Page images
PDF
EPUB

that our

wisdom, which in a manner comprehendeth the rest, and manageth them; whereby we rightly discern what is true, and what is fit to be done in any case proposed : this we are prone in great measure to arrogate, and much to pride ourselves therein. The world is full as it can hold of wise men, or of those who take themselves to be such ; not only absolutely, but comparatively, in derogation and preference to all others : May it not be said to us as Job did to his friends, “ No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you ? Do we not fancy ourselves incomparably wise, so that all our imaginations are deep and subtile, all our resolutions sound and safe, all our opinions irrefragably certain, all our sayings like so many oracles, or indubitable maxims? Do we not expect that every man's judgment should stoop to ours ? do we not wonder that any man should presume to dissent from us? must any man's voice be heard when we speak ? Do we not suppose authority doth add huge weight to our words ? that it is unquestionably true because we say it? that it is presumption, it is temerity, it is rudeness hardly pardonable to contest our dictates? This is a common practice, and that which is often prohibited and blamed in Scripture : · Be not wise in thine own eyes,' saith the wise man; and,

• Be not wise in your own conceits,' saith the Apostle ; and, 'I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think ; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.'

The great reasonableness of which precepts will appear by considering both the absurdity and the inconveniences of the practice which they forbid.

If we do reflect either on the common nature of men, or on our own constitution, we cannot but find our conceits of our wisdom

very absurd : for how can we take ourselves for wise, if we observe the great blindness of our mind, and feebleness of human reason, by many palpable arguments discovering itself? if we mark how painful the search, and how difficult the comprehension is of any truth; how hardly the most sagacious can descry any thing, how easily the most judicious mistake; how the most learned everlastingly dispute, and the wisest irre

concileably clash aboat matters seeming most familiar and facile; how often the most wary and steady do shift their opinions; how the wiser a man is, and the more experience he gaineth, the less confident he is in his own judgment, and the more sensible he groweth of his weakness; how dim the sight is of the most perspicacious, and how shallow the conceptions of the most profound; how narrow is the horizon of our knowlege, and how immensely the region of our ignorance is distended; how imperfectly and uncertainly we know those few things, to which our knowlege reacheth; how answerably to such experience we are told in sacred writ, that every man is brutish in his knowlege;' that 'the Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity;' that 'vain man would be wise, though he be born like an ass's colt,' (that is, he is naturally wild and stupid ;) that wisdom is hid from the eyes of all men, and is not found in the land of the living;' that “the thoughts of mortal men are miserable, and our devices uncertain :' if we, I say, do consider such things, how can we but find it strange, that any man should admire his own wisdom, seeing that he thereby doth exempt himself from the common adjunct of his nature, and forgetteth himself to be a man?

If also a man particularly reflecteth on himself, the same practice must needs appear very foolish ; for that every man thence may discover in himself peculiar impediments of wisdom; every man in his complexion and in his condition may find things apt to pervert his judgment, and obstruct his acquisition of true knowlege. Is his temper sanguine ? thence becometh he quick, rash, credulous, confident and peremptory, slippery and fickle: is it phlegmatic? thence is he slow and heavy; diffident, pertinacious, and stiff in his conceits : his mind is either soft and limber, so as easily to receive the impressions of falsehood speciously represented; or hard and tough, so that he cannot readily admit instruction in truth, or correction of error. His wealth distracteth, or his poverty disturbeth his thoughts; prosperity swelleth his mind up into vain presumptions and satisfactions, or adversity sinketh it down into unreasonable despondencies and dislikes of things; plenty breedeth sloth, want createth trouble, indisposing him to think well; ease doth rust bis parts, and business weareth

them out; inclination, interest, company, prejudice, do forcibly sway his apprehensions; so that no man can get himself into, or keep himself steady in a perfect balance, requisite for exact judgment of things; no man therefore can obtain a degree of wisdom, whereof he may with any reason be conceited; the wisest men surely on such experience have been little satisfied with their share: • Surely,' saith one, 'I am

more brutish than any man, and I have not the understanding of a man;' and, 'So foolish,' said another, ‘was I, and ignorant; I was as a beast before thee :' this conceitedness therefore is very absurd, and an argument of notable ignorance and folly; neither is there perhaps any more plain instance or demonstration of general folly reigning among men than this, that commonly we are so blind and stupid as not to discern and resent our own folly : ' If any man,' saith St. Paul, “thinketh that he knoweth any thing, be knoweth not any thing yet as he ought to know: that is, if any man conceiteth himself to be considerably wise or intelligent, it is a plain sign that he is very ignorant, and understandeth little to any purpose.

So it is, if we consider ourselves singly; and it is more so, in comparison to others; for what ground can a man have of arrogating to himself a peculiarity of wisdom or judgment? to deem himself extraordinary in that, to which there are no other than ordinary means of arriving? to fancy himself wiser than any other, whenas (secluding accidental differences, that cannot be accounted for) all men have the same parts and faculties of soul, the same means and opportunities of improvement, the same right and liberty of judging about things ? Did not he, who • formeth the spirit of man within him,' put into every man that heavenly mark, whereby we discern and judge of things? is not every man concerned in that saying of Elihu, • There is a spirit in men, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding ?' do not the fountains of knowlege (natural delight, divine revelation, human instruction, continual experience) stand open to all; and are no less common to men, than is the air they breathe, and the sun which equally shineth on them all? Is God, the donor of wisdom, partial in the distribution of it ? doth not that overture reach indifferently to all, ' If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giyeth

to all men liberally,—and it shall be given him ?' may not others be as inquisitve, as industrious, as sincere as we in the search of truth? why not then as successful in finding it? Is there any private chink, through which light shineth ouly on us, or truth may be espied ? is there any cunning by-path, in which we alone, with more expedition and security than others in the common roads, can travel on toward knowlege? What patents have we to show for a monopoly of reason ? what right have we to engross any knowlege? who hath granted us a privilege of sure judgment, or an exemption from error ? how can we in trial of things claim more than a single vote ? or why should our word have more weight than any other ? may not any man with as much reason prefer his judgment before ours, as we before his ? and if we blame him for it, do we not thereby condemn ourselves for doing the like ? if we do know but the same things, or frame the same judgments with others, how can we be conceited of that which is promiscuous ? if we pretend to abstruse notions, or hold forth paradoxes, how can that be ground of boasting, seeing the cause standeth contested by authority no less than our own, and that it is vain to triumph over the opinions of others before we have conquered them? why in such cases is it not reasonable to presume that among the

many dissenters from us, there are some who have as much sense as we, and who have weighed the matter with no less care, no less indifferency? In fine, may not any man with good cause propound to us that expostulation in Job : · Hast thou heard the secret of God? and dost thou restrain wisdom to thyself? What knowest thou, that we know not? what understandest thou, which is not in us ?'

Such conceitedness therefore is very absurd ; and it is no less hurtful; for many great inconveniences, many sad mischiefs spring from it, such as gave the prophet cause to denounce,

Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own conceit:' it hath many ways bad influence on our souls, and on our lives; it is often our case, which was the case of Babylon, when the prophet said of it, Thy wisdom and thy knowlege hath perverted thee; for thou hast said in thy heart, I am, and none else beside me.'

It is a great bar to the getting wisdom, to the receiving in

6

struction and right information about things; for he that taketh himself to be abundantly knowing or incomparably wise, will not care to learn, will scorn to be taught; he thence becometh more incapable of wisdom than a mere idiot; so did Solomon observe, · Seest thou,' said he,' a man wise in bis own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him :' of a fool that is sensible of his ignorance, there may be hope, that he may by instruction become wise ; but he that taketh himself to want no instruction, or to be above learning, is in a desperate condition.

It rendereth men in doubtful or difficult cases unwilling to seek, and unapt to take advice; he will not care for or admit any counsellor but himself; hence he undertaketh and easily is deceived, and incurreth disappointment, damage, disasters in his affairs. As it is most incident to weak, inconsiderate, lazy persons, who have not a capacity, will not yield attention, or take pains to get right notions of things, so it doth smother all industry, consideration, and circumspection; for such persons think they need no labor in searching truth, no care in weighing arguments, no diligence in observing things ; they can easily at first sight descry all, and penetrate to the bottom of things; they have at easy rates the pleasure of fancying themselves wise ; why should they spend farther pains to dispossess themselves of that pleasure, or to introduce another less satisfactory ? thus is the sluggard,' as Solomon saith,

wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason.'

It rendereth us very rash and precipitant in judging; for the first shows of things, or the most slender arguments, which offer themselves, being magnified, and aggravated from opinion concerning ourselves, do sway our judgment, and draw forth a sudden resolution from us; it must, we presently suppose,

be

very reasonable, because it seemeth reasonable to us.

Hence also we persist obstinate and incorrigible in error; for what reason can be efficacious to reclaim him whose opinion is the greater reason ? what argument can be ponderous enough to outweigh his authority ? how can he (the man of wisdom, the perspicacious and profound person) yield that he hath erred ? BAR. VOL. III.

X

« PreviousContinue »