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quickly be just and universal, There is no truth in the land, as Hos. iv. 1.
There is indeed scarce any censure of a degenerate and cor rupt age under the Old Testament, but fraud and deceit, lies and falsehood, make a considerable part of the accusation or complaint; and surely God would never allow any principles or practices that have so pernicious a tendency. Hear how the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah lament their multiplied transgressions in conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood: Truth is fallen into the street, yea, truth faileth, and equity cannot enter;Is. lix. This is a nation that obeyeth not the voice of the Lord. Truth is perished, and is cut off from their mouth. They deceive every one his neighbour, and will not speak the truth; they bend their tongues like their bow for lies; Jer. vii. and ix. Now if this licentious principle were allowed, neither God nor his prophets would ever want matter of complaint.
By this means also it will come to pass, that if a man happen once to get the name and character of a thief or a cheat, all his neighbours will think the.nselves authorized to have no regard to truth or honesty in all their dealings and discourse with him; for this rule affirms that he has no right to truth. And when any person fancies that he has seen reason to suspect or disbelieve his neighbour's honesty, he will think himself absolved from all obligations to speak truth to him. But what a wide and dreadful flood-gate would be opened by this means, to let in an inundation of fraud and falsehood, and to practise all manner of deceit !
Let it be remarked also, that this doctrine is near a-kin to the popish abomination, "That no faith is to be kept with heretics; for they are a sort of dangerous men, who would ruin the church, and therefore they have no right to truth." Now what shameful and horrid perjuries, and what execrable mischiefs, have sprung from this one impious principle of the church of Rome? The word of God gives no manner of indulgence to such licentious principles as these. We must wrong no man, defraud no man ; we must not render to any man evil for evil, nor falsehood for falsehood, but overcome his evil with our good and we must provide things honest in the sight of men.
It will be said, perhaps, that the scripture most frequently mentions a neighbour, or a brother, or a fellow-christian, in the prohibitions of lying and falsehood, as in the ninth commandment, Bear no false witness against thy neighbour 1 Thess. iv. 6. No man defraud his brother. Eph. iv. 25. Speak every man truth to his neighbour. Lev. xix. 11. Lie not one to another.
But let it be replied, that the scripture demands righteousness for the strangers also; Deut. i. 16. and in several other
places. And when God, by his prophet Malachi, forbids treacherous dealing with a brother, he gives this reason for it, Have we not all one Father? Hath not one God created us? Therefore all mankind are brethren in this sense. Our duty to speak and practise truth, arises from our obligations to the law of God; and since God has not released us by any such exceptions, the lying and deceitful carriage of men does not authorise us to practise deceit and lying. It is indeed a piece of an old latin verse, that is in the mouth of many, "Fallere fallentum non est fraus," which may be Englished thus, To cheat a knave is no cheating: But I know no verse in scripture that gives us this liberty. And I think we may by the same rule steal from them that would steal from us, or plunder those who would plunder us.
I will readily grant, that when a contract or bargain is made, whereby both parties are obliged mutually to perform something to or for each other, whether this contract be expressed in verbal promises, or implied in the nature of things, and by the known customs of mankind, then if one of the parties fail of performance, the other is thereby released from his promise or engagement: and the reason is most evident, because the promise or engagement was made in a conditional manner; and if the condition on one side be not fulfilled, the agreement or bargain on the other side is void, and utterly ceases; so that a man is innocent in this case, though he does not perform his promise. Now this is so well known to all men by the light of nature, and the easiest reasoning, that there is no need to enlarge upon it.
According to this general and known rule, suppose a merchant order any quantity of goods from his correspondent by the first ship, and promise payment by such a day; if the sending of those goods be neglected, and carelessly delayed, the mercbant is not bound to keep his first appointed time for payment. An hundred instances there are of the like nature, which a small degree of reason, and an honest conscience, will easily determine, without intrenching upon truth. Such is the case of all conditional promises and contracts. But if a man be never so great a knave, and I should make him a lawful and an absolute promise of any thing, surely I ought to perform it, and not satisfy my conscience in the practice of deceit and falsehood, under a pretence that he had no right to truth.
There are other cases which may occur in human affairs, and create difficulty in the minds of sincere christians, a solution of which may be found in books written on those subjects: But I think most of them may be easily answered by the general principles before laid down: And, to finish this subject, I add, that
Í know of no circumstances that can make a plain, and express, and known lie to become lawful: If life itself were in danger, yet the express prohibitions of falsehood and lying in the law of God, make it safer, in point of conscience, to venture the loss of any earthly comfort, and life also, rather than venture upon a plain and solemn lie.
And, in my opinion, that man, who, being assisted by divine grace, maintains the truth boldly, or refuses to speak a known falsehood to a murderer, or a bloody tyrant, and bravely resigns his life upon the spot, he dies a martyr to truth; his name shall be registered with honour among the saints of God on earth, and his soul shall have its place among the martyrs in the upper world.
Christian Morality, viz. Gravity, Decency, &c.
PHILIP. iv. 8.—Whatsoever things are honest, or grave, &c. think or these things.
Όσα σεμνα, &c.
SINCE the translation of the bible into the English tongue is so excellent a performance in itself, and so necessary a service to the church: I feel a sensible regret, whensoever there is occasion to complain of it, or to correct it. In the main, I may venture to say boldly, it teaches us all the necessary doctrines and duties of christianity in a very ample and complete manner, and sets them in an evident light: And what the Spirit of God spoke in ancient times in Greek and Hebrew, is sufficiently manifested to us for our salvation in the English bible.
But in this part of the verse, which I am now to discourse of, the word which we render honest, is not so well translated as I could wish; for honesty is contained in the words true and just, which go before, and follow my text. But the Greek tuvos, more properly signifies grave, decent, or venerable; and so you find it in the margin, which will oftentimes help you, when the word in the English text is not so expressive of the original sense. The same word vos is rendered grave in several other places of scripture: It is three times so expressed in the third chapter of the first epistle to Timothy, ver. 8. The deacons must be grave. Ver. 11. Their wives also must be grave. Ver. 5. A bishop must have his children in subjection with all gravity.
It is a word that is used in Greek authors to represent the character of an aged man, a philosopher, or a magistrate among the heathens. It carries in it the idea of an honourable gravity, and a venerable decency of behaviour; and this is what the apostle recommends to the practice of christians. It is as if he had said, "The character of every common christian should have something in it so honourable, as may command a sort of veneration and respect from all persons they converse with, as much as the character of a wise old man, a magistrate, or a philosopher, does in the heathen world."
To improve this subject, I shall shew,
I. Wherein this gravity consists.-II. How the light of nature recommends it.-III. How the gospel enforces it.-IV. Lay down a direction or two, in order to obtain it.
First, This gravity and venerable decency which the apostle recommends in my text, may be supposed to consist in these three things.
1. A moderation and decency in our apparel-2. A gravity and sobriety in our speech and conversation.-3. Honour, decency, and dignity in our whole deportment and behaviour.
I. A moderation and decency in our apparel, such as becomes the profession of persons whose chief ornament is religion and godliness. This the apostles, both St. Peter and St. Paul, each in their turn, insist upon, as a necessary qualification of women who profess christianity, and as an ornament to the doctrine of the gospel of Christ; 1 Pet. iii. 2, 3. Let your conversation be with fear; whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and wearing of gold; 1 Tim. ii. 9, 10. The apostle Paul bids Timothy the young evangelist teach the same doctrine and practice. In like manner, I will also that women adorn themselves in modest apparel with shamefacedness and sobriety; as becometh women professing godliness. Not that all christians must utterly abandon those richer and costly methods of ornament, gold or pearls, which the apostle there makes mention of; for every one of us should wear such raiment as suits our character and our age, our company and business in the world: But let not these be our chief ornaments, still remembering that we are christians? and let our apparel, as well as our conversation, shew that we despise trifles and thus maintain the dignity of our high and holy calling.
Here, saith a * learned commentator," it is worthy to be noted by the women that this precept ought not to be slighted by them, as of little moment, seeing it is so carefully inculcated by the two chief apostles of the Jew and Gentile, St. Peter and St. Paul; and the contrary is represented as a practice opposite to godliness."
Nor while you are dressing, should you forget that you are sinners, and therefore should put on shamefacedness; for all our ornaments and clothing are but a memorial of our first sin and shame. And when we take a pride in our garments, it looks as if we had forgotten the original of them, the loss of our innocency. Nor is this sort of advice to be confined to the female world: For, as the same author expresses it, "If it be so unbecoming a christian woman to be thus concerned in adorning and