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how can he part with the satisfaction of being always in the right, or endure the affront of being any time baffled?
It rendereth men peevish and morose, so as to bear nobody that dissenteth from them, nor to like any thing which doth not hit their fancy; to cross their opinion or humor is to derogate from their wisdom; and being in their apprehension so injured, they find cause to be angry.
It rendereth them insolent, and imperious in conversation, so as to dictate, and impose their conceits on others. He that is conceited of his own wisdom, will imagine that on that advantage he hath a right to prescribe, others an obligation to submit; eo ipso he becometh a common master and judge; and they are culpable who will not yield him a credulous ear, who will not stand to his decision.
Hence also do men become so carping and censorious; for if any man's words do not jump with their notions, if any man's actions be not conformable to their rules, they straightway rise up to condemn them of folly, of faultiness.
Yea, hence men become intolerably pragmatical; for they conceit themselves better to know another's concernments than he himself doth, and so will intrude his advice, will be angry if his advice be not followed.
To such inconveniences and iniquities this ill disposition exposeth us, and to many others; for it is indeed that in effect which the holy Scripture representeth as the source of all impious and wicked courses; to which men betray themselves, while taking themselves to be wise, they do stiffly adhere to their own imaginations and devices, although contrary to the prescriptions of divine wisdom, to the dictates of common reason, to the admonitions of sober and good men: 'We will,' say they in the prophet, walk after our own devices, and we will every one do the imagination of his evil heart :' and, ́ I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that is not good, after their own thoughts' and, If he blesseth himself, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of my heart' and, So I gave them unto their own heart's lust, and they walked in their own counsels.' These are descriptions of bad men, implying self-conceit to be the root of their impiety.
2. Again, we are apt to conceit highly and vainly of our moral qualities and performances; taking ourselves for persons rarely good, perfect, and blameless; apprehending no defects in our souls, or miscarriages in our lives, although indeed we are as full of blemishes, we are as guilty of faults as others; "There is,' saith the wise man, a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness;' to this generation we belong, if we admire our virtues, if we justify our lives, if (as it is said of the pharisee) we trust in ourselves that we are righteous.'
This practice doth include great folly, and it produceth great mischiefs.
It is very foolish, and argueth the greatest ignorance that can be; for such is the imperfection, the impotency, the impurity of all men, even of the wisest and best men, (discernible to them who search their hearts and try their ways, strictly comparing them to the rules of duty, God's laws, and the dictates of reason,) that no man can have reason to be satisfied in himself or in his doings every man looking into himself, shall find his mind so pestered with vain and filthy thoughts; his will so perverse, so froward, so weak, so unsteady; his desires so fond and unwarrantable; his passions so disorderly and ungovernable; his affections so misplaced, or at least so cold and dull in regard to their right objects; his resolutions toward good so weak and slack; his intentions so corrupt, or mixed with oblique regards; he that observeth his actions, shall in the best of them (as to the principles whence they rise, as to the ends they drive at, as to the manner of their performance) find so many great defailances, that he will see cause rather to abhor than to admire himself.
Who, let me ask, doth love God with all his soul, so as to place in him his total content and delight, so as to do all things out of love to him, with a regard to his honor and service? so as to be willing and glad to part with all things for his sake? who hath that constant and lively sense of God's benefits and mercies that he should have? who hath a perfect resignation of will to his pleasure, so as to be displeased with no event dispensed by his hand? who hath such a vigor of faith and confidence in him, as will support him in all wants, in all distresses,
in all temptations, so as never to be disquieted or discouraged by them, so as to cast on God (as he is commanded) all the cares of his soul and burdens of his life? who constantly maintaineth a fervor of spirit, a steadiness of resolution, a clear and calm frame of soul, an abstractedness of mind from worldly desires and delights? who continually is fervent and undistracted in his devotion? who with an unwearied and incessant diligence doth watch over his thoughts? who doth intirely command his passions, and bridle his appetites? who doth exactly govern his tongue? who is perpetually circumspect over his actions? who loveth his neighbor as himself, seeking his good, and delighting therein as in his own; being sorry for his adversities, as if they had befallen himself? who feeleth that contrition of spirit, that shame, that remorse for his sins, or that detestation of them, which they deserve? who is duly sensible of his own unworthiness? Very few of us surely, if we examine our consciences, can answer that we are they who perform these duties; and if not, where is any ground of self-conceit? how much cause rather is there of dejection, of displeasure, of despising and detesting ourselves!
There have indeed been sects of men (such as the Novatians and the Pelagians,) who have pretended to perfection and purity; but these men, one would think, did never read the Scripture, did never consult experience, did never reflect on their minds, did never compare their practice with their duty; had no conscience at all, or a very blind and stupid one. Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?' was a question of Solomon, to the which he thought no man could answer affirmatively of himself: If I justify myself, my own mouth shall condemn me; if I say I am perfect, it shall prove me perverse;' was the asseveration of that person, whose virtue had undergone the severest trials: In many things we offend all,' was the confession of an Apostle in the name of the wisest and best men.
Such men indeed (in contemplation of themselves and of their doings) have ever been ready to think meanly of themselves, to acknowlege and bewail their unworthiness, to disclaim all confidence in themselves, to avow their hope wholly to be reposed in the grace and mercy of God; (in his grace for
ability to perform somewhat of their duty; in his mercy for pardon of their offences;) to confess themselves, with Jacob, less than the least of God's mercies;' with David, that they are worms, and no men;' with Job, that they are vile, and unable to answer God, calling them to account, in one case of a thousand; that they abhor themselves, and repent in dust and ashes;' that after they have done all, they are unprofitable servants.' And is he not very blind who doth see in himself those perfections which the greatest saints could not descry in themselves? is he not infinitely vain that fancieth himself more worthy than they did take themselves to be?
In fine, every man is in some kind and degree bad, sinful, vile; it is as natural for us to be so, as to be frail, to be sickly, to be mortal: there are some bad dispositions common to all, and which no man can put off without his flesh; there are some, to which every man (from his temper, inclination, and constitution of body or soul) is peculiarly subject, the which by no care and pain can be quite extirpated, but will afford during life perpetual matter of conflict and exercise to curb them conceit therefore of our virtue is very foolish.
And it breedeth many great mischiefs.
Hence doth spring a great security, and carelessness of correcting our faults; for taking ourselves to be well, we see not any need of cure, thence seek none, nor admit any.
Yea, hence riseth a contempt of any means conducible to our amendment, such as good advice and wholesome reproof; to advise such an one is to accuse him wrongfully, to reprove him is to commit an outrage on his presumed integrity of virtue. Hence also proceedeth a neglect of imploring the grace and mercy of God; for why should persons of so great strength crave succor? how should they beg pardon, who have so little sense of guilt? It is for a weak person to cry, Lord help me; it is for a publican to pray, 'God be merciful unto
me a sinner.'
It breedeth arrogance and presumption even in devotions, or addresses to God, inducing such persons in unseemly manner to justify themselves before God, to claim singular interest in
him, to mind him, and as it were to upbraid him with their worthy deeds, to thank him for their imaginary excellencies; like the conceited Pharisee; God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers-I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I possess.' They cannot demean themselves toward God as miserable sinners, who fancy themselves as admirable worthies, and gallants in virtue.
Also, a natural result thereof is a haughty contempt of others, venting itself in a supercilious and fastuous demeanor; so it was in the pharisees, who,' saith St. Luke, trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.' Such persons, observing or suspecting defects and misbehaviors in others, but discerning none in themselves, do in their opinion advance themselves above their brethren, and accordingly are prone to behave themselves toward them such men as they are the especially good men, the godly, the saints, the flower of mankind, the choice ones, the darlings of God, and favorites of heaven, the special objects of divine love and care: others are impure and profane, rejectaneous and reprobate people, to whom God beareth no good-will or regard; hence proceedeth a contemptuous disregard or estrangedness toward other men; like that of those separatists in the prophet, who, notwithstanding they were a people provoking God to anger continually to his face,' were yet, in conceit of their own special purity, ready to say, 'Stand by thyself, come not near to me, for I am holier than thou:' whereas those who, soberly reflecting on their nature, their hearts, their ways, do frame a right judgment of themselves, can hardly esteem any man worse than themselves; they perceive themselves so frail, so defectuous, so culpable, as to find great reason for their compliance with those apostolical precepts: In lowliness of mind, let each man esteem others better than himself;' In honor prefer one another.'
This likewise disposeth men to expect more than ordinary regard from others; and they are much displeased, if they find it not in degree answerable to their conceit of themselves; taking them for silly, envious, or injurious persons, who forbear to yield it such excellent persons must in