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and have given no offence; but I would have taken every proper occasion to shew that these were unnecessary scruples..
This was the conduct of St. Paul, in the controversy about eating meats offered to idols ; 1 Cor. viii. 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 lie 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 sbame? Can the short joys of sin reward The lasting blemish of my name? O may it be my constant choice To walk with men of grace below, 'Till I arrive where heavenly joys, And never-fading honours grow?
Christian Morality, viz. Courage and Honour; or Virtue and
Pullip. iv. 8. If there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on
these things. Ει τις αρετη και ει τις επαινο, &c. VIRTUE is an honourable and extensive name: It is used by moral writers to include all the duties we owe to ourselves, or our 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 apetn, 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. 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
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 com
prehends 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. xüi. 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 flesh 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 onwards in the paths of piety without fear. The righteous man is as bold as a lion; Prov. xxviii. l.
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 bis mind, and shew his courage; let him make it appear that the meck of the carth may sometimes resist the miglity 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-creatures.
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 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 liis 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 fcars; 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
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.”