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had been guilty of towards a very poor one.
David was ready to hear and redress such wrong; for this case stirred no prejudices; himself seemed unconcerned in it. The prophet's case was this ; a rich man had a friend come to visit him ; and for his entertainment he sent and killed a poor neighbor's solitary ewe lamb, which had been bred tame among his children, and was a great fondling, though he had large flocks of his own, and many herds, which would have yielded him any entertainment for his friend; but he spared his own numerous flocks, and robbed his poor neighbor of his one lamb, to feast his friend. The case was hard in itself, and the prophet had represented it with all the moving and tender circumstances that could be thought on. David, fired at such flagrant injustice and oppression, swore,
As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die.' When the king had passed sentence, then the prophet opened the secret, and said, Thou art the man:' the ewe lamb was the wife of Uriah, whom thou hast taken from her husband, though thou hadst wives and concubines in abundance: thou hast not only robbed the poor man of his one ewe lamb, but thou hast added murder to thine oppression ; thou hast killed the poor man also; thou hast slain Uriah with the sword of the children of Ammon. The king on this charge had no retreat left to his justification : he that had declared the man should die who had killed his poor neighbor's lamb, could not justify himself who had killed his poor neighbor, that he might the more easily enjoy his wife; and therefore he had nothing left but this plain confession, 'I have sinned against the Lord.
Thus our Saviour also, under the parable of a householder and his vineyard, made the Jews bear witness to the justice of God, in rejecting their nation from being his people. When he had represented how ill the husbandmen treated the Lord of the vineyard ; how they abused his servants and destroyed his Son; even the Jews could give righteous sentence in their own case, veiled under these figures, and adjudge the wicked husbandmen to destruction, and the vineyard to be let to better tenants.
It is no hard matter to get truth out of men, if you can once get beyond their prejudices, and separate the truth from all
personal views and interests; for reason is sufficiently clear, where it is not clouded and obscured by passion and affection. The heathen moralists seem to be sensible of this, when they clothe the most beneficial instructions in the dress of fable : the only reason of which is, that no man is concerned in the success of a fable, and therefore will judge impartially; which, if the instruction were brought home to him, and applied to his own case, he would not perhaps do. A passionate man will be restrained from his revenge by no prudential considerations ; he
; despises them all; they are all the lessons of cowardice and the tokens of a mean spirit; and yet he never reads the fable of a horse, who, to revenge himself, called in a man's assistance, and taught him how to mount, from which time he lost all liberty, and has been a slave ever since, but he laughs at the horse's folly, and his impotent desire of revenge.
The consequences from what has been said are plain, and I shall but just touch them.
First, it is evident that the true art of convincing any man of his error is to throw him as much as possible out of the case; for the less a man is concerned himself, the better he judges. You are not to stir and fret his prejudices, but to decline them; not to reproach him with the error you condemn, but to place the error at a sufficient distance from him, that he may have a true light to view it in,
Secondly, in private life it is plain from hence that innocence is the only true preservative of reason and judgment : guilt will dispose you to seek excuses and subterfuges, and mislead you in your opinion of yourself and your duty. When once you find yourself laboring to justify your actions, and searching for expositions that may suit your inclinations, from that moment you may
loss of freedom. Thirdly, if you find yourself involved in the case you are to judge of, instead of seeking for new reasons and arguments to form your opinion by, you had much better look back, and reflect what sense you had of this matter before the cause was your own; for it is ten to one but that judgment was much more free and impartial than any you will make now :-or consider, if the case admits it, what is the sense of the sober and virtuous part of the world; you may more safely trust them than your
self where your passions are concerned : at least suppose your enemy in the same circumstances with yourself, and doing what you find yourself inclined to do, and consider what judgment you should make of him, and so judge of yourself: by these means perhaps we may preserve ourselves from the fatal influences which vice and passion have over the reason and understanding of mankind.
SUMMARY OF DISCOURSE LVI.
ROMANS, CHAP. XIV.-VERSE 16.
ST. PETER describes the condition of Christian warfare, adding the example of Christ, who, when he was reviled, reviled not again. Here one would think no
man would overact his part; reproach and contempt are not riches, against the temptations or too eager pursuit of which we need be warned. We are apt to shrink at calumny, and excuse ourselves from duties, which performed would expose us to envy or ill-will: what then is the meaning of the text ? Does Christ call us to suffer revilings, and his Apostle calls us to avoid them ? But
that it is not inconsistent with our Christian duty to avoid the reproach of the world; yet can we stop malice when we do our duty, or prevent others from speaking ill of our good? Is it not enough therefore to do good, without securing it from the attempts of malice and envy ? to suffer patiently the malice of wickedness, but must we partake the guilt of it too ? and shall it be imputed a crime to us, that we let our good be evil spoken of? Such reasonings the text may suggest at first; but maturely considered, it will teach us how to pursue things in themselves truly praiseworthy; not only how to be good ourselves, but useful in the world, by exercising a truly Christian prudence and address in promoting the interest of virtue and religion. The gospel calls us not to court persecution for the sake of our profession : it is not for the interest of religion, or the glory of our Master, voluntarily to expose ourselves or doctrine to the contempt of the world : in both cases our Saviour has directed us otherwise, (Matt. vii. 6.): when he sent his disciples forth to preach, his express command was, beware of men, thereby requiring them to consult their own personal safety. This may satisfy us of the lawfulness of avoiding danger, and clear our way to the fully understanding of the text. The rule is general, and extends itself to all parts of our Christian conversation. The Apostle applies it particularly to the controversy in the church of Rome at the time this letter was written to them; but as it arises not out of the particular circumstances of that case, we may deduce it from the general principles of Christian prudence on which it is founded. To proceed clearly, it is inquired, I. what the Apostle means by our good: II. endeavor is made to show that our good is often exposed to be evil spoken of through our own indiscretion, and therefore that we may often prevent it: whence, III. will appear the reasonableness of the duty enjoined us in the text.—I. Some by our good understand our religion, which is every Christian's chief good : in which point of view the text is thought to recommend simplicity of manner and inoffensiveness of behavior. But the Apostle seems to aim at something farther : his business here is not to deter us from the practice of evil, but to direct us in the use and practice of good, that our virtue may be secured from reproach; and our good is not the topic whence the Apostle draws an argument or exhortation, but the subject-matter of his directions. Thus then the text may be paraphrased : be not content with merely doing what is in itself good and commendable, but look forward to its probable consequences, and thus try to prevent any
mischief that may grow out of it to yourself or others, that your good may be inoffensive and irreproachable : in this sense it is proposed to consider the text.-II. We cannot then be truly virtuous till we are above the temptations of the world, and free from the servitude of courting its opinion ; but here men err in thinking this to be the same as to despise the world and all that belong to it: and hence it is that virtue it