(From William Spurstowe’s 1666, The Spiritual Chymist. The previous post in this series may be found here)
Upon the Vanity of Wishes
True and perfect happiness is a good with neither the light Nature can discover nor its endeavors obtain; it being as impotent to the acquiring of it, as it is blind to the beholding of it. And yet there is nothing in which man less apprehends himself at a loss than in this: of fully contriving at least, if not effecting, his own happiness.
Who is it that is not confident, that if he might have the liberty of his options to wish whatever he would, and to have them turned into realities for him, but that he could readily frame to himself a condition as full of happiness as the sun is of light or the sea of water?
What poor and contemptible thoughts would he have of all that glory of the world which the devil showed to Christ as a bait when he tempted him the worse of sins, to those stately schemes and representations which he could suppose to be the objects of his delight? (Matthew 4:8-9)
If wishes were the measure of happiness, what is it that the boundless imagination of man would not suppose and desire? What strange changes would he forthwith make in the universe, in leveling of mountains, in raising of valleys, in altering climates and elements themselves? Happily he might wish that the sea were turned into a delicious bath, in which he might sport himself without any fear of drowning; that the rocks were so many polished diamonds; the sands as so many fair pearls to beautify it; and the islands as so many may retiring houses of pleasure to betake himself unto he pleased.
He might that all the trees of the earth were as the choicest plants of paradise, every one of which might at his beck down own their branches and tender their ripe fruit unto him.
And thus multiply his wishes until every spire of grass and every dust of earth have undergone some remarkable mutation according to the lust of his fancy, and yet be as far from any satisfaction in his desires or rest in his thoughts. As the apes in the fable were from warmth [became warm], which finding a glow-worm on a cold night, gathered some sticks together and blew themselves breathless to kindle a little fire.
For all these supposed gayeties are not the perfection but the disease of the fancy, which has (as I may so speak) which has (as I may so speak) a bulimia in respect of objects, as some corrupt and vitiated appetites have in respect of meats, who thought they eat much are yet never satisfied.
And hence it is, that men who enjoy plenty and are far from having any just cause of complaint of want [they are not lacking anything], do yet, as unsatisfied persons, feed themselves with fond suppositions of being in such an estate and condition of which they can have no possibility, much less any real hope to obtain. The ambitious man pleases himself in thinking how bravely he could King-it, if he were but upon the throne, and how far he would out strip all other princes that have been before him for state and glory: he fancies what pleasures he would have for his recreation, what meats for his table, what persons for his attendants, what laws for his government, and then, Absalom-like, he wishes in himself, O that I were king in Israel. (2 Samuel 15:4)
The covetous person whose heart is set upon riches, never ceases in the midst of his abundance to desire more. Riches and his desires still keep at a distance, as they come on, so do his desire come on too, the one can never overtake the other, no more than the hinder wheels of a coach can overtake the former.
If she should, as Peter, cast his hook into the sea and take up the first first that came up with a stater or piece of money in his mouth, how eagerly straightways would eh wish to take a second and then a third, yea, how would he still renew his wishes so as sooner to empty the sea of all its fish than to satisfy his desires with accumulated treasures.
But are these, O vain man, the highest wishes with you could impede you present enjoyments and so make your speedy flight unto perfect happiness? What if all these suppositions and wishes, which are (as I may so speak) the creations of fancy were real existence? Yea, what if your condition did as far exceed the pump of all human imagination, as Solomon did the fame that was spread abroad of him? (1 Kings 10:6-7)
Might I not say as David did, O ye sons of men, how long will ye love vanity and seek after leasing? (Psalm 4:2) Are these things for which Angels will give you the right of hand of fellowship? Or will this glory make them stoop to become ministering spirits unto you? Though you may conceive as highly of yourselves as the Prince of Tyre did of himself, who said he was a god and sat in the seat of God (Ezekiel 28:2), yet they will look upon you no better than as gilded dust and ashes.
That which they adore, and with wonder look into, (1 Peter 1:12), is not the happiness of the worldling, but of believers who are blessed — not according to what they ask or desire, but far above whatever could have entered into the thoughts of men and angels to conceive. (1 Cor. 2:9)
Who could ever have said to God, as Haman did to Ahasuerus, if he had been asked, What shall be done to the man whom God delighteth to honor? (Esther 6:6).
Let the foundation and cornerstone of his happiness be laid in the exinanition [an emptying, enfeebling] of the Son of God (Phil. 2:6-8), let him come from heaven to earth to purchase it with his blood: let his nature be dignified by being personally united uno the Divine Nature, let him be a co-heir with him who is the brightness of the Father’s glory (Romans 8:17; Hebrews 1:3), sit with him upon the same throne (Romans 8:17), and be conformed to his likeness (Romans 8:29): let him stand forever the highest and sweetest relations uno the three most glorious persons ,having God to be his Father, his Son to be his Elder Brother, and the Holy Spirit to be his Friend and Comforter: are not these things, as may pose angels to tell whether is the greater wonder or the mercy?
May it not be truly said, that omnipotency itself is exhausted so that there remains neither power in God to do, nor wisdom to find out a great happiness than this, which he has vouchsafed to man in his lowest condition?
Can there be any addition made by the narrow conceptions of weak creatures Let me therefore expostulate with Christians whose happiness in Christ is compelte, and yet, as if there were an emptiness in their condition, are still hankering in their minds after the world’s vanities and wishing, like carnal Israelites to eat of the fleshpots and garlic of Egypt. (Numbers 11:4-5).
Is there nothing in this world which you cannot find made up to you in Christ? Are not all the scattered comforts which can be had only in the creature by retail, parceled out some to one and some to another, to be had fully in Christ, in whom they are summed up, as broken particulars are in the foot of an account?
Though he be a bonus formaliter simplex, a good formally simple; yet he is eminentur multiplex, a good eminently manifold. And there is more to be had in Christ than can be had any-way out of him [that is apart from Christ]. Who, as the first figure in a number stands for more than all the figures that can bee added unto to it. Whom, saith holy David, have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee. (Psalm 73:5).
Surely, if heaven which has legions of beauties and perfections in it, yield nothing worthy of his love and affection but God and Christ, we may well conclude, that Earth, which is a void of God as heaven is full, can have nothing in it that is to be desired by us. Why they should any, in whom Christ is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27) be as the men of the world, who cry out, Who will show us any good? (Psalm 4:6)
For them to be unsatisfied who feed upon vanities is no wonder; but for those who possess him that is and has all things, it is strange that they should seek anything out of him [apart from him]. Quid ultra querit cui amnia suus conditor fit? aut quid ei sufficit, cui ipse non sufficit? What can he seek further (saith Prosper) to him God is made everything?
Or what will suffice him, to whom He is not sufficient?
I know but one wish that any believer has to make, and that is the wish of St. John, with which he seals up the Book of God, as the common desire of all the faithful, with which I shall shut up this meditation, as the best of wishes,
Come Lord Jesus (Rev. 22:20)
even so come as thou has promised
In whose present there is fulness of joy
And at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11).