Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Of Society and Vanity
By John Tillotson (16301694)
From the Sermon Good Men Strangers and Sojourners upon Earth
AND if we go abroad into the world, and try the conversation of men, it cannot but grieve us to see a great many things, which yet we must see every day; the censoriousness, and uncharitableness, and insincerity of men one towards another; to see with what kindness they will treat one another to the face, and how hardly they will use them behind their backs. If there were nothing else, this one naughty quality, so common and reigning among mankind, were enough to make an honest and true-hearted man, one that loves plainness and sincerity, to be heartily sick of the world, and glad to steal off the stage, where there is nothing native and sincere, but all personated and acted; where the conversation of a great part of men is all designing and insidious, full of flattery and falsehood, of good words and ill offices: one speaketh peaceably to his neighbour with his mouth, but in his heart he lieth in wait, as it is in the prophet, Jer. ix. 8. And when a man hath done all the good turns he can, and endeavoured to oblige every man, and not only to live inoffensively, but exemplarily; he is fairly dealt withal, and comes off upon good terms, if he can but escape the ill words of men for doing well, and obtain a pardon for those things which truly deserve praise.
But setting aside these, and the like melancholy considerations; when we are in the health and vigour of our age, when our blood is warm, and our spirits quick, and the humours of our body not yet turned and soured by great disappointments, and grievous losses of our estates, or nearest friends and relations, by a long course of afflictions, by many cross events and calamitous accidents; yet we are continually liable to all these: and the perpetual fear and danger of them is no small trouble and uneasiness to our minds, and does in a great measure rob us of the comfort, and eat out the pleasure and sweetness of all our enjoyments; and, by degrees, the evils we fear overtake us; and as one affliction and trouble goes off, another succeeds in the place of it, like Jobs messengers, whose bad tidings and reports of calamitous accidents came so thick upon him, that they overtook one another.
If we have a plentiful fortune, we are apt to abuse it to intemperance and luxury; and this naturally breeds bodily pains and diseases, which take away all the comfort and enjoyment of a great estate. If we have health, it may be we are afflicted with losses, or deprived of friends, or crossd in our interests and designs, and one thing or other happens to impede or interrupt the contentment and happiness of our lives. Sometimes an unexpected storm, or some other sudden calamity, sweepeth away, in an instant, all that which with so much industry and care we have been gathering many years. Or if an estate stand firm, our children are taken away, to whose comfort and advantage all the pains and endeavours of our lives were devoted. Or if none of these happen (as it is very rare to escape most, or some of them), yet for a demonstration to us that God intended this world to be uneasy, to convince us that a perfect state of happiness is not to be had here below, we often see in experience, that those who seem to be in a condition as happy as this world can put them into, by the greatest accommodations towards it, are yet as far or farther from happiness, as those who are destitute of most of those things wherein the greatest felicity of this world is thought to consist. Many times it so happens, that they who have all the furniture and requisites, all the materials and ingredients of a worldly felicity at their command, and in their power, yet have not the skill and ability out of all these to frame a happy condition of life to themselves. They have health, and friends, and reputation, and estate in abundance, and all outward accommodations that heart can wish; and yet in the midst of all these circumstances of outward felicity, they are uneasy in their minds, and as the wise man expresseth it, in their sufficiency they are in streights, and are as it were surfeited even with happiness itself, and do so fantastically and unaccountably nauseate the good condition they are in, that though they want nothing to make them happy, yet they cannot think themselves so; though they have nothing in the world to molest and disgust them, yet they can make a shift to create as much trouble to themselves, out of nothing, as they who have the real and substantial causes of discontent.
Which plainly shews, that we are not to look for happiness here; tis not to be found in this land of the living; and after our enquiries after it, we shall see sufficient reason to take up Solomons conclusion, that all is vanity and vexation of spirit; which is much the same with that aphorism of David his father, which I mentioned before, that man in his best estate is altogether vanity.
But what happiness soever our condition in this world is capable of, tis most assuredly full of uncertainty and unsettlement; we cannot enjoy it long, and every moment we are in danger of being deprived of it. Whatever degree of earthly felicity we are possessed of, we have no security that it shall continue. There is nothing in this world, but, when we are as sure of it as this world can make us, may be taken away from us by a thousand accidents. But suppose it to abide and continue; we ourselves shall be taken away from it. We must die, and in that very day all our enjoyments and hopes, as to this world, will perish with us; for here is no abiding place, we have no continuing city; so that it is in vain to design a happiness to ourselves in this world, when we are not to stay in it, but only travel and pass through it.