As man is naturally given to boasting and gloriation in something (for the heart cannot want some object to rest upon and take complacency in, it is framed with such a capacity of employing other things), so there is a strong inclination in man towards the time to come, he hath an immortal appetite, and an appetite of immortality; and therefore his desires usually stretch farther than the present hour, and the more knowledge he hath above other creatures, the more providence he hath and foresight of the time to come. And so he often anticipates future things by present joy and rejoicing in them, as he accelerates in a manner by his earnest desires and endeavours after them. Now, if the soul of man were in the primitive integrity, and had as clear and piercing an eye of understanding as once it had, this providence of the soul would reach to the furthest period in time, that is, to eternity, which is the only just measure of the endurance of any immortal spirit. But since the eye of man's understanding is darkness, and his soul disordered, he cannot see afar off, nor so clearly by far. He is now, as you say, sand blind, -- can see nothing at such a distance as beyond the bounds of time, can see nothing but at hand.
"To-morrow!" This is the narrow sphere of poor man's comprehension, all he can attain unto is to be provident for the present time. I call it ill present, even that which is to come of our time, because, in regard of eternity, it hath no parts, it hath no flux or succession, it is so soon cut off as a moment, as the twinkling of an eye, and so, though a man could see the end of it, it is but a short and dim sight, it is as if a man could only behold that which is almost contiguous with his eye. These, then, are the two great ruins and decays of the nature of man, he is degenerated from God to created things, and seeks his joy and rest in them, in which there is nothing but the contrary, that is, vexation. And then he is fallen from apprehension of eternity, and the poor soul is confined within the narrow bounds of time, so that now all his providence is to lay up some perishing things for some few revolutions of the sun, for some few morrows, after which, though an endless morrow ensue, yet he perceives it not, and provides not for it, and all his glorying and boasting is only upon some presumptuous confidence and ungrounded assurance of the stability of these things for the time to come, which the wise man finding much folly in, he leaves us this counsel, "Boast not thyself of to-morrow," -- with a most pungent reason, taken partly from the instability and inconstancy of all these outward things in which men fancy an eternity of joy, and partly from the ignorance we have of the future events, -- "for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth."
This boasting is an evil so predominant among men, that I know not any more universal in its dominion, or more hurtful to us, or displeasing to God. If it could be so embowelled unto you, as that you might truly discern the many monstrous conceptions of atheism and irreligion that are in it, it were worth the while, but I shall not digress upon the general head, I had rather keep within the limits of the text. Self boasting, you see, is that which is here condemned, and the very name is almost enough to condemn the nature of it. But there is another particular added to restrict that, "of to-morrow." Of all boastings the most irrational and groundless is that which arises from presumption of future things, which are so uncertain both in themselves and to us.
It is worth the observation, that whatever be the immediate and particular matter and occasion of men's gloriation, yet self is the great and ultimate object of it; it is self that men glory in, whatsoever created thing be the reason or occasion of it. "Boast not thyself of to morrow." Here we might stand and take a look of the crookedness and perverseness of man's spirit since his departure from God. Self love and pride were the first poison that the malice of Satan dropped into man's nature, and this is so strong and pestilent, that it has spread through the whole of mankind, and the whole in every man. Every one is infected, and all in every one. What are all the disordered affections in men but so many streams from this fountain? And from these do men's affections flow next, so that there is nothing left uncorrupted, and free of this abominable and vile ingredient, all flowing from self and returning to it again, which is both sacrilegious and unnatural. There is heinous sacrilege in it, -- the spoiling of the glorious divine Majesty of his indubitable prerogative and incommunicable right of all the glory, and honour of his creature. There is no usurpation like this for the worm that crawls on the footstool to creep up to the throne, and, as it were, to king it there, to deify and adore itself, and gather in all the tribute of praise and glory and love, that is only due to the Lord God Almighty; and invert and appropriate these to ourselves, which is, as if the axe should boast itself, as if it were no iron, or the staff, as if it were no timber. Hence it is, that of all evils in man's nature, God hath the most perfect antipathy and direct opposition against pride and self love, because it is sacrilege and idolatry in the highest manner. It strikes at the sovereignty and honour of God's name, which is dear to him as himself, it sets up a vile idol in the choicest temple of God, that is, in the heart, and this is the abomination of desolation. Other evils strike against his holy will, but this peculiarly points at the very nature and being of the most high God, and so it is with child of blasphemy, -- atheism is the very heart and life of it. And then it is most unnatural, and so monstrous and deformed. For, consider all the creation, though every one of them have particular inclinations towards their own proper ends, and so a happiness suitable to their own nature; yet how diverse, how contrary soever they be, there is no selfishness in them, they all concur and conspire to the good of the whole, and the mutual help of each other. If once that poison should infect the material world, which hath spoiled the spiritual; let once such a selfish disposition or inclination possess any part of the world, and presently the order, harmony, beauty, pleasure, and profit of the whole world should be interrupted, defaced, and destroyed. Let the sun be supposed to boast itself of its light and influence, and so disdain to impart it to the lower world, and all would run into confusion. Again, I desire you but to take a view of this humour in another's person, (for we are more ready to see others evils than our own,) and how deformed is it? So vile is self-seeking and self boasting, that all men loathe it in others, and hide it from others. It disgraces all actions, how beautiful soever, it is the very bane of human society, that which looses all the links of it, and makes them cross and thwart one another.
But, alas! how much more easy is it, to point out such an evil in a deformed visage, than to discern it in ourselves, and how many will hate it in the picture, who love and entertain it in their own persons! Such deceitfulness is intermingled with most desperate wickedness. I verily believe that it is the predominant of every man, good and bad, except in so far as it is mortified by grace. O the turnings and windings of the heart upon itself, in all the most apparently direct motions towards God and the good of men! What serpentine and crooked circumgirations and reflections are there in the soul of man when the outward action and expression seems most regular and directed towards God's glory, and others edification! Whoever of you have any acquaintance with your own spirits cannot but know this, and be ashamed and confounded at the very thought of it. Self boasting, self complacency, self seeking, all those being of kin one to another, are insinuated into your best notions, and infect them with more atheism before God, than the strongest pious affection can instil of goodness into them. How often will men's actions and expressions be outwardly clothed with a habit of condescendency and self-denial! And many may declaim with such zeal and vehemency against this evil, and yet, latet anquis, the serpent is in the bosom and his venom may be diffused into the heart, and the poison of self-seeking and self-boasting may run through the veins of humble-like carriage and passionate discourses for self denial. O that we could above all things establish that fundamental principle of Christianity in our hearts, even as we would be his disciples, truly and sincerely, and not in outward resemblance, -- to deny ourselves, to renounce ourselves and our lusts, to make a whole resignation of our love, will, glory, and all to him, in whom to be lost it is only truly to find ourselves.
But, though man have this strange self idolizing humour, and a self glorying disposition, yet he is so poor and beggarly a creature, that he hath not sufficient matter within himself to give complacency to his heart, therefore he must borrow from all external things, and when there is any kind of propriety in, or title to them, then he glories in himself for them, as if they were truly in himself. We are creatures by nature most indigent, yet most proud, which is unnatural. No man is satisfied within himself (except the good man, Prov. xiv.14), but he goes abroad to seek it at the door of every creature, and when there are some plumes or feathers borrowed from other birds, like that foolish bird in the fable, we begin to raise our crests, and boast ourselves, as if we had all these of our own, and were beholden to none, but as things that are truly our own will not be sufficient to feed this flame of gloriation, without the accession of outward things; so present things, and the present time, will not afford aliment enough, or fuel for this humour, without the addition of the morrow.
"Boast not thyself of to-morrow." No man's present possession satisfies him, without the addition of hope and expectation for the future, and herein the poverty of man's spirit appears, and the emptiness of all things we enjoy here, that our present revenue, as it were, will not content the heart. The present possession fills not up the vacuities of the heart, without the supply of our imaginations, by taking so much in upon the head of the morrow, to speak so. As one prodigal and riotous waster, who cannot be served with his yearly income, but takes so much on upon his estate, upon the next year's income, before it come, begins to spend upon it, before it come itself, and then, when it comes, it cannot suffice itself, so the insatiable and indigent heart of man cannot subsist and feed its joy in complacency upon the whole world, if it were presently in its possession, without some accession of hopes and expectations for the time to come. Therefore the soul, as it were, anticipates and forestalls the morrow, and borrows so much present joy and boasting upon the head of it, which when it comes itself, perhaps it will not fill the hand of the reaper, let be(278) pay for that debt of gloriation that was taken on upon its name, or compense the expectation which was in it, see Job xi.18, 20, viii.13. Hope is like a man's house to him, but to many it is no better than a spider's web. We have then a clear demonstration of the madness and folly of men, who hang so much upon things without, and suffer themselves to be moulded and modelled in their affections, according to the variety of external accidents. First of all, consider the independence of all things upon us and our choice; there is nothing more unreasonable than to stir our passions upon that which falls not under our deliberation, as the most part of things to come are. What shall be to-morrow, what shall come of my estate, of my places; what event my projects and designs shall have, -- this is not in my hand, these depend upon other men's wills, purposes, and actions, which are not in my power, and therefore, either to boast of glory upon that which depends upon the concurrence of so many causes unsubordinate to me, or to be vexed and disquieted upon the fore-apprehension of that which is not in my hand to prevent, is not only irreligious, as contrary to our Saviour's command, Matt. vi.25, but unreasonable also, as that which even nature condemns. "Take not thought for to-morrow," and so by consequent, "Boast not thyself of to-morrow," and there is one argument from the vanity of such affections. "Thou canst not make one hair black, nor add one cubit to thy stature," &c. To what purpose, then, are either those vexations or gloriations, which cannot prevent evil, nor procure good? Why should our affections depend upon others motions? This makes a man the greatest slave and captive, so that he hath not the dominion and power of himself. But the vanity of such affections is the more increased, if we consider that supreme eternal will, by which all these things are determined, and therefore, it is in vain for creatures to make themselves more miserable, or put themselves in a fool's paradise, which will produce more misery afterwards, and that, for those things which are bound up in that fatal chain of his eternal purpose. Then, in the next place, the folly of men appears from the inconstancy of these things. There is such an infinite variety of the accidents of providence, that it is folly for a man to presume to boast of any thing, or take complacency in it, because many things fall between the cup and the lip,(279) the chalice and the chin, as the proverb is. There is nothing certain, but that all things are uncertain, -- that all things are subject to perpetual motion, revolution, and change, -- to-day a city, to-morrow a heap. And there is nothing between a great city and a heap but one day, nothing between a man and no man but one hour. Our life is subject to infinite casualties, it may receive the fatal stroke from the meanest thing, and most unexpected, it is a bubble floating upon the water, for this world is a watery element, in continual motion with storm; and in these, so many poor dying creatures rise up, and swim and float awhile, and are tossed up and down by the wind and wave; and the least puff of wind or drop of rain sends it back to its own element. We are a vapour appearing for a very little time -- a creature of no solidity -- a dream -- a shadow and appearance of something; and this dream or apparition is but for a little time, and then it evanisheth, not so much into nothing, for it was little distant from nothing before, but it disappears rather. All human affairs are like the spokes of a wheel, in such a continual circumgiration, as a captive king, who was drawing Sesostris's chariot, said, when he was looking often behind him. The king of Egypt, Sesostris, demanded for what end did he look so often about him? Says he, "I am looking to the wheel, musing upon the vicissitudes and permutations of it, how the highest parts are instantly the lowest." And this word repressed the king's vain glory.(280) Now, in this constant wheeling of outward things, which is the soul that enjoys true quiet and peace? Even that soul that is fixed, as it were, in the centre upon God, that hath its abode in him; though the parts without be in a continual violent motion, yet the centre of the wheel is at much peace, is not violently turned, but gently complies to the changes of the other. And then consider the madness of this, -- "Thou knowest not, &c." There are two reasons in the things themselves, -- inconstancy, and independency on us; but this is as pressing as any, -- our ignorance of them; they are wholly in the dark to us, as it were in the lower parts of the earth. As there is no more in our power but the present hour, -- for to yesterday we are dead already, for it is past and cannot return, it is as it were buried in the grave of oblivion, and to to-morrow we are not yet born, for it is not come to the light, and we know not if ever it will come, -- so there is no more in our knowledge but the present hour. The time past, though we remember it, yet it is without our practical knowledge, it admits of no reformation by it; and the time to come is not born to us, and it is all one as if we were not born to it. And indeed, in the Lord's disposing of all affairs under the sun, after this method, there is infinite wisdom and goodness both, though at the first view men would think it better that all things went on after an uniform manner, and that men knew what were to befall them. Yet, I say, God hath herein provided for his own glory and the good of men, -- his own glory, while he hath reserved to himself the absolute dominion and perfect knowledge of his works, and exercises them in so great variety, that they may be seen to proceed from him; and for our good, -- for what place were there for the exercise of many Christian virtues and graces, if it were not so? What place for patience, if there were no cross dispensations? What place for moderation, if there were no prosperity? If there were not such variety and vicissitude, how should the evenness and constancy of the spirit be known? Where should contentment and tranquillity of mind have place? For it is a calm in a storm properly, not a calm in a calm, -- that is no virtue. If the several accidents of providence were foreseen by us, what a marvellous perturbation and disorder would it make in our duty! Who would do his duty out of conscience to God's command, to commit events to him? Now, there is the trial of obedience, to make us go by a way we know not, and resign ourselves to the all seeing providence, whose eyes run to and fro throughout the earth. Therefore that no grace may want matter and occasion of exercise; that no virtue may die out for want of fuel, or rust for lack of exercise, God hath thus ordered and disposed the world. There is no condition, no posture of affairs, in which he hath not left a fair opportunity for the exercising of some grace. Hath he shut up and precluded the acting of one or many through affliction, then surely he hath opened a wide door, and given large matter for self denial, humility, patience, moderation, and these are as precious as any that look fairest. In a word, I think the very frame and method of the disposing of this material world speaks aloud to this purpose. You see, when you look below, there is nothing seen but the outside of the earth, the very surface of it only appears, and there your sight is terminated, but look above, and there is no termination, no bounding of the sight, -- there are infinite spaces, all are transparent and clear without and within. Now, what may this present unto us? One says, it shows us that our affections should be set upon things above and not on things below, seeing below there is nothing but an outward appearance and surface of things, -- the glory and beauty of the earth is but skin deep, but heavenly things are alike throughout, all transparent, nothing to set bounds to the affections; they are infinite, and you may enlarge infinitely towards them. I add this other consideration, that God hath made all things in time dark and opaque, like the earth. Look to them, you see only the outside of them, the present hour, and what is beyond it you know no more, than you see the bowels of the earth, but eternity is both transparent and conspicuous throughout, and infinite too. Therefore God hath made us blind to the one, that we should not set our heart, nor terminate our eyes upon any thing here, but he hath opened and spread eternity before us in the scriptures, so that you may read and understand your fortune, -- your everlasting estate in it. He hath shut up temporal things and sealed them, and wills us to live implicitly, and give him the trust of them without anxious foresight, but eternity he hath unveiled and opened unto us. Certain it is, that no man, till he be fully possessed of God, who is an all sufficient good (Psal. iv.) can find any satisfaction in any present enjoyment, without the addition of some hope for the future. Great things without it will not content. For what is it all to a man if he have no assurance for the time to come? And mean things with it will content. Great things with little hope and expectation, fill with more vexation instead of joy, and the greater they be, this is the more increased. Again, mean and low things, with great hopes and large expectations, will give more satisfaction, therefore, all mankind have a look towards the morrow, and labour to supply their present defects and wants, with hope or confidence of that. I would exhort you who would indeed have solid matter of gloriation, and would not be befooled into a golden dream of vain expectations of vain things, that ye would labour to fill up the vacuities of present things with that great hope, the hope of salvation, which will be as an helmet to keep your head safe in all difficulties, 1 Pet. i.3, Heb. vi.18, 19, Rom. v.5. It is true, other men's expectations of gain and credit, and such things, do in some measure abate the torment and pain of present wants and indigencies, but certain it is, that such hope is not so sovereign a cordial to the heart, as to expel all grief, but leaves much vexation within. But then also, the frequent disappointment of such projects and designs of gain, honour, and pleasure, and the extreme unanswerableness of these to the desires and hopes of the soul, even when attained, must needs breed infinitely more anxiety and vexation in the spirit, than the hope of them could give of satisfaction, yea the more the expectation was, it cannot choose but the greater shame and confusion must be. Therefore, if you would have your souls truly established, and not hanging upon the morrow uncertainly, as the most part of men are get a look beyond the morrow, unto that everlasting day of eternity, that hath no morrow(281) after it, and see what foundation you can lay up for that time to come, as Paul bids Timothy counsel the rich men in the world, who thought their riches and revenues, their offices and dignities, a foundation and well spring of contentment to them and their children, and are ready to say with that man in the parable, "Soul take thy rest, thou hast enough laid up for many years." "Charge them, says he," &c.1 Tim. vi.16-19. O a charge worthy to be engraven on the tables of our hearts, worthy to be written on the ports of all cities, and the gates of all palaces. You would all have a foundation of lasting joy, says he, but why seek you lasting joy in fading things, and certain joy in uncertain riches, and solid contentment in empty things, and not rather in the living God, who is the unexhausted spring of all good things? Therefore, if you would truly boast of to-morrow, or sing a solid requiem to your own hearts, there is another treasure to be laid up in store against the time to come, -- the time only worthy to be called time, that is eternity, and that is study to do good, and be rich in good works, in works of piety, of mercy, of equity, of sobriety. This is a better foundation for the time to come, or, rather receive and embrace the promise of eternal life made to such, -- that free and gracious promise of life in the gospel, and so you may supply all the wants and indigencies of your present enjoyments, with the precious hope of eternal life which cannot make ashamed. But what is the way that the most part of men take to mitigate and sweeten their present hardships? Even like that of the fool in the parable Luke xii. They either have something laid up for many years, or else their projects and designs reach to many years. The truth is, they have more pleasure in the expectation of such things, than in the real possession, but that pleasure is but imaginary also. How many thoughts and designs are continually turning in the heart of man, -- how to be rich, how to get greater gain, or more credit? Men build castles in the air, and fancy to themselves, as it were, new worlds of mere possible things, and in such an employment of the heart, there is some poor deceiving of present sorrows, but at length they recur with greater violence. Every man makes romances for himself, pretty fancies of his own fortune, as if he had the disposing of it himself. He sits down, as it were, and writes an almanack and prognostication in his own secret thoughts, and designs his own prosperity, gain, and advantage, and pleasures or joys, and when we have thus ranked our hopes and expectation, then we begin to take complacency in them, and boast ourselves in the confidence of them, as if there were not a supreme Lord who gives a law to our affairs, as immediately as to the winds and rains.
Now, that you may know the folly of this, consider the reason which is subjoined, -- "For thou knowest not what a day may bring forth." There is a concurrence of inconstancy in all things, and ignorance in us, which might be sufficient to check our folly of confident and presumptuous expectation from them, and gloriation in them, so that, whether we look about us to the things themselves, or within us to ourselves, all things proclaim the folly and madness of that which the heart of man is set upon. And this double consideration the apostle James opposes to the vain hopes and confident undertakings of men, chap. iv.13, &c., which place is a perfect commentary upon this text, he brings in an instance of the resolutions and purposes of rich men, for the compassing of gain by merchandise, whereby you may understand all the several designs and plots of men, that are contrived and ordered, and laid down in the hearts of men, either for more gain, or more glory, or more pleasure and ease. Now, the grand evil that is here reproved, is not simply men's care and diligence in using lawful means for their accommodation in this life, or yet their wise and prudent foresight in ordering of their affairs for attaining that end, for both these are frequently recommended and commended by the wise man Prov. vi.6, and xxiv.27. But here is the great iniquity, -- that men in all these contrivings and actings, carry themselves as if they were absolute independents, without consideration of the sovereign universal dominion of God. No man almost reflects upon that glorious Being, which alone hath the negative and definitive sentence in all the motions and affairs of the sons of men, or considers, that it is not in man that walks to direct his paths; that when all our thoughts and designs are marshalled and ordered, and the completest preparation made for reaching our intended ends, that yet the way of man is not in himself, that all these things are under a higher and more absolute dominion of the most high God. Whose heart doth that often sound unto, -- "A man's heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps," and so is not bound by any rule to conform his executions to our intentions? For he works all according to the counsel of his own will, and not ours, and therefore, no wonder that the product of our actions does not answer our intentions and devices, because the supreme rule and measure of them is above our power, and without our knowledge. And therefore, though there were never so many devices in the heart of man, never so wisely or lawfully contrived and ordered, though the mine be never so well prepared, and all ready for the firing of it, yet the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand, Prov. xix.21, and xvi.9. That higher determination may blow up our best consultations or drown them, for man's goings are of the Lord, how then can a man understand his paths? Prov. xx.24. And yet the most part of men, in all these things, lose the remembrance of this fatal and invincible subordination to God, and propose their own affairs and actions, as if themselves were to dispose of them, and when their own resolutions and projects seem probable, they begin to please themselves in them, in the forethought of what they will do, or what they may have or enjoy to morrow afterward; there is a present secret complacency and gloriation, without any serious reminding the absolute dependence of all things upon the will of God, and their independence upon our counsels without forecasting and often ruminating upon the perpetual fluctuation and inconstancy of human affairs, but, as if we were the supreme moderators in heaven and earth, so we act and transact our own business in a deep forgetfulness of him who sits in heaven, and laughs at all our projects and practices and therefore, the Holy Ghost would have this secret but serious thought to season all our other purposes and consultations, -- "If the Lord will," &c. Whereas though we ought to say and think this, it is scarce minded, and then we know not what shall be to morrow for our life itself is a vapour. Herein is a strong argument, -- you lay your designs for to morrow, for a year, for many years, and yet ye know not if ye shall be to morrow. How many men's projects are cast beyond that time that is measured out on God's counsel! And what a ridiculous thing must that be to him, if it be not done with submissive and humble dependence on him! In a word time is with child of innumerable things, conceived by the eternal counsel of God. Infinite and inconceivably various are those conceptions which the womb of time shall at length bring forth to light. Every day, every hour, every minute is travailing in pain, as it were, and is delivered of some one birth or another, and no creature can open its womb sooner, or shut it longer, than the appointed and prefixed season. There is no miscarrying as to him whose decrees do properly conceive them though to us they seem often abortive. Now, join unto this, to make the allusion full, as long as they are carried in the womb of time, they are hid from all the world. The womb is a dark lodging and no understanding nor eye can pierce into it, to tell what is in it, till it break forth, and therefore, children born are said to come to the light, for till then, they are to us in a cloud of darkness, that we cannot tell what they are. So then, every day, every hour, every moment is about to bring forth that which all the world is ignorant of, till they see it, and oh! that then they understood it. We know not whether the morrow's or next hour's birth may be a proportioned child, or a monster, whether it will answer the figure and mould that is in our mind, or be misshapen and deformed to our sense. Men's desires and designs may be said to conceive, for they form an inward image and idea within themselves, to which they labour to make the product and birth of time conformable, and when it answers our preconceived form, then we rejoice as for a man child. But for the most part it is a monster as to our conception, it is an aberration from our rule, it is either mutilated and defective of what we desire, or superfluous or deformed, which turns our expectation into vexation, and our boasting into lamentation. But the truth is, time brings forth no monsters as to the Lord's decrees, which are the only just measures of all things. It may be said of every thing under the sun, as David speaks of himself in the womb, "My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously formed in the lowest parts of the earth," &c. Psal. cxxxix.15. His eyes see all their substance, yet being unperfect, and in his everlasting book all their members are written, the portraiture of every thing is drawn there to the life, and these in continuance are fashioned just as they were written and drawn, and so they exactly correspond to his preconception of them, whatever deformity they may have as to us, yet they are perfect works, and beautiful to him.