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smiles of providence and some who are as much untaught to bear the frown of it: For their piety is ever changing, as their circumstances are.
The first sort are they who are never very serious and devout but when they lie under the chastisements of God: They seem humble, penitent, and pious when the rod of heaven is upon them, but when that is once removed, they forget their sorrows and their seriousness together. Such were the rebellious and inconstant Jews of old, when the Lord slew them, they sought him early, and enquired after God; but they took every new occasion to murmur and rebel again: There was no truth in their religion; "their heart was not right with God," nor "were they stedfast in his covenant;" Ps. lxxviii. 34." In trouble they visited thee, O Lord, and poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them; but their goodness was like a morning cloud, and as the early dew, it vanished away;" Is. xxvi. 16. Hos. vi. 4.
There is another sort of men who behave well enough in matters of virtue and religion when they are in peaceful and easy circumstances; but if once they are smitten in their flesh, in their good name or their estate, or have any of the comforts of life imbittered to them, they grow peevish and passionate, and nothing can please them, they vent their impatience on their friends, and throw their vexation of spirit all around them, as though they resolved to imitate that brutal character which the prophet mentions, like a wild bull in a net, struggling, and raving, and full of fury under the rebuke of the Lord; Is. li. 20. Surely both these qualities are very contrary to that serene and uniform practice of true godliness that becomes a saint.
3. In all places, as well as in all times and circumstances, the true christian appears the same, and is just to his own profession. Wheresoever he dwells, or sojourns, where he spends an hour or a year, he is constant to himself, and consistent with himself still. He ever maintains the same pious designs, and adorns and glorifies the doctrine of the gospel in all things. When at home and when abroad, he is the same person. When at church paying his honours and devotions to heaven; when in his own family among his children and servants, or when in his shop and in the affairs of life; when in the street or on the exchange conversing with the world, friends and strangers, known and unknown; when in his closet and secret chamber, still he is the same good man: still aeting consistent with himself and his profession, still pursuing a regular steady course of piety, and his dying pillow confirms the sincerity and practice of his life. Religion is ever uppermost in his heart, and all his affairs and businesses in the world, are managed with regard to his last great end. Thus though his engagements and actions of life be very various daily, according
to the various calls of duty; yet his design is ever the same, and the rule that governs all his practices is the word of God, the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
How far from the glory of this character were the falsehearted sons of Israel in Jeremiah's time! They were guilty of stealing and murdering in the streets, or by-ways, or privatehouses, yet they came and stood before the Lord in the house which was called by his name; Jer. vii. 8, 4, &c. There were also in our Saviour's days men of the same deceitful spirit, whom he frequently and sharply reproved under the odious name of hypocrites, who made long prayers in the temple, and in the corners of the streets; but devoured widows' houses, and neglected judgment, mercy and faith; who made clean the outside of their cup, but filled it with all extortion, luxury, and excess. You read their infamous manners at large in the vi. and xxiii. chapters of Matthew.
They had no more truth in them than whited sepulchres or flowery graves, fair indeed and beautiful on the outside covering, but all within is death, and horror, and rottenuess. O, how in"consistent were the two pieces of this character one with another! How far from that truth and uprightness, that sincerisy and constancy, that the gospel requires, and so much approves of? What a most sharp and shameful reproach is it, and yet a righteous one too, that is thrown on some persons? They are saints at churcht, and devils at home!
It is pity we must borrow a word from hell to describe any sort of men that dwell on earth; I would not willingly apply it to any particular person living: But in describing a general character of this kind, we can hardly paint it in colours frightful enough. In public they are all meekness and innocence, all demure, and abstemious, and heavenly, and they transform them"selves, as their father does, into angels of light; 2 Cor. xi. 14. but follow them to their houses, and you see a surprizing change: "There luxury and riot, there fury and passion reign in every room, their dwelling is without God, without prayer, without piety or peace, and has more of hell than of heaven in it. 0 my soul, come not into their secret, to their family, my honour, be not thou united! for truth and goodness are far from them.
4. The true christian is the same in all companies: And though he does not think himself obliged to cast his pearls before swine, to give that which is holy to dogs, or to impose a discourse of religion upon those that hate it; yet he never forgets his religion in the worst of company, nor does he throw off the christian in the midst of heathens. The general course of his life shines in the beauty of holiness, and glorifies his God in an impious world. And there are seasons too, when he sees it neces
sary to rebuke public iniquity, and bear a testimony against vicious age: He has never any fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather he reproves them; Eph. v. 11. Yet sometimes his prudence directs his christianity to lie concealed, but he never dares do any thing that contradicts it. It is like a garment that he ever wears about him, though he does not always wear it uppermost: He keeps it ever as his guard, though he does not always expose his glory.
What a scandal is it to any person who professes the name of Christ, that he can sometimes lay aside all his christianity, and bury it in an hour of riot! That he can drink till midnight when he gets among drunkards, and take his cup as merrily and as often as they! That he can relish a lewd or profane jest, and make one too, when he sits in the company of lewd or profane jesters! That he can lisp out an oath, and stammer at a curse, or perhaps he can swear roundly when he is in the midst of swearing wretches! And yet he can pray and talk devoutly when he falls into religious company, and pretend to tremble at the profaneness of the age. What shameful hypocrisy and falsehood is this!
There are some persons who have appeared in the country to be professors of religion, and perhaps may have obtained a name of piety; but when they come up to the city among loose libertines, where their vices are better hid, they give themselves up to loose practices, and indulge a licentious month or two. They are pious amongst their acquaintance, and profane amongst strangers. They have not impudence enough to be constant in vice, nor have they grace enough to be true to virtue.
There are some that speak fair to the face of their neighbour, and spread their compliments abroad, before him; but behind his back, in other company, they are as liberal of their reproaches, and can hardly endure a good thing to be said of him, Their behaviour has brought an infamous word into the English tongue; for they are justly call backbiters.
There are some children that pay the utmost deference to their parents in appearance and shew, and will not dare any thing vicious while they are under their eye; but when they are mingled with their vain young acquaintance, they run into many extravagances, and give a loose to the wild appetites of the flesh. But these are not the children of truth.
There are some servants who make their zeal and diligence appear while their master's eye is upon them; but they are mere eye-servants and false creatures, for when they are out of his sight, they can waste his substance among merry companions, and perhaps purloin and pilfer to gratify their own covetVOL. I.
ousness, or luxury or at best they make no conscience of acting for their master's interest, when he is absent.
Thus different company hath a different influence on the thoughts, the words, and the works of men: And some persons will run into every vice and folly, rather than to oppose their company; they had rather sin against God, and be false to their profession, than venture to be, what they call, rude and uncivil to company. So tender are they of giving offence to men, and so careless of offending the great and dreadful God!
There are some of all ranks and orders, of all sexes and ages of mankind, that seem to be sober, but have nothing of this divine virtue of truth or constancy in them. They would neither swear, nor drink, nor game, nor speak a lewd or impious word, when they are in a sober family: But when at any time they happen to come into houses without godliness, they can follow the course of the family in all manner of iniquities, and grow false to all their former appearances of goodness.
I might multiply instances of this kind, to shew what falsehoods and sly deceits are practised amongst men who call themselves christians, and how inconsistent many of their actions are with their own professions and pretences: But this part of my discourse hath already exceeded its just bounds. Yet I think I ought not to leave it till I have answered one objection.
Objection. It may be said here, does not St. Paul, one of the truest christians and the best of men, tell us, that when he was among the Jews, he became as a Jew, and appeared like one that was under the law: But when he was among the Gentiles, who were without law, he appeared like a Gentile too, for he was not willing to offend the one or the other; according to his own advice, Give none offence neither to the Jews, neither to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God; 1 Cor. ix. 20. and chap. x. 32. To this I answer,
The blessed apostle, when he had none but Jews about him, practised so much of the Jewish law as was consistent with christianity When he had none but Gentiles with him, he declared his freedom and release from the bonds of the Jewish law, and neglected the Jewish ceremonies, for some parts of the Jewish law were now lawful for a season, though they were so far abolished that they were not necessary for a christian. And the apostle managed this affair with holy prudence, and with a religious design to ingratiate himself and his ministry, as much as possible both with the Jews and Gentiles for the salvation of both of them: For you find this was his great end, I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some; and this I do for the gospel's sake; ver. 22, 23.
Yet you may observe, that though he appeared free from the Jewish law when he was among the Gentiles, yet he did not carry it like a lawless man, but confined all his practice within the bounds of his duty to God and his Saviour, being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ; ver. 21. So that neither one sort of company nor the other tempted him to neglect any duty, or to indulge any sin.
You may observe also upon another occasion, where Jews and Gentiles were both present, when he thought a conformity to any of the Jewish customs might give greater offence to the Gentile christians, and be likely to do more hurt than good, he withstood Peter to the face, for his sinful compliance with the uncharitable Jews: He reproved him for dissembling, and chid him because he walked not uprightly, according to the truth of the gospel, and would not give place to him by subjection; no, not for an hour; Gal. ii. 5, 11, 14, &c.
There are some seasons therefore when we may indulge an innocent compliance with our company in things lawful, in order to do credit to the gospel of Christ, and make our profession appeat lovely and honourable in the eyes of all: But there are other seasons when circumstances are so placed, that we may not indulge the same compliances, lest our liberty be construed to an evil purpose, and we bring more scandal than honour to our profession by it.
I grant there are some difficulties attending particular cases in the christian life, and it is hard to know sometimes how far we may go. It is no easy matter to tread in the apostle's steps, to become all things to all men, and yet be true to Christ. In the general, let this be our great rule, to act always with honest zeal for the glory of God, and see that we please him in the first place; and then as far as possible to please all men, not seeking our own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved; 1 Cor. x. 31, 32, 33. And if while we endeavour to be true to God, we should happen to be less complaisant to men, we shall certainly find favour at the throne of God, and then we ought not to be over-solicitous whether men be pleased, or no.
Thus I have finished the first general head, which was to shew the extent and latitude of this virtue, or what is included in the nature of this truth, which the apostle recommends to christians. It contains in it veracity or sincerity, faithfulness and constancy And a lovely character it is indeed, when it shines in its full glory.
But it is time now to enquire, which of us can say, "This character belongs to me? Am I this true, this sincere, this faithful, this constant christian? Am I always careful that my words