« PreviousContinue »
be; since no events are so confined to some special subjects, as that they may not be incident to other men.
Merits are a poor plea, for any man's exemption ; while our sinful infirmities lay us all open to the rod of divine justice: and, if these dispensations be merely out of favour, why do I rather grudge at a lesser misery, than bless God for my freedom from a greater judgment? Those, therefore, that suffer more than I have cause of more humbling; and I, that suffer less than they, have cause of more thankfulness. Even mitigations of punishment are new mercies: so as others' torments do no other, than heighten my obligations. Let me not, therefore, repine, to be favourably miserable.
[4.] The Fourth Consideration shall be, of the Inconveniences, which do oftentimes attend a Fulness of Estate : such, and so many, as may well make us sit down content with a little.
(a.) Whereof, let the first be Envy; a mischief, not to be avoided of the great. This shadow follows that body, inseparably. All the curs in the street are ready to fall upon that dog, that goes away with the bone; and every man hath a cudgel to fling at a well-loaded tree : whereas a mean condition is no eye-sore to any beholder. Low shrubs are not wont to be struck with lightning; but tall oaks and cedars feel their flames. While David kept his father's sheep at home, he might sing sweetly to his harp in the fields, without
any disturbance; but, when he once comes to the court, and finds applause and greatness creep upon him, now, emulation, despight, and malice, dog him close at the heels, where soever he goes : let him leave the court, and fee into the wilder• ness; there, these blood-hounds follow him, in hot suit: let him
run into the land of the Philistines; there, they find him out, and chase him to Ziklag: and if, at the last, he hath climbed up to his just throne, and there hopes to breathe him after his tedious pursuit; even there, he meets with more unquietness, than in his desert; and, notwithstanding all his royalty, at last cries out, Lord, remember. David, and all his troubles ; Ps. cxxxii. 1. How many have we known, whom their wealth hath betrayed, and made innocent malefactors! who might have slept securely, upon a hard bolster; and, in a poor estate, out-lived both their judges and accusers! Besides, on even ground, a fall may be harmless; but he, that falls from on high, cannot escape bruising. He, therefore that can think the benefits of eminence can countervail the dangers which haunt greatness, let him affect to overtop others : for me, let me rather be safely low, than high with peril.
(b.) After others' envy, the next attendant upon greatness is our own Cares. How do these disquiet the beds, and sauce the tables, of the wealthy! breaking their sleeps; galling their sides ; embittering their pleasures; shortening their days. How bitterly do we find the holiest men complaining of those distractions, which have attended their earthly promotions ! Nazianzen* cries out of them, as no other, than the bane of the soul: and that other Gregory, whom we are wont to call the last of the best Bishops of Rome and the first of the bad, passionately bewails this clog of his high preferment: “I confess,” saith he, “ that while I am outwardly advanced, I am inwardly fallen lower. This burthensome honour depresses me; and innumerable cares disquiet me, on all sides: my mind, grown almost stupid with those temporal cares which are ever barking in mine ears, is forced upon earthly things*.” Thus he. There are indeed cares, which, as they may be used, may help us on towards heaven: such as Melancthon owns to his Camerarius : “My cares,” saith he,“ send me to my prayers, and my prayers dispel my cares :" but those anxieties, which commonly wait upon greatness, distract the mind, and impair the body. It is an observation of the Jewish Doctors, that Joseph, the Patriarch, was of a shorter life, than the rest of his brethren; and they render this reason of it, for that his cares were as much greater, as his place was higher. It was not an unfit comparison of himf, who resembled a coronet upon the temples, to a pail upon the head : we have seen those, who have carried full and heavy vessels on the top of their heads; but then, they have walked evenly and erect under that load: we never saw any, that could dance under such a weight: if either they bend or move vehemently, all their carriage is spilled. Earthly greatness is a nice thing; and requires so much chariness in the managing, as the contentment of it cannot requite. He is worthy of honey, that desires to lick it off from thorns, For my part, I am of the mind of him, who professed, not to care for those favours, that compelled him to lie waking.
* G, Naz, Carm, de Calam. suis.
(c.) In the next place, I see greatness not more pale and worn with cares, than swollen up and sickly with Excess. Too much oil poured in, puts out the lamp.
Superfluity is guilty of a world of diseases, which the spare diet of poverty is free from. How have we seen great men's eyes sur. feited at that full table, whereof their palate could not taste; and they have risen, discontentedly, glutted with the sight of that, which their stomach was incapable to receive: and when, not give ing so much law to nature, as to put over their gluttonous meal, their wanton appetite charging them with a new variety of curious morsels and lavish cups, they find themselves overtaken with feverous distempers; the physician must succeed the cook, and a second sickness must cure the first.
But, alas, these bodily indispositions are nothing to those spiritual evils, which are incident into secular greatness. It is a true word of St. Ambroses, seconded by common experience, that a high pitch of honour is seldom held up without sin: and St. Jerome tells usll, it was a common proverb in his time, That a rich man either is wicked, or a wicked man's heir : not, but that rich Abraham
* Greg. l. vii. Epist. 12. 7. $ Ambros. I. iv. Epist. 29.
+ In vità Melanct. I Shichardus. Il Hieron. Ep. ad Hedibium.
may have a bosom for poor Lazarus to rest in; and many great kings have been great saints in heaven, and there is still room for many more: but that, commonly, great temptations follow great estates, and oftentimes overtake them: neither is it for nothing, that riches are, by our Blessed Saviour, styled, The mammon of iniquity; and wealth is, by the holy Apostle, branded with deceitfulness, 1 Tim. vi. 9: such as cheat many millions of their souls.
(d.) Add unto these, if you please, the torment of Parting with that pelf and honour, which hath so grossly bewitched us : such as may well verify that, which Lucius long since wrote* to the Bishops of France and Spain, That one hour's mischief makes us forget the pleasure of the greatest excess. I marvel not at our English Jew, of whom our story sheaks, that would rather part with his teeth, than his bags : how many have we known, that have poured out their life together with their gold; as men, that would not out-live their earthen god! Yea, woe is me! how many
souls have been lost, in the sin of getting, and in the quarrel of losing this thick clay, as the Prophet terms it!
(e.) But, lastly, that, which is yet the sorest of all the inconveniences, is the sadness of the Reckoning, which must come in, after these plentiful entertainments : for there is none of all our cares here, but must be billed up: and great accompts must have long andits. How hard a thing it is, in this case, to have an Oinnia equè ! in the failing whereof, how is the conscience affected! I know not whether more tormented, or tormenting the miserable soul: so as the great owner is but, as witty Bromiard compares him, like a weary jade; which, all the day long, hath been labouring under the load of a great treasure, and, at night, lies down with a galled back.
By that time, therefore, we have summed up all, and find here Envy, Cares, Sicknesses both of body and soul, Torment in Parting with, and more Torment in Reckoning for these earthly greatnesses; we shall be convinced of sufficient reason, to be well apaid with their want.
[5.] Let the Fifth Consideration be, the Benefit of Poverty: such, and so great, as are enough to make us in love with having nothing.
(a.) For, first, what an advantage is it, to be free from those gnawing cares, which, like Tityus's vulture, feed upon the heart of the great! Here is a man, that sleeps, Ethiopian-like, with his doors open : no dangers threaten him: no fears break his rest: he starts not out of his bed, at midnight, and cries, “ Thieves !” he feels no rack of ambitious thoughts: he frets not, at the disappointment of his false hopes: he cracks not his brain, with hazardous plots: he misdoubts no undermining of emulous rivals; no traps of hollow friendship; but lives securely in his homely cottage, quietly enjoying such provision, as nature and honest industry furnish him withal: for his drink, the neighbour-spring saves him the charge of his excise; and, when his better earnings have fraught * Ep. Lucii ad Episc. Gall. «i Hisp.
his trencher with a warm and pleasing morsel, and his cup with a stronger liquor, how cheerfully is he affected with that happy variety, and, in the strength of it, digests many of his thinner meals! meals, usually sauced with a healthful hunger; wherein no incocted crudities oppress nature, and cherish disease. Here are no gouts, no dropsies, no hypochondriac passions, no convulsive fits, no distempers of surfeits : but a clear and wholesome vigour of body; and an easy putting over the light tasks of digestion, to the constant advantage of health.
(b.) And, as for outward dangers, what a happy immunity doth commonly bless the poor man? How can he fear to fall, that lies fiat upon the ground'? The great Pope, Boniface the Seventh, when he saw many stately buildings ruined with earthquakes, is glad to raise him a little cabin of boards, in the midst of a meadow; and there finds it safest to shelter his triple crown. When great men hoist their top-sail, and launch forth into the deep, having that large clue, which they spread, exposed to all winds and weathers; the poor man sails close by the shore: and, when he foresees a storm to threaten him, puts into the next creek; and wears out, in a quiet security, that tempest, wherein he sees prouder vessels miserably tost, and, at last, fatally wrecked. This man is free from the peril of spiteful machinations: no man whets his axe to cut down a shrub; it is the large timber of the world, that hath cause to fear hewing. Neither is be less free inwardly, from the galling strokes of a self-accusing conscience: here is no remurmuring of the heart, for guilty subornations; no checks, for the secret contrivances of public villainies ; no heart-breaking for the failings of bloody designs, or late remorse for their success ; but quiet and harmless thoughts, of seasonable frugality, of honest recreation, with an uninterrupted freedom of recourse to heaven.
(c.) And if, at any time, by either hostile or casual means, he be bereft of his little, he smiles in the face of a thief; and is no whit astonished, to see his thatch on a flame, as knowing how easy a supply will repair his loss. And, when he shall come to his last close, his heart is not so glued to the world, that he should be loth to part: his soul is not tied up in bags; but flies out freely, to her everlasting rest. Oh, the secret virtue and happiness of poverty; which none but the right disposed mind knows how to value! It was not for nothing, that so many great Saints have embraced it, rather than the rich proffers of the world; that so many great Princes have exchanged their thrones for quiet cells. Whoso cannot be thankful for a little, upon these conditions, I wish he may be punished with abundance.
[6.] Neither will it a little avail to the furtherance of our Contentation, to consider How Little will Suffice Nature ; and that all the rest is but matter of opinion.
It is the Apostle's charge, Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content; 1 Tim. vi. 8. Indeed, what use is there, of more, than wbat may nourish us within, and cover us without ?' If that be wholesome and agreeable to our bodily disposition, whę.
ther it be fine or coarse, nature passes not : it is merely Will, that is guilty of this wanton and fastidious choice.
It is fit, that civility should make difference of clothings; and that weakness of body, or eminence of estate, should make differences of diets : else, why not russet, as well as scarlet ? beef, as pheasant ? The grasshopper feeds on dew, the chameleon on air : what care they for other viands ?
Our books* tell us, that those anchorites of old, that went aside into wildernesses, and sustained themselves with the most spare diet, such as those deserts could afford, outlived the date of other men's lives; in whom nature is commonly stifled, with a gluttonous variety. How strong and vigorous, above their neighbour-Grecians, were the Lacedemonians held, of old; who, by the ordinance of their lawgiver, held themselves to their black broth : which when Dionysius would needs taste of, his cook truly told him, that if he would relish that fare, he must exercise strongly, as they did, and wash in Urotas! Who knows not, that our island doth not afford more able bodies, than they, that eat and drink oats? And whom have we seen more healthful and active, than the children of poor men, trained up hardly in their cottages; with fare as little, as coarse?
Do I see a poor Indian, husbanding one tree to all his household uses; finding, in that one plant, timber, thatch, meat, medicine, wine, honey, oil, sauce, drink, utensils, ships, cables, sails? and do I rove over all the latitude of nature, for contentment ? Our appetite is truly unreasonable; neither will know any bounds. We begin with necessaries, as Plinyt justly observes; and, from thence, we rise to excess; punishing ourselves, with our own wild desires : whereas, if we were wise, we might find mediocrity an ease.
Either extreme is alike deadly. He, that over-afflicts his body, kills a subject; he, that pampers it, nourishes an enemy I. Too much abstinence turns vice: and too much ingurgitation is one of the seven; and, at once, destroys both nature and grace. The best measure of having or desiring, is, not what we would, but what we ought $: neither is he rich, that hath much ; but he, that desireth not much. A discreet frugality is fittest, to moderate both our wishes and expences : which if we want, we prove dangerously prodigal in both; if we have, we do happily improve our stock, to the advantage of ourselves and others.
[7.] The next inducement to Contentation, shall be the serious consideration of the miserable Inconveniences of the Contrary Disposition.
Discontentment is a mixture of anger and of grief; both which are
* Paulo, primo Eremitæ , in spelunca viventi, palma et cibum et vestimentum præbebat: quod cum impossibile videatur, Jesum testor et Angelos, vidisse me Monachos, de quibus unus, per 30 annos clausias, hordeaceo pane et lutulenta aquâ viril. Hieron. de Vita Pauli. Revelatur Antonio nonagenario, de Paulo agente jam 113 annum, esse alium se suncliorem Monachum. Ibid. † Plin. l. xxvi. c. 6. Hugo Instit. Monac. Reg. S. Columb. § Senec. Epist. 88.