« הקודםהמשך »
the honor of God and of truth, the charity that is owing to our . brethren, and the justice that is due to ourselves.
The honor of God is chiefly consulted by reconciling men's minds to the love of virtue and religion, by removing their prejudices, and gently drawing their affections to the cause of goodness : this is the most substantial honor we can pay our Maker, to exalt his name among the people, and teach every tongue to confess his truth. It is certain men can never love the thing they speak evil of; and therefore the first step to make men in love with virtue, is to remove out of their way
all possible offences, to do nothing, not even that which is good, out of contention, which is the way to elevate the passions and depress the judgment, and blind men from seeing and acknowleging the truth. In all human actions the passions and affections will have a share ; and therefore it is necessary to court them by all fair means even in the cause of virtue : and what honester method can be taken, than to secure our good from being evil spoken of Good ought not to be evil spoken of; and therefore ought not to be exposed to the hazard of it without necessity. An indiscreet good man often does a great deal of mischief in the world, and raises an opposition to the good which he meant to recommend : our Saviour therefore, as a necessary qualification for preaching the gospel, exhorts his disciples to be 'wise as serpents, and innocent as doves.' Innocence is of absolute necessity in a preacher of righteousness : some degree of wisdom cannot well be spared : the greater the degree is, the more effectually will it secure his innocence, and recommend it to the imitation of the world. A great many men are judged to want the innocence of the dove, when indeed they want nothing but some of the wisdom of the serpent; and men are suspected of very evil designs and black intentions, when indeed their hearts are free from malice, and their indiscretion is their only fault. This shows, however, how neces. sary it is, in order to promote the honor of God and religion, always to walk by this rule, and to take care that our good be not evil spoken of.'
It will appear likewise to be a part of that charity which is owing to our neighbor : we know how much his happiness depends on approving that which is good ; · Without holiness no man shall see God;' ought we not then to labor to recommend virtue and religion to his choice, to render it acceptable in his sight, and by that means lead him to taste the fruit of the tree of life ? And how is this to be done? Not by rendering our good odious and offensive to him ; not by making it matter of reproach and scandal to him ; but by setting it forth in its native gentleness, without scandal or offence; that he may be ashamed of nothing, but that he did not sooner love and embrace it. Thus must the salvation of mankind be set forward; He tibi erunt artes: let ignorance and superstition triumph in reproach, supported by wilfulness and haughty pride; but let truth rejoice in meekness, and become all things to all men, that it may gain some. But, farther,
It is a piece of justice that we owe to ourselves and our own character, to render our good irreproachable : when our good suffers, we must suffer with it, and partake in the reproaches that fall on it; and therefore it is prudence, with respect even to our own interest and credit, to avoid giving offence as much as possible. It is matter of doubt whether it be justifiable in the good we do to have regard to our own reputation : to make it the end of what we do is certainly bad ; for the applause of the world is not the end of religion ; but a good man is capable of doing so much good by having a good reputation, that it is certainly his duty to consult his credit and character in what he does : for this reason he ought to restrain himself in those freedoms, which in the judgment of the world are unbecoming his character, though in themselves they be innocent and harmless. But surely there cannot be a more innocent way of aspiring to a reputation, than taking care that our good be not evil spoken of; than in providing against the mistakes and misinterpretations that others may make of what we do : and therefore this argument in this case may justly be allowed its full weight.
And thus you see of what great moment it is to render our good unsuspected and free from reproach : it is the way to advance our own credit, to consult the good of our neighbor, and to promote the honor and glory of God.
This prudent behavior is not inconsistent with a steady and constant adherence to the truth; for the truth is not to be de,
serted that it may not be evil spoken of, but it is to be practised without offence.
In matters essential to religion there is no room for compliance; and in matters of Christian liberty there is hardly any room for denying it: where we are free, the greatest deference is to be paid to the opinions, nay, even to the prejudices of others. This distinction is not of my own making ; but we have the exception and the rule from the same hand; for the Apostle, in the verse after the text, adds, For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink.' Take the whole of the Apostle's admonition together, and you will easily perceive the meaning of these words. The dispute was about the lawfulness of meats : " I know,' says the Apostle, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself—but if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably :' that is, I allow it is lawful for you to eat; but yet, if you eat with the offence of your brother, you offend against charity. • Let not then,' says he, ‘ your good be evil spoken of; for the kingdom of God is not meat and drink.' This being the case, forbear eating, when eating will give offence : for it is not necessary to your gospel obedience, or to the establishing the kingdom of God, that you should eat; for it is a matter of Christian liberty, and you may act which way you please. From which it is plain, that in matters that are necessary to the establishing the kingdom of heaven, we are not at the same liberty to please and humor men : for the reason the Apostle gives in this case, why it ought to be done, is, that the kingdom of God consisted not in it; which is by implication an exception to the rule, and amounts to saying, This advice which I give you, of forbearing things which are offensive, extends only to matters of Christian liberty ; for where the kingdom of God is concerned, you must be content to follow Christ, and us his Apostles, through good report and evil report.'
SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE LVII.
NUMBERS, CHAP. XXIII.--VERSE 10.
THESE affecting words are apt to engage us on their side at the first hearing; for whatever be our present prospects, when thus called from them, we stand as it were beholding ourselves under the arrest of death ; we want no arguments to direct our choice to what is best for ourselves : these circumstances carry conviction with them; and though unwilling to live the life of the righteous, we are willing enough that our last end should be like his. There is a comparison implied in the text between the cases of the wicked and the righteous, which the mind readily supplies: it is stated under circumstances which throw out all prejudices and partialities, and bring only the merits of the cause on each side into judgment. You see the wicked and the righteous both on the point of death, and you are to say which condition you would choose : the pleasures of the world on one side, the supposed hardships on the other, are equally set aside : you are to judge between virtue and vice, placed naked at the bar, without color or disguise. It may seem perhaps that we have but little confidence in the cause of virtue under all other circumstances of life, when we defer this judgment to the last moments of it: it may be thought unfair to state the case without the pleasures and enjoyments on one side, and the difficulties and discouragements on the other, which things weigh most with the generality of men; whilst we leave nothing but the doubtful prospect of a future state, and every thing is taken out of the other scale, which, as we find by general experience, serves to balance against such hopes and fears : it is perhaps saying little for virtue, that its hopes should be preferred to the fears of iniquity, when nothing but mere hope and fear is left; for who would not prefer the most uncertain chance of being happy to the least degree of fear of being miserable, or even to the thoughts of endless sleep? Were these exceptions well founded, the comparison in the text would lose much weight; but there are no times or circumstances of life in which virtue may not be compared with vice, the passions, prejudices, and corruptions of men being put out of the question. The words of the text, in their first and natural sense, lead us to this comparison not only in the latest hours, but in all the course and circumstances of life: they arise' from the contemplation of the present and future prosperity of the Israelites in the land of promise, compared with the misery of the idolatrous nations, given up to sin and superstition, and therefore to ruin. Numb. xxiii. 9. 10. and xxiv. 20. compared together: these passages help to expound each other ; for as the prophecy relating to Amalek was completed in the temporal destruction of that people, so by parity of reason the prophecy concerning Israel imported their temporal happiness. Bishop Patrick's interpretation of the words, let my last end be like his, by let my posterity be like his, gives us farther reason to suppose that temporal prosperity was contained in the prophesier's wish, as a peculiar inheritance of the righteous. The other sense of the text, which looks to a future life, is of ancient date: nor need we be much concerned to determine between the two ; both fairly arising from the text; both agreeable to the apprehensions of mankind, and founded in reason and nature. That righteousness exalteth a nation, that sin is not only a reproach, but also a weakening to any people, are truths which want no proof. In all ages, all lawgivers, philosophers, and moralists, have been of this opinion, which experience has justified: this point exemplified by the rise and fall of nations. But besides this, if we believe the being of a God, and have