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repute. You need not say any thing against the sacred scriptures, or the doctrines contained in them. You need not spread licentious opinions, nor invite others to read books, which would corrupt their manners and extinguish virtuous sentiments.
How much positive good you may do, it is diffi cult to say. But it is certain, you can forbear to da evil. No one can plead his impotence, or his poverty or his youth in excuse for not omitting to hurt others; for this is only forbearing to act. This forbearance requires no great abilities. We read of some, who weary themselves to commit iniquity. It need not cost you any weariness to cease from iniquity. If you are active to do evil, in vain you plead an inability to do good. The same ability, by which you do the former, might, if properly directed, as well do the latter.
We all know the difference between virtue and vice. The youth, with moderate instruction and lit. tle attention can discern this difference. He is a judge of the nature of religion, so far as it relates to practice. And he can judge also of the truth and importance of doctrines, if he will consider their practical tendency. Opinions, which tend to virtue, he may conclude to be true and important; those, which tend to vice, he must see to be false and dangerous. The difficulty of discerning between truth and error in religion arises not from the obscurity of the matter in question, but from the corruption of the heart in examining, or rather from a disinclination to examine at all. If, in our inquiries, we aim at doing the will of God, we shall find no great difficulty in learning what his will is; for "the meek he will guide in judgment, and the meek he will teach his way."
We ought never to embrace an opinion merely on the authority of another; but we are to examine its
evidence for ourselves; at least, its practical evidence; its moral tendency; for of this we are competent to judge. We should never take pains to instil an opinion into others, till, on this evidence, we are fully convinced of its truth and importance. Let us seriously inquire, whether there is reason to think, that this opinion fully embraced would make them better men. To settle this question, let us inquire whether it has made us better men. Are we become more humble, pious and prayerful; more attentive to our eternal interest; more concerned for the salvation of our fellow men; more meek, peaceable and condescending; more virtuous in our general temper and behavior? If we find none of these good effects from it in ourselves, certainly we cannot promise ourselves, that it will produce these effects in others.
Let this be our first aim, in all our social conduct, to be harmless and inoffensive to do do no evil to any man in his character, in his property, or in his virtue. But we must not stop here. As we must be simple concerning evil, so we must be wise to that which is good.
This branch of our general subject may be illus. trated in another discourse.
PROVERBS iii. 27.
Withhold not good from him, to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it.
THE text enjoins doing good to men.
It points out no particular kind of good, but good in general-good of every kind. kind. The objects of this good are those to whom it is due-not due merely on promise, gratitude or justice; but due on any footing-due on the ground of humanity and mu tual connexion-of necessity on the one part, and ability on the other. The Apostle says, "Labor with your hands the thing which is good, that ye may have to give to him that needeth." The necessities of others, in some cases, have a claim upon us equal to that, which arises from a contract made with them, or a benefit received from them. The good to be done is according to the necessity of the ob. VOL. IV. B b
jects, and the measure of our ability. And the time of doing it, is when the necessity calls, and our abil. ity permits. "Withhold not good from him to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not to thy neighbor, Go, and come again, and tomorrow I will give thee, when thou hast it by thee."
We have observed, that there are two things implied in this precept. One is that we do no evil. It is absurd to talk of doing good, unless we abstain from doing evil. While we do as much evil with one hand, as we do good with the other, there is no good done on the whole. What Solomon enjoins is not a life made up of good and evil, or a mere preponderance of good, but good without evil, or a steady course of usefulness according to our relation and ability. We are to abhor evil, and cleave to that which is good-to be simple concerning evil, and wise to that which is good. Where evil is not carefully avoided, good is not honestly intended. Malice and benevolence are incompatible. They cannot subsist together. The Apostle says to the Corinthians, "I pray God, that ye do no evil, but that ye should do that which is honest."
We have shewn some of the ways, in which men often do injuries one to another.
We shall now,
II. Attend to our subject in a positive view."Withhold not good from them to whom it is due." "Do good to all men, as ye have opportunity."
Religion is not merely a negative thing. It contains positive goodness. Abstinence from evil belongs to it; but the love and practice of goodness complete it. The Apostle distinguishes between a righteous, and a good man. "Scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die." The latter is a
higher and nobler character than the former. The righteous man is one who does justice, keeps his word, fulfils legal demands, and commits no real injuries. The good man besides all this, studies to be useful in his place, and to promote the virtue and happiness of all around him. He can sacrifice his own private interest for a greater and more extensive benefit to mankind. He seeks not merely his own profit, but the profit of many. To justice he adds brotherly kindness and charity.
The man, who is barely righteous, may pass for a valuable member of society; for though he has no public spirit, yet the public will avail itself of some advantage from his ability and property. But a man may be useful in society on earth, and yet not fit for the pure and benevolent society above.
Many entertain too low ideas of religion, as if it wholly consisted in an abstinence from gross vice. But the gospel makes it consist in positive holiness and goodness. It requires us not only to put off the old man with his deeds, but also to put on the new man, which is created after the image of God.
In reading the parables and discourses of our Savior we shall find, that the characters, which he excludes from heaven, and condemns to eternal punishment, are not usually taken from the profligate and abandoned, but from the decent and orderly part of mankind. He thus teaches us, that his religion consists, not merely in specious manners, regular be havior, and abstinence from vice, but in a holy, pious, humble and benevolent spirit and conduct. The young ruler mentioned by the evangelists doubtless passed among his neighbors for a virtuous and amiable man; and our Savior observed in him something, which attracted his attention and regard. But when this man was put to a trial, it appeared, that religion, though not wholly neglected, had been but a subor.