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the common road or fashion of men; as if it were better to leave the common duty than the common faults of men; as if wisdom and virtue were ever the most vulgar things; as if the way to heaven were the broadest and the most beaten way; as if rarity should abate the price of good things; as if conspiracy in rebellion against God might justify or excuse the fact; as if it were advisable to march to hell in a troop, or comfortable to Jie there for ever among the damned crew of associates in wickedness.
They cannot endure to be accounted zealots or bigots in religion; as if a man could love or fear God too much; or be over-faithful and careful in serving him ; as if to be most earnest and solicitous (not in promoting our own fancies, but) in discharging our plain duties could be justly reproachable, or were not indeed highly commendable.
These things I may hereafter fully declare; in the mean time it is manifest that such a practice is extremely prejudicial to religion and goodness; so that it may be very useful to employ our meditations on this text of the Apostle, which directly doth oppose and prohibit it.
The same text he otherwhere (in his second Epistle to the Corinthians) doth repeat in the same terms, (only inserting a clause more fully explaining his sense,) backing his precept with his own example; for we, saith he there, did so manage the business of collecting and dispensing alms, as 'to avoid that any man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us; providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but in the sight of men.'
The words do imply a precept of very large extent, and touching a great part of our duty ; even all thereof which is public and visible; for which we are accountable to the world, whereof man can take any cognisance; wbich concerneth all our speech and conversation, all our dealing and commerce, all our deportment relating to human society, civil or spiritual.
I shall first a little consider its meaning and design; then I shall propose reasons and inducements to its observance; then I shall declare the folly of those principles and pretences which obstruct that observance.
I. The meaning of it is, that we should have a special care
of our external demeanor and conversation, which cometh under the view and observation of men ; that it be exempted from any offence or blame; yea, that it be comely and commendable.
The terms in which it is expressed are notably emphatical; we are directed mpovoliv,“ to provide,' to use a providence and forecast in the case : ere we undertake any design, we should deliberate with ourselves, and consider on what theatre we shall act, what persons will be spectators, what conceits our practice may raise in them, and what influence probably it will have on them. We should not rush on into the public view with a precipitant rashness, or blind negligence, or contemptuous disregard, not caring who standeth in our way, who marketh what we do, what consequence our proceeding may have on the score of its being public and visible: we should advise beforehand, lay our business, and on set purpose order our behavior with a regard to those to whose sight and notice we expose it, foreseeing how our actions may affect or incline them. So we must provide ; what things ? xalà, things fair and handsome; things not only good, innocent, and inoffensive to the sight of men ; but goodly, pleasant, and acceptable to well-disposed beholders ; such as our Apostle doth otherwhere recommend, when he chargeth us to regard, őoa seurà,' whatever things are venerable, ora #poopin, 'whatever things are lovely,' öoa cúpnua,' whatever things are of good report,' e tus ËRQIVOS, “whatever things are laudable ;' and when he doth exhort us to walk evoxnuóvws, handsomely and decently, in a comely garb and fashion of life; this inay add an obligation to some things not directly prescribed by God, which yet may serve to adorn religion, but it cannot detract any thing from what God hath commanded; it doth comprehend all instances of piety and virtue practicable before men; it certainly doth exclude all commission of sin, and omission of duty; for that nothing can be fair or handsome wbich is ugly in God's sight, which doth not suit to his holy will.
Such things we must provide, ενώπιον πάντων ανθρώπων, before all men ;' not only before some men, to whom we bear a particular respect, of whom we stand in awe, on whom we have a design; but universally before all men, as having a due consideration of all those on whom our deportment may have influence; not despising or disregarding the observation of the meanest or most inconsiderable person whatever.
But in this practice, to avoid misapprehensions, we must distinguish ; for it is not required that we should do all things openly, nor intended that we should do any thing vainly; but that we should act constantly according to the nature and reason of things, with upright and pure intention: the Apostle doth not mean that in our practice we should resemble the pharisees, whom our Lord reproveth for doing their alms before men,” for loving to pray standing in the synagogues, for • doing all their works to be seen of men ;' performing those acts of piety openly in the corners of the street,' which should have been done secretly in the closet;' and so doing them out of vanity and ambitious design, to procure the good opinion and praise of men : he doth not intend that we should assume a formal garb of singular virtue ; that we should aim to seem better than we are, counterfeiting any point of religion or virtue ; that we should affect to appear even as good as we are, exposing all our piety to common view: that we should • sound a trumpet before us,' making an ostentation of any good deeds, catching at reputation or applause for them; that we should do any commendable thing chiefly to obtain the good opinion of the world, or to escape its censure ; infinitely far it was from the Apostle's intention that we should be like those whited sepulchres, which appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness ;' that is, like those pharisees, who did outwardly appear righteous, but within were full of hypocrisy and iniquity :'No;
In some cases we must be reserved, and keep our virtue close to ourselves; and ever under a fair show there must be a real substance of good, together with an honest intention of heart; a good conscience must always lie at the bottom of a good conversation ; the outside must be good, but the best side must be inward; we must endeavor to sanctify our life and conversation, but we must especially labor to purify our hearts and affections.
Join the precept with others duly limiting it, and it doth import that with pure sincerity and unaffected simplicity (void
of any sinister or sordid design) we should in all places, on all occasions, in all matters, carefully discharge that part of our duty which is public, according to its nature, season, and exi, gency, that is, publicly; not abstaining from the practice of those good deeds, which cannot otherwise than openly be well performed; or the conspicuous performance whereof is absolutely needful in regard to God's law and the satisfaction of our conscience, is plainly serviceable to the glory of God, is very conducible to the edification of our neighbor, or which
be useful to good purposes concurrent with those principal ends : we should as good trees from a deep root of true piety, in due season naturally, as it were, shoot forth good fruits, not only pleasant to the sight, but savory to the taste, and wholesome for use ; as St. Paul, who, as le saith of himself, that he did provide things honest in the sight of all men,' so he also doth affirm that “his rejoicing was this, the testimony of his conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity-he had his conversation in the world.'
There are indeed some duties, or works of piety and virtue, the nature whereof directeth, that in the practice of them we should be reserved ; such as those wherein the world is not immediately concerned, and which may with best advantage be transacted between God and our own souls; as private devotion, meditation on God's word and will, the discussion of our consciences, voluntary exercises of penitence, and the like: such also be those wherein the intervention or notice of few persons is required; as deeds of particular charity in dispensing alms, good advice, friendly reproof; the which sort of duties our Lord hath taught us to perform in secret,' or as closely as we may; studiously keeping our observance of them from the
eyes of men; thereby assuring our sincerity to ourselves, and guarding our practice from any taint of vanity or suspicion of hypocrisy; as also in some cases avoiding to cause prejudice or offence to our neighbors: Take heed,' saith our Lord, 'that ye do not your alms before men ;' and, · Thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet;' and, Thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head and wash thy face, that thou appear not unto men to fast;' and, If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.'
But there are divers other duties, the discharge whereof ne
eessarily is notorious and visible; the public being the stage on which they are to be acted; the transaction of them demanding the intercourse of many persons, who are the objects or instruments of them, or are somewise concerned in them : such is that negative duty, of a general nature and vast comprehension, which we may call innocence; that is, a total abstinence from sin, or forbearance to transgress any divine command; which is a part of Job's character, • That man was perfect and upright, one that feared God, and eschewed evil :' the which duty, being to be practised at all times in every place, cannot avoid being observable.
Such are also divers positive duties ; for such is the profession of our faith in God, and acknowlegement of his heavenly truth, revealed in the gospel of our blessed Saviour; which is styled 'confessing our Lord before men,' and is, as St. Paul telleth us, indispensably requisite to salvation.
Such is joining in that public adoration, whereby the honor and authority of God are upheld in the world with seemly expressions of reverence; the which is to be performed solemnly, and, as the holy psalmist speaketh,' in the midst of the congregation.'
Such is zeal in vindication of God's honor, when occasion requireth, from blasphemous aspersions, or from scandalous offences against it.
Such are justice, equity, fidelity, and ingenuity in our dealings; meekness, gentleness, patience, kindness, and courtesy in our converse ; peaceableness in our carriage, and charitable beneficence; the objects whereof are most general, according to those apostolical precepts, • That our moderation' (or our equity and ingenuity) be known unto all men ;' that we show all meekness to all men ;' that we must not strive, but be gentle unto all men ;' that we be patient toward all men ;' that we ‘pursue peace with all men ;' that as we have opportunity, we should do good unto all men ;' should .abound in love one towards another, and towards all men ;' should ever · follow that which is good, both among ourselves and to all men ;' should • liberally distribute to the saints and to all men :' in performing which so general duties, how can a man pass incognito, how can he so deal with all men indiscernibly?
Such are likewise gravity and modesty in our behavior ;