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be controlled. Its nature continues invariably the same, though all the multitude of fools should concur in endeavouring to turn it into ridicule. Woe unto them, says the prophet Isaiah, that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness ; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust ; because they have cast away the law of the Lord of Hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.*
As the practice of the multitude furnishes no justification to the sinner, so 'neither does it afford him any safety. Religion is altogether a matter of personal concern. God hath delivered to
every man the rule of life, and every man must think and act for himself; because for himself he is to answer. If others be wicked, it will be the worse for them; but it will not, on that account, be the better for us, if we shall be evil also. Let vice be ever so prevalent, it is still that evil thing which the Lord abhorreth ; and, though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not escape unpunished. So far is the number of offenders from furnishing any ground of safety, that it calls more loudly for Divine justice to interpose. It is as easy for the Almighty arm to crush a whole guilty society as to punish a single individual, and when the disobedient subjects of God countenance and strengthen one another in licentiousness, by transgressing in troops and bands, it becomes high time for his government to exert itself, and let his vengeance forth. One could scarcely think that any professor of Christian faith would fancy to himself any apology
* Isaiah, v. 20. 24.
from the way of the world, when he knows that the declared design of his religion was, to distinguish him from the world, which is said to lie in sin ; and that Christ came to call out for himself a peculiar people, whose character it should be, not to be conformed to the world, but transformed by the renewing of their mind.-So little, indeed, can the practice of the world either justify or extenuate vice, that it deserves our serious consideration,
In the third place, Whether there be not several circumstances, which peculiarly aggravate the guilt of those who follow the multitude in evil? Do you not, thereby, strengthen the power of sin, and perpetuate the pernicious influence of bad example ? By striking off from the corrupted crowd, you might be eminently useful; you might animate and recover many, whom weakness and timidity keep under bondage to the customs of the world: Whereas, by tamely yielding to the current of vice, you render that current stronger for carrying others along; you add weight and stability to the bad cause; you lend to the multitude all the force of your example, for drawing others after them to the commission of evil. While
you are tlius accessory to the ruin of others, you are, at the same time, stamping your own character with the foulest and deepest impressions of corruption. By surrendering your judgment; and your conscience, to the multitude, you betray the rights, and degrade the honour, of the rational nature. Nothing great or worthy can be expected of him, who, instead of considering what is right in itself, and what part it is fittest for one in his station to act, is only considering what the world will think
or say of him ; what sort of behaviour will pass with the fairest show, and be most calculated to please the many. When a man has thus given up the liberty and independence of his mind, we can no longer reckon
upon him in any thing. We cannot tell how far he may be carried in vice. There is too much ground to dread, that he will lie, dissemble, and betray ; changing himself, without scruple, into every shape that will find favour among those whom he seeks to gain.-- While this servility to the world infers baseness towards men, it involves also the highest impiety towards God. It shows that we yield to the world that reverence and submission which is only due to the Divine law. We treat the government of the Almighty with scorn ; as if his precepts deserved to be obeyed, only when they suited the caprice and the follies of the multitude; and were entitled to no regard, as soon as they contradicted the reigning customs and fashions of the world. While such conduct carries in it so much wickedness and folly, let us observe,
In the fourth place, That the most excellent and honourable character which can adorn a man and a Christian, is acquired by resisting the torrent of vice, and adhering to the cause of God and virtue, against a corrupted multitude. It will be found to hold, in general, that all those who, in any of the great lines of life, have distinguished themselves for thinking profoundly, and acting nobly, have despised popular prejudices, and departed, in several things, from the common ways of the world. On no occasion is this more requisite for true honour, than where religion and morality are concerned. In times of prevailing
licentiousness, to maintain unblemished virtue, and uncorrupted integrity; in a public or private cause, to stand firm by what is fair and just, amidst discouragements and opposition ; despising groundless censure and reproach; disdaining all compliance with public manners, when they are vicious and unlawful; and never ashamed of the punctual discharge of every duty towards God and man; - this is what shows true greatness of spirit, and will force approbation even from the degenerate multitude themselves. “ This is the man,” their conscience will oblige them to acknowledge," whom we are “ unable to bend to mean condescensions. We see “ it in vain either to flatter or to threaten him ; “ he rests on a principle within, which we cannot “ shake. To this man you may, on any occasion,
safely commit your cause. He is incapable of betraying his trust, or deserting his friend, or
denying his faith.” Thus his righteousness comes forth as the light, and his judgment as the noon day.
It is, accordingly, this steady inflexible virtue, this regard to principle, superior to all custom and opinion, which peculiarly mark the characters of those, in any age, who have shone as saints or heroes; and has consecrated their memory to all posterity. It was this that obtained to ancient Enoch the most singular testimony of honour from Heaven. He continued to walk with God, when the world apostatised from him. He pleased God, and was beloved of him; so that living among sinners, he was translated to heaven without seeing death; Yea, speedily was he taken away, lest wickedness should have altered his understanding, or deceit beguiled his soul. * When
* Wisdom of Solomon, iv. 11.
Sodom could not furnish ten righteous men to save it, Lot remained unspotted amidst the contagion. He lived like an angel among spirits of darkness; and the destroying flame was not permitted to go forth, till the good man was called away by a heavenly messenger from his devoted city. When all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth, then lived Noah, a righteous man, and a preacher of righteousness. He stood alone, and was scoffed by the profane crew. But they by the deluge were swept away; while on him, Providence conferred the immortal honour, of being the restorer of a better race, and the father of a new world. Such examples as these, and such honours conferred by God on themi who withstood the multitude of evil doers, should often be present to our minds. Let us oppose them to the numbers of low and corrupt examples which we/behold around us, and when we are in hazard of being swayed by such, let us fortify our virtue, by thinking of those who, in former times, shone like stars in the midst of surrounding darkness, and are now shining in the kingdom of heaven, as the bright, ness of the firmament, for ever and ever. - As our honour is thus deeply concerned in our acting a stedfast and virtuous part, let us also consider,
In the fifth place, How little; in point of interest, can be gained by the favour of the multitude, and how much will certainly be lost, by following them to do evil. · We may, thereby, render ourselves more agreeable to some with whom we are connected, and by artful compliances, may please ourselves with the prospect of promoting our fortune. But these advantages, such as they are, remain doubtful and uncer: