« AnteriorContinuar »
ever they find people of tolerable reputation do, that they do likewise.
When a farther step of wrong indulgence is publicly taken, they proceed to take the same : or, it may be, one somewhat less : the duties, which others throw off entirely, they practise rarely, and with indifference: the liberties, which others indulge without reserve, they approach towards with hesitation and by degrees : but as the world goes on from bad to worse, they go on too; and imagine they are perfectly safe, because they are a little behind. Now men should not indeed be superstitiously scrupulous; but they should be conscientiously attentive to their hearts and lives; and reflect what ought to be done, as well as observe what is done. The Gospel forbids, instead of recommending, conformity to the world *: by no means with an intention, that we should be singular in matters of indifference, but resolute against compliances unlawful or dangerous. Christians, far from being permitted to follow others into sin, are designed to lead them into piety and virtue: to be the light, the salt, of the earth t: not to set an example of useless rigour, much less of uncharitable censoriousness; but of punctual and impartial adherence to every rule, which God hath appointed by reason or Scripture, and faithful endeavours to attain the great end of his appointments; for without that, the exactest outward regularity is empty form. Now the end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned 1: a sincere spirit of love and reverence towards our Maker, our Redeemer, and Sanctifier; of justice and goodness to our fellow-creatures, of reasonableness and moderation, with respect to the advantages and enjoyments of the present life; for in
Rom. xii. 2. + Matth. v. 13, 14. : 1 Tim. 1. 5.
these things consists our fitness for a better. This then is the real temper of Christianity. And if we have either never felt it, or perceive ourselves de clining and deviating from it; our hearts growing fond of worldly objects, and sinking down into that supine disregard to God and our duty, and a judgment to come, which is undeniably the prevailing, and likely to be the fatal, distemper of the present age: our case and our remedy are plainly laid down in that awful exhortation to the church of Sardis: I know thy works : that thou hast a name, that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die. Remember, how thou hast received and heard ; and hold fast, and repent. If thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief; and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee*. But then to do this effectually, we must obey the whole injunction of the text: and not only hold fast that which is evidently good, but,
6. and lastly, abstain from all appearance of evil. It might be translated, from every kind of evil. But even then, the sense would be much the same. For though doing what we know to be wrong is a grosser kind of wickedness : yet doing what appears to us wrong, though we are not sure of it, is a real kind : and even were we absolutely doubtful, still, if taking one course may be acting amiss, and taking the contrary cannot; the general rule certainly is, to lean always towards the securer side: for why should we run into danger needlessly? And yet what numbers of miserable creatures are there, whom the observance of this one direction would have made happy : who saw the safe path, but would prefer the pleasing
* Rev. iii. 1, 2, 3.
one; exulted in it for a while, then were ensnared of a sudden, and lost perhaps for ever! Nor is it pleasure only, but interest, power, vanity, resentment, every thing within us and around us, in its turn, that may endanger our innocence, by tempting us to venture upon what we hope, but are not satisfied, is lawful. Go not therefore in a way, wherein thou mayest fall : be not confident in a plain way*. Even such actions, as appear to us very allowable, yet, if they appear evil to others, it is, ordinarily speaking, both our prudence and our duty to abstain from, as much as, with tolerable convenience, we
Whatever indeed, on mature consideration, we are fully persuaded we ought to do, that we must do, let the world think as it will. But where we apprehend a thing to be only permitted : if the wise will disapprove it, or the injudicious misinterpret it; if the good will be afflicted, or the bad rejoice at it; if rigid and warm tempers will be guilty of censuring us for it rashly; or easy and complying ones follow us in it, against their judgments; if our taking harmless liberties will encourage others to take sinful ones ; in short, if any how, by doing what otherwise we might, we shall induce any one else to do what he ought not: the great law of Christian charity requires, that no man put a stumbling-block, or occasion to fall, in his brother's way; or do any thing, whereby he is grieved, or offended, or made weakt. Shewing this tender care neither to intice nor provoke a single person, if it can be avoided, into sin, of whatever sort, but to please our neighbour for his good, to edification I, is a precept, I believe, peculiar to the Gospel: or at least hath so peculiar a stress laid on * Ecclus. xxxii. 20, 21.
+ Rom. xiv. 13. 15. 21. † Rom. xv. %.
it there, as to distinguish our religion, greatly to its honour, from every other institution of life, that the world hath known.
After such an addition to all the rest, there cannot be a completer provision imagined, by rules of behaviour, for the virtue, the peace, the eternal felicity of mankind. And therefore nothing remains, but what must depend on ourselves; that, having the best and fullest directions, the noblest promises, the most gracious helps, we think seriously, while it is time, what use we ought to make, and what we do make, of these advantages. The word of God will shew us the first : our own consciences, if honestly consulted, will tell us the latter. Happy are they in the highest degree, who can stand the comparison of the two: and happy they, in the next place, whom a deep sense, that at present they cannot, excites effectually to earnest supplications, and faithful endeavours, that they soon may. I conclude therefore with the words following my text. The very God of Peace sanctify you wholly : and I pray
your whole spirit, and soul and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ*:
1 Thess. v. 23.
LUKE XII. 57.
Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what
The duties, which God hath enjoined us, though reasonable and beneficial in the highest degree, are yet, through the depravity of human nature, and the prevalence of bad customs, become so unacceptable, that they are practised, as we must be sensible, but imperfectly by the best, and very little by the largest part of the world.
Yet avowedly to neglect doing what they ought, is too shocking a behaviour to sit easy upon the minds of men.
Some plea therefore they must find out, either to justify, or at least to excuse, their manner of life. And various are, and ever have been, the excuses, invented by the irreligious and immoral, not only to maintain some character amongst others, but chiefly to quiet themselves.
Now of all these, one of the best, if it were a true one, would be that of ignorance: not knowing that such and such things are incumbent on us. pears to be a case, to which not only compassion must have regard, but which even justice itself must acquit of guilt. And therefore it is no wonder, if many shelter themselves under so favourable a pretence.
The lower part of mankind, in general, on almost every occasion, allege, that they have not the advantages of education and instruction which others have: that they are not able, perhaps even to read that boly