There are some peculiar gifts that God hath given to man in his first creation, and endued his nature with, beyond other living creatures, which being rightly ordered and improved towards the right objects, do advance the soul of man to a wonderful height of happiness, that no other sublunary creature is capable of. But by reason of man's fall into sin, these are quite disordered and turned out of the right channel; and, therefore, as the right improvement of them would make man happy, so the wrong employment of them loadens him with more real misery than any other creature. I mean, God hath given to man two notable capacities beyond other things; -- one is, to know and reflect upon himself, and to consider what conveniency is in any thing towards himself, -- what goodness or advantage redounds to himself from them, and in that reflection and comparison to enjoy what he hath; another is to look forward beyond the present time, and, as it were, to anticipate and prevent the slow motions of time, by a kind of foresight and providence. In a word, he is a creature framed unto more understanding than others, and so capable of more joy in present things, and more foresight of the time to come. He is made mortal, yet with an immortal spirit of an immortal capacity, that hath its eye upon the morrow, -- upon eternity. Now, herein consists either man's happiness or misery, how he reflects upon himself, and what he chooseth for the matter of his joy and gloriation, and what providence he hath for the time to come. If those be rightly ordered, all is well; but if not, then woe unto him, there is more hope of a beast than of him.
Man's nature inclines to boasting -- to glorying in something, and this ariseth from some apprehended excellency or advantage, and so is originated in the understanding power of man, which is far above beasts. Beasts find the things themselves, but they do not, they cannot reflect upon their own enjoyment of them, and therefore they are not capable of such pleasure; for the more distinct knowledge of things in relation to ourselves, the more delight ensueth upon it. Many creatures have singular qualities and virtues, but they are nothing the happier; for they know them not, and have no use of them, but are wholly destinated to the use of man, who therefore is only said to enjoy them, because he only is capable of joy from them. And this, I suppose, may give us a hint at the absolute incomprehensible blessedness, self-complacency, and delight of God. It cannot but be immeasurably great, seeing the knowledge of himself and all creatures is infinite; he comprehends all his own power, and virtue, and goodness, and therefore his delight and rejoicing is answerable. There is a glorying and boasting then that is good, which man is naturally framed unto; and this is that which David expresses, Psal. xxxiv.2, "My soul shall make her boast in God;" and Psal. xliv.8, "In God we boast all the day long, and praise thy name for ever." When the soul apprehends that all-sufficiency, and self-sufficient fulness of God; what infinite treasures of goodness, and wisdom, and power are in him, and so how suitable and convenient he is to the condition of the soul; what a sweet correspondence there is between his fulness and our emptiness -- his mercy and our misery -- his infiniteness and our unsuitableness; that there is in him to fill and overflow the soul: the apprehension of this cannot but in a manner perfume the soul with the delight. You find how the senses are refreshed, when they meet with their suitable object; how a pleasant smell refresheth the scent; how lively and beautiful colours are delightful to the eye. But much more here, God is the proportioned object of the immortal spirit; he corresponds to all its capacities, and fills it with unconceivable sweetness. But, my beloved, boasting and glorying in him, ariseth not only from the proportionableness and conveniency of him to our spirits; but this must be superadded, -- propriety in him. Things are loved, because excellent in themselves, or because they are our own; but we boast in nothing, we glory in nothing, but because it is both excellent in itself, and ours besides. It is the apprehended interest in any thing makes the soul rise and lift up itself after this manner, -- to have such a one to be ours, -- such a Lord to be our God, -- one so high and sublime, -- one so universally full, to be made over to thee; here is the immediate rise of the soul's gloriation. And truly, as there is nothing can be so suitable a portion, so there is nothing that can be so truly made ours as God. Of all things a believer hath, there is nothing so much his own as God, -- nothing so indissolubly tied unto him, -- nothing so inseparably joined. See Paul's triumph upon that account, Rom. viii. Nothing can truly be said to be the soul's own, but that which is not only coetaneous with it, that survives mortality, and the changes of the body, but likewise is inseparable from it. What a poor empty sound is all that can be spoken of him, till your souls be once possessed of him! it cannot make your hearts leap within you, but it cannot but excite and stir up a believer's heart.
Now there may be a lawful kind of gloriation, rejoicing in the works of God, consequent to the first, which is a little stream from that greater river which runs out from it, and flows into it again. A soul that truly apprehends God will take delight to view the works of God, which make such an expression of him, and are a part of the magnificence of our heavenly Father. But this is all in reference to him and not to ourselves; for then it degenerates and loseth its sweetness, when once it turns the channel towards the adorning of the creature. True boasting in God hath necessarily conjoined with it an humble and low esteem of a man's self, Psal. xxxiv.2, "The humble shall hear thereof, and be glad." As humility and self-emptiness made David go out of himself, to seek satisfaction in God, and having found it, he boasts and triumphs, so there were none capable of understanding his triumph, or partaking with him in his delights, but the humble souls. Now you may perceive how far this boasting here spoken of is degenerated from that, and so how far man's nature is spoiled, -- "Boast not thyself," &c. The true boasting we were created unto, hath a sufficient foundation, even such as will bear the weight of triumph, but that which men's spirits are now naturally set upon, cannot carry, cannot sound such gloriation, and therefore this boasting makes men ridiculous. If you saw a man glorying in rags, setting forth himself to be admired in them, or boasting in some vain, despicable, and base thing, you would pity him, or laugh at him as one distempered. The truth is, the natural man is mad, hath lost his judgment, and is under the greatest distraction imaginable since the fall. That fall hath troubled his brains, and they are never settled, till the new creation come to put all right again, and compose the heart of man. I say, all other distractions are but particular, in respect to particular things, but there is a general distraction over all mankind, in reference to things of most general and most eternal concernment. Now, fools and mad persons, they retain the same affections and passions that are in men, as anger, love, hatred, grief, joy, &c., but it is so much the worse, since the judgment, which is the only directive and guide of them, is troubled. Now they are set on wrong objects, they run at random, and are under no kind of rule, and so they hurry the poor man and put him in a pitiful case. Now indeed so it is with us, -- since sin entered, the soul is wholly turned off God, the only true object of delight, in which only there can be solid gloriation. The mind of man is blinded, and his passions are strong, and so they are now spent upon empty vanities, and carried headlong without judgment. Oftentimes he glories in that which is his shame, and boasts in that which is his sin, and which will cause nothing but shame, the more weight be laid upon it. There is in man an oblivion and forgetfulness of God, and in this darkness of the ignorance of God, everything is apprehended or misapprehended as present sense suggests, and as it fancies a conveniency or excellency. Thither the soul is carried, as if it were something, and then it is but the east-wind. There is nothing beside God that is a fit matter of boasting, because it lacks one of the essential ingredients -- either it is not suitable to the soul, or it is not truly our own. There wants either proportion to the vast capacity and void of our desires, and so cannot fill up that really, but only in a deluding dream or imagination, and therefore will certainly make the issue rather vexation than gloriation, or there wants property and interest in them, for they are changeable and perishing in their own nature, and by divine appointment, that they cannot be conceived to be the proper good of the immortal soul. They cannot be truly our own, because they will shortly cease to be, and before they cease to be, they may in a moment cease to be ours. That tie of interest is a draw knot, whatsoever catcheth hold of the end of it looseth it.
The object of degenerate and vicious boasting is here held out: "Boast not thyself," or "of thyself." Whatsoever be the immediate matter of it, this is always the ultimate and principal object. Since man fell from God, self is the centre of all his affections and motions. This is the great idol, the Diana, that the heart worships, and all the contention, labour, clamour, and care that is among men, is about her silver shrines, so to speak, something relating to the adorning or setting forth this idol. It is true, since the heart is turned from that direct subordination to God, the affections are scattered and parted into infinite channels, and run towards innumerable objects, for the want of that original unity, which comprehends in its bosom universal plenty, must needs breed infinite variety, to supply the insatiable appetite of the soul. And this might be enough to convince you, that your souls are quite out of course, and altogether wandered from the way of happiness because they are poured out on such a multiplicity of insufficient, unsatisfying things, every one of which is narrow, limited and empty, and the combination and concurrence of all being a thing either impossible or improbable to be attained. But we may conceive that men's affections put themselves into three great heads of created things, one of which runs towards the goods or perfections of the mind, another towards the goods or advantages of the body, and a third towards those things that are without us, bona fortunae, riches and honour, &c. Now each of these sends out many streams and rivulets as so many branches from it, but all of them, though they seem to have a direct course towards other things, yet wind about and make a circular progress to the great ocean of self-estimation, whence they issued at first.
You may find all of these, (Jer. ix.23,) falling under a divine interdiction and curse, as being opposite to glorying in God. While men reflect within themselves, and behold some endowments and abilities in their minds beyond other men, of which wisdom is the principal, and here stands for all inward advantages or qualifications of the soul in that secret reflection and comparison, there is a tacit gloriation, which yet is a loud blasphemy in God's ears. It is impossible almost for a man to recognosce(275) and review his own parts such as ingine,(276) memory, understanding, sharpness of wit, readiness of expression, goodness and gentleness of nature, but that in such a review, the soul must be puffed up, apprehending some excellency beyond other men, and taking complacency in it, which are the two acts of robbery that are in gloriation and boasting. Commonly this arises from unequal comparisons. We please ourselves that we are deterioribus meliores, "better than the worst," and build self-estimation upon the ruins of other men's disadvantages, as if it were any point of praise in us that they are worse, like men that stand upon a height, and measure their own altitude, not from their just intrinsic quantity, but taking the advantage of the bottom, whereby we deceive our own selves. I remember a word of Solomon's, that imports how dangerous a thing it is for a man to reflect upon, or search into his own glory, Prov. xxv.27. "It is not good to eat much honey, so for men to search their own glory is not glory."
To surfeit in the excess of honey or sweet things drives to vomit, and cloys the stomach, ver.16. Though it be sweet, there is great need, yea, the more need of caution and moderation about it, so for a man either to search into his own breast, and reflect upon his own excellencies, to find matter of gloriation or studiously to affect it among others, and inquire into other men's account and esteem of him, it is no glory -- it is a dangerous and shameful folly. Now this is not only incident to natural spirits, upon their consideration of their own advantages, but even to the most gracious, upon the review of spiritual endowments and prerogatives. It is such a subtile and insinuating poison that it spreads universally, and infects the most precious ointments of the soul, and, as it were, poisons the very antidote and counterpoison. So forcible is this that was first dropped into man's nature by Satan's envy, that it diffuses itself even into humility, and humiliation itself, and makes a man proud because of humility. The apostle found need to caveat this, Rom. xi.18-20, "Boast not," "be not high minded, but fear," -- "thou standest by faith," and chap. xii.16, "Mind not high things," "be not wise in your own conceits," and 1 Cor. viii.2, "If any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing as he ought to know." All which gives us a plain demonstration of this, that self gloriation and complacency, in reflection upon ourselves, is both the greatest ignorance and the worst sacrilege. It is an argument of greater ignorance for a man to think he knows than not to know indeed. It is the worst and most dangerous ignorance, to have such an opinion of our knowledge, gifts, and graces, for that puffs up, swells with empty wind, and makes a vain tumour and then it is great sacrilege, a robbing of the honour that is due to God. For what hast thou that thou hast not received? That appropriating of these things to ourselves as ours, is an impropriating of them from their right owner, that is, God, 1 Cor. iv.7. For if thou didst apprehend that thou received it, where then is glorying? I would desire then, that whenever you happen to reflect upon yourselves, and observe any advantage, either natural or spiritual, in yourselves, that you may think this word sounds from heaven, "Let him that glorieth glory in the Lord." Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, and so not the learned man in his learning, nor the eloquent man in his speaking nor the ingenious man in his quickness nor the good man in his goodness. All these things though sweet, yet will surfeit, gloriation in them is neither glory nor gain, neither honourable nor profitable.
Then the stream of gloriation flows in the channel of bodily gifts as might, strength of body, beauty and comeliness of parts, and other such endowments which, besides that it is as irrational as the former, is a sacrilegious impropriation of the most free and arbitrary gifts of God to ourselves, it is withal absurd, in that it is not so truly of ourselves. These bodily ornaments and endowments do not perfect or better a man as a man, they are but the alterable qualities of the vessel or tabernacle of a man, in which other baser creatures may far excel him. How many comely and beautiful souls are lodged within obscure and ugly cottages or bodies of clay, which will be taken down! And the great advantage is, that the soul of a man, which is a man, cannot be defiled from without, that is, from the body, though never so loathsome or deformed, the vilest body cannot mar the soul's beauty. But then, on the other hand, the most beautiful body is defiled and deformed by the filthiness of sin in the soul, and O how many deformed and ugly souls dwell in beautiful and comely bodies, which truly is no other thing than a devil in an image well carved and painted. Christians, you had need to correct this within you, even a self complacency, joined with despising of others in the consideration of those external gifts God hath given you. What an abominable thing is it to cast up in reproach, or in your hearts to despise any other for natural imperfections, such as blindness, lameness, deformity or such like? Let that word sound always in your ears, Who made thee to differ from another? "Boast not thyself, &c." But there is as strong a stream runs in the third channel as in any, gloriation arising from those outward and extrinsic differences that the providence of God makes among men, such as riches, honour, gain, &c. You find such men, Psalm xlix.6, Prov. xviii.11, and x.15. That which a godly man makes the name of the Lord, -- that is, the ground and foundation of his confidence for present and future times, -- that the most part of men make their riches, that is, their strong city, and their high wall, their hope and expectation is reposed within it. This is the tower or wall of defence against the injuries and calamities of the times, which most part of men are building, and if it go up quickly, if they can get these several stones or pieces of gain scraped together into a heap they straightway imagine themselves safe, as under a high wall. But there is no truth in it, it is all but in their imagination, and therefore it comes often down about their ears, and offends them, instead of being a defence. Let a man creep, as it were, from off the ground where the poor lie, and get some advantage of ground above them, or be exalted to some dignity or office, and so set by the shoulders higher than the rest of the people, or yet grow in some more abundance of the things at this life, and strange it is, what a vanity or tumour of mind instantly follows! He presently thinks himself somebody, and forgetting either who is above him, to whom all are worms creeping and crawling on the footstool, or what a sandy foundation he stands upon himself, he begins to take some secret complacency in himself, and to look down upon others below him. He applauds, as it were, unto himself, and takes it in evil part to want the approbation and plaudite of others. Then he cannot so well endure affronts and injuries as before, he is not so meek and condescending to his equals or interiors. While he was poor he used entreaties, but now he answers roughly, (Prov. xviii.23,) as Solomon gives the character of him. How many vain and empty gloriations are there about the point of birth and place, and what foolish contentions about these, as if it were children struggling among themselves about their order and rank! There is no worth in these things, but what fancy and custom impose upon them and yet poor creatures boast in these empty things. The gentlemen despise citizens, the citizens contemn the poor countrymen, and yet their bloods in a basin have no different colours, for all this hot contention about blood and birth. "Boast not of thyself." Nay, to speak properly, this is not thyself, -- Qui genus laudat suum, aliena jactat.(277) Such parents, and such a house are nothing of thy own; these are mere extrinsic things, which are neither an honour to unworthy men, nor a disgrace to one who is worthy.
You see, beloved in the Lord, what is now the natural posture or inclination of our souls in this degenerate and fallen estate. As the rivers of paradise have changed their channels and course since the fall, so hath man's affections, and so hath his gloriation, so that it may be truly said, that our glory is our shame and not our glory. Many glory in iniquity and sin, (Psal. x.3, and xciv.4), but that shall undoubtedly be their shame and confusion before men and angels. How many godless persons will glory in swearing heinous and deep oaths, and some have contended about the victory in it! You account it a point of gallantry, but this triumph is like the devils in hell upon the devouring of souls. Some boast of drinking, and being able to drink others under the table, but we should be humbled and mourn for such abominations. Certain I am, that many boast of wicked designs, and malicious projects against their neighbours, if they can accomplish them. They account their glory not to take a wrong without giving a greater, nor to suffer an evil word without twenty worse in recompense. Alas! this boasting will one day be turned into gnashing of teeth, and this gloriation into that gnawing and ever-tormenting worm of conscience. And what will ye do in the day of that visitation? And where shall be your glory? But the most part glory and boast in things that profit not, and will become their shame, because they glory in them, that is, those gifts of God, outward or inward, temporal or spiritual, wherein there is any advancement above others; unto whom I would seriously commend this sentence to be pondered duly, "Boast not" of thyself. Whatsoever thou art, or whatsoever thou hast, boast not of thyself for it, think not much of thyself because of it. Though there be a difference in God's donation, yet let there be none in thy self estimation. Hast thou more wisdom and pregnancy of wit, or more learning than another? Think not more of thyself for that, than thou thinkest of the ignorant and unlearned who want it. Have that same reflection upon thine own unworthiness, that thou would think reasonable another that wants these endowments should have. Is there a greater measure of grace in thee? Boast not, reckon of thyself as abstracted and denuded of that, and let it not add to thy value or account of thyself, put not in that to make it down weight, and to make thee prefer thyself secretly to another. Whether it be some larger fortune in the world, or some higher place and station among men, or some abilities and perfections of body or mind, which may entice thee secretly to kiss thy hand, and bow down to thyself, yet remember that thou boast not, glory not in any thing but in the Lord. Let nothing of that kind conciliate more affection to thyself, or more contempt toward others. Let not any thing of that kind be the rule of thy self judging, but rather entertain the view of the other side of thyself, that is the worst, and keep that most in thy eye, that thou may only glory in God. If thou be a gentleman, labour to be as humble in heart as thou thinkest a countryman or poor tenant should be, if thou be a scholar, be as low in thy own sight as the unlearned should be, if rich, count not thyself any whit better than the poor, yea, the higher God sets thee in place, or parts, the lower thou oughtest to set thyself. "Boast not" of thyself, nor any thing in thyself, or belonging to thyself, for the property of all good is taken from us since the fall, and is fallen into God's hand since we forfeited it, and there is nothing now properly ours but evil, -- that is our self.