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bountifully, and effectually expose the malice, and rectify the mistakes of those, who thought and spoke amiss of things, that deserved a more candid interpretation. So true is that in point of reputation too, which St. Peter speaks of other evils of persecution: If ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye; and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;' i. e. Be not discouraged from persevering even in that good for which ye suffer wrongfully. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts:' i. e. Show that you do it for his sake, and are well content with his single approbation, though all the world should defame and condemn you.
III. Thirdly, What a mortifying reflection ought this to be to all ungodly hypocrites, that a day is coming, when all their lurking corruptions shall be brought out in their open light; all their cunning disguises pulled off; and even those sins, in which they most affected secrecy, displayed in their blackest colours, and published in the hearing of all mankind. What a world of falsehood and treachery, of dissimulation and craft, will then appear plainly! What treasons and murders; what perverting of laws and justice; what abominations and deeds of darkness and horror, will then cover the face of them, who have imposed upon their easy or their charitable brethren,-to see their long successful artifices detected; their counterfeit zeal for God and the public good; their specious pretences of right and religion, which have been taken up purely to serve their ambition or vain glory, to pursue a private interest, or execute designs of baseness, and malice, and villany! What a check should this be to them, who indulge themselves in secret sins, to think that their closets, and their beds, the thickest walls, and the darkest nights, cannot shut out that eye, which is in every place,' and to which the "darkness and light are both alike! How senseless is it, to be awed with the fear of men; and not to consider that public infamy and contempt, which shall be poured upon them, when their most scandalous practices shall be brought forth, and no contrivance left to varnish them over! Consider this, thou poor, deluded sinner: and, if thou wouldst blush, and even die with shame, to have thy own family or neighbourhood, nay but a servant or a child, witness to thy hidden works of dishonesty, hold thy hand, man, and flatter not thyself with a false imagi nation, that these shall always lie hid; but be assured, thy God,
mean while, charity obliges us to allow to every thing the most favourable construction; to abate for involuntary igno rance, for inadvertencies and indiscretions, for want of opportunity to do better, for the many unavoidable hindrances and unforeseen accidents, which may defeat the best intention. For, as St. James observes, To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin:' to one (that is) who can, but will not do it. And it happens very commonly, that those proceedings are severally condemned in our brethren, which yet would be our own, were their circumstances and difficulties ours. So that to suspend our definite sentence, or forbearing to fix odious characters upon men, is no more than the constant rule of equity directs in all cases. Not to pass judgement, I mean, beyond what the matter in evidence will bear us out in.
II. But secondly, If this consideration will not check the licentious tongues and wicked thoughts of censorious men, yet it may at least be serviceable to the support of those Christians who are assailed by their slanders; for this gives to all such a certain prospect, that their integrity will be cleared; and those virtues, which are so much envied and traduced, proclaimed to all the world. Not one good action, how vilely soever misrepresented in the mean while, shall then lose its just commendation or reward; and those false tongues, so industrious to lessen or blacken them, shall be covered with their own confusion, and found liars before God and all mankind. So bright, so triumphant, shall innocence shine at that day; so much more public shall its praise be then, than all the aspersions, which the most laborious ill-nature can cast upon it here. But especially so much more valuable is that praise, because bestowed by Him, who cannot err in judgement, and whose acceptance it is our duty to prefer, before the applauses of the whole world. This made it, in St. Paul's account, so very small a thing to be judged of men, because men's judgement is not the issue, by which we must stand or fall; and therefore every one, who makes it his business to discharge a good conscience, ought to bear up against any misconstructions, as remembering that he seeks not to please men, but God. For though the esteem of men be valued in due place, yet if men will not be satisfied with that which is just and right, well done or well intended, God will receive it kindly, reward it
circumspect in his conduct, so zealous in his ministry, so severe a searcher of his conscience, as St. Paul,-supported too by so clear a testimony, did not yet dare to rely upon this issue, but appeals to a higher and more discerning judge-how shall any, how the best and most wary of us, presume to answer our hearts before that tribunal? It is true, as St. John says, "if our hearts condemn us not, then we have confidence towards God.' But, it is as true which St. John reminds us of at the same time, that God is greater than our hearts, and knoweth all things.' [1 John iii. 20, 21.] If our conscience condemn us, we may be sure that God will do so too; because we cannot know more of ourselves, than he knows of us; but if that condemn us not, it will not follow from hence, that we have nothing which deserves to be condemned: because God knows more of us, than we know of ourselves. The peace of conscience, which arises from a due enquiry, and comfortable answer, concerning the state of our souls, may be allowed indeed to give us confidence; that is, a good degree of hope that God will accept our sincerity, and overlook many things for the sake of his Son, and in consideration of our constant care never wilfully to do anything amiss: but can we be confident too, that we have not really done anything amiss? No, God help us! no such matter. Alas! how many opportunities of doing good have been slipped and neglected, even by them who are watchful not to do evil! And yet for sins of omission only, not for doing evil, but for not doing good, it is, that we read the goats on the left hand are sentenced to everlasting punishment. The unprofitable servant was cast into utter darkness for not improving his talent;' and do we not usually account it a great commendation not to have wasted, or grossly misemployed ours? But further yet, allowing a conduct prudent and unblamable even in innocent matters; who is he, that hath not multitudes of faults committed in passion and surprise, never attended to, when they were committed; and more, which he did attend to, but through prejudice or mistake, considered them as no faults; and more still, which when done, and stinging him with remorse, he assuaged by pouring false balm into the wound, with partial extenuations; and most of all, which he knew to be faults, and for a while was touched with sorrow for them, but hath now absolutely for
gotten them, as if they had never been? Now of all these there is a faithful register in heaven; a full and critical account, where every fact is entered, its quality truly stated, each of its aggravating circumstances charged down to us, not one overlooked, not one misrepresented. And to persons mindful of this, it cannot, I think, seem strange, that St. Paul does not insist upon the testimony of his own breast, for the final issue, upon which the great reckoning was to be adjusted. And, if the case stood thus with so eminent an apostle, well sure may we lay our mouths in the dust, and cry out with David, If thou, Lord, shouldst be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it? But there is mercy with thee, therefore shalt thou be feared.' And indeed herein lies the inestimable comfort of an honest mind, that it entitles us to mercy; but still mercy is our last, our only refuge: for by a judgement without mercy, no flesh living, not the most holy, nor the most circumspect, can be justified. And therefore the brightest virtue sets no man above awful apprehension of this dreadful tribunal; because the brightest virtue is still but human virtue. As human, it must be debased with a great allay of frailty, and manifold imperfections. It can have nothing to claim, as a strict and adequate reward; but much, very much, which needs forgiveness and a kind construction at the hands of Almighty God. Happy then are they, and they only, who, in that last and most important juncture, shall be 'found in Jesus Christ, not having their own righteousness which is of works, but that righteousness which is of God by faith: [Phil. iii. 9.] such a faith as trusts not in its own unworthy performances, but relies entirely on the merits and mediation of Him, who is not only our Judge, but our Saviour, our Peace, and our Propitiation.
THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT
THE BAPTIST'S MESSAGE TO JESUS.
ST. MATTH. xi. 3.-Art Thou He that should come? or do we look for another?
[Text taken from the Gospel of the Day.}
Ar this time of Advent, particularly dedicated by the Church to a devout commemoration of our Saviour's coming in the flesh, and set apart to prepare us for a worthy celebration of the approaching Feast of his Nativity; it may be no unsuitable entertainment to your thoughts, to suggest to you some reflexions on this passage of Scripture, and those others which introduce, accompany, and explain it.
"When John had heard in prison' (says the Evangelist) "the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, Art thou He that should come? or do we look for another? That is, "Art thou the Messiah, the great Redeemer of Israel, whose coming was foretold by the prophets, and is now expected with great impatience by the whole body of the Jews, and before whom I am sent, as his forerunner and harbinger ?" Jesus answered, and said unto them, Go, and show John again those things, which ye do hear and see. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up; and the poor have the Gospel preached unto them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me!'-As if he had said, Judge ye yourselves, by the works which I now perform, whether I am the Messiah or not; or what reason there can be to doubt of my divine mission and authority."
This transaction will afford much useful matter to our reflexions, in relation both to the enquiry made by the Baptist, and the answer returned by our Lord to that enquiry.
I. And First, as to the enquiry itself, it may be matter of just surprise to us, that the Baptist should, so long after he had continued discharging the office of Christ's harbinger,