Page images


him to those kinds and that degree of self-denial, which are requisite in order to avoid gratifying any inclination by disturbing the peace, corrupting the morals, or injuring the person of another; or which may in any way tempt, weaken, or stumble those around him. It will equally caution him to bridle his tongue, and to abstain from all bitter, provoking, backbiting, or corrupting discourse; and from all words, however witty and ingenious, which tend to pollute the imaginations, to inflame the passions, to asperse the reputations, or disturb the domestic harmony of any one. Nay, consistency requires the believer to avoid every expression that may give needless uneasiness to another; and to refrain from repeating disadvantageous reports, though known to be true, except when it is necessary to prevent others from being deceived or injured. In these, and many other particulars, the believer's principles will influence him to “ avoid all appearance of evil,” when it can be done with a clear conscience; to take care “ not to have his good evil spoken of;” to “ provide things honest in the sight of all ;” and to give no needless offence to any man. Thus he will endeavour by well-doing to put to silence false accusers, and to compel even those that hate his religion to allow him to be a quiet good kind of a person. Alas!“ in many things we offend all;" but the consistent Christian will excuse none of his failures; on the contrary, he will condemn himself more severely than others do, when he is conscious of having acted wrong. Let it be here also noted, that diligence in the proper business of a man's station, without meddling with such things as do not belong to it, is an essential part of a harmless conduct; and the consistent Christian will be very frugal and provident, and submit to many hardships, rather than burden others, or needlessly leave his family to be maintained by them: the example of Christ and his apostles, as well as the precepts of the New Testament, show, that every degree of sloth and bad management, by which men are reduced to a disa graceful poverty, and led to intercept what others have a prior claim to, is inconsistent with Christian principles, however zealous such men may be for the doctrines and ordinances of religion : and surely evangelical motives should induce us to fill up our proper stations as diligently, as worldly motives do the most respectable part of ungodly men.

IV. A disposition “ to love mercy," and to be kind and liberal in doing good, is peculiarly the effect of Christian principles. The wealthy, remembering o the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” &c. (2 Cor. viii. 9), are charged “ to abound in this grace also,” (1 Tim. vi. 17–19): (but many things on this topic will be discussed in an Essay on the improvement of our talents) yet even they “who labour, working with their hands, should give to them that need;" and the cup of cold water, or the widow's two mites, may express a willing mind as decidedly as the large beneficence of the wealthy. But active kindness does not consist merely in giving: a man may express much love by thwarting his own inclination or foregoing his ease, that he may serve others : that charity of which the apostle speaks so highly, (1 Cor. xiii), is especially distinguished by its unfeigned desire and aim to promote both the temporal and eternal good of others; and may be shown in a vast variety of unexpensive services, and in minute self-denials, accompanied with alacrity and kindness. The consistent Christian, in the lowest condition, will never want occasion of convincing his little circle, that he wishes to do them good, and is habitually ready to put himself to trouble and inconvenience for that purpose; while he will always be able to pray for numbers to whom he can render no other service. And though the household of faith be entitled to the preference in such works and labours of love ; yet none, (not even our bitterest enemies, persecutors) are to be excluded from them.

V. Christian principles will induce a man (whilst thus endeavouring to do good to all, and harm to none) to suffer long, to forbear, forgive, and pursue peace with all men. The patience and long-suffering of God, though provoked continually; his exuberant kindness, in plentifully supplying the wants, and protecting the persons of the wicked, (Matt. v. 43—48); and especially his forbearance towards us when we were enemies to him, and the inexpressible grace by which we were made his friends; his mercy in beseeching sinners to be reconciled to him; his readiness to forgive the most numerous and aggravated rebellions, and to confer all blessings on every one who applies for them; his persevering love to believers, notwithstanding their subsequent ingratitude and misconduct; the example of Christ, “who when he was reviled, reviled not again,” but prayed for his murderers with his dying breath, (Luke xxiii. 34 ; 1 Pet. ii. 20—24), the constant tenor of the New Testament precepts; and the rebukes given to the disciples when they were actuated by a different spirit, combine to show of what importance this disposition is, and undeniably prove that it is the certain effect of evangelical principles, well understood, and truly believed, (Luke vi. 27–36; ix. 51-56; Rom. xii. 14, 19–21 ; 1 Pet. iii. 9). If the professed Christian only loves those who are of his own sect or religion, what does he more than others? Or in what does the peculiar effect of his principles, and the grace given unto him, appear? Indeed, this disposition is essential to the very exercise of living faith ; and our Lord has expressly declared, that except we forgive men their trespassess, our heavenly Father will not forgive us, (Matt. vi. 12, 14, 15); he hath taught us to ask forgiveness of God, “as we forgive them that trespass against us ;" so that the prayer of a revengeful man for pardon is in fact an imprecation of Divine vengeance on himself: he hath illustrated the subject by a most affecting parable, (Matt. xviii. 21—35:) and he requires us to forgive our brethren, not only till seven times, bút till seventy times seven ; yea, seven times a-day, if the offender need it, and ask for it, (Luke xvii. 3, 4). We are exhorted“ to put on, as the elect of God, (holy and beloved), bowels of mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any, even as Christ forgave us,” (Eph. iv. 1, 2, 31, 32; v. 1, 2; Col. iii. 12, 13). Nor is this to be confined to our brethren, but to be extended even to our most furious persecutors, notwithstanding all their curses and cruelties; for “ even hereunto were we called." We are not indeed required to place any confidence in such men, or to confer special favours upon them, (for the Lord restricts his special favours to his chosen people): much less ought we to love the crimes and society, or to countenance the heresy, infidelity, idolatry, or superstition of those who hate the Lord: but we may express our decided abhorrence of their vices and errors, and oppose them with the utmost firmness, and yet relieve their urgent wants, assist them in perils and distresses, seek their best welfare, forgive their injuries, pour out our prayers for their conversion, answer their revilings and imprecations with mild language and good wishes, and persevere in endeavouring to “ overcome evil with good.' We may lose the thoughts of a man's ill usage of us, in considering the misery he is bringing on himself; and we may take a decided part against him from a sense of duty, whilst resentment has yielded to compassion in our hearts, and our secret prayers form an authentic evidence of our love to his soul. Thus the judge or prosecutor may pity, and express good-will to the criminal, whose condemnation is a debt owing to the public: thus a man may forgive, and show all proper lenity to the fraudulent debtor or assailant ; whilst his duty to his own creditors and family compel him to seek legal redress for important injuries, or to ward off such as are threatened: and the zealous servant of Christ may write or preach against antichristian or infidel principles, in the most energetic manner (provided he do not violate the rules of truth and meekness); and yet may be ready to relieve the urgent wants and to pity the miseries of those who hold them : so that they who object to such conduct, certainly “ know not what spirit they are of;" but suppose those censures to spring from warmer zeal, which are the effect of an haughty, bitter, violent, and vindictive disposition. Thus the apostle exhorted as the man who was endued with knowledge, to show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom;" and he added, “ that if any had bit

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

ter envying and strife in their hearts, they ought not to glory, or to lie against the truth” (as if the doctrine of Christ were to be blamed for their misconduct): “this wisdom,” says he, s descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual,” (or natural,) and “ devilish : for where envy and strife are, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above,' (the gift of God in answer to the prayer of faith, and the genuine effect of Christian principles) “ is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy ; and the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace, of them that make peace;" for “ the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God,' (James i. 5, 19, 20; iii. 5—18). In all cases where boasting, reviling, slander, contest for victory, rash judging, misrepresentation, and a disposition to expose an opponent to ridicule, contempt, or enmity, are admitted; where anathemas, or personal reflections foreign to the subject in hand are vented; or a desire of punishing men for their religious opinions, or of withholding from them the common offices of humanity, is intimated; there the spirit of Christianity ceases, and the same principles operate, which kindled all the fires of pagan or papal persecution: and whatever be the tenets or prete of persons who indulge such tempers towards their own enemies or those of their religion; they are (perhaps unawares) imitating and sanctioning the very evils which excite their vehement indignation. It is in vain for men to say that they forgive and do good to their own enemies, and only object to kindness shown to the enemies of Christ ; for how can the bitter persecutors of Christians be any other than the enemies of Christ ? And did not all those professed Christians, who anathematized, imprisoned, enslaved, starved, burned, or massacred heretics as they called them, by millions, pretend that they were actuated by zeal for the honour of Christ, and against his enemies ?' In vain do men adduce a few passages from Scripture to sanction such a spirit and conduct: an inspired writer might properly denounce vengeance on the inveterate enemies of God, and utter prophecies respecting them : but such exempt cases do not constitute our rule of conduct, for that must be regulated by the express precepts of Scripture and the example of Christ, as he was obedient to the law for us ; nor may we follow even a prophet or apostle further than they followed the Lord.

Christian principles therefore will teach a man, as far as he is influenced by them, to recede from his right for the sake of peace and love, in all things that consist with other duties: and to “ follow peace with all men,” and “ to pursue after it,” even when it flies from him. He will especially endeavour to promote the peace of the church, and avoid whatever may disturb it ; he would, " if possible, live peaceably with all men,” and will only deviate from this rule when compelled to it by his duty. He is also a peacemaker as far as he has any influence, both among his brethren and neighbours; he desires to be of one mind and judgment with all who appear to love the Lord : and if he must differ from them in sentiment, he would differ amicably and reluctantly; for he endeavours to “ keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace;" he aims to do “ all things without murmurings and disputings,” and nothing “ through strife and vain-glory :" " knowing that the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle towards all men; in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves." He is aware, that God alone can “ give men repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;" and that revilings and bitter sarcasms are none of the means which he 'hath instituted, and on which a blessing may be expected. His self-knowledge and experience forbid him to disdain or despair of others; and so long as he deems it right to address himself to them at all, he will do it with a hope and a prayer, that they may yet be saved by sovereign grace. The same principles influence the believer to cultivate an habitual forbearance, and a readiness to pass over and forgive the manifold little faults, mistakes, and petulances, which we must expect to meet with even in the best of men, whilst they continue in this imperfect state ; for he knows that he needs such re

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

ciprocal forbearance from them: and without this mantle of love covering the multitude of faults, no peace can be expected in human society. He will be taught to bear without much concern those affronts which proud men deem it a point of honour to resent, whatever consequences ensue: and if he be ridiculed or reviled for his tameness, he remembers the meekness of Christ amidst the scorn and cruelty of his enemies. His point of honour consists in not suffering himself to be overcome by any kind or degree of evil; in overcoming evil with good : and in subduing his own spirit: and his fortitude is shown, by facing dangers, and enduring hardships in the cause, and after the example of Christ. But when he is conscious of having injured or affronted others, he will readily submit to the most humiliating concessions, or reparation, for the sake of peace. His principles also teach him to avoid every irritating expression, and to stifle the rising of resentment for injuries received ; to fear harbouring a prejudice or grudge against any man, (for “ anger resteth” only “in the bosom of a fool"); to watch his opportunity of convincing an obstinate enemy, that he bears him no ill-will, but would gladly live amicably with him; and to forget, as far as he can, the hard treatment he hath met with, not loving to mention it, or hear others expatiate on it, and only recollecting it in order to pray for the injurious party. On the other hand, the same views will lead him to remember, and to mention when proper, the kindness shown him; for they lead to gratitude, not only to the Giver, but to the instruments of all our comforts. We might further enlarge on the candour in judging of men's motives, and of those actions that may admit of a more or less favourable construction ; the courteousness, affability, affectionate behaviour, &c., which Christian principles proportionably effect; but we must not at present proceed any further. The apostle's description of that charity, or love, which is even greater than faith and hope, includes all that hath been advanced, and much more. As a natural philosopher would define gold by its peculiar properties, which exist as really in a grain as in a talent; so he shows the nature of love itself, whether a man hath more or less of it. “ Charity suffers long, and is kind ; doth not envy or vaunt herself, is not puffed up, doth not behave herself unseemingly, seeketh not her own" interest, credit, ease, or indulgence; “is not easily provoked; thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things, and never faileth,” (1 Cor. xiii). As far then as Christian principles prevail, peace, harmony, and comfort abound; and were they universally influential, they would rectify the whole moral state of the world. What then shall we think of those who spend their lives in running them down, or representing them as of licentious tendency? What shall we say concerning those who take occasion from the gospel to indulge their selfish, sensual, or malignant passions? or to what shall we ascribe the improper conduct even of true Christians, but to their want of a fuller acquaintance with the tendency of their principles, and a more complete experience of their efficacy?


On the Believer's Attention to Relative Duties.

Those dispositions of mind, which a real belief of evangelical truth never fails to produce, will be especially manifested by a conscientious attention to the duties of the several relations which constitute human society, according to the precepts and exhortations of the holy Scriptures : by this the excellency of our principles is peculiarly displayed, and true holiness is distinguished from all counterfeits. Our natural propensities are so diversified by


[ocr errors]

constitution, education, habits, connections, and pursuits; that they sometimes assume the appearance of certain gracious dispositions : a courageous temper may be mistaken for Christian firmness and fortitude ; an indolent or yielding turn of mind may pass for Christian meekness, pliancy, and compassion, &c. Yet the counterfeit is perfectly distinct from that holy temper to which it is assimilated ; and has very little effect on a man's general conduct, though it may be very conspicuous in a few detached instances : at the same time it unfits men for several parts of their duty, renders them peculiarly prone to sins which coincide with their natural propensity, and leaves them regardless of the will and glory of God, and of the true happiness of mankind, in their best actions. Even when the mind is in a measure influenced by divine grace, natural propensities may often deceive us as to the degree of it; a harsh, rough, violent, or obstinate temper, will induce an appearance of zeal and boldness in religion far beyond what is genuine; and, on the other hand, will prevent superficial observers from perceiving how much right principles have humbled, softened, and meliorated the mind; and this will also create the believer himself a great deal of trouble and uneasiness, perhaps to the end of his days. In like manner, a timid, placid, indolent temper, will give a man an appearance of great meekness and gentleness, even when he is but little influenced by principles: whilst the greatest prevalence of grace in his heart, will leave him too much disposed to make improper compliances, and to decline hardships, dangers, difficulties, and contests.

But when the Christian is followed into the retired scenes of life, the habitual effect of his principles may be more precisely ascertained ; and his attention to the welfare, comfort, and peace of all around him, even at the expense of many personal inconveniences and much self-denial, will prove his piety to be genuine and of the most salutary tendency. This will therefore constitute the subject of the present Essay; and the strictest regard to brevity will not prevent the necessity of dividing it into two parts.

It may be useful to premise a few observations.

1. When we state the believer's relative duties, we do not mean that other men are exempted from the same obligations : but merely that Christian principles, and the grace given with them, incline and enable believers habitually to attend to their duties, in the whole tenour of their conduct, though they do not perform them in that extent and perfection in which they own them to be obligatory: whereas other men either live without rule, or lay down rules for themselves, that differ widely from the precepts of Scripture; or they allow themselves habitually to neglect their known duty, in this as well as in other particulars.

2. The attention to relative duties, produced by evangelical principles, differs widely even from that which results from regard to the authority of God as a lawgiver. In this case, the fear of punishment or the hope of reward, are the only influential motives of a religious nature; and these indeed, aided by self-love in its manifold operations, and by natural affection, may in particular circumstances produce a very decent outward conduct : but believers, besides all these motives, are influenced by the constraining love of Christ, a sense of immense obligations received, a desire of adorning and recommending the gospel, and an unfeigned love to all around them, producing a permanent attention to every thing connected with their present and eternal walfare. We therefore find that the apostles always inculcate relative duties from these and similar considerations; and thus affixed an evangelical stamp to their practical instructions, as well as a practical stamp to their doctrinal discussions.

3. We may observe, that the believer indeed endeavours “ to show his faith by his works," but he also judges his works by the strict rule of the spiritual commands : so that whilst he hopes for a gracious reward from his reconciled God, according to the new covenant in the blood of Christ; he is conscious that his best performance, even of relative duties, is so defective


« PreviousContinue »