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pends on approving that which is good; · Without holiness no man shall see God;' ought we not then to labor to recommend virtue and religion to his choice, to render it acceptable in his sight, and by that means lead him to taste the fruit of the tree of life? And how is this to be done?, Not by rendering our good odious and offensive to him ; not by making it matter of reproach and scandal to him; but by setting it forth in its native gentleness, without scandal or offence; that he may be ashamed of nothing, but that he did not sooner love and embrace it. Thus must the salvation of mankind be set forward; He tibi erunt artes : let ignorance and superstition triumph in reproach, supported by wilfulness and haughty pride; but let truth rejoice in meekness, and become all things to all men, that it may gain some. But, farther,
It is a piece of justice that we owe to ourselves and our own character, to render our good irreproachable : when our good suffers, we must suffer with it, and partake in the reproaches that fall on it; and therefore it is prudence, with respect even to our own interest and credit, to avoid giving offence as much as possible. It is matter of doubt whether it be justifiable in the good we do to have regard to our own reputation : to make it the end of what we do is certainly bad ; for the applause of the world is not the end of religion ; but a good man is capable of doing so much good by having a good reputation, that it is certainly his duty to consult his credit and character in what he does : for this reason he ought to restrain himself in those freedoms, which in the judgment of the world are unbecoming his character, though in themselves they be innocent and harmless. But surely there cannot be a more innocent way of aspiring to a reputation, than taking care that our good be not evil spoken of; than in providing against the mistakes and misinterpretations that others may make of what we do: and therefore this argument in this case may justly be allowed its full weight.
And thus you see of what great moment it is to render our good unsuspected and free from reproach : it is the way to advance our own credit, to consult the good of our neighbor, and to promote the honor and glory of God.
This prudent behavior is not inconsistent with a steady and constant adherence to the truth; for the truth is not to be de
serted that it may not be evil spoken of, but it is to be practised without offence.
In matters essential to religion there is no room for compliance; and in matters of Christian liberty there is hardly any room for denying it: where we are free, the greatest deference is be paid to the opinions, nay, even to the prejudices of others. This distinction is not of my own making ; but we have the exception and the rule from the same hand; for the Apostle, in the verse after the text, adds, ' For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink. Take the whole of the Apostle's admonition together, and you will easily perceive the meaning of these words. The dispute was about the lawfulness of meats: * I know,' says the Apostle, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself—but if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably:' that is, I allow it is lawful for you to eat; but yet, if you eat with the offence of your brother, you offend against charity. • Let not then,' says he, ‘ your good be evil spoken of; for the kingdom of God is not meat and drink.' This being the case, forbear eating, when eating will give offence : for it is not necessary to your gospel obedience, or to the establishing the kingdom of God, that you should eat; for it is a matter of Christian liberty, and you may act which way you please. From which it is plain, that in matters that are necessary to the establishing the kingdom of heaven, we are not at the same liberty to please and humor men : for the reason the Apostle gives in this case, why it ought to be done, is, that the kingdom of God consisted not in it; which is by implication an exception to the rule, and amounts to saying, This advice which I give you, of forbearing things which are offensive, extends only to matters of Christian liberty ; for where the kingdom of God is concerned, you must be content to follow Christ, and us his Apostles, “through good report and evil report.'
SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE LVII.
NUMBERS, CHAP. XXIII.- VERSE 10.
These affecting words are apt to engage us on their side at the first hearing; for whatever be our present prospects, when thus called from them, we stand as it were beholding ourselves under the arrest of death; we want no arguments to direct our choice to what is best for ourselves : these circumstances carry conviction with them; and though unwilling to live the life of the righteous, we are willing enough that our last end should be like his. There is a comparison implied in the text between the cases of the wicked and the righteous, which the mind readily supplies: it is stated under circumstances which throw out all prejudices and partialities, and bring only the merits of the cause on each side into judgment. You see the wicked and the righteous both on the point of death, and you are to say which condition you would choose : the pleasures of the world on one side, the supposed hardships on the other, are equally set aside : you are to judge between virtue and vice, placed naked at the bar, without color or disguise. It may seem perhaps that we have but little confidence in the cause of virtue under all other circumstances of life, when we defer this judgment to the last moments of it: it may be thought unfair to state the case without the pleasures and enjoyments on one side, and the difficulties and discouragements on the other, which things weigh most with the generality of men; whilst we leave nothing but the doubtful prospect of a future state, and every thing is taken out of the other scale, which, as we find by general experience, serves to balance against such hopes and
fears : it is perhaps saying little for virtue, that its hopes should be preferred to the fears of iniquity, when nothing but mere hope and fear is left; for who would not prefer the most uncertain chance of being happy to the least degree of fear of being miserable, or even to the thoughts of endless sleep? Were these exceptions well founded, the comparison in the text would lose much weight; but there are no times or circumstances of life in which virtue may not be compared with vice, the passions, prejudices, and corruptions of men being put out of the question. The words of the text, in their first and natural sense, lead us to this comparison not only in the latest hours, but in all the course and circumstances of life: they arise from the contemplation of the present and future prosperity of the Israelites in the land of promise, compared with the misery of the idolatrous nations, given up to sin and superstition, and therefore to ruin. Numb. xxiii. 9. 10. and xxiv. 20. compared together: these passages help to expound each other; for as the prophecy relating to Amalek was completed in the temporal destruction of that people, so by parity of reason the prophecy concerning Israel imported their temporal happiness. Bishop Patrick's interpretation of the words, let my last end be like his, by let my posterity be like his, gives us farther reason to suppose that temporal prosperity was contained in the prophesier's wish, as a peculiar inheritance of the righteous. The other sense of the text, which looks to a future life, is of ancient date: nor need we be much concerned to determine between the two ; both fairly arising from the text; both agreeable to the apprehensions of mankind, and founded in reason and nature. That righteousness exalteth a nation, that sin is not only a reproach, but also a weakening to any people, are truths which want no proof. In all ages, all lawgivers, philosophers, and moralists, have been of this opinion, which experience has justified: this point exemplified by the rise and fall of nations, But besides this, if we believe the being of a God, and have
just notions of his attributes, and think him at all concerned in the government of this his world, we must conclude that virtuous nations are under his peculiar care : this point enlarged
Yet though all allow that virtue is the true foundation of the happiness and prosperity of public societies, men differ much in opinion and practice respecting the choice and pursuit of happiness for themselves; yet the same thing which is necessary to the happiness of a kingdom, is also necessary to that of private families and private men : this point enlarged
Since then all allow that virtue is the true way to public happiness, they must confess that private happiness is to be obtained only by the same method : whence then the inconsistency of men in preferring the momentary pleasures of vice to the solid happiness arising from virtue? Whence is it that they think, that what makes others miserable will make them happy? This difference arises not from the nature of the things considered, which is always the same, but from the passions of men, which are excluded in the one case, and admitted in the other with all their force to bias the judgment. We can deliberate calmly on what is right for other men, as their passions have no effect on our understanding; but in our own case all our passions are roused, and often prove too strong for it. There is much truth in the common observation, that it is easier to give good instructions than to follow them : but this ought to be no prejudice to the cause of virtue ; for when a man speaks reason, and at the same time acts against it, he ought to be taken as a strong witness for the truth. It
be asked perhaps, why we prefer the judgment of a man when he chooses happiness for others, to his judgment when he chooses it for himself. Do we not know that men are most sincerë when their own prosperity is concerned ? this point enlarged on, from the consideration of men who should form laws for suppressing vices which they themselves practised. But by this method of arguing, there is but one law for man and