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which are called sins of the flesh. In this caution the apostle very probably has an eye to these things, inasmuch as they were very generally indulged among the heathens, by whom the christians at Rome were surrounded. So he writes to the Ephesians: "This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk in the vanity of their minds, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: who being past feeling have given themselves over to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ, if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus; that ye put off, concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts." Eph. iv. 17-22. He requires, that such things be "not once named," ch. v. 3, among christians; that is, that there be no instances of such transgressions among them: but that they behave "as becometh saints; and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them," ver. 11. He likewise directs, that "foolish talking and jesting, which are not convenient," ver. 4, should quite cease from among them.
Nor are we to indulge ourselves in any intemperance or excess, that disorders the reason, prejudices the health, and indisposes for the duties of life." And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess," Eph. v. 18. We are not to be guilty of compliance here. Though some should take it ever so much amiss, that we will not be like them, or bear them company therein, we are resolutely to decline a conformity with them. Thus St. Peter, referring to the prevailing customs of heathens: "For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: wherein they think it strange, that you run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you," 1 Pet. iv. 3, 4. So it was then. And it is to be feared, that still among some, and in some places, this kind of excess is so common, that not a few may be tempted by the customariness of it.
2. Christians are not to be conformed to the world, or the men of it, in any injustice, either in the way of fraud or violence. Says St. Paul to the Ephesians: "Let him that stole steal no more; but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good," Eph. iv. 28.
Among the ancient laws of God delivered to the Israelites are such as these: "Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in mete-yard, in weight, or in measure. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, a just hin shall ye have. I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt," Lev. xix, 35, 36. Solomon observes: "A false balance is abomination to the Lord; but a just weight is his delight," Prov. xi. 1. And God himself by his prophet reproves prevailing injustice in this manner: "Are there yet the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is abominable? Shall I count them pure with the wicked balances, and the bag of deceitful weights?" Mic. vi. 10, 11. Christians then certainly ought to be fair and open in their dealings, and to do to every man what is just. Though we could unobserved detain what is rightfully due to any, we should not withhold it. We are not only to decline unreputable methods of gain, which all men would condemn, and cry out of; but every artifice that is unjust and unequal, however common with some, and secure from the cognizance of human laws. We should be willing to exert ourselves to secure to others their rightful possessions against unjust invaders; but should never employ our power, or art, or influence, for getting into our hands what belongs to others. Though a good man does not choose to be oppressed, and would use all proper measures to secure himself from wrong; yet he would much rather suffer, than do an injury. To be wronged of his possessions, or rightful inheritance, by the artifices of designing persons, might be matter of much grief and concern; but to treat others in such a way, never enters into his heart: nor would any consideration whatever prove a temptation to such fraudulent proceeding. He would rather lose what he has, than gain the greatest estate by an act of injustice.
3. Christians are not to be conformed to the world, or the men of it, in the practice of known falsehood. It is one of St. Paul's practical directions to the Ephesians: "Therefore, putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another," Eph. iv. 25. The words we use are to express the sense of our minds. We are not to promise any thing, but what we intend to do: and when we have promised, we are to perform according to our engagements. Nor does it seem consistent with truth and sincerity to make pompous professions of affection, respect, and esteem, beside, and beyond the sense of our minds: creating thereby vain dependences, and big
expectations; for our own present interest possibly, but to the real detriment, and lasting and piercing vexation and disappointment of those who have been deceived by us. A christian also, one would think, should reckon it incumbent on him to have a regard to truth in lesser, as well as in greater matters. However customary it may be with some people to be at the same time at home to some, and abroad to others, and to direct their attendants to deliver a known falsehood, and to persist in it: a man of honour and conscience will scarce encourage, or approve a practice, which is a breach upon sincerity, and may have pernicious consequences.
I need not add here, that if we are not to transgress the rules of veracity in our ordinary discourse and conversation, much less may we falsify upon solemn occasions: when beside the weight of our own credit, we call God to be witness to the truth of what we say.
4. We are not to conform to the world, and the men of it, in a profane use of the name of God. Reverence is always due to the Supreme Being in which they appear to be defective, who upon trivial occasions appeal to God for the truth of what they say. If any should insist, that they do it sometimes without knowing they do so, or thinking of it: they only show thereby, that they have been long habituated to a practice which is not to be justified. For is it not an offence to attest insignificant points with an oath? which is a solemn and awful thing, not to be introduced into society, but for deciding matters of weight and importance. A sober and considerate heathen or deist, who has upon his mind a serious sense of religion, would not approve that the Divine Being should be mentioned, or spoken of in such a light and irreverent manner, as would be judged a contemptuous use of the name of a great man. And shall christians venture upon such an use of the name of God, who have so much more reason to love and honour him? Is it not strange and surprising, that a sin to which, as is often said, there is so little temptation, should be so common as it is, among those who are called by that honourable name? But however common it may be among some, chiefly, I think, of the higher and lower ranks of men (in which, as well as in some other things, they too much agree,) let us not be conformed to them therein.
Nor can it be fit for us to stake our salvation, or life, or credit, for the truth of matters of little or no consequence, as some frequently do. This is a practice that is not to be reconciled to the reason of any thoughtful and considerate
person, who has a sense of religious obligations, and is concerned for the good order and welfare of society. And our blessed Lord has interposed here, and expressly forbid, not only the swearing by the name of God in conversation, and the ordinary commerce of life, but also those lesser, or more diminutive oaths, in which the name of God is not expressly invoked. "Ye have heard, that it has been said by [or rather to] them of old time: thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths. But I say unto you swear not at all," Matt. v. 33, 34. Our Saviour does not intend to forbid swearing upon solemn and momentous, but only upon trivial and ordinary occasions: "neither by heaven, for it is God's throne: nor by the earth, for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, for thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." These directions of our Lord are sufficiently clear, and easy to be applied by men of these times.
It is unnecessary to add, that if invocations of the Deity in a light manner, and upon trivial occasions, be evil; it is still a more aggravated offence to call upon God to condemn or destroy others upon occasion of none, or very trifling affronts and injuries.
5. We are not to be conformed to the world in idleness and misspending of time. Though it should be the custom of some, or of many around us, to devote their time and abilities to trifling matters, of little or no use and benefit to themselves or others; they are not to be followed or imitated by us. Diversions are allowable, if they are innocent in themselves, and if they are made use of by us as a refreshment of our wearied spirits, and that we may be better fitted for employments of a higher nature. But diversions are not to be suffered to grow up into constant employments, and to thrust out useful and necessary business. Then they become sinful: for this life is our only opportunity of providing for eternity: and therefore it would be lost, if spent in eating and drinking, and playing, without making prepara tion for a future state. If we rightly consider the shortness of life, the work we have to do, the many avocations that are almost unavoidable; we shall think, that time ought not to be squandered and thrown away, but improved with care and diligence.
A large part of most men's time is requisite for providing the necessaries, or comforts and conveniences of life. If
they should indulge sloth and idleness, they would be reduced to want and poverty. If the necessaries and comforts of life are provided to our hand for us, we may be well employed in improving our minds, and in serving and helping
And do we think, that we have no occasion to employ some time in private, in serious meditation and reflection upon ourselves, and our more public and ordinary conduct? Are we satisfied that all is right already, and that our behaviour is without fault, or that there is no room left for amendment? May it not be of use to take some time to review our diversions and amusements, our transactions in business, and even our acts of public worship?
Time very often runs waste in conversation, and yet we ought not to be unsociable and unfriendly. Should we not therefore be glad to render that time more profitable? As for those who have superior abilities, or any superior advantage in point of age, character, and station: may they not do well to aim at raising and improving friendly conversation? and should not others be ready to join in such attempts, and to set forward those topics that are instructive and edifying, as well as entertaining? that those seasons may not be altogether, and always, void and empty spaces, of which we can give no good account; but useful and beneficial: such as all may be able to reflect upon with pleasure, and some with thankfulness, long afterwards.
6. We are not to be conformed to the world in a censorious temper, and detracting speech and discourse. Some there are, who scarce think any thing well done, but what is done by themselves: who have a mean opinion of the abilities and performances of other men, or seem to have so: and by artfully lessening and detracting from them, they endeavour to bring the rest of mankind into the like sentiment.
Some men have a vast acquaintance with the private affairs and actions of their neighbours, but more especially, as it seems, with their weaknesses and failings: and having a good deal of knowledge of this kind, it is not easy for them to hide such a treasure. Men who have a great deal of knowledge are usually fond of showing it, and sometimes even among those who set no value upon the sciences they are masters of: but men are apt to be communicative of this knowledge above any other, because discoveries of this sort are generally acceptable: the smallest trifles of this nature being more eagerly sought, and more readily embraced by abundance of people, than relations of great and noble actions.