, that the highest and richest grandees can pretend to; and (which is more) all these without the tormenting fears and jealousies of being rivalled in their prince’s favour, or supplanted at court, or tumbled down from their high and beloved stations. All those storms fly over their heads, and break upon the towering mountains and lofty cedars; they have no ill-got places to lose; they are neither libelled nor undermined, but, without invading any man’s right, sit safe and warm in a moderate fortune of their own, and free from all that grandeur and magnificence of misery, which is sure to attend an invidious greatness. And he who is not contented with such a condition must seek his happiness (if ever he have any) in another world, for Providence itself can provide no better for him in this.
3. And lastly, we learn from hence the necessity of a man’s depending upon something, without him, higher and stronger than himself, even for the preservation of his ordinary concerns in this life. No thing can be a greater argument to make a man fly, 131and cast himself into the arms of Providence, than a due consideration of the nature and the workings of envy. For how fierce and cruel, how watchful and diligent, how remorseless and implacable, and, which is worst of all, how causeless for the most part, and how unprovoked, is this vile thing in all its assaults upon its neighbour; not acting upon any injury or motive from without, but boiling over upon all about it, through an overflowing fulness of malice from within!
The greatest strength which God has vouchsafed men, to secure themselves by in this world, are innocence and wisdom; and yet both of them together are not always an equal match for envy. Thou perhaps art busied in the honest employments of thy estate or calling, neither doing nor thinking hurt to any one; but in the mean time envy may chance to be much busier than thou, dropping poison into the ears of thy prince or patron, and so dashing thy innocent name and fortune with such a killing whisper, as shall strip thee of all in a moment, before thou shalt know either the tongue that hurt thee or the hand that smote thee. Hast thou a large estate? So had Naboth; yet envy quickly found a Jezebel to alter the title, and dispossess the true owner of his rich vineyard. Hast thou friends in the world? Their minds may change, and their friendship fail thee, when the envy of two or three back-friends shall be continually stabbing and pecking at their good opinion of thee, till at length they strike thee through and through, and so pierce thy heart before it even reaches thy ear. And lastly, hast thou a fair reputation and name in the world? Know that it is but as glass, the foul breath of envy can quickly 132 sully, and the least touch of the hand easily break it. For it is God only who must watch over thy good name, and protect thy reputation. For envy will be awake against it when thou art asleep, and still present to asperse thee when thou art absent, and so not able to vindicate or speak one word for thyself. And therefore none but that great Keeper of Israel, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, and whose omni presence makes him actually present in all places, can preserve thee in this great concern. It is he, I say, who must keep thee secretly in his pavilion from the strife of tongues, control their virulence, and rebuke the foul and restless spirit of slander and detraction. For otherwise, he who reckons himself out of the reach and power of envy, by any pitch of greatness or goodness whatsoever, is like that man whom Solomon represents lying down to sleep upon the top of a mast, and never considers either the winds and storms roaring about him, or the cruel devouring deep gaping under him; a very unsecure place certainly to sleep in, though never so high.
Nor has that man pitched upon a safer dormitory, who thinks to rest quietly over a much more merci less element, and more dangerous a deep of the two, (as we have proved envy to be,) unless the man’s sense and reason should have first left him, and fallen fast asleep before him. In a word, what mortal can stand his ground against this irresistible engine of all mischief? Even the wisest have perished by its wiles, and the most innocent been taken by its snares; the noblest, and most valiant; the ablest ministers of state, and most renowned commanders in war; nay, even kings themselves have sometimes fallen before it; so impossible is it for any thing in 133nature to be sure of protection against it; but that man only, who, under the cover of an almighty wing, has made the King of kings his refuge, and the God of gods his everlasting habitation.
To whom therefore be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.134
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