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PROVERBS xxix. 5.

A man that flattereth his neighbour spreadeth a net for his feet.

2. THE second thing wherein flattery consists is, the praising and defending the defects or vices of any person. This is a step much higher than the first, which was (as we may so call it) the negative part of flattery, as consisting only in silence, and a not reproving those things that both deserved and needed reproof. And as it goes higher, so it is much more inexcusable, and uncapable of those apologies that may be alleged, though not in justification, yet at least in mitigation of the former. For partly the timorousness, partly the bashfulness of some tempers, (affections not always at our command,) may silence the tongue, and seal up the lips from uttering those things which the mind and judgment frequently suggests upon these occasions. A man may be sometimes even dazzled and astonished into silence by the presence of some glistering sinners; so as to be at a loss both for words and confidence to vent those reproofs that fill the conscience, and are even struggling to break forth. Certain it is, that this or any other consideration can by no means warrant a silence there, where religion bids a man cry aloud; nor can any one plead his modesty in prejudice of his duty: yet surely there is something 130 at least pleadable upon this account, for the bare not-reproof of a sin, that can with no face be urged for its defence.

For pusillanimity must first pass into a prostitute impudence, before a man can arrive to that pitch as to vouch himself the encomiast of sin, and to speak panegyrics upon vice: many a man may favour a malefactor, and wish his crime concealed or passed over, who yet would never endure to be his advocate. It is one thing for a man to shut his eyes, and so resolve not to see that which is black; an other for him, with an open eye and a shameless front, to affirm black to be white; and to undertake to persuade the world so much.

But so does he that attempts the commendation of any thing lewd or vicious: he transforms the Devil into an angel of light: he confounds the distinction of those things that God has set at an infinite distance: he outfaces the common judgment of sense and reason, and the natural, unforced apprehensions of mankind.

And though one would think that there is that commanding majesty in truth, as even to awe men into an acknowledgment of things to be as really they are, and generally do appear; and withal that ingenuity bred in every breast, as not to own any broad defiance of the clearest evidence: yet experience shews, that there is a sort of men in the world, that have wrought themselves to that hardiness, as to venture to tell one that has done passionately and rashly, that he did courageously and discreetly; that shall applaud him in all his follies; assuring him, that if men speak amiss of his behaviour, it is rather upon the account of envy and malice to his person, 131than any real disapprobation of his actions; and that he is not to measure himself by the words of his adversaries, that speak their prejudice, not their judgment; oftentimes valuing that inwardly which they inveigh against outwardly, and cherishing that in themselves, that they tax and discommend in him.

They shall tell him further, that though possibly such and such actions were faulty, and unbecoming in others, yet the difference of his condition alters the case, and changes the very quality of the action. For what should a great person have to do with humility? or the rich and the wealthy with temperance, industry, and sobriety? Why should a states man or politician restrain himself to the punctilios of truth and sincerity? These are the virtues of mean employments and lower minds; they may perhaps be commendable in country gentlemen and farmers, but persons that move in an higher sphere, must have a greater latitude and compass for their motion; and it were infinite weakness and inexperience to stick at a lie or an oath, or the taking away an innocent life, when reason of state requires it, and so unshackles its ministers from the bonds of those nice rules that are to hold and direct other mortals.

And if these actions have a cleanly and a successful issue, they shall certainly find sycophants enough to extol them for the greatest prudence and wisdom that in such grand and difficult affairs could be shewn: they shall at least be vouched necessary, and consequently lawful, or as good; and the authors of such actions seldom seek for or desire any 132 further warrant for them than necessity, though it be of their own making.

But that people may not be wicked without some plea or pretence to cover and protect them from being thought so, there has a very serviceable distinction been found out and asserted by some, between a religious and a political conscience, in every one that is a governor; the former is to guide him as such a particular person, having a soul to save; the other to rule and direct him, as a person intrusted with the good, safety, and protection of those that are under his government, and consequently empowered to use all those courses that serve as means absolutely necessary to compass such an end: which two capacities, as they are very different, so it seems that they cannot both proceed by the same rule. Forasmuch as a governor, in many junctures and circumstances of affairs, cannot reach the ends of government, in protecting and se curing his people, but by sometimes having recourse to those ways and actions that perhaps are not allowable upon the strict rules and measures of religion, which, if rigidly and unseasonably adhered to in such instances, may possibly throw all into ruin and confusion.

For answer to which: it is not for me to inter pose in what concerns government and governors; it has its mystery, and those that manage it are to be presumed best to understand it: but as for this distinction between a religious and a political conscience, I shall make bold to give it its due, in saying, that in all those cases in which it comes to be practised, it subverts religion. For to affirm that 133there is any capacity or condition of man, of which religion is not a competent rule, is to make it a rule infinitely short and insufficient, as to the guidance and direction of the manners and actions of man kind; the great end for which God designs it.

Besides the gross absurdity of placing the same man under two contrary rules; which is to bring him under two contrary duties; and to make him at the same time obliged to do a thing, and yet upon another score discharged from that obligation; which is a ridiculous contradiction.

Many things indeed are distinguished in speculation, that perfectly coincide, and are inseparably the same in practice. And though it is not to be denied, that the capacity of a man and of a governor differ in apprehension; forasmuch as to be a man and to be a governor are not the same thing: yet when we come to behold those two capacities, as they really exist in nature, we shall find, that what is done by one is also done by the other, and what befalls one consequentially befalls the other. If the governor sins, the man will not be innocent;. and if the man is sick, the governor will find himself but ill at ease. He that breaks the law under one capacity shall suffer under both, and then, set ting aside all the niceties of speculation, if God condemns king Ahab, I believe it will be hard to distinguish the man Ahab out of the same condemnation.

But now, if to persuade men out of the acknowledgment of the evil and unlawfulness of their actions, be flattery; and further, to use arguments and acts to settle them in such a persuasion, be one of the grossest and most detestable sorts of it, especially 134 if religion be abused to so base a purpose; then surely none are so deeply chargeable with flattery as these two sorts of men.

1. Such as, upon principles of enthusiasm, assure persons of eminence and high place, that those transgressions of the divine law are allowable in them, that are absolutely prohibited and condemned in others. For thus they reason: That the divine laws and precepts were intended only for the ordinary rules of life; but such as are extraordinary persons, raised up by God for some extraordinary work, are exempted from those common obligations; as being directed by an higher rule, namely, the immediate dictates of the Spirit speaking and acting within them, which Spirit, being God, is able to dispense with his own laws, and accordingly does so, as the exigence of those works, that he calls such persons to, shall require. So that for them to rob and plunder is as justifiable as for the Israelites to rob the Egyptians; and to slay and murder, though it be princes, is but like Phinehas’s standing up and executing justice; the inward motions of the Spirit countermanding the injunctions of the outward letter.

But to raise in any such an opinion of themselves, is surely one of the vilest and most destructive pieces of flattery that can be used by one man to another: for it is to make religion minister the same scope and licence to the most impious actions that atheism itself can allow; and that with this advantage, that it does not trouble the mind with the same stings and remorses that the professed despiser of religion usually feels in the midst of all his extravagancies: for if a man is brought to believe that he breaks the divine law with as good a conscience as others keep 135and observe it, there is no doubt but such a belief will keep him at perfect peace with himself, notwithstanding the most enormous violations of it.

I cannot believe that the authors of our late confusions could have ever acted in such a barefaced opposition to all laws, both human and divine, with so much satisfaction, serenity, and composure of mind, had not their seducing prophets throughly leavened them with this principle; that being the select people of God, and so stirred up and peculiarly called to serve him in their generation, (as the phrase then ran,) they were privileged from those ordinary rules and measures by which the lawfulness and morality of other men’s actions were determined. The saints indeed might do the very same actions which in other men were sinful, but yet they in so doing could not sin; and this was that persuasion that still patched up their conscience, after all the blows and wounds it had received by dashing against the divine precepts.

Such was the soul-destroying flattery by which those impostors encouraged many thousands in the way of damnation; like that lying prophet, that bid Ahab go and prosper, when he sent him to the battle in which he was to fall and perish.

2. The other sort of persons chargeable with this kind of flattery are the Romish casuists, who have made it their greatest study and business to put a new face upon sin, and to persuade the world that many of those actions that have hitherto passed for impious and unlawful, are indeed nothing such, but admit of such qualifications as clear them of all guilt and irregularity.

They are not indeed so absurdly impudent as to 136 declare that murder is no sin; but they will order the matter so, that a man may be killed upon many punctilios of credit and reputation, and yet no murder be committed. They will not tell a man that it is allow able to steal; but they will teach that, in case a servant finds that his master will not afford him wages proportionable to what he judges his own service to be worth, he may take from him so much as will amount to a valuable compensation, and not be chargeable with the breach of that law that prohibits a man to steal. They will not deny many actions to be evil; but if a man have but the dexterity and art of directing his intention to some right end, or at least of not actually directing it to an ill, why then presently the whole action loses all its malignity, and becomes pure and innocent, by a wonderful, but a very easy transformation.

It were infinite to draw forth all particulars; but these are some of the ways by which these religious sycophants have poisoned the fountains of morality, and flattered mankind with such doctrines and assertions as shall soothe them up, and embolden them in the most vicious and lewd courses imaginable. They have opened a well, not only for sinners, but even for sin itself to wash in, and to be clean. So that if there be any persons in the world who may be justly accused for calling good evil, and evil good, these are the men; and they do it too, diligently, co piously, and voluminously; and consequently have the fullest and the fairest claim to the curse that is joined to that accusation.

But now this kind of flattery is so much the more to be abominated, because as it is of most mischievous consequence, so it is also of very easy effect, and 137meets with a strange success, seldom returning with out accomplishing the work of persuasion, or rather indeed of fallacy and delusion.

Of which a double reason may be assigned.

1. The first taken from the nature of man.

2. The other from the very nature of vice itself.

1. For the first of which; it is too apparent how fond and credulous most men are, and even desirous to be persuaded into a good estimation of whatsoever they do; and therefore as some people will buy and use flattering glasses, though they know them to be so, because they had rather please themselves with a false representation, than view their deformity by a true; so some will catch at any colour or dress, (though never so thin,) to give some varnish and better appearance to their vice.

A perverted, disordered mind, if it cannot have arguments and solid reasons to allege for the legality of what it does, it will content and satisfy itself with flourishes and shows of probability; and that deceiver that shall labour to furnish it with such, shall be welcome and honourable; his dictates shall be received as oracles, and never sifted by questions and examinations; for people are naturally averse from inquiring after that which they are unwilling to know; and therefore such an one shall be even prevented by a willing, forward assent. But it is easy for a man to finish his visit, that is met three parts of his way.

2. The other reason is from the very nature of vice itself, which oftentimes bears a great affinity to virtue, and so admits of the harder distinction. Upon which account, it is no difficult matter to persuade the prodigal person, that he is only very liberal; it 138 being very hard to assign the precise point where liberality ceases, and prodigality begins. Upon the same ground, covetousness may easily pass for providence, and a proud mind be mistaken for an high and generous spirit; there being a great likeness in the actions respectively belonging to each of these, enough to impose upon unwary, undistinguishing minds, that are prone to receive every like for the same.

Now from these two considerations we may easily gather, how open the hearts of most men lie to drink in the fawning suggestions of any sycophant that shall endeavour to relieve their disturbed consciences by gilding their villainies with the name of virtues, and so smoothing the broad way before them, that they may find no rub or let in their passage to dam nation. This therefore is the second thing wherein flattery consists.

3. The third is, the perverse imitation of any one’s defects or vices, which seems to carry it higher than the former, forasmuch as actions are much more considerable than words or discourses. A man, for many causes, may be brought to commend that which he will never be prevailed upon to follow: but for any one to transcribe and copy out in himself whatsoever he sees ridiculous or impious in another, this argues a temper made up of nothing but baseness and servility.

And to any generous and free spirit it is really a very nauseous and a fulsome thing, to see some prostitute their tongues and their judgments by saying as others say, commending what they commend, dispraising whatsoever things or persons they dispraise, and framing themselves to any absurd gesture or 139motion that they observe in them; making them selves as it were an echo to their voice, and a shadow to their bodies. In a word, no man can be exact and perfect in this way of flattery, without being a monkey and a mimic, and a lump of wax for any fool to stamp his image upon.

But surely few would be so sottish and servile, as to break a leg or an arm, or put out an eye, because they see the great person whom they depend upon and adore, deprived of any of these parts. And if so, do they not consider, that a man is to be more tender of his manners and the dignity of his soul, than of any thing that belongs to his body, which would give him but a small preeminence above the brutes, were it not animated and exalted by a principle of reason?

Every kind of imitation speaks the person that imitates inferior to him whom he imitates, as the copy is to the original: but then to imitate that which is mean, base, and unworthy, is to do one of the lowest actions in a yet lower instance; it is to climb downwards, to employ art and industry to learn a defect and an imperfection; which is a direct reproach to reason, and a contradiction to the methods of nature.

And so much the more intolerable is it, because such persons are seldom seen to imitate the excellencies and the virtues of him whom they flatter; these are looked upon with distance and lazy admiration: but if there be any vice that sullies and takes off from the lustre of his other good qualities, that shall be sure to be culled out, and writ upon their lives and behaviour. Alexander had enough to imitate him in his drunkenness and his passion, who 140 never intended to be like him, either in his chastity, or his justice to his enemies, and his liberality to his friends. And it is reported of Plato, that being crookshouldered, his scholars, who so much admired him, would endeavour to be like him by bolstering out their garments on that side, that so they might appear crooked too. It is probable that many of these found it easier to imitate Plato’s shoulders than his philosophy, and to stuff out their gowns than to furnish their understandings, or improve their minds.

I am confident there is none that does not deride and condemn this silly piece of officiousness, as scarce to be reconciled to common sense; yet we may find as bad daily in the behaviour of most parasites, who think they can never honour their great masters, but by exposing themselves. Which practice, though it is most irrational, yet it has this to encourage and continue it, that such grandees are wonderfully pleased to see their vices and defects aped by their followers and retainers; indeed much more than to see their perfections drawn into imitation.

And that, I conceive, for this reason; because vice, being weak and shameful, is glad to have any countenance and credit shewn it; which is done by no way so much as by having many followers. To be vicious alone is a great shame, and few natures are able to bear it; and therefore company gives a kind of authority to sin, and brings vice into fashion, which is able to commend and set off any thing. Nero’s killing his mother could not but be looked upon as an hideous and unnatural thing, for all the senate’s public thanking of him for it, and his courtiers applauding of the action; because in this, humanity was too strong for flattery, and suffered 141none of them to practise what their slavish disposition induced them to commend; which shews how much the greater number of flatterers speak against their conscience; for that which a man in the same condition would not do himself, he certainly dislikes in another.

4. The fourth and last thing that I shall mention, wherein flattery consists, is an overvaluing those virtues and perfections that are really laudable in any person. This is a different sort from all the former, which had no foundation of good at all to work upon, but were wholly employed in giving appearances where there was no substance, in painting of rotten sepulchres, and belying vice into the reputation of virtue.

But this is more modest and tolerable, there being some groundwork of desert, though much too narrow for those huge superstructures of commendation that some raise upon it; which therefore turn into flattery, which consists in a partial representation of any thing to be greater and better than indeed it is: for truth suffers as much by this as by the former; it being violated by any disproportion between the thing as it is expressed and as it does exist.

The flatterer views every little virtue or good quality in him whom he resolves to extol, as it were, with a microscope; such an one as shall swell a gnat into an elephant, and an elephant into a mountain. Ordinary, plain, homespun sense shall be magnified for extraordinary wit and fancy; and good, honest, flat words shall pass for propriety and exactness of expression.

But to go higher. Let a star be accounted, as in deed it is, a bright and a glorious thing; yet we are 142 not therefore to persuade the world that it is a sun. Herod, no doubt, in Acts xii. 22, spoke like an eloquent man; yet that was short of speaking with the voice of a god, as his flatterers told him in that their impious and profuse acclamation. He that should celebrate a captain that had the good fortune to worst the enemy in a skirmish, to the degree of a Caesar or an Alexander, would wonderfully stretch and overdo, and render the poor man ridiculous, instead of glorious: and every one that measures his actions by any elogies given him by the flatterer, sets his reputation upon stilts, which is not the surest way of standing; and when he comes to be weighed in the balance of the impartial and the judicious, will be found wanting.

For look, as the detracter represents the perfections of him whom he hates, lessened and diminished from what they really are, partly by a malicious concealment, partly by calumny and direct slander; so the flatterer, whose design is managed by a contrary way, (though perhaps in itself the same,) greatens and advances every thing beyond the bounds of its real worth; describing all in hyperboles, high strains, and words of wonder, till he has puffed up that little thing that he commends, as we see men do a bladder, which owes all its bulk only to air and wind, upon the letting out of which, it returns and shrinks into a pitiful nothing.

And just so must the opinion, that a man conceives of himself from the delusions of flattery, vanish and have its end: for, like a feather, it was raised by a breath, and therefore, when that breath ceases, it must fall to the ground again.

And thus I have finished the first general head 143under which I cast the prosecution of the words; namely, to shew what flattery was, and wherein it did consist. I do not profess myself so skilful and experienced in it, or desirous to be so, as to affirm that I have recounted all the ways and methods, all the turnings and meanders, through which this various thing uses to wind and carry itself.

But these are enough to serve as a rule by which both to direct our own actions, and to judge of the actions and behaviour of other men. They may convince us how vast a difference there is between flattery and friendship, and between the crafty, low mind of a flatterer, and the generous disposition of a friend. But when I have said all of the baseness of this art, yet so long as men find it beneficial, and withal see the world full of those that are willing to be made fools of by it, I believe all that I shall persuade men of will be this, that they are like to get more by practising of it, than any one else shall get by speaking against it.

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