OF THOUGHTFULNES FOR THE MORROW WITH AN APPENDIX CONCERNING The immoderate Desire of foreknowing things to come. By JOHN HOWE Minister of the Gospel.

—Vive hodiè.
Heb. 13. 8.
Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.

LONDON, Printed for Tho. Parkhurst at the Bible and Three Crowns, at the lower end of Cheap­side near Mercers-Chappel. 1681.

TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE ANNE, LADY WHARTON.

IT was, Madam, the Character an ancient Worthy in the Christian Church gave of a noble person of your Sex, that, in refe­rence to the matters of Religion she was not only a Learner, but a Judge. And, accordingly, he in­scribes to her divers of his writings (even such as did require a very [Page] accurate judgment in the reading of them;) Which remain, unto this day, dispersedly, in several parts of his works, dignify'd with her (often prefixed) name.

A greater, indeed, than he, men­tions it as an ill character, to be not a doer of the Law, but a Judge. It makes a great difference in the ex­ercise of the same faculty, and in doing the same thing, with what mind and design it is done.

There is a judging, that we may learn, and a judging, that we may not. A judgment subservient to our duty, and a judgment oppo­site to it. Without a degree of the former no one can ever be a serious Christian. By means of the latter, [Page] many never are. The World through wisdom knew not God.

A cavilling litigious wit, in the confidence wherof any set themselves above their Rule, and make it their busines only to censure it, as if they would rather find faults in it, than themselves, is as inconsistent with sincere piety, as an humbly judi­cious discerning mind is necessa­ry to it.

This proceeds from a due savour and relish of divine things, peculiar to them, in whom an heavenly spi­rit and principle have the posses­sion, and a governing power. They that are after the Spirit, do sa­vour the things of the Spirit. The other from the prepossession [Page] and prejudice of a disaffected car­nal mind. They that are after the flesh, do only savour the things of the flesh.

The ability God hath endow'd your Ladiship with to judge of the Truth that is after godliness, is that you are better pleas'd to use, than hear of. I shall therefore be silent herein, and rather displease many of them that know you, who will be apt to think a copious sub­ject is neglected, than say any thing that may offend either against your Ladiships inclination or my own.

Here is nothing abstruse and dif­ficult for you to exercise a profound judgment upon; nor any thing cu­rious to gratifie a pleasant wit. But [Page] plain things, suitable to you, upon accounts common to the gene­rality of Christians, not that are peculiar to your self. 'Tis easie to a well-temper'd mind, (of how high intellectual excellencies soever) to descend to the same level with the rest; when for them to reach up to the others pitch, is not so much as possible.

Our heavenly Father keeps not (as to the substantials of our nutri­ment) distinct tables for his Chil­dren, but all must eat the same spiritual meat, and drink the same spiritual drink. He hath not one Gospel for great wits, and another for plainer people; But as all that are born of him must meet at [Page] length in one end, so they must all walk by the same rule, and in the same way, thither.

And when I had first mentioned this Text of Scripture in your hearing, the savour you exprest to me of the subject, easily induc'd me, when, afterwards, I reckon'd a discourse upon it might be of com­mon use, to address that also (such as it is) in this way, to your Lady­ship. Accounting the mention of your name might draw the eyes of some to it, that have no reason to re­gard the Authors, and that, by this means, if it be capable of proving beneficial to any, the benefit might be diffus'd so much the further.

The aptnes of the materials and [Page] subject, here discourst of, to do good generally, I cannot doubt. Neither our present duty or peace; nor our future safety or felicity can be pro­vided for as they ought, till our minds be more abstracted from time, and taken up about the un­seen, eternal World.

While our thoughts are too ear­nestly engaged about the events of future time, they are vain, bitter, impure, and diverted from our no­bler, and most necessary pursuits. They follow much the temper and bent of our Spirits, which are often too intent upon what is uncertain, and perhaps, impossible.

All good and holy Persons can­not live in good Times. For who [Page] should bear up the Name of God in bad, and transmit it to succeeding times? Especially when good Men are not of the same mind, it is impos­sible. And, more especially, when they have not learn't, as yet, to bear one anothers differences. The same time, and state of things which please some, must displease others.

For some, that will think them­selves much injur'd if they be not thought very pious Persons, will be pleased with nothing less, than the de­struction of them that differ from them. So that while this is designed and attempted only; generally, nei­ther sort is pleased, The One be­cause it is not done, The Other be­cause it is in doing.

[Page] It must be a marvellous alterati­on of Mens minds that must make the Times please us all; while, upon supposition of their remaining unal­ter'd, There is nothing will please one sort, but to see the other Pagans, or Beggars, who in the mean time are not enough mortify'd either to their Religion, or the necessary accommodations of humane life, as to be well pleas'd with either.

To trust God chearfully with the Government of this World, and to live in the joyful hope and expecta­tion of a better, are the only means to relieve and ease us; and give us a vacancy for the proper work and busines of our present Time.

This is the design of the follow­ing [Page] discourses. The former whereof is directed against the careful thoughts, which are apt to arise in our minds concerning the Events of future Time, upon a fear what they may be. The other, which by way of Appendix is added to the former, tends to repress the im­moderate desire of knowing what they shall be.

Which latter I thought, in re­spect of it's affinity to the other, fit to be added to it; and in respect of the commonness, and ill tendency of this Distemper, very necessary. And indeed both the extreams in this matter are very unchristian, and pernicious. A stupid neglect of the Christian Interest, and of [Page] Gods Providence about it on the one hand; And an Enthusiastick Phrensie, carrying Men to expect they well know not what? Or why? on the other.

Our great care should be to serve that Interest faithfully in our own stations, for our little time, that will soon be over. Your Ladiship hath been called to serve it in a Family wherein it hath long flourished. And which it hath dignify'd, beyond all the splendour that Antiquity and Secular greatnes could confer upon it. The Lord grant it may long conti­nue to flourish there, under the joint-influence of your noble Consort, and your own; And, afterwards, in a Posterity, that may imitate [Page] their Ancestors in substantial Piety, and solid goodness.

Which is a glory that will not fade, nor vary; not change with times, but equally recommend it self, to sober and good Men in all times. Whereas that which arises from the esteem of a Party can neither be diffusive, nor lasting.

'Tis true that I cannot but rec­kon it a part of any ones praise in a time wherein there are diffe­rent Sentiments and waies, in cir­cumstantial matters relating to Re­ligion, to encline most to that which I take to come nearest the Truth and our common Rule. But, as was said by one that was a great and early light in the Christian [Page] Church; That is not Philosophy, which is profest by this or that Sect, but that which is true in all Sects. So nor do I take that to be Religion, which is peculiar to this or that Party of Christi­ans (many of whom are too apt to say here is Christ, and there is Christ, as if he were divided) but that which is according to the mind of God among them all.

And I must profes to have that honour for your Ladiship, which I sincerely bear, and most justly owe unto you, chiefly upon the account not of the things wherein you differ from many other serious Christians (though therein you [Page] agree also with my self) as for those things wherein you agree with them all. Vnder which no­tion (and under the sensible Obli­gation of your many singular Fa­vours) I am

MADAM,
Your Ladiships very humble and devoted Servant in the Gospel, JOHN HOWE.

Page 52 line 6 dele in.

OF THOUGHTFULNES FOR THE FUTURE.

MATTH. 6. 34.‘Take therefore no Thought for the Morrow: for the morrow shall take Thought for the things of it self: sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.’

THE Negative Precept (or the Prohibition) in the first words of this Verse, I shall take for the principal ground of the intended Discourse. But shall make use of the following [Page 2] words, for the same purpose for which they are here subjoyn'd by our Lord, viz. the Enforcement of it.

For our better understanding the Import of the Precept, Two things in it require Explication.

  • How we are to under­stand [The Morrow.]
  • What is meant by the [Thoughtfulnes] we are to abstain from in reference thereto.

1. By the Morrow must be meant

  • 1. Some measure of time or other.
  • 2. Such Occurrences, as it may be supposed shall fall within the Compass of that time.

[Page 3] We are therefore to consider,

1. What portion or measure of time may be here signified by to morrow, for some time it must sig­nifie, in the first place, as funda­mental to the further meaning. Not abstractly, or for it self, but as it is the Continent of such or such things as may fall within that time. And so that measure of time may, 1. Admit, no doubt, to be taken strictly for the very next day, according to the literal import of the word to morrow. But 2. It is also to be taken in a much larger sence, for the whole of our remaining time, all our fu­turity in this world. Indeed, the whole time of our Life on Earth is spoken of in the Scriptures, but as a day. Let him alone that he may accomplish as an hireling his day. Job [Page 4] 14. 6. We are a sort of [...], short-liv'd Creatures, we live but a day, take the whole of our time together. Much less strange is it that the little residue, the future time that is before us, which we do not know how little it may be, should be spoken of but as a day. Experience hath taught even sensual Epicures so to account their remaining time: Let us eat and drink, for to morrow we shall dye. i. e. Very shortly. They were right in their Computation, but very wrong in their Inference. It should have been, Let us watch and pray to day, we are to dye to morrow, let us labour for Eternity because time is so short. But say they, Let us eat and drink to day, for to mor­row we shall dye. A day to eat and drink was, it seems, a great gain. And if the phrase were not so used, [Page 5] to signifie all the residue of our future time, yet by consequence it must be so understood. For if we take to morrow in the strictest sence for the very next day; they that are not permitted, with solici­tude, to look forward so far as the very next day; much less may they to a remoter and more di­stant time. Yea and we may in some sense extend it not only to all our future time, but simply to all future time as that measures the con­cernments and affairs, not of this world only, but, which is more considerable, even of that lesser se­lect community, the Kingdom of God in it, mentioned in the foregoing Verse. Which Kingdom, besides its future eternal State, lies also spread and stretcht throughout all time unto the end of the World. And as to its present and temporal [Page 6] State, or as it falls under the measure of time, it is not unsupposable that it may be within the compass of our Saviours design, to forbid un­to his disciples (who were not on­ly to pursue the blessedness of that Kingdom in the other world, but to in­tend the service of it in this) an intempe­rate and vexatious solicitude about the success of their endeavours, for the promoting its present Interest. i. e. Af­ter he had more directly forbidden their undue carefulness about their own little concernments, what they should eat, drink or put on; And directed them rather and more prin­cipally to seek the Kingdom of God and his Righteousnes, with an assurance that those other things should be added to them. It seems not improbable he might in conclusion, give this general di­rection, as with a more especial [Page 7] reference to the private concern­ments of humane life, about which common frailty might make them more apt to be unduly thought­ful: So with Some oblique and se­condary reference to the affairs of that Kingdom too, which they were here to serve as well as hereafter to partake and enjoy. And about the success of which service (being once ingaged in it, and the diffi­culties they were to encounter, ap­pearing great and discouraging to so inconsiderable persons as they must reckon themselves) they might be somewhat over solicitous also.

Nor though they might not as yet understand their own work, nor (consequently) have the pro­spect of its difficulties as yet in view, are we to think our Saviour intended to limit the usefulness of [Page 8] the instructions he now gave them, to the present time, but meant them to be of future use to them as occasions should afterwards occur. As we also find that they did recollect some other sayings of his, and understand better the meaning of them, when particular occasions brought them to mind, and discovered how apposite and ap­plicable they then were. Luke 24. 8. John 2. 22.

So that we may fitly understand this prohibition to intend, univer­sally, a repressing of that too great aptitude and proneness in the minds of men, unto undue excursions into futurity, their intemperate and ex­travagant rangings and roamings into that unknown Country, that Terra incognita, in which we can but bewilder and lose our selves to no purpose.

[Page 9] Therefore Secondly and more principally, by [to morrow] we are to understand the things that may fall within that compass of future time. For time can only be the object of our care, in that relative sense, as it re­fers unto such and such occurren­ces and emergencies that may fall into it. And so our Saviour ex­plains himself in the very next words, that by to morrow he means the things of to morrow. To mor­row shall take care for the things of it self.

And yet here we must careful­ly distinguish, as to those things of to morrow, matters of Event and of Duty. We are not to think these the equally prohibited objects of our thoughts and care. Duty be­longs to us, it falls within our Pro­vince, [Page 10] and there are (no doubt) thoughts to be employed, how I may continue on in a course of du­ty, unto which I am, by all the most sacred Obligations tyed for a stated course, that may lie before me, let it be never so long, and be there never so many to mor­rows in it. There ought to be thoughts used, of this sort, concern­ing the duties of the morrow, and of all my future time. If it please God to give me such additional time I will love him to morrow, I will serve him to morrow, I will trust him to morrow, I will walk with him to morrow. I will, through the Grace of God, live in his fear, service and communion, even as long as I have a day to live. Upon such terms doth eve­ry sincere Christian bind himself to God, even for alwaies, as God binds [Page 11] himself to them on the same terms. This God shall be our God for ever and ever, he shall be our guide even unto death. Psalm 48. 14. The case can never alter with us in this regard, but as the worthiest object of all our thoughts is yesterday, and to day the same, and for ever, so should the course of our thoughts be too, in reference to that blessed object. Eve­ry day will I bless thee, and praise thy name for ever and ever. Psal. 145. 2. I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. Psal. 104. 33. The thoughts of our hearts should be much exercised this way, how it may be thus with us, in all fu­ture time; that to morrow, in this respect may be as this day, and much more abundant, as is spoken on a much another account, Isai. 56. 12. To morrow shall be as this day, God [Page 12] assisting, and much more abund­ant as to my love to him, serving of him, conversing with him, doing and designing for him, which are to run through all my dayes.

But now for the Events of to morrow, they are things quite of another consideration. They do not belong to us, they are not of the [...], none of the things within our compass. To employ our selves with excessive intention of thoughts and cares concerning them, is to meddle without our Sphaere, beyond what we have any warrant for, farther than as it is in some cases supposable there may be some connexion, and dependance, between such and such Events, and my own either sin, or duty,

Now Events that may occur to [Page 13] us to morrow, or in our future time, you know are distingishable into good or bad, grateful and un­grateful, pleasing to us or displea­sing. Good or grateful Events, you easily apprehend, are not here intended. We do not use to per­plex our selves about good things, otherwise than as they may be want­ing, and as we may be deprived of them, which privation or want is an Evil. And under that noti­on our Saviour considers the object of the prohibited thoughtfulness, as his after words shew. Suffici­ent for the day is the Evil of it. And therefore gives caution not equally against all fore-thoughts, about the Events of future time; of which some may be both rati­onal, and pleasant. But against forebodings, and presages of evil and direful things. As lest such thoughts [Page 14] should slide into our minds, or im­pose and obtrude themseves upon us. ‘Alas! what shall I do to live to morrow? I am afraid I shall want bread for to morrow, or for my future time.’ This our Saviour sayes is paganish, after these things do the Gentiles seek, that (as is intimated) have no father to take care of them. Your heaven­ly father knows you have need of these things, vers. 32. And directs his disciples to a noble object of their thoughts and care, vers. 33. Seek you first the Kingdom of God: where­in, as their future reward, so their present work and business was to lie. And then addes, Take no thought for to morrow, q. d. It would be in­deed an ill thing if you should want bread to morrow, and it would be worse if the affairs of Gods Kingdom should miscarry, or you [Page 15] be excluded it. But mind you your own present work, and be not unduly concerned about these surmised bad events, God will provide. This is then, in short, the object of this prohibited thought­fulness [future time including what­soever ungrateful events, we suppose, and preapprehend in it.]

Secondly, We are to enquire about the thoughtfulness prohibited in reference hereto. It cannot be that all use of thoughts about future events, even such, as, when they occur, may prove afflictive, is in­tended to be forbidden. Which indeed may be collected from the import of the word in the Text that signifies another, peculiar sort of thinking, as we shall hereafter have more occasion to take notice. We were made and are naturally, [Page 16] thinking Creatures; yea and forethink­ing, or capable of prospiciency and foresight. 'Tis that by which in part Man is distinguisht from Beast. Without disputing as some do how far nature, Maimonid. Mor. Nev. D. Mer.Ca­saubon. En­thus. in this, or that man, doth contribute to divination and prophecy; we may say of Man indefinitely, he is a sort of divining creature, and of humane nature in common, that it much excells the brutal, in this, that, whereas sense is limited to the present; Reason hath dignify'd our nature by adding to it a sagacity, and enabling us to use prospection in reference to what yet lies more remotely before us. And though we are too apt to a faul­ty excess herein, and to be over­presaging (which it is the design of this discourse to shew) yet we are not to think that all use of any natural faculty can be a fault; [Page 17] for that would be to charge a fault on the Authour of nature. The faculties will be active. To plant them therefore in our natures, and forbid their use, were not con­sistent with the wisdom, righte­ousness, and goodness by which they are implanted. It must there­fore be our business to shew What Thoughtfulness is not, And then, what is within the compass of this Prohibiti­on.

1. What is not. There is, in the general, a prudent, and there is a Christian use of forethought, about matters of that nature already spe­cify'd; which we cannot under­stand it was our Saviours meaning to forbid.

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