2. He hath done the same in his dealings with the apostles, and generally with all that have been most dear unto him and instrumental unto the interest of his glory in the world, especially since life and immortality were brought to light by the gospel. He had great work to do by the apostles, and that of the greatest use unto his interest and kingdom. The laying of the foundations of the glorious kingdom of Christ in the world was committed unto them. Who would not think that he should provide for them, if not principalities or popedoms, yet at least archbishoprics and bishoprics, with other good ecclesiastical dignities and preferments? Hereby might they have been made meet to converse with princes, and been freed from the contempt of the vulgar. But Infinite Wisdom did otherwise dispose of them and their concerns in this world; for as God was pleased to exercise them with the common afflictions and calamities of this life, which he makes use of to take off the sweetness of present enjoyments, so they lived and died in a condition of poverty, distress, persecution, and reproach. God set them forth as examples unto other ends, — namely, of light, grace, zeal, and holiness in their lives, — so as to manifest of how little concernment unto our own blessedness or an interest in his love is the abundance of all things here below, as also that the want of them all may consist with the highest participation of his love and favor: I Cor. 4:9, 11-13, ‘I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place; and labor, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it; being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.’ And if the consideration hereof be not of weight with others, undoubtedly it ought to be so with them who are called to preach the gospel, and are the successors to the apostles. There can be nothing more uncouth, absurd, and shameful, nothing more opposite unto the intimation of the wisdom and will of God in his dealings with those first and most honorable dispensers of it, than for such persons to seek and follow greedily after secular advantages, in worldly power, riches, wealth, and honor. Hence there hath been in former ages an endeavor to separate such persons as were by any means dedicated unto the ministry of the gospel from all secular dignities and revenues; yea, some maintained that they were to enjoy nothing of their own, but were to live on alms or the free contributions of the people. But this was quickly condemned as heresy in Wycliffe and others. Yet another sort set up that would pretend thereunto as unto themselves, though they would not oblige all others unto the same rule. This produced some swarms of begging friars, whom they of the church, who were in possession of wealth and power, thought meet to laugh at and let alone. Of late years this contest is at an end. The clergy have happily gotten the victory, and esteem all due unto them that they can by any ways obtain; nor is there any greater crime than for a man to be otherwise minded. But these things are not our present concernment. From the beginning it was not so; and it is well if, in such a way, men are able to maintain the frame of mind inquired after, which is life and peace.
3. God continues to cast contempt on these things, by giving always incomparably the greatest portion of them unto the vilest men and his own avowed enemies. This was a temptation under the old covenant, but is highly instructive under the new. None will judge those things to be of real value which a wise man casts out daily unto swine, making little or no use of them in his family. Those monsters of men, Nero and Heliogabalus, had more interest in, and more power over, the things of this world than ever had the best of men; — such villains in nature, so pernicious unto human society, that their not-being was the interest of mankind; but yet more of the world poured on them than they knew either how to enjoy, possess, use, or abuse. Look on all the principal treasures and powers of this world as in the hand of one of these monsters, and there disposed of by divine providence, and you may see at what rate God values them.
At this day, the greatest, most noble, wealthy, and fruitful parts of the earth are given unto the great Turk, with some other eastern potentates, either Mohammedans or Pagans, who are prepared for eternal destruction. And if we look nearer home, we may see in whose hands is the power of the chiefest nations of Europe, and unto what end it is used. The utmost of what some Christian professors among ourselves are intent and designing upon, as that which would render them wondrous happy, in their own apprehensions, put hundreds of them together, and it would not answer the waste made by the forementioned beasts every day.
Doth not God proclaim herein that the things of this world are not to be valued or esteemed? If they were so, and had a real worth in themselves, would the holy and righteous God make such a distribution of them? The most of those whom he loves, who enjoy his favor, and not only have comparatively the meanest share of them, but are exercised with all the evils that the destitution and want of them can be accompanied withal. His open and avowed enemies, in the meantime, have more than they know what to do withal. Who would set his heart and affections on those things which God poureth into the bosoms of the vilest men, to be a snare unto them here and an aggravation of their condemnation forever? It seems you may go and take the world, and take the curse, death and hell, along with it, but ‘what will it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?’ What can any man do on the consideration hereof, who will not forgo all his hopes and expectations from God, but retreat unto the faith of things spiritual and eternal, as containing an excellency in them incomparably above all that he enjoyed here below?
4. He doth continue to give perpetual instances of their uncertainty and unsatisfactoriness, in the utter disappointment of men that have had expectations from them. The ways hereof are so various, and the instances so multiplied, as that most men in the world, — unless they are like the fool in the Gospel, who bade his soul take its ease for many years, because his barns were full, — live in perpetual fears and apprehensions that they shall speedily lose whatever they enjoy, or are under the power of stupid security. But as unto this consideration of them, there is such an account given by the wise man as unto which nothing can be added, or which no reason or experience is able to contradict, Eccl. 2. By these and the like ways doth God cast contempt on all things here below, discovering the folly and falseness of the promises which the world makes use of to allure our affections unto itself. This, therefore, is to be laid as the foundation in all our considerations unto what or whom we shall cleave by our affections, that God hath not only declared the insufficiency of these things to give us that rest and happiness which we seek after, but also poured contempt upon them, in his holy, wise disposal of them in the world.
Secondly, God hath added unto their vanity by shortening the lives of men, reducing their continuance in this world unto so short and uncertain a season as it is impossible they should take any solid satisfaction in what they enjoy here below. So it is expressed by the psalmist, ‘Behold, thou hast made my days as an hand-breadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee.’ Hence he draws two conclusions: — 1. That ‘every man at his best is altogether vanity.’ 2. That ‘every man walketh in a vain show: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them,’ Ps. 39:5-6. The uncertainty and shortness of the lives of men render all their endeavors and contrivances about earthly things both vain and foolish. When men lived eight or nine hundred years, they had opportunity to suck out all the sweetness that was in creature-comforts, to make large provisions of them, and to have long projections about them; but when they had so, they all issued in that violence, oppression, and wickedness, which brought the flood on the world of ungodly men. And it still so abides. The more of and the longer men enjoy these things, the more, without the sovereign preservative of grace, will they abound in sin and provocation of God. But God hath reduced the life of man unto the small pittance of seventy years, casting what may fall out of a longer continuance into travail and sorrow. Besides, that space is shortened with the most, by various and innumerable incidences and occasions. Wherefore, in these seventy years, consider how long it is before men begin to have a taste or gust of the things of this life; how many things fall in cross, to make us weary of them before the end of our days; how few among us (not one of a thousand) attain that age; what is the uncertainty of all men living as to the continuance of their lives unto the next day; and we shall see that the holy, wise God hath left no such season for their enjoyment as might put a value upon them. And when, on the other hand, it is remembered that this man, who is of such short continuance in this world, is yet made for eternity, eternal blessedness or misery, which state depends wholly on his interest on things above, and setting his affections on them, they must forfeit all their reason, as well as bid defiance unto the grace of God, who give them up unto things below.
Thirdly, God hath openly and fully declared the danger that is in these things, as unto their enjoyment and use. And what multitudes of souls miscarry by an inordinate adherence unto them! for they are the matter of those temptations whereby the souls of men are ruined forever; the fuel that supplies the fire of their lusts, until they are consumed by it.
Men under the power of spiritual convictions fall not into sin, fail not eternally, but by the means of temptation; that is the mire wherein this rush doth grow. As for others, who live and die in the madness and wildness of nature, without any restraint in their minds from the power of convictions, they need no external temptations, but only opportunities to exert their lusts. But as for those who, by any means, are convinced of sin, righteousness, and judgment, so as to design the ordering of their lives with respect unto the sense they have of them, they fall not into actual sin by upon temptations. That, whatever it be, which causeth, occasioneth, and prevaileth on, a convinced person unto sin, that is temptation. Wherefore, this is the great means of the ruin of the souls of men.
Now, though there are many principles of temptation, many causes that actually concur unto its efficacy, as sin, Satan, and other men, yet the matter of almost all ruinous temptations is taken out of this world and the things of it. Thence doth Satan take all his darts; thence do evil men derive all the ways and means whereby they corrupt others; and from thence is all the fuel of sin and lust taken. And, which adds unto this evil, all that is in the world contributes its utmost thereunto. ‘All that is in the world’ is ‘the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,’ I John 2:16. It is not a direct, formal annumeration of the things that are in the world, nor a distribution of them under several heads, but it is so of the principal lusts of the minds of men, whereunto all things in the world are subservient. Wherefore, not only the matter of all temptations is taken out of the world, but everything that is in the world is apt and fit to be abused unto that end; for it were easy to show that there is nothing desirable or valuable in this whole world, but it is reducible unto a subserviency unto one or other of these lusts, and is applicable unto the interest and service of temptations and sin.
When men hear of these things, they are apt to say, ‘Let the dream be unto them that are openly wicked, and the interpretation of it unto them that are profligate in sin.’ Unto unclean persons, drunkards, oppressors, proud, ambitious persons, it may be it is so; but as unto them, they use the things of this world with a due moderation, so as they are no snare unto them! But to own they are used unto what end soever, if the affections of men are set upon them, one way or other, there is nothing in the world but is thus a snare and temptation. However, we should be very careful how we adhere unto or undervalue that which is the cause and means of the ruin of multitudes of souls. By the warnings given us hereof doth God design, as unto the use of means, to teach us the vanity and danger of fixing our affections on things below.
Fourthly, Things are so ordered in the holy, wise dispensation of God’s providence, that it requires much spiritual wisdom to distinguish between the use and the abuse of these things, between a lawful care about them and an inordinate cleaving unto them. Few distinguish aright here, and therefore in these things will many find their great mistake at the last day. For the disappointments that they will fall under, as to what concerns their earthly enjoyments, and the use of them wherewith they were entrusted, see Matt. 25:34, to the end of the chapter.
It is granted that there is a lawful use of these things, a lawful care and industry about them; so it is also acknowledged, it cannot be denied, that there is an abuse of them, springing from an inordinate love and cleaving unto them. But here men deceive themselves, taking their measures by the most crooked, uncertain rules. Some make their own inclinations the rule and measure of what is lawful and allowable; some, the example of others; some, the course of the world; some, their own real or pretended necessities. They confess that there is an inordinate love of those things, and an abuse of them, in excesses of various sorts, which the Scripture plainly affirms, and which experience gives open testimony unto; but as unto their state and circumstances, their care, love, and industry are all allowable. That which influenceth all these persons is self-love, which inveterate, corrupt affections and false reasonings do make an application of unto these occasions.
Hence we have men approving of themselves as just stewards of their enjoyments, whilst others judge them hard, covetous, earthly-minded, no way laying out what they are entrusted withal unto the glory of God in any due proportion. Others also think not amiss of themselves in this kind, who live in palpable excesses, either of pride of life, or sensual pleasures, vain apparel, or the like. So, in particular, most men in their feastings and entertainments walk in direct contempt of the rule which our Savior gives in that case, Luke 14:12-14, and yet approve themselves therein.
But what if any of us should be mistaken in our rule and the application of it unto our conditions? Men at sea may have a fair gale of wind, wherewith they may sail freely and smoothly for a season, and yet, instead of being brought into a port, be cast by it at last on destructive shelves or rocks.
And what if that which we esteem allowable love, care, and industry, should prove to be the fruit of earthly affections, inordinate and predominant in us? What if we miss in our measures, and that which we approve of in ourselves should be disapproved of God? We are cast forever; we belong unto the world; and with the world we shall perish.