A Discovery of
The Shortness and Vanity
An Account of the False Grounds upon
which Men are apt vainly to conceit
themselves to be Righteous.
Luke 16. 15.
And he said unto the Pharisees, Ye are they which justifie your selves before men; but God knoweth your Hearts: for that which is highly esteemed amongst men, is abomination in the sight of God.
Epiphanius in Hæres. 59. κατὰ Καθαρῶν.
Γᾶς ὁ ἑαυτὸν ἀποφῄνας καθαρὸν, ἀκάθαρτον ἑαυτὸν τελείως κατέκρινε.
Renatus Des Cartes in Epistol. ad Princ. Elizabetham.
Nulli facilius ad magnam Pietatis famam perveniunt, quàm Superstitiosi vel Hypocritæ.
Shortness and Vanity
A Pharisaick Righteousness,
Discovered in a Discourse upon
Matthew 19. 20, 21.
The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus saith unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give it to the Poor, and thou shalt have treasure in Heaven: and come and follow me.
A General account of men's Mistakes about Religion. Men are no where more lazy and sluggish, and more apt to delude themselves, then in matters of Religion. The Religion of most men is but an Image and Resemblance of their own Fansies. The Method propounded for discoursing upon those words in S. Matthew. 1. To discover some of the Mistakes and False Notions about Religion. 2. To discover the Reason of these Mistakes. A brief Explication of the Words.
AS there is no kind of Excellency more generally pretended to then Religion, so there is none less known, or wherein men are more apt to delude themselves. Every one is ready to lay <350> claim, and to plead a Right in it; (like the Bat in the Jewish fable, that pretended the Light was hers, and complain'd of the unjust detainment thereof from her;) but few there are that understand the true worth and pretiousness of it. There are some Common Notions and a Natural instinct of Devotion seated in the Minds of men, which are ever and anon roving after Religion; and as they casually and fortuitously start up any Models and Ideas of it, they are presently prone to believe themselves to have found out this only Pearl of price: the Religion of most men being indeed nothing else but such a Strain and Scheme of Thoughts and Actions, as their Natural propensions, sway'd by nothing else but an Inbred belief of a Deity, accidentaily run into; nothing else but an Image and Resemblance of their own Fansies which are ever busie in painting out themselves; which is the reason why there are as many Shapes and Features of Religion painted forth in the Minds of men, as there are various Shapes of Faces and Fansies. Thus men are wont to fashion and limne out their Religion to themselves in a strange and uncouth manner, as the Imaginations of men in their Dreams are wont to represent monstrous and hideous shapes of things that no where else appear but there. And though some may seem to themselves to have ascended up above this Low region, this Vulgar state of Religion; yet I doubt they may still be wrap'd up in Clouds and darkness, they may still be but in a Middle region, like wandring Meteors that have not yet shak'd off that gross and earthly Nature which will at last force them again downwards. There may be some who may arrive at that Book-skill and learning in Divine Mysteries, that with a Pharisaick pride looking down upon the rude and vulgar sort of men, may say, <351>  * This people that knows not the Law are cursed; who themselves yet converse only with an aiery Ghost and shadow of Religion: though the Light of divine truth may seem to shine upon them, yet by reason of their dark and opacous hearts, it shines not into them: They may, like this dark and dull Earth, be superficially guilded, and warmed too, with its beams, and yet the impressions thereof doe not pierce quite through them. There may be many fair Semblances of Religion where the Substance and Power of it is not. We shall here endeavour to discover some of them which may seem most specious, and with which the weak Understandings of men (which are no where more lazy and sluggish then in matters of Religion) are most apt to be deluded; and then discover the Reason of these Mistakes.
For which purpose we have made choice of these Words, wherein we find a young Pharisee beginning to swell with a vain conceit of his good estate towards God, looking upon himself as being already upon the Borders of Perfection, having from his youth up kept on a constant course in the way of God's Commandements; he could not now be many miles from the land of Canaan, if he were not already passed over Jordan; he thought himself to be already in a state of Perfection, or at least within sight of it: and therefore making account he was as lovely in our Saviours eyes as he was in his own, asks him, What lack I yet?
For the understanding of which we must know the Jewes were wont to distinguish Righteous men into two sorts, צדקים and צדקים גמורים, to which this Quère of his seems to refer, as if he had said, Having kept all God's commandements, sure my Good deeds cannot only over-ballance my Evil, no, but they rather <352> fill both the scales of the Divine ballance; I have no Evil deeds to weigh against them: what therefore can I want of the end and scope of the Divine Law, which is to make men perfect, seeing I have guided my whole life from my youth up by the Precepts of it? To which our Saviour replies; If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. Which words I can neither think to be spoken as Consilium perfectionis in the Papal sense, nor yet only as a particular and special Precept; but rather by way of Conviction: So that the full sense and importance of our Saviours speech seems to be this, viz. A mere Conformity of the Outward man to the Law of God is not sufficient to bring a man to Eternal life; but the Inward man also must deeply receive in the stamp and impression of the Divine Law, so as to be made like to God. True Perfection is not consistent with any Terrene loves or Worldly affections: This Mundane life and spirit which acts so strongly and impetuously in this lower world, must be crucified: The Soul must be wholly dissolved from this Earthy body which it is so deeply immerst in, while it endeavours to enlarge its sorry Tabernacle upon this material Globe, and by a holy abstraction from all things that pinion it to Mortality, withdraw it self and retire into a Divine solitude. If thou therefore wert in a state of Perfection, thou wouldest be able at the first call from God to resigne up all Interest here below, to quitt all claim, and to dispose of thy self and all worldly enjoyments according to his pleasure without any reluctancy; and come and follow me. And this I think was the true Scope of our Saviours answer; which proved a real Demonstration, as it appears in the sequel of the Story, <353> that this confident Pharisee had not yet attained to those mortified affections which are requisite in all the Candidates of true Blessedness; but only cheated his own Soul with a bare External appearance of Religion, which was not truly seated in his Heart: and I doubt not but many are ready upon as slight Grounds, and with as much confidence, to take up his Quere, What lack I yet?
We shall therefore in the first place, according to what we promised, inquire into some of those false Pretences which men are apt to make to Happiness, and shew in four Particulars how Religion is mistaken.
An Account of mens Mistakes about Religion in 4 Particulars. 1. A Partial obedience to some Particular Precepts. The False Spirit of Religion spends it self in some Particulars, is confin'd, is overswayed by some prevailing Lust. Men of this spirit may by some Book-skill, and a zeal about the Externals of Religion, loose the sense of their own Guiltiness, and of their deficiencies in the Essentials of Godliness, and fansy themselves nearly related to God. Where the true Spirit of Religion is it informs and actuates the whole man, it will not be confin'd, but will be absolute within us, and not suffer any corrupt Interest to grow by it.
THE First is, A Partial obedience to some Particular Precepts of Gods law. That arrogant Pharisee that could lift up a bold face to heaven, and thank God he was no Extortioner, nor unjust, nor guilty of any Publican-sins, found it easie to perswade himself <354> that God justified him as much as he did himself.
It was a vulgar Rule given by the Jewish Doctors, which I fear too many live by, That men should single out some one Commandement out of Gods law, and therein especially exercise themselves, that so they might make God their friend by that, lest in others they should too much displease him. Thus men are content δεκάζειν, to pay God their Decimæ, and Septimæ of their lives too, if need be, so that they may without fear of sacriledge, or purloining, as they suppose, from him, enjoy all the rest to themselves: But they are not willing to consecrate their whole lives to him, they are afraid lest Religion should incroach too much upon them, and too busily invade their own rights and liberties, as their Selfish Spirit calls them.
There are such that it may be think themselves willing that God should have his due, so be it he will also let them enjoy their own without any lett or molestation; but they are very jealous lest he should incroach too much upon them, and are carefull to maintain a Meum and Tuum with Heaven it self, and to set bounds to God's prerogative over them, lest it should swell too much, and grow too mighty for them to maintain their own Priviledges under it. They would fain understand themselves to be free-born under the dominion of God himself, and therefore ought not to be compelled to yield obedience to any such laws of his as their own private seditious Lusts and Passions will not suffer them to give their consent unto.
There be such who perswade themselves they are well-affected to God, and willing to obey his Commandements, but yet think they must not be uncivil to the World; nor so base and cowardly as not to maintain their own credit and reputation, with a due re <355> venge upon those that seem to impair it; or so much forget themselves, as not to comply with the guise and fashion of this world so far as it may make for their own emolument or preferment. Such as these, that are no fast friends to Religion, can easily find some Posterndore to slip out by into this World: and while they either doe some constant homage to Heaven in the exercise and performance of some Duties of Religion, or abstain from such Vices as the common opinions of men brand with infamie, or can fansie themselves to be marked out with some of those Characters which they have learned from Books or Pulpit-discourses to be the Notes of God's Children and justified persons; they grow big with Self-conceit, and can easily find out some handsome piece of Sophistry and cunning Topick to delude themselves by, in indulging some beloved Lust or other: They can sometimes beat down the price of other mens religion, to inhance the value of their own; or it may be by a burning and fiery zeal against the Opinions and deportments of others that are not of their own Sect, they may loose the sense of all their own guiltiness. The Disciples themselves had almost forgotten the mild and gentle Spirit of Religion, in an over-hasty heat calling for Fire down from heaven upon those whom they deemed their Master's enemies.
Sometimes a Partial spirit in Religion, that spends it self only in some Particulars, mistakes the fair complexions of Good nature for the true face of Vertue; and a good Bodily temperament will serve it, as a flattering glass, to bestow beauty upon a deformed and misshapen Mind, that it may seem vertuous. But it is not a true Spirit of Religion, whatsoever those wanton wits may call it, that is thus Particular and confin'd. No, that is of a subtile and working nature, it will be search <356> ing through the whole man, and leave nothing uninformed by it self: as it is with the Soul that runs through all the portions of Matter and every member of the Body. Sin and Grace cannot lodge together, they cannot divide and share out between them two several Dominions in one Soul.
What is commonly said of Truth in general, we may say more especially of true Goodness, magna est, & prævalebit: it will lodge in the Souls of men, like that mighty, though gentle, Heat which is entertained in the Heart, that alwaies dispenseth warm Bloud and Spirits to all the members in the Body: it will not suffer any other Interest to grow by it: it will be so absolute as to swallow up all our carnal freedom, and crush down all our fleshly liberty: as Moses his Serpent did eate up all the Serpents of the Egyptian Magicians, so will it devour all that viperous brood of iniquity, which our Magical Self-will by her witchcraft and enchantments begets within us: like a strong and vehement Flame within us, it will not only singe the hair, or scorch and blister the skin, but it will go on to consume this whole Body of death: it is compared by our Saviour to Leaven that will ferment the whole mass in which it is wrap'd up: it will enter into us like the Refiner's fire, and the Fuller's Soape: like the Angel of God's presence that he promised to send along with the Israelites in their journy to Canaan, it will not pardon our iniquities, nor indulge any darling lust whatsoever: it will narrowly pry into all our actions, and be spying out all those back-waies and dores whereby Sin and Vice may enter.
That Religion that runs out only in Particularities, and is overswayed by the prevailing power of any Lust, is but only a dead carkass, and not indeed that <357> true living Religion which comes from Heaven, and which will not suffer it self to be confin'd; that will not indent with us, or article upon our tearms and conditions, but Sampson-like will break all those bonds which our fleshly and harlot-like wills would tie it with, and become every way absolute within us. And so I pass to the Second thing wherein men are apt to delude themselves in taking an Estimate of their own Religion, viz.
The Second Mistake about Religion, viz. A meer complyance of the Outward man with the Law of God. True Religion seats it self in the Centre of mens Souls, and first brings the Inward man into Obedience to the Law of God: the Superficial Religion intermeddles chiefly with the Circumference and Outside of men; or rests in an outward abstaining from some Sins. Of Speculative and the most close and Spiritual wickedness within. How apt men are to sink all Religion into Opinions and External Forms.
A Mere compliance of the Outward man with the Law of God. There is an ὁ ἔξω and an ὁ ἔσω ἄνθρωπος that Philosophy hath acknowledged as well as our Christian Divinity: and when Religion seats it self in the Centre of mens Souls, it acts there most strongly upon the Vital powers of it, and first brings the Inward man into a true and chearfull obedience to the law of God, before all the seditious and rebellious motives of the External or Animal man be quite subdued. But a Superficial Religion many times inter <358> meddles only with the Circumference and Outside of men, it only lodges in the suburbs and storms the outworks, but enters not the main Fort of mens Souls, which is strongly defended by inward Pride, Self-will, particular and mundane Loves, fretting and self-consuming Envy, Popularity and Vain-glory, and such other Mental vices, that when they are beaten out of the visible behaviours and conversations of men by Divine threats or promises (which may be too potent to be controll'd) retreat and secure themselves here as in a strong Castle. There may be many who dare not pursue Revenge, and yet are not willing to forgive injuries; who dare not murther their enemy, that yet cannot love him; who dare not seek for preferment by Bribery, who yet are not mortified to these and many other mundane and base-born affections: they are not willing that the Divine prerogative should extend it self beyond the Outward man, and that Religion should be too busie with their Inward thoughts and passions: if they may not by proud boasting set off their own sorry commodities upon the publick stage, and there read out their own Panegyricks; yet they will inwardly applaud themselves, and commit wanton dalliance with their own Parts and Perfections; and not feeling the mighty power of any Higher good, they will endeavour to preserve an unhallowed Autæsthesie and feeling sense of themselves; and by a sullen melancholy Stoicisme, when Religion would deprive and bereave them of the sinfull glory and pleasures of this Outward world, they then retire and shrink themselves up into a Centre of their own, they collect and contract themselves into themselves. Thus when this low life of mens Souls is chased out of the External vices and vanities of this World by the chastisements of their own Con <359> sciences, or many times by bodily oppressions, it presently retires into it self, and by a Self-feeling begins more to grasp and dearly embrace it self. When these External loves begin to be starved and cooled, yet men may then fall into love with and courting of themselves by Arrogancy, Self-confidence and dependence, Self-applause and gratulations, Admiration of their own perfections; and so feed that dying life of theirs with this Speculative wantonness, that it may as strongly express it self within them, as before it did without themselves. Men may by inward braving of themselves sacrilegiously steal God's glory from him, and erect a Self-supremacy within, exerting it self in Self-will and particular loves, and so become Corrivals with God for the Crown of Blessedness and Self-sufficiency, as I doubt many of the Stoicks endeavoured with a Giant-like ambition to doe.
But alas, I doubt we generally arrive not to this pitch of Religion, to deny the world, and all the pomp and glory of this largely-extended train of Vanity; but we easily content our selves with some External forms of Religion. We are too apt to look at a garish dress and attire of Religion, or to be enamoured rather with some more specious and seemingly-spiritual Forms, then with the true Spirit & Power of Godliness & Religion it self. We are more taken commonly with the several new fashions that the luxuriant Fancies of men are apt to contrive for it, then with the real power and simplicity thereof: and while we think our selves to be growing in our knowledge, and moving on towards a state of Perfection, we do but turn up and down from one kind of Form to another; we are as apt still to draw it down into as low, worldly and mundane Rites and Ordinances, as ever it was before our Saviour made <360> that glorious Reformation therein, which took away these Material crutches made up of carnal Observances which Earthly minds lean so much upon, and are fain to underprop their Religion with, which else would tumble down and fall to nothing: except we can cast it into such a certain Set of duties and System of Opinions, that we may see it altogether from one end to another, we are afraid lest it should become too abstruse a thing and vanish away from us.
I would not be misunderstood to speak against those Duties & Ordinances which are necessary means appointed by God to promote us in the waies of Piety: But I fear we are too apt to sink all our Religion into these, and so to embody it, that we may as it were touch and feel it, because we are so little acquainted with the high and spiritual nature of it, which is too subtile for gross and carnal minds to converse with. I fear our vulgar sort of Christians are wont so to look upon such kind of Models of Divinity and Religious performances, which were intended to help our dul minds to a more lively sense of God and true Goodness, as those things that claim the whole of their Religion: and therefore are too apt to think themselves absolved from it, except at some solemn times of more especial addresses to God; and that this wedding garment of holy Thoughts and divine Affections is not for every days wearing, but only then to be put on when we come to the Marriage-feast and Festivals of Heaven: as if Religion were fast lock'd and bound up in some sacred Solemnities, and so incarcerated and incorporated into some divine Mysteries, as the superstitious Heathen of old thought, that it might not stir abroad and wander too far out of these hallowed Cloisters, and grow too busie with us in our Secular imploiments. <361> We have learned to distinguish too subtily I doubt in our lives and conversations inter sacrum & profanum, our Religious approaches to God and our Worldly affairs. I know our conversation and demeanour in this world is not, nor can well be, all of a piece, and there will be several degrees of Sanctity in the lives of the best men, as there were once in the land of Canaan; but yet I think a Good man should alwaies find himself upon Holy ground, and never depart so far into the affairs of this life, as to be without either the call or compass of Religion; he should alwaies think wheresoever he is, etiam ibi Dii sunt, that God and the blessed Angels are there, with whom he should converse in a way of Puritie. We must not think that Religion serves to paint our Faces, to reform our Looks, or only to inform our Heads, or instruct and tune our Tongues; no, nor only to tie our Hands, and make our Outward man more demure, and bring our Bodies and bodily actions into a better decorum: But its main business is to purge and reform our Hearts and all the Elicit actions and motions thereof. And so I come to a Third particular wherein we are apt to misjudge our selves in matters of Religion.
The Third Mistake about Religion, viz. A constrain'd and forc'd Obedience to God's Commandments. The Religion of many (some of whom would seem most abhorrent from Superstition) is nothing else but Superstition properly so called. False Religionists, having no inward sense of the Divine Goodness, can <362> not truly love God: Yet their sowre and dreadfull apprehensions of God compell them to serve him. A slavish spirit in Religion may be very prodigal in such kind of serving God as doth not pinch their Corruptions; but in the great and weightier matters of Religion, in such things as prejudice their beloved Lusts, it is very needy and sparing. This servile Spirit has low and mean thoughts of God, but an high opinion of its Outward services, as conceiting that by such cheap things God is gratified and becomes indebted to it. The different Effects of Love and Slavish fear in the truly, and in the falsly, Religious.
ANother Particular wherein men mistake Religion, is A constrained and forced obedience to God's Commandments. That which many men (amongst whom some would seem to be most abhorrent from Superstition) call their Religion, is indeed nothing else but a δεισιδαιμονία* , that I may use the word in its ancient and proper sense, as it imports such an apprehension of God as renders him grievous to men, and so destroys all free and chearfull converse with him, and begets in stead thereof a forc'd and dry devotion, void of inward Life and Love. Those Servile spirits which are not acquainted with God and his Goodnesse, may be so haunted by the frightfull thoughts of a Deity, as to scare and terrifie them into some worship and observance of him. They are apt to look upon him as one clothed with austerity, or, as the Epicurean Poet hath too truly painted out their thoughts, as a savus Dominus, that is, in the language of the unprofitable servant in the Gospel, an hard Master; and therefore they think something must be done to please him, and to mitigate his severity towards them: and though they cannot truly love him, <363> having no inward sense of his Loveliness, yet they cannot but serve him so far as these rigorous apprehensions lie upon them; though notwithstanding such as these are very apt to perswade themselves that they may pacifie him and purchase his favour with some cheap services, as if Heaven it self could become guilty of Bribery, and an Immutable Justice be flattered into Partiality and Respect of persons. Because they are not acquainted with God, and know him not as he is in himself, therefore they are ready to paint him forth to themselves in their own shape: and because they themselves are full of Peevishness and Self-will, arbitrarily imposing and prescribing to others without sufficient evidence of Reason, and are easily inticed by Flatteries; they are apt to represent the Divinity also to themselves in the same form, and think they view the true pourtraiture and draught of their own Genius in it; and therefore that they might please this angry Deity of their own making, they care not sometimes to be lavish in such a kind of Service of him as doth not much pinch their own corruptions; nay and it may be too, will seem to part with them sometimes, and give them a weeping farewel, if God and their own awakened Consciences seem to frown upon them; though all their Obedience arise from nothing else but the Compulsions and necessities which their own sowre and dreadfull apprehensions of God lay upon them: and therefore in those things which more nearly touch their own beloved Lusts, they will be as scant and sparing as may be; here they will be as strict with God as may be, that he may have no more then his due, as they think, like that Unprofitable servant in the Gospel, that, because his Master was an austere man, reaping where he had not sown, and gathering where he had <364> not scattered, was content and willing he should have his own again, but would not suffer him to have any more.
This Servile spirit in Religion is alwaies illiberal and needy in the Magnalia Legis, the great and weightier matters of Religion, and here weighs out Obedience by drams and scruples: it never finds it self more shrivell'd and shrunk up, then when it is to converse with God; like those creatures that are generated of slime and mud, the more the Summer-sun shines upon them, and the nearer it comes to them, the more is all their vital strength dried up and spent away: their dreadfull thoughts of God, like a cold Eastern wind, blasts all their blossoming affections, and nips them in the bud: these exhaust their native vigour, and make them weak and sluggish in all their motions toward God. Their Religion is rather a Prison or a piece of Penance to them, then any voluntary and free compliance of their Souls with the Divine will: and yet because they bear the burden and heat of the day, they think, when the evening comes, they ought to be more liberally rewarded; such slavish spirits being ever apt inwardly to conceit that Heaven receives some emolument or other by their hard labours, and so becomes indebted to them, because they see no true gain and comfort accruing from them to their own Souls; and so because they doe God's work and not their own, they think they may reasonably expect a fair compensation, as having been profitable to him. And this I doubt was the first and vulgar foundation of Merit: though now the world is ashamed to own it.
But alas, such an ungodlike Religion as this can never be owned by God: the Bond-woman and her son must be cast out. The Spirit of true Religion is of <365> a more free, noble, ingenuous and generous nature, arising out of the warm beams of the Divine love which first hatch'd it and brought it forth, and therefore is it afterwards perpetually bathing it self in that sweetest love that first begot it, and is alwaies refresh'd and nourish'd by it. This Love casteth out fear, fear which hath torment in it, and is therefore more apt to chase away Souls once wounded with it from God, rather then to allure them to God. Such fear of God alwaies carries in it a secret Antipathy against him, as being λυπηρὸν καὶ βλαβερὸν, as Plutarch speaks, one that is so troublesome that there is no quiet or peaceable living with him. Whereas Love by a strong Sympathy draws the Souls of men, when it hath once laid hold upon them by its powerfull insinuation, into the nearest conjunction that may be with the Divinity; it thaws all those frozen affections which a Slavish fear had congealed and lock'd up, and makes the Soul most chearfull, free, and nobly resolved in all its motions after God. It was well observed of old by Pythagoras, βέλτιστοι γινόμεσθα πρὸς τοὺς δεοὺς βαδίζοντες, we are never so well as when we approach to God; when in a way of Religion we make our addresses to God, then are our Souls most chearfull. True Religion and an Inward acquaintance with God discovers nothing in him but pure and sincere Goodness, nothing that might breed the least distaste or disaffection, or carry in it any semblance of displeasingness; and therefore the Souls of good men are never pinching and sparing in their affections: then the Torrent is most full and swells highest, when it empties it self into this unbounded Ocean of the Divine Being. This makes all the Commandements of God light and easie and far from being grievous. There needs no * Law to compel a Mind acted by <366> the true spirit of divine love to serve God or to comply with his Will. It is the choice of such a Soul to endeavour to conform it self to him, and draw from him as much as may be an Imitation of that Goodness and Perfection which it finds in him. Such a Christian does not therefore obey his Commands only because it is God's Will he should doe so, but because he sees the Law of God to be truly perfect, as David speaks: his nature being reconciled to God finds it all holy, just and good, as S. Paul speaks, and such a thing as his Soul loves, sweeter then the honey or the honey-combe; and he makes it his meat and drink to doe the Will of God, as our Lord and Saviour did. And so I pass to the Fourth and last Particular wherein Religion is sometimes mistaken.
The Fourth and last Mistake about Religion, When a mere Mechanical and Artificial Religion is taken for that which is a true Impression of Heaven upon the Souls of men, and which moves like a new Nature. How Religion is by some made a piece of Art, and how there may be specious and plausible Imitations of the Internals of Religion as well as of the Externals. The Method and Power of Fancy in contriving such Artificial imitations. How apt men are in these to deceive both themselves and others. The Difference between those that are govern'd in their Religion by Fancy, and those that are actuated by the Divine Spirit and in whom Religion is a Living Form. That True Religion is no Art, but a new Nature. Religion discovers <367> it self best in a Serene and clear Temper of Mind, in deep Humility, Meekness, Self-denial, Universal love of God and all true Goodness.
THE Fourth and last Particular wherein men misjudge themselves, is, When a mere Mechanical and Artificial Religion is taken for that which is a true Impression of Heaven upon the Souls of men, and which moves like an Inward nature. True Religion will not stoop to Rules of Art, nor be confin'd within the narrow compass thereof: No, where it is, we may cry out with the Greek Philosopher, ἐστὶ τίς Θεος ἔνδον. God hath there kindled as it were his own Life which will move and act only according to the Laws of Heaven. But there are some Mechanical Christians that can frame and fashion out Religion so cunningly in their own Souls by that Book-skill they have got of it, that it may many times deceive themselves, as if it were a true living thing. We often hear that mere Pretenders to Religion may go as far in all the External acts of it as those that are best acquainted with it: I doubt not also but many times there may be Artificial imitations drawn of that which only lives in the Souls of good Men, by the powerful and wily Magick of exalted Fancies; as we read of some Artificers that have made such Images of living creatures, wherein they have not only drawn forth the outward shape, but seem almost to have copied out the life too in them. Men may make an Imitation as well of those things which we call the Internals of Religion, as of the Externals. There may be a Semblance of inward Joy in God, of Love to him and his Precepts, of Dependance upon him, and a filial Reverence of him; which by the contrivance and power of Fancie may be represented in a Masque <368> upon the Stage of the Animal part of a mans Soul. Those Christians that fetch all their Religion from pious Books and Discourses, hearing of such and such Signs of Grace and Evidences of Salvation, and being taught to believe they must get those, that so they may go to Heaven; may presently begin to set themselves on work, and in an Apish imitation cause their Animal Powers and Passions to represent all these; and Fancie being well acquainted with all those several Affections in the Soul that at any time express themselves towards Outward things, may, by the power it hath over the Passions, call them all forth in the same Mode and fashion, & then conjoin with them some Thoughts of God and Divine things, which may serve thus put together for a handsome Artifice of Religion wherein these Mechanicks may much applaud themselves.
I doubt not but there may be such who to gain credit with themselves, and that glorious name of being the Children of God (though they know nothing more of it but that it is a Title that sounds well) would use their best skill to appear such to themselves, so qualified and molded as they are told they must be. And as many times Credit and Reputation among men may make them pare off the Ruggedness of their Outward man, and polish that; so to gain their own good opinion, and a reputation with their own Consciences which look more inwardly, they may also endeavour to make their Inward man look at some times more smooth and comely: and it is no hard matter for such Chamæleon-like Christians to turn even their insides into whatsoever hue and colour shall best please them, and then Narcissus-like to fall in love with themselves: a strong and nimble Fancie having such command over the Animal spirits, that it can send them forth in full <369> troops which way soever it pleaseth, and by their aide call forth and raise any kind of Passion it listeth, and when it listeth allay it again, as the Poets say Æolus can doe with the Winds. As they say of the force of Imagination, that Vis Imaginativa signat fœtum; so Imagination may stamp any Idea that it finds within itself upon the Passions, and turn them as it pleases to what Seal it will set upon them, and mold them into any likeness; and a man looking down and taking a view of the Plot as it is acted upon the Stage of the Animal powers, may like and approve it as a true Platform of Religion. Thus may they easily deceive themselves, and think their Religion to be some Mighty thing within them, that runs quite through them and makes all these transformations within them; whereas the Rise and Motion of it may be all in the Animal and Sensitive powers of the Soul; and a wise observer of it may see whence it comes and whither it goes: it being indeed a thing which is from the earth, earthy, and not like that true Spirit of Regeneration which comes from Heaven, and begets a Divine life in the Souls of good men, and is not under the command of any such Charms as these are, neither will it move according to those Laws, and Times, and Measures that we please to set to it: but we shall find it manifesting its mighty supremacy over the Highest powers of our Souls. Whereas we may truly say of all Mechanicks in Religion, and our Mimical Christians, that they are not so much actuated and informed by their Religion, as they inform that; the power of their own Imagination deriving that Force to it which bears it up and guides all its motions and operations. And therefore they themselves having the power over it, can new mold it as themselves please, according to any new Pattern which shall like them <370> better then the former: they can furnish this domestick Scene of theirs with any kind of matter which the history of other mens religion may afford them; and if need be, act over all the Experiences of that sect of men to which they most addict themselves so to the life, that they may seem to themselves as well experienc'd Christians as any others; and so, it may be, soar so aloft in Self-conceit, as if they had already made their nests amongst the stars, and had viewed their own mansion in Heaven. What was observed by the Stoick concerning the vulgar sort of men, ὁ βίος ὑπόληψις, may as truly be said of this sort of Christians, their life is nothing else but a strong Energy of Fancy and Opinion.
But besides, lest their Religion might too grosly discover it self to be nothing else but a piece of Art, there may be sometimes such Extraordinary motions stirred up within them which may prevent all their own Thoughts, that they may seem to be a true operation of the Divine life; when yet all this is nothing else but the Energy of their own Self-love touch'd with some Fleshly apprehensions of Divine things, and excited by them. There are such things in our Christian Religion that, when a Carnal and unhallowed mind takes the Chair and gets the expounding of them, may seem very delicious to the fleshly appetites of men: Some doctrines and notions of Free-Grace and Justification; the magnificent Titles of Sons of God and Heirs of Heaven; ever-flowing streams of Joy and Pleasure that blessed Souls shall swim in to all eternity; a glorious Paradise in the world to come, alway springing up with well-sented and fragrant Beauties; a New Jerusalem paved with Gold and bespangled with Stars, comprehending in its vast circuit such numberless vari <371> eties, that a busie curiosity may spend it self about to all eternity. I doubt not but that sometimes the most fleshly & earthly men, that fly their ambition to the pomp of this world, may be so ravish'd with the conceits of such things as these, that they may seem to be made partakers of the powers of the world to come; I doubt not but that they may be as much exalted with them, as the Souls of crazed and distracted persons seem to be sometimes, when their Fancies play with those quick and nimble Spirits which a distempered frame of Body and unnatural heat in their Heads beget within them. Thus may these blazing Comets rise up above the Moon, and climbe higher then the Sun; which yet, because they have no solid consistencie of their own, and are of a base and earthly allay, will soon vanish and fall down again, being only born up by an External force. They may seem to themselves to have attain'd higher then those noble Christians that are gently mov'd by the natural force of true Goodness; they may seem to be pleniores Deo then those that are really inform'd and actuated by the Divine Spirit, and do move on steddily and constantly in the way towards Heaven; as the Seed that was sown in the thorny ground, grew up and lengthened out its blade faster then that which was sown in the good and fruitfull soil. And as the Motions of our Sense, Fancy and Passions, while our Souls are in this mortal condition sunk down deeply into the Body, are many times more vigorous and make stronger impressions upon us then those of the Higher powers of the Soul, which are more subtile and remote from these mixt and Animal perceptions; that Devotion which is there seated may seem to have more Energy and life in it then that which gently and with a more delicate kind of touch spreads it self upon the Understanding, and <372> from thence mildly derives it self through our Wills & Affections. But howsoever the Former may be more boisterous for a time, yet This is of a more consistent, spermatical and thriving nature: For that proceeding indeed from nothing else but a Sensual and Fleshly apprehension of God and true Happiness, is but of a flitting and fading nature; and as the Sensible powers and faculties grow more languid, or the Sun of Divine light shines more brightly upon us, these earthly devotions like our Culinary fires will abate their heat and fervour. But a true Celestial warmth will never be extinguish'd, because it is of an Immortal nature; and being once seated vitally in the Souls of men, it will regulate and order all the motions of it in a due manner, as the natural Heat radicated in the Hearts of living creatures hath the dominion and Oeconomy of the whole Body under it, and sends forth warm Bloud and Spirits and Vital nourishment to every part and member of it. True Religion is no piece of artifice; it is no boiling up of our Imaginative powers nor the glowing heats of Passion; though these are too often mistaken for it, when in our juglings in Religion we cast a mist before our own eyes: But it is a new Nature informing the Souls of men; it is a God-like frame of Spirit, discovering it self most of all in Serene and Clear minds, in deep Humility, Meekness, Self-denial, Universal love of God and all true Goodness, without Partiality and without Hypocrisie; whereby we are taught to know God, and knowing him to love him, and conform our selves as much as may be to all that Perfection which shines forth in him.
THUS far the First part of this Discourse, which was designed (according to the Method propounded) to give a particular account of mens Mistakes about Religion. The other part was intended to discover the reason of these Mistakes. But whether the Author did finish that Part, it appears not by any Papers of his which yet came to my hands. If he did, and the Papers should be in others hands (for the Author was communicative) if they (or any other Papers of the Authors) be sent to Mr William Morden, Bookseller in Cambridge, the like care shall be taken for the publishing of them as hath been for this Collection.
 John 7.
 See the Tract of Superstition.
 Quis legem det amantibus? Major Lex Amor est sibi. Boetius l. 3. de Consol. Philos.
Cite as: John Smith, ‘A Discovery of the Shortness and Vanity of Pharisaick Righteousness’, from Select Discourses (1660), pp. 347-373, https://www.cambridge-platonism.divinity.cam.ac.uk/view/texts/diplomatic/Smith1660H-excerpt008, accessed 2023-12-01.