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mighty proud, and puffed up; not being ashamed to be more esteemed for the work of a mechanic tailor, than for their virtuous actions: others think to be honoured for their dishonours, bragging of their vices: others boast of the nobility of their blood, without looking upon virtue, and so make that a vice which was to oblige them to noble actions; converting that which was to be their honour, into infamy; valuing themselves more for being noble, than being virtuous and just.
A man is no greater than what he is in the eyes of God; and the estimation which God hath of us, is not for being born in a palace, but for being righteous and just: what an error is it, then, to value ourselves more for our human birth by which we are made sinners, than for our divine birth, by which we are made just? How foolish were he, who, being the son of a king and bond-woman, should esteem himself more for being the son of a slave, than of a monarch? More fool is he, who values more the nobility of his blood in being a gentleman, than the nobility of his soul in being a Christian; all honours of the earth are but splendid vanities; and those who seek after them, are like boys who hunt after butterflies: yet many souls have perished by them. If David cursed the mountains of Gilboa, because Saul and Jonathan died upon them; with much more reason may we curse the high mountains of honour, upon which so many souls have been sure to perish.
Let us consider what riches are, unto whom Gregory Nazianzen did much honour, when he called them a precious dung; truly in themselves they are not much better: "Gold and silver," said Antoninus the philosopher, "were nothing else than excrements and dregs of the earth; what are precious stones but shining pebbles: some red, some green?" &c.; silk, but the slaverings of worms? and the finest Holland, and the purest linen, but threads of certain plants? Other webs of esteem are made of hair of beasts; whereof, if we should meet one in our meat, it would make us loathe it; and many in their clothes are proud of them; furs, what are they but the skins of contemptible vermin? civet, but the sweat of a cat near its most noisome parts? amber, but the uncleanness of a whale; or something which the sea purges from it, as not worthy to be preserved? What are possessions,
palaces, cities, provinces, and spacious kingdoms? They are only toys of men, who, though old, are but children in esteeming so much of them. Lucian, beholding them not from the imperial heaven, but from the sphere of the moon, said, "All Greece possessed not above four fingers; and that Peloponnesus was not bigger than a lentil seed." To Seneca, the whole compass of the earth seemed but a point; and all the greatness thereof only matter of sport. Riches were invented for the ease and commodity of life; but as man hath made them, they serve for the greatest trouble and vexation he who hath wealth, hath most want, because he not only needs for himself, but for all which he possesseth: so that he which hath a great house, hath the same necessities that his house hath, which are many; for a great house requires much furniture, and a large family; and so charges the master with multitudes of servants, great quantities of plate, hangings, and other ornaments superfluous to use and human commodity; insomuch as none are more poor than the rich; because they want, not only for themselves, but for all that is theirs : at least, riches want not this incommodity, that although they were invented for human use and ease, yet he that hath them in the greatest abundance, hath the greatest cares, troubles, dangers, and ever the greatest losses. Let us, therefore, while we have time, make over our riches; let us send them before us into another world; heaven stands open to receive them, we need not doubt of safe carriage; the carriers are very faithful and trusty, they are the poor and needy of this world; we make over unto them here, by way of exchange, a few things of little value; being to receive in heaven for them, an exceeding eternal weight of glory.
How narrow is the sphere of all our pleasures, which, besides the short time they endure, are mingled with wormwood of many pains and griefs? the adulterer, how many troubles and dangers does he usually pass, before he compass his desire? in the enjoying, what fears and suspicions assault him? and when it is past, (if he thinks seriously of his sin,) what remorse and repentance afflict him? And oftentimes, how many long diseases and sharp pains succeed that, which lasted but a moment? The several sorts of gusts, whereof the touch is capable, exceed not two or three, but the distinct
sorts of pains which afflict it, are without number; the greatest pleasure of the sense holds no comparison with the grief endured by the separation of a member; or the pain suffered by him who hath the stone, sciatica, or some violent disease in extremity.
What shall we say of the royal and imperial dignity, which seems, in human judgment, to embrace all the happiness of the world? Honours, riches, pleasures, all are contained in it; but how small is a kingdom, since the whole earth, in respect of the heavens, is no bigger than a point!
Look not upon the crown, but upon the tempest of cares which accompany it; fix not thy eyes upon the purple, but upon the mind of the king, more sad and dark than the purple itself; the diadem doth not more encompass his head, than cares and suspicions his soul: look not at the squadrons of his guards, but at the armies of his molestations which attend him; for nothing can be so full of cares as the palaces of kings: but it is far otherwise in heaven, the palace and house of God, where the just, without mixture or counterpoise of misery, are to enjoy those eternal.
If you look upon the so much esteemed greatness of this world; the brave palaces, renowned cities, large kingdoms; you may compare them to those little houses of sand or dirt, made by children for their entertainment; which men stand by and laugh at; and oftentimes, if their parents or masters find that it hinders them from learning of their lessons, they strike them down with their feet, and destroy that in a moment, which hath cost the boys much time and labour; so God useth to deal with those, who, neglecting his service, employ themselves in scraping together riches, enlarging their possessions, building of palaces, which he destroys with that ease, as if they were those little houses of sand, made by children; and certainly, more children are they, who set their hearts upon the greatness of this short life, than those who busy themselves in walls of dirt.
Esteem none for their exterior lustre and bravery; he must die as well as the most poor and unknown beggar; he must be buried, and at last appear before the just judgment; wherefore dost thou then value and admire those things which have no consistence, as if they were to last for ever?
If you look upon a table, where you behold painted a
rich and powerful man, and a poor contemptible beggar, you neither envy the one nor despise the other; because you know them to be shadows and no truths: the same judgment we ought to make of the things themselves; for all are but shadows, and little more than nothing: and as in a comedy or farce, it imports little who plays Alexander, and who the beggar, since all are equal when the play is done; so are all after death.
I will, therefore, from hence learn not to admire the grandeur of this world, nor to desire any thing in it; I have an inheritance in heaven, which none can take from me; there I have a mansion, not made by the hands of men; I will look after those eternal goods, which, by my faith and hope, I do now enjoy; they can never be taken from me, for they are the eternal inheritance of the just.
The Vanity of Man.
If we consider the greatest thing in nature, which is man, we shall see how vain and little he is, being temporal. What is man? saith Seneca. A frail vessel, broken with the least motion; a most weak body, naked by nature, and unarmed, subject to the injuries of fortune; composed of things infirm and fluid, and those very things, without which man cannot live, as smell, taste, meat, and drink, are mortal unto him. The wise Solon did not answer more favourably, when they demanded of him, What was man? "He is," saith he, “a corruption in his birth, a beast in his life, and food for worms when he is dead." He does things evil, which are not lawful; things filthy, which are not decent; things vain, which are not expedient: behold the plants and trees; they produce flowers, haws, and fruit; man, nothing but vermin and worms: they furnish us with oil, wine, and balsam; man affords nothing but phlegm and ordure: those send forth a fragrant odour, and man abominable stink: and such is man even in his youth and best time; but if he reach old age, which is esteemed as a felicity, his heart is afflicted, his head shakes, his spirits languish, his breath smells, his face
wrinkles, his stature bends, his eyes wax dim, his hands tremble, his hair falls, his ears grow deaf; neither is he more changed in body than in mind: an old man is easily displeased, hardly pacified, believes quickly, covetous, froward, still complaining, admires what is past, contemns what is present, sighs, grieves, languishes, and is always infirm.
Consider, also, wherein man ends; what thing more noisome than a human carcass? what more horrible than a dead man? he whose embraces were most acceptable when he was alive, even his sight is troublesome when he is dead; what do riches and honour profit him? they shall not free him from death, they shall not defend him from the worms, they shall not take away his stink and ill savour; he, who even now was seated in a glorious throne, is now flung into an obscure tomb; he, who lately feasted in a sumptuous sata, is now feasted upon by worms in a dark sepulchre; wherefore dost thou wax proud, dust and ashes, whose conception was in sin, whose birth in misery, whose life in pain, and whose death necessity? Wherefore dost thou swell, and adorn thy flesh with precious things, which, in a few days, is to be devoured by worms; and dost not rather adorn thy soul with good works, which is to be presented in heaven before God and his angels?
Besides that man is a thing so poor and mean, and composed of so base and vile materials; this vileness and meanness hath no firmness nor consistence, but is a river of changes, a perpetual corruption, and a fantasm of time; his nature, from his birth until his death, is unstable, mutable, and transitory; the more you consider it, the more it flies from you. The embryon, which is framed from seed, quickly becomes an infant; from thence a boy, from thence a young man, from thence an old, and then decrepit; and so the first age being past and corrupted by new ones which succeed, it comes at last to die: how ridiculous then are men to fear one death, who have already died so many, and are yet to die more? He never remains the same, but in every moment he changes, as it were, with various fantasms in one common matter; if he be still the same, how comes he to delight in things he did not before? He now loves and abhors after another manner than formerly; he now praises and dispraises other things than he did before, he uses other words, and is