Of the Consistency of Earthly Greatness and No∣bility with Godliness; And yet notwithstand∣ing, how rare it is for such Men to be called and saved.
1 COR. 1. 26.
THe first subject enumerated by Paul, whom God is pleased to reject, and to say, They shall not be mine, in the day I make up my jewels, hath been dispatched. We proceed to the other two remaining; and because they agree in one common consideration, I shall handle them together. The first part, of those who for the most part are overlooked by God, Are wise men af∣ter the flesh, such as are eminent and admirable for internal excellencies. In the next place the Apostle instanceth in those that are exalted for external greatness: And that is twofold, either such which is acquired by humane in∣dustry, in the word (Mighty) or such which is natural, that we have by our birth, in the other word (Noble.)
The first sort of persons are called 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 and in the next verse, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, an∣swering the Hebrew Generim; and doth signifie any that are mighty and strong in this world, either by their power, or their wealth, or their honor, that are tall cedars, when others are but shrubs.
Secondly, The other are 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, which word, though sometimes applied to the gracious disposition of the godly; as the Bereans are said to be more noble, because they did search the Scripture (observe that, its true nobility, and true honor, to be diligent in searching the Scripture) yet here its applyed unto that humane excellency and prerogative some have above others by their birth; for although there is none so nobly descended, but he is born a childe of wrath, Page 622 and so hath no more priviledge from hell, then the childe of the meanest Beg∣gar, yet in a political and civil consideration, they differ far from others: Now when you see God in the disposing of eternal glory, not much mattering these persons, it should be like a thunder bolt in the very heart of all those who boast themselves in their wealth, power and nobility, for they are the less likely to be made glorious hereafter: So that as God when he chose David to the Tempo∣ral Kingdom of Israel, commanded Samuel to call all Jesses Sons together, and chose clean contrary to Samuels expectation; for when he saw Eliab the first Son, he said, Surely the Lords anointed is before me; but God said, Look not up∣on his countenance, or the height of his stature, for God seeth not as man seeth: So it is here in Divine Election, he chooseth not, he approveth not, as man by worldly respects doth: Observe,
Although men temporally great in this world, are greatly exalted by men, yet*God chooseth not many such to eternal glory.
The Pharisees made it a great argument against Christ and his way, Iohn 7. Do any of the Rulers believe in him, but the people that do not know the Law? Here you see they triumph; What? believe in Christ? see who they are that do it, the multitude, many of the poorer and contemptible sort; Do any of the Rulers, any of the great men, and rich men, do they believe in him? The Aposile James, Cap. 2. 11. speaks excellently to this purpose, reproving their sinful partiality in exalting a rich man for his gold ring, and goodly apparel, but despising those that were truly good, because poor; Hearken (saith he) i. e. Consider what I say, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith? Oh consider, thy wealth, thy greatness doth not make thee happy, unless rich in faith and grace also, unless we may say, O man, O woman, great is thy faith, as well as Great are thy earthly advantages.
To open this; Consider
First, That there are four things especially, which are the great things of the * world; and if the Devil shew the glory of any of them, its an hard thing not to fall down and worship him, if they be had thereby.
The first is, Earthly Power and Dominion: Est natura hominum avida imperii, said Tully, The nature of man being ambitious, is greedy of power; and its Omnibus affectibus flagrantius, more hot and burning then any other lust, un∣less the heart be so sanctified, as to accompt nothing great but God; Though Histories do abound with the Tragical ends of many, who were in their time great and terrible in power; yet few are of that mans minde, that would not vouchsafe to take up a Crown from the earth, if he should finde it, because of the cares accompanying of it, Every Crown of gold, being also a Crown of thorns.
Secondly, Another admired thing in the world is Glory and Honor: For this * many Civil, and many Religious attempts have been undertaken: A poor empty reward, yet the Heathens have busily disputed, whether this very nothing be not the chiefest good.
The third thing admired is, Riches and Wealth: Dives fared diliciously eve∣ry * day: The Psalmist speaks, how the world blesseth such, that heap up to themselves innumerable riches, even like the sands of the sea shore: And al∣though some say, they are called Divitiae a dividendo, because they so divide and distract the heart with tormenting cares; yet they finde nothing but hap∣piness in them.
Lastly, There is Nobility, which is by blood and birth: This temporal excel∣lency * is apt to make men swel, as being stars of the first Magnitude. hereby ready to forget, that they are but dust and ashes, as other men are. Now the Apostle by these two words, doth intend all these, and if there be any other thing, that hath temporal glory in the world.
Secondly, Consider, That this temporal greatness, is not of it self inconsistent Page 623 with godliness and salvation. Julian objected against Christians, That the pre∣cepts of Christianity, and of Civil Government, were clean opposite to one another: No such matter; none of those enumerated excellencies are of them∣selves contrary to godliness.
First therefore, We read of godly Governors, godly rich men, godly noble * men, not onely in the Old Testament, for that is very evident, but in the New, as Ioseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, the two Centurions, Paulus a Proconsul, Theophilus a noble man, to whom Luke dedicated his History, as most judge, and Iohn writes to the elect Lady: so that the Apostle doth not say, None of these, But not many, viz, Comparatively to those of the meaner sort that are called: Indeed, of the twelve Apostles, there was not one of them wise after the flesh, or mighty and noble; for that is a Fabulous tradition concerning Barthol•mew, that he was born of Royal blood, and went in his purple and jewels every day; the Evangelists imply the contrary.
Secondly, It must also be confessed, That the outward good things of this life,*are so far from being contradictory to godliness, that godliness onely hath the pro∣mise of them: How often did God promise Israel, That if they would diligently keep his Commandments, They should conquer their enemies, One should chase a thou∣sand, They should be the head, and not the tail; and Abraham, in that great pro∣mise God made to him, there was not onely promised a numerous posterity, like the sands of the sea shore; but also, that Kings and Princes should come out of his loyns; and thus it holds for other worldly comforts. Godliness hath the promise of this life; and the Apostle makes an unanswerable argument, If he hath given us Christ, how shall he not with him give us all things else: Thus we cannot instance in any temporal good thing, but in one place or other there is a promise made of it to the godly. And if you say,
Why then are not the godly possessed of these things? why have not the godly*all the greatness and glory of the world, seeing they are heirs to it by the pro∣mise?
I Answer, We must not take those promises single, but compare them with * other Texts, that do also tell us of the misery and trouble that the godly shall have: Now these places are not contrary one to another, one promiseth all good, the other doth foretel of much evil; for these things are not to be un∣derstood absolutely, but conditionally: So far as these things are furthering of their main good, and are not hindring of their everlasting welfare, so far they are sure to be made partakers of them; but when they cannot have these and Christ also, when they must either lose these or heaven, then no wonder if God, out of his love, give them not those things which prove hurtful unto them. A father will promise to give his childe meat and drink, but if his childe fall into a disease, that these things will increase his disease, then out of his love he keeps these things from him.
Thirdly, When God doth call any of the wise men, and great men, and no∣ble men of the world, They become eminent instruments of his glory; they are * worth ten thousand of those that are in an inferior way; for they do not one∣ly credit the Gospel, as the Gospel doth them, and as they honor God, so God honors them; they lose nothing of their greatness, by having goodness: but they by their power, by their wealth and interest they have in the world, may greatly advance the ways of God. What Reformations did the godly Kings and Magistrates bring about in the Kingdom of Iudah? How did Con∣stantine by his power and greatness, arise like a Sun, that dispelled the dark night of Idolatry and Paganism? and therefore such are compared to Nursing fathers, and nursing mothers. Temporal power, when sanctified for the use of the Church, is like the Elm that beareth up the vine: Oh then, its an happy time, when great men, are good men; when men of power, are men of godli∣ness. And thus also men of wealth and estates, how many ways may they be Page 624 serviceable to God, wherein others cannot be? Rich men are the greatest men in debt, for they owe more duties to God then others; and as such have wherewith to be more instrumental to Gods glory then others, so by their ex∣ample they may bring on others. If the chief and great men in a place, do earnestly seek the Kingdom of Heaven, and promote that, this makes all in∣ferior persons to do the same: They are like the springs, if the springs be poy∣soned, then all the streams will be, but if they be sweet, then the streams will be. When Elisha was to cure the bitter waters, he takes salt, and throweth it, not into the streams, but into the springs, because that was the way to cure the streams: And thus, if the great ones, and chief ones in a Parish, if they love God, and good men, and good things, their example will even compel others to do the like; and certainly, you that have more greatness and wealth then others, be afraid, lest you have not other mens sins to answer for; other men have been incouraged to be prophane, because they have either seen you so, or at least, you have not shewed your self an enemy to such ways. Seeing then God takes this way, few rich men, great men, honored men, comparative∣ly to others; let us consider,
The Reasons why, as they be either on Gods part, or on their part who are * refused: And
First, On Gods part; Therefore God may reject these, to declare his absolute So∣veraiguty and Sufficiency; that he needs no men, that he is God, and able to carry on the great things of his Counsel, without the wisdom of wise men, the strength of great men, the repute of noble men in the world; that is the rea∣son why great men in Authority, need wise men for counsel, and mighty men for execution thereof, because they know not how to do without other mens eyes, and other mens hands; but God, he is the onely great and mighty God, none is his Counsellor, neither doth he need any help: Therefore that God might demonstrate this Sufficiency and Independency of his nature, he chooseth those that all the world seeth he doth not want; for if God had wanted the gifts, and parts, and power of men, he would have chosen other men: Oh then behold the wisdom and power of God in calling of men! he calleth the foolish, the weak, the nothings of this world, that so all may be convinced and see, God needs not the creatures, but the creatures him; and no wonder of this, for the world is not enough sensible of Gods greatnesse, its ready to count every thing great but him, to fear every thing but him; but God by this will teach us, that we are but as clay in the hands of the Potter; as the Apo∣stle presseth it at large in the Discriminating act of God, and therefore will not suffer a man to be so presumptuous, as in those things to say, Why doth God so?
Secondly, God therefore doth not take many great and noble in this world, * that so men may see the falseness of that position and conclusion, which men do so often make to themselves; viz. That God giveth them this wealth, this greatness, this honor above others, because he loveth them more then others: This is the sweet poyson that many drink down, God hath given me this success, this wealth, this prosperity, this outward happiness; and certainly if God would destroy me, he would never have done so much for me: God foresaw such a Self-flattery in the people of Israel, and therefore he doth again and again bid them take heed of so much as thinking in their heart, that they had conquered their enemies, and possessed themselves of Canaan, for their own righteousnesse, as if there were more in them then in others: Nay, thou seest this Text and the like, may be like the Hand-writing on the wall, to make all thy joynts tremble. Thy greatness, thy plenty, thy abundance, is no sign of Gods gracious and spe∣cial love to thee, if while he bestoweth these things on thee, thou mayest be one ordained to eternal destruction; therefore see what the Wise man observeth, No man knoweth love or hatred by these things, Eccles. 9. 1. We cannot conclude Page 625 of Gods Electing love, or his Reprobating hatred by these outward mercies David once began to make such conclusions, but he called himself a beast for it, and said, Thereby he condemned the generation of the just.
Thirdly, Therefore God may not choose many of these, because he would not*leave those who are externally miserable and contemptible, in despàir and total de∣spondency of minde: For if God had dealt the contrary, and had not chosen many of the inferior, and the more despicable condition in this world, they had then been in a double misery, miserable here, and miserable hereafter: In∣deed, if you do regard the poor men of this world, that are in extremity, you will finde, God hath chosen few of them neither, none being more pro∣phane, atheistical, and like bruits then they, but they are of the middle rank that God commonly makes his choice of: And hereby God would teach us, that the meanness and lownesse of a mans condition, should not be matter of grief and discontent to him: Oh how hard is it to rebuke these waves and winds of discontent, that are apt to rise up in thee, because God hath not done as much for thee as for others! others they are richer, they have their hearts ease and desire; this is apt to make all on fire within thee: Oh! but what a good temperament may this put thee into, to consider, that the lower in the world, doth not hinder thee from being the higher with God: Hea∣ven will receive more of a mean condition, then of a glorious: God doth not judge as the world judgeth: Oh the great alteration that the day of judge∣ment will make! Lazarus received into eternal glory, and Dives, who fared deliciously, tormented in hell: If then thy poverty, thy meannesse, were a stop to Salvation, then it were to be lamented; If Election and Salvation were to be had, as the Popes Indulgence, for money; then as Albertus saith about Purgatory, Its better with a rich man, then a poor man, for he can give e∣nough to redeem his soul; but its not so, thy cottage may be as near heaven, as a palace.
Fourthly, Another Reason why God passeth by temporal greatness, may be * that in the verse following, To confound the great and mighty things of the world; for so saith the Apostle, He hath chosen the weak things, to confound the mighty: How are wise men and great men confounded, when they see that their temporal glory and greatness cannot do that, which the grace and godli∣ness of meaner men doth! Every great man in the world, he thinks to ruffle it out, scorneth that those who are inferiors, should compare with him; but O the terrible confusion that will cover such mens faces, when at the day of judgement God shall say, Lo, thy wisdom, thy power, thy great revenues, have not brought thee to that glory and happiness, which the prayers and tears of meaner men have done. Our Saviour told the Jews, it would be their confusion, when men should come from far, and sit down in the Kingdom of heaven, and they themselves shut out: Oh what heart can conceive the rage and madness thou wilt be in! when thou shalt see such neighbors whom thou hatedst, mock∣edst for their strictness and forwardness in Religion, sit upon Thrones of glo∣ry, and thou with all thy earthly pomp cast out! As Austin cryeth out, by way of blushing, Surgunt indocti & rapiunt caelum, &c. Illiterate men they rise and take the Kingdom of heaven by violence, when learned men with all their books and learning are shut out: So the meaner sort of men, they rise, and by strictness, forwardness, get the Kingdom of Heaven, when others finde their outward greatness, like a milstone about their neck, pressing them into the bot∣tom of the sea.
Fifthly, The last Reason on Gods part may be, to make all the rich and great*men of the world to walk humbly, with fear and trembling, lest God give them all the good things they shall ever have, in this life onely: Thy heart is apt to swell with pride, when thou considerest thy prosperity, and thy abundance: Oh but it should rather tremble within thee, lest God put thee off with this onely;
Page 626Abraham told Dives, when he begged that Lazarus might come and cool his tongue with a drop of water, Remember thou hadst thy good things in this life, and Lazarus evil: So God may say to thee, Thou hadst thy pleasure, thy ease, thy jollity in this life; now thy torments and thy miseries they begin: There is such a change made between Dives and Lazarus, as in Gideons fleece, one time that was wet and the floor dry; then the floor was dry and the fleece wet; thus one while Dives, he is in prosperity, and Lazarus is a begging for crums; and afterwards Lazarus he is in glory, and Dives is begging for a drop of water. Take heed then, lest God do, as Abraham with Ismael, he gave him many gifts, but the inheritance was bestowed onely on Isaac: So God, he gives the wealth, greatness, and such gifts, but the inheritance of hea∣ven, that he bestoweth upon others.
In the next place, I shall briefly instance in the Reasons on their part who art*rejected; And they are evident:
First, All earthly greatness and advantages, they are apt to fill the heart with pride and loftiness: Charge the rich, that they be not high-minded, 1 Tim. 6. 17. Now there is no disposition doth so immediately offend God as this; God resist∣eth the proud, but he giveth grace to the humble: God doth not give grace to proud men; as your high mountains are often barren.
Secondly, All these earthly advantages, when possest, They do take off the heart*from God many ways:
First, Inordinate affections towards them, make us refuse God: Ye cannot serve God and Mammon; the hand full of earth, cannot receive gold, though offered.
Secondly, There is the deceiveableness of their pleasure, they dead the heart to good things; men finde not that sweetness and delight in heavenly things, as otherwise they would.
Thirdly, Solicitude and distracting cares about them, they make the soul full of fears, full of diversions, they are Tares among the good Corn.
Fourthly, The seeming profitableness and necessity of them: They cannot live, or be without them; and thereupon they venture the loss of God to enjoy these.
Use of Admonition, To men of great place, and great wealth: Oh! know * how hard it is for such to be saved; there is a Camels bunch to go through the eye of a needle: Let not these great things become a snare to you; consider, there is better Greatness, and that is, To be strong in the Lord; better Riches, To be rich in faith; better power, To be able to prevail with God in prayer: Canst thou say? The Bible makes me see better things, makes me loose from all things to serve God.