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too near to the borders of iniquity." Let such a temper be our constant guard and ornament.
VI. Following the common practices of the saints in doubt. ful matters, is another thing of good report, and ought to be so among those that profess the name of Christ? Whether it be in our trade and business, in our apparel, or our visits, in our forms of address to our superiors, or common methods of conversation and civility, of recreation, or entertainment, let the general customs of the saints of the purest ages, or the customs of the purest elnurches, and the best christians in our own age, be a direction to our practice. Ask for the good old way, says the propliet Jeremy, and if we know not what part to chuse, let us go by the footsteps of the flock of Christ. · Enquire what the followers of our Lord have done in past ages, and what the wisest and best of them do in our own age, and this will give us a considerable assistance to determine what ought to be our practice.
In 1 Cor. xi. 16. the apostle Paul seems to refer to this general head, for our determination in doubtful matters. When he had been proposing the law of nature, or the order of creation, to direct the man and the woman what sort of covering they ought to wear, viz. that a woman ought not to be uncovered, and that a man should not wear long hair, that is, should not nourish his hair to make it grow long, as women, nor manage it with a nice and effeminate curiosity, he concludes with this sentence, If any man seem to be contentious, that is, if any man be not contented with the arguments. I have brought, but will carry on contention and dispute, let lim remember this decisive argument, that we have no such custom, nor the churches of God; we the preachers of the gospel, and the apostles of Christ, have neither found nor approved such sort of customs among the christians where we have lived, nor are they practised in any of the churches of God, which we have heard of.
I will readily allow, that the strict professors of religion in some particular ages of the church, may have generally indulged either some anreasonable scruples, or some unreasonable liberties. There are some practices of evident and undoubted lawfulness, which have been forbidden in severe and dreadful language by some or other of our religious ancestors; such as wearing borrowed hair, or suffering our own to reach the shoulders; using any thing that borders upon lot or chance, except in matters of sacred or solemn concernment: wishing a friend's health when we drink; practising any part of our civil calling after sun-set on Saturdays, or even calling the months, or the days of the week by names borrowed from the heathens, such as Monday or Tuesday , January, or February : Yet in such cases as these, had I lived amongst them, I would have conformed to their customs,
and have given no offence; but I would have taken every proper occasion to shew that these were unnecessary scruplos.
This was the conduct of St. Paul, in the controversy about eating meats offered to idols; 1 Cor. vii. 8. Meat commendeth us not to God; for neither if we eat, are we the better; neither if we eat not, are we the worse. There he declares how needless these scruples were; and i Cor. x, 25. to shew that christian liberty, where no scrupulous person was present and opposed it, he bids them, eat whatsoever is sold in the shambles, asking ‘no questions for conscience-sake. But in both these places he cautions them against offending the weaker brethren, and shews also how afraid he was of giving offence, or acting in their presence contrary to their practices, even though they were built on needless scruples. Verse 13. I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, if it make my brother to offend; that is, if it tempt him to grow bold, and venture upon the same food against his conscience. And the apostle practised this self-denial, lest he should sin against his weak brother, lest he should grieve him by his uncharitable licence; as Rom. xiv. 15. This holy caution and tenderness of offending the weak, was the constant practice of that blessed saint, who had more knowledge than all of us, but he had more condescension and self-denial too. O that we might all make him our pattern, and practise the charity we preach so loudly, and profess with such a modern assurance !
There are other practices which might be comprised under this general character, and recommended as things of good report. But I must not draw such discourses out to a tiresome length, which perhaps may create but too much pain and uneasiness, by the very sense and subject of which they treat. Yet certainly it is a part of our duty and our interest to know, and meditate, and practise those things that may gain us a good name and reputation in the world, and may brighten our character among the churches of Christ; and to avoid every thing that would blemish our honour, or sink our esteem among wise and good men. What arguments may be drawn from the light of nature to enforce this exhortation, or what more powerful motives are derived from the gospel, to awaken and excite us to the practice of all that is honourable, shall be considered in the next discourse, when I treat of the matters of virtue and praise, which are recommended in the last words of my text.
HYMN FOR SERMON XXIX.
Christian Morality, viz. Things of Good Report.
Is it a thing of good report,
To sort with men of evil fame, And yet presume to stand secure ? Am I my own sufficient guard, While I expose my soul to shame ? Can the short joys of sip reward The lastiog blemish of my name : O may it be my constant choice To walk with meo of grace below, 'Till I arrive where heavenly joys, And never-fading honours gros ?
Christian Morality, viz. Courage and Honour; or Virtue and
PAILIP, iv. 8.
-If there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think op
Ει τις αρετη και ει τις επαινώ, &c. VIRTUE is an honourable and extensive name: It is used by moral writers to include all the duties we owe to ourselves, or out fellow-creatures ; such as sobriety, temperance, faithfulness, justice, prudence, goodness, and mercy; and the sense of it is sometimes stretched so far, as to comprehend also the duties of religion which we owe to God. But let us take notice, that the first and original signification of the word both in the Greek and Latin tongues is much more limited, and it means only power or courage. The Greek word expern, used here by the apostle, is derived from Apes, the name of Mars, or the heathen god of war : And doubtless the most ancient meaning of it among the Greek writers was warlike valour, though in time the philosophers enlarged the sense of it to include every moral excellency.
The several places in the New Testament where the word is used, have chief reference to some work or glorious power when it is applied to God, or courage when it refers to men. I wish I could stay here to explain them all, but I must mention one of them, viz. 2 Peter i. 5. Add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge temperance, &c. Virtue is to be added to faith, that is, next to your belief of the gospel, get courage to profess what you believe: Is it not to be supposed, that in this place virtue can signify the whole of morality, because the particular virtues of temperance, patience, and charity are named also : And therefore this must signify some part of morality distinct from the rest, viz. a strength or fortitude of soul.
And for the same reason the word virtue in my text cannot signify the whole system of moral duties because St. Paul in the same verse had been recommending truth, justice, and purity or temperance, which are so many pieces of morality; and it is not reasonable to imagine that he brings in a general name that comprehends them all in the midst of so many particulars, which is contrary to the use of all writers, and to his own custom too. I confess if he had said, if there be any other virtue, as he does in the like case; Rom. xiii. 9. when he had omitted any particular, we might then have understood virtue in the general sense ; but now it is evident, that he means a particular excellency; distinct from those before-mentioned ; and the word itself requires us to understand a brave, bold, and generous spirit and practice. He recommends to them a great and excellent behaviour, wherein their holy courage may appear, when the call of providence gives a just occasion.
Courage is a virtue which stands in opposition both to fear and shame, and it guards the mind of man from the evil influence of both those passions. The man of courage has not such a feeling fondness for his ilesh nor his estate, as to be afraid to profess his sentiments, or to fulfil his duty at every call of providence, though his estate may suffer damage by it, or his flesh be exposed to pain : Nor has he such a tenderness for his honour, as to secure it with the loss of his innocence. He is not ashamed to appear for virtue in an age of vice and scandal: He stands up boldly for the honour of his God, and ventures a thousand perils rather than wound his conscience, or betray his trust : He dares profess and practise temperance among an herd of drunkards, and purity in the midst of the lewd and unclean : The man of courage can despise the threatenings of the great, and the scoffs of the witty, conscious of his own integrity and truth. He can face and oppose the world with all its terrors; and travel opwards in the paths of piety without fear. The righteous man is as bold as a lion; Prov. xxviii, 1.
Now it is the apostle's advice to the Philippian converts, that whensoever there is any just occasion given to exert their fortitude, whether it be in the defence of the rights of mankind, and the liberties of their country, or in vindication of the cause of God or virtue, let the christian take those opportunities to speak his mind, and shew his courage; let him make it appear that the meek of the earth may sometimes resist the mighty oppressors, that the followers of the Lamb dare to oppose the wild beasts of the age, and are ready to sacrifice all that human nature calls dear for the service of God, or the welfare of their fellow-ereatures.
The heathen world may derive some arguments from the light of reason, and some perhaps from more corrupt and selfish principles, to awaken their valour, and to raise heroes amongst them: But there is nothing among all the writings of the philosophers, or the examples of their real or their fabled heroes, that can raise and support so illustrious and divine a courage, as the