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self attracts a moroseness which destroys its power of useful
Nor is this all : the cause of virtue often suffers by the zeal and indiscretion of such mistaken votaries, who disdainfully censure all the prudent methods by which goodness may be advanced, as the effects of worldly wisdom and cunning; and if what they do be justifiable in itself, they care not for the consequences: nay, they eagerly embrace inconveniences, esteeming it virtue to suffer for good; whence arises disdain and aversion; and hence they value themselves more for reproach. ing men with their vices than for correcting them. The success of such a method may be known by considering the temper and disposition of mankind. To vex and exasperate men makes them stubborn in vices and opinions, exposes your good to reproach, and gives the enemies of religion occasion to blaspheme. Zeal is the noblest grace, when duly tempered with charity and prudence, and in this state produces the best fruit; but growing extravagant, it becomes a grief to wise men, and the sport of fools. The mistake of such men lies in not distinguishing between a servile compliance with the world, and a prudent behavior towards it; the difference between which is as great as between virtue and vice : one is the way which men, who sacrifice honor and conscience to their interest, make use of; by the other wise and good men recommend the practice of virtue and religion. Those whose virtue is too stiff to court the world into a compliance with what is good, may do well to consider how the Apostle is to be justified in the character which he has given of himself, (1 Cor. ix. 19.) Into what a variety of shapes did he turn himself, to gain on the affections of men, that he might win them over to the gospel! this point enlarged on, and illustrated by the case of a skilful pilot. But to court the affections of men some think below the dignity of religion. How so? ought not men to be made to love virtue and religion? Yes; and how is that to be done but by engaging their affections in its cause? Is then the attempt to do so an unworthy one ? How can these things be made to agree? But if it must be allowed that it is necessary to apply to men's affections in the cause of virtue, it will show the reasonableness of the text, and the necessity of having recourse to Christian prudence and wisdom to direct us in the practice even of good : for all things have not the same appearance to all men, and we must therefore beware of the ill impressions which may be made on others by the good we do. This care not to offend is the foundation of civility and good-breeding in common life, and will produce mutual love and condescension in religion: this point enlarged on. View but the difference in one Christian grace, when attended by this care, and when not. This exemplified in the case of zeal, which is in itself an excellent gift. Some there are who care so little for securing their good from being evil spoken of, that their zeal for good arises even from envy and strife : this spirit is -still in being, and often makes men spitefully good, delighting to exasperate others who differ from them : this point enlarged on. They justify themselves by saying that men ought not to be ashamed when they are in the right, or afraid of owning the truth; two very good reasons sadly applied: for men ought to be ashamed so to use truth, as merely to insult, not to correct, the prejudices of mankind. But there is still a farther mischief: when men truly labor to promote truth, and recommend it to others, they always place it in the best light, and take care to obviate the misapprehensions of those with whom they deal : but when they dispute for opposition sake, or for their own amusement at the expense of another, they care not whether he understands the truth, or how grossly he mistakes; for the more violence be shows, the greater is their entertainment: this point and its consequences enlarged on, showing the probability of his error continuing for ever, thus exposing our good to be evil-spoken of. The same effect is often seen to proceed from a mixture of zeal and ignorance. In this case men think they must do or
say the things which they approve, when they are before those who they know do not approve them: this case enlarged on. Sometimes men expose their good to be evil-spoken of from pure pride and haughtiness of temper: this is the case when men so despise the world as not to care about guarding against the misapprehensions of those around them. The very reason why you despise the world, and disdain to give an account of your actions, viz. because it is weak and captious, is the reason why you ought to try to satisfy it; and in this the rule of the Apostle is founded, as appears from chap. xv. 1. No man, how great soever he may be, is above rendering an account of himself to the world. It is not greatness of soul, but a narrow-spirited insolence and pride that makes men averse to it, teaching them to glory not so much in the worthiness of their actions, as in despising every one else : a generous virtue enlarged on, showing that if candor were more practised in the world, it might prevent much hatred and animosity; since few intend half the mischief of which they are suspected.-III. As it is often in our power to prevent our good from being evil spoken of, so in many cases it is our duty. : This duty may be deduced from these principles ; the honor of God and of truth, the charity that is due to our brethren, and the justice that is due to ourselves. The honor of God is chiefly consulted by reconciling men's minds to the love of virtue and religion, by removing their prejudices, and gently drawing their affections to the cause of goodness: the most substantial honor that we
can : pay our Maker, is to exalt his name among the people, and teach every tongue to confess his truth: this point enlarged on. also to be a part of that charity which is owing to our neighbor: we know how much his happiness depends on approving that which is good; for without holiness no man shall see God: this duty then is to be performed not by rendering our good odious and offensive to him, but by setting it forth with
It will appear
out scandal or offence, that he may be ashamed of nothing, but rather love and embrace it. But farther, it is a piece of justice which we owe to ourselves and our own character, to render our good irreproachable: for when it suffers, we suffer with it, and share in the reproaches that fall on it. It is doubtful 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 can do so much good by having a good reputation, that it is his duty to consult his credit and character in what he does : hence he refrains from those freedoms which the world judges unbecoming his character, though harmless in themselves; and surely this restraint is an innocent way of aspiring to a good reputation. Nor is this prudent behavior inconsistent with a steady and constant adherence to the truth, which is not to be deserted that it may not be evil spoken of, but 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 to be paid to the opinions, nay, even to the prejudices of others : this point enlarged on to the end,
ROMANS, CHAP. XIV.-VERSE 16.
Let not then your good be evil spoken of,
IN describing the condition of our Christian warfare, St. Peter tells us, If, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God:' to this, says he, you are called by the example of Christ, who suffered reproaches willingly, and when he was reviled, reviled not again.' This is a duty in which one would think there should be no danger of any man's overacting his part. Reproach and contempt are not such desirable riches, that we need be warned against their temptations, or cautioned lest we too earnestly pursue after them. We are apt enough to shrink at the approach of calumny, and to invent plausible excuses for the neglect of a duty, which performed would expose us to envy or ill-will. What then means the Apostle by this exhortation, Let not your good be evil spoken of ? Are we called by Christ to suffer revilings and reproaches ? and are we called by his Apostle to fly from them and avoid them? Our Saviour seems to speak another language to us in his sermon on the mount : Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you :' and if it be our happiness to be reviled, how is it our duty to take care not to be evil spoken of for our good ?
But suppose, however, that it is no way inconsistent with our Christian duty to avoid the calumny and reproach of the world ; yet still is it in our power to stop the mouth of malice and wickedness? When we do our duty, can we help it if others will speak evil of our good? Why are not they rather exhorted not to speak evil of our good, than we not to let our