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relative by too frequent contradictions, especially in matters of small moment; or by too keen, or too frequent jests, or by any seeming neglect, or a rude familiarity: but whilst you use the openness, freedom and confidence of a friend, oblige yourselves to the same, or very near the same outward forms of civility and respect with which you receive a stranger. This must be of some importance, because few men can persuade themselves, that they are really beloved, when they seem to be despised.
4.) The last thing to be spoken to is usefulness to others. Though I am giving rules and directions chiefly to young people, who are but setting out in the world; yet I think it not pro per to omit entirely this matter, there being few good and innocent persons, however young, who have not also some generosity; and they are apt to be forming designs of usefulness to other men, as well as of advancement for themselves.
There are two branches of usefulness; one concerning the interest of civil society, the other the interest of truth and religion; or the temporal, and the spiritual good and welfare of men.
One branch of usefulness is serving the interest of civil society. For this every man may be concerned, having first carefully informed himself about it, that he may make a true judg ment wherein it consists. You should manifest a steady regard to the public welfare upon every occasion that requires your assistance: shewing, that you are not to be imposed upon by false pretences, and that your integrity is inviolable; that you will not for a little present profit, nor for all your own personal share in the world, sell, or betray the welfare of the public, and of mankind in general. If you maintain this steadiness in the way suitable to your station, it will procure you weight and influence. I suppose this may be more advisable, than to imitate those, who out of a forward zeal for the public have been so far transported as to leave their proper station, and set upon reforming the world, hoping to root out at once all abuses and corruptions. From some things that have already happened in the world, in almost every age and part of it, one may safely foretell what will be the issue of such an undertaking. You will be baffled, and then despised. Possibly, Solomon has an eye to such attempts as these, when he says: "Be not righteous overmuch, neither make thyself overwise: why shouldst thou destroy thyself?" Ecc. vii. 16.
It is a regular and becoming deportment in a man's own proper station, which is most likely to give him weight and authority. Go on therefore by a just discharge of all the duties of your condition, to lay up a stock of reputation and influence. To do this will be great prudence, and to improve it, as occasions offer, or to hazard and lay it all out for the good of the public, in a case of emergency, will be both prudent and generous.
The other branch of usefulness is promoting the interest of truth and religion. There are three or four rules to be observed here, which may be collected from some directions, and the example of our blessed Lord and his apostles. "Čast not your pearls before swine if they persecute you in one city, flee into another: instruct men, as they are able to bear it: use mildness of speech, and meekness of behaviour."
These rules partly regard our own safety, and partly the best way of obtaining the end aimed at. For, as every good man ought to have a zeal for the happiness of others, and particularly for promoting truth and virtue; so it is a point of prudence to pursue such good ends in the use of those means, which are most likely to obtain them, and with as little danger or damage to ourselves as may be.
The first is a rule delivered by our Saviour: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you," Matt. vii. 6. There is a rule of like import in the Proverbs: "Speak not in the ear of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of thy words." Prov. xxiii. 9. Prov. xxiii. 9. This too is partly the design of that direction which St. Paul gives to Timothy describing some men, that they had a "form of godliness, denying the power of it; from such," says he, "turn away," 2 Tim. iii. 5. Leave them, as men whom you have no prospect of doing any good to. Our Lord himself observed this rule: for he rarely addressed himself directly to the pharisees, but rather taught the people: and his disciples afterwards having made a tender of the gospel to the Jews, when they rejected it, went from them to the Gentiles. Acts xiii. 46.
The true character of those men who are not the subjects of instruction is this; they "trust in themselves, that they are righteous, and despise others," Luke xviii. 9. Again: "Their heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest at
any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should be converted and healed," Matt. xiii. 15.
These are not to be instructed. Nor would they admit a direct address and application to be made to them. You may warn others against them, you may weep over them, you may pray for them, but you cannot teach them. It is a dangerous thing to offer them any service to enlighten them. If they are not under some external restraints, they turn again and rend you. If therefore upon trial you meet with men of this character and disposition, you are to retreat as well as you can. The most that can be thought of is to wait for a better opportunity.
However, our blessed Lord gives this charge to his disciples: "What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light; and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the house-top,' Matt. x. 27. Proclaim the doctrine you have heard from me publicly wherever you go, and do all that lies in your power to recommend it to all men. And it must be owned, that they who have an opportunity of applying to great numbers of men, either by discourse or writing, have a vast advantage; and they are bound by their fidelity to Christ, and by all that is dear and sacred in truth, religion, and virtue, to improve this advantage to the utmost of their ability. If they scatter abroad the principles of religion, some will fall upon good ground, whence may be expected a plentiful harvest.
The second rule relating to this matter is, "If they persecute you in one city, flee into another," Matt. x. 23. You may decline the heat of men's rage and displeasure, and reserve yourselves for better times, or for more teachable and better disposed persons. Of the first believers after our Lord's ascension it is said: "And at that time there was a great persecution against the church that was at Jerusalem, and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles," Acts viii. 1. It is likely, the apostles had some special directions from the Holy Ghost, not to depart from Jerusalem, and they there enjoyed accordingly a special protection: but the rest of the believers left Jerusalem for the present, and shifted for themselves, as they could, in other parts. Nay we afterwards find apostles also observing this rule. Peter having been delivered out of prison by an angel, after he had been put in custody by Herod, "departed and went to another place," Acts xii. 17. "Of Paul and Barnabas it is related, that when at Iconium "there was an assault made both of the Gentiles, and also of the Jews, to use them despitefully; they were aware of it, and fled unto Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and unto the region that lies round about, chap. xiv. 5, 6.
Thirdly, teach men as they are able to bear it. So did our blessed Lord. Says the evangelist: "And with many such parables spake he the word unto them, as they were able to hear it," Mark iv. 33. So he taught the disciples also, delivering some things with some obscurity, because they were not able to bear a plain and full revelation of them: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now," John xvi. 12. This may be the fault of men, that they are not able to hear every truth plainly spoken: but yet there must be some compliance and condescension in this respect." And I, brethren," says St. Paul to the Corinthians, "could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ Jesus. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat, for hitherto ye were not able to bear it,' 1 Cor. iii. 1, 2. You must therefore, as the apostles did, " become all things to all men, that by all means you may save some," 1 Cor. ix. 22. You are not to depart from your own integrity, nor your proper character: but so far as can be done consistent with these, you are to suit your instructions to men's abilities and conditions.
Fourthly, in this work use great mildness of speech, and meekness of behaviour. You are not to provoke any that are teachable by reflecting on their want of understanding, nor to suffer your zeal to degenerate into rudeness. It has been observed by some, that the apostles of Christ were eminent examples of an excellent decorum in their discourses, and in their whole behaviour. And among other directions to Timothy St. Paul has not failed to recommend particularly meekness of behaviour, as the most likely method of reclaiming men from their errors. "The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle to all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing them that oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth," 2 Tim. ii. 24, 25. That you may gain men to truth and virtue, apply the strongest arguments to their reason and conscience, without a contemptuous treatment of their persons or prejudices.
These gentle methods of reformation will be generally preferred by good men, and may be
reckoned the most probable means of conviction: but I do not deny, that some faults and follies of men may fitly be ridiculed; and some men may be rebuked sharply by proper persons, and with all authority. All which is no more than putting in practice the direction of Solomon: "Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit," Prov. xxvi. 5.
I have now set before you some general rules of prudence, and some particular directions concerning divers branches of conduct. But you are not to suppose, that prudence is to be learned by rules only. It is rather a habit, which must be gained by observation, action and experience. Suffer not yourselves to be embarrassed and perplexed with a great multitude and variety of rules, nor be over solicitous about a proper decorum; for too great anxiety always spoils the performance. In a word, be but fully master of your own character, and possessed of an habitual desire of pleasing, together with a modest persuasion that you shall do well, and you will do so.
There can be no occasion for me to add a particular recommendation of the study of prudence, having before shewn the necessity, and the grounds and reasons of it. The text itself demonstrates the lawfulness and expedience of prudent conduct. Nor can any be altogether insensible of the importance of it to success in life. Virtue, learning, the knowledge of arts and sciences, are like diamonds, that have an intrinsic value, but must be set and polished, before they are fit for show or use. Though divers other natural and acquired accomplishments may procure affection and esteem, it is discretion only that can preserve them.
I am not apprehensive of any abuse of the directions here laid down. They have no tendency to make men selfish or cunning. They are designed for the young and unexperienced; as likewise for the honest, the good-natured, and the generous, of any age and condition. Though you should be simple, they who are designing will practise their arts of subtlety and mischief. By a prudent behaviour you will not encourage their evil practices, but only secure yourselves against them, and be better qualified for success and usefulness in the world.
After all, you are not to depend upon your own care and prudence, but to recommend yourselves and your honest well-laid designs to the divine protection and blessing. It has been seen by those who have diligently observed human counsels and events, "that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill, but time and chance happeneth to them all," Ecc. ix. 11. As all human affairs are liable to accidents and disasters, a firm persuasion, and serious regard to the overruling providence of God, which is not limited by the present scene of things, cannot but contribute to your happiness, by preparing your minds for all events, and enabling you to bear afflictions and disappointments with patience.
It may likewise be one good foundation of happiness, to admit but moderate affections for the great things of this world. If you are truly religious, you may be content with a little, and will manage that well. Without a great estate, by frugal and prudent conduct, you may have enough for yourselves, and your immediate dependents; and be able to do good to others also. Happy had it been for some men, as well as for the public, if from the very first, and all their. days, they had rather aimed to be wise and good, than rich or great. Finally, if you do good for the sake of doing good, which is a noble principle; and with a view to future rewards, which are incomparably great, and certain: you will not be much concerned, though you miss of sent rewards, which you know to be but trifles, and never were your principal aim.
May you then add to virtue prudence, and abound in both yet more and more; that you may escape the snares of the wicked, and the misapprehensions of the weak; may have success in business, acceptance with mankind, happiness in friendship and every private relation; may be useful members of civil society, and of the church of God; may enjoy contentment, and peace of mind in all events: and at length obtain the distinguished recompences, which God, who is infinitely wise and holy, will bestow upon those who have not only been "undefiled in the way," Psalm cxix. 1, but have also advanced the welfare of their fellow-creatures, and the honour of his name in the world.
A CAUTION AGAINST
CONFORMITY TO THIS WORLD:
TWO DISCOURSES ON ROMANS xii. 2.
And be not conformed to this world. Rom. xii. 2.
HIS chapter contains directions for the practice of many virtues. It begins with exhortations of a general nature, recommended with great earnestness: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind." In the remaining part of the chapter are recommended to Christians divers virtues; such as humility, faithfulness, and diligence in the improvement of their talents and in the discharge of the duties of their several stations, undissembled love of each other, patience under afflictions, a love of peace, forbearance of enemies, and even kindness to them if they are in distress.
My present design is to consider the cautionary direction of the text: "And be not conformed to this world." By the world, as you well know, in the New Testament, and in common discourse, is often meant this present state, and the things of it. It likewise sometimes denotes the sinful customs and practices of men who live in this world; or the bad men of the world who live according to the lusts of the flesh, as if they looked for no other happiness, but what consists in the possessions and enjoyments of this world: and so generally had men abandoned themselves to sin and folly, that Satan is spoken of as the "god of this world," 2 Cor. iv. 4, as if he had been the deity they acknowledged and worshipped.
Indeed before the coming of Christ, and the publication of his gospel, human nature lay in a very deplorable and degenerate condition, being generally involved in great darkness and ignorance, and under the power of irregular and exorbitant appetites and affections: little virtue, either in the Heathen or the Jewish world: things contrary to reason practised by men of every rank: the very principles of the guides and instructors of men too much suited to extenuate vice, or too weak to check the torrent of it; and often recommending little else but a bare performance of external acts of religion, without, and in the stead of, real virtue and true piety.
The apostle therefore now writing to the Christians at Rome, judged it necessary at the beginning of his practical directions, to caution them against being carried away with the stream of irreligion and wickedness: and it is to be feared, that still there may be reason for such a caution. The gospel may have made some considerable alteration in the world. Yea, it ought to be owned, that the world has been greatly reformed and amended thereby. It has blessed many with juster sentiments concerning God and the way of serving him. It has also had a good effect upon the manners of men; and many have been influenced by the good principles they have received. Great numbers have been preserved from sins they otherwise would not have escaped. Others have reached to degrees of virtue which they never would have attained without its assistance: and the number of truly good and upright men is not so small as formerly; but, we may reasonably suppose, much enlarged and increased.
Nevertheless there are many whose lives are not agreeable to the rules of right reason, or the precepts of the Christian religion. And though it should be allowed, or charitably supposed
and hoped, that they are not now the most, who act contrary to the precepts of religion; yet a caution, not to be conformed to the world, may not be useless or needless. If there are but few who act as men of the world, and are principally influenced by the things of this present life; yet considering the deceitfulness of our hearts, the bias of inclination to some sins, and the force of only a few bad examples (especially where there are many), it may be reasonable to guard against imitation of them, or conformity to others in that which is evil.
In discoursing on this text I shall take the following method:
I. I shall endeavour to shew the design and meaning of this direction.
II. I intend to consider the importance of observing it, and offer some reasons and arguments against conformity to this world.
III. After which, I shall conclude with a few reflections.
1. I shall endeavour to shew the design and meaning of this direction.
And hereby is not to be understood, that we are studiously to avoid all conformity and agreement with men of the world. We all agree in one common nature, and perform the ordinary functions and operations of the animal and rational life and we are to provide for the wants and necessities of nature, as well as other men. Nor does the apostle design to restrain or forbid a diligent pursuit of the comforts and advantages of this life, in any methods that are lawful and innocent: but what he means is, that we should not be led aside by multitudes, or by any of those we converse with, into the practice of any thing sinful and unlawful.
But beside this general explication of the words, I would mention some particulars, in which we ought not to be conformed to others, how much soever such things may prevail.
1. We are not to be conformed to the world in those sins which are called sins of the flesh. In this caution the apostle very probably has an eye to these things, inasmuch as they were very generally indulged among the heathens, with whom the Christians at Rome were surrounded. So he writes to the Ephesians: "This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord; that ye henceforth walk not as other gentiles walk, in the vanity of their minds, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: who being past feeling have given themselves over to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ, if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus; that ye put off, concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts." Eph. iv. 17-22. He requires, that such things be "not once named, ch. v. 3, among Christians; that is, that there be no instances of such transgressions among them but that they behave "as becometh saints; and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them," ver. 11. He likewise directs, that "foolish talking. and jesting, which are not convenient," ver. 4, should quite cease from among them.
Nor are we to indulge ourselves in any intemperance or excess, that disorders the reason, prejudices the health, and indisposes for the duties of life. "And be not drunk with wine,. wherein is excess," Eph. v. 18. We are not to be guilty of compliance here. Though some should take it ever so much amiss, that we will not be like them, or bear them company therein, we are resolutely to decline a conformity with them. Thus St. Peter, referring to the prevailing customs of heathens: "For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: wherein they think it strange, that you run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you," i Pet. iv. 3, 4. So it was then. And it is to be feared, that still among some, and in some places, this kind of excess is so common, that not a few may be tempted by the customariness of it.
2. Christians are not to be conformed to the world, or the men of it, in any injustice, either in the way of fraud or violence, Says St. Paul to the Ephesians: "Let him that. stole steal no more; but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good," Eph. iv. 28. Among the ancient laws of God delivered to the Israelites are such as these: "Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in mete-yard, in weight, or in measure. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, a just hin shall ye have. I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt," Lev. xix. 35, 36. Solomon observes: "A false balance is abomination to the Lord; but a just weight is his delight," Prov. xi. 1. And God. himself by his prophet reproves prevailing injustice in this manner: "Are there yet the trea