« السابقةمتابعة »
church; by employing wealth, authority, influence, genius, learning, and every endowment, with a steady aim to promote the cause of true religion in the world, and to render mankind wiser, holier, and happier, by every means we can devise.
By a combination of these dispositions, and an habitual regard to every part of our conduct, according to the brief hints here given; avoiding extremes, rashness, harshness, and affected singularity; endeavouring to unite a courteous obliging behaviour with religious constancy and fortitude; and studying the proprieties of our several stations, we may, I apprehend, comply with our Lord's exhortation, and "let our light shine before "men."
III. Then, we proceed to consider the object, which we ought to propose to ourselves, in attending to these duties.
It hath been hinted, that our light should shine before men, and not at a distance from human society. They who quit the active scenes of life to which Providence has called them, that they may cultivate piety in privacy and retirement, too much resemble such soldiers, as decline the combat, and refuse to face danger or endure hardship in the service of their country. Some employments indeed are absolutely irreconcilable with.
a good conscience: but when this is not the case: it is generally the believer's duty, to "abide in his "calling." Christianity suffices to teach every man, from the monarch to the slave, how to glorify God and serve his generation, by a diligent and self-denying performance of the duties belonging to his station. And this is the best method of exhibiting before men the nature and efficacy of that remedy, which God hath devised for the disorders of this evil world.
Our Lord, in this same sermon, warns his disciples not to do their "works to be seen of men :" yet here he requires them to "let their light so "shine before men, that they may see their good "works." Our actions, however good in themselves, are corrupt in their principle, if they spring from vain-glory, or are made known with ostentation, as if we sought human applause. But if we abound in the fruits of righteousness, and patiently continue in well doing, it will be impossible that our good works should be wholly concealed. Our Lord "went about doing good:" and he always shunned human observation, in his constant exercise of beneficence, as far as his circumstances would admit of it: yet his love and power were undeniable, and his fame spread abroad through the adjacent regions. Indeed almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, of which Christ spake afterwards, generally demand secrecy: but hypocrites especially seek glory by openly performing them :
while the habitual tenour of a sober, righteous, and godly life, must be visible to those among whom we reside. Yet even here we ought to watch against every degree of ostentation.-But there may be occasions, in which the honour of God and the edification of our brethren, may require us to make known even those parts of our conduct, which should in general be concealed. Daniel opened his windows, and prayed three times a day, as a protest against the impious decree of Darius, or rather of his ministers; and the primitive Christians publickly sold their estates, to provide for the needy. And thus martyrs, in prison or at the stake, prayed singly in the most open manner, though at other times accustomed to retire into a closet.
The object which we are instructed to propose to ourselves, in making our light "shine before men, is this, "that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven:" and our conduct may be regulated in most cases, by carefully examining how that end may be most ef fectually attained. But so far from our good works conducing in any degree to our justification before God, even the gracious recompence, promised to the fruits of the Spirit in the hearts and lives of believers, is not so much as mentioned in the passage before us. Higher and nobler motives are exclusively proposed, motives in which selflove is allowed no gratification, except we can
find pleasure in glorifying God and doing good to
The people of the world have in general a very unfavourable opinion of evangelical doctrines. "The preaching of the cross is to them that perish "foolishness;" and the plan of redemption seems to many of them irrational, inconsistent, and calculated to level all distinctions of character and capacity, and to militate against the interests of morality and science. They therefore commonly entertain a contempt for a man's understanding, when they discover that he has zealously embraced this religious system: and the disgusting conduct, or extravagant notions, of too many who profess these doctrines, confirm these fatal prejudices, and furnish them with anecdotes and objections, with which to oppose the truth.-But when a man soberly avows his belief of the gospel, and "is ready "to give a reason of the hope that is in him, with "meekness and fear:" when he discourses rationally on other subjects, and behaves with increasing propriety and consistency in all his various relations and engagements: the prejudices of observers gradually subside, and they begin to allow that his principles are not so intolerable as they once conceived them to be. Finding, that, while he decidedly resolves "to obey God rather than man," he also is ready to serve or oblige others, when he can do it with a good conscience; and that his conduct when most exactly scrutinized,
appears to the greatest advantage; and feeling perhaps that their own interest and comfort have been materially advanced by the change: they are prepared to receive more favourably any hint he may drop concerning the salvation of Christ; to read a book that he earnestly recommends, or to give the preachers of the gospel an occasional hearing. Thus many are led to an acquaintance with the truths of Christianity in the most attractive manner: their aversion and contempt are almost imperceptibly removed; and one after another is brought to the knowledge of Christ, and faith in his blood. Then a new light is set up to shine before men, that others may see his good works also, and be won over to join in glorifying our God and Father.
The Lord alone, it is true, can open the understanding and change the heart: but he almost always uses means and instruments; and the pious example and zealous endeavours of Christians, as well as the preaching of the gospel, are blessed to the conversion of sinners. Every believer therefore should habitually design and endeavour to be useful in this manner, within his proper sphere; and propose it to himself as the grand object of his future life, to which all other pursuits ought to be subordinated, and if possible rendered subseryient. He should watch over his tempers, words, and actions; and endeavour to regulate them in such a manner, that they may give the utmost