« ForrigeFortsæt »
principles and the patterns with which the gospel of Christ has furnished us; whether we look to Jesus, the founder of our religion, the Son of God in our nature, or to his apostles, or to the primitive martyrs, among whom some of the weaker sex and the weaker age, have outshone the glory, and darkened the lustre of all the great men of heathenism.
What blessed views hath the gospel given us of heaven and future happiness, to animate our zeal, and to engage us to the boldest efforts of goodness! What promises of almighty power to assist us in our sacred attempts, and to bear up our spirits! What rich and infallible assurances have we in the word of God to support our highest expectations, that if we are faithful to the death, we shall receive a crown of life! Rev. ii. 10. And Jesus our forerunner hath already taken possession of all these prizes and glories to reward the conquerors.
Shall we sink and despond at any dark appearances? Shall our spirits fail us in the midst of duty, when we have so many divine motives to valour and holy fortitude? Methinks there should be nothing too hard for a christian to undertake or suffer, when God and providence call him to it. I confess that flesh and blood are frail and' feeble: Animal nature overwhelms the soul with its shudderings, and forbids the execution of the bravest purposes. It is only grace, divine grace, that can strengthen the trembling christian, and make him venture through dangers and death in the way to the heavenly crown. It is this gives power to the promises, and makes the saint believe the performance. It is this sets heaven before his eyes, and gives it such an attractive influence, such a sovereign conquest over all his fears; it even braces the sinews of nature, and exalts the spirits to despise danger and pain. What wonders of holy fortitude might a christian perform, if the eye of his faith were kept always open, and firmly fixed on those bright and everlasting invisibles?
But I shall enlarge no farther on this argument of christian courage, and I am the more inclined to dismiss this subject at present, having reserved some discourses on it for another season*.
I proceed therefore to the last exhortation in my text, If there be any praise, any actions that deserve honour amongst men, think on these things, engage yourselves in the practice, and obtain the honour. The praise which the apostle here recommends, may be described as Cicero, the famous Roman orator, describes glory; it is, "The concurrent and unanimous commendation of good men, or the general voice of wise and uncorrupted judges, concerning any eminent practice of virtue.”
The holy apostle had just before recommended things of good report, and now he exhorts them to the practice of laudable actions or things that merit praise. The difference between these two is this: a good report signifies a clear and unblemished character, fair reputation among men, a good name among those with whom our daily acquaintance lies, and our civil conversation and business. But praise implies a considerable degree of applause or honour, obtained by some eminent actions, or some extraordinary instances of wisdom, courage, or goodness. A man that has never attained to any great degree of excellence above his neighbours, may yet have a fair reputation in the world: But the word praise seems to imply a great and honourable name, as well as a good one.
I shall mention but two general instances, wherein we may suppose the apostle recommends to us the practice of those things that are laudable: One is, an extraordinary conduct in common affairs; the other is an improvement of the seasons, or occasions of extraordinary virtue..
I. It is a thing praise-worthy to labour after an extraordinary conduct and uncommon excellence in our common affairs of life, to excel all others in the things that relate to our station in the world. Let each of us search and enquire, what is it within our reach that shines brightest among men, and then pursue it with vigour.
If a person, who professes religion in the strictest manner, and in the purest forms, be made a magistrate or public officer, let him do something extraordinary for the public welfare, if it be possible, and merit the public thanks and praise of the community. So if a man be called to the ministry of the gospel, let him imitate the blessed apostle in zeal for Christ; as in 1 Cor. xv. 10. I laboured more than they all. Let there be no bounds to our desires of excellence, and our zeal for the salvation of men. Covet earnestly the best gifts, says the apostle; 1 Cor. xii. 31. and animate them with the noblest graces. There is a holy emulation wherein we may vie with one another, and each of us get as near perfection as possible. This is praise-worthy. I told you before, that magistrates or ministers must be diligent in their work to gain a good report, but they must double that diligence to obtain special praise.
So in the most common employments of life, and the management of daily affairs abroad or at home, we should aspire to be patterns of every thing that is good and laudable, that we may all be able to say as St. Paul, Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ: 1 Cor. xi. 1. Am I a master? Let me have a holy ambition to be the best of masters, and by an excellent conduct constrain all my servants to praise and love me; except such
vulgar and brutal souls that no kindness can engage, no merit can oblige, and no virtue can influence. Am I a servant? Let my zeal for my master's interest exceed all my fellows, and my faithfulness and diligence in every duty extort honour even from those who envy me, and deserve the esteem and love of those that are above me. If I am an artificer, and God hath given me any superior talents or capacities, I should not employ those superior talents in trifles, but use them to some most valuable purposes, for the benefit of mankind, beyond what former ages have known. I should promote useful knowledge, if I am a philosopher, and carry it on farther than my fathers have done. These are some instances wherein we may perform actions of praise that are becoming a man or a christian.
II. It is a thing praise-worthy to improve all the seasons and occasions of extraordinary virtue, to seize on those special opportunities which providence now and then may give us to exert uncommon degrees of wisdom or mercy, activity or courage.
We are always required to be faithful to our rulers, and kind to our neighbours and friends: But when our king or our country is in some imminent danger, when some threatening mischief hangs over a family, or a city, when our friend or brother, or even a stranger, is in immediate peril of life, there may be a glorious occasion for some great and generous exercise of loyalty, fortitude, compassion, or love, to save a friend or a stranger, a prince or a nation. All the world shall agree to praise the man who performs that noble service.
We are bound always to be liberal, and to give to the poor, but sometimes we have an opportunity to exercise that grace of liberality in a more ample and generous manner, so as to deserve and obtain an honourable name: As when a great number of distressed wretches come to the city or place where we dwell, or when some general calamity involves all our poor neighbours, and reduces them to great straits, then we should exercise bounty beyond the common measure: Thus a christian shall have the honour of relieving the poor more than heathens do, or those who make no profession of godliness.
So in the practice of charity and forgiveness, Jesus our Lord requires us to forgive our enemies, and to do good to those that hate, and abuse, and persecute us: But when it lies in our power to do a most considerable service to a person that has done us the highest injury, then there is a special providence calling us to perform a glorious action of praise. Such was the character of that great and good man Archbishop Cranmer, of whom it is said, if any man had done him an injury, he would ever afterward be his friend.
In short, whensoever an occasion arises to give an eminent and glorious proof of generosity or compassion, of gratitude or goodness, of zeal for God, or love to men, it is the apostle's advice, that a christian should seize the golden hour, and not suffer a heathen to prevent or exceed him. And among christians, let those who profess the severest virtue, and the purest methods of christianity be the persons who seize most of these opportunities to perform actions worthy of praise. But when there is any thing mean and base, scandalous and sordid appears in the world, as it never should be said that a christian has done it, so neither would I ever have such a scandal fall upon any person who professes the strictest forms of godliness.
I come in the next place to consider, what arguments may be drawn from the light of reason, to excite us to actions of good report, and such as are worthy of special praises; for in the foregoing discourse I told you, that I should join the arguments or motives together, which belong to both these exhorta tions.
1. If a person practises things of good report, and acquires to himself reputation and praise amongst men, he does himself and his family a considerable kindness by it. If a man has not a good name, he can neither expect to be entertained in any society with pleasure, nor to receive any special benefits from the world. A person of ill report is rather hated than beloved, he is shunned and avoided rather than desired, and his neighbours will treat him with neglect rather than assistance. His very name is mentioned with disgrace instead of praise. Whereas, on the other hand, a man whose excellent character has deserved a good report and honour among his fellow-citizens, has every one ready to invite him to their company, and willing to reach out to him their friendly hand when he is fallen into danger or distress.
Besides, such a person lays up honour for his household, and provides the friendship of mankind for the help of his family in generations yet to come. It is confessed indeed, that the spirit of the world has too much baseness in it, and too great a neglect of real merit: Yet when a man has deserved exceeding well of his country, and acquired any special degrees of praise or renown amongst them, the world is not yet quite so brutal and degenerate, but that it has given many instances of bounty and goodness to the posterity of a man of honour. His name shall be had in everlasting remembrance, and the generation of the upright shall be blessed. Ps. cxii. 2, 6.
II. A man that has obtained a good report and honour in the world, by many reputable actions, is capable of much greater service both to God and his fellow-creatures. If we have gained
esteem and reputation among men, they will be more ready to hearken to our counsel, and comply with our advice. We shall have more influence on mankind, both to promote the honour of God and the benefit of men. A word that we speak, will make deeper impression, and be attended with greater success. A word or a look of Cato among the Romans, would do more to restrain vice, and to shame the vicious, than the frown of an emperor.
III. There is so much real and inward satisfaction arises from a good character, obtained by a life of virtue and piety, that a man who knows the pleasure of it, would not renounce the practices which may attain it. I confess it is a more important matter to secure a good conscience than a good name, and to obtain praise in the sight of God, than in the lips of men: But where both these are joined together by the favour of divine providence, our virtue and piety has a larger reward, and our natures are so framed and composed, that we cannot help taking some satisfaction in it. Prov. xv. 30. A good report makes the bones fat; that is, as one expresses it, it revives the heart to such a degree, as renders the body more healthful and vigorous.
Methinks those persons have something very degenerate in them, and their conduct is a little unnatural who seem to have lost the very desire of a good name or reputation. I cannot but wonder to hear a person boast of his scorn and contempt of it in such language as this; "I will pursue my own designs, I will gratify and please myself, and I care not what the world says of me." Surely if such language did become a christian, the scripture would not be so solicitous to recommend a good name and things of good report.
This naturally leads me to consider, what influence christianity has to excite us to the practice of reputable actions and such as deserve honour amongst men.
Here we may first take notice, how often the scripture proposes honour as a reward of goodness and virtue. Our Saviour promises it to those that are humble and condescending; if thou art ready at some entertainment to seat thyself in a lower place; Luke xiv. 10. The master of the feast shall exalt thee, and thou shalt have worship in the presence of those that sit at meat with thee; for he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. St. Paul tells the christians, do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise from the ruling power, for magistrates are appointed for the praise of them that do well; 1 Pet. ii. 14. Solomon proposes the same motive; Prov, iv. 7, 8. Wisdom is the principal thing, therefore get wisdom;-she shall bring thee to honour when thou dost embrace her. The apostle recommends often to the christians of his day a