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it not your desire of sparkling and shining in to renounce that criminal intrigue which the world?
makes the conversation of all companies, and gives just offence to all good men?
My brethren, would you always take right steps? Never take one without first examining the motive which engages you to take it. Let the glory of God be the great end of all our actions; whether we eat or drink, or whatsoever we do, let us do all to the glory of God,' I Cor. x. 31. A motive so noble and so worthy of that holy calling with which God has honoured us, will sanctify all our steps, will give worth to our virtues, and will raise those into virtuous actions, which seem to have the least connexion with virtue. A bustling trade, a sprightly conversation, a wellmatched union, a sober recreation, a domestic amusement, all become virtues in a man animated with the glory of God; on the contrary, virtue itself, the most ardent zeal for truth, the most generous charities, the most fervent prayers, knowledge the most profound, and sacrifices the least suspicious, become vices in a man not animated with this motive.
Thus our brethren, who resist all the exhortations that have been addressed to them for many years, to engage them to follow Jesus Christ without the camp,' reply, that were they to obey these exhortations, all the seeds of truth now remaining in the land of their nativity would perish, and that the remnants of the reformation would be entirely extirpated. Diligently to preserve even remnants of the reformation, and seeds of truth, is certainly an action good in itself; but is this the motive which animates you when you resist all our exhortations! Is it not love of the present world? Is it not the same motive that animated Demas? Is it not because you have neither courage enough to sacrifice for Jesus Christ what he requires, nor zeal enough to profess your religion at the expense of your fortunes and dignities? Thus again they who are immersed in worldly care tell us, that were they to think much about dying, society could not subsist, arts would languish, sciences decay, and so on. I deny this principle. I affirm, society would be incomparably more flourishing were each member of it to think continually of death. In such a case each would consult his own ability, before he determined what employment he would follow, and then we should see none elected to public offices except such as were capable of discharging them; we should see the gospel preached only by such as have abilities for preaching; we should see armies commanded only by men of experience, and who possessed that superiority of genius which is necessary to command them. Then the magistrate, having always death and judgment before his eyes, would think only of the public good. Then the judge, having his eye fixed only on the Judge of all mankind, would regard the sacred trust committed to him, and would not consider his rank only as an opportunity of making his family, accumulating riches, and behaving with arrogance. Then the pastor, all taken up with the duties of that important ministry which God has committed to him, would exercise it only to comfort the afflicted, to visit the sick, to repress vice, to advance the kingdom of that Jesus whose minister he has the honour to be, and not officiously to intrude into families to direct them, to tyrannize over consciences, to make a parade of gifts, and to keep alive a spirit of party.
But, not to carry these reflections any further, you say, society could not subsist, sciences would languish, and arts decay, if men thought much about dying. Very well. I agree. But I ask, is this the motive which animates you when you turn away your eyes from this object? Is it fear lest the arts should decay, science languish, society disperse? Is it this fear which keeps you from thinking of death? Is it not rather because an idea of this king of terrors' disconcerts the whole system of your conscience, stupified by a long habit of sin; because it urges you to restore that accursed acquisition, which is the fund that supports your pageantry and pride; because it requires you
II. Let us ponder our steps in regard to the circumstances which accompany them. An action, good or innocent in itself, may become criminal in certain circumstances. This maxim is a clue to many cases of conscience in which we choose to blind ourselves. We obstinately consider our actions in a certain abstracted light, never realized, and we do not attend to circumstances which change the nature of the action. We think we strike a casuist dumb, when we ask him, what is there criminal in the action you reprove? Hear the morality of the inspired writers.
It is allowable to attach ourselves to a pious prince, and to push for port. Yet when Barzillai had arrived at a certain age, he thought it his duty to flee from court, and to quit his prince, and he said to David, who invited him to court, I am this day fourscore years old, and can I discern between good and evil? Can thy servant taste what I eat, or what I drink? Can I hear any more the voice of singing men, and singing women? Let thy servant, I pray thee, turn back again, that I may die in mine own city, and be buried by the grave of my father and of my mother.' 2 Sam. xix. 35. 37.1
It is allowable to erect houses proportional to our fortunes and rank. Yet the buildings of the Israelites drew upon them the most mortifying censures, and the most rigorous chastisements, after their return from captivity. This was, because, while their minds were all employed about their own edifices, they took no thought about rebuilding the temple. Is it time for you,' said the prophet Haggai, 'Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste?' chap. i. 4.
It is allowable, sometimes, to join in good company, and to taste the pleasures of the table and society; yet Isaiah reproached the Jews of his time in the most cutting manner, for giving themselves up to these pleasures, at a time when recent crimes, and approaching calamities should have engaged them to acts of repentance. In that day did the Lord God of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and
to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth; and
action criminal: So I conclude, from the pas-
It is allowable to eat any thing, without regard to the Levitical law. Yet St. Paul de-ing,' are yet exposed to the flames of tribula
clares, If meat make my brother to offend, I
tion, one in the person of his father, another in
How many circumstances of this kind might I add? Let us retain what we have heard, and let us make these the basis of a few maxims.
The case of scandal is a circumstance which makes a lawful action criminal. I infer this from the example of St. Paul just now mentioned. What is scandal? Of many definitions I confine myself to one.
A scandalous or offensive action is that which must naturally make a spectator of it commit a fault. By this touchstone examine some actions, which you think allowable, because you consider them in themselves, and you will soon perceive that you ought to abstain from them. By this rule, it is not a question only, when it is agitated as a case of conscience, Is gaming criminal or innocent? The question is not only, what gaming is to you, who can afford to play without injuring your family or fortune; the question is, whether you ought to engage another to play with you, who will ruin his. When a case of conscience is made of this question-Can I, without wounding my innocence, allow myself certain freedoms in conversation? The question is not only whether you can permit yourself to do so without defiling your innocence, but whether you can do so without wounding the innocence of your neighbour, who will infer from the liberties you take, that you have no regard to modesty, and who perhaps may avail himself of the license you give him.
Another circumstance, which makes a lawful action criminal, is taken from the passage of Isaiah just now mentioned. I fear suppressing a sense of present sins and of approaching calamities. I wish, when we have had the weakness to commit such sins as suspend the communion of a soul with its God, I wish we had the wisdom to lay aside for some time, not only criminal, but even lawful pleasures. I wish, instead of going into company, even the most regular, we had the wisdom to retire. I wish, instead of relishing then the most lawful recreations, we had the wisdom to mourn for our offending a God whose law ought to be extremely respected by us. To take the opposite course then, to allow one's self pleasure, innocent indeed in happier times, is to discover very little sense of that God whose commands we have just now violated; it is to discover that we have very little regard for our salvation, at a time when we have so many just causes of doubting whether our hope to be saved be well grounded.
The afflicted state of the church is another circumstance, which may make an innocent
Age, again, is another circumstance converting an innocent to a criminal action. This I conclude from the example of Barzillai. Let a young man, just entering into trade, be all attention and diligence to make his fortune; he should be so: but that an old man, that a man on the brink of the grave, and who has already attained the age which God has marked for the life of man, that such a man should be all fire and flame for the success of his trade, just as he was the first day he entered on it; that he should, so to speak, direct his last sigh towards money and the increase of his trade, is the shame of human nature; it is a mark of reprobation, which ought to alarm all that bear it.
Let a young man in the heat of his blood, a youth yet a novice in the world, and who may promise himself, with some appearance of truth, to live a few years in the world, sometimes lay aside that gravity, which, however, so well becomes men whose eyes are fixed on the great objects of religion; let him, I say, I forgive him; but that an old man, whom long experience should have rendered wise, that he should be fond of pleasure, that he should make a serious affair of distinguishing himself by the elegance of his table, that he should go every day to carry his skeleton, wan and tottering, into company employed in the amusements of youth; this is the shame of human nature, this is a mark of reprobation, which ought to terrify all that bear it.
III. Would we have all our ways established? Let us examine the manners that accompany them. An action good in itself, yea, more, the most essential duties of religion become criminal, when they are not performed with proper dispositions. One of the most essential duties of religion is to assist the poor; yet this duty will become a crime, if it be performed with haughtiness, hardness, and constraint. It is not enough to assist the poor; the duty must be done with such circumspection, humanity, and joy, as the apostle speaks of, when he says, 'God loveth a cheerful giver,' 2 Cor. ix. 7. Another most essential duty of religion is to interest one's self in the happiness of our neighbour; and if he turn aside from the path of salvation, to bring him back again. Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him:' thus God spoke by his servant Moses, Lev. xix. 17. Exhort one another daily:' this is a precept of St. Paul, Heb. iii. 13. To this may be added the declaration of St. James: If any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him, let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the
error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins,' chap. v. 19, 20. But this duty would become a crime, were we to rebuke a neighbour with bitterness, were the reproof more satire than exhortation, were we to assume airs of haughtiness, and discover that we intended less to censure the vices of others, than to display our own imaginary excellencies. It is not enough to rebuke a neighbour; it must be done with all those charitable concomitants, which are so proper to make the most bitter censures palatable; it must be done with that modesty, or, may I say, with that bashfulness which proves that it is not a spirit of self-sufficiency that reproves our neighbour, but that it is because we interest ourselves in his happiness, and are jealous of his glory.
selves, and fearing the judgments of God. "I know, the greatest saints have reason to tremble, when they consider themselves in some points of light. I know Jobs and Davids have exclaimed, If I should justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me. If thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?" Job ix. 20; Ps. cxxx. 3. I know, one of the most powerful motives which the inspired writers have used, to animate the hearts of men with piety, is fear, according to this exclamation of Solomon, Happy is the man that feareth alway,' Prov. xxviii. 14; and according to this idea of St. Paul, Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men,' 2 Cor. v. 11. I know, the surest method to strengthen our virtue is to distrust ourselves, according to this expression. Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall,' 1 Cor. x. 12.
IV. Our fourth maxim is, that an action good in itself may become criminal by being extended beyond its proper limits. It was said of a fine genius of the last age, that he never quitted a beautiful thought till he had entirely disfigu-ed red it. The observation was perfectly just in regard to the author to whom it was applied; the impetuosity of his imagination made him overstrain the most sensible things he advanced, so that what was truth, when he began to propose it, became an error in his mouth by the extreme to which he carried it. In like ner, in regard to a certain order of Christians, virtue becomes vice in their practice, because they extend it beyond proper bounds. Their holiness ought always to be restrained, and after they have been exhorted to righteousness and wisdom, it is necessary to say to them with the Wise Man, 'Be not righteous overmuch, neither make thyself over-wise,' Eccles. vii. 17; an idea adopted by St. Paul, Rom. xii. 3.
Be not righteous overmuch, neither make thyself over-wise' in regard to the mysteries of religion. As people sometimes lose their lives by diving, so sometimes people become unbelievers by believing too much. It is not uncommon to see Christians so eager to elucidate the difficulties of the book of Revelation, as not to perceive clearly the doctrine of evangelical morality.
'Be not righteous overmuch, neither make thyself over-wise' in regard to charity. The laws of equity march before those of charity; or rather, the laws of charity are founded on those of equity. To neglect to support a family and to satisfy creditors, under pretence of relieving the poor, is not charity, and giving alms; but it is rapine, robbery, and iniquity.
'Be not righteous overmuch, neither make thyself over-wise' in regard to closet devotion. So to give one's self up to the devotion of the closet, as to lose sight of what we owe to society; to be so delighted with praying to God as not to hear the petitions of the indigent; to devote so much time to meditation as to reserve none for an oppressed person who requires our assistance, for a widow who beseeches us to pity the cries of her hungry children; this is not piety, this is vision, this is enthusiasm, this is sophism of zeal, if I may express myself so.
Be not righteous overmuch, neither make thyself over-wise' in regard to distrusting your
However, it is certain, some fears of God proceed rather from the irregularity of the imagination, than from a wise and well direct
piety. Fear of the judgments of God is sometimes a passion, which has this in common with all other passions, it loves to employ itself about what favours, cherishes, and supports it; it is reluctant to approach what would diminish, defeat, and destroy it. Extremes of vice touch extremes of virtue, so that we have no sooner passed over the bounds of virtue, than we are entangled in the irregularities of vice.
V. We said in the fifth place, that each ought to ponder his path with regard to that degree of holiness at which the mercy of God has enabled him to arrive. An action good in itself when it is performed by a man arrived at a certain degree of holiness, becomes criminal, when it is done by him who has only an inferior degree. There never was an opinion more absurd and more dangerous than that of some mystics, known by the name of Molinists. They affirmed, that when the soul was lodged at I know not what distance from the body, that when it was in I know not what state which they called abandonment, it partook no more of the irregularities of the body which it animated, so that the most impure actions of the body could not defile it, because how to detach itself from the body. knew
What kind of extravagance can one imagine, of which poor mankind hath not given an example? Yet the apostle determines this point with so much precision, that one would think it was impossible to mistake it. Unto the pure, all things are pure; but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure,' Titus i. 15. I recollect the sense which a celebrated bishop in the isle of Cyprus gave these words in the first ages of the church. I speak of Spiridion. A traveller, exhausted with the fatigue of his journey, waited on him on a day which the church had set apart for fasting. Spiridion instantly ordered some refreshment for him, and invited him by his own example to eat. No, I must not eat, said the stranger, because I am a Christian. And because you are a Christian, replied the bishop to him, you may eat without scruple, agreeably to the decision of an apostle, 'Unto the pure all things are pure.' We cannot be ig
norant of the shameful abuse which some have made of this maxim. We know some have extended it even to the most essential articles of positive law, which no one can violate without sin. We know particularly the insolence with which some place themselves in the list of those pure persons, of whom the apostle speaks, although their gross ignorance and novel divinity may justly place them in the opposite class. But the abuse of a maxim ought not to prevent the lawful use of it. There are some things which are criminal or lawful, according to the degree of knowledge and holiness of him who performs them. Unto the pure all things are pure; but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure.' Would you then know how far to carry your scruples in regard to some steps? Examine sincerely, and with rectitude, to what degree you are pure in this respect. I mean, examine sincerely and uprightly, whether you be so far advanced in Christianity, as not to endanger your faith and holiness by this step.
Do you inquire whether you may, without scruple, read a work intended to sap the foundation of Christianity? Examine yourself. A man arrived at a certain degree of knowledge is confirmed in the faith, even by the objections which are proposed to him to engage him to renounce his religion. Unto the pure all things are pure.' If you answer this description, read without scruple Lucretius, Spinoza, and all the other enemies of religion. The darkness with which they pretend to cover it, will only advance its splendour in your eyes. The blows which they gave it, will only serve to convince you that it is invulnerable. But if you be yet a child in understanding, as an apostle speaks, such books may be dangerous to you; poison without an antidote, will convey itself into your vitals, and destroy all the powers of your soul.
Would you know whether you may, without scruple, mix with the world? Examine yourself. 'Unto the pure all things are pure.' A man arrived at a certain degree of holiness, derives, from an intercourse with the world, only pity for the world. Examples of vice serve only to confirm him in virtue. If you answer this description, go into the world without scruple; but if your virtue be yet weak, if intercourse with the world disconcert the frame of your mind, if the pleasures of the world captivate your imagination, and leave impressions which you cannot efface; if, after you have passed a few hours in the world, you find it follows you, even when you wish to get rid of it, then what can you do so proper as to retreat from an enemy dangerous to virtue? Unto the pure all things are pure; but unto them that are defiled, nothing is pure.'
VI. In fine, if we wish our ways should be established, let us weigh them with the different judgments which we ourselves form concerning them. The meaning of the maxims, the substance of what we daily hear in the world, and which the writings of libertines have rendered famous, that youth is the season for pleasure, and that we should make the most of it; that fit opportunities should not
be let slip, because they so seldom happen, and that not to avail ourselves of them, would discover ignorance of one's self; the substance of this sophism (shall I say of infirmity or impiety?) is not new. If some of you urge this now, so did the Jews in the time of Isaiah. This prophet was ordered to inform them, that they had sinned to the utmost bounds of the patience of God; that there remained only one method of preventing their total ruin, that was fasting, mourning, baldness, and girding with sackcloth; in a word, exercises of lively and genuine repentance. These profane people, from the very same principle on which the prophet grounded the necessity of their conversion, drew arguments to embolden them in sin; they slew oxen, they killed sheep, they gave themselves up to unbridled intemperance, and they said, 'Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die.'
This is precisely the maxim of our libertines. Youth is the season for pleasure, and we should improve it; opportunities of enjoyment are rare; we should be enemies to ourselves not to avail ourselves of them. Would not one say, on hearing this language, that an old man, going out of the world, must needs regret that he did not give himself up to pleasure in his youth. Would not one suppose that the sick, in beds of infirmity and pain, must needs reproach themselves for not spending their health and strength in luxury and debauchery? Would not one imagine, that the despair of the damned through all eternity, will proceed from their recollecting that they checked their passions in this world?
On the contrary, what will poison the years of your old age, should you arrive at it; what will aggravate the pains, and envenom the disquietudes inseparable from old age, will be the abuse you made of your youth.
So in sickness, reproaches and remorse will rise out of a recollection of crimes committed when you was well, and will change your death-bed into an anticipated hell. Then, thou miserable wretch, who makest thy belly thy God, the remembrance of days and nights consumed in drunkenness, will aggravate every pain which thine intemperate life has brought upon thee. Then, thou miserable man, who incessantly renderest an idolatrous worship to thy gold, saying to it, in acts of supreme adoration, Thou art my confidence ;' then will the rust of it be a witness against thee, and eat thy flesh, as it were with fire. Then, unhappy man, whose equipages, retinue, and palaces, are the fruits of oppression and injustice, then the hire of the labourers which have reaped down thy fields, which is of thee kept back by fraud, will cry, and the cries of the reapers will enter into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth;' then 'the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it.' Then, miserable wretch, thou who makest the members of Christ the members of a harlot;' then, that Drusilla, who now fascinates thine eyes, who seems to thee to unite in her person all manner of accomplishments; that Drusilla who makest thee forget what thou owest to
the world and the church, to thy children, thy family, thy God, and thy soul, that Drusilla ⚫ will appear to thee as the centre of all horrors;
then she, who always appeared to thee as a goddess, will become as dreadful as a fury; then, like that abominable man, of whom the holy Scriptures speak, who carried his brutality so far as to offer violence to a sister, whose honour ought to have been to him as dear as his own life; then will the hatred wherewith thou hatest her, be greater than the love wherewith thou hadst loved her,' 2 Sam. xiii. 15.
The same in regard to the damned; what will give weight to the chains of darkness with which they will be loaded, what will augment the voracity of that worm which will devour them, and the activity of the flames which will consume them in a future state, will be the reproaches of their own consciences for the headlong impetuosity of their passions in this world.
My brethren, the best direction we can follow for the establishment of our ways, is frequently to set the judgment which we shall one day form of them, against that which we now form. Let us often think of our deathbed. Let us often realize that terrible moment, which will close time, and open eternity. Let us often put this question to ourselves, What judgment shall I form of that kind of life which I now lead, when a burning fever consumes my blood, when unsuccessful remedies, when useless cares, when a pale physician, when a weeping family, when all around, shall announce to me the approach of death? what should I then think of those continual dissipations which consume the most of my time; what of those puerile amusements, which take up all my attention; what of these anxious fears, which fill all the capacity of my soul; what of these criminal pleasures, which infatuate me? what judgment shall I make of all these things, in that terrible day, when the powers of the heavens shall be shaken, when the foundations of the earth shall shake, when the earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, when the elements shall melt with fervent heat, when the great white throne shall appear, when the judge shall sit, and the books be opened, in which all my actions, words, and thoughts are registered?
If we follow these maxims, we shall see all objects with new eyes; we shall tremble at some ways which we now approve; we shall discover gulfs in the road, in which we walk at present without suspicion of danger.
I said at the beginning, my brethren, and I repeat it again, in finishing this exercise, the text we have been explaining includes a voluminous subject, more proper to make the matter of a large treatise than of a single sermon. The reflections, which we have been making, are only a slight sketch of the maxims with which the Wise Man intended to inspire us. All we have said will be entirely useless, unless you enlarge by frequent meditation the narrow bounds in which we have been obliged to include the subject.
'Ponder the path of thy feet, and all thy ways shall be established.' Who weighs, who calculates, who connects and separates, before B
he believes and judges, before he esteems and acts? The least probability persuades us; the least object, that sparkles in our eyes, dazzles us; the least appearance of pleasure excites, fascinates, and fixes us. We determine questions on which our eternal destiny depends, with a levity and precipitancy, which we should be ashamed of in cases of the least im
portance in temporal affairs. Accordingly, the manner in which we act, perfectly agrees with the inattention with which we determine the reason of acting. We generally spend life in a way very unbecoming intelligent beings, to whom God has given a power of reflecting: and more like creatures destitute of intelligence, and wholly incapable of reflection.
In order to obey the precept of the Wise Man, we should collect our thoughts every morning, and never begin a day without a cool examination of the whole business of it. We should recollect ourselves every night, and never finish a day, without examining deliberately how we have employed it. Before we go out of our houses, each should ask himself, Whither am I going? In what company shall I be? What temptations will assault me? What opportunities of doing good offer to me? When we return to our houses, each should ask himself, Where have I been? What has my conversation in company been? Did I avail myself of every opportunity of doing good?
My brethren, how invincible soever our depravity may appear, how deeply rooted soever it may be, how powerful soever tyrannical habits may be over us, we should make rapid advances in the road of virtue, were we often to enter into ourselves; on the contrary, while we act, and determine, and give ourselves up without reflection and examination, it is impossible our conduct should answer our calling.
My bretbren, shall I tell you all my heart? This meditation troubles me, it terrifies me, it confounds me. I have been forming the most ardent desires for the success of this discourse; and yet I can hardly entertain a hope that you will relish it. I have been exhorting you with all the power and ardour of which I am capable; and, if you will forgive me for saying so, with the zeal which I ought to have for your salvation; I have been exhorting you not to be discouraged at the number and the difficulties of the duties which the Wise Man prescribes to you; but, I am afraid, I know you too well to promise myself that you will acquit yourselves with that holy resolution and courage which the nature of the duties necessarily demands.
May God work in you, and in me, more than I can ask or think! God grant us intelligent minds, that we may act like intelligent souls! May that God, who has set before us life and death, heaven and hell, boundless felicity and endless misery, may he so direct our steps, that we may arrive at that happiness which is the object of our wishes, and which ought to be the object of our care! God grant us this grace! To Him be honour and glory for ever. Amen.