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PROVIDE THINGS HONEST IN THE SIGHT OF ALL
Rom. xii. 17.
Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
I. HAVE formerly discoursed upon this apostolical precept ; SERM. and having declared the meaning of it, (briefly importing LXV. that we should have a special care of our external behaviour, coming under the view and observation of men, that it be perfectly innocent and inculpable,) I did propose divers motives inducing to the observance of it; but divers others of great importance the time would not allow me to urge; I shail, therefore, now proceed to offer them to your consideration,
I did then shew, that a regard to the reason and nature of things, to the satisfaction of our conscience, to the honour of God, and to the credit of our religion, did require from us a good conversation before men ; I now farther add, that,
I. The real interest of piety and virtue do exact such a conversation, as the most effectual way of upholding, ad. vancing, and propagating them among men.
Example is a very powerful thing either way, both for attraction to good, and seduction to evil; such is the nature of men, that they are more apt to be guided by the practice of others than by their own reason, and more easily can write after a copy than by a rule; that they
SERM. - are prone to imitate whatever they see done, be it good or LXV. bad, convenient or inconvenient, profitable or hurtful, emu
lating the one, and aping the other ; that they love to be in the fashion, and will go anywhither in company, presuming of support, defence, and comfort therein ; that they will satisfy their minds and justify their doings by any authority, deeming that laudable or allowable, or at least tolerable and excusable, for which they can allege precedents; judging, that if they are not singular, they are innocent, or however not very culpable ; that hardly they will undertake any thing without countenance, whereby their modesty is in some measure secured, and partners engaged to bear a share with them in the censure to which their deportment is liable. Hence a visible good conversation will have a great efficacy toward the promotion and propagation of goodness ; the authority of that being adjoined to the native worth and beauty, to the rational plausibility, to the sensible benefit of virtue, will cogently draw men to it; it will be a clear pattern, whereby they shall be informed what they are obliged and what they are able to perform; it will be a notable spur, smartly exciting them to mind and pursue their duty; it will be a vigorous incentive, inflaming their courage, and provoking an emulation to do well.
The visible succour and countenance of many, espousing the cause of goodness by their practice, will assuredly bring it into request and vogue, and thence into current use and fashion; so just a cause cannot fail to prosper, having any reasonable forces to maintain it; it will have great strength, great boldness and assurance, when a considerable party doth appear engaged on its side.
Yea, sometimes even the example of a few will do it great service; the rarity giving a special lustre to their virtue, and rendering it more notable ; according to that intimation of the Apostle, when he thus doth exhort the
Philippians to a cheerful and forward practice of goodPhil. ii. 14, ness; Do all things, saith he, reithout murmurings and
disputings; that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom ye shine as lights in the SERM. world.
LXV. A good conversation doth notify good men to one another, and draweth them together, and combineth them in a party, for the protection of goodness, heartening and aiding one another therein.
Such advantages goodness doth always need; for it ever hath in the world many adversaries, striving by violent force to beat it down, or by treacherous fraud to supplant it; who use their authority and interest to suppress it ; who by their evil example do seduce from it; who labour by detraction to blast it, by scorn and reproach to discourage it, by divers temptations and baits to entice from it; who combining their forces with the wicked spirits, and with the corrupt inclinations of men, do raise a mighty party for wickedness.
Wherefore, to balance such oppositions, goodness doth need friends to maintain it; not only friends in heart, or secret well-wishers; but open friends, who frankly will avow it, and both in word and deed will stoutly abet it.
A demure, bashful, timorous friendship, will rather prejudice than help it; for nothing will more animate its foes to assail and persecute it, than observing its friends to slink and sneak : when good men hide their faces, as if they were ashamed of their goodness, then bad men will grow more impudent and insolent in their outrages against it.
Wherefore, if we would have goodness hold up its head, we must openly take its part; if we would not be guilty of its ruin, we must stand up to uphold it; for whoever openly complieth with sin, or neglecteth his duty, may well be charged with its ruin ; since if thou so desertest goodness, another after thy pattern may do the like, and a third may follow him; so the neglect of it may soon be propagated, until at length it may be quite abandoned, and left destitute of support : if it doth not thus happen, it will as to thee be accidental, and no thanks to thee for its better fortune.
The declension of piety is not perhaps more to be
SERM, ascribed to any other cause than to this, than that men who LXV. approve goodness in their hearts are so backward to shew it
in their practice; that good men do so affect retirement and wrapping up their virtue in obscurity; that most men think it enough if in the cause of religion against profaneness and dissoluteness they appear neuters, and do not impugn it; for ifin a time of infection all sound men do shut up themselves, and all sick men walk abroad, how necessarily must the plague reign in the place ?
II. Charity toward our neighbour demandeth from us great care of our conversation before men.
The law of charity, which is the great law of Christianity, doth oblige us earnestly to further our neighbour's good of all kinds, especially that which is incomparably his best good, the welfare of his soul; which how can we better do, than by attracting him to the performance of his duty to God, and by withdrawing him from the commission of sin ? And how can we do that without an apparently good conversation, or without plainly declaring, as occasion sheweth, for virtue, both in word and deed ? how can a shy reservedness conduce to that end? what will invisible thoughts or affections of heart confer thereto?
It is a precept of charity, that we should pursue things Rom. xiv.
wherewith one may edify another : and how can we perform that duty, without imparting our mind, and, as it were, transfusing it into others; so as by converting them from error and sin, by instilling good principles, by exciting good resolutions, to lay in them a foundation of goodness, or by cherishing and improving the same to rear a structure of virtue in them ? how can we mutually edify without mutually advising virtue, exhorting to it, recommending and impressing it by our exemplary behaviour ?
The Apostles do enjoin, that we should exhort one anΠαρακαλεί
other, and edify one another ; that we should consider one 1 Thess
. V. another, to provoke (or to whet and instigate one another) Heb. X. 24. to love and to good works ; the which can nowise be perEis wagon formed, without expressly declaring for goodness and re
markables acting in its behalf: to commend and press it by word is a part of our duty ; but not all of it, nor suf
19. 1 Cor. xiv. 26.
ficient to this purpose ; especially seeing we cannot urge SERM. that with good confidence, nor shall be held serious in plead. LXV. ing for it, which we do not ourselves embrace in practice; før how can we expect that our reason should convince others, when it doth not appear really to have persuaded ourselves, when our doings evidently do argue the weakness of our discourse ?
Words hardly will ever move without practice, although practice sometimes will persuade without words; according to that of St. Peter, Ye wives, be in subjection to 1 Pet. ii. 1. your own husbands, that if any obey not the word, they may without the word be won by the conversation of the voives, while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear, (or due reverence to them.)
Again ; We are frequently commanded to shun the giv- 1 Cor. x. 32. ing any offence, or the putting a stumbling-block, or an occasion to fall, in the way of our brother ; that is, to do any Rom. xiv. thing, which anywise may confer to his incurring any
sin: the which precepts are violated not only by positive and active influence, by proposing erroneous doctrine, evil advice, fraudulent enticements to sin, or discouragements from duty; but also by withholding the means serving to prevent his transgression ; such as a tacit indulgence or connivance, when good admonition may reclaim him; the omission of good example, when it is seasonable, and probably may prove efficacious : for these neglects have a moral causality, inducing or encouraging the commission of sin ; our silence, our forbearing to act, our declining fair opportunities to guide him into the right way will be taken for signs of approbation and consent; and consequently as arguments to justify or to excuse bad practice, in proportion to the authority and esteem we have; which ever will be some in this case, when they favour the infirmity of men.
Charity doth farther oblige us, upon just cause, and in due season, to check and reprove our neighbour misdemeaning himself; for, Warn the disorderly, saith the 1 Thess. v. Apostle; and, Have no fellowship, saith he, with the unfruit- Eph. v. 11. ful works of darkness, but rather reprove them; and, Thou Levit