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newed your Mind, and tamed your Paffions, and changed your Lives, rejoice, and be exceeding glad, because your Renovation, being thus happily commenced, is a good Pledge, and Reason to hope, that your Names fhall be written in the Book of Life.
Of abftaining from Evil-appearance.
T Paul, towards the Conclufion of his first Epiftle to the Theffalonians, praying with all Earneftness for them, that the very God of Peace would fanctify them wholly, and that their whole Spirit, and Soul, and Body, might be preferved blame→ lefs, unto the Coming of our Lord Jefus Chrift, makes it on their Part a Means highly neceffary to this good Effect, that they should abstain from all Appearance of Evil, i. e. that the whole Tenor of their Actions fhould not only be innocent, but of good Report; not only free from the Guilt of Sin, but even from the leaft Colour or Sufpicion of it; fo guarded with Care, and guided with Difcretion, as not to give the least Occafion for any to blame or cenfure their righteous Doings.
This feems, at firft Sight, to be the proper Sense of the Precept; but then we must take Care to reduce it under fome Restrictions. For, fince Mankind, as we daily find, are so very ignorant and paffionate, apt to judge without Evidence, or according to Prejudice or Refentment; fo full of Hypocrify, and willing to exalt themselves, by abafing others; so full of affected Wisdom, which they think they can beft difplay by finding Faults; fo addicted to Detraction, and careful to furnish themselves with Materials for Slander; and fo confcious of their own Sins, and willing to conclude others under the like Condemnation: Since there are thefe, I fay, and many more Reasons, to deprave Mens Judgments concerning others, 'tis certain,
certain, that no Action can be innocent, but what, for aught we know, may chance to appear finful to fome ignorant Men, nor any Duty fo highly obligatory, but what, through Prejudice or Corruption, may be evil thought of: And therefore we should lay an infupportable Restraint upon our Liberty, if we were to debar ourselves from all innocent Actions, for Fear of offending fome; or we should stretch it too far, if we fhould prefume to omit what is abfolutely required of us by the Laws of God, merely to avoid the Cenfure of others.
Is it to the Good and Wife only then, that we are thus to approve ourselves? This perhaps were no difficult Task, because they are not apt to miftake, nor difpofed to mifcontrue our Actions; and therefore not likely to be offended with any Thing, but what is evidently and notoriously finful. But then the Misfortune is, that this is a Limitation, which the exprefs Letter of Scripture will not admit of. For that we may not think, that we are concerned to justify our Conduct only to the Wife, we are taught by St Peter, that it is the Will of God, that, by Well-doing, we should put to Silence the Ignorance of foolish Men: That we may not fatisfy ourselves with the good Opinion and Commendation of the Charitable and Good-natured, we are inftructed by St Paul to do all we can do, that we may cut off Occafion of Cenfure, even from them, which defire Occafion. That we may not acquiefce in the good Efteem of our Friends and Adherents, we are required to fhew fuch Uncorruptnefs and Sincerity, that he, who is on the contrary Part, may be ashamed, having no evil Thing to fay of us: And finally, that we may not fuppofe any Man under fuch a State of Sin or Ignorance, as to flight his Opinion, and be altogether indifferent in what Manner our Actions appear to him, we are strictly enjoined, by the Manifeftation of the Truth, to commend ourselves to every Man's Confcience in the Sight of God,
Since then, by Virtue of this Precept, we are not obliged to abstain from all Actions, that appear evil, because the most innocent and unblameable may appear fo to ignorant and wicked Men ; and yet, in the ordering of our Conversation, we are bound to have a Respect to the Opinion of all Men, and to fence our Actions against the Mistakes and Calumnies of the moft fimple and malicious; fince that, which to fome will actually appear evil, both lawfully may, and fometimes neceffarily must be done; and yet the Appearance of Evil muft at all Times, and in all Cafes, be ftudiously avoided; the Duty, which refults from the Precept, can be no other than this, "That "we do whatever in us lies to justify ourselves to "Men, as well as God; that we take all poffible "Care To to place our innocent and laudable "Actions in their true Light, that the wrong and "accidental Appearance of Evil may not be our "Fault; and that we ufe our utmoft Endeavour "to avoid that Appearance of Sin, which, after our " utmost Endeavour, cannot always be avoided." This must certainly be the true Sense of the Apoftle's Precepts; which we will, 1. Endeavour to enforce with an Argument or two; and then, 2. Adjoin fome fuch Directions, as may conduce towards the Practice of it.
I. That Men, who have no other Measures to judge by, than outward Appearance, must neceffarily judge of us according to what we openly feem to be, and not according to what we inwardly are; and that therefore the Appearance of Evil will give as deep a Wound to our Efteem among Men, as real Guilt itfelf can do, is a Truth fo evident in Theory, and fo well confirmed by constant Experience, that there needs no entering into a Detail of Arguments to prove it. The only Question is, whether a good Name be of that Value, as to de
ferve a wife Man's Care, either to get it, or preferve it; whether a fincere Chriftian, who ought to fit loose to the World, and to approve himfelf to God and his own Confcience, fhould let a Regard to his Reputation bear any Sway at all in the governing of his Actions; whether, when he can honestly fatisfy himself, that what he doth is in itself innocent, though to others it may appear offenfive, the Fear of hurting his good Name thereby ought to restrain him from an Action, which, by carrying the Face of Evil, will tend to his Difgrace. And there is the greater Room for this Question, because fome Divines, as well as Moralifts, have taken a great deal of Pains to fhew the Emptinefs of that vain imaginary Thing (as they please to term it) which we call Reputation.
This however feems to be a great Miftake : For, if we confider the ftrong Averfion to Shame, which the Author of our Nature has implanted in us, as a Guard against Sin; the warm Resentments we feel, and the large Demands we make upon having our Reputation, at never fo great a Distance, attacked: If we confider the high Price, which both buman and divine Laws fet upon it; the one, making the Penalty of Slander rife in Proportion to the Perfon that is injured, and the other ranking Slanderers and Backbiters among the Number of those, that fhall not inherit the Kingdom of God: If we confider the Chriftian Perfection of speaking well of those, that speak ill of us, and of fuffering Reproach patiently, when we are reviled by Men for keeping a good Conscience towards God; neither of which could be of any Value, if Calumny and Reproach were not evil in themselves: Or laftly, if we confider, that the main Spring of those laudable Actions, by which the Worthies of the Heathen World both fignalized themselves, and adorned the Ages wherein
they lived, was no other than the Defire of Glory, and juft Commendation; we cannot but be concluded by the Royal Preacher's Opinion, that a good Name is better than precious Ointment: But then, to go along with him in the Metaphor, we must fubfcribe likewife to this other Obfervation, that as dead Flies caufe the Ointment of the Apothecary to fend forth a stinking Savour; fo doth a little Folly him, that is in Reputation for Wisdom and Honour.
But it is not our own Reputation only, but the Salvation likewife of our Neighbour's Soul, that is concerned in this Affair. Were we indeed required only to work out our own Salvation, without any Regard to that of our Brethren, there would be lefs Occafion for all this Circumfpection in us. Upon this Suppofition, we might do every Thing that appeared fit and reasonable to us, without putting ourselves to any Pain about the Conftruction, which others may pafs upon it: But when we are fo frequently told, that other Mens Safety depends upon our Conduct, and that therefore we ought to exert our utmoft Power to do every Thing that may advance it, and watch, with all poffible Care, against doing any Thing, that in the leaft may hinder it; there hence arifes a Duty and Obligation to guard our Actions against the Mischief and Prejudice they may poffibly do, by any flight Shew and Appearance of Evil.
Under the Law of Mofes it is provided, that, if any Man fhall open a Pit, or if any Man fhall dig a Pit, and not cover it, and an Ox or an Ass fall therein, the Owner of the Pit fhall make it good. Now, most of thefe Laws, as the Apostle intimates, had a figurative, as well as a literal Sense in them; and therefore this in particular may well be fuppofed to denote, that, as a Jew, when he funk a Pit for the Service of his Houfe or Ground, for Fear his Neighbour's Beast should fall into it,