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sures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is abominable? Shall I count them pure with the wicked balances, and the bag of deceitful weights?" Mic. vi. 10, 11. Christians then certainly ought to be fair and open in their dealings, and to do to every man what is just. Though we could unobserved detain what is rightfully due to any, we should not withhold it. We are not only to decline unreputable methods of gain, which all men would condemn, and cry out of; but every artifice that is unjust and unequal, however common with some, and secure from the cognizance of human laws. We should be willing to exert ourselves to secure to others their rightful possessions against unjust invaders; but should never employ our power, or art, or influence, for getting into our hands what belongs to others. Though a good man does not choose to be oppressed, and would use all proper measures to secure himself from wrong; yet he would much rather suffer, than do an injury. To be wronged of his possessions, or rightful inheritance, by the artifices of designing persons, might be matter of much grief and concern; but to treat others in such a way, never enters into his heart: nor would any consideration whatever prove a temptation to such fraudulent proceeding. He would rather lose what he has, than gain the greatest estate by an act of injustice.
3. Christians are not to be conformed to the world, or the men of it, in the practice of known falsehood. It is one of St. Paul's practical directions to the Ephesians: Therefore, putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another, Eph. iv. 25. The words we use are to express the sense of our minds. We are not to promise any thing, but what we intend to do: and when we have promised, we are to perform according to our engagements. Nor does it seem consistent with truth and sincerity to make pompous professions of affection, respect and esteem, beside, and beyond the sense of our minds: creating thereby vain dependences, and big expectations; for our own present interest possibly, but to the real detriment, and lasting and piercing vexation and disappointment of those who have been deceived by us. A Christian also, one would think, should reckon it incumbent on him to have a regard to truth in lesser, as well as in greater matters. However customary it may be with some people to be at the same time at home to some, and abroad to others, and to direct their attendants to deliver a known falsehood, and to persist in it: a man of honour and conscience will scarce encourage, or approve a practice, which is a breach upon sincerity, and may have pernicious consequences.
I need not add here, that if we are not to trangress the rules of veracity in our ordinary discourse and conversation, much less may we falsify upon solemn occasions: when beside the weight of our own credit, we call God to be witness to the truth of what we say.
4. We are not to conform to the world, and the men of it, in a profane use of the name of God. Reverence is always due to the Supreme Being: in which they appear to be defective, who upon trivial occasions appeal to God for the truth of what they say. If any should insist, that they do it sometimes without knowing they do so, or thinking of it: they only shew thereby, that they have been long habituated to a practice which is not to be justified. For, is it not an offence to attest insignificant points with an oath? which is a solemn and awful thing, not to be introduced into society, but for deciding matters of weight and importance. A sober and considerate heathen or deist, who has upon his mind a serious sense of religion, would not approve that the Divine Being should be mentioned, or spoken of in such a light and irreverent manner, as would be judged a contemptuous use of the name of a great man. And shall Christians venture upon such an use of the name of God, who have so much more reason to love and honour him? Is it not strange and surprising, that a sin, to which, as is often said, there is so little temptation, should be so common as it is, among those who are called by that honourable name? But however common it may be among some, chiefly, I think, of the higher and lower ranks of men (in which, as well as in some other things, they too much agree), let us not be conformed to them therein.
Nor can it be fit for us to stake our salvation, or life, or credit, for the truth of matters of little or no consequence, as some frequently do. This is a practice that is not to be reconciled to the reason of any thoughtful and considerate person, who has a sense of religious obligations, and is concerned for the good order and welfare of society. And our blessed Lord has interposed here, and has expressly forbid not only the swearing by the name of God in conversation, and the ordinary commerce of life, but also those lesser, or more diminutive oaths, in which the name of God is not expressly invoked. "Ye have heard, that it has been said by [or rather to]
them of old time; thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths. But I say unto you; swear not at all," Matt. v. 33, 34. Our Saviour does not intend to forbid swearing upon solemn and momentous, but only upon trivial and ordinary occasions: "neither by heaven, for it is God's throne: nor by the earth, for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, for thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be yea, yea; nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. These directions of our Lord are sufficiently clear, and easy to be applied by men of these times.
It is unnecessary to add, that if invocations of the Deity in a light manner, and upon trivial occasions, be evil; it is still a more aggravated offence to call upon God to condemn or destroy others upon occasion of none, or very trifling affronts and injuries.
5. We are not to be conformed to the world in idleness and mispending of time. Though it should be the custom of some, or of many around us, to devote their time and abilities to trifling matters, of little or no use and benefit to themselves or others; they are not to be followed or imitated by us. Diversions are allowable, if they are innocent in themselves, and if they are made use of by us as a refreshment of our wearied spirits, and that we may be better fitted for employments of a higher nature. But diversions are not to be suffered to grow up into constant employments, and to thrust out useful and necessary business. Then they become sinful: for this life is our only opportunity of providing for eternity: and therefore it would be lost, if spent in eating and drinking, and playing, without making preparation for a future state. If we rightly consider the shortness of life, the work we have to do, the many avocations that are almost unavoidable; we shall think, that time ought not to be squandered and thrown away, but improved with care and diligence.
A large part of most men's time is requisite for providing the necessaries, or comforts and conveniences of life. If they should indulge sloth and idleness, they would be reduced to want and poverty. If the necessaries and comforts of life are provided to our hand for us, we may be well employed in improving our minds, and in serving and helping others.
And do we think, that we have no occasion to employ some time in private, in serious meditation and reflection upon ourselves, and our more public and ordinary conduct? Are we satisfied that all is right already, and that our behaviour is without fault, or that there is no room left for amendment? May it not be of use to take some time to review our diversions and amusements, our transactions in business, and even our acts of public worship?
Time very often runs waste in conversation, and yet we ought not to be unsociable and unfriendly. Should we not therefore be glad to render that time more profitable? As for those who have superior abilities, or any superior advantage in point of age, character and station: may they not do well to aim at raising and improving friendly conversation? and should not others be ready to join in such attempts, and to set forward those topics that are instructive and edifying, as well as entertaining? that those seasons may not be altogether, and always, void and empty spaces, of which we can give no good account; but useful and beneficial: such as all may be able to reflect upon with pleasure, and some with thankfulness, long afterwards.
6. We are not to be conformed to the world in a censorious temper, and detracting speech and discourse. Some there are, who scarce think any thing well done, but what is done by themselves: who have a mean opinion of the abilities and performances of other men, or seem to have so: and by artfully lessening and detracting from them, they endeavour to bring the rest of mankind into the like sentiment.
Some men have a vast acquaintance with the private affairs and actions of their neighbours, but more especially, as it seems, with their weaknesses and failings: and having a good deal of. knowledge of this kind, it is not easy for them to hide such a treasure. Men who have a great
deal of knowledge are usually fond of shewing it, and sometimes even among those, who set no value upon the sciences they are masters of: but men are apt to be communicative of this knowledge above any other, because discoveries of this sort are generally acceptable: the smallest trifle of this nature being more eagerly sought, and more readily embraced by abundance of people, than relations of great and noble actions.
There can be no good reason, why men should be prying and inquisitive into the private affairs of families, or particular persons. When such things are known, there can be very seldom any good purpose served by divulging them. If they are mentioned at all, certainly there can
be no good reason for giving them a wrong turn, making things appear worse than they are, concealing circumstances, that might alleviate an imprudence; and possibly adding some others, that tend to aggravate and enhance it.
This must be owned to be an unreasonable practice: but yet it is not uncommon. Though every man is tender of his own good name, how many act, as if the reputation of other men and their families was a thing of small value in their esteem!
We are therefore to be upon our guard here. We are not to form and raise stories to the prejudice of others. Nor are we to report what we have heard without reserve, or caution, or any good occasion for so doing. Nay, it might be well if sometimes we would decline receiving relations of this kind, that the practice of tale-bearing may be the more effectually discouraged: or, if we cannot well avoid hearing them, however doing it without any satisfaction, real or apparent, and diverting the discourse to other matters, as soon as may be.
If we do not arrive at this degree of perfection, yet let us take heed, that we be not rash and severe in our censures; nor condemn and exclaim against actions and conduct, of which we know but very few circumstances.
We are all too apt to transgress in many things, and in few things more, than in an abuse of the faculty of speech. Says St. James: "My brethren, be not many masters, knowing, that we shall receive the greater condemnation: for in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able to bridle the whole body," James iii. 1, 2.
I might here particularly caution and argue against loading men with censures and reproaches on account of their differing from us in matters of speculation. For whereas upon other occa sions some turn the imprudences of others into heinous sins; here men often make that a crime which is a virtue. They censure men as abandoned of God, and in a state of damnation, for believing certain opinions, which possibly are true and reasonable: but if they be false, still those persons would not deserve to be severely censured by us, if they have honestly used their best endeavours in the search of truth. Let us not be conformed to others in such a temper and conduct as this. But when men differ from us, let us take the more favourable side of the question; and hope, that though they are mistaken, as we think, yet they do not err wilfully, or obstinately, but that they are open to conviction, and are sincere and upright. But at present I say no more of this matter."
7. We are not to be conformed to this world, or the men of it, in a luxurious and extravagant course of life. And, have we not reason to be upon our guard here? Is not this a prevailing and general fault? Has it not invaded all ranks and orders of men? Is not this one of the sins of our days? And does it not manifestly bring upon us many distresses and calamities, and threaten us with more? Does not extravagance prevail, not in one thing only, but in all? Is it not seen in diet, apparel, furniture, equipage, diversions, and in every article of expense that can be named?
What can be said in defence of that gaming, in various forms, which has been so greatly improved and cultivated; in which great numbers of people have attained such exquisite skill and understanding? Is not this the ordinary diversion, or rather business of many among us; of rich and poor, high and low, young and old? Are there not numerous instances of this practice, which are plainly, and extremely unreasonable? Certainly, it cannot but be offensive to see those gaming for sums of money, be they greater or smaller, who, so far as can be judged by their outward appearance, are extremely destitute: and it must be a manifest and heinous immorality, for men to mispend time, and hazard sums of money in this way, whose families are unprovided with things necessary for their support.
If then transgressions of this kind are common with any of our rank and acquaintance, we ought to be upon our guard, and take heed that we be not conformed to them. For gaming is altogether improper for some: and to be addicted to it, or to hazard large sums of money this way, must be unreasonable in all. The loss of time, hazard of estate, health, temper and virtue, with which this practice is attended, should either entirely deter men from it, or at least induce them to be very careful not to exceed.
But this is not the only thing to be avoided by us.
a If any should find this discourse too long for one reading, they may break off here.
Since these discourses were composed and pronounced,
There are many other ways of profuse
an Act of Parliament has passed for the more effectual preventing of excessive and deceitful gaming. All wise men, I am persuaded, agree in wishing it may have a good effect.
ness: and, when this is the case: when frugality is unreputable; when economy is thought to be below all people of rank, of both sexes; when they who make a decent appearance, and pay to all what is justly due to them, and relieve and support distressed families, and are liberal in promoting divers good works: when such as these can scarce maintain their credit in the world, for want of pomp and splendour, and a glittering shew and appearance; then certainly we have need to be upon our guard against that profuseness, which is above our circumstances, which might exhaust our substance, involve us in perplexing and inextricable difficulties, and hazard the total loss of that little virtue that remains in us.
8. Another thing, in which we ought not to be conformed to this world, is uncharitableness in things of a religious concern. This we may have reason to guard against: for the pride of our hearts, the good opinion we are too apt to have of ourselves, disposes us very much to be offended with those who differ from us. Therefore, if unfavourable sentiments of some persons, and a severe treatment of them, be common, we are in great danger of being misled. Indeed this has often been a common, though it be an heinous injustice. It has been common among those who have been the people of God by profession, as well as among ignorant heathens and idolaters. How strangely a blind zeal, or uncharitable temper toward such as differed from them, raged among the Jewish people, we see in the history of the New Testament; particularly in their treatment of the apostle Paul, and other harmless disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. If we were to look into the history of Christianity, since it prevailed in the Roman empire, and observe the conduct of the several sects and parties of Christians; we should find it a difficult undertaking to vindicate the conduct of any one of them, when they have been uppermost, and have had power in their hands. Scarce any age or period, but affords instances of hard and unrighteous treatment of men for the sake of some differences in religious opinions. Very few of those who have had the chief direction of church-affairs, who have not been blameable for some rigour and uncharitableness in sentiment or practice. And oftentimes they who by their stations have been guides and teachers of others, have earnestly inculcated such a zeal, such a temper and conduct toward those who have not been in all things of the same mind with them, as is extremely unrighteous and unmerciful. Nor are they those only who are chief in power that are guilty in this respect: for they also who are few in number, and of small authority, in comparison of others, will sometimes assume, and become imperious and uncharitable toward those who differ from them in these points.
This then is a very common fault; and because common, the greater care and circumspection are necessary: for every one has a right to think for himself, and is obliged to determine according to the best of his own judgment and understanding: and it is a duty incumbent upon every one to inquire seriously into the things of religion, and to judge according to evidence. Therefore no man, or body of men, civil or ecclesiastical, can have a right to impose religious creeds or articles upon other men, and to punish them for not assenting to them. Any one may propose reasons and arguments in behalf of his opinions: but no man ought to enforce assent any further than his arguments convince.
It is true, no one has a right to do, or teach any thing, that is contrary to the peace of society. That is the magistrate's province. But where opinions are innocent, and have no direct tendency to disturb the peace and quiet of others, and men are guilty of no injustice, they have a right to the protection of the power of the society in which they live, and ought to enjoy the privileges of peaceable subjects.
And that we ought to avoid a persecuting, and a malevolent temper and conduct with regard to men of different sentiments, and to practise much tenderness, mildness, forbearance and love, is apparent not only from the reason and fitness of things, as just now hinted, but also from the conduct and example of our blessed Lord and his apostles, and from the mildness of the principles and precepts of the Christian religion, as recorded in the books of the New Testament; which was not planted and spread in the world by force and violence, by human authority, and the power of the sword, but by reason and argument, and the example of a holy and amiable life and conversation. Moreover, the Christian religion did by the like means spread and prevail for a good while after the death of Christ's apostles, and their fellow-labourers, without human supports, and notwithstanding frequent and violent persecutions. And though the favour of the civil power and authority, upon the conversion of Constantine, might be an advantage for a while: yet I suppose, it may be allowed to be a just observation, that since Christians,
instead of being persecuted, as they had been by Jews and Heathens, have persecuted one another, Christianity has made little progress, but has rather lost ground. For the once numerous and flourishing churches of the East, and in a large part of Africa, have been all, in a manner, long since swallowed up in Mahometism. And I presume, it may much dispose us to moderation to observe, that where there is the most rigid imposition, and tyrannical government, as in the church of Rome, there are the grossest errors, and the most unreasonable superstitions, together with a very deplorable corruption of manners, especially where that ecclesiastical tyranny is at the greatest height.
Let us not then be afraid of religious liberty, as prejudicial and unfriendly to truth. Let us not by any means concur in any methods of rigour and severity toward men of different sentiments, as thinking thereby to promote the interest of religion and virtue. For beside that such methods are in themselves unreasonable and unrighteous, they are also detrimental to the cause of truth.
9. Another thing, in which we ought not to follow others, is indifference about the things of religion. Of this men may be in danger on various accounts. Considering the many differences and dissensions there are upon this head; the animosity and fierceness with which religious disputes are often managed; the many abuses of religion, that is, its name and profession, by hypocritical, artful, and self-interested men; some may be apt to take offence, and to determine, no more to concern themselves about it, but let all things abroad have their course; whilst they, for their part, secure, as far as possible, their own present worldly ease and advantage.
Others may be in danger of much indolence upon this head from other considerations. Religion, say they, is an abstruse and difficult thing. Let us therefore acquiesce in the determinations of our superiors and governors in church and state, and believe as they require or, let us follow those to whom we are allied, and do as they desire, especially if they are at all importunate, without giving ourselves any pain about this matter.
But this indifference and indolence ought to be guarded against. Whatever dissensions there are in the world, partly through human weakness, partly through human wickedness and deceit, there is a difference of things. Truth and virtue are realities, built upon solid foundations and with care and attention the great and general principles of true religion, and the main branches of virtue, may be discerned from error and vice.
Every man therefore should endeavour, to the best of his power, according to the circumstances he is in, to know and understand the chief things of religion, and the grounds and evidences of them. He should be disposed to profess the truth so far as he is acquainted with it, and to appear among those, who make a public acknowledgment of the great Creator and Sovereign of the world, and of that revelation which he has made of his will to mankind. He should be concerned for the rights of conscience in general, and be heartily desirous that all men may enjoy the privilege of worshipping God according to their light and knowledge. He should never join in oppressing others for conscience sake: but according to his station and circunistances should oppose such measures, and vindicate those who are any way injuriously treated on account of their religious sentiments.
10, and lastly, We are not to be conformed to the world, or the men of it, in an excessive and inordinate affection for earthly and temporal things. We are not to act as if this world were our home, and the things of it our portion and our all. We should be more moderate in our desires of temporal good things, and less afraid of the evils and sufferings of this life, than many are. If some seek the things of this world, more than those of another; and, if disappointments in such pursuits plunge them into incurable grief and distress; we should be cautious of such intemperate affection for earthly things. If some are unreasonably transported with successes in their worldly designs, and are elated thereby beyond measure, so as to treat others with scorn and disdain; we should be ashamed of such misbehaviour. If we are blessed in like manner, let us thankfully own the goodness of God; but "rejoice as though we rejoiced not, because the fashion of this world passeth away," 1 Cor. vii. 30, 31.
Do many repine and murmur against God, because they are not prospered, as some others are? and is there among men a general uneasiness with their own circumstances? We should be contented and resigned; that it may appear, we acknowledge the over-ruling providence of God, and that there are other sources of joy and satisfaction, beside increase and abundance of worldly goods. Whatever condition we are in, especially if we are in any higher station, let us