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indulged among christians. Among these practices of good report, some are changeable with the times and customs of the country, and they obtain a different character and esteem, according to the age and place wherein we dwell; others always and in all places among sober and wise men, obtain the same character; they have been in all ages and in all nations, esteemed things of good report: The nature of them seems to be unchangeable : And it is this sort of actions only that I shall take notice of. By various particulars this head will be better illustrated and improved, than it can be by any general descriptions.
It is a matter of good report to mind our own business, yet to be of a public spirit, to be regular in our conduct, to keep the best company, to abstain from the utmost bounds of things lawful, and in doubtful matters, to follow the practices of the wisest and the best. As I díscourse upon each of these particulars, I shall observe what are those opposite practices of evil report, which we ought to avoid.
I. It is a thing of good report to mind our own business.— The holy apostle requires it; I Thess. iii. 11. That ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business. One would think there should be no need of study and application in order to be quiet; but some persons are of so turbulent and restless a temper, that they naturally intermeddle with every thing: They had need take pains with themselves to keep themselves quiet, and busy only in their proper work. The word in the Greek as signifies that we should be ambitious of quietness and diligence in our calling, for it is a matter of honour and credit. In whatsoever station we are placed, it is industry must gain reputation. There are other great and valuable advantages of it, but I confine myself now to this one, that is a thing of good report among
If persons are called to magistracy, let them attend to the work of their superior post. Let them rule and govern with all diligence, and fulfil that office well, with which God has entrusted them. Let them employ themselves much in their proper sphere, and not wear the honourable title in idleness, or bear the sword in vain, which hath been too frequent a practice in this great city, and thereby vice has grown rampant, and reformation of manners hath been shamefully discouraged.
Those who are made ministers of the gospel, let them make it their business to win souls to salvation, to bring in sinners to faith and holiness, and to edify the saints by their exhortations, by their doctrine, by their example. We should be instant in season, and out of season, reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine; 2 Tim. iv. 2. Let him that ministers wait on his ministry: He that teacheth, on teaching; he that
Exhorteth, on exhortation; Rom. xii. 7. Let us not waste our time and our best talents in the pursuit of laborious trifles, in intricate and perplexing controversies, which are less neces sary to the life of christianity, or on useless and angry squabbles, which divide and tear the church. Nor let us throw away these thoughts and hours, on pompous ornaments of learning, on critical or polite, studies, or curious and artificial works, which should be devoted to matters of more sacred importance.
If we are engaged in trades, manufactures, or merchandize in the world, let us shew all industry; and honest labour and care, and thus walk with God, every man in his calling, wherein he is called, till the providence of God evidently leads him to other work; 1 Cor. vii. 25. And thus we may refute the calumnies of those who would seek all occasions to reflect upon us for our stricter profession of religion. There are many encouraging promises given to diligence in the word of God. I shall mention but one at present that agrees with my present subject; Prov. xxii. 29. Seest thou a man diligent in his business, he shall stand before kings, he shall not stand before mean men. That is, "his good report and his reputation shall grow and increase, that he shall be brought into more honourable company, and to a more exalted station."
If we are servants, let us devote our time and thoughts to the business which our superiors have entrusted us with, and seek their interest with an honest soul. If we are children and scholars, under instruction, let us apply our minds to learn the things we are taught, and attend to the instructions of those who teach us. Every one of us have our proper work, which demands our application to it. There are many enemies to this virtue, many practices inconsistent with the character of diligence, as it is celebrated and recommended in the word of God.
First, Sloth or laziness stands formost in this rank. Surely the powers of our mind and body were never made to be useless. Go to the ant, thou sluggard, and learn industry of that little animal. Can we think we were born to be cumberers of the ground, and mere burdens of the earth we dwell on? Let us shake off this stupid and infamous humour, let us rise to an active life, and answer the ends of our creation. And for the same reason it is, that there ought to be a restraint put upon an excess of sleep, and slumber. You know the character of the drowsy wretch, that turns from side to side upon his bed, as a heavy door upon its hinges; and the sluggard, who with folded hands sits still and lets the weeds grow over his corn; but these men shall be clothed with rags; Prov. xxi. 14.
Secondly, Luxury and an intemperate love of pleasure, is another enemy to diligence in our callings. It is an odious character that is given to the inhabitants of Crete by one of their own poets; and the Spirit of God confirms the truth of it; Titus i. 12. The Cretans are evil beasts, slow bellies; so shamefully engaged in gluttony and the luxury of the palate, that they render themselves heavy, stupid, and unfit for business; A lazy generation of men, that have much more inclination to eat and drink, and live like brutes, than to employ themselves in any honest labour, that is worthy of human nature, or becomes a
Under the same reproof I may justly bring an excessive indulgence of sports or recreations, beyond what is necessary for the refreshment of nature, and the recruit of our spirits, in order to fulfil duty with more diligence: This was intimated in a former discourse. It is but a character of ill report, when a man is too often found in the place of sports and unnecessary diversions, while he ought to be in his shop, or in other proper business of his life. Prov. xxi. 27. "He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man; and he that loves wine and oil, feastings and entertainments, he shall not be rich.
Thirdly, A tattling humour, excessive talking, and an idle inquisitive impertinence, are great enemies also to that industry, that is recommended to us. Solomon assures us, that though there is profit in all labour, yet the talk of the lips, tendeth only to penury; Prov. xiv. 23. And he redoubles it upon our ears, that a prating fool shall fall: Prov. x. 8-10. There are some persons that love to talk of any thing, or every thing, besides their own business; like foolish children that turn every page of their books, and flutter a little about every part of them, besides where their lesson is. Every moving feather is ready to seize the fancy of these triflers, this fickle and talkative race of men: They are but taller children. Every little story entertains their idle inclination, and gives them fresh employment to tell it over again. They had rather do any thing than the duty of the present hour; they spend their time like the inhabitants of Athens, in little else but hearing or telling some new thing.
Some of these persons are ready to intermingle themselves with every man's concernments, uncalled and undesired: They search into the secrets of families, in order to gratify a wicked humour, to spread abroad and publish some private scandal, They creep into houses, to make mischief there, and by tattling and repeating matters of contest, they separate very friends, and raise angry quarrels in peaceful families; Prov. xvii. 9. Such persons seem to deserve the public censure of the magistrate, in the opinion of the apostle Peter; 1 Peter iv. 15. But let none
of you, that are christians, suffer as an evil-doer, or as a busy body in other men's matters. He himself once fell under the cen sure of Christ our Lord, for this inquisitive and needless curio sity. John xxi. 21, 22. When St. Peter had received a prophecy from his master concerning his own martyrdom, he had also an express notice what his own business was, viz. to follow his master. But Peter had a mind to know what should become of John too; " Lord, says he, and what shall this man do or suffer? What if I will, says our blessed Lord, that he tarry till I come again? What is that to thee? Is that thy business, Peter, to know what shall befal John? Mind thy own duty, and follow thou me. A wise and divine rebuke from our risen Saviour! After this, St. Peter well knew how to censure such impertinence, and to reprove busy-bodies.
Of the same mind is the apostle Paul. He advises women how to behave themselves, that they may not fall under this charge. Let them guide the house, says he, and employ themselves in domestic affairs: for if they neglect this work, they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also, and busy-bodies, speaking things which they ought not; gathering up matter for slander of their neighbours at their next visit, where every one is ashamed to be silent, and therefore each is ready to furnish the company with their share. But this practice, in the opinion of the sacred writer furnishes the adver sary with daily occasion to slander christianity, and to speak reproachfully of the gospel, and it is a thing of very ill fame;
1 Tim. v. 13, 14.
II. A public spirit is another thing of good report. Though christians must be diligent in their business, yet they should not confine all their cares within the narrow circle of self, but have a hearty solicitude for the welfare of the nation in which they dwell, for the neighbours among whom they inhabit, for the church of Christ in the world, and extend their concern to the happiness of mankind: The apostle directs Timothy to make supplications, prayers, and intercessions for all men, and to take such a satisfac tion in the mercies they receive, as to give thanks to God upon their account; 1 Tim. ii. 1. He exhorts the Ephesians to prayer and supplication for all the saints; Eph. vi. 18. And what he taught, he also practised in an eminent and glorious manner; the care of all the churches came daily upon him: And you find him in the beginning of his epistles lifting up his petitions and his praises to heaven continually for the churches to whom he writes.
We should rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep, and share with our fellow-christians in their joys and
their sorrows, that we may thereby double their joys, and lighten the weight of their sorrows by a blessed sympathy. Rom. xii. 15. We should bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ; Gal. vi. 2. And in 1 Cor. x. 24. he saith, "Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth, or welfare;" that is, "Let no man be so wholly swallowed up in his own profit and peace, as utterly to neglect the peace and profit of his neighbour." But though this be so honourable and becoming a practice, yet it has ever been too much neglected, even among the professors of the gospel; for St. Paul tells the Philippians, that Timothy was a singular instance of this good quality; Phil. ii. 20, 21. I have no man like minded, who will naturally care for your state; for all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's.
Some may be ready to raise an objection here, and say, "How is this consistent with the former character and practice which I recommended, namely, that every man mind his own business?"
I grant that this ought generally to be.our first care, that we fulfil the duties of our own particular station well, and see to it, that ourselves and our household be supported: This is usually the loudest call of providence, for he that provides not for those of his own house, when it is in his power, does not answer the demands of christianity, but is worse than an infidel, or one that has denied the faith; 1 Tim. v. 8. But there are many sacred and civil services may be done for the neighbourhood, the church, and the nation, without any culpable hinderance to our own affairs. So much time may be easily redeemed from sloth and slumber, from useless and impertinent conversation, as the public may call for at our hands. And when there is a day of distress or trouble come upon our friends, upon the land wherein we dwell, or the churches of Christ in the world, when virtue and religion are in sinking circumstances, we are called somtimes to lay out a larger part of our time and strength, our interest and our substance, for the welfare of the public, which otherwise perhaps might be due to ourselves, and our own family. In such cases as these, christian prudence must direct us how to distinguish wisely, and determine how far this self-denial is to be exercised, in order to promote the happiness of mankind, and the public honour of Christ. This is a thing of good report in the church and in the world, and it will turn to our honour in the day of the Lord.
But let no man deceive himself, and vainly imagine that he may lay claim to the honour of a public spirit, because he spends half his days in places of public resort, and in fruitless enquiries and chatterings about the affairs of government, and the business