He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds: From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance. So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.
~ Psalm 78:70-72
As for me, I have not hastened from being a pastor to follow thee: neither have I desired the woeful day; thou knowest: that which came out of my lips was right before thee.
~ Jeremiah 17:16
And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the LORD: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest.
~ Jeremiah 45:5
Then answered Amos, and said to Amaziah, I was no prophet, neither was I a prophet’s son; but I was an herdman, and a gatherer of sycomore fruit: And the LORD took me as I followed the flock, and the LORD said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel.
~ Amos 7:14-15
Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.
~ Romans 12:16
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.
~ Psalm 139:6, Job 42:3
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
~ Romans 11:33
For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.
~ Galatians 6:3
For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.
~ 1 Corinthians 1:26-29
A Sermon on Psalm 131:1, by Thomas Manton. Sermon III.
Neither do I exercise myself in great matters, nor in things too high for me.
— Ps. cxxxi. 1.
Here is the third sign of David’s humility, that he did not affect or attempt great things, above his power, or beyond his calling, ‘Neither do I,’ &c. The word for ‘exercise signifieth also to walk; and the word for ‘too high signifieth also wonderful.
This part of the profession may be understood either.
First, of his study, and inquiries of his mind, that he did not search out the hidden things of God. There are certain things which surpass the light and capacity of human understanding: Ps. cxxxix. 6, This knowledge is too wonderful for me, I cannot attain unto it. So Job, when he had censured God’s providence, chap. xlii. 3, ‘I have uttered things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. To presume to dive into or comprehend the counsels of God is an act of pride, because it is a presumption beyond man’s ability.
Secondly, or of his practice, that he did not aspire after great things, nor seek to wrest the kingdom out of the hands of Saul. He would not step forward, nor backward, but as God directed liim; which certainly was a great effect of humility and modesty in David, though the promises of God gave liim such hope, and the persecutions of Saul irritated him. And therein becometh a pattern to the people of God, that they should not aspire to nor look after worldly greatness, but be contented with the condition and estate of life wherein God placeth them; and our utmost ambition should be to be serviceable to God and his people, without presuming beyond the bounds of our calling or strength to manage things: Jer. xlv. 5, Seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not.’
Which of these senses to prefer is not easy to know. Interpreters are divided. I will frame the doctrine so as to comprise both.
Doctrine. That humble souls do not exercise themselves in great matters, nor in things too high for them.
First, I shall consider how many ways this may be done. Secondly, I shall show that it is contrary to humility so to do.
First, How many ways this may be done. First, I shall take the former distinction.
First, In point of understanding, when they search out and presume to understand things which God hath not revealed. The general rule is, Deut. xxix. 29, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong unto us, and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. Our business is to study our duty, which is plain and open; and for great matters, and things too high for us, we may, without any great loss or danger, let them alone.
Now these great matters that are too high for us are of two sorts— (1.) Some things that exceed the capacity of all men; (2.) Some things that are above our particular capacity, or the measure of our apprehension, or the limits of our vocation and calling.
1. Some things exceed the capacity of all men, and are too high for us to judge of. Now these things may be ranked in two classes —
(1.) When men reject any revealed truth because they know not the cause; or
(2.) When they neglect any present duty because they know not the events.
(1.) When we reject any apparent truth or doctrine revealed in the scriptures because it exceedeth our capacity to understand all the causes and reasons of them. This is to exercise ourselves in matters too high for us, and to set up our reason in opposition to God’s revelation. As many deny the Trinity, and the incarnation of the Son of God, because they cannot conceive or understand how these things can be. Others deny the creation of the world, because they cannot apprehend what God did, or wherein he was employed, during all that infinite space of time before he proceeded to the creation. In many other cases they will not believe the truth, because they understand not the causes thereof; as God’s decrees of predestination and preterition, because they cannot reconcile this with the justice of God and their prejudices and preconceptions, though it be clearly revealed in the word, that while the children were yet unborn, and had done neither good nor evil, yet Esau have I hated, and Jacob have I loved, Rom. ix. 10, 11. So many deny the institution of Adam as a common person, in whose act all his posterity were concerned, though it be a truth clearly revealed in the scripture. These, and many other things, are propounded to be believed, not vexed with anxious inquiries. God dealeth with us here as physicians with their patients. They give pills, not to be chewed, but swallowed. If chewed, they are cast up again by proud reason; if swallowed, they prove an wholesome remedy to us. We are to acquiesce in the testimony of God, made evident to us by other reasons, though we cannot reconcile them with the conceits of our shallow and corrupted reason. So many deny the providence of God because of some seeming incongruities, by the prosperity of the wicked, and the afflictions of the righteous, and so cry up chance instead of God’s wise and holy government. Surely we exercise ourselves in things too high for us when we will still be inquiring into the causes and reasons of all things. As why God from eternity decreed this and that, in his providence doeth this or that. Why he would not send his Son for fallen angels as well as for fallen man, when one angel, as to the dignity of His nature, is more precious than a thousand men. Why Christ would save one thief upon the cross, and not both. Why he will execute his judgments upon his people by the wicked, and afterward, when he hath used the rod, throw it into the fire. Why he will visit the sins of the fathers on the children. Why Achan’s family was to be burned with him, Josh. vii.; and an hundred such things, which God hath hidden from us. Yea, some will deny the immortality of the soul, because they know not how it is caused, by seminal traduction or immediate creation. So the work of God’s differencing grace, because they understand not the way of it. It is endless to follow all the exceptions of vain man against the doctrine of God, and how the pride and arrogancy of reason vents itself against divine revelation.
In practical matters, some will question the Spirit’s dwelling in believers, because they cannot understand the manner. Some saving grace, communion with God, or praying in the Holy Ghost, as if they were but fancies. Some truths cannot be understood without experience, and it is only sanctification that giveth that experience; therefore unsanctified persons take them for fancies.
(2.) This pride showeth itself in the desire of the knowledge of future events, either concerning the church of God, ourselves, or others; and many are so set upon this, that they will have figures cast, unlawful arts used, seek unto wizards and them that have familiar spirits, Isa. viii. 19. But whether they use lawful or unlawful means, the scripture disapproveth this vain curiosity and desire to know future contingencies, as arguing a distrust of God; for true godliness requireth we should trust ourselves blindfold in his hands, and obey him though we do not know what will come of it; as Abraham did, Heb. xi. & But we are very anxious about futurities; we would know what Christ will do with the church, what with ourselves, what with others. It better becometh us, in every condition, to know what we should do than what we shall be. It doth not become us to understand events, but it doth greatly become us to understand our duty. But our minds run upon this. Sometimes we are inquiring about the church, ‘Wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ But he answers, ‘It is not for you to know the times,’ &c., Acts i. 6, 7. So we desire to know our own destiny, whether we shall have prosperity or adversity, die a violent or a natural deatlı, at home or abroad. We desire to know the time when our affliction shall cease: Ps. cxix. 8, ‘How many are the days of thy servant? when wilt thou execute judgment on them that persecute me?’ David was surprised with this infirmity. We are weary of sufferings, and would fain know an end. So for others: John xxi. 21, 22, ‘What shall this man do? If I will that lie tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.’ Peter would fain know what should become of John, for which he was checked of Christ, as meddling with that which concerned him not. He bids him keep to his duty. It is vain curiosity, when we have so much needful work upon our hands, to desire to know what shall become of us and ours in this lottery of human affairs. Do your duty, and venture upon God’s providence. Consider what an horrible diffidence and distrust of God it is that we cannot acquiesce in his wise and holy government, whose wisdom, power, and goodness is infinite. We suspect that he will not perform the part of a father and righteous governor to us, and therefore we dare not trust ourselves with his providence, but we must know beforehand how the event will be cast.
2. Some things are above our particular capacity, and measure of our apprehension, and the limits of our vocation. The apostle biddeth us: Rom. xii. 3, to be wise to sobriety, as God hath dealt to every one the measure of faith. But men forget their ignorance, shallowness, and incapacity, and, though never so empty, take upon them to judge of all controversies in religion, as if they were the most knowing. Therefore the scripture haveth in so much caution against this; as, Lean not to thine own understanding;’ and again, ‘Be not wise in thine own eyes;’ and Isa. v. 21, ‘Woe to them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight;’ Prov. xxvi. 12, ‘Seest thou a man wise in his own eyes, there is more hope of a fool than of him;’ Prov. xxvi. 5, * Answer å fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.’ And in many other places; that we might consider what a vanity it is to be meddling in things above our reach and measure of understanding. Many will run before they can go; mind controversies before they have well digested the necessary saving and practical truths. The weak must govern all, and model churches, when the Lord knoweth they are unskilful in self-government and the vitals of Christianity. Who were most forward in the divisions of Corinth but the weak Christians, who had need of milk, and not of strong meat, as the apostle showeth, 1 Cor. iii, 1–3. Certainly there is a certain order of truths, and that one presupposeth another; and the knowledge of the lower truths is required before we can attend to the higher. And till their understandings be prepared by a sound practical knowledge of the ordinary truths, they cannot well understand the higher. Butitisa wonder to see the pride and arrogancy of some ignorant men, who will confidently pass a censure on things they understand not, as if they were as thoroughly acquainted with them as the best, and scornfully call that an error which is the precious truth of Christ. These would go to the top of the stairs without ascending by the lower steps; or like hasty children, that will undertake to read before they can spell; and will determine great points when they have neglected the necessary truths which make way for the knowledge of them.
Secondly, I shall prove that this intermeddling with things too high for us is pride. I shall prove it by these steps —
1. It is certainly a great disease incident to mankind to contemn things easy, and to busy themselves about things hidden, difficult, and forbidden. Needless speculations and curiosities are a sort of knowledge that bringeth more pain than pleasure. This is a disorder and a disease; partly because reason will tell us that things necessary should be preferred before arbitrary, and therefore things necessary to practice should be preferred before abstruse things and unprofitable. Partly because the most obvious truths are most necessary and most useful; as the Lord, in great goodness, hath made the most useful and necessary things the most common. Those things without which we cannot live are obvious, but jewels, pearls, and gold are hard to come by; we go for them to far countries, dig deep for them; but bread and food is at hand, and brought home to our doors. So in the business of religion; those points which are absolutely necessary to salvation are obvious to every man’s understanding, and are in every man’s month; intricate disputes lie more off, and are not everywhere found. The truths we live by, as the creation, fall and redemption by Christ, the necessity of holiness, the hopes of eternal life, are plain and clear; but yet these are least considered, believed, or improved. We learn them by rote, but seldom consider of their truth, weight, and consequence. These are too common and familiar to be regarded by us. We desire vulgar notions, abstruse speculations. Partly because the mind is so weak, and time so short, that we cannot attend to everything. Surely in all reason we should attend upon the most weighty things; there is no loss in being ignorant of other things; and therefore, when we have so little time that it scarce sufficeth for the main things of our salvation, to spend this either upon impossible or unlawful knowledge is a great fault. Surely if men were better husbands of their time, what progress might they make! Their faith would not be so weak, nor their love of God so cold, nor such defects in every grace. Well, then, though diligence in inquiring after the truth be laudable, yet if be it polluted with the sin of curiosity, it is a fault and a great disorder.
2. It is that disorder which is called pride.
(1.) Its entrance into the world showeth it; for this is one of the things our first parents aspired unto. The fruit of the forbidden tree was good for knowledge, Gen. iii. 6. Man would know good and evil for himself, and be a god to himself, and would see all things in their own evidence, rather than upon divine revelation; lie would know, and not believe. This is a bone that sticketh in many a throat, which he cannot digest and swallow; that there should be a sovereign lord, to dispose of liim at his pleasure, and teach him, and provide for him. Certain it is that searching into things not revealed must of necessity be joined with some unthankfulness for things that are revealed; as if man by his own wit could find out more curious things, and more worthy our knowledge, than God was pleased to teach him. This was our first parents’ sin, and this is nothing else but rank pride.
(2.) The formal nature showeth it; for the two branches of pride are in it-self-conceit and vainglory.
(1.) Self-conceit. It argueth too great a conceit of ourselves: Rom. xii. 16, ‘Mind not high things: be not wise in your own conceits.’
(2.) For vainglory. We would set off ourselves as knowing more than others. We all affect the reputation of wisdom: Job xi. 12, Vain man would be counted wise, though he be born like thie wild ass’s colt. Man is empty, but conceited of his perfection; will own a wickedness in morals rather than a weakness in intellectuals. Though we have not the reality of wisdom, yet we affect the reputation of wisdom. The pharisees took it tenderly to be accounted blind: ‘Are we blind also? · John ix. 40.
(3.) It is a mischievous sort of pride.
(1.) It weakeneth our faith and belief of the mysteries of the gospel. There can be no sound believing till our proud imaginations and reasonings be captivated to the knowledge of God and obedience of Christ, 2 Cor. x. 5. The corrupt nature of man is more prone to question the truth of God’s word than to see and confess its own ignorance and incapacity. I say, men will suspect the scriptures rather than their own wit, and will still be reasoning, How can this be? and, How can that be?
(2.) It destroyeth our submission to God, and dependence upon his providence, when we are so foolishly conceited as to take upon us to judge of his works, and to reflect upon his infinite wisdom, goodness, and power; and we must prescribe to God, and model his dispensations, and censure them when they are not according to our mind. No; God will be known to be sovereign; all the creature’s enjoyments are in his hand, to be disposed of according to his pleasure: Job ix. 10, ‘ He taketh away, and none can stay his hand, and say unto him, What doest thou?’ He is sovereign lord and proprietor. We are forced passively to submit, because we cannot help it; but we must actively submit. We must not quarrel and censure that which we cannot comprehend. God, having absolute dominion and sovereignty, is umaccountable to any: Job xxxiii. 13, · Why dost thou strive with thy Maker, since he giveth no account of his matters?’ Before what tribunal will you cite him to answer? before the bar of your corrupted reason? God will not tie himself to those rules which men prescribe to him. You take too much upon you, exercise yourselves in matters too high for you, when you will judge of his providence.
(3.) It divideth the church by vain jangling about unnecessary things, and turneth all religion into a way of dispute; for this pride and presuming above our measure is that which breedeth contention. When the weak will guide all, and they will sit judges in matters of religion, and mould churches, even those who are scarce gotten into any sense of the first principles or knowledge in the way of God; when men presume beyond their skill, and confidently determine; hence come offences, grieving their guides, censuring their fellow-brethren, scandalising the world. O brethren! how much doth it deserve to be written over the doors of every place you meet, Be not wise in your own conceit. Much of the devil’s work is done in the world by raw heady professors, who, having weak understandings and strong passions, will take upon them to rule all, till they undo all by their turbulency. And here is the mischief; the nature of this ignorance is to be ignorant of itself; as he that never saw the light knoweth not what it is. There is a good deal of knowledge necessary to make men know their ignorance; and therefore there is no way but to check the presumption as much as we can.
(4.) It hindereth serious godliness by an unprofitable misspence of time, and a needless distracting our thoughts, and a neglect of searching into things more necessary and useful for ourselves and others. The apostle telleth us, that’ he that doteth about questions is proud, and neglecteth the doctrine which is according to godliness,’ 1 Tim. vi. 3, 4.
Use 1. To press you to take heed of this sort of pride; not pressing into God’s secrets, or going beyond our bounds, and the limits of our gifts and calling, or censuring his word and works.
1. Consider that it is the honour of God to hide a thing, that he may the more humble us. There are some truths in his word we know not the reasons of them; we must accept them upon his revelation. We will allow parents to conceal the reasons and ends of many precepts from their children; and princes have their arcana imperii, their mysteries of state. And why must you not allow this to God? Prov. xxv. 2, ‘ It is the glory of God to conceal a thing. Especially in his providence. There is a veil upon his proceedings: What I do thou knowest not now; but hereafter thou shalt know,’ saith Christ to Peter, John xiii. 7. God’s name is written both upon his word and works, and therefore they have somewhat in them that is incomprehensible.
2. Many times the inconspicuousness of the reasons of providence is not from the object, but a defect in the faculty. Blind men think the sun is put out, when the web is upon their own eyes. Shall we presumptuously censure the word and works of God who are blind and hasty? Sometimes blinded by our passions and carnal prejudices; our judgment is perverted by an indulgence to sense and carnal affections; and while we examine God’s providence by sense, we mistake it. Sometimes there may be order where we think is confusion, and beauty where we see nothing but rudeness, and love where we interpret hatred; when Christ died, when Joseph was sent to prison, &c. The first lines in a picture or statue have no beauty in them. Suspend your judgment till the work be brought to an end: “Judge nothing before the time,’ 1 Cor. iv. 5.
3. What a monstrous arrogancy it is in us to sit as judges of God’s word and works, and presumptuously to pass censures upon them! This will appear if we consider either our baseness or the majesty of God.
(1.) Our baseness. We are but a handful of enlivened dust, poor worms that but lately started out of nothing, and shall soon be turned into dust again; and shall we take upon us, and have such an opinion, that we should know the secrets of the king of kings, and must have an account of all his dealings? As if every rustic should press into the cabinet of princes, and demand an account of all things they do in the administration of the kingdom. Will the eternal God bear it, that poor worms should inquire into all his secrets?
(2.) The majesty of God. It is a despising of his majesty, and a strange pride, to call our Maker to an account, and know of him the reason of all his works, or else we will not be satisfied. Can we dispute with God, or comprehend the counsels of God? His judgments are a great deep,’ Ps. xxxvi. 16, “And his ways past finding out,’ Rom. xi. 33. Not according to our laws, but His own infinite wisdom. A cockleshell may as well contain the ocean as we fathom all the depths of God.
Use 2. Iu point of practice. We should not affect great things in the world, or be unsatisfied with that degree and state of life wherein God hath placed us, and so aspire after greater. Now this is a token of humility.
1. It is God’s express direction: 1 Tim. vi. 8, ‘Having food and raiment, let us therewith be content;’ and Heb. xii. 5, Be content with such things as ye have.’ There is a contentment in opposition to covetousness, and a contentment in opposition to pride. They both agree in this, that, have we more or have we less, if it be but bare food and raiment that we may live, and so live as that we have time to serve God, and seek his kingdom, and the salvation of our souls, we should be content. That is, in opposition to covetousness, we should not distract ourselves with distrustful cares and covetous desires, but with a quiet mind rely upon God’s precious promises and merciful providence for support and necessaries. But then there is a contentment in opposition to pride, when we do not repine and murmur against God, but are content to be at his finding; accounting a little is enough by the way, and so we get heaven at last. It is no great matter how much or how little we enjoy by the way. If our condition be mean, we disdain it not; if higher, we desire to improve it for God. This the apostle practised: Phil. iv. 11, ‘I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. To rest satisfied with our present condition, without repining against God.
2. That is the best condition wherein God hath placed us, though it be never so low and mean. Partly because of God’s sovereignty. Men must not arrogate to themselves the disposal of their own estate, because we are receivers and not prescribers: Job ii. 10, Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil? ‘ He appointeth to every one lis portion. Therefore it is not what will please us, but what will please him. All the good we have cometh from God, and he must be left to dispose of it as he will. Partly because God is infinitely wise and better knoweth what is fittest for us than we do for ourselves. He knoweth our infirmity better than we do ourselves, what our shoulders will bear, and what not. Partly because of his goodness and kindness. He is no less kind and loving, nay, much more than we are to ourselves, and will not fail to give us anything that may be truly good for us. It is a mighty point in our dependence upon God to hate thoughts of God; and as it is a great help and relief to the soul, so it is easy to prove from his love in Christ: Rom. vii. 32, ‘He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, liow shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” From his gracious covenant: Ps. xxxiv. 10, They that fear the Lord shall not want any good thing;’ and Ps. lxxxiv. 11, ‘The Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. Therefore, upon the whole, let God choose our portion for us.
3. Those great matters which the world crieth up for such are but small things in comparison of those things which Christians should be most busied about. There are two sorts of great things—either in reality or in appearance.
(1.) The great things in reality are God, and Christ, and the law of grace, the promises of the pardon of sin and eternal life: Hosea viii. 12, ‘I have written to him the great things of my law. There are great things indeed discovered in the law of God, as a great God, a precious Saviour, a sanctifying Spirit, the way of salvation, and salvation itself; these are great things indeed: 2 Peter i. 4, ‘To us are given exceeding great and precious promises,’tà uéilota ŝtayyénuata. They contain spiritual and eternal riches, and dear-bought blessings. Now in these great matters should we exercise ourselves. It is a low and base spirit that doth not seek these spiritual and heavenly things. But these suit not with carnal sense, because they are only valued and esteemed by faith,
(2.) Great things in appearance. Those are worldly things which in reality are the smallest matters, 2 Cor. vi. 2; but the flesh counteth them great, because of the suitableness they carry to our fancies and appetites. Great affections make the things of the world seem great. They are only great in our own conceit: Prov. xviii. 11, “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and as an high wall in his own conceit.’ We promise ourselves much happiness in the enjoyment of these things, therefore our hearts run after them; but a Christian hath higher matters to mind.
4. These things, the more they are sought after, our desires are greatened with the enjoyment, and still we seek greater and greater things. Allow this disposition, and it will still carry us further; for the soul is never satisfied; Isa. v. 8, they are joining house to house, field to field; Eccles. v. 10, ‘He that loveth abundance shall not be satisfied with increase.’ The flesh is wise in its own matters; it aimeth at first only at those things which are within our grasp and reach; but then still it enlargeth itself, and would have more; and when that is obtained, we would fain be built a story higher in the world. In honour and greatness there is no end. Now it is better to stop at first, because, to be contented with what we have, and improve it to God’s glory, argueth the highest and noblest spirit: 1 Tim. vi. 6, ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain.’ A Christian life with a competent subsistence is the best wealth in the world.
5. The danger of seeking after these great things. There is danger in the pursuit, danger in the enjoyment. In the pursuit: If our hearts be set upon these things, it is ten to one but that we will step out of the way to obtain them; for as he that will be rich falleth into a snare, so doth he that will be great, 1 Tim. vi. 9. Aspiring minds will get their preferment at any cost. What poor things do the ambitious stoop to to attain their ends! Humour the lusts and uncertain minds of men, writhe themselves into all postures, yea, too often wriggle themselves out of all good conscience and neglect of God, and trample upon what is sacred; all must go down that they may rise. But when, with all this ado, they have gotten up, there is danger in the enjoyment. An higher condition is more slippery and obnoxious to ruin. Mountain tops are tempestuous habitations, where men still live in the storms of envy and jealousy. Mounting hath cost many dear in this world; the higher they are, the fall the greater. But we should not be too keenly set on that which may endanger our everlasting welfare. In this state of corruption, it is hard to be high and not lifted up; and we have no reason to be in love with our temptations. A strong head will run round on the pinnacle of a steeple; it is better and safer to stand on the ground. When we enjoy great things here in the world, it is hard to please men, and we find them the greatest hindrances of pleasing God; yea, few find that pleasure which they expected to themselves.
Secondly, That this affecting great things argueth pride.
1. Because affecting greater things argueth discontent with our present estate. Now that is clearly the daughter of pride and self-love which maketh us think ourselves worthy of much more than we have. That we are discontented appeareth partly by our unthankfulness to God for what we have received, undervaluing those blessings we enjoy as far beneath us: Mal. i. 2, ‘I have loved you, saith the Lord; yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us?’ And partly by our unquietness in our own hearts when our desires are not satisfied; as Ahab had not rest in himself when he could not get Naboth’s vineyard, 1 Kings xxi. 3,4. And partly also by our envy and discontent with our neighbours who possess that which we desire to enjoy, and are consequently looked upon by us with an evil eye, as standing in the way of that we aim at: Esther v. 13, ‘All this availeth me nothing as long as I see Mordecai in the king’s gate.
2. The very affectation of great things is that dangerous and baneful sin of pride; because the scripture commendeth to us a mean condition as most safe: Mat. v. 3, ‘ Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.’ The poor in spirit are those who are contented to be poor, if God will have it so; and those that have an heart suited to or reconcilable with a low condition, though they cannot flaunt it in the world as others do. So Prov. xvi. 19, Better it is to suffer with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud! Now our condition is to be valued by the judgment of God in his word rather than by our own carnal affections; partly because to keep much ado about our own greatness, and glory, and advancement, argueth a base temper of spirit: Prov. xxv. 27, “For men to search their own glory is not glory. Seeking, affecting these things, is a mark of indignity. Let us attract it by our deserving, not affect it by our ambition. It is the violet is found out by its own smell, though it be shrouded and covered by leaves; so should we be found out by our own worth. Where the matter is combustible, we need not blow so hard to keep in the fire. Such carking and caring for it argueth little worth. Partly because worldly honour or honour from men should be little valued by a Christian, who is acquainted with a greater honour and glory that cometh from God: John v. 44, ‘How can ye believe, which receive honour one from another, and seek not the honour which cometh from God only?’ A Christian should be contented to be approved and respected of God, who hath made him his child and servant, and given him his favour and image. That should be our great ambition: 2 Cor. v. 9, . We labour that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him,’ pilotimoúmeo da. The faith and belief of this cannot consist with the dominion of ambition or affectation of worldly glory. To hunt after respect from men, and receive it with lustful delight, or to rest in it as the chief scope of our actions, showeth that our faith is not sound. In being servants, or sons, or friends to God, is such an honour of estate and privilege that all other honour should become vile in our eyes. They that attend upon God and depend upon him have a sweeter life than they that wait upon princes; all the honours of the world are but as a dream and child’s game to the real glory. You are courtiers and family servants of the infinite sovereign of heaven and earth, and your heart is employed in loving him, your tongue in praising him, your life in serving him, and at length you shall enjoy him. Now if this be valued according to its worth, you will be so contented with this that the love of honour from men will be much weakened and deadened in you, so that you will not much regard how you are looked on by the world if you may have the approbation of God. Partly because if this affecting and seeking of great things in the world be allowed, affected, and indulged, you can never keep a good conscience, nor be thoroughly faithful to Christ. Men are under a temptation to unconscionable dealing, that they may purchase that by any means without which we think not ourselves supplied according to our worth; for ambition is like a whirlwind, that teareth all things in our way; and for favour and preferment men will break through all restraints of honesty and conscience; and Christ, and the gospel, and owning the truth, will be trampled upon to make up a step for their rising; when called to undergo an ignominious cross, or to practise those duties which are of no respect in the world; as John xii. 43, They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. On the contrary, where this disposition is checked or mortified, Acts v. 41, “They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.
3. I have one reason more; because our Lord appeared in an humble garb to teach us to slight the pomp and glory of the world: Mat. xx. 28, He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.’ Divines give this as a reason why Christ came in a poor condition, because if he had preached up heavenly-mindedness, self-denial, and mortification, and had himself lived in pomp and fulness, the people would not have regarded his words, as contrary to his practice. And doth not the same reason hold good of his followers? We profess heavenly-mindedness, mortification, and self-denial; and if we should affect and seek great things for ourselves here in the world, is there not a manifest contradiction between our profession and our practice? Therefore, out of all, we should be contented with a mean and low estate, and have a heart suited to it; which we can never have unless this natural affection to greatness be mortified; that is to say, unless we would concur that the suspicion of pride, dignity, and honour in the world should be less desired, more feared, and more cautiously used; and if any step before us, we should see very small cause to envy them.
Use. To press us to take heed of this seeking great things. Let us approve our present estate as every way best and fittest for us and God’s honour and glory; limiting our desires, that we wish it not to be otherwise than it is; yea, bringing our affections to delight in it, as that which God hath laid out for us. And then, let me tell you, you have gotten a very great conquest; you have mortified the proud spirit, which is a notable point of grace.
To help you, take these considerations 1. Whatever we enjoy is more than we have a title to by nature: Job i. 21, ‘Naked came I into the world, and naked shall I return; and 1 Tim. vi. 7, We brought nothing with us into the world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.’ We came into the world contented with a cradle, and we must go out contented with a grave. This life is nothing but a coming into the world and a going out again; if, between both, God keep us low and bare, we want nothing that we can claim by original right. And within a short time we shall be stripped of all, though we had never so much. Death levels all, and maketh them equal.
2. We are unworthy of what we enjoy, and have it merely out of favour and free grace: Gen. xxxii. 10, ‘I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and all the truth, which thou hast showed unto thy servant. And if we be not worthy of what we have, should we murmur because we have no more? Surely then we think more is due to us; for it is a certain truth that whosoever do prescribe to God at what rate they will be maintained, do ascribe too much to themselves, and complain because men of their deserts are neglected in the world.
3. What we have we have no ability to manage as we ought, nor can we give an account of it if God should deal strictly with us. All talents must be accounted for: Luke xxi. 19, “ After a long time, the lord of those servants cometh and reckoneth with them.’ And according to the greatness of our talents our account will be greater: Luke xii. 48, ‘To whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required. And to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.’ You have talents enough to answer for. He that cannot bear a less burden, how will he bear a greater?
4. That maxim of our Lord striketh at the root of worldly affection: Luke xii. 15, ‘ Man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth superfluity of wealth is not able to prolong life, or to make it more happy and comfortable to us. You can enjoy no more than you need and use, and you enjoy that by God’s blessing; and therefore, without so much ado, man may live comfortably.
5. The opposite maxim, Ps. xxxvii. 16, A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked. Usually there is an emptiness and want of satisfaction in wealth that is ill-gotten. They have it, but it doeth them no good. They have neither the temporal nor the spiritual use, for the glory of God and the benefit of others; and within a while there is a visible curse and blast that attendeth it.
The meanest pittance, well acquired and holily improved, is more contentedly enjoyed, and doth more good, than all those riches.
6. Remember the ends of this life, and wherefore it was given us; to glorify God and save our souls. Mind this thoroughly, and it will check aspiring projects.
(1.) To glorify God. You were not made for your own glory, but for his. Now God may be glorified though you be not exalted. It is more for our glory to shine in a glorious orb and sphere, but oftentimes not for God’s. The mean glorify him as well as the honourable, and sometimes much more; the afflicted as well as the prosperous. He requireth no more of you than to finish the work he hath given you to do, John xvii. 4; and that may be in any state of life.
(2.) This life was given us to seek a better; and let the seeking of heavenly glory be your work and scope, and you will have a double advantage.
(1.) Worldly glory will be darkened and lessened in your eyes; for what is greatness here to that glory we expect as coming from God? Mat. xvi. 27.
(2.) You are entitled to God’s protection and provision. Earth necessaries are given us to preserve this life. All, besides food and raiment, is not necessary. Necessaries God will care for: ‘He knoweth that we have need of these things,’Mat. vi. 32. They may comfortably expect it who first seek his kingdom; he hath bound himself to give them these things, Mat. vi. 33.