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been always esteemed by wise men a noble and commendable resolution of Joshua: "As for me, and my house, we will serve the Lord," Josh. xxiv. 15, though all the tribes, and other families of Israel, should forsake the Lord, and go after other gods. But christians are better fortified against the temptation of numerous examples than other men, and have stronger motives to steadfastness in virtue. They know better than others the excellency and obligations of true holiness, the deformity of sin, and the different consequences of each. If it would be a fault in other men, it must be much more so in them to be influenced by numbers to forsake the paths of religion and virtue.
5. And though the number of the sincerely good and resolutely virtuous may be small in a comparative view, yet they are more than a few upon the whole. Some there have been in all ages, who have approved themselves to God and their own consciences. The apostle to the Hebrews having given a catalogue of excellent persons from almost the beginning of time, some of whom "endured the trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, being destitute, afflicted, tormented," Heb. xi. animates the christians of his days with the consideration of their number, when collected together. "Wherefore," says he, "seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin that does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us," ch. xii. 1.
6. Some singularity, or eminence, and uncommon steadfastness in that which is truly good and excellent, is very becoming, and even expedient in christians. How can it be otherwise? If the principles and precepts of their religion be more sublime, pure, and perfect than those of any other religion, and have a suitable influence; must they not necessarily create some difference between them and other men? They are certainly obliged to act according to the truths they have received. They gladly would, that others should keep them company: but if they obstinately refuse, and will not be persuaded, they must leave them behind, and follow Jesus whither he leads them. "If ye were of the world," says our Lord to his disciples," the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you," John xv. 19. Christ supposeth, that as his people are not of the world, so they will often meet with disagreeable treatment in it: but they are to remember their character, and to endeavour to excel, and thereby
to be useful. After this manner he speaks to his people and followers: "Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is henceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light to all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven," Matt. v. 13-16. Says St. Paul to the Ephesians: "Be not ye partakers with them; for ye were sometime darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord," Eph. v. 7, 8. Once more, in the epistle to the Philippians: "That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world," Philip. ii. 15.
7. Our blessed Lord highly approves, and will reward and distinguish those who are faithful to him in the midst of temptations, and uphold the honour of his name in the world. He said to his disciples: "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom," Luke xii. 32. In the book of the Revelation he encourages some by his servant John: "Thou hast a few names even in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments: and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment : and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels," Rev. iii. 4, 5.
8. Finally, there will be much comfort and satisfaction of mind resulting from this conduct, even in this world. The context suggests this argument. "Present your bodies," give up yourselves sincerely to God, as " a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind." Let the temper of your mind become truly religious, spiritual and heavenly, instead of being any longer sensual and carnal: "that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." Then you will not only know and discern, but approve, and delightfully perform that reasonable and excellent worship and obedience, which the gospel requires. Hold on then in the way of religion and virtue, notwithstanding the temptations you meet with to decline and forsake it. The pleasure will be great, your comforts
will grow and increase, and you will more and more approve the choice you have made as wise and reasonable.
III. I shall now conclude with a few reflections.
1. "Be not conformed to this world." Is there occasion for such a caution as this? Is the world in which we live degenerate and corrupt? and are we liable to be misled and ensnared by it? May not this dispose us to a life of privacy and retirement? or reconcile us to it, if it be our lot? Must not this also abate our affection for this world, and life therein, and increase our willingness to depart out of it, whenever God pleaseth? If we be continued in the world, and act therein, let us take care, both that we be not ensnared ourselves, and that no one be the worse for us. Let us scorn to give any countenance and support to falsehood or vice. Let us esteem it our indispensable duty to answer the ends of life. If preferment will not be obtained but by base and sinful compliances, let us give over all thoughts of rising in the world. If we cannot keep our station without parting with our integrity, let us resign it. It is better to live with a good conscience in obscurity and contempt, than to enjoy the caresses and applauses of fellow-creatures in the way of falsehood and iniquity. Better, I say for the end of such will be happy and glorious. The Psalmist of old could say: "I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than dwell in the tents of wickedness: for the Lord God is a sun and a shield. The Lord will give grace and glory, and no good thing will he withhold from him that walketh uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee," Psalm lxxxiv.
2. Let us each one, in our several stations and circumstances, attend to this caution: "Be not conformed to this world."
You that are young possibly will admit to be warned and admonished. I shall therefore remind you of a few particulars. To persons of your age the world and many things therein have peculiar charms; and what is customary and reputable comes to you with strong recommendations, and must be very taking. You are desirous of esteem, and think it fit and becoming in such as you to lay hold of that which tends to render you acceptable and agreeable; or to raise and advance you in the world. But, if you have a serious sense of religious things, you must be aware that you are not to follow the example of others, whether right or wrong. You will do well therefore, whilst you are setting out in the world, to form a fixed purpose and reso
lution of mind, that you will govern yourselves by the rules of reason and revelation. Take heed that the commonness of some sins never abate the horror and dread you once had of them. Avoid friendship and intimacy with the corrupt and degenerate part of mankind; "lest you learn their ways, and get a snare to your soul," Prov. xxii. 25. Let your usual companions be such as appear to have impressions of religion upon their minds, and walk in the paths of virtue. You will be helpful to each other; good beginnings will be cherished and improved, and you will keep one another in countenance, if you should meet with some, who are so vile and daring, as to scoff at religion and virtue, and ridicule your conscientious respect to the obligations of either.
But, beside the young, there are others also, to whom this cautionary direction might be addressed, if they would receive it for, as the young are liable to be seduced by their companions and equals; so likewise they who are of mature age may be in danger of being misled by the bad example of some of their equals in age and station; or by some of superior station, influence and authority; who to outward appearance are serious and attentive, but it is only to the honours, riches, preferments, state, and grandeur of this world. Our Lord freely reproved such people, and warned others against them; as may be seen at large in the twenty-third chapter of St. Matthew's gospel, and elsewhere. "Then spake Jesus unto the multitude and to his disciples, saying: The scribes and pharisees sit in Moses's seat. All therefore whatever they bid you observe, that observe and do: but do ye not after their works: for they say and do not," Matt. xxiii. 1—3. "But all their works
they do to be seen of men," ver. 5.
"But woe unto you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites: for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men. For ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in," ver 13. Our Lord charged his disciples to "beware of the leaven of the pharisees, which is hypocrisy," Luke xii. 1. These men had an outward appearance of sanctity, and were greatly esteemed by many. Nevertheless they were plainly influenced by selfish views, which prejudiced them against the truth, and led them also to obstruct and discountenance those who were well-disposed to it. "How can ye believe," said our Lord to some of them, "which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only ?" John v. 44. St. Paul observes to Titus, that some "teach things which they ought not,
for filthy lucre's sake," Tit. i. 11. "But," says he, "speak thou the things which become sound doctrine," ch. ii. 1. He earnestly cautions Timothy against a covetous disposition, which had been fatal to some, who had taken upon them the profession of the christian religion; saying, "The love of money is the root of all evil, which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things, and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness," 1 Tim. vi. 10, 11, An undue love of wealth, honour, influence, and authority, may be as prejudicial to the interests of religion in a man's mind, as an inordinate love of sensual pleasure; and there may be as much need for some to guard against the example of the formal, who are covetous, ambitious, and aspiring, as for others to be upon their guard against that of the gay and voluptuous, the thoughtless and inconsiderate.
Let us then all attend to this cautionary direction, and the thoughts annexed to it in the same verse: And be but conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind; that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."
And let us beg of God to assist us in resisting the temptations of a vain world: that we may never be induced to follow a multitude in that which is evil; but may be followers of those, who in ancient or later times, have given an example of lively faith and steadfast virtue: that we may at length sit down with them, not only in peace and safety, but in the plentiful possession of the truest riches, and the full enjoyment of the purest and sublimest entertainments, in the kingdom of heaven for ever and ever. Amen.