Self-Love is the Cause of our Divisions

by Jeremiah Burroughs

This is near akin to the former: Philip. 2:3. Let nothing be done through strife: Ver. 4. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others: This is the cause of strife, because men look so much on their own things. Many will have no peace, except their own party be followed; Iehu-like, What hast thou to do with peace? follow me. It is not Peace, but Party that they mind . Maxima pars studiorum est studium partium: The greatest part of their studies, is to study sides and parts. Luther upon the 127. Psal. hath a notable speech, I am of that opinion, says he,* that Monarchies would continue longer then they do , were it not for that same little Pronoun [EGO] that same [I] (my self .) Yea certainly could this same Self be but laid aside, all governments and societies would not only continue longer, but flourish better.

Self-love is the cause of our divisions.

First, where this prevails, men love to take in all to themselves, but let out nothing from themselves; this must needs divide societies in Church and State, for they are Bodies; if one member in the body takes in all to it self , and lets out nothing from it self to other members; as suppose the arm or leg takes in all the blood and spirits that comes in to strengthen it self , and when it hath got them in, there keeps them, and lets out none to any other member, how soon would the members drop one from another? The whole world is maintained by mutual communication of one creature to another; take away that, and the world dissolves presently.

Secondly, those who are acted by self-love, have no common ends to join them, therefore they cannot close; if they be employed in public service, they quickly warp to their private ends. Take two boards never so straight, yet if one be seasoned and the other green, they will lye close a while, but ere long you will find that the unseasoned will divide from the other by warping, especially when heat comes to it. Thus many at the first, Oh who but they for the public, for the common good; but there being a principle of Self within, like the sap in the board, when they began to feel heat, some difficulties rising, they warped to their own ends, and divided from those they were employed with. Mens private ends are narrow, they cannot drive on them but they will meet with one another, & jostle one another, quarrel, contend, and fight for the way, as Car-men do when they meet in narrow streets, and Boat-men in narrow passages. If we had public ends, our way would be broad enough,* we might go on peaceably and comfortably, without prejudice to one another. If a man lived alone, then he might go on quietly in his way, only God would meet him in it; but seeing men live in the world amongst others, they must consider, that if they will drive on their own designs, and work their own ends, other men have designs and ends to drive on and work as well as they: it is therefore impossible but you will cross and be crossed, you will vex and fret at others, and others will vex and fret at you. Whatsoever is such, says, Tullie, wherein many cannot excel, in that there is for the most part such contention, as society can hardly be kept entire.

Thirdly, Self makes every man judge of things according to what is in himself. I have read of Blackmores, when they paint an Angel, they paint him black like themselves; and when they paint the Devil, they paint him white, as much different from themselves as they can: Thus men acted by Self, the soulest, blackest opinion, yet if suitable to their judgements, they will set out like Angels, with the fairest glosses that may be; and that which is truth, if disagreeing from them, they will paint it out in the soulest manner that can be; they labour so to besmear it, that if it be possible it shall look like a Devil. If a selfish man be conscious of not having that which is commendable, he will not believe that others hath it: As Nero, being abominably filthy, would not believe there was any chaste man in the world: Whatsoever evil he doth, he thinks all men if they had the like opportunity, would do the same; if they have plots to fetch about their own ends, they think every man is plotting too.

Fourthly, Self makes much stir and trouble, for it is a very odious thing; Omne affectatum odiosum: as Vermine are odious, because they only take in to themselves, consume things, and are no way useful to any thing else. When any thing doth but smell of Self, it begins to be loathed; let a man have never such excellent parts, do never such excellent things, yet if Self appears, the loveliness and glory of all is gone; therefore those men that act self , they had need be very cunning, to keep in and hide it; herein appears what a vile thing Self is, that though in truth it acts all, and receives the incomes of all, yet it dares not appears, but lies skulking under all the covers it can; how vile is this self , for which all must bee done, which thou makest thy God, yet cannot in the least appear, but is odious and abominable to every one? yea it is conscious to it self that it is so, and therefore dares not appear; yet the acting of it is very mischievous to all humane Societies.

Fifthly, There is this wickedness in self-love, that even those things that men acknowledge to be right and good in the general, yet if in the particular they shall not sute with something they would have, it will put men upon the opposing it; and what peace and union can there bee amongst men, if what they will grant and commend to be good, yet when it falls cross to them, they will oppose and contend against? Thus Act. 26:7. Unto which promise our twelve tribes instantly serving God night and day hope to come, for which hopes sake I am accused of the Jews The twelve Tribes, the whole body of the Jews constantly grant the promise of the Resurrection, and yet in malice to me they accuse me of this; or if not so, yet they are willing that I should sink in this cause: Just as many Ministers were wont in their Pulpits to commend highly the ways of Religion, to exhort men to grow up in godliness, to be careful of all their ways; but when some of their parishioners did but practice in the particular, what themselves had commended to them in the general, they would hate them, and persecute them for it. God deliver us from such a spirit.

Sixthly, Self, causes men who are in public employment, to keep up their private jars and grudges, to interrupt the public, they will cross one another in their work for the public; let that suffer, so they may let one another feel of their private grudges: In this Christians are beneath Heathens. I have read of Aristides and Themistocles, who had many jarrings between themselves, but being both employed in the work of the Common-wealth, in an Embassage, as they went over the Mountains, one says thus to the other, Let us lay down all our private grudges upon these mountains, at least till our business be over, and if there shall be just cause when we have done our work for the Common-wealth, we may then examine them: It were happy with us, if all men in public employment in this Land would from their hearts speak thus to one another; but men are selfish and cannot do it: Hence comes so many of our breaches and divisions.

Seventhly, Self causes men not to see their own evils, or if they do, to indulge themselves in them, but to be quick-sighted and severe in the discovering and opposing those evils there are in others, and this causes many breaches and fallings out. We may apply that of the Apostle, 1 Cor. 13. Love covereth a multitude of faults to self-love. Selfish men see little evil in themselves, all is ever well with them whatsoever others do, and the more they cocker themselves, the more severe they are to others; but Christ would have the quite contrary, severity to ourselves, but indulgence to others; those that are so, are the most peaceable men. Mat. 18:8. If thy hand or foot offend thee cut them off, and cast them from thee; or if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out. We must deal severely with ourselves in those things that are as near and dear to us as our hands and eyes; but ver. 15. When Christ gives order how we are to deal with our Brethren, he then requires more moderation; if thy Brother offends thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, and see what thou canst do with him that way; yea, and after that tell the Church, not presently cut him off, or cast him away, as you must do when your hand or eye offends you; If men have any indulgence, let it be exercised towards their Brethren; if they have any severity, let them exercise that against themselves. I remember I have read of Pliny, that he says of himself, That he so passed by other mens offences, as if himself were the greatest offender, and he was so severe against himself, as if he meant to pardon none. If it were so with us, we should live at more peace one with another then we do .

8. Selfishness causes reservedness; great self-lovers never care for communion but with such as are either far above them, that so they may get from them, and have credit by conversing with them, or with those that are under them, for they will admire them, they may rule amongst them: In the company of either of these, they will let out themselves fully; but if there be an equality, then you shall have little from them, there is nothing to draw forth Self, there soon grows a strangeness between them and such, union will not hold where communion is not free; if there be but an interruption of the freedom of communion, the union will soon break.

You will say, These were wont to be very entire friends, how came they to break? what hath either of them done? what unkindness hath besalne them?

None at all, only that principle of Self was not so fully fed as it would be; upon that they began to be reserved, and so strange, and at last quite fell off from one another, from former love and friendship, and then every little thing caused grudgings between them.

Ninthly, Self sets mens wits on work in all cunning craftiness, to fetch others about to their own ends, and this goes as much against a mans spirit as any thing: When he comes to discern it, no man can abide to be circumvented, to be as it were rid upon, to be made serviceable only to another mans ends: the more cunning there is in it, the more odious and abominable it is to a mans spirit, when it comes once to be perceived, a man cannot bear it. Crooked windings are the goings of the Serpent: But if a man shall not only seek to make use of another to serve his own turn by him, but after he hath done that, then to cast him off to shift for himself; this is so provoking a thing, as it makes breaches irreconcilable.

10. When one is for Self in his ways, he teaches another to be so in his; As a man by conversing with the froward, learns to be froward: So many who have heretofore had plain hearts, full of love and sweetness, yet by being acquainted much with selfish politique men, learn to be so too; I see how he hooks in himself in every thing, fetches about this way and that way, but still gets it to come to self ; I perceived it not at my first acquaintance with him, and then my heart was let out to him fully, but now I see every man is for himself, and why should not I be so too? and what then is like to become of the Public?

Surely this selfishness is very vile in the eyes of God; God hath made us members of a community, the Universe is maintained by union, therefore the creatures will venture the destroying themselves in going contrary to their natures, rather then there should not be union in the world; that which they do in a natural way, we should do by the strength of reason, much more by grace. Philosophers say there cannot be a vacuity in the world; The world could not stand, but would be dissolved, if every part were not filled, because Nature subsists by being one; if there were the least vacuity, then all things should not be joined in one, there would not be a contiguity of one part with another. This is the reason that water will ascend when the air is drawn out of a pipe, to fill it; this is to prevent division in nature; O that we had but so much naturalness in us, that when we see there is like to be any breach of union, we would be willing to lay down our self-ends, to venture ourselves, to bee any thing in the world that is not sin, that wee may help to a joining: O foolish heart, that in such a time as this art selfish, when the danger is public! As in a storm, when the Ship is in danger, if every Mariner should be busy about his own Cabin, dressing and painting that; what infinite sottish folly were it? and is it not our case? It were just with God to leave thee to thy self hereafter; if thou wilt look so much to thy self now. Ezek. 22:16. And thou shalt take thine inheritance in thy self in the sight of the Heathen, and thou shalt know that I am the Lord: This is in a way of threat, as appears if you compare it with ver. 14, 15. Woe to us if God leaves us to ourselves. I have heard of a story of a fool being left in a chamber, and the door locked when he was asleep, after he awakes and finds door locked, and all the people gone, he cries out at the window, Oh my self , my self , O my self , nothing else came from him but O my self . Such fools have we amongst us now, nothing but Self is in their thoughts, their hearts and endeavours. The Apostles complaint, Phil. 2:21. may justly be ours, All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christs: Their own things, that is, says Chrysostome,* their pleasure and their security, their temporal commodities, their profits, their honours: So others, why are not the comforts, the safeties, the honours of the Saints the things of Christ, doth not Christ own them? Are they not under his protection and care?

Answ. Yes, And he would own them more, if we owned them less; the more we deny them, the more hath he a care of them: We may by our giving them up to the honour of Christ, make them to be amongst the number of his things, and then they would be precious indeed: but by desiring them, using them, rejoicing in them, in reference to ourselves, Christ accounts them not amongst his things, things of a higher nature are his things, the glory of his Father, the propagation of the Gospel, the spiritual good of his people, and the things of eternal life, they are his things; let us make his things ours, and he will make our things his.


From Irenicum: To the Lovers of Truth and Peace by Jeremiah Burroughs

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