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we believe, that only for such a state as this, man was designed by his great and good Creator ? — No: Let us bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away. Here is the Rock on which the mind, however tossed by the storms of life, can securely rest. Here is the object to which a wise man will bend his chief attention, that, after having acted his part on earth with fidelity and honour, he may be enabled, through the merits of his Saviour, to look for a place in the mansions of eternal and untroubled peace. This prospect is the great corrective of the present vanity of human life. It gives significancy and importance to its most transitory scenes; and, in the midst of its mutability, discovers one fixed point of rest. He who is habi. tually influenced by the hope of immortality, will be able to look without dismay on the changes of the world. He will neither boast of to-morrow, nor be afraid of it; but will pass through the varieties of life with a manly and unbroken mind; with a noble su
; periority to those fears and expectations, those cares and sorrows, which agitate the multitude. Such are the native effects of Christian faith and hope. To them alone it belongs, to surmount all the discouragements to which we are now exposed ; to render our life comfortable, and our death blessed ; nay, to make the day of our death better than the day of our birth.
On following the MULTITUDE to do Evil.
Exodus xxiii. 2.
Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil.
IN this world, we are placed as companions and
assistants to one another. Depending, for most of the comforts of life, on mutual intercourse and aid, it was necessary, that we should be formed to desire the company, and to take pleasure in the good-will of our fellows. But this sociability of man, though essential to his present condition, has, like many other good principles, been unhappily warped from its original purpose; and in the present state of the world, has proved the cause of much evil. For, as vice has abounded in every age,
it hath propagated itself much more easily by the assistance of this social disposition. We naturally mould ourselves on the pattern of prevailing manners; and corruption is communicated from one to another. By mutually giving, and taking, the example of sinful liberties, licentiousness spreads and grows; each justifies himself by his neighbour ; and the multitude of sinners strengthens one another's hands to commit iniquity. In all the ages of the world, custom has had more power than reason. Few take the trouble of enquiring what is the right path ; the greater part
content themselves with following that in which the multitude have gone before them. No exhortation, therefore, is more necessary to be frequently given, and to be seriously enforced, than that which we receive from the text; Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil.
To acquire a full view of any danger to which we are exposed, is the first measure to be taken in order to our safety. Let us then begin the subject with considering how much we are in hazard of being misled into vice by the general manners which we behold around us. --No virtue is more necessary to a Christian, but scarcely is there any more difficult to be put in practice, than that firmness of mind which can enable a man to maintain his principles, and stand his ground against the torrent of custom, fashion, and example. Example has upon all minds a secret and insinuating influence,
even when we ourselves are insensible of its operation. We imperceptibly slide into some resemblance of the manners of those with whom we have frequent intercourse.
This often shows itself, in the most indifferent things. But the resemblance is still more readily contracted, when there is something within ourselves, that leans to the same side which is countenanced by the practice of others. We are always glad to find any apology for indulging our inclinations and passions; and the example of the multitude too readily suggests that apology. Even before corruption has made great progress in our hearts, sometimes mere complaisance and good-nature incline us to fall in with the ways of others. Sometimes timidity and false shame prevent our differing from them: Frequently expectation and interest impel us strongly to comply. How great is the danger we incur, when, in times of prevailing vice, all these principles of imitation and compliance unite together against our virtue?
The world is too justly said by Scripture, to lie in wickedness: it is a school wherein every vice is taught, and too easily learned. Even from our
, earliest childhood, false sentiments are instilled into our minds. We are bred up in admiration of the external show of life. We are accustomed, as soon as we can understand any thing, to hear riches and honours spoken of as the chief goods of men, and proposed to us as the objects to which our future pursuits are to be directed. We see the measures of outward respect and deference taken from these alone. Religion and virtue are recommended to us, in a formal manner, by our teachers and instructors; but all improvements of the mind and heart are visibly placed by the world, in an inferior rank to the advantages of fortune. Vices that chance to be fashionable, are treated as slight failings; and coloured over, in common discourse, with those soft and gentle names which express no condemnation. We enter, perhaps, on the world, with good principles, and an aversion to downright vice. But when, as we advance in life, we become initiated in that mystery of iniquity, which is called the way of the world; when we meet with deceit and artifice in all ranks of men ; when we behold iniquity, authorised by great names, and often rewarded with success and advancement, our original good impressions too soon decay. The practice of the multitude renders vice familiar to our thoughts; and gradually wears off the abhorrence with which we once beheld it. We begin to think, that what is so very general, cannot be highly criminal. The malignity of sin appears diminished, by so many being sharers in the reproach ; and instead of men's vices detracting, as they ought to do, from our good opinion of the men, our attachment to the men oftener reconciles us to the vices, of which they are guilty. The countenance which sin receives from the
practice of the multitude, not only remove the restraints which are imposed by modesty and shame; but, such is the degeneracy of the world, the shame is too often employed against the cause of religion and virtue. The ridicule of the giddy and unthinking bears down the conviction of the sober and modest. Against their own belief, they appear to adopt the notions of the infidel; and against their own choice, they join in the vices of the libertine; that they may not be reproached as persons of a narrow mind, and still enslaved to the prejudices of education. How much reason is there to believe that, merely from this timidity of temper, many, whose principles are on the side of religion and virtue, are nevertheless found walking in the way of sinners, and sitting in the chair of the scornful? – Interest, too, often coincides with this weakness of disposition, in tempting such persons to follow the multitude. To fall in with the prevailing taste, to suit themselves to the passions of the great, or to the humours of the low, with whom they chance to be connected, appears the readiest way to rise in the world. Hence they are naturally led to relinquish the firmness of an upright character, for that supple and versable turn, which accommodates itself to the times, and assumes whatever ap