« PreviousContinue »
worth. Alas! it falls out too frequently among us, as it doth with men in the Indies, who walk over the rich veins of gold and silver ore, which lies hid under a ragged and barren surface, and know it not. For my own part, I desire not to value any man by what is extrinsical and worldly, but by that true internal excellency of grace, which makes the face to shine in the eyes of God and good men. I would contemn a vile person, though never so glorious in the eye of the world; but honour such as fear the Lord, how sordid and despicable soever to appearance.
Upon the Sight of a Kobin-Bed-Breast picking up a Worm
from a Mole-hill, then rising.
Observing the mole working industriously beneath, and the bird watching so intently above, I made a stand to observe the issue; when in a little time the bird descends and seizes upon a worm, which I perceived was crawling apace from the enemy below that hunted her, but fell to the share of another which from above waited for her. My thoughts presently suggested these meditations from that occasion: methought this poor worm seemed to be the emblem of my poor soul, which is more endangered by its own lusts of pride and covetousness than this worm was by the mole and bird: my pride, like the aspiring bird, watches for it above; my covetousness, like this subterranean mole, digging for it beneath. Poor soul, what a sad dilemma art thou brought to! If thou go down to the caverns of this earth, there thou art a prey to thy covetousness that hunts thee; and if thou aspire or but creep upward, there thy pride waits to ensnare thee. Distressed soul, whither wilt thou go? Ascend thou mayest, not by a vain elation, but by a heavenly conversation; besides which, there is no way for thy preservation. "The way of life is above to the wise."
Again, I could not but observe the accidental benefit this poor harmless bird obtained by the labour of the mole, who, hunting intentionally for herself, unburrowed and ferreted out this worm for the bird, who possibly was hungry enough, and could not have been relieved for this time but by the mole, the fruit of whose labours she now feeds upon. Even thus the Lord oftimes makes good His Word to His people: “The wealth of the wicked is laid up for the just.” And again, “ The earth shall help the woman.” This was fully exemplified in David, to whom Nabal, that churlish muckworm, speaks in all possessives. "Shall I take my bread, &c., and give to one I know not whom?” And yet David reaps
the fruit of all the pains and toil of Nabal at last.
Let it never encourage me to idleness, that God sometimes gives His people the fruit of others' sweat; but if Providence reduce me to necessity, and disable me from helping myself, I doubt not then but it will provide instruments to do it. The bird was an hungred, and could not dig.
Upon the Shooting of Two finches Fighting in the Air.
How soon hath death ended the quarrel bewixt these two little combatants ! Had they agreed better they might have lived longer ; 'twas their own contention that gave both the opportunity and provocation of their death ; and though living they could not, yet being dead they can lie quietly together in my hand.
Foolish birds, was it not enough that birds of prey watch to devour them, but they must peck and scratch one another ! Thus have I seen the birds of paradise (saints I mean) tearing and wounding each other, like so many birds of prey, and by their unchristian contests giving the occasion of their common ruin; yea, and that not only when at liberty, as these were, but when engaged also : and yet, as one well observes, if ever Christians will agree, 'twill either be in a prison or in
heaven; for in a prison their quarrelsome lusts lie low, and in heaven they shall utterly be done away.
But oh! what pity is it that those who shall agree so perfectly in heaven should bite and devour each other
earth! that it should be said of them, as one ingeniously observed, who saw their carcases lie together, as if they had lovingly embraced each other, who fell together by a duel, Quanta amicitia se invicem amplectuntur, qui mutua et implacabili inimicitia perierunt !
Embracing one another now they lie,
Or, as he said, who observed how quietly and peaceably the dust and bones even of enemies did lie together in the grave : Non tanta vivi pace conjuncti essetis ; You did not live together so peaceably. If conscience of Christ's command will not, yet the consideration of common safety should powerfully persuade to unity and amity.
Upon the Haltering of Birds with a Gin of Hair.
Observing in a snowy season how the poor hungry birds were haltered and drawn in by a gin of hair, cunningly cast over their beads, whilst, poor creatures ! they were busily feeding, and suspected no danger; and even whilst their companions were drawn away from them one after another, all the interruption it gave the rest was only for a minute or two, whilst they stood peeping into that hole through which their companions were drawn, and then fell to their meat again, as busily as before ; I could not choose but say, “Even thus surprisingly doth death steal upon the children of men, whilst they are wholly intent upon the cares and pleasures of this life, not at all suspecting its so near approach." Those birds saw not the hand that ensnared them, nor do they see the hand of death plucking them one after another into the grave.
Omnibus obscuras injicit ille manus.—Ovid.
Its hand's unseen, but yet most surely takes. And even as the surviving birds for a little time seemed to stand affrighted, peeping after their companions, and then as busy as ever to their meat again ; just so it fares with the careless inconsiderate world, who see others daily dropping into eternity round about them, and for the present are a little startled, and will look into the grave after their neighbours, and then fall as busily to their earthly employments and pleasures again as ever, till their own turn comes.
I know, my God, that I must die as well as others; but, oh! let me not die as do others; let me see death before I feel it, and conquer it before it kill me ; let it not come as an enemy upon my back, but rather let me meet it as a friend half way. Die I must, but let me lay up that good treasure before I go (Matt. vi. 19), carry with me a good conscience when I go (2 Tim. iv. 6, 7), and leave behind me a good example when I am gone; and then let death come and welcome!
Upon the Clogging a straying Beast.
Had this bullock contented himself, and remained quietly within his own bounds, his owner had never put such a heavy clog upon his neck; but I see the prudent husbandman chooses rather to keep him with his clog than lose him for want of one. What this clog is to him, that is affliction and trouble to me. Had my soul kept close with God in liberty and prosperity, He would never thus have clogged me with adversity ; yea, and happy were it for me, if I might stray from God no more, who hath thus clogged me with preventive
afflictions ; if with David I might say, “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept Thy word” (Psal. cxix. 67). O my soul, 'tis better for thee to have thy pride clogged with poverty, thy ambition with reproach, thy carnal expectancies with constant disappointments, than to be at liberty to run from God and duty.
'Tis true, I am sometimes as weary of these troubles as this poor beast is of the clog he draws after him, and often wish myself rid of them ; but yet, if God should take them off, for aught I know I might have cause to wish them on again, to prevent a greater mischief. 'Tis storied of Basil, that for many years he was sorely afflicted with an inveterate headache (that was his clog): he often prayed for the removal of it; at last God removed it : but instead thereof, he was sorely exercised with the motions and temptations of lust; which when he perceived, he as earnestly desired his headache again, to prevent a greater evil. Lord, if my corruptions may be prevented by my affliction, I refuse not to be clogged with them; but my soul rather desires thou wouldst hasten the time when I shall be for ever freed from them both.
An Ecstasy. [In the case of Mr Howe, as we shall presently find, there were two occasions in his life to which he looked back as seasons of supernatural happiness. In his " Treatise of the Soul of Man,” Mr Flavel records at length a similar experience; and although, like St Paul in his account of the “Man in Christ” (2 Cor. xii. 2–4), he uses the third person, there can be no doubt that he himself is the subject of the narration. Nor, perhaps, need we wonder that to those men of God were vouchsafed such foretastes of the joys which await spirits made perfect. Were our own thoughts more frequently and continuously fixed on Divine realities, we might occasionally forget the body, and know something of heaven while here on earth.]