A posing question, put by the wise man, viz. Solomon, to the wisest men concerning making a judgment of the temporal conditions : wherein you have the ignorance of man (in knowing, what is good, or evil, for man in this life) discovered, together, with the mistakes that flow from it : and the great question resolved, viz. whether the knowledg of, what is good for a man in this life, be so hid from man, that no man can attain it
Baxter, Benjamin, Preacher of the Gospel., Baxter, Richard, 1615-1691.


I Now come to give you the Particular Reasons, why no man knoweth what is good for a man in this life.

So the Ground of it is this.

Reason. Mans inability to know what is good for a man in this life. So consider; Man is utterly un∣able to make a judgement of Conditions, and in∣fallibly to say, what is good or evil for a man in this life.

The ignorance of man is great in this particu∣lar, and I shall shew you it to be such, that it is not possible for a man, as man, to give a judge∣ment of what is good for a man in this life. And that in these Particulars.

I. A man knoweth not what the spirits and dis∣positions of men are, and therefore he cannot know what is a fit and convenient good for them in this life. We know not, what will fit a mans spirit and disposition, unless we know his spirit and dis∣position. Page  24 He knoweth not the foot, and therefore knoweth not what shooe will fit him. No man (saith the Apostle) knows the things of a man, and so he knowes not the spirits and dispositions of men. Nay let me tell you more, Man knoweth not his own spirit and disposition, and how a condition will suit with it. Christ told his Disciples, Luk. 9. 55. They knew not of what spirit they were. And then, man knoweth not, what is a fit and convenient good for himself. It is with men in this case, as with some that drink Wine, who find it pleasant, but know not the strength of it, nor the strength of their own heads to bear it, and so come to be distemper'd by it before they are aware. Every man thinks prosperity good for him, when as all men can no more bear a prosperous condition, then all heads can bear Wine or strong Drink. Man knowes not how a condition will suit with his disposition, till they meet. We have a Famous Instance in Hazael, 2 King. 8. 13. when he heard what was prophesied of him, he thought the doing of such things did better suit with the nature of a Dog then of a Man; and therefore an∣swers, Is thy Servant a Dog, that he should do so? But what is the Prophets reply? The Lord hath shewed me, that thou shalt be King over Syria, q. d. The change of thy condition will presently disco∣ver that disposition to be in thee, that now thou wilt not believe is in thee.

All men know not what Lyons and Wolves lie sleeping in their bosoms, till they are awakened. Like the Snake in the Snow, that doth not stir and hisse, till it feel the warmth of the fire of prosperity.

Every man is apt to think his head can bear the Page  25 Wine of Prosperity till he drink of it. As the Sons of Zebedee answered Christ, when he asked them, Can ye Drink of the Cup that I must Drink of, and be Baptised with the Baptism I must be Baptised with, and they answered, We are able. So ask a man, whether he be fit and able to bear a prosperous con∣dition? whether he be fit for Honour and Riches? why, he is ready to answer, that he is able; when alas, he knoweth not his own spirit and disposition. And therefore, through a suspition of this, Agur prayed, Prov. 30. 8. That God would give him neither Poverty nor Riches; And why he prayed against riches, he gives the reason, lest I be full and for∣get Thee. Why, he did not know under what Temp∣tations Riches might bring him: They might be such strong drink that his head would not bear. And in this he shew'd he was Ignorant of his own spirit it and disposition; he was afraid that Riches would not suit with it.

II. Man is ignorant of this, how Men will manage their conditions, and thereupon is unable to give, and make a Judgement of them. Man knoweth not, how a man will use, and improve his condition. Things prove good or evil to men according to their management of them. There is an Art of managing conditions, which most men are ignorant of; a condition that might be for a mans good, through the ill-managing of it, becomes evil. It is the saying of one, that, Every thing hath two handles. And so it is in respect of Conditions, they have two handles. And here is the thing, to take Prosperity and Adversity, to take every condition by the right handle. Now in this the Ignorance of man is seen. In his taking of things by the wrong handle; and Page  26 so taking of conditions by wrong handles, they be∣come evil; whereas if they would take them by the right handle, that condition might be for good to them that otherwise is not. So man knoweth not by what handle men will tak hold of Conditions.

Solomon hath an expression, Eccles. 8. 6. To every purpose there is time and judgment; therefore the mi∣sery of man is great on him. The meaning is this, That, God having put handles to things, and men not laying hold on the right handle, his not know∣ing how to do things, and when to do things, makes the miseries of man great upon him. So it is in respect of conditions; seeming mercies become mi∣series, because men know not how to use them; and seeming miseries would become mercies, if men did but know how to use them.

It is in this case with us as with children, who, if you give them a knife, know not to make any other use of it then to cut and wound themselves; and so, most men know not how to make any other use of their conditions, then to hurt themselves.

And hence it is that no man knowes what is good for man in this life, what condition is good for him, whether a prosperous or an adverse condition, be∣cause he knowes not how he will manage his con∣dition.

The wrong Use man makes of Conditions, makes it impossible to man to give a judgment of condi∣tions. And through this ignorance it comes to passe, that things prove to be evil for a man, that might have been for good. Upon this account many a mans Table becomes his Snare, and what might have been for his Welfare becomes his Trap. Thus by his abusing things, he makes BlessingsPage  27 become Curses; and so those things become Evil that might have been for Good.

  • Thus it is in respect of
    • Prosperity.
    • Adversity.

1. For Prosperity; How do many abuse it to the feeding of their lusts, whereby that becomes evil to them that might have been for good? and so by their ill managing of a condition, make that condition to become evil to them that might have bin for good. Why thus they draw evil out of good; as when a Spider draws Poyson out of a Flower, it is not from the Flower but the Nature of the Spider; that, turns it into Poyson.

2. For Adversity; Why there are many that do want the Art of making good out of evil; and so that becomes evill to them, that through their wise managing of it might have been for good. Men have learned the Art of making Wind and Water serviceable to them. We have a Saying of making a vertue of Necessity, and so there is an Art to make good out of evil: but man knowes it not.

That man will never be a good Bowler that know∣eth not how to set the Byasse of his Bowle. Con∣ditions have their Byasses: and here is the Art and Skill, to set the Byasse of a Condition right.

III. Man knoweth not to what Dangers, Evils, and Temptations, mens conditions may Expose them; and therefore they are not able to give a judgment of conditions, and to say what is good for a man in this life. We may look upon those things as good for a man which may expose him to such temptations and dangers that may be for his hurt and ruine. Remember, there are no outward or worldly good things, but do expose men to Page  28 many Evils, Dangers, and Temptations, and so become evil to a man in this life. Thus we find, Honour, Riches, outward Prosperity, do expose a man to Envy. As one saith of Naboth, It had been better for him he had not had a Vineyard, it cost him his life. These things have cost a man his sweetest things, (viz.) his Liberty and Life. How many men had lived longer, had they not had such and such things, wherein they seemed to excel and to be more happy then other men. And so the Hi∣storian saith of the Romane Emperours, That they got nothing by their Honour, nisi ut citius inter∣ficerentur, but to be kill'd the sooner. We read of Esius Proculus, that he was Slain by Caligula, for being the handsomest Man in Rome. Beauty and Handsomness was for his hurt. And Seneca was con∣demned for being too Eloquent, though, at the In∣tercession of one of the Emperour's Lemans his life was spared. And hence it is, a man is not able to give a judgment of things, because he knows not what their issue may be, and what dangers they may bring a man under; because experience shews, that it had been good for some men to have bin with∣out those things, that, in the eyes of some, seemed to be good for them. That, as our Saviour said of Judas, It had bin good for that man, if he had not bin born; So we may say of some, it had been good for them, if they never had had Honour, Riches, Beauty, and other things that most men look upon, as good for a man in this life.

IV. Man knoweth not what Snares Satan hath laid in a Condition, to catch and entrap a man in; and therefore is not able to give or make a judgment of outward conditions. Through his devices, that Page  29 condition may become evil that seemed to be for good.

Satan is a subtil Adversary, and he seeks to get an advantage against us by the conditions we are in. He endeavours to make every condition, a Snare and a Trap to us. He strives to make Temp∣tations out of our Conditions. He knows how to make use of our Conditions to advantage himself, and to hurt us. And man knows not what Snares Satan may lay for a man in a condition, and what advantage he may make of it to hurt a man, and therefore no certain Judgment can be made of it. Satan is a careful and diligent Observer, as of our Constitutions, so of our Conditions, and will be sure to suit his Temptations to them. He hath his Temptations for all Conditions, whether High or Low, whether Prosperous or Adverse.

1. If a man be in a Prosperous Condition, why there are Evils he Tempts a man to, in that Estate.

  • And those, both
    • Moral.
    • Spiritual.

I. Moral. So consider these:

  • 1. Pride and High-mindedness. Prosperi∣ty inclines a man to it, and here Satan sayles with Wind and Tide, 1 Tim. 6. 17. Charge them that be Rich in this world that they be not High-minded.
  • 2. Boasting and Glorying in their Pros∣perity, with a Contemning of those whose Condition is meaner, Jerem. 9. 23. Let not the Rich man Glory in his Riches.
  • Page  30 3. Injustice and Oppression, Prov. 22. 7. The Rich Man Ruleth over the Poor. Or, as it may be read, Domineereth.
  • 4. Luxury, and Profuseness, and Wan∣tonness. As the Sodomites. And Dives that fared Deliciously every day.

II. Spiritual Evils there are, to which a Pros∣perous Condition Inclines a man, and to which Satan will be ready to Tempt a man: and these are Three:

  • 1. Forgetting God and forgetting Duty. And upon this Account it was, Agur prayed against Riches, Prov. 30. 9. Lest I be full, and forget Thee.
  • 2. Creature-Confidence. We find the Scripture frequent in giving Cautions concerning that, 1 Tim. 6. 17. That men should not trust in uncertain Riches.
  • 3. Security, We read of the Rich man in the Gospel, Luke 12 19. who bid his Soul take its ease, it had goods laid up for many years.

Why thus you see a Prosperous Condition hath its Temptations; and all these ways, Satan is ready to get an advantage of a man that is in that condition?

Now who can give a Judgement of a mans Condition when it is Prosperous, when he knoweth not but it may cast him into some of these Evills.

Page  31 2. If a man be in an Adverse Condition, why that hath its Temptations too. When a mans Condition is low, then Satan Tempts him to Mur∣muring, Discontent, Impatiency, Envy, use of Unlawful means. And, upon this Account, Agur prayed against Poverty, Prov. 30. Lest I be Poor and Steal. He saw, that condition had its Temp∣tations.

Why thus you see, every Condition hath its Temptations: and, How shall man be able to make a Judgment of Conditions, when he knows not what Temptations he may fall under, by reason of his Condition; when we know not, but Satan, through his Wiles and Devices, may make a con∣dition evil for a man, that else might have been for his good; how he may make that Condition his Snare, that might have been for his Welfare?

V. Man cannot make a Judgment of what is good or evil for a man in this life, because he knoweth not, what the wheel is that is within the Wheel. We read Ezek. 1. Of the wheel in the wheel. Con∣sider, there is the outward wheel of Dispensation that is visible to us, and there is a secret wheel of Providence within that wheel. So that when we look upon the outward wheel of Prosperity, or Adversity, we know not what Wheel moves with∣in those wheels. We see how the outward wheel moves, but we know not what the motions are of the Wheel within; Its motions may be cross to the wheel without.

1. Consider how it is in respect of Prosperity. There is an outward wheel that is visible, and seems to move to a mans Honour, Exaltation, and Advancement in the world; and yet we know not Page  32 what cross motions the secret wheel of Providence may have to the External wheel of Dispensation: While the outward wheel seems to move to a mans Good, and Honour, and Advantage; the inward wheel (for ought we know) may be moving to a mans Hurt and Ruine. According to the saying of the Poet,

—Tolluntur in altum
Vt lapsu graviore ruant—
Their lifting up, may tend to their casting down. While the outward wheel may seem to raise them, and mount them; The wheel within, may move to the undoing and Destruction of them. We have a notable Instance of this in Haman: There was an outward wheel moving to his Raising and Ad∣vancement, to the setting of him High in the fa∣vour of his Prince, and who (that had lookt upon that) would not have thought, this had been for Hamans good? But see, there was a Wheel within the wheel, a Cross-wheel that was then moving to Hamans downfall, and Hamans ruine.

II. For Adversity, why you shall find sometimes the outward Wheel seemingly moving to a mans Hurt, and Ruine, and Disadvantage, when yet we know not the motions of the Wheel, that are within the wheel. There may be within that wheel, a Wheel of Providence moving to a mans good and advantage. Thus it was in the case of Joseph, when he was cast into a Pit, when he was sold into Egypt, when he was cast into Prison by his Master; Who would have thought but that this outward wheel of Dispensation had moved to Joseph's ruine; and yet, at the same time, there was a Wheel within this wheel moving to the Page  33 Advancement of Joseph, and to the making him Ruler over all the Land of Egypt▪ So in the case of Job: When he was stript of all to a Shoo-latchet, when he was bereaved of his Goods, Cattel, Chil∣dren, Health, Who would have thought but this wheel of Dispensation had moved to the Ruine and utter undoing of Job? And yet, at the same time, there was a wheel moving within this wheel to his good and advantage, as you may read in his Story. So the Apostle tells us, Jam. 5. 11. You have heard of the Patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord. God's end in all was Jobs good, though the outward Wheel of Dispensation spake it not.

So this is one reason, why a man knoweth not what is good or evil for a man in this life; because no man knows the motions of the Wheel of secret Pro∣vidence, within the wheel of outward Dispensation. We know not what is the end of the Lord in a mans Prosperity or Adversity; our sight is not clear and peircing enough to discern the wheel within, and what Its motions are: When we see a man Great, and Rich, and Honourable, we cannot say, He is an happy man, and that it is good for him to be such; because we know not the end of the Lord. And so, when we see a man poor, and low, and in an afflicted condition, we cannot say, That man is miserable, or, that it is evil for him; because in this Dispensation we know not the end of the Lord; we know not how the wheel within moves.

Reas 6. Man knoweth not what is good or evil for a man in this life, because of that sudden and unex∣pected changeableness that there is in all Conditi∣ons. Man's ignorance of this, disables him to make a Page  34 judgment of outward Conditions. If a man could make the things of this life certain, why then he might make a judgment of them; but, the comfort in them and the enjoyment of them being uncer∣tain, Who can make a true and perfect judgment of them? The things themselves are uncertain, and the good in them changeable; and, Who is the man then that can say, That things, that are so full of uncertainty and so changeable, are good for a man in this life? Solomon, in Eccles. 7. 14. speaking of Conditions, saith, God hath set Prosperity and Adversity one over against the other, as a Vally over against a Mountain: So that, when a man lookes upon himself as set upon the Mountain of Prosperity, he seeth a Valley of Adversity over a∣gainst him: why, he seeth a change of his conditi∣on before him; and though he stand at present up∣on the Mountain of Prosperity, yet he sees below him a Valley of Adversity, which he knoweth not how soon he may descend into. And, who can say, Prosperity is good for him, when he seeth Adversity over against him?

So consider: upon this account, it is impssioble that a man should make a perfect judgment of Con∣ditions.

  • Since
    • 1. Conditions are Changeable.
    • 2. The Good and Comfort in a Condition is Changeable.

1. The Condition is changeable. An Honour∣able, Rich, & Prosperous Condition is changeable: and then, what is man the better for being in such a condition? Psal. 49. 20. Man being in Honour continueth not. And yet see, Men had other thoughts vers. 11. Their inward thoughts was, that their houses Page  35 should continue for ever. They thought, It was good for a man to have Houses and Possessions, because they looked upon these things as constant, and en∣during, and lasting; They thought their Inheri∣tances lasting, and that they should leave them to those that would continue their memory for ever, that is, to their Children; which are, but the Pa∣rents multiplied and continued. Which, as one saith, is but Nodosa Aeternitas, a knotty Eternity; as when one thread is spun and broken, then ano∣ther thread is knit to it: Thus men dream of a continued Succession. But what saith the Psalmist? This their way, is their folly; for man being in ho∣nour continueth not. Consider, there is a change∣ableness in all outward conditions; there may be a sudden turn of Providence. Job the Richest man in the East, lost all (as it were) in an instant. All the wit, and care, and industry, and providence of man, cannot hinder the Providence of God from making conditions changable. And considering this, Who can say, This or that condition is good or evil for a man, when he knoweth not how that condi∣tion may change? What if a prosperous condition should change? why then, it had been better a man had not known it; It making a man but more mi∣serable to have been happy, and then to be miser∣able.

2. Though the Condition it self should continue, yet the comfort in the condition is changeable: why, the things of a condition, that seems good and comfortable and desirable, are changeable. The things of such a condition may become a Cross, and Burden, and Vexation; such a changeableness there is in the comforts of a condition that seemeth Page  36 good for a man. Augustus had three Daughters, and all of them very lew'd; and he was used to call them his Tria Carcinωmata his three Ulcers or Botches; And was used to say, Vtinam aut caelebs vixissem, aut orbus periissem, I would I had lived un∣married, or died without Children. Life and Light are two of the sweetest things, and yet a man may out-live the comfort of them; they may prove a burden to a man as to Job (Job 3. 20) Why is life given to the Afflicted, and light to the bitter in Soul? Let me tell you; Those things, that are looked on as the greatest earthly comforts, may become a mans Burthens and Afflictions.

Reas. 7. Man cannot make a perfect judgment of what is good for him, and so on the contrary what is evil for him in this life; because there are but few that have the right Art and way of judging of Con∣ditions; and so are apt to call good evil, and evil good; and so are disabled from knowing what is good for a man in this life. I shall name some of those ways, by which most judge of the good or evil of a Con∣dition.

  • 1. Opinion.
  • 2. Sense.
  • 3. Affection.

I. Most judge of Conditions by Opinion; they take things to be as they account them. It is Opi∣nion that makes things to be good and evil, to some, that, if rightly considered, are not so. Thus Con∣ditions are looked upon as good or evil, according as they are in our Opinion. It was the saying of Se∣neca, Levis est Dolor, si nil Opinio adjecerit, The misery would be little, if our Opinion did not adde to it. Opinion is a leight judgment of things, by which Page  37 things are good in the imagination, but never arrive at the understanding to be made Reason. It is an ill Guide, and therefore some call it the Guide of Fools, when Reason is the Guide of the Wise. Most men judg of Conditions by Opinion, and so it is impos∣sible they should make a right Judgment of Condi∣tions, of what is good or evil for a man in this life. And therefore, we find the Scripture setting it self to oppose and cross the Opinions of Men, in re∣lation to what is good and evil for a man in this life.

Jam. 5. 1. Howl ye Rich Men, &c. Now it is the Opinion of most, that Rich men have cause to Rejoyce.

Prov. 15. 16. Better is a little with the Fear of the Lord, then great Treasures with Trouble. This crosseth the general Opinion of men.

Psal. 37. 16. A little that a Righteous man hath, is better then the Riches of many Wicked. Now the Opinion of the World is, That much, is alwayes better then little.

One place more, Eccles. 7. 2, 3.

Vers. 2. It is better to go to the House of Mourning, then to go to the house of Feasting. But most men think not so. Vers. 3. Sorrow is better then laughter. But this crosseth the general Opinion of men.

II. Another way by which men Judg of the Good or Evil of Conditions, is by Sense. They judg of the good & evil of things, according as they are pleasing or displeasing to their Senses. They judg of Con∣ditions as many do of Meats, who judg of them by the taste, and so take them to be Wholsome that are Toothsome: And so, on the contrary, those meats Unwholsome that are Unpleasant. And there∣fore, the Apostle tells those, Heb. 12. 11. how they Page  38 were mistaken about their Condition, which was then a Suffering Condition; No Affliction (saith he) for the present seemeth Joyous but Grievous. Why, Sense at the present can feel no good in it, But after∣wards it bringeth forth the quiet Fruit of Righteousness. This way of judging deceived Eve: She saw the Fruit was desirable, it looked fair to the Eye. Thus many are deceived about their Conditions. They are like the Book St. John eatt, As Hony in the Mouth, but in the Belly, as bitter as Gall. Thus men look upon Conditions, whether they are Hony in the Mouth; they look no further, whether they may not prove Gall in the Belly. Why, thus most judg of Conditions by Sense; and while they judg so, it is impossible for them to know, what is good or evil for them in this life.

III. Some make a judgment of Conditions, by their sinfully-sensual Affections, and so account that good for them in this life, that suits with their Lusts and Inordinate Desires. Thus men come to be be∣guiled with the appearance of Good, instead of Real Good. Most men take the word of their Lusts, and corrupt and sinful Desires, concerning what is good for them. As Sampson said, Give her me, for she pleaseth me well. Since the Fall, man rather consults with his own Corrupt desires then any thing else, and makes them his Oracle; at which, he enquires about the good and evil of things: and while they seek to that Oracle, it must needs fol∣low, that Good must be rejected under the Notion of Evil, and evil lookt upon as desirable under the Notion of good. Affections sensually-sinful, are wofully blinded in judging of Conditions.