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All these errors and mischiefs must be discovered and cured, and that is the purpose of this discourse.
The sum of all is this: there is no security in any thing or to any person but in the pious and hearty endeavours of a good life, and neither sin nor error does impede it from producing its proportionate and intended effect; because it is a direct deletery to sin and an excuse to errors, by making them innocent, and therefore harmless. And, indeed, this is the intendment and design of faith. For, that we may join both ends of this discourse together, therefore certain articles are prescribed to us, and propounded to our understanding, that so we might be supplied with instructions, with motives and engagements to incline and determine our wills to the obedience of Christ. So that obedience is just so consequent to faith, as the acts of will are to the dictates of the understanding. Faith therefore being in order to obedience, and so far excellent as itself is a part of obedience, or the promoter of it, or an engagement to it; it is evident that if obedience and a good life be secured upon the most reasonable and proper grounds of Christianity, that is, upon the Apostle's Creed, then faith also is secured. Since whatsoever is beside the duties, the order of a good life, cannot be a part of faith, because upon faith a good life is built: all other articles, by not being necessary, are no otherwise to be required but as they are to be obtained and found out,that is, morally, and fallibly, and humanly. It is fit all truths be promoted fairly and properly, and yet but few articles prescribed magisterially, nor framed into symbols and bodies of confession; least of all, after such composures, should men proceed so furiously as to say, all disagreeing after such declarations to be damnable for the future, and capital for the present. But this very thing is reason enough to make men more limited in their prescriptions, because it is more charitable in such suppositions so to do.
But in the thing itself, because few kinds of errors are damnable, it is reasonable as few should be capital.
And because every thing that is damnable in itself and before God's judgment-seat is not discernible before men, and questions disputable are of this condition, it is also very reasonable that fewer be capital than what are damnable, and that such questions should be permitted to men to believe, because they must be left to God to judge. It concerns all persons to see that they do the best to find out truth; and if they do, it is certain that, let the error be ever so damnable, they shall escape the error or the misery of being damned for it. And if God will not be angry at men for being invincibly deceived, why should men be angry one at another P For he that is most displeased at another man's error, may also be tempted in his own will, and as much deceived in his understanding: for if he may fail in what he can choose, he may also fail in what he cannot choose: his understandiug is no more secured than his will, nor his faith more than his obedience. It is his own fault if he offends God in either: but whatsoever is not to be avoided as errors, which are incident oftentimes even to the best and most inquisitive of men, are not offences against God, and therefore not to be punished or restrained by men: but all such opinions, in which the public interests of the commonwealth, and the foundation of faith and a good life, are not concerned, are to be permitted freely. Quisque abundet in sensu suo, was the doctrine of St. Paul; and that is argument and conclusion too: and they were excellent words which St. Ambrose said in attestation of this great truth, Nec imperiale est, libertatem dicendi negare; nec sacerdotale, quod sentias mon dicere. I end with a story which I find in the Jews' books. “When Abraham sat at his tent-door, according to his custom, waiting to entertain strangers; he espied an old man stooping and leaning on his staff, weary with age and travail, coming towards him who was a hundred years of age: he received him kindly, washed his feet, provided supper, caused him to sit down: but, observing that the old man eat and prayed not, nor begged for a blessing on his meat, he asked him why he did not worship the God of heaven. The old man told him that he worshipped the fire only, and acknowledged no other God. At which answer Abraham grew so zealously angry, that he thrust the old man out of his tent, and exposed him to all the evils of the night, and an unguarded condition. When the old man was gone, God called to Abraham and asked him where the stranger was: he replied, I thrust him away because he did not worship thee. God answered him, I have suffered him these hundred years, although he dishonoured me: and couldst not thou endure him one night, when he gave thee no trouble P Upon this, saith the story, Abraham fetched him back again, and gave him hospitable entertainment and wiseinstruction.” Go thou and do likewise, and thy charity will be rewarded by the God of Abraham.
Nunquam minus solus, quam cum solus, is now become a very vulgar saying. Every man, and almost every boy, for these seventeen hundred years, has had it in his mouth. But it was at first spoken by the excellent Scipio, who was, without question, a most eloquent and witty person, as well as the most wise, most worthy, most happy, and the greatest of all mankind. His meaning, no doubt, was this, that he found more satisfaction to his mind, and more improvement of it, by solitude than by company; and to shew that he spoke not this loosely or out of vanity, after he had made Rome mistress of almost the whole world, he retired himself from it by a voluntary exile, and at a private house in the middle of a wood, near Linternum, passed the remainder of his glorious life no less gloriously. This house Seneca went to see so long after with great veneration; and, among other things, describes his baths
to have been of so mean a structure, that now, says he, the basest of the people would despise them, and cry out, “Poor Scipio understood not how to live!” What an authority is here for the credit of retreat! and happy had it been for Hannibal, if adversity could have taught him as much wisdom as was learnt by Scipio from the highest prosperities. This would be no wonder, if it were as truly as it is colourably and wittily said by Monsieur de Montaigne, “that ambition itself might teach us to love solitude ; there is nothing does so much hate to have companions.” It is true it loves to have its elbows free, it detests to have company on either side ; but it delights above all things in a train behind, aye, and ushers too before it. But the greatest part of men are so far from the opinions of that noble Roman, that, if they chance at any time to be without company, they are like a becalmed ship ; they never move but by the wind of other men's breath, and have no oars of their own to steer withal. It is very fantastical and contradictory in human nature, that men should love themselves above all the rest of the world, and yet never endure to be with themselves. When they are in love with a mistress, all other persons are importunate and burthensome to them. Teccum vivere amem, tecum obeam lubens, they would live and die with her alone.
Sic ego secretis possum bene vivere sylvis,
Quà nulla humano sit via trita pede.
Lumen, et in solis tu mihi turba locis.
And yet our dear self is so wearisome to us, that we can scarcely support its conversation for an hour together. This is such an odd temper of mind as Catullus expresses towards one of his mistresses, whom we may suppose to have been of a very unsociable humour.
Odi, et amo: quare id faciam fortasse requiris,
Nescio; sed fieri sentio, et excrucior.
I hate, and yet I love thee too;
It is a deplorable condition this, and drives a man sometimes to pitiful shifts, in seeking how to avoid himself.
The truth of the matter is, that neither he who is a fop in the world is a fit man to be alone; nor he who has set his heart much upon the world though he have never so much understanding; so that solitude can be well fitted, and sit right, but upon a very few persons. They must have enough knowledge of the world to see the vanity of it, and enough virtue to despise all vanity; if the mind be possessed with any lust or passions, a man had better be in a fair, than in a wood alone. They may, like petty thieves, cheat us perhaps, and pick our pockets, in the midst of company; but, like robbers, they use to strip and bind, or murder us, when they catch us alone. This is but to retreat from men, and fall into the hands of devils. It is like the punishment of parricides among the Romans, to be sowed into a bag, with an ape, a dog, and a serpent.
The first work therefore that a man must do to make himself capable of the good of solitude, is the very eradication of all lusts; for how is it possible for a man to enjoy himself, while his affections are tied to things without himself? In the second place, he must learn the art and get the habit of thinking; for this too, no less than well-speaking, depends upon much practice ; and cogitation is the thing which distinguishes the solitude of a God from a wild beast. Now, because the soul of man is not by its own nature or observation furnished with sufficient materials to work upon, it is necessary for it to have continual recourse to learning and books for fresh supplies, so that the solitary life will grow indigent, and be ready to starve, without them ; but if once we be thoroughly engaged in the love of letters, instead of being wearied with the length of any day, we shall only complain of the shortness of our whole life.