by John Howe
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IN TWO TREATISES, ON PSALM 17:15, AND PSALM 89:47
I AM not at all solicitous that the world should know the history of the conception of this treatise. If there be anything that shall recompense the pains of such as may think fit to give themselves the trouble of perusing it, in the work itself, I should yet think it too much an undervaluing of them, if I did reckon the minuter circumstances relating thereto fit matter for their entertainment. Nor am I more concerned to have it known what were the inducements to the publication of it. Earnest protestations and remonstrations of our good intentions in such undertakings, as they leave men still at liberty to believe or doubt at their pleasure, so they gain us little if they be believed. It is no easy matter to carry one even, constant tenor of spirit through a work of time. Nor is it more easy to pass a settled, invariable judgment concerning so variable a subject; when a heart that may seem wholly framed and set for God this hour, shall look so quite like another thing the next, and change figures and postures almost as often as it doth thoughts. And if a man should be mistaken in judging himself, it would little mend the matter, to have deceived others also into a good opinion of him. But if he can approve himself to God in the simplicity of an honest and undeceived heart, the peace that ensues is a secret between God and him. "They are theatre enough to one another," as he (Seneca) said to his friend. It is an inclosed pleasure; a joy which the stranger cannot intermeddle with.
It is therefore any man's concernment herein rather to satisfy himself than the world: and the world's rather to understand the design of the work, than the author; and whither it tends, rather than whereto he meant it. And it is obvious enough to what good purposes discourses of this nature may serve. This is, in the design of it, wholly practical; hath little or nothing to do with disputation. If there be any whose business it is to promote a private, divided interest, or who place the sum of their religion in an inconsiderable and doubtful opinion; it doth not unhallow their altars, nor offer any affront to their idol. It intends no quarrel to any contending, angry party; but deals upon things in the substance whereof Christians are at a professed agreement; and hath therefore the greater probability of doing good to some, without the offence of any. It is indeed equally matter of complaint and wonder, that men can find so much leisure to divert from such things, wherein there is so much both of importance and pleasure, unto (what one would think should have little of temptation or allurement in it) contentious jangling. It might rather be thought its visible fruits and tendencies should render it the most dreadful thing to every serious beholder. What tragedies hath it wrought in the Christian church! Into how weak and languishing a condition hath it brought the religion of professed Christians! Hence have risen the intemperate, preternatural heats and angers that have spent its strength and spirits, and make it look with so meagre and pale a face. We have had a greater mind to dispute than live; and to contend about what we know not, than to practise the far greater things we know, and which more directly tend to nourish and maintain the divine life. The author of that ingenious sentence, Pruritus disputandi scabies Ecclesiæ, (whoever he were) hath fitly expressed what is the noisome product of the itch of disputing. It hath begot the ulcerous tumours, which, besides their own offensive soreness, drain the body, and turn what should nourish that, into nutriment to themselves. And its effects are not more grievous than the pleasures which it affects and pursues are uncouth and unnatural. Ut ulcera quædam nocituras manus appetunt et tacta gaudent, et fœdam corporum scabiem delectat quicquid exasperat: Non aliter dixerim his mentibus in quas voluptates velut mala ulcera eruperunt, voluptati esse laborem, vexationemque.—Sen. de Tranquillitate Animi. The rough touch of an ungentle hand. That only pleases which exasperates, (as the moralist aptly expresses some like disaffection of diseased minds.) Toil and vexation is their only delight. What to a sound spirit would be a pain, is to these a pleasure. Which is, indeed, the triumph of the disease, that it adds unto torment, reproach and mockery, and imposes upon men by so ridiculous a delusion (while they are made to take pleasure in punishing themselves), that even the most sober can scarce look on in a fitter posture than with a compassionate smile. All which were yet somewhat more tolerable, if that imagined, vanishing pleasure were not the whole of their gain; or if it were to be hoped, that so great a present real pain and smart should be recompensed with as real a consequent fruit and advantage. But we know that generally by how much anything is more disputable, the less it is necessary or conducible to the Christian life. God hath graciously provided that what we are to live by should not cost us so dear. And possibly, as there is less occasion of disputing about the more momentous things of religion; so there may be somewhat more of modesty and awe in reference to what is so confessedly venerable and sacred, (though too many are over bold even here also) than so foolishly to trifle with such things. Therefore more commonly, where that humour prevails, men divert from those plainer things, with some slighter and superficial reverence to them, but more heartily esteeming them insipid and jejune, because they have less in them to gratify that appetite, and betake themselves to such things about which they may more plausibly contend; and then, what pitiful trifles oftentimes take up their time and thoughts; questions and problems of like weighty importance, very often, with those which the above-named author (Sen. de Brev. Vit.) tells us, this disease among the Greeks prompted them to trouble themselves about, as, "What number of rowers Ulysses had? Which was written first, the Iliad or the Odysses? &c., so that (as he saith) they spent their lives very operously doing nothing; their conceits being such, that if they kept them to themselves, they could yield them no fruit; and if they published them to others, they should not seem thereby the more learned, but the more troublesome;" to this purpose he truly speaks. And is it not to be resented, that men should sell away the solid strength and vital joy which a serious soul would find in substantial religion, for such toys? Yea, and not only famish themselves, but trouble the world, and embroil the church with their impertinencies! If a man be drawn forth to defend an important truth against an injurious assault, it were treacherous self-love to purchase his own peace by declining it. Or if he did sometimes turn his thoughts to some of our petty questions, that with many are so hotly agitated, for recreation-sake, or to try his wit and exercise his reason, without stirring his passions to the disturbance of others or himself; it were an innocent divertisement, and the best purpose that things of that nature are capable of serving. But when contention becomes a man's element, and he cannot live out of that fire, strains his wit, and racks his invention, to find matter of quarrel; is resolved nothing said or done by others shall please him, only because he means to please himself in dissenting; disputes only that he may dispute, and loves dissension for itself; this is the unnatural humour that hath so unspeakably troubled the church, and dispirited religion, and filled men's souls with wind and vanity; yea, with fire and fury. This hath made Christians gladiators, and the Christian world a clamorous theatre, while men have equally affected to contend, and to make ostentation of their ability so to do.
And, surely, as it is highly pleasurable to retire oneself, so it is charitable to call aside others out of this noise and throng, to consider silently and feed upon the known and agreed things of our religion, which immediately lead to both the duties and delights of it. Among which there are none more evident and undoubted, none less entangled with controversy, none more profitable and pleasant, than the future blessedness of the righteous, which this discourse treats of. The last end is a matter so little disputable, that it is commonly thought (which is elsewhere more distinctly spoken to) not to be the object of election, and so not of deliberation consequently, but of simple intention only, because men are supposed to be generally agreed as touching that. And the knowledge and intention of it is apparently the very soul of religion; animates, directs, enlivens, and sweetens the whole thereof. Without which, religion were the vainest, most irrational, and most unsavoury thing in the world. For what were there left of it, but an empty, unaccountable formality, a series of spiritless and merely scenical observances and actions without a design? For whereas all men's actions else mediately tend to the last end, but that not being in view with the most, they pitch upon other intervenient ends, which, though abstracted from the last, should not be; yet they are actually to them the reason of their actions, and infuse a vigour and liveliness into them; religion aiming immediately at the last end, that being taken away, hath no rational end or design at all. And it cannot but be a heartless business, with great solemnity, in a continued course, to do nothing but professedly trifle, or keep up a custom of certain solemn performances which have no imaginable scope or end. And because the more clearly this our last end is understood, the more powerfully and sweetly it attracts and moves the soul, this treatise endeavours to give as plain and positive a state and notion of it as the text insisted on, compared with other scriptures, would afford to so weak an eye.
And because men are so apt to abuse themselves with the vain and self-contradicting hopes of attaining this end, without ever having their spirits framed to it, or walking in the way that leads thereto, as if they could come to heaven by chance, or without any design or care of theirs; the proportion is endeavoured to be shown between that divine likeness, in the vision and participation whereof this blessedness consists, and the righteousness that disposes and leads to it. Which may it be monitory to the ungodly and profane, who hate and scorn the likeness of God wherever they behold it! And let me tell such from (better instructed) pagans, Nihil est Deo similius aut gratius quam vir animo perfectè bonus, &c. "That there is nothing more like or more acceptable to God, than a man that is in the temper of his soul truly good, who excels other men, as he is himself excelled (pardon this hyperbole) by the immortal God." Apul. de Deo Socratis. Inter bonos viros ac Deum amicitia est, conciliante virtute; amicitiam dico? etiam necessitudo, et similitudo, &c. "That between God and good men there is a friendship, by means of virtue; a friendship, yea, a kindred, a likeness; inasmuch truly as the good man differs from God but in time (here sprinkle a grain or two) being his disciple, imitator, and very offspring." (Sen. de Pro.) Νεμεσᾷ γὰρ ὁ θεὸς ὅταν τις ψέγῃ τὸν ἑαυτῷ ὅμοιον, ἢ ἐπαινῇ τὸν ἑαυτῷ ἐναντίως ἔχοντα, ἔστι δʼ οὗτος ὁ ἀγαθός·—πάντων ἱερώτατόν ἐστιν ἄνθρωπος ἀγαθὸς, χαὶ μιαρώτατον ὁ πονηρὸς: "that God is full of indignation against such as reproach one that is like to him, or that praise one that is contrarily affected (or unlike); but such is the good man (i. e. he is one like God). A good man (as it shortly after follows) is the holiest thing in the world, and a wicked man the most polluted thing."—Plat. in Minoe.
And let me warn such haters of holiness and holy men in the words of this author immediately subjoined; Τούτου δʼ ἕνεκα φράσω, ἴνα μὴ ἄνθρωπος ὢν ἀνθρώπου, εἰς ἥρω Διὸς υἱὸν λόγῳ ἐξαμαρτάνῃς: "and this I say for this cause, that thou being but a man, the son of a man, no more offend in speaking against a hero, one who is a son of God."
Methinks men should be ashamed to profess the belief of a life to come, while they cannot behold without indignation, nor mention but with derision, that holiness without which it can never be attained, and which is indeed the seed and principle of the thing itself. But such are not likely much to trouble themselves with this discourse. There is little in it indeed of art and ornament to invite or gratify such as the subject itself invites not; and nothing at all but what was apprehended might be some way useful. The affectation of garnishing a margin with the names of authors, I have ever thought a vain pedantry; yet have not declined the occasional use of a few that occurred. He that writes to the world, must reckon himself debtor to the wise and unwise. If what is done shall be found with any to have promoted its proper end, his praises to God shall follow it (as his prayers do that it may) who professes himself
A well-willer to the souls of men,
TABLE OF CONTENTS
To the Reader by John Howe
Christian Reader by Richard Baxter
Chapter I: Introduction to the Text
Chapter II: A summary proposal of the doctrine contained in this scripture.
Chapter III: The nature of this blessedness propounded unto consideration
Chapter IV: The second ingredient into this blessedness considered.
Chapter V: The relative consideration of these three ingredients of the saint's blessedness
Chapter VI: What the vision of God's face contributes to the soul's satisfaction
Chapter VII: Wherein assimilation (the likeness or glory of God impressed) contributes unto satisfaction:
Chapter VIII: The satisfaction carried in the glory of God impressed,
Chapter IX: The pleasure arising from knowing, or considering ourselves to be like God:
Chapter X: The season of this satisfaction, which is twofold; at death, and at the resurrection.
Chapter XI: An introduction to the use of the doctrine hitherto proposed.
Chapter XII: Third inference.—That a change of heart is necessary to this blessedness.
Chapter XIII: Fourth Inference. That the soul in which such a change is wrought, restlessly pursues this blessedness till it be attained.
Chapter XIV: Seventh inference. That since this blessedness is limited to a qualified subject
Chapter XV: Two other inferences, from the consideration of the season of this blessedness:
Chapter XVI: The second general head of the improvement or use of the doctrine propounded from the text,
Chapter XVII: Rule 3
Chapter XVIII: Rule 4
Chapetr XIX: Rule 5.
Chapter XX: Rule 8. That we love not too much this present life.
The Vanity of Man as Mortal, Dedicated to John Upton
A Treatise on the Vanity of Man as Mortal