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lips, encouraging others by fictitious commendations to persist in bad courses; there is a tacit flattery, when by our connivance at sin we seem to approve it; there is a real flattery, when by our compliance with sin we recommend it to our camerades; these do not look so grossly, yet do insinuate our mind, and commonly do inveigle to sin more effectually; men being more apt to trust our deeds than our words, being more pleased in our vouching their actions by a participation in them, and running a common hazard with them, than in our straining to commend or to excuse them : whence it is, that gross flattery hath its effect chiefly on simpler folks, but this subtile flattery doth often gull and abuse persons of greatest capacity.
Again; a good conversation before men is a part of that due respect which we owe to them. There is a regard and a kind of reverence to be had toward every man; which should engage us to behave ourselves decently in his presence, signifying a consideration and esteem of his person, of his opinion, of his resentment, of his affection toward us: to do
foul or unhandsome thing is a contempt of him, a rudeness toward him, an affront put on him; whereby in effect we do slight, disparage, and reproach him; implying that we do little value his judgment, that we care not for his good-will; that we presume he hath not the sense to discern, or hath not the spirit to dislike, or must have the patience to comport with our unseemly and unsavory carriage. And if to do other unhandsome things before men is such an indignity offered to them, then it is especially such to commit sin before them, which is the most ugly, the most sordid, the most loathsome behavior that can be ; there is no deformity, no turpitude in nature comparable to sin; nothing so offensive, so distasteful, so abominable to a rational sense ; so that the wise man's saying is very true, taken
any way, “He that despiseth his neighbor, sinneth :' it is both a sin to contemn him, and sinning is an argument of contempt toward him; nor can we better observe St. Peter's injunction, that we honor all men,' than by forbearing to sin in their presence, out of respect to them. But farther,
IV. Let us consider that a good conversation before men is a public benefit, a great advantage to the world and common state of men.
It is not only a good office of charity to this or that man ; but it layeth a general obligation on our country, on our age, on posterity itself; on which a fruitful life, an exemplary virtue may have notable influence.
As notorious sin is a plague to the world, throwing infection and death about it; provoking the wrath of Heaven, and thence deriving vengeance on it; so notable virtue is a general blessing, producing most wholesome and comfortable effects to mankind.
For how can one more oblige the public, than by conferring help to uphold the reputation, and to propagate the entertainment of those things, which are the main props of the world, for the sake of which it standeth, and by the means of which it is sustained ; than by preserving the virtue and power of conscience, which is the band of all society, the guardian of faith and honesty, the best insurer of justice, order, and peace in the state, (that which exalteth a nation, and establisheth a kingdom ;) than by producing and promoting those things which certainly will procure the favor and blessing of God on any people?
How can a man better deserve of the world, than by concurring to stop the contagion of sin, and the overspreading deluge of iniquity, together with all the lamentable mischiefs consequent on them; than by averting the fierce wrath and severe judgments of God, which a general prevalence of wickedness necessarily will bring down?
Most men pretend to be concerned even for the honor of their country; and how.can we better promote that than by checking the progress of sin, which will not only be the bane, but is, as Solomon telleth us, the reproach of any people ?'
It may possibly be, it hath really been, that the conspicuous virtue of a few men (yea sometimes of one single person) hath leavened a country, hath seasoned an age, hath imbued posterity with an admiration of goodness, and with an affection to it. (One man,' saith St. Chrysostom, * inflamed with zeal may suffice to reform an intire people.) So among the Pagans one person did set up the study of morality, and worthily was styled
* Chrys. åvop. d.
the parent of (that most useful) philosophy;' whereby he did exceedingly benefit mankind, and did confer much toward preparing men for the reception of our heavenly philosophy.
Such our Lord designed his Apostles to be; for, ‘Ye,' saith he, are the lights of the world, ye are the salt of the earth;' and such in effect they did prove, ‘God by them,' as St. Paul saith, manifesting the savor of his knowlege in every place;' they not only by their heavenly doctrine, but chiefly by the lustre and influence of their holy example, converting the world from impious errors and naughty practices unto true religion and virtuous conversation ; they did lead men to goodness not only by the ears, but by the eyes, seeing their excellent life, and walking as they had them for ensamples.'
It consequently. may be, yea hath been, that the singular integrity of one, or of a few persons, displaying itself, bath appeased divine wrath, and hath staved off imminent ruin from a people. So one Noah, publicly maintaining and preaching righteousness,' did preserve the whole race of men from extirpation; so ten persons avowing righteousness would have kept Sodom from that rueful destruction; so one good man (notably owning God, and interposing for the concerns of piety) might have prevented that calamitous vengeance which fell on Israel; as Jeremy told before, And Ezekiel affirmed after it; Run ye to and fro,' saith God in Jeremy, “ through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now and know, and seek in the broad places thereof, if ye can find a man, if there be any that executeth judgment, that seeketh truth, and I will pardon it :' and, I sought for a man,' saith God in Ezekiel, “among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap
before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none; therefore have I poured mine indignation on them :' there was then “a remnant of those who closely did serve God; and perhaps seven thousand unknown persons, who had not in their hearts deserted religion; but this did not avert God's wrath, or preserve the nation from captivity; as a few openly professing and resolutely practising goodness might have done.
Now who would not be glad of being so public a friend, so general a benefactor, in performing that which doth otherwise so much become him, and so greatly behove him; yielding
him the best ornaments and highest advantages even on his private account? who would not be ambitious both to oblige his country, and to save his own soul together, by a worthy conversation ?
Assuredly nothing can be devised more conducible to the effecting a reformation and amendment of the world, (and consequently to the prosperity and felicity of mankind here,) than a conspiracy of good men in a frank and brisk avowing of goodness in the face of the world.
V. A care of our conversation in the sight of men is needful for the preservation of our good name and fair repute among them.
A good.name in holy Scripture is represented as a special gift and blessing of God, bestowed in recompense of piety and virtue, and preferred before other most considerable gifts and blessings concerning our external state ; for, “By humility,' saith the wise man, and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor ;' both are the rewards of piety; but comparing them, • A good name,' saith he, “is rather to be chosen than great riches :' it cannot therefore be a contemptible thing, nor ought it to be neglected by us ; for none of God's gifts, no reward which he proposeth, ought to be slighted.
Reason and experience also do condur in showing that a good repute is a valuable thing, not only as a fair ornament of our persons, and a commodious instrument of action toward our private welfare, as a guard of our safety and quiet, as serving to procure divers conveniences of life; but as very advantageous, very useful on moral and spiritual accounts ; qualifying us with greater ease and efficacy to serve God, and to do good; for indeed it is manifest that without it we shall be uncapable of doing God or man any considerable service.
Wherefore in duty and wisdom we should be careful of preserving this jewel; the which we cannot otherwise do, than by observing this apostolical rule, of providing things honest in the sight of all men ;' for a good conversation is the only guard and convoy of a good name : how can men conceive good opinion of us otherwise than from a view of worthy qualities and good deeds? They may charitably hope, but they cannot confidently judge well of us otherwise than on good evidence : ‘Ye shall know them by their fruits,' (that is, by apparent works, falling under human cognisance,) is the rule whereby our Saviour teacheth us to distinguish of men, and to build a right opinion concerning them. Honor is the shadow, the inseparable attendant of conspicuous virtue.
A good conversation will indeed command esteem, and irresistibly extort respect from all men.
Wise and good men heartily will approve it, and gladly will yield it due commendation; they cannot but honor it whenever they see it, as best suiting with their own judgment and with their affection.
Yea it will procure respect even from the worst men; for it is a mistake to think that bad men really do or can despise true goodness : in truth, however they may pretend or make a show to slight and scorn it, however in words they may flout and revile it, yet in their hearts they cannot but admire and reverence it; although their will may be so perverted as to set them against it, yet their reason cannot be so destroyed (or natural light so quenched in them) as to disapprove it; they do but vilely dissemble, and belie their conscience, when they make as if they did condemn or contemn it: 'As,' saith St. Chrysostom, * • they who openly do flatter ill livers, do in their mind reprove them; so they who envy the workers of good, in their conscience will admire and approve them :' at least they will do thus in their sober mind; when with any serious application they do reflect on things; when the eye of their soul is anywise cleared from the mists of lust and passion : it is not to be heeded what they say in a fluster or ranting mood, when they are near out of their wits, and have their judgment stifled by sensual imaginations; but what they think when their mind is somewhat composed, and natural light doth shine freely in it.
Indeed such wretches really do most despise those who consort and comply with them in sinful follies; as they cannot in their hearts honor themselves, so they cannot esteem those whom they find like unto them; especially they despise those whom they observe to be so base and silly, as against their own judgment and conscience to fear their displeasure or to regard their
* Chrys. in Matt. v. 16.