Friday, June 20, 2008

Steele In Our Spines: Description of Uprightness

The meditations under this listing [Steele In Our Spines] are from Richard Steele's The Properties And Privileges Of An Upright Man, first published in 1670.

The nature or being of uprightness of life shines in simplicity. Proverbs 28:6, "better is the poor that walketh in his uprightness than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich." And Proverbs 28:18, "whoso walketh uprightly shall be saved, but he that is perverse in his ways shall fall at once." The word for "ways" in both places is dual, and intimates two ways. A hypocrite is a man with two ways. One he goes in; the other he seems to go in. The poor, upright man has but one way, and that's better than them both. 2 Corinthians 1:12, "for our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world." When this apostle was traduced by men, yet this afforded him not only content[ment], but joy, to wit, the testimony of his conscience.

A hypocrite may have quiet in his conscience, but an upright man has a testimony in his conscience. He carries everywhere testimonial letters in his bosom. And why all this joy? "That we have had our conversation in simplicity. As our ends have been single in preaching the gospel, so our lives have not been double. The drift of our preaching and lives has been the same." Happy is the preacher who can here subscribe his hand.

The simplicity of an upright man sometimes makes him the subject of loss and sometimes the object of scorn. Job 12:4, "The just, upright man is laughed to scorn." Many times he is called a simpleton, yet he goes on and carries it to the end. His great consideration is, "What is my duty?" Proverbs 4:25, "Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee." That is, without squinting at events, or how it will please, or whom it will lose; he is resolved to live and die in his duty. Do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that prudence and integrity cannot dwell together; certainly they may and ought to. His simplicity only excludes the subtlety of the fox, which stands in being cunning to do mischief, not the wisdom of the serpent, which stands in carefully avoiding it.

Uprightness of life also stands in purity. Proverbs 16:17, "The highway of the upright is to depart from evil." His usual road is as far from the broad way as he can have it be; and his care herein sometimes carries him rather too far, upon which account his conscience breeds more scruples than other men's, who can swallow anything that comes to pass. But his integrity in other things apologizes for him to all wise men, and at least brings him off with peace and comfort. And this very thing has brought upon very many of these upright men the badge of a "Puritan," which is by too many applied to subvert sincere holiness and to cast an odium on downright Christianity, and the practice of that we all profess.

I am sure that the Scripture opens heaven's gates to none but those whose lives are pure and holy. Psalm 24:3-4, "who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart." Hence the upright man dares not mingle with those vain fooleries, vicious excesses, or suspicious recreations that men of devastated consciences are drowned in; nor can all the good nature that's in him, nor importunity of neighbors or kindred, draw him to such company or courses that would sting his conscience when he should sleep -- unless God leaves him to himself sometimes to humble him.

This uprightness of life shines in the perfection of his life. I mean here a perfection of parts, in that each part of him is sincere. See Isaiah 33:14, "fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrite. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" That is, who shall stand before the holy, just, and upright Jehovah? Who can approach him when he executes judgments here or passes final sentence hereafter? When all hypocrites shall be in a fright, when their cobweb coverings shall fall off and they must stand naked (like so many cheats on a pillory) before God, angels, and men, who then shall stand with comfort and confidence?

Mark [Isaiah 33] verse 15, "he that walketh righteously [his feet walk uprightly] and speaketh uprightly [carries an upright tongue], he that despiseth the gain of oppressions [keeps an upright heart in him], that shaketh his hands from holding bribes [both his hands are upright too], that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood [his ears are tipped with integrity], and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil [he looks with an upright eye]."

Thus you see he is upright all over. Let him deal with friends or enemies, with godly or ungodly, with wise or foolish; you may trust him, for he stands in awe of his God and of himself. He does not have one heart for his religion and another for his bargains and calling, but he studies the Scripture and drives his life into it as near as he can. This is to obey God's voice indeed. And from this perfection flows an excellent evenness of conversation, so that Queen Elizabeth's motto well becomes his life, "Always the same."

This uprightness shines in the plainness of his life. There are few criticisms in the life of an upright man. He's plain, and that's his prayer. Psalm 27:11, "Lord, lead me in a plain path" -- that's my desire. He has no quirks, tricks, or legerdemain. If he cannot stand by plain dealing, he'll fall by it; when he trades and bargains, though he is discreet and careful, yet he is plain. When he reproves a fault or advises, he is sober, wise, and affectionate -- but still he is plain. His discourse and sermons, though elaborate, yet still are plain. Among his very enemies, though he is cautious and considerate, yet there he is plain also. "Lead me in a plain path because of mine enemies." He is like him who wished his body were made of crystal so that his sincerity might be transparent.

Such was that martyr whom the persecutors required to reveal his companion whom they were prosecuting, promising to him his own life for the discovery; and so either by denying his knowledge of the place of his friends abode, or by betraying it, he might have saved his own life. After a little pause, he broke out into these words, "I cannot lie, and I will not betray him." So he laid down his life to save one of his brethren. Here was an upright man that would not tell a lie to save a life, who would rather die than lie. He will be plain, though he suffers for it. But how generally is this plainness banished out of this world? Most men walk in a vain show, disguising their intentions, looking one way and rowing another. The tropics are not more distant from England than most men's intentions are from their actions.


No comments: