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peace :" “ To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to bight, and from the power of Satan unto God:” and when these effects are produced,
are made the children of light and of the day," and are exhorted to a becoming deportment. Luke i. 78, 79. Acts xxvi. 18. Eph. v. 8–14. St Paul addresses the Philippians in words very similar to those of the text : “ Do all things without murmurings and disputings; that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine, (or shine ye,) as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life, that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.” And St Pe ter uses language to the same effect : “ Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people ; that ye should shew forth the praises of him, who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” Phil. ii. 14, 16. 1 Pet. ii. 9.
But we need not multiply proofs in so plain a case. The apostles derived a primary splendour from Christ, the Light of the world ; and their shone before vast multitudes with peculiar lustre. The ordinary pastor diffuses the same light in his circle, and according to his measure : and the meanest Christian has his little influence, and a few observers, among whom too his light may be made to shine. Even nominal Christians, being favoured with the light of truth, are inexcuseable, in proportion to their advantages, in not receiving and communicating the inestimable benefit. For “ this is the condemnation, that Light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.” John iii. 16–21.
This may suffice to shew, that we are all concerned in the exhortation: for in our favoured land, and our peculiar situation, we have every advantage for aiming to “ let our light shine before men:" and if we do not, have no cloak for our sin :" so that it will be more tolerable, in the day of judgment, for Sodom and Gomorrah, than for us.
II. We will then examine more fully the import of the exhortation.
God hath made other men his instruments in communicating to us the light of the gospel : and we should desire and endeavour to impart the benefit to others also : though we seem rather lamps in the street, or candles in the room, than luminaries in the firmament of heaven. The means to be used for this purpose may vary, according to our several employments, abilities, and relations in life: but we all ought to have the same habitual design of bringing our neighbours and friends to the knowleợge of God and themselves; the holy law and the gospel of salvation; the way of peace and the path of duty; and all other things which pertain to evangelical piety.
In order to accomplish this purpose, it is requisite that we make an explicit profession of our faith ; that it may be understood what doctrines we believe, on what foundation our hopes are builded, and what we think cona cerning the person and redemption of Christ. We ought to avow our expectations from him, and obligations to him ; that it may be perceived on what account we deem ourselves bound to love him more than our greatest secular interests, or our dearest earthly friends : and unreservedly to keep his commandments. This profession is absolutely necessary to evince the sincerity of our faith : “ With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Rom. X. 10. And “ Whosoever shall be ashamed of the Son of man, and of his words, in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also will he be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of the Father with the holy angels." Mark viü. 38.
This profession is thus indispensably demanded of Christ's disciples, in: order that they may “ let their light shine before men,” and diffuse the knowledge of divine truth in the world ; without yielding to the dread of shame, reproach, or the most cruel persecution. It is not indeed expedient forwardly to declare our peculiar sentiments, in all places and companies, without some special reason, or favourable opening : but if regard to charac
ter, or other secular motive render men so reserved in this matter, that their neighbours, friends, and relations remain, in a great measure, strangers to their religious principles, their sincerity may well be questioned: for this is a direct refusal to render to the Lord the glory due to his name, and to recommend his holy religion to mankind. And even if their conduct in some respects be suited to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour, the observers are left to ascribe it to other causes, and thus an opportunity is lost of evincing the excellent tendency of evangelical truth.
This profession of our faith should especially be made, by attending on the ordinances of God, according to the directions of his holy word: and this also forms an important method of "letting our light shine before men." In the primitive times, when a Jew or Gentile began to attend on the preaching of the gospel; and when, professing "repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ," he was admitted by baptism into the visible church; when he associated habitually with Christians, statedly joined in their public worship, and commemorated the love and sufferings of Christ at his table; he avowed himself the servant of the one living and true God, and the disciple of the only-begotten Son of God. This conduct would be fully understood by his former companions, and he might expect contempt, reproach, or persecution as the consequence. We indeed live at a time, when most men in our land choose to be called Christians; and such a variety of discordant opinions are maintained by the professed disciples of Jesus: that the mere circumstance of attending public worship is no explicit avowal of our peculiar religious sentiments. But it is known that in some places, the mystery of the Trinity, the perfections of God's character, the righteousness of his law and government, and the wisdom and sovereignty of his providence are maintained. Connected with these doctrines, man's accountableness to his Creator and Governor, a future judgment, and a state of eternal retributions; the fallen condition of the human race, the evil and desert of sin, the justice of God in the condemnation of sinners, and his free mercy in their salvation, are strenuously insisted on: and the person, redemption, and mediation of Emmanuel, Jesus the Son of God; regeneration and renewal unto holiness by the Spirit; repentance and fruits meet for repentance; justification by faith alone; love to the Saviour constraining to devoted obedience; and patient continuance in well-doing, animated by the hope of eternal glory, are the principal topics to which the attention of the auditories are called. These things are evidently enlarged upon in some congregations, and not in others; and if a man be convinced that they are the doctrines of Scripture, he ought seriously and statedly to attend at some place of worship answering to this description; avowing that his conduct is the result of examination, conviction, and regard to the authority of God. In doing this, not only hearing the sermons, but joining in every part of the service with reverent devotion, and associating with those who hold and adorn the same principles, he will make a very distinct and intelligible profession of his faith and in bringing his family and others whom he can influence, to attend on the same ordinances: he may "let his light shine before men," and exhibit an edifying example to his neighbours. To render this the more impressive, he should not only appropriate the Lord's day to this purpose; but embrace opportunities of attending on any day when it does not interfere with his other duties: coming early, and shewing in his whole deportment, that he takes delight in the worship of God and in hearing his word. Such a conduct tends exceedingly to draw men's attention to the gospel, and to promote vital godliness in the world.
It may further be observed, that all these ends are more decidedly answered, when the believer, after mature deliberation, statedly attends at the same place of worship, than when he wanders from one to another: for thus he sets an example of constancy in his attachments to the truths and ordinances of God; and he more effectually insures the attendance of his family. Perhaps it may be added, that this conduct indicates a more healthful state
of soul, and best promotes the growth in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Our light should also shine before men, by instructive and pious conversation. "The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment:" and it is remarkable, that the most opposite effects are ascribed to the tongue in the Sacred Scriptures. The Psalmist calls it "his glory:" and Solomon declares, that "the mouth of a righteous man is a well of life;" "the tongue of the just is as choice silver :" "the lips of the wise feed many;" and that "the tongue of the wise is health.”
On the other hand, "The tongue is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison-it is a fire, a world of iniquity;-it setteth on fire the whole course of nature, and is set on fire of hell." James iii. The fact is indeed undeniable, that the gift of speech, when abused, is the grand instrument in the propagation of atheism, infidelity, impiety, blasphemy, heresy, licentiousness, discord, and every other evil, through private circles and large communities, all over the earth. Yet this same gift, under the influence of divine teaching and holy affettions, is also principally instrumental, in diffusing the light of the gospel among mankind: not only by public preaching, but by the private instructions of parents and masters, and by familiar conversation. The speech of prudent zealous Christians, being "seasoned with salt," pure, pious, and affectionate, “ministers grace unto the hearers." It is therefore emphatically true, that "life and death are in the power of the tongue; for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." If then we be the disciples of Christ, and partakers of his grace, we shall, after his example, "from the good treasure of our hearts bring forth good things." For even if we keep our mouth, as it were with a bridle, from all corrupt discourse, but do not embrace opportunities of profitable conversation; we shall be found guilty of burying our talent in the earth.
All indeed have not the gift of properly introducing religious topics in mixed companies, where they are too generally unwelcome, however prudently and seasonably managed: but every man has a little circle, in which he may speak with freedom on the great concern of salvation. Most persons have relatives, and many have families, among whom they are peculiarly bound to communicate the knowledge of the gospel. There are also seasons, in which almost any one will endure the serious and affectionate introduction of religious subjects; especially in times of peculiar affliction, or when death hath visited his house. In some companies a man is, as it were by common consent, called to take the lead in discourse, and may select his subject and in most situations some opening will be found for a serious remark, which may be afterwards recollected, if it do not at the time introduce further conversation. The event of such reflections frequently give us reason to say, "a word spoken in due season, how good is it!" And upon careful examination it will be found, that far more good is done in this way, than is in general supposed.
An objection, however, will naturally arise in the mind of many, from the consideration of the aversion and contempt commonly expressed for this kind of conversation. But it is certain, that the rules prescribed by the Lord himself to his people, could not be reduced to practice, without exciting the same disgust and reproach. Deut. vi. 6—9. xi. 18-21. Even the conduct of Christ must be involved in the same censure: for he hath set us an example of this duty, and also of the manner in which it ought to be performed. In fact, the opposition of men, who have no habitual seriousness in religion, rather recommends, than forms an objection to pious discourse and surely we ought not to neglect any part of our duty from that "fear of man which bringeth a snare!" Thus saith the Lord, "hearken unto me, my people, who know righteousness, in whose heart is my law: fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be afraid of their revilings; for the moth shall eat them up like a garment, and the worm shall eat them as wool: but my righteousness shall be for ever, and my salvation from generation to generation." Isaiah li. 7, 8.
They, who timidly and cautiously keep silence on these subjects, who leave men in ignorance and under delusion even among their own acquaintance, and make no effort to enlighten them with saving truth, lest they should be censured and stigmatized with some reproachful name, must act in direct contradiction to this solemn admonition. Whereas a prudent and suitable attentioa to this duty forms one of the most efficacious means of diffusing the savour of truth and piety, in families and neighbourhoods; and of opening a door of usefulness to those who labour in the word and doctrines.
There are indeed many vain talkers, who disgrace the gospel; disregard ing relative duties, and every rule of propriety, by an ostentatious zeal and officious boldness in disputing about doctrines; while it is often too plain that the truth has little sanctifying effect upon their own hearts. It is therefore peculiarly incumbent upon us to ask wisdom of God, in order to a right performance of this duty; and to be very careful that our religious discourse be recommended by the ornament of a consistent behaviour in all other respects. This is especially the way to “ let our light shine before men. Thus Peter, exhorting Christians to “ have their conversation honest among the Gentiles : that whereas they spake against them as evil doers, they might by their good works, which they should behold, glorify God in the day of visitation, inculcates the duties of subjects to their rulers; “ for,” says he, “ so is the will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. He then states the duties of servants, even to severe and froward masters ; adding, “ for what glory is it,” (what proof of grace or recommendation of the gospel,) " if when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye take it patiently? But if when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God; for even hereunto ye were called.” Afterwards he exhorts “ wives to be in subjection to their own husbands, that if any obey not the word, they may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives. And having mentioned some other subjects, he thus concludes the exhortation, “ Having a good conscience, that whereas they speak evil of you, as of evil doers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.” 1 Pet. ii. iii.
In like manner, magistrates, masters, husbands, parents, children, and all others, have various relative duties to perform for the common benefit ; and if they be known to profess the peculiar doctrines of the gospel, which are generally accused of tending to laxity of morals, their conduct will be severely and minutely scrutinized. But when believers study to understand, And aim to practise the duties of their several relations, in all respects more exactly than before; when they habitually give up their own humour, interest, or indulgence, provided conscience be not concerned, to oblige and serve those that are most prejudiced and unkind; and when this conduct is adhered to with meek perseverance, notwithstanding discouragements and ungrateful returns: then the excellency of evangelical religion is exhibited in the clearest and most affecting light. In this manner we ought to “adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.”
A conscientious exactness, as to every part of our conduct in the ordinary transactions of life, is likewise indispensably necessáry: that they may be conducted with the strictest integrity, veracity, sincerity, and punctuality. We ought to “ let our moderation be known unto all men;" it should be evident, “ that our conversation is without covetousness;" and nothing ambiguous or suspicious should be observable in any of our dealings. A harmless and inoffensive deportment also is peculiarly necessary: we ought to keep at a distance from intermeddling in other men's affairs ; from slander and discord; and from every word and action, which may prove injurious to the interest, peace, reputation, relative comfort, or ease of any other person ; as far as this ean be done consistently with other duties.
An evident disposition to kindness, benevolence, and compassion, is an other ornament, and recommendation to the gospel. Nor is affluence, or extensive liberality requisite in order to diffuse this benign light around us ;
provided our exertions bear some proportion to our ability. A loving spirit may be manifested in a narrow sphere, by a continual attention to little incidents, and by such beneficial actions, as are within the power of every man, whose heart is properly disposed.
These tempers ought to be associated with forbearance and gentleness under insults and injuries, a readiness to forgive repeated and most trying provocations, and a persevering endeavour to overcome evil with good.” And when the believer is also willing to acknowledge, without reserve, the mistakes and faults, into which he hath been betrayed ; and to make suitable concessions and amends to all, whom he hath in any respect offended; “ his light shines before men” in a very resplendent manner. Patience and resignation also in those trying circumstances, which excite others to peevishness and rebellious murmurs ; cheerful contentment at a distance from those pleasures, which most men deem the solace of life; moderation and regard to expediency in the use of things lawful ; indifference about distinctions, pre-eminence, or applause; and discretion in the mangement of secular affairs, contribute to recominend, and consequently to diffuse the light of divine truth.—This is more especially the effect of a diligent improvement of our talents, according to our rank in life, or our situation in the church ; by employing wealth, authority, influence, genius, learning and every endowment, with a steady aim to promote the cause of true religion in the world, and to render mankind, wiser, holier, and happier, by every means we can devise.
By a combination of these dispositions, and an habitual regard to every part of our conduct, according to the brief hints here given ; avoiding extremes, rashness, harshness, and affected singularity ; endeavouring to unite a courteous, obliging behaviour with religious constancy and fortitude; and studying the proprieties of our several stations, we may, I apprehend, comply with our Lord's exhortation, and “ let our light shine before men.”
III. Then we proceed to consider the object, which we ought to propose to ourselves, in attending to these duties.
It hath been hinted, that our light should shine before men, and not at a distance from human society. They, who quit the active scenes of life to which providence has called them, that they may cultivate piety in privacy and retirement, too much resemble such soldiers, as decline the combat, and refuse to face danger or endure hardship in the service of their country. Some employments indeed are absolutely, irreconcileable with a good con
a science : but when this is not the case, it is generally the believer's duty to “abide in his calling." Christianity suffices to teach every man, from the monarch to the slave, how to glorify God and serve his generation, by a diligent and self-denying performance of the duties belonging to his station. And this is the best method of exhibiting before men the nature and efficacy of that remedy, which God hath devised for the disorders of this evil world.
Our Lord in this same sermon warns his disciples not to do their “works to be seen of men:" yet here he requires them to “let their light so shine before men, that they may see their good works.". Our actions, however good in themselves, are corrupt in their principle, if they spring from vain-glory, or are made known with ostentation, as if we sought human applause. But if we abound in the fruits of righteousness, and patiently continue in well-doing, it will be impossible that our good works should be wholly concealed. Lord went about doing good;" and he always shunned human observation, in bis constant exercise of beneficence, as far as his circumstances would admit of it: yet his love and power were undeniable, and his fame spread abroad through the adjacent regions. Indeed alms-giving, prayer, and fasting, of which Christ spake afterwards, generally demand secrecy : but hypocrites especially seek glory by openly performing them : while the habitual tenor of a sober, righteous, and godly life, must be visible to those among whom we reside. Yet even here we ought to watch against every degree of ostentation. But there