« PreviousContinue »
them, it is true, we should mainly respect the approving our conscience to God, without aiming at any interest or credit with men, as our reward,
But how much soever of our virtue or piety, out of humility or modesty, we may conceal, yet we must be careful in our conduct never to discover any vice or irreligion, by any notorious sins either of commission or omission.
To such practice according to the intent of St. Paul's injunction we are obliged: some considerations on the propriety of it are offered.
1. We may consider that the public is the proper, natural, and due place of goodness, which should dwell in the light, walking abroad freely and openly, that it may receive from rational creatures its due respect and praise, &c. On the other hand, it is proper for wickedness never to appear in view ; but it should be confined to darkness and solitude, driven from all commerce with reasonable beings; since publicity only augments and aggravates it, &c.
2. We should consider that we cannot competently be good men, without approving ourselves such before the world. It commonly happens that invisible piety is no piety at all; and they who have little care to serve God publicly, have much less to serve him privately : besides, inasmuch as a great part of goodness actually consists in open and visible practice, there can be no real integrity, where so much of duty is wanting : this topic enlarged on.
3. A great care of our good behavior before men is necessary in regard to Almighty God, and his honor ; which is prejudiced and impaired by our failing in this respect. The Apostle prescribes that whatever we do, we should do all to the glory of God: and well he might, seeing that this is the most excellent work of which we are capable ; nor can we do this better than by a visible good conversation : reasons of this given,
We cannot really glorify God otherwise than by open practice ; for glory requires a public stage : wherefore two things must concur for this. 1. We must be good men: 2. we must openly be such.
We must be good men, because otherwise our commendation will have no worth or weight; for praise is not comely in the mouth of sinners.
We must be good openly, avowing God in practice which conduces to his honor, otherwise no glory can accrue to him from our goodness. God himself says, whoso offereth me praise, he glorifieth me: and how can praise be offered, or to what purpose, unless so as to occasion in others worthy conceptions and due affections towards God ? In such a manner the holy psalmist offered it. (Ps. xxii. 22. &c.) And this motive is by the great masters of our Christian practice frequently urged : examples given.
On the other hand, by stifling our virtue, in an open compliance with sin, or neglect of our duty, we greatly dishonor God; for thereby we in effect deny him and desert him, intimating our mean opinion and small affection towards him, &c.; this point enlarged on. But,
4. We should be careful of our good behavior in the sight of men, that we may thereby maintain the dignity and repute of our Christian profession, which by our bad or negligent demeanor will be disparaged and disgraced.
It is evident to reason that a visible practice must recommend the goodness of the rule; and it is a demonstrative proof that we are heartily persuaded of its truth; which is no small credit to any profession : this topic enlarged on.
Contrariwise, the defect of good conversation before men in Christians, is on many accounts disgraceful to our religion.' For,
It tempts men to judge that we ourselves do not heartily believe its truth or value its worth, &c. : so that it will be ex
posed to the censures of being no better than a fond device and a barren notion, ineffectual and insignificant to any good purрозе. . What greater mischief therefore can we do, what heavier guilt can we contract, than by working such reproaches against God's heavenly truth?
PROVIDE THINGS HONEST IN THE SIGHT
OF ALL MEN.
ROMANS, CHAP. XII.- VERSE 17.
Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
The world apparently is come to that pass, that men commonly are afraid or ashamed of religious practice, hardly daring to own their Maker by a conscientious observance of his laws. While profaneness and wickedness are grown outrageously
many • declare their sin as Sodom;' piety and virtue are become pitifully bashful, so that how few have the heart and the face openly to maintain a due regard to them? Men in nothing appear so reserved and shy as in avowing their conscience, in discovering a sense of their duty, in expressing any fear of God, any love of goodness, any concern for their own soul. It is wisdom, as they conceive, to compound with God, and to collude with the world; reserving for God some place in their heart, or yielding unto him some private acknowlegement; while in their public demeanor they conform to the world, in commission of sin, or neglect of their duty; supposing that God may be satisfied with the invisible part of his service, while men are gratified by visible compliance with their ungracious humors.
Such proceeding is built on divers very fallacious, absurd, and inconsistent grounds or pretences; whereby men egregiously do abuse themselves and would impose on others; namely these, and the like :
They would not, by a fair show and semblance of piety, give cause to be taken for hypocrites; whereas, by dissembling their conscience, and seeming to have no fear of God before their eyes,' they incur an hypocrisy no less criminal in nature, but far more dangerous in consequence, than is that which they pretend to decline.
They would not be apprehended vain-glorious for affecting to serve God in the view of men; whereas often at the bottom of their demeanor a most wretched and worse than pharisaical vain-glory doth lie; they forbearing the performance of their duty merely to shun the censure or to gain the respect of the vilest and vainest persons.
They would be deemed exceedingly honest and sincere, because forsooth all their piety is cordial, pure, and void of sinister regards to popular esteem; whereas partial integrity is gross nonsense; whereas no pretence can be more vain, than that we hold a faithful friendship or hearty respect for God, whom we openly disclaim or disregard ; whereas also it is easily disceruible, that although their piety is not, yet their impiety is popular, and affected to ingratiate with men.
They would be taken for men of brave, courageous, and masculine spirits, exalted above the weaknesses of superstition and scrupulosity; whereas indeed, out of the basest cowardice, and a dread to offend sorry people, they have not a heart to act according to their duty, their judgment, their best interest.
They would seem very modest in concealing their virtue; while yet they are most impudent in disclosing their want of conscience; while they are so presumptuous toward God, as * to provoke him to his face' by their disobedience; wbile they are not ashamed to wrong and scandalise their brethren by their ill behavior.
They would not be uncivil or discourteous in thwarting the mind and pleasure of their company; as if in the mean time they might be most rude toward God in affronting his will and authority; as if any rule of civility could oblige a man to forfeit his salvation; as if it were not rather most cruel discourtesy and barbarous inhumanity to countenance or encourage any man in courses tending to his ruin.
They would not be singular and uncouth, in discosting from