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SERMON XXXV. .
Againse Fellowship in Unfruitful Works. .
EPHESIANS v. 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 19:
Be ye noi therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes
darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord : Walk as children of light, (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness and truth) proving what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame to speak of those things, which are done of them in secret.
THE several vices enumerated in the preceding verses, are fornication, uncleanness, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talking, and profane and wanton jesting: These were practised among the heathens in their dark and ignorant state. The Apostle warns the Ephesians, now enlightened by the gospel, that they no longer have fellowship with their neighbors in these unfruitful and pernicious works—that they avoid not only the direct commission of, but all partnership in these and all other sins, which the gospel has detected and condemned. We will,
I. Illustrate this fellowship in wickedness. And,
II. Apply the arguments, which the Apostle, in the words now read, urges against it.
1. We will illustrate this fellowship in wickedness, which Christians are exhorted to avoid.
If by any means we cooperate with sinners, coun. tenance them in their evil works, strengthen their hands, hinder their repentance and reformation ; if we neglect to restrain them, when it is in our power, or to rebuke them when we have opportunity; or if we take a secret pleasure in their sins, even though we do nothing directly to encourage them, we have fellowship with them.
1. Not to oppose, in any cases, is to embolden transgressors, and to be partakers with them.
Rulers are to be a terror unto evil works. The no. bles of Judah are said to have profaned the sabbath, when they suffered the men of Tyre to come into the eity, and sell wares on the sabbath day. The ministers of religion are charged to bear public testimony against prevailing error and vice, and to rebuke, before all men, such as walk contrary to the gospel, that they may not be partakers of other men's sins, but may keep themselves pure. If these watchmen speak not to warn the wicked of his evil way, that he may save his soul, the same wicked man will die in his iniquity; but his blood will be required at their hands. The parent is commanded to bring up his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. If they make themselves vile, and he restrains them not, he is a partaker with them in their guilt, and God will judge his house.
2. We have more direct fellowship with the wicked, when we encourage them by out example.
We are to provide things honest and commendable in the sight of all men, that they by our good conversa tion may be gained over to the interest of virtue. The ill example of men in a distinguished station gives a sort of sanction to vice. Few are so obscure in life, but that they may find some who are subject to their infuence. The parent, the master of a family, the aged Christian, the professor of religion may within his cir. cle do much to prejudice, and much to promote the cause of religion. It concerns every man, in regard to others as well as to himself, to be careful what manner of person he is. If we practice iniquity under any circumstances we must bear the burden of our own guilt; but if by an open example of vice we corrupt others, our burden will be accumulated by a participation of their guilt. Yea, such a tender concern ought we to feel for the virtue of those around us, as to forbear in their presence those innocent liberties, which might encou. rage them to real transgression.
" Take heed,” says the Apostle, “ lest by any means your liberty become a stumbling block to them that are weak. 'For if a man see thee, who hast knowledge, sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him that is weak be emboldened to eat things, which are offered to idols ?”
3. They who provoke and incite others to evil works, have fellowship with them.
This may be done by the propagation of licentious opinions, which confound the difference between virtue and vice. It was a horrible thing in the prophets of Jerusalem, that they walk in lies, caused the people to err, and strengthened the hands of evil doers, that none did return from his wickedness. Elymas the sorcerer is called an enemy of all righteousness, because he perverted the right ways of the Lord, and sought to turn away others from the faith. They who are led away with the errors of the wicked, must bear their guilt. And they who diffuse the errors, must answer for the consequences. Both are bringing on themselves swift destruction.
This may also be affected by direct persuasions and euticements. The wise man, aware of the dangers to which youth in a licentious age are exposed, gives this salutary caution ; " When sinners entice you, consent ye not.”—“Enter not into the path of the wicked, nor go in the way of evil men; for they sleep not except
they have done mischief ; and their sleep is taken away except they cause some to fall.” It was the most infamous part of Jeroboam's character, that by erecting his golden calves, and recommending the worship of them, he made Israel to sin. The prophet denounces the curse of God against the man, who giveth his neighbor drink, and by putting the bottle to him mak. eth him drunken.
To suggest the means of executing a wicked design is to make ourselves accomplices in it. Balaam, though he was restrained from cursing Israel, yet taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before them, and draw them into idolatry, which he knew, would bring down upon them the curse of God. Balaam therefore perished among those who committed this trespass against the Lord.
The instigators of evil are involved in a common guilt with the immediate actors. Paul calls himself a blasphemer, because he punished the saints in every city and compelled them to blaspheme.
There are some, who plead in defence of particular vices, deride a godly life, and treat the solemn truths of the gospel with an air of contempt. These, by their insolent mockery, destroy much good, and add strength to the cause of infidelity and vice. The man, indeed, who can be laughed out of his religion, has never deeply felt the power of it in his heart. But these mockers will have a distinguished share in the punish. ment and perdition of ungodly men. Peculiar marks of God's displeasure will be impressed on those who corrupt the earth with their abominations.
4. They who explicitly consent to, and actually join with sinners in their evil works, have fellowship with them.
The Jews, who hired Judas to betray his Lord, and extorted from Pilate a sentence of death against the Saviour, are called his betrayers and murderers. Saul, who stood by and kept the raiment of the men who
stoned Stephen, was consenting to his death, and involv. ed in the guilt of it. We are in any wise to rebuke our brother, and not suffer sin upon him. If then, instead of bearing testimony against the sins of others, we actually concur with them, we are partakers of their guilt'; and it is a circumstance of little importance, who were first in the transgression. So afraid was David, lest he should help the ungodly, that he would not even countenance them by his presence. He says, “I have not sat with vain persons, nor gone with dissemblers: I hate the congregation of evil doers : I will not sit with the wicked.” Resolving to keep the commandments of his God, he said to evil doers, “ Depart from me.”
5. To comfort and uphold sinners in their wickedness is to have fellowship with them.
God commands that a mark of approbation be set on the men who sigh and cry for the abominations done in the land. David beheld the transgressors and was grieved. The Apostle reprehends the church in Corinth, that she had not mourned for the gross iniquity committed by one of her members. He teaches the Thessalonians, that if any professor of religion walk disorderly among them, they are to note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. If then we have pleasure in them who do evil, make them our intimate companions, seek their society, and appear to take satisfaction in their frothy and vain conversation, and ludicrous treatment of serious things, we are partakers with them.
6. There are some who rejoice in iniquity, when they have lent no hand to accomplish it.
It is no uncommon thing for men to rejoice in the iniquity of an enemy-of one who is their competitor in business, trade or preferment of one who belongs to another sect in religion, or party in politics. Have you never observed with what apparent pleasure some will receive and spread reports, to the disadvantage of