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for doing good : and according to circumstances, partaking of amusements, that otherwise are not eligible, may be very prudent: besides that some may be under such authority and direction, as may oblige them in duty to what they cannot intirely approve. And then they should endeavour to do it both obligingly and gracefully: but always remember, that they are on slippery ground : never go farther, than is really innocent; never farther, than they need : much less, blame or despise those, who are unwilling or unqualified to bear a part with them: but carefully preserve a just preference for the higher order of obligations : be humble in the midst of pomp, attentive to serious reflections in the midst of gaiety; do all they can, without exposing themselves, to guard or bring back others : and seize every opportunity of promoting what is right, where too generally what is wrong abounds.
But they who are not called to enter far into the livelier scenes of this world, will do very commendably, to shew by facts, in a freer and opener manner, their settled persuasion, that happiness consists in quite other matters; to shew that they can enjoy themselves perfectly well, without having any relish for these ; nay, can abstain from them without difficulty, though they have a relish for them. And the more they do so, keeping up their good humour, the more exemplary they are. But the clergy should be patterns of this abstinence beyond all others. For if instead of being grave and studious and labourious in our profession we dissipate ourselves in vanities, or sink into luxurious delicacy or indolence; the awe of our character, and the weight of our preaching will be lost : the thoughtless will imagine they may safely step a little farther than we; and thus will fall into
palpable sin : while the indifferent to religion and virtue will make it their boast, that we aim to be as like them as for shame we can; and will blaspheme, on our account, the worthy name, by which we are called*.
Possibly so many cautions against fondness for pleasure may seem to leave those who regard them, in a very joyless and uneasy condition. But indeed they are only plain and very practicable rules for that discipline of our temper and conduct, which is necessary for our true happiness even here, and for our eternal felicity hereafter. Christian piety allows us, under such regulations as are evidently reasonable, every enjoyment of sense, every delight of elegant taste, every exertion of social cheerfulness; and forbids nothing, but mischief, madness, and misery. Then besides, it heightens to the utmost all the nobler satisfactions of the mind : that of sincere good will to all men; that of tender complacency in those, to whom we are united more nearly : whence proceed honourable esteem, and affectionate returns. Or, though we miss the regard we deserve from men, we shall have a reviving consciousness, that we have acted worthily, that we have laboured to promote goodness and happiness on earth, that the sins and sufferings of our fellow-creatures are not owing to us. This applauding testimony of our hearts will indeed be mixed with the grief of many failings : but also, with the assurance, that our heavenly Father forgives them, for the sake of our gracious Redeemer; with the experience, that he is enabling us to overcome them, by the grace of our inward sanctifier, and preparing us daily for the blessedness, to which he invites us.
For such mercies we cannot but love him :
James ii. 7.
and whoever doth so, is in proportion beloved by him. The sense of this must give us great composure about every thing worldly, disdain of every thing vicious, and comfort in going through the very lowest and hardest acts of duty. We shall pass the days of our pilgrimage in as much delight as the nature of it affords: and when we come to our final abode, every capacity of spiritual enjoyment, to which we have improved ourselves here, shall be inconceivably augmented, and completely filled : we shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of God's house, and drink of the river of his pleasures *. For in his presence is the fullness of joy, and at his right-hand there are pleasures for evermoret.
HEB. XII. 2.
Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our
Faith : who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right-hand of the throne of God.
DIRECTING our eye is necessary for guiding our steps; and therefore the Apostle here directs the eye of our mind to Jesus Christ : whom if we so contemplate, as to learn what he was, and expects us to be, nothing will be wanting to carry us happily through the journey of life. And it may be useful to begin with considering his familiar manifestation of himself on earth, whence we shall naturally be led to consider his higher and more awful glories.
Now in this lowest view, we shall find him to have been the most amiable and the most venerable
person, beyond all comparison, that the world ever knew. Meditate only with serious attention on the evidently artless account given of him in the Gospels, and you will see, with an admiration continually increasing, how perfect his character was in every point: how warm his sentiments, yet how just his notions, of piety to his heavenly Father ; how strong and affectionate his expressions of it; yet how rational, and how peculiarly suitable to his very peculiar situation: how composed his resignation, though with the acutest feeling of all that he underwent; and how firm his trust in God even at the hour of death, under
the most painful sense of the light of his countenance being withdrawn from him : how regular his practice of the whole of religion, yet how accurate his preference of one part of it to another : how active and bold and persevering his zeal; yet how completely free from all the weakness, and all the bitterness, with which zeal is too often accompanied ; how intimately tempered with patience towards the slow of apprehension; esteem for the well meaning though erroneous; pity for the bad, though perverse and incorrigible : what perpetual demonstrations he gave, of benevolence and purity in his teaching, of goodness and condescension, meekness and tenderness, in his behaviour, to all persons, however provoking, on all occasions, however trying : yet goodness judiciously exercised, condescension with dignity, meekness with due severity against sin, tenderness without partiality, or improper compliances, to the nearest of his kindred, or the dearest of his disciples: how compassionate a love he shewed to his country; yet how unlimited a good will to all the world : how remote he was from self-indulgence, yet how far from encouraging useless rigour and austerity; how diligently he turned the thoughts of the multitude, from empty admiration of his discourses or his works, to the conscientious performance of their own duties ; declined the most favourable opportunities of rising to worldly power, and inculcated on his followers the strongest warnings of what he and they were to suffer: with what plainness he reproved both the people and their rulers, yet with what care he secured the respect owing from the former to the latter: with what simplicity and upright prudence he answered the objections and captious questions levelled against him, however suddenly attacked by them; and, though in