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On a PEACEABLE DISPOSITION.
ROMANS, xii. 18.
If it be possible, as much as lieth in
live peaceably with all men.
IT cannot but occur to every one who has read the
New Testament, even in a cursory manner, that there is nothing more warmly and more frequently inculcated in it, than peace and love, union and good understanding among men.
Were a person to form to himself an idea of the state of the Christian world, merely from reading our sacred books, and thence inferring how they would live who believed those books to be Divine, he would draw, in his fancy, the fairest picture of a happy society: he would expect to meet with nothing but concord, harmony, and order; and to find the voice of clamour and contention for ever silent. But were such a person, fond to be himself a witness and a partaker of such a blissful state, to come amongst us from afar, how miserably, alas! would he be disappointed, when in the actual conduct of Christians he discovered so little correspondence with the mild and peaceful genius of their professed religion; when he saw the fierce spirit of contention often raging unrestrained in public; and in private, the intercourse of men embittered, and society disordered and convulsed with quarrels about trifles ? Too justly might he carry away with him this opprobrious report, that surely those Christians have no belief in that religion they profess to hold sacred, seeing their practice so openly contradicts it.
In order to prevent, as much as we can, this reproach from attaching to us, let us now set ourselves to consider seriously the importance and the advantages of living peaceably with all men. This duty may be thought by some to possess a low rank among the Christian virtues, and the phrase a peaceable man, to express no more than a very inferior character. I admit that gentleness, candour, sensibility, and friendship *, express a higher degree of refinement and improvement in the disposition: and that a good Christian ought to be distinguished by active benevolence, and zeal for remedying the miseries and promoting the felicity of others. But let it be remembered, that the love of peace is the foundation of all those virtues. It is the first article in the great Christian doctrine of charity; and its obligation is strict, in proportion as its importance is obvious. Blessed are the peace-makers; for they shall be called the children of God.t-I shall first show what is included in the precept of living peaceably with all men; and next, what arguments recommend our obedience to this precept.
I. This precept implies, in the first place, a sacred regard to the rules of justice, in rendering to every man what is his due. Without this first principle,
* Vide Discourses on these virtues in the preceding Volumes. + Matth. v. 9.vie
there can be no friendly commerce among mankind. Justice is the basis on which all society rests. Throw down its obligation, and at that instant you banish peace from the earth ; you let rapine loose, and involve all the tribes of men in perpetual hostility
To live peaceably, therefore, requires, as its first condition, that we content ourselves with what is our own, and never seek to encroach on the just rights of our neighbour ; that in our dealings, we take no unfair advantage ; but conscientiously adhere to the great rule of doing to others, according as we wish they should do to us. It supposes that we never knowingly abet a wrong cause, nor espouse an unjust side, but always give our countenance to what is fair and equal. We are never to disturb any man in the enjoyment of his lawful pleasure; nor to hinder him from advancing his lawful profit. But under a sense of our natural equality, and of that mutual relation which connects us together as men, we are to carry on our private interest in consistency with what is requisite for general order and good. Render tribute to whom tribute is due; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Covet not what is thy brother's. Owe no man any thing, but to love one another.
In the second place, the duty of living peaceably, not only prohibits all acts of open injustice, but requires us carefully to avoid giving unnecessary provocation or offence to others. When we consider from what small beginnings discord often arises, and to what astonishing heights from such beginnings it will grow, we will see much cause to watch with care over our words and actions, in our intercourse
with the world. It ought to be an object of attention so to behave, as never needlessly to exasperate the passions of others. In particular, we are to guard against all improper liberties of speech, and contumelious reflections on persons and characters. The man of peace is mild in his demeanor and inoffensive in his discourse. He appears to despise
He is not fond of contradicting and opposing, and is always averse to censure and to blame. He never erects himself into the character of a dictator in society. He never officiously seeks to intermeddle in the affairs of others, nor to pry into their secrets; and avoids every occasion of disturbing the good will which men appear to bear to one another. Opposite to this, stands the character of the man of unpeaceable and quarrelsome spirit; who, himself easily provoked by every trifle, is continually offending and provoking others by the harshness of his behaviour. He is loud in his censures, positive in his opinions, and impatient of all contradiction. He is a busy body in other men's matters; descants on their characters, inquires into their conduct, and on the authority of his own suspicions, assigns what motives he pleases to their actions. Into the violence of party-spirit, he never fails to enter deeply; and confidently ascribes the worst principles to all who differ from him in opinion. -Such persons are the pests of society, and the troublers of all good order in human life. Let every man study to be quiet, says the Apostle, and to do his own business. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant ? To his own master he standeth or falleth."
# 1 Thess. iv. 11. Rom. xiv. 4.
In the third place, the study of peace requires, that on some occasions we scruple not to give up our own opinion, or even to depart from our strict right, for the sake of peace. - At the same time, for preventing mistakes on this subject, it is proper to observe, that a tame submission to violence and wrongs, is not required by religion. We are not to imagine, that the love of peace is only another name for cowardice; or that it suppresses every proper exertion of a manly spirit. The expressions employed in the text, if it be possible, as much as lieth in you, plainly insinuate, that there are cases in which it may not be in our power to live peaceably with all men. Every man is allowed to feel what is due to himself and his own character, and is entitled to support properly his own rights. In many cases, the welfare of society requires that the attacks of the violent be checked and resisted. What belongs to a good and a wise man is, to look forward coolly to the effects that are likely to follow the rigorous prosecution of any private rights of his own. If these appear to be pregnant with mischiefs to the society with which he is connected, in a much greater proportion than any advantage they can bring to himself, it then becomes his duty rather quietly to suffer wrong, than to kindle the flames of lasting discord. But how many are there, who having once begun a claim, espoused a side, or engaged in a controversy, are determined to pursue it to the last, let the consequences be what they will ? False notions of honour are brought in to justify their passions. Pride will not allow them to yield, or to make the least concession when the true point of honour would have led to generous acknowledgments