« EelmineJätka »
for I know not to give flattering titles; in so doing, my Maker would soon take me away."
3dly. This temper would likewise have a happy influence upon all the parts of our external conduct. We should not think it enough to abstain from evil; we should carefully avoid every thing that had the appearance of evil, that our conduct might have nothing in it of a doubtful nature, nothing ambiguous, or that needed to be explained. He lives, alas! at a poor rate, and far below the dignity of his sacred office, who is frequently put to it to vindicate his conduct, and to prove that he hath not exceeded his Christian liberty. A minister of Christ ought to go before his people in every thing that is true, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. His light ought to shine in the eyes of men ; nay, to shine with such strength, that they may see his good works, and be constrained to glorify his Father in heaven.
A holy life is the most persuasive sermon, expressed too in a language which men of all nations equally understand. It even explains what other sermons mean, instead of needing to be explained by them. Men will see more beauty in a truly virtuous action, than in the most rhetorical description we can give of it; and then they lose no time, for they see it at once : whereas, besides the necessary expense of time, much skill and address must likewise be employed, to unfold it in such a manner as to make it thoroughly understood and relished.
In this way, my Brethren, we may preach without ceasing: and if we know any thing of the temper expressed in my text, we shall certainly be ambitious to hold forth the word of life continually : and so to exhibit the religion of Jesus, that, in our practice, all who behold us may have an easy opportunity of reading the laws of Christ every day.
More particularly : Were we possessed of this temper, we should equally disdain to court the great by a fawning servility, or to catch the vulgar by a low popularity.
These are the dangerous extremes, into one or other of which every unprincipled minister is liable to be seduced.
The last of them which is reputed the most base and contemptible, is commonly the resort of those only who, having little to recommend to the wise and good, can find no other way to emerge from obscurity, and to thrust themselves forward into public view; for no man will stoop to this mean compliance who is qualified to act in a higher spbere, if he is not forced to it by hard necessity, either to cover a sore he wishes to conceal, or to bribe men to wink at some criminal indulgence which he cannot hide, and is unwilling to forsake. But though the other extreme is generally supposed to be less ignominious, yet, when weighed in a just balance, I apprehend it will be found at least equally mean, and in some respects far more pernicious.
The popular drudge must always assume the appearance of sanctity: he must declaim strenuously against vice, and study to have his outward behaviour decent and irreproachable. Thus far the gratification of his favourite passion will constrain him to plead the cause of religion, and to say and do many things which may have a good effect upon the multitude, whose favourable regard he is anxious to obtain. And though his low ambition may, upon some occasions, prompt him to take advantage of their weakness, by inflaming their zeal about matters of a trivial or indifferent nature; yet, as he
can only succeed in this attempt by persuading them that such things are important and necessary, it is obvi. ous, that however he may impose upon their understand. ing, and give them stones instead of bread, yet he cannot be said to corrupt their integrity, neither doth he weaken the authority of conscience. He may render them ridiculous, but he doth not make them knaves.
Whereas the smiles and rewards of political rulers (for these are the great ones of whom I now speak) are usually courted and obtained by very different means.
As a supple complying temper, unfettered by conscience, or even a regard to decency, too often proves the best recommendation to their service; hence it is, that many who are candidates for their favour, are so far from assuming an air of sanctity, that they studiously avoid whatever can be deemed the peculiarities of their order, that they may have nothing to distinguish them from the men of the world, or to render them suspected of the remotest disposition, either to canvass the commands of their superiors, or to boggle at any measures they shall please to adopt.
The pernicious tendency of such an infamous plan of conduct is too apparent to need much illustration. Hereby they withhold from their patrons the most convincing and obvious proof of the reality, the excellence, and the efficacy of that religion which the office they hold obliges them to preach. Description and argument, if they are not accompanied with a visible representation of holiness, will make but a feeble impression upon those who are continually beset with the snares of prosperity. Besides, it often happens, that such persons, by means of a liberal education, are in a great measure placed (if I may so speak) beyond the reach of sermons: they þave already got a theory of religion into their heads, and are not likely to hear any thing they knew not before; so that they need striking examples more than verbal instructions. These, and these only, are of sufficient force to rouse their attention, and to carry home conviction to their hearts with power.
Did they behold men of moderate, or rather of scanty fortunes, unbiassed by worldly hopes or fears, consistent and uniform in their whole behaviour, resolute in every part of duty, inflexibly honest, and fortified against all corrupt influence whatsoever; such venerable, though imperfect images of God, would not only penetrate but overawe their souls.
A holy and upright minister of Christ never fails to possess a secret dominion in the hearts of those who are of the most opposite character. Hate him they may, and probably will; but at the same time they are constrained to reverence and esteem bim : even.“ Herod feared John, and observed him, and did many things, because he knew “ that he was a just and holy man."
Whereas, on the other hand, when they see those who are clothed with the sacred character, paying no regard at all to propriety of conduct, but mixing with the world, and living at large as other men do; when they see them grasping at power, or scrambling for riches ; spreading their sails to every wind, and ready to embark in any cause that can recommend them to those who are able to gratify their ambition or covetousness : however they may avail themselves of their treason, yet surely they must despise such traitors in their heart, and Jook upon them as the drege and refuse of human kind.
But alas ! strange as it may seem, it seldom happens that these perfidious men become so thoroughly con. temptible as to be altogether harmless. Even they who despise them most, with a perverse and fatal subtilty, make their example an occasion of hardening their own hearts; fetching arguments from thence to extenuate their guilt, and to cherish their presumptuous hopes of impunity : for it has often been observed, that no twig is so slender that a wicked man will not cling to it, when he feels himself sinking under the rebukes of conscience, and the overwhelming fears of approaching vengeance.
It is surely unnecessary to show, that the temper I have been recommending would effectually guard us against both the pernicious extremes I have been speaking of, and render us equally independent of the high and of the low. Zeal for the honour of our Lord, and the salvation of precious and immortal souls, would ennoble our minds, and break every slavish yoke in pieces. A true minister of Christ will call no man master: like this great apostle, he will endeavour so to speak, and so to act, in every situation, not as pleasing men, but God, who trieth the heart. It will ever appear a small matter to him to be judged of man's judgment : this will be bis labour, his only ambition, “ that, present or absent, he may be accepted of his Lord.” Which leads me to observe, in the
4th and last place, That the importance of this temper shall be fully understood and felt by us all at the hour of death, and in the day of judgment.
We must shortly sicken and die : that awful period can be at no great distance from any of us; it may be nearer to some of us than we are aware of. Let us consider it as present; and say, my Fathers and Brethren, were this the last day, the last bour, the last moment of life, what would support us best? what would yield us the most effectual consolation? I need not wait for an answer : every heart must have made it already. The only triumph of a dying minister is that which Paul ut.