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SERMON LXI.

OF SELF-CONCEIT.

2 TIM. iii. 2.

For men shall be lovers of themselves, &c.

I. THE first and most radical kind of vicious self-love is SERM. self-conceitedness; that which St. Paul calleth rò eggo- LXI. vev, to overween, or to think highly of one's self, beyond what he ought to think. This doth consist in several acts

or instances.

Sometimes we in our imagination assume to ourselves perfections not belonging to us, in kind or in degree; we take ourselves to be other men than we are; to be wise, to be good, to be happy, when we are not so; at least to be far wiser, better, and happier than we are. The pleasure naturally springing from a good opinion of ourselves doth often so blind our eyes and pervert our judgment, that we see in us what is not there, or see it magnified and transformed into another shape than its own; any appearance doth suffice to produce such mistakes, and having once entertained them, we are unwilling to depose them; we cannot endure by severe reflection on ourselves to correct such pleasant errors; hence commonly we presume ourselves to be very considerable, very excellent, very extraordinary persons, when in truth we are very mean and worthless: so did St. Paul suppose when he said, If a man think himself to be something, when he is Gal. vi. 3. nothing, he deceiveth himself; such was the case of that

SERM. church in the Apocalypse; Thou sayest I am rich, and inLXI. creased in goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest Rev. iii. 17. not, that thou art wretched and miserable; they were like men in a dream, or in a frenzy, who take themselves for great and wealthy persons, when indeed they are in a sorry and beggarly condition: into the like extravagancies of mistake we are all likely to fall, if we do not very carefully and impartially examine and study ourselves.

Again: Sometimes we make vain judgments upon the things we do possess, prizing them much beyond their true worth and merit; consequently overvaluing ourselves for them; the most trivial and pitiful things (things which in themselves have no worth, but are mere tools, and commonly serve bad purposes; things which do not render our souls anywise better, which do not breed any real content, which do not conduce to our welfare and happiness) we value at a monstrous rate, as if they were the most excellent and admirable things in the world. Have we wit? how witless are we in prizing it, or ourselves for it; although we employ it to no good end, not serving God, not benefiting men, not furthering our own good, or anywise bettering our condition with it; although we no otherwise use it, than vainly to please ourselves or others, that is, to act the part of fools or buffoons. Have we learning or knowledge? then are we rare persons; not considering that many a bad, many a wretched person, hath had much more than we, who hath used it to the abuse of others, to the torment of himself; that hell may be full of learned scribes and subtile disputers, of eloquent Rom. i. 21. orators and profound philosophers; who when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, opibus non but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened; not considering also how very defective our Mart. xi. 6. knowledge is, how mixed with error and darkness; how useless and vain, yea how pernicious it is, if not sanctified by God's grace, and managed to his service. Have we riches? then are we brave men, as fine and glorious in our conceit as in our outward attire; although the veriest

Ardua res hæc est,

tradere

mores.

fools, the basest and most miserable of men, that go on the SERM. ground do exceed us therein; although, as Aristotle saith, LXI. Most either not use it, or abuse it a; although our wealth affordeth us no real benefit or comfort, but exposeth us to numberless snares, temptations, and mischiefs; although it hath no stability, but easily may be taken from us. Have we reputation? How doth that make us highly to repute ourselves in a slavish imitation of others! yet nothing is less substantial, nothing is less felt, nothing is so easily lost, nothing is more brittle and slippery than it; a bubble is not sooner broken, or a wave sunk than is the opinion of men altered concerning us. Have we power? what doth more raise our minds! yet what is that commonly but a dangerous instrument of mischief to others, and of ruin to ourselves; at least an engagement to care and trouble? What but that did render Caligula, Nero, and Domitian so hurtful to others, so unhappy themselves? what but that hath filled the world with disasters, and turned all history into 1 tragedy? Have we prosperous success in our affairs? then we boast and triumph in our hearts; not remembering what the Wise Man saith, The prosperity of fools destroyeth them; Prov. i. 32. and that experience sheweth, prosperity doth usually either find or make us fools b; that the wisest men (as Solomon) 2 Chron. the best men (as Hezekiah,) have been befooled by it; thus are we apt to overvalue our things, and ourselves for them.

xxxii. 25.

There is no way indeed wherein we do not thus impose upon ourselves, either assuming false, or misrating true advantages; the general ill consequences of which misdemeanour are, that our minds are stuffed with dreams and fantastic imaginations, instead of wise and sober thoughts; that we misbehave ourselves towards ourselves, treating ourselves like other men than we are, with unseemly regard; that we expect other men should have

· Τῶν πολλῶν οἱ μὲν ἐα χρῶνται τῷ πλούτῳ διὰ μικρολογίαν, οἱ δὲ παραχρῶντα di acarian. Arist, apud. Plut. in Pelop.

b Rarus enim ferme sensus communis in illa

Fortuna

Juv. Sat. 8.

SERM. like opinions, and yield answerable deferences to us; and LXI. are, if we find it otherwise, grievously offended; that we are apt to despise or disregard others, demeaning ourselves insolently and fastuously toward them; that we are apt to seek and undertake things, which we cannot attain or achieve; that we neglect the succours needful to help or comfort us, and the like; which will appear more plainly by considering the several objects or matters in which self-conceit is exercised; they are especially three: intellectual endowments; moral qualities; advantages of body, fortune, and outward state. 1. We are apt to conceit highly of ourselves upon presumption of our intellectual endowments or capacities, whether natural (as wit, fancy, memory, judgment,) or acquired, (as learning, skill, experience,) especially of that Chrys. in which is called wisdom, which in a manner comprehendeth the rest, and manageth them; whereby we rightly discern what is true, and what is fit to be done in any case proposed: this we are prone in great measure to arrogate, and much to pride ourselves therein. The world is full as it can hold of wise men, or of those who take themselves to be such; not only absolutely, but comparatively, in derogation and preference to all others: May Job xii. 2. it not be said to us as Job did to his friends, No doubt but

Μωρός για 9, γένηται σοPos. Vid.

Phil. Or. 7.

1 Cor. iii. 18.

ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you? Do we not fancy ourselves incomparably wise, so that all our imaginations are deep and subtile, all our resolutions sound and safe, all our opinions irrefragably certain, all our sayings like so many oracles, or indubitable maxims? Do we not expect that every man's judgment should stoop to ours? do we not wonder that any man should presume

COVEL.

to dissent from us? must any man's voice be heard when Olos iu- we speak? Do we not suppose that our authority doth και τοὶ δὲ σκιαὶ ατσο add huge weight to our words? that it is unquestionably true because we say it? that it is presumption, it is temerity, it is rudeness hardly pardonable to contest our distates? This is a common practice, and that which is Prov. iii. 7. often prohibited and blamed in Scripture; Be not wise in Rom. xii. thine own eyes, saith the Wise Man; and, Be not wise in

16.

LXI.

your own conceits, saith the Apostle; and, I say, through SERM. the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; Rom. xii. 3. but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

The great reasonableness of which precepts will appear by considering both the absurdity and the inconveniences of the practice which they forbid.

If we do reflect either upon the common nature of men, or upon our own constitution, we cannot but find our conceits of our wisdom very absurd; for how can we take ourselves for wise, if we observe the great blindness of our mind, and feebleness of human reason, by many palpable arguments discovering itself? if we mark how painful the search, and how difficult the comprehension is of any truth; how hardly the most sagacious can descry any thing, how easily the most judicious mistake; how the most learned everlastingly dispute, and the wisest irreconcileably clash about matters seeming most familiar and facile; how often the most wary and steady do shift their opinions; how the wiser a man is, and the more experience he gaineth, the less confident he is in his own judgment, and the more sensible he groweth of his weakness; how dim the sight is of the most perspicacious, and how shallow the conceptions of the most profound; how narrow is the horizon of our knowledge, and how immensely the region of our ignorance is distended; how imperfectly and uncertainly we know those few things, to which our knowledge reachethe; how answerably to such experience we are told in sacred writ, that every man is brutish in his Jer. x. 14. knowledge; that the Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, 11. that they are vanity: that vain man would be wise, though 1 Cor. iik he be born like an ass's colt, (that is, he is naturally wild Job xi. 12. and stupid ;) that wisdom is hid from the eyes of all men, and is not found in the land of the living; that the thoughts Wisd. ix.

Psal. xciv.

20.

Job xxviii. 21, 12.

14.

• Quamcunque partem rerum humanarum divinarumque comprehenderis, ingenti copia quærendarum ac discendarum fatigaberis. Sen. Ep. 88.

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