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revealed from heaven ;) to walk worthy of God, who hath called us unto his kingdom and glory;' worthy of the Lord unto all well-pleasing, being fruitful in every good work ;' the which enforcements of duty do imply a visible practice, producing the visible effects of ornament and credit to our religion, recommending it to the minds and consciences of men.
Contrariwise, the defect of good conversation before men in Christians is on divers accounts disgraceful to our religion. For,
It tempteth men to judge that we ourselves do not heartily believe its truth or value its worth ; that we do not approve its doctrine for reasonable, or take its advantages for considerable; or deem the name and state of a Christian to be honorable ; seeing we are not concerned to own them, or do not care to engage our reputation in avowing and abetting them in that way which doth best signify our mind and meaning: for men certainly will judge of our sense not so much by what we say as from what we do ; not by our verbal profession or pretence, but from our practice, as the surest indication of our heart.
Wherefore when they hear us to confess our faith, and see us act like infidels, they will be forced to esteem us either for subdolous hypocrites or for inconsistent fools; who assume the name of Christians, and pretend to great advantages thence, yet in effect do not mind or regard them; highly commending the rules of our religion, but not at all observing them ; greatly admiring the example of our Saviour, but not caring to imitate it; describing heaven for a most happy place, but not striving to get thither in the sole way which our Lord prescribeth, of faithful and diligent obedience to his precepts.
Seeing, I say, this repugnance between our profession and our practice, will induce men to charge us with hypocrisy or folly; and if the professors be taken for counterfeits or fools, the profession itself will hardly scape from being held imposture or folly.
Our religion at least will thence be exposed to the censures of being no better than a fond device, and a barren notion, 'un practicable, ineffectual, and insignificant to any good purpose.
The visible misbehavior, I say, of Christians will assuredly derive obloquy and reproach on Christianity, if not as bad, yet as vain, impotent, impertinent and useless; especially those who are disaffected to it will hence take advantage to insult on it with contemptuous scorn ; To what, will they say, do your tine rules serve? what effects do your glorious hopes produce? where are the fruits of that holy faith and heavenly doctrine which you so extol and magnify ?
Whereas also bad conversation commonly doth not only deprive men of the benefits which our religion promiseth, but doth carry with it hurtful fruits; men that see or feel them will be apt to impute them to religion.
If a Christian be unjust, censorious, factious, anywise offensive or troublesome, although irreligion be the cause of such things, yet religion inust bear the blame, and they presently exclaim,
Quantum religio potuit suadere malorum. Whence St. Paul (who as a powerful instructor doth impress matters of duty by the most proper motives) doth often and on all occasions urge this consideration; he chargeth us to give no offence in any thing, that the ministry (or evangelical dispensation) be not blamed,' or exposed to the censure of any captious Momus; he biddeth us to forbear harsh judgment and all uncharitable dealing, that' our good be not evil spoken of;' he presseth the discharge of our duty in each calling and relation, that by neglect thereof the gospel be not defamed : • Let,' saith he,' as many servants as are under the yoke, count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed ;' and, Let women be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed ;' and, 'I will that younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, (so as) to give no occasion to the adversary (that is, to persons disaffected to Christianity) to speak reproachfully' (of it); which discourse, by clear parity of reason, may be applied to any other state or relation.
Now seriously what greater mischief can we do, what heavier guilt may we contract, than by working dishonor to God's adorable name, than by casting reproach on God's heavenly
truth, than by drawing a scandal on that holy religion, which the Son of God came down from heaven to establish, for the glory of God and salvation of mankind ? Surely next after directly blaspheming God, and defying religion with our own mouths, the next crime is to make others to do so, or in effect to do it by their profane tongues.
There remain divers arguments of very great moment, which the time will not suffer me to urge; and therefore I must reserve them to another occasion.
SUMMARY OF SERMON LXV.
ROMANS, CHAP. XII.VERSE 17.
To what has been said on this topic, it may be added, that the real interests of piety and virtue exact from us a good conversation before men, as the most effectual way of upholding and advancing them.
1. The powerful effects of example, both for attraction to good, and seduction to evil, dilated on. The visible succor and countenance of many, espousing the cause of goodness by their practice, will assuredly bring it into vogue and fashion ; yea sometimes the example of a few will do it a great service, the rarity giving a special lustre to their virtue.
A good conversation notifies good men to one another, and combines them in a party, for the aid and protection of virtue; they balancing the opposition of wicked men : but it requires open, stout, and hearty friends, not secret and timorous wellwishers.
Wherefore if we would not be guilty of its ruin, we must stand up firmly and openly to uphold it: for the declension of piety is perhaps chiefly ascribable to the lukewarmness of
II. Charity towards our neighbor also demands from us a great care of our conversation before men.
This great law of Christianity obliges us earnestly to further our neighbor's good of all kinds ; especially that which is the greatest, the welfare of his soul: and how can we better do this, than by attracting him to the performance of his duty to God, and withdrawing him from the commission of sin? It is a
precept of charity, that we should pursue things wherewith one may edify another. The Apostles enjoin, that we should exhort one another, and edify one another, &c. But words will hardly ever move without practice, though practice will sometimes persuade without words.
Again; we are frequently commanded to shun the giving any offence, or the putting a stumbling-block in the way of our brother: this applied to the case in question. Charity farther obliges us, on just cause, and in due season, to check and reprove our neighbor, to warn the disorderly, as the Apostle says. So far we are the keepers of our brethren, and it is a charge incumbent on us by all good means to preserve them from the worst ills.
III. But if charity will not move us, yet justice, exacting from us a care of this duty, should constrain us : for exemplary and edifying conversation is a debt which we owe to the world. When without our own hurt or inconvenience we can do considerable good to our neighbor, he has a title to it, granted by the common author of our nature. But to set an ill example before him, or, which is almost the same thing, to withhold from him a good one, is a great iniquity and wrong done to him: it is, as if one should offer a cup of poison to bis neighbor, and be his taster; as if one should carry him out of his way, or refuse to set him right if he lost it, &c.
The injustice of this practice may also farther appear from its opposition to that pity wbich all men owe to each other ; as well as from its conjunction with the basest and most injurious kind of flattery : these two points enlarged on. a good conversation before men is a part of that due respect which we owe to them: it is St. Peter's injunction that we honor all men ; and as the wise man declares, he that despiseth his neighbor sinneth.
IV. Let us consider that this duty is a public benefit; a great advantage to the world.