“Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?”
“Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it.”
“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
1 Cor. 10:31
Order of Contents
Rous, Francis – ch. 9, ‘A cure of that monastical melancholy, that cuts off a Christian’s hands, and turns him all into eyes’ in The Diseases of the Time, attended by their Remedies (London: Stansby, 1622), pp. 208-21
Rous was a Westminster divine.
Sterry, Peter – On Eccl. 7:16 in The Appearance of God unto Man in the Gospel (d. 1672; 1710), pp. 406-16
Sterry was a congregationalist minister and Westminster divine, with a mystical tendency.
Corbet, John – §1. ‘Of excess in the quantity or measure of religious observances’ in Of Divine Worship in The Remains of the Reverend & Learned Mr. John Corbet… (London: Parkhurst, 1684), pt. 3, ‘Of Superstition less than Idolatry’, pp. 209-10
Corbet (1620-1680) was a congregationalist puritan who was ejected in 1662.
Maundrell, Henry – A Sermon Preached before the Honourable Company of Merchants Trading to the Levant-Seas… Dec. 15 1695 (London: Brown, 1696) on Eccl. 7:16-17
“…righteousness and wisdom are the food of the hungry soul, the physick of the sick, and the spiritual heat and life of the mind. But then also, if in relation to those so necessary perfections, we exceed the bounds of sobriety and moderation, that food oppresses, that physick poisons, that heat inflames and enrages our souls. Without that necessary mixture of moderation, our righteousness degenerates into a furious zeal, superstition, and bigotry; and our wisdom into profaneness, presumption and undue curiosity…
But the being over-much wicked relates to the duration of sin, and not to the degree of it; and forbids a long persistency and hardness in wickedness, and not only the more heinous and exorbitant acts of impiety. This exposition is sufficiently warranted by the Septuagint translation of this place; in which the word here rendered ‘foolish,’ is [Greek] and properly signifies ‘hard and obstinate’;” – pp. 7-8
‘The Folly & Danger of Being Not Righteous Enough’ (1739?) on Eccl. 7:16
Whitefield responds to Trapp below, but often summarizes him inaccurately.
‘A Preservative against Unsettled Notions, & Want of Principles, in Regard to Righteousness & Christian Perfection: being a more particular answer to Doctor Trapp’s Four Sermons upon the same text’ in Sermons on Important Subjects, pp. 131-43
Allen, John – The Weakness & Wickedness of being Righteous Over-Much; the folly of affected wisdom and the ruin consequent upon both asserted... Ref (London: Prince, 1759) 42 pp.
Toplady, Augustus – ‘Remarks on Eccl. 7:16’ in Works, new ed. in one vol. (d. 1778; London: Chidley, 1837), p. 434
Romaine, William – Discourse 6, ‘Upon being Righteous Over-Much’ in Twelve Discourses in the Law & the Gospel in The Whole Works… (d. 1795; London: Blake, 1837), pp. 82-90
Romaine (1714-1795) takes Eccl. 7:16 as “dissuading sinners from seeking righteousness by the works of that law which they have broken, and which condemns them,” (p. 86) and he consequently preaches a gospel sermon from the text.
Maltby, Edward – Sermon 10, ‘Caution against excess even in what is right’ on Eccl. 7:16 in Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Lincoln’s Inn (London: C.J.G., 1831), pp. 128-41
Maltby (1770–1859) was an Anglican bishop. He was controversial for his liberal politics, for his ecumenism, and for the great personal wealth that he amassed.
Fuller, Andrew – ‘Mediocrity in Wisdom & Virtue Satirized’ in Complete Works, rev. Joseph Belcher, 3 vols. (d. 1815; Philadelphia: American Bapstist Publication Society, 1845), 1.628-29
Sprague (1795-1876) was a Northern congregationalist and presbyterian minister, who shows much judiciousness in his writings.
Trapp, Joseph – The Nature, Folly, Sin & Danger of Being Righteous Over-Much, with a particular view to the doctrines and practices of certain modern Enthusiasts, being the substance of four discourses… 3rd ed. (London: Austen, 1739) 69 pp. on Eccl. 7:16
Trapp (1679–1747) was an English clergyman, academic, poet and pamphleteer.
This is really good. Unfortunately, however, in the last part (p. 48 ff.), Trapp teaches at length against the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and a certain assurance of salvation, which subject he principally aimed at in this work. By “Enthusiasts” Trapp intended persons like William Law, George Whitefield and Methodists, as well as, mentioned later in the work, quakers and baptists. Around seven pamphlets were subsequently written against Trapp, which he responded to.
That many of Trapp’s charges of excess were accurate to Christians in his day may be seen by looking over the table of contents to William Law, A Practical Treatise upon Christian Perfection, 6th ed. (1733). Law does not advocate for theological perfectionism in this work. Trapp was a proponent of Christian zeal (see his sermon on this subject).
Wikipedia: “George Whitefield went to Christ Church, Newgate Street, on 29 April 1739, and heard Trapp preach against him one of four discourses on the nature, folly, sin, and danger of being righteous overmuch; they were printed in 1739. Answers to them were published by Whitefield [here], William Law [here], Robert Seagrave [here; anonymous response to Seagrave], and others [biblio], and an anonymous reply bore the sarcastic title of Dr. Trapp vindicated from the Imputation of being a Christian. He retorted with The True Spirit of the Methodists and their Allies: in Answer to six out of the seven Pamphlets against Dr Trapp’s Sermons (anon.), 1740.”
“He had been treating before, say others, conerning the lawful, right and laudable use of worldly goods; and here he guards against an extreme upon that subject. Do not out of an immoderate and mistaken sanctity utterly reject all enjoyment of worldly pleasures, honors, riches, etc., nor too much macerate the body by watchings and fasting. Again, be not superstitious: an overstrained piety degenerates into superstition… the error of those who think it necessary to go to the very utmost in everthing; as also the indiscretion of an overheated zeal in exposing ourselves to dangers when there is no necessity, nor even occasion for it…
…most virtues have an extreme on each side. We may over-do and be excessive, as as under-do and be defective… Thus men are said to be charitable, sober, merciful, etc. to a fault: which is the same in effect as to say they are so very virtuous that they are vicious… But the meaning is, be not excessive in anything, though the thing itself be never so good… the excess of it is evil.
…To be constant and frequent in prayer and other religious exercises, is the duty of every Christian; but that to spend so much time in those exercises as to neglect all other necessary duties, or even any one other necessary duty, is contrary to his duty… Pride is a great sin; but an excessive over-strained humility is a fault too, as well as folly….
…Wholly abstaining from things indifferent and innocent in themselves, as forbidden and unlawful, is a signal instance of being righteous over-much… Some things of this nature, I doubt not, proceed from a good design, though I think not from a good judgment.” – pp. 4-9
“That no sort of gayety or expensiveness in dress is permittted to any persons whatsoever: no sort of recreation or diversion; nothing but an universal mortification and self-denial: no pleasure, but from religion only… No allowances are to be made for melancholy, misfortunes or human infirmity: grief must be cured only by prayer; to divert it (as the world speaks) by worldly amusements is carnal and unchristian: No books must be read, but books of piety… a Christian… ought to renounce human learning and ‘know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.’
Now is it not a sufficient confutation of all this, to appeal to common sense; and then ask every Christian, Whether what is inconsistent with that, can be consistent with Christianity? The apostle, Rom. 12:1, bids us present our bodies to God, but these men talk as if we had no bodies at all… We are for as much strictness as Christianity requires, which indeed is a great deal, but we will never allow that a doctrine must be eminently Christian merely because ’tis strict…
…all their arguments both from reason and Scripture are (as all arguments ever must be that are contrary to common sense) entirely fallacious and inconclusive, confounding the most distinct ideas with one another, as the abuse of a thing with the use of it, chiefly with only, dangerous with unlawful, etc…. They are likewise (as is usual upon these occasions) inconsistent with themselves, and run into manifest self-contradictions…
Many things indeed are intermixed with these singular doctrines, which are true and of great importance. This world is certainly very vain, and a mere nothing in comparison of the world to come: it is certianly our duty to live above it, to be heavenly-minded, and to set our affections upon things above, more than upon things on earth. But does it from hence follow that we must have nothing to do with the world, but, literally speaking, live in it, as if we were not in it?” – pp. 15-24
“For besides the consideration of pride, spiritual pride…. what is it but ‘calling evil good and good evil; putting darkness for light and light for darkness; putting bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter?’ Isa. 5:20. Excesses and extremes, which are always vices, being extolled and recommended as the perfection of virtue? But the most dangerous circumstance is this, that such persons are of all the most difficult to be reclaimed from their errors and vices… In their own imagination their errors are the heigh of wisdom, and their sins and vices the most perfect virtues.” – p. 33
“5.That what God forbids, is at no time to be done;[w] what he commands, is always our duty;[x] and yet every particular duty is not to be done at all times.[y]
“The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavours, to preserve the life of ourselves[b] and others[c]… avoiding all occasions,[f]… and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any;[h]… quietness of mind,[l] cheerfulness of spirit;[m] a sober use of meat,[n] drink,[o] physick,[p] sleep,[q] labour,[r] and recreations;[s] by charitable thoughts,[t]… peaceable,[y] mild and courteous speeches and behaviour;[z] forbearance…
[b] Eph. 5:28,29.
[c] 1 Kings 18:4.
[f] 2 Sam. 2:22. Deut. 22:8.
[h] 1 Sam. 24:12. 1 Sam. 26:9-11. Gen. 37:21,22.
[l] 1 Thess. 4:11. 1 Pet. 3:3,4. Ps. 37:8-11.
[m] Prov. 17:22.
[n] Prov. 25:16,27.
[o] 1 Tim. 5:23.
[p] Isa. 38:21.
[q] Ps. 127:2.
[r] Eccl. 5:12. 2 Thess. 3:10,12. Prov. 16:26.
[s] Eccl. 3:4.
[t] 1 Sam. 19:4,5. 1 Sam. 22:13,14.
[y] James 3:17.
[z] 1 Pet. 3:8-11. Prov. 15:1. Judges 8:1-3.”
“The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are… the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life… all excessive passions,[m] distracting cares;[n]… oppression,[t]… and whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.[x]
“The duties required in the seventh commandment are… temperance,[e]… marriage by those that have not the gift of continency,[h]… diligent labour in our callings;[l]…
“The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment… are… all unnatural lusts;[q]… prohibiting of lawful,[w]… marriages;… entangling vows of single life,[z] undue delay of marriage;[a]…
“The duties required in the eighth commandment are… rendering to every one his due;[l]… moderation of our judgments, wills, and affections concerning worldly goods;[o] a provident care and study to get,[p] keep, use, and dispose these things which are necessary and convenient for the sustentation of our nature, and suitable to our condition;[q] a lawful calling,[r] and diligence in it;[s]… and an endeavour, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own.[x]
[l] Rom. 13:7.
[o] 1 Tim. 6:6-9. Gal. 6:14.
[p] 1 Tim. 5:8.
[q] Prov. 27:23-27. Eccl. 2:24. Eccl. 3:12,13. 1 Tim. 6:17,18. Isa. 38:1. Matt. 11:8.
[r] 1 Cor. 7:20. Gen. 2:15. Gen. 3:19.
[s] Eph. 4:28. Prov. 10:4.
[x] Lev. 25:35. Deut. 22:1-4. Exod. 23:4,5. Gen. 47:14,20. Phil. 2:4. Matt. 22:39.”
“The sins forbidden in the eighth commandment… are… false weights and measures,[e] removing land-marks,[f]… oppression,[i] extortion,[k]… unlawful callings,[q]… and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate,[y] and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God hath given us.[z]
[e] Prov. 20:10.
[f] Deut. 19:14. Prov. 23:10.
[i] Ezek. 22:29. Lev. 25:17.
[k] Matt. 23:25. Ezek. 22:12.
[q] Acts 19:19,24,25.
[y] Prov. 23:21:17. Prov. 23:20,21. Prov. 28:19.
[z] Eccl. 4:8. Eccl. 6:2. 1 Tim. 5:8.”
“The duties required in the ninth commandment are… appearing and standing for the truth;[d] and from the heart,[e] sincerely,[f] freely,[g] clearly,[h] and fully,[i]… a charitable esteem of our neighbours;[m]… defending their innocency;[r] a ready receiving of a good report,[s] and unwillingness to admit of an evil report,[t] concerning them; discouraging… flatterers,[w]… love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth;[y]… studying and practising of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.[a]
[d] Prov. 31:8,9.
[e] Ps. 15:2.
[f] 2 Chron. 19:9.
[g] 1 Sam. 19:4,5.
[h] Josh. 7:19.
[i] 2 Sam. 14:18-20.
[m] Heb. 6:9. 1 Cor. 13:7.
[r] 1 Sam. 22:14.
[s] 1 Cor. 13:6,7.
[t] Ps. 15:3.
[w] Prov. 26:24,25.
[y] Prov. 22:1. John 8:49.
[a] Phil. 4:8.”
“The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbours, as well as our own,[b]… giving false evidence,[d]… out-facing and over-bearing the truth;[f] passing unjust sentence,[g] calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding… the righteous according to the work of the wicked;[h] forgery,[i] concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause,[k] and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from ourselves,[l] or complaint to others;[m]… or perverting it [truth] to a wrong meaning,[p] or in doubtful or equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice;[q] speaking untruth,[r]… rash,[b] harsh,[c] and partial censuring;[d] misconstructing intentions, words, and actions;[e] flattering,[f] vain-glorious boasting,[g] thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others,[h] denying the gifts and graces of God;[i] aggravating smaller faults;[k]… raising false rumours,[n] receiving and countenancing evil reports,[o] and stopping our ears against just defence;[p] evil suspicion;[q] envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any,[r]… scornful contempt,[v] fond admiration;[w]… neglecting such things as are of good report,[y]…
[b] 1 Sam. 17:28. 2 Sam. 16:3. 2 Sam. 1:9,10,15,16.
[c] Lev. 19:15. Hab. 1:4.
[d] Prov. 19:5. Prov. 6:16,19.
[e] Acts 6:13.
[f] Jer. 9:3,5. Acts 24:2,5. Ps. 12:3,4. Ps. 52:1-4.
[g] Prov. 17:15. 1 Kings 21:9-14.
[h] Isa. 5:23.
[i] Ps. 119:69. Luke 19:8. Luke 16:5-7.
[k] Lev. 5:1. Deut. 13:8. Acts 5:3,8,9. 2 Tim. 4:6.
[l] 1 Kings 1:6. Lev. 19:17.
[m] Isa. 59:4.
[n] Prov. 29:11.
[o] 1 Sam. 22:9,10 compared with Ps. 52:title,1-5.
[p] Ps. 56:5. John 2:19 compared with Matt. 26:60,61.
[q] Gen. 26:7,9.
[r] Isa. 59:13.
[s] Lev. 19:11. Col. 3:9.
[t] Ps. 50:20.
[v] Ps. 15:3.
[w] James 4:11. Jer. 38:4.
[x] Lev. 19:16.
[y] Rom. 1:29,30.
[z] Gen. 21:9 compared with Gal. 4:29.
[a] 1 Cor. 6:10.
[b] Matt. 7:1.
[c] Acts 28:4.
[d] Gen. 38:24. Rom. 2:1.
[e] Neh. 6:6-8. Rom. 3:8. Ps. 69:10. 1 Sam. 1:13-15. 2 Sam. 10:3.
[f] Ps. 12:2,3.
[g] 2 Tim. 3:2.
[h] Luke 18:9,11. Rom. 12:16. 1 Cor. 4:6. Acts 12:22. Exod. 4:10-14.
[i] Job 27:5,6. Job 4:6.
[k] Matt. 7:3-5.
[l] Prov. 28:13. Prov. 30:20. Gen. 3:12,13. Jer. 2:35. 2 Kings 5:25. Gen. 4:9.
[m] Gen. 9:22. Prov. 25:9,10.
[n] Exod. 23:1.
[o] Prov. 29:12.
[p] Acts 7:56,57. Job 31:13,14.
[q] 1 Cor. 13:5. 1 Tim. 6:4.
[r] Num. 11:29. Matt. 21:15.
[s] Ezra 4:12,13.
[t] Jer. 48:27.
[v] Ps. 35:15,16,21. Matt. 27:28,29.
[w] Jude 16. Acts 12:22.
[x] Rom. 1:31. 2 Tim. 3:3.
[y] 1 Sam. 2:24.
[z] 2 Sam. 13:12,13. Prov. 5:8,9. Prov. 6:33.”
“The duties required in the tenth commandment are, such a full contentment with our own condition,[b] and such a charitable frame of the whole soul toward our neighbour, as that all our inward motions and affections touching him, tend unto, and further all that good which is his.[c]
“The sins forbidden in the tenth commandment are, discontentment with our own estate;[d]… together with all inordinate motions and affections to any thing that is his.[g]
“In the fourth petition, (which is, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’)… we pray for ourselves and others, that both they and we, waiting upon the providence of God from day to day in the use of lawful means, may, of his free gift, and as to his fatherly wisdom shall seem best, enjoy a competent portion of them;[q] and have the same continued and blessed unto us in our holy and comfortable use of them,[r] and contentment in them;[s] and be kept from all things that are contrary to our temporal support and comfort.[t]
“In the sixth petition (which is, ‘And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’) acknowledging, that… we… are not only subject to be tempted, and forward to expose ourselves unto temptations,[l] but also of ourselves unable and unwilling to resist them, to recover out of them, and to improve them;[m] and worthy to be left under the power of them:[n] we pray, that God would so over-rule the world and all in it,[o] subdue the flesh,[p] and restrain Satan,[q] order all things,[r] bestow and bless all means of grace,[s] and quicken us to watchfulness in the use of them, that we and all his people may by his providence be kept from being tempted to sin;[t] or, if tempted, that by his Spirit we may be powerfully supported and enabled to stand in the hour of temptation;[v] or when fallen, raised again and recovered out of it,[w] and have a sanctified use and improvement thereof:[x] that our sanctification and salvation may be perfected,[y] Satan trodden under our feet,[z] and we fully freed from sin, temptation, and all evil, for ever.[a]
[l] Matt. 26:69-72. Gal. 2:11-14. 2 Chron. 18:3 compared with 2 Chron. 19:2.
[m] Rom. 7:23,24. 1 Chron. 21:1-4. 2 Chron. 16:7-10.
[n] Ps. 81:11,12.
[o] John 17:15.
[p] Ps. 51:10. Ps. 119:133.
[q] 2 Cor. 12:7,8.
[r] 1 Cor. 10:12,13.
[s] Heb. 13:20,21.
[t] Matt. 26:41. Ps. 19:13.
[v] Eph. 3:14-17. 1 Thess. 3:13. Jude 24.
[w] Ps. 51:12.
[x] 1 Pet. 5:8-10.
[y] 2 Cor. 13:7,9.
[z] Rom. 16:20. Zech. 3:2. Luke 22:31,32.
[a] John 17:15. 1 Thess. 5:23.”
Order of Quotes
A Familiar Exposition, or Commentary, on Ecclesiastes, wherein the World’s Vanity & the True Felicity are Plainly Deciphered (1621), ch. 7, p. 182
“Thirdly, the practice of wisdom consists, first, in avoiding extremities, vv. 16-17. Secondly, in keeping the mean, v. 18. The extremities are excess or defect. The excess is an error on the right hand, when a man by pride abuses his wisdom, in stretching it beyond the limits and bounds of human capacity, either in defining thereby what is just, what unjust, or what is truth, what error. ‘Be not righteous overmuch.’
A man cannot be too righteous in respect of obedience to the Commandments, yet if he be so much addicted to one or some, as that he despises the rest, he bewrays hypocrisy and folly, and may well be said to be too just. For a man is not to cull out what he thinks good, thereby to justify himself, and to condemn others…”
The Divine Right of Church Government (London, 1646), Intro, Section 4, pp. 73-74
“Express and actual reference and intention to every commandment of God, or to God’s glory in every particular action, I do not urge; a habitual reference and intention I conceive is holden forth to us in Scripture: 1 Cor. 10:31.”
Annotations on Five Poetical Books of the Old Testament… (London, 1657), Eccl. ch. 7, pp. 163-64
“We must temper zeal with knowledge, so that we may not hazard conscience, nor endanger ourselves. He speaks either of an opinionative righteousness, be not righteous in thy own conceit, or rather of any indiscreet zeal, that is, press not justice too far, nor urge it too extremely in all cases.”
Annotations upon Job, the Psalms, the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes & the Song of Solomon (1658), ch. 7, p. 67
“In conforming to the righteousness and holiness enjoined in God’s Word men cannot be too strict and precise; But when men out of an opiniative confidence in their own judgment shall be violently bent upon the doing of anything which by the Word of God they are no way bound to do, or shall scruple that which the Word of God does nowhere forbid, though they may do it conscientiously and upon opinion of duty, then they are overwise and righteous overmuch.
That which therefore Solomon here enjoins God’s people is a prudent and pious moderation of their behavior in all things that they should be wise unto sobriety, not resting too much upon their own understanding and judgement, but advising with others, Rom. 12:3, and that they should temper their zeal with godly wisdom and prudence, according to that, Phil. 4:5, ‘Let your moderation be known unto all men;’ And the reason whereby this is pressed is, lest by doing otherwise men should involve themselves in desperate dangers, as by such courses men often do: ‘Why shouldest thou destroy thyself?’”
Commentary on Eccl. 7, v. 16
“Virtue consists in a mediocrity. Omne quod est nimium vertitur in vitium. A rigid severity may mar all. “Let your moderation, το ετιεκες , be known to all men,” Phil. 4:5; prefer equity before extremity: utmost right may be utmost wrong. He is righteous over much that will remit nothing of his right, but exercise great censures for light offences; this is, as one said, to kill a fly upon a man’s forehead with a beetle. Justice, if not mixed with mercy, degenerates into cruelty.
Again, he is righteous more than is meet that makes sins where God has made none, as those superstitiostdi of old, and the Papists to this day do with their, “Touch not, taste not, handle not: which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship,” etc. Col. 2:21-23. Will worshippers are usually over wise, i.e., overweening, and also too well conceited of their own wisdom and worth. Hence it is that they cannot do, but they must overdo, till “wearied in the greatness of their way,” Isa. 57:10, they see and say that it had been best to have held the king’s highway, chalked out unto them by the “royal law,” Jam 2:8, that “perfect law of liberty.” Jam. 1:25. Via regis temperata est, nec plus in se habens, nec minus; the middle way is the way of God, neither having too much, nor yet too little.
True it is, says the heathen orator, that nemo pius est qui pistatem caret, no man is godly, that is afraid of being so. But then it is no less true, and the same author speaks it, Modum esse religionis, nimium esse superstitiosum non oportere; that there is a reason in being religious, and that men must see they be not superstitious. Solomon says that he that wrings his nose overhard, brings blood out of it. Pliny says he that tills his land too much, does it to his loss.
Apelles said those painters were to blame, qui non sentirent quid esset satis, that could not see when they had done sufficient. It is reported of the river Nile that if it either exceed or be defective in its due overflowings of the land of Egypt, it causes famine. The planet Jupiter, situated between cold Saturn and hot Mars, Ex utroque temperatus est, et saluteris, says Pliny, partakes of both, and is benign and wholesome to the sublunary creatures.”
On Richard Baxter
Seth D. Osborne, The Reformed & Celibate Pastor Richard Baxter’s Argument for Clerical Celibacy PhD diss. (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2018), pp. 380-83
“…Baxter’s treatment of clerical celibacy in the Christian Directory was a product of the three principles that he believed were vital to the Christian life. A life of godliness depended on maintaining a heartfelt love for God, continually meditating on the future life, and ordering one’s life to prioritize doing the greatest good. All intimate relationships, whether familial or bosom friends, posed a common potential threat to his three principles for Christian living. Intimate relationships frequently led one to the sin of disproportionately concentrating affections and time on a select few; this imbalance hindered Christians’ affections for God, focus on the future life, and devotion to doing the greatest good. Therefore, while the godly life was not impossible in marriage, celibacy usually proved to be the most advantageous state of life for Christians and especially pastors.
…The necessity of choosing the most expedient state of life applied even more to pastors, since the hindrances of marriage would be even more detrimental to them in light of the requirements of their sacred calling…
Chapter 7 [of the dissertation] argued that the problems Baxter experienced in adjusting to married life help explain his continued support for clerical celibacy, despite the great benefit Margaret was to him…
He persisted in his dedication to redeeming the time by prioritizing matters of necessity, especially choosing his public duties to the church over his private duties to Margaret. When time was scarce, which often proved true because of his chronic illness, his sense of pastoral urgency compelled him to put his ministerial responsibilities before Margaret. Hence, he experienced the same agonizing conflict of loyalties between ministry and marriage that he had always warned pastors to avoid. The benefits afforded by a godly wife, even one as extraordinary as Margaret, seemed to fail to make up for the loss of time and singular devotion which marriage inevitably compromised… Though scholars have puzzled over why he continued to argue for clerical celibacy, the answer lies in the fact that Baxter was still Baxter, a man driven by a single-minded focus on his public ministry…
…nearly all scholars have failed to realize that Baxter’s argument for clerical celibacy was key to fulfilling the rigorous ministerial expectations he proscribed in The Reformed Pastor. Baxter presented a model that expected pastors to personally catechize, admonish, and discipline each one of their hundreds or perhaps thousands of parisioners. The ideal pastor was not only defined by his assiduous labor to care for the soul of each parishioner, but also by the fact that he had been freed to do so by foregoing marriage for the sake of the sacred ministry. Only celibacy allowed for the maximal implementation of Baxter’s pastoral model for church reform.”
Exercitation XL, ‘The Practical Observance of the Lord’s Day’ in Commentary on Hebrews (d. 1683), vol. 1 (of 4), pp. 748-49
“$19. 4. Although the [Lord’s] day be wholly to be dedicated to the ends of a sacred rest before insisted on, yet,
1. Duties in their performance drawn out to such a length as to beget wearisomeness and satiety, tend not to edification, nor do any way promote the sanctification of the name of God in the worship itself. Regard, therefore, in all such performances is to be had:
1. Unto the weakness of the natural constitution of some, the infirmities and indispositions of others, who are not able to abide in the outward part of duties, as others can. And there is no wise shepherd but will rather suffer the stronger sheep of his flock to lose somewhat of what they might reach to in his guidance of them, than to compel the weaker to keep pace with them to their hurt, and it may be their ruin. Better a great number should complain of the shortness of some duties, who have strength and desires for a longer continuance in them, than that a few who are sincere should be really discouraged by being overburdened, and have the service thereby made useless unto them. I always loved in sacred duties that observation of Seneca concerning the orations of Cassius Severus, when they heard him, ‘Timebamus ne desineret,’ ‘We were afraid that he would end.’
2. To the spiritual edge of the affections of men, which ought to be whetted, and not through tediousness in duties abated and taken off.”
A Commentary on the Book of Ecclesiastes rev. Daniel Washbourn (London: Mathews, 1811), on Eccl. 7:16, p. 231
“…it may with more propriety be considered as a general caution and direction to moderate our zeal with prudence, lest it bring upon us unnecessary hazard, Mt. 10:16.”
A Help & Guide to Christian Families… (d. 1703; London: SPCK, 1840), ch. 6, ‘Of Glorifying God in our Recreations,’ p. 27
“It being impossible for the mind of man to be always intent upon business and for the body to be exercised in continual labours, the wisdom of God has therefore adjudged some diversion and recreation (the better to fit both body and mind for the service of their Maker) to be both needful and expedient: such is the constitution of our bodies and the complexion of our minds that neither of them can endure a constant toil without some relaxation and delighting diversion.
As a bow, if always bent, will prove sluggish and unserviceable, in like manner will a Christian’s mind if always intent upon the best things: the arrow of devotion will soon flag, and fly but slowly towards heaven. A wise and good man perhaps could wish that his body needed no such diversion, but finding his body tire and grow weary, he is forced to give way and choose such recreations as are healthful, short and proper to refresh both mind and body.”
An Exposition of the Book of Ecclesiastes (NY: Robert Carter, 1860), on Eccl. 7:16, pp. 207-8
“That which in sobriety is righteousness often carries its name beyond the true boundary. It includes — what the heavenly Martyn dreaded in himself — ‘ talking much, and appearing to be somebody in religion.’ Details may be easily multiplied. Religion is made to consist mainly in externals. Self-conceited professors insist upon their own shibboleth, without regard to the different judgments of their brethren. Christian duties are pressed beyond their due proportion, interfering with immediate obligations, and making sins, where God has not made them. Scrupulosity in matters indifferent takes the place of the free obedience of the Gospel. In the exercise also of Christian graces there may be danger of extremes. Boldness may verge to rashness, benevolence into indiscriminate waste, candor into weakness. In all these and many other details the Scriptural line seems to be passed, and the warning is justly applied — ‘Be not righteous over-much.’
Even ‘in well-doing there may be over-doing,’ and this over-doing may inadvertently progress towards undoing. lndeed much of this is not religion, but superstition, which ‘is not the excess of godliness’ (as Abp. Whately remarks) ‘but the misdirection of it — the exhausting of it in the vanity of man’s devising.’ It is important that our religion should be reasonable, consistent, uniform — not a matter of opinion, but of the heart. Great indeed is our need, and constant should be our prayer — “let me have understanding in the way of godliness.” (Ps. 101:2)
But we are warned against another extreme. Neither make thyself overmuch wise — a wholesome practical rule! Avoid all affectation or high pretensions to superior wisdom. Guard against that opinionative confidence, which seems to lay down the law, and critically finds fault with every judgment differing from our own. The apostle gives this warning with peculiar emphasis and solemnity — ‘This I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, according as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith.’ The more humble thou art, the more wary and circumspect thou wilt be; and the more wary the more safe.’”
A Commentary on Ecclesiastes (Andover: Draper, 1864), on 7:16, p. 252
“In other words, a course too exact, rigid, and severe occasions the misfortunes of the righteous. They overdo. And so also they show themselves as wise, or demean themselves as claiming to be wise, [Hebrew] Hith., i.e., wiser than others; and so, by carrying these things to excess, they cause themselves to be ‘deserted’ or ‘forsaken,’ [Hebrew] Hith., for [Hebrew], ‘make thyself desolate or lonely.’ Like Job in 16:7 (on which passage the writer perhaps had his eye), friends forsake him, and leave him to his fancied superior sanctity and wisdom.”
Darling, James – on Eccl. 7:16 in Cyclopedia Bibliographica: A Library Manual of Theological and General Literature, vol. 1 (London: Darling, 1859), p. 567
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Malcom, Howard – ‘Over-Righteousness’ in Theological Index… (Boston: Gould: 1868), p. 337
“For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”
1 Tim. 4:4-5
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A… time to plant… a time to build up… a time to laugh… a time to dance… a time to gather stones together… a time to get… a time to keep… a time of war, and a time of peace… He hath made every thing beautiful in his time:”
“Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which He hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun.”