« AnteriorContinuar »
world to see, that Providence, to this day, frequently suffers events of a like nature to happen: partly to complete the humiliation of the sinner, partly that others may hear and fear*.
Sometimes no immediate connection between the transgression and the suffering is visible, that it may seem to be the hand of God, rather than a natural effect; though indeed, would men consider, every effect proceeds from his hand: but commonly they are closely linked, to deter men from committing iniquity, by shewing them before-hand, what fruits they must expect it to produce. Indeed, were only the pain inseparable from repentance, the feeling of having done ill and deserved ill, to distinguish the condition of him who returns to his duty, from his who has always adhered to it: the distinction would be very interesting and important. For how wide is the difference between hating and approving ourselves : between thinking of God with dread and shame, and rejoicing in him as our trust from our youth t, and our portion for ever I! But long after peace is restored within, which yet will never be so restored to great offenders, as not to leave matter of melancholy reflection; long after penitents are at ease with respect to their future state; afflicting consequences, with respect to the present, will flow from what they have done amiss. Often they have hurt themselves, alienated their friends, lost their time and opportunities of doing well in the world, injured their characters, their fortunes, their healths: often they have hurt others, set mischievous examples, enticed, betrayed, oppressed, provoked those around them, and destroyed, perhaps, by short follies, what the endeavours of the rest of their days will
Deut. xiii. 11. + Psalm lxxi, 5. | Psalm 1xxiii. 16.
never be able to repair. These, indeed, are considerations, under which they should not despond: but surely others ought to take warning from them, and learn of how unspeakable value it is, to keep innocency, and take heed to the thing that is right *, from the very first. Life was not intended to be led inconsistently; one part in doing wrong, the other in being sorry for it. Uniform obedience is our Maker's demand: and whoever departs from it wilfully, though he may return, will assuredly be made to know and see, one way or other, that it is a thing evil and bitter, that he hath forsaken the Lord his Godt. Let those then, who experience this in themselves, submit to it with patience, and revere his justice: let those, who see it in others, thankfully make use of the instruction it was graciously designed to give them: and let us all preserve a lively sense upon our souls, that evil pursueth sinners, but to the righteous good shall be repaid I.
• Psalm xxxvii. 38. + Jer, ü. 19. | Prov. xii. 21.
EPH. V. 11.
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of
darkness, but rather reprove them.
If the practice of their duty were general amongst men, it would appear to all of us as we come forward into life, notwithstanding our present proneness to sinful indulgences, extremely natural and easy.
For as its reasonableness always recommends it to our understandings, and its amiableness to our affections, when unbiassed: so, in these circumstances, the public example of goodness would engage our imitation, the universal esteem of it excite our ambition, and its beneficial consequences plainly shew it to be our true present interest. Allurements to unlawful pleasures would then be comparatively few; provocations to mutual injuries none; consciousness of right behaviour would make men pleased with themselves; reciprocal acts of justice and kindness would make them happy in each other; and experience, that their being was a blessing to them, would produce in their souls affectionate sentiments of reverential gratitude to the bountiful Author of it. Such we should have found the world, if sin had not entered into it: and such we might still in a good measure bring it to be, if we would; if most of us did not, besides filling our own lives with guilt and misery, contribute, by a variety of wrong behaviour, to render our fellowcreatures also wicked and wretched. This we all see
and feel to be the real state of things: but how do we act upon it? We complain grievously of each other, for the faults which we each of us go on to commit; we complain even of providence because the world is-only what we have made it; and alledge the misconduct of our neighbours for a defence of our own, instead of trying to mend ourselves or them: whereas, evidently our concern is, to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them; to preserve our own souls from the epidemic distemper, and warn those around us of the danger of being infected. But it is with the security of our personal innocence, that we are to begin: without which we shall seldom in earnest attempt, and scarce ever successfully prosecute, the reformation of any one else; nor will the greatest success in such endeavours avail us, if, as our Apostle expresses it, when we have preached to others, we ourselves are cast-aways*
The first and principal consideration then is, how to avoid any fellowship with the unfruitful, a gentle term, which means pernicious, works of darkness. Now a main point of caution against all sorts of peril is to know, from whence chiefly we are to apprehend it. But who can say, from what quarter our virtue runs the greatest risque, in a world so thick set round with various temptations: where all vices are so common, that it seems a matter of course, and almost a necessity, to indulge one or another; and the majority of the guilty is so large, that each considers himself, in some degree, as safe in the crowd even from divine displeasure, numbering himself amongst the multitude of sinners, and not remembering that wrath will not tarry long t, where our eyes, and
+ Ecclus. vii. 16: $
* 1 Cor. ix. 27.
our ears continually present to our imaginations crimes, of which we should never have thought, and suggest easy methods of attaining what we believed to be as impracticable, as we know it to be unlawful: where the prosperity of ill men so strongly prompts us to envy their condition, imitate their
presumptuousness, and doubt of a superintending power: where every natural inclination that we have meets with something to inflame it beyond bounds, or turn it aside from its proper object: where fear of inconveniencies threatening upright conduct, and hope of gaining advantages by deviations from it, work within us continually: where injuries real or fancied, are daily provoking us to injure or hate in return; and even friendship and kind affection, meeting too often with undeserving objects, make us partial and unfair, subservient to the purposes of the bad or injudicious, and criminally negligent of the merits of the worthy ?
Here is already an alarming list of dangers: and yet one source of them remains unmentioned, so very fruitful, that probably it brings more of us to ruin than all the rest: I mean, our strong tendency to follow whatever precedents are set us: which being the great seducer of mankind to have fellowship with one another in the unfruitful works of darkness, I shall confine myself to the consideration of it in the sequel of this discourse.
A disposition to fall in with what we see others do is one of the earliest natural principles that we exert: and in itself a very beneficial one. For by means of it we learn, with ease and pleasure, a multitude of things necessary or serviceable in life: conform readily to the inclinations of those about us in a thousand matters of indifference, and from mutual likeness become mutually agreeable. By the same means also