« PreviousContinue »
humor, or pride, to follow the dictates of the best reason, the advice and example of the best men, and the direction of infinite wisdom.
9. Of affinity with the foregoing principles is this plausible apology for smothering our conscience, viz. a prudential apprehension that we shall not come off well in openly avowing and abetting goodness, so as to do it any service, but shall thereby rather work prejudice and hurt to it. The age (such a wise man will say) is so degenerate and bold, that to appear strictly good is a kind of scandal, to patronise duty is to provoke scorn and obloquy, to mention religion is to profane it, &c. In such a case is it not seasonable to observe our Lord's advice, not to give that which is holy unto dogs, nor to cast our pearls before swine?
But if this case be rightly weighed, it may rather strongly engage us to the open profession and practice of the strictest virtue, than excuse us from it. Advice of St. Paul on this head. The worse the world is, the more need is there of good patterns to instruct and guide it, to admonish and excite it to goodness: this topic fully dilated on.
Another principle of dispensing with conscience in public duties and conversation, is a kind of perverse wisdom, or subtle craft, affecting the name of discretion. Men see that there are divers inconveniences attending the profession of respect to God and conscience in all their doings; that the world may dislike them for it, and divers persons reproach and persecute them; that they may be crossed thereby in their designs and interests, &c. They therefore deem it advisable to decline it in open view, making up the defect by adoring and serving God in private. They would hold fair with both sides ; so that neither the world should persecute them for crossing its humors, nor God punish them for transgressing his will. This they would believe to be a point of special wisdom, prescribed by Solomon : Be not righteous overmuch, &c. Eccles, vii. 16. 17. This topic enlarged on.
But if this be prudence, then, as St. Paul saith, is the offence of the cross ceased: then our Lord prescribed foolish conditions : then were the Apostles very imprudent, who deserted all, and suffered so much for conscience sake. Conclusion.
PROVIDE THINGS HONEST IN THE SIGHT
OF ALL MEN.
II CORINTHIANS, CHAP. VIII.- VERSE 21.
Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but
also in the sight of men.
6. ANOTHER great impediment of good conversation before men is a desire of seeming courteous and civil. Men usually conform to sinful practices, because they would not be held clowns, rude and distasteful in conversation ; they would not give offence to their company by clashing with their humor; by preferring their own judgment, and seeming to be in their own conceit wiser and better than those with whom they converse ; by provoking them to think they are held fools or worse, by such non-compliance.
This is an ordinary snare to easy and ingenuous natures ; but the ground of it is very unreasonable: for although in matters of indifference, where duty and sin do not fall into consideration, to be limber and ductile as can be, (which is the temper of the best metal,) to have no humor of our own, or to resign up all our humor to the will of our company, to condescend unto, and comport with any thing; to raise no faction or debate, but presently to yield to the swaying vote ; to · become all things tu all men'in a ready complaisance, be wisdom and good manners, doth argue good nature, good understanding, good breeding ; is a rightly gentle and obliging quality:
Yet where duty is concerned, where sinuing or not sinning is the case, there courtesy bath no room : there it is vain to pretend any engagement to complaisance.
For surely it is better to be held uncivil than to be ungodly; it is far better manners to offend any number of men, than to be rude with God, to clash with his pleasure, to offer indignity and injury to him : there can be no competition in the case; no shadow of reason why we should displease God to please men.
As it were more civil to offend ten thousand boors (peasants) than to affront our king ; so to offend ten thousand kings than to affront our God were in policy more advisable, and in equity more justifiable : so the royal psalmist did judge; for, * Princes,' said he, did sit and speak against me, but thy servant did meditate in thy statutes :' so Moses, so Samuel, so Elias, so Jeremy, so Daniel, so the three noble children, so the holy Apostles did conceive ; who being persons otherwise very courteous and gentle, yet had not that consideration of mighty princes, as not rather to approve their consciences to God, than to comply with their pleasure; how much less should we, on pretence of courtesy toward inferior persons in ordinary conversation, transgress our duty ?
Our own interest in such cases is too considerable to be sacrificed to the conceit or pleasure of any men : our salvation is no matter, wherein formality of respect should intervene, or have any weight; to gain or forfeit our eternal happiness is no business of compliment or ceremony : it were a silly courtesy for a man to wait on his company to hell, a wild point of gallantry to be damned in complaisance.
Who would take himself to be obliged in good manners to hold on the round in a cup of poison : to leap down after those, who, from blind inadvertency, or wilful perverseness, tumble into a gulf, to gash or stab himself in conformity to some desperate folk? Much less can a man be engaged out of any such regard (in compliance with the mistake, weakness, or pravity of others) to incur guilt, to provoke divine wrath, to expose his soul to utter ruin, to undergo a damage, for which all the world cannot make any reparation or amends ?
Is it not far better to disgust than to gratify those, who have so little consideration of our welfare; who indeed are very discourteous and heinously rude in offering to tempt us unto sin, to desire a compliance therein with them; to expect from us that we should adventure so much for their vain satisfaction ?
Indeed to gratify such persons were great and noble courtesy: but really to do it, we should not go this way; for this is a spurious courtesy, rather conspiracy and treachery than courtesy.
It is in truth, at the bottom, great discourtesy (involving much unkindness, real abuse, unmerciful inhumanity and cruel. ty) to second, to countenance, to support or encourage any man in doing that which manifestly tendeth unto his great prejudice, to his utter bane.
It is the truest civility (implying real humanity, genuine charity, faithful kindness, and tender pity) to stand off in such cases, and, by refusing (in a modest, gentle, discreet manner refusing) to concur in sin with our friends and companions, to check them, to warn them, to endeavor their amendment and retreat from pernicious courses; to exercise that compassion toward them, which St. Jude calleth' pulling them out of the fire.'
In such cases to repel them, yea to reprove them, is the greatest favor we can show them; it is not only safe for ourselves, but kind to them to observe St. Paul's precept, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them;' for which deportment, whenever they come to themselves, and soberly reflect on things, they will thank and bless us; and it will happen as the wise man saith, · He that rebuketh a man, afterwards shall find more favor than he that flattereth with his tongue.'
In fine, if we thoroughly scan the business, we shall find that commonly it is not abundance of courtesy, but a defect of charity, or of conscience, or of courage, which disposeth us to reservedness, or to concurrence on such occasions, in regard to unallowable practices.
7. Another snare which catcheth and holdeth us in open practice of sin, or neglect of duty, is deference to the opinion, authority, custom, or example of others; to the common opi. nion, to the authority of great and leading persons, to the fashion of the world, and prevalent humor of the age.