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not "seek our own" interest only, as too many do, "but every one" of us also "another's wealth," 1 Cor. x. 24.
In these things we are not to follow or imitate other men; nor in any thing else that is dishonourable to the majesty of God, or that debaseth, and is unworthy of our rational and immortal nature, or that is injurious to our fellow-creatures. In other things, which are not contrary to reason, or express revelation, we may do as others do: we may enjoy the same comforts, follow the same employments, take the same diversions, that others do; and may use the language of the place and country and time, wherein we live. For I do not intend to cast a snare before you, or raise groundless and needless scruples in any man's mind. It is not my design absolutely to condemn music, or dancing, or those diversions, in which chance, or hazard, has a part, as well as skill; or those entertainments, in which are represented the humours and manners of men, and the revolutions of states and empires, or the vicissitudes of particular persons. These things I do not look upon, as in themselves, and always evil. They then only become evil, when they are perverted, or abused (as I fear they often are) or when they are accidentally evil, or hurtful to us, for want of prudent circumspection; which is necessary every where, and at all times, and more especially upon some occasions.
But then the restrictions and cautions before mentioned ought to be here remembered. Men are not to waste their time, or their substance, in diversions and amusement. They oughtnot to hazard any large part of their substance, the loss of which might be any considerable inconvenience to them. They should decline such games as greatly engage them, and too much raise their passions. Men may do well to take heed, that no amusements rob them of their wisdom, or their seriousness, or their importance in life. If any indecency appear in the entertainments set before them, they ought to detest and resent it, to shew their dislike and abhorrence of it, and to discountenance it in the way best suited to their station and character. We ought ever to be careful to avoid familiarity with the wicked: and it should be esteemed a point of prudence rarely to be neglected, especially by young persons, not to venture alone where there is any danger, but to secure to themselves the company of some sober and religious associates; whose presence may keep off some temptations, or give a check to them.
It is almost needless for me to add, that I do not understand, or explain this text, as regulating men's outward garb. A good man may without scruple follow the fashion of his country, and the habit of others about him, of the like rank and station in the world. St. Peter indeed gives such directions as these to women, especially the married: "Whose adorning, let it not be that outward adorning, of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, and putting on of apparel: but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of á meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price," 1 Pet. iii. 3. 1 Pet. iii. 3. But it is easy to perceive that what this apostle intends hereby is, that such should esteem the ornaments of the mind above those of the body, and be more concerned about that which is inward, than that which is outward. God declares to the Jews by the prophet Hosca: "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice," Hos. vi. 6. But no one understands thereby, that God had not desired sacrifice at all, but that he preferred mercy above sacrifice, or desired the one more than the other: as appears also from what immediately follows: " and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." So likewise our Lord says: Lay not up to yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt: but lay up to yourself treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal," Matt. vi. 19, 20. He does not absolutely forbid to seek, or lay up earthly treasures; but he teaches men to prefer heavenly and incorruptible above earthly and corruptible treasures, and to be more concerned for the one than the other. These observations are to be applied to the like excellent advices of the apostle Paul upon the same subject: "In like manner also, (I will) that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broidered hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array, but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works," 1 Tim. ii. 9, 10.
This text then is not a caution against complying with others in things in which there is no harm, but against following men in that which is really evil and sinful.
I should now proceed to shew the importance of observing this cautionary direction, according to the explication that has been given, in its several branches and articles. But that, with. a reflection by way of conclusion, must be deferred to another opportunity.
And be not conformed to this world.-Rom. xii. 2.
In discoursing on these words, I have proposed, in the first place, to shew the design and meaning of this direction, "Be not conformed to this world:" secondly, to shew the importance of observing it; and then to add a reflection or two by way of conclusion.
II. Having formerly explained this cautionary direction, I now proceed to the second head of discourse; to shew the importance of observing it, and to offer some reasons and arguments against conformity to this world.
1. It is plain that the wise and holy apostle esteemed this a thing of no small moment. This caution is placed almost at the head of the practical directions, with which he concludes this large and copious epistle to the Romans: and I suppose, that the earnestness, with which this address begins, ought to be understood to be continued and carried on in the words of the text. "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," ver. 1. It follows: "And be not conformed to this world." As if he had said: and by the consideration of the same mercies of God, in which you, as Christians, have partaken abundantly, be persuaded not to be conformed to this world, and to be upon your guard against complying with the men of it in any thing that is evil. 2. By no means, upon no account, be ye like the men of this world in any of their evil and corrupt practices. Though you live where sin abounds, and where some sins are even fashionable, you are to keep yourselves free from them. Though such things should be practised and indulged, not only by many, but by the most, and those who by means of their wit and fine parts, or by their high quality and station in the world, can give reputation to whatever they do, and make almost any thing appear graceful; you are not to be moved from your stedfastness in virtue, or from those purposes you have formed upon a serious and deliberate view and consideration of things.
Though our lot should be cast in times and places, in which there are few who love true religion, and walk in the path of virtue; and though these few should be mean in their outward appearance; let us be contented to have our portion with them: and though in the way of irreligion and vice should be found the learned, the rich, the great and honourable of this world; let us not be drawn aside by their example. We ought not to be induced to any compliances that are sinful. This is a forbidden and dangerous complaisance. We may part with what else we will for peace sake, and for the good of others: but we can do no man any good upon the whole by parting with our integrity. I say upon the whole: for possibly by some acts of wickedness the present temporal interest of some particular persons may be advanced: but it is a most unreasonable thing, that one man should hazard his eternal salvation for the sake of the temporal grandeur of another: and besides, he who upon any considerations whatever violates the laws of God and reason, sets his neighbour a pernicious example, that may harden him in sin to his final and utter ruin.
Let us not then go over to those who are involved in the practice of vice: but let us do all that lies in our power to bring them over to the love and practice of true holiness and for this end let us endeavour to set religion in a good light. Let our conversation be an example of strict virtue without austerity. If our mirth be without levity, let us also be serious without moroseness or peevishness. Above all, let our religion be sincere and undissembled; not an empty, though solemn profession, but a real principle, producing the good fruits of righteousness, gentleness and mercy.
3. Herein, it must be owned, there is no small difficulty; but there is a necessity of it, unless the world were so reformed that all in general were wise and good. Our blessed Lord therefore says: "Enter ye in at the strait gate, for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it," Matt. vii. 13, 14. And says St. John: "We know, that whosoever is born of God sinneth not: but he that is begotten of God
keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not. And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness," 1 John v. 18.
4. It is an ancient precept in the law of Moses: "Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil," Ex. xxiii. 2. And Solomon says: "My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not: my son, walk thou not in the way with them, refrain thy foot from their path," Prov. i. 10. 15. It has been always esteemed by wise men a noble and commendable resolution of Joshua: “As for me, and my house, we will serve the Lord," Josh. xxiv. 15, though all the tribes, and other families of Israel, should forsake the Lord, and go after other gods. But Christians are better fortified against the temptations of numerous examples than other men, and have stronger motives to steadfastness in virtue. They know better than others the excellency and obligations of true holiness, the deformity of sin, and the different consequences of each. If it would be a fault in other men, it must be much more so in them to be influenced by numbers to forsake the paths of religion and virtue.
5. And though the number of the sincerely good and resolutely virtuous may be small in a comparative view, yet they are more than a few upon the whole. Some there have been in all ages, who have approved themselves to God and their own consciences. The apostle to the Hebrews having given a catalogue of excellent persons from almost the beginning of time, some of whom " endured the trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, being destitute, afflicted, tormented," Heb. xi. animates the Christians of his days with the consideration of their number, when collected together. "Wherefore," says he, "seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin that does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us," ch. xii. 1.
6. Some singularity, or eminence, and uncommon steadfastness in that which is truly good and excellent, is very becoming, and even expedient in Christians. How can it be otherwise? If the principles and precepts of their religion be more sublime, pure, and perfect than those of other religion, and have a suitable influence; must they not necessarily create some difference between them and other men? They are certainly obliged to act according to the truths they have received. They gladly would, that others should keep them company: but if they obstinately refuse, and will not be persuaded, they must leave them behind, and follow Jesus whither he leads them. "If ye were of the world," says our Lord to his disciples, "the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you," John xv. 19. Christ supposeth, that as his people are not of the world, so they will often meet with disagreeable treatment in it: but they are to remember their character, and to endeavour to excel, and thereby to be useful. After this manner he speaks to his people and followers: "Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is henceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light to all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven," Matt. v. 13-16. Says St. Paul to the Ephesians: "Be not ye partakers with them; for ye were sometime darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord," Eph. v. 7, 8. Once more, in the epistle to the Philippians: "That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world," Philip. ii. 15.
7. Our blessed Lord highly approves, and will reward and distinguish those who are faithful to him in the midst of temptations, and uphold the honour of his name in the world. He said to his disciples: "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom," Luke xii. 32. In the book of the Revelation he encourages some by his servant John: "Thou hast a few names even in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments: and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment: and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels," Rev. iii. 4, 5.
8. Finally, there will he much comfort and satisfaction of mind resulting from this conduct, even in this world. The context suggests this argument. "Present your bodies," give up yourselves sincerely to God, as " a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your
mind." Let the temper of your mind become truly religious, spiritual and heavenly, instead of being any longer sensual and carnal: "that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." Then you will not only know and discern, but approve, and delightfully perform that reasonable and excellent worship and obedience, which the gospel requires. Hold on then in the way of religion and virtue, notwithstanding the temptations you meet with to decline and forsake it. The pleasure will be great, your comforts will grow and increase, and you will more and more approve the choice you have made as wise and reasonable.
III. I shall now conclude with a few reflections.
1. "Be not conformed to this world." Is there occasion for such a caution as this? Is the world in which we live degenerate and corrupt? and are we liable to be misled and ensnared by it? May not this dispose us to a life of privacy and retirement? or reconcile us to it, if it be our lot? Must not this also abate our affection for this world, and life therein, and increase our willingness to depart out of it, whenever God pleaseth? If we be continued in the world, and act therein, let us take care, both that we be not ensnared ourselves, and that no one be the worse for us. Let us scorn to give any countenance and support to falshood or vice, Let us esteem it our indispensable duty to answer the ends of life. If preferment will not be obtained but by base and sinful compliances, let us give over all thoughts of rising in the world. If we cannot keep our station without parting with our integrity, let us resign it. It is better to live with a good conscience in obscurity and contempt, than to enjoy the caresses and applauses of fellow-creatures in the way of falshood and iniquity. Better, I say: for the end of such will be happy and glorious. The Psalmist of old could say: "I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God, than dwell in the tents of wickedness: for the Lord God is a sun and a shield. The Lord will give grace and glory, and no good thing will he withhold from him that walketh uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee," Psalm lxxxiv.
2. Let us each one, in our several stations and circumstances, attend to this caution: "Be not conformed to this world."
You that are young possibly will admit to be warned and admonished. I shall therefore remind you of a few particulars. To persons of your age the world and many things therein have peculiar charms; and what is customary and reputable comes to you with strong recommendations, and must be very taking. You are desirous of esteem, and think it fit and becoming in such as you to lay hold of that which tends to render you acceptable and agreeable; or to raise and advance you in the world. But, if you have a serious sense of religious things, you must be aware that you are not to follow the example of others, whether right or wrong. You will do well therefore, whilst you are setting out in the world, to form a fixed purpose and resolution of mind, that you will govern yourselves by the rules of reason and revelation. Take heed that the commonness of some sins never abate the horror and dread you once had of them. Avoid friendship and intimacy with the corrupt and degenerate part of mankind; "lest you learn their ways, and get a snare to your soul," Prov. xxii. 25. Let your usual companions be such as appear to have impressions of religion upon their minds, and walk in the paths of virtue. You will be helpful to each other; good beginnings will be cherished and improved, and you will keep one another in countenance, if you should meet with some, who are so vile and daring, as to scoff at religion and virtue, and ridicule your conscientious respect to the obligations of either.
But, beside the young, there are others also, to whom this cautionary direction might be addressed, if they would receive it: for, as the young are liable to be seduced by their companions and equals; so likewise they who are of mature age may be in danger of being misled by the bad example of some of their equals in age and station; or by some of superior station, influence and authority; who to outward appearance are serious and attentive, but it is only to the honours, riches, preferments, state, and grandeur of this world. Our Lord freely reproved such people, and warned others against them; as may be seen at large in the twenty-third chapter of St. Matthew's gospel, and elsewhere. "Then spake Jesus unto the multitude and to his disciples, saying: The scribes and pharisees sit in Moses's seat. All therefore whatever they bid you observe, that observe and do: but do ye not after their works: for they say and do not," Matt. xxiii. 1-3. "But all their works they do to be seen of men," ver. 5. "But woe unto you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites: for shut ye up the kingdom of heaven against men. For ye neither go in yourselves,
neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in," ver. 13. Our Lord charged his disciples to "beware of the leaven of the pharisees, which is hypocrisy," Luke xii. 1. These men had an outward appearance of sanctity, and were greatly esteemed by many. Nevertheless they were plainly influenced by selfish views, which prejudiced them against the truth, and led them also to obstruct and discountenance those who were well-disposed to it. "How can ye believe," said our Lord to some of them, "which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?" John v. 44. St. Paul observes to Titus, that some "teach things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake," Tit. i. 11. "But," says he, "speak thou the things which become sound doctrine," ch. ii. 1. He earnestly cautions Timothy against a covetous disposition, which had been fatal to some, who had taken upon them the profession of the Christian religion; saying, "The love of money is the root of all evil, which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness," 1 Tim. vi. 10, 11. An undue love of wealth, honour, influence and authority, may be as prejudicial to the interests of religion in a man's mind, as an inordinate love of sensual pleasure; and there may be as much need for some to guard against the example of the formal, who are covetous, ambitious and aspiring, as for others to be upon their guard against that of the gay and voluptuous, the thoughtless and inconsiderate.
Let us then all attend to this cautionary direction, and the thoughts annexed to it in the same verse: "And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind; that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable and perfect will of God."
And let us beg of God to assist us in resisting the temptations of a vain world: that we may never be induced to follow a multitude in that which is evil; but may be followers of those, who in ancient or later times, have given an example of lively faith and stedfast virtue: that we may at length sit down with them, not only in peace and safety, but in the plentiful possession of the truest riches, and the full enjoyment of the purest and sublimest entertainments, in the kingdom of heaven for ever and ever. Amen.
OCCASIONED BY THE DEATH OF
THE LATE REV. WILLIAM HARRIS, D. D.
WHO DIED MAY 25, 1740, Ær. LXV.
To the congregation of Protestant Dissenters, meeting in Crouched Friars, London, this sermon, occasioned by the death of their late honoured and worthy pastor, the Rev. Dr. William Harris, and published at their request, is inscribed by their humble servant,
When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe.
2 Thess. i. 10.
HEN our Lord comes again, he comes to judge the world, and to reward every man according to his works; as the apostle writes in his context to the Christians at Thessalonica, who