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able to hear it," Mark iv. 33. So he taught the disciples also, delivering some things with some obscurity, because they were not able to bear a plain and full revelation of them: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now," John xvi. 12. This may be the fault of men, that they are not able to hear every truth plainly spoken: but yet there must be some compliance and condescension in this respect. "And I, brethren," says St. Paul to the Corinthians," could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ Jesus. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat, for hitherto ye were not able to bear it," 1 Cor. iii. 1, 2. You must therefore, as the apostles did, “become all things to all men, that by all means you may save some," 1 Cor. ix. 22. You are not to depart from your own integrity, nor your proper character: but so far as can be done consistent with these, you are to suit your instructions to men's abilities and conditions.
Fourthly, In this work use great mildness of speech, and meekness of behaviour. You are not to provoke any that are teachable by reflecting on their want of understanding, nor to suffer your zeal to degenerate into rudeness. It has been observed by some, that the apostles of Christ were eminent examples of an excellent decorum in their discourses, and in their whole behaviour. And among other directions to Timothy, St. Paul has not failed to recommend particularly meekness of behaviour, as the most likely method of reclaiming men from their errors. "The servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle to all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing them that oppose themselves, if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth," 2 Tim. ii. 24, 25. That you may gain men to truth and virtue, apply the strongest arguments to their reason and conscience, without a contemptuous treatment of their persons or prejudices.
These gentle methods of reformation will be generally preferred by good men, and may be reckoned the most probable means of conviction: but I do not deny, that some faults and follies of men may fitly be ridiculed; and some men may be rebuked sharply by proper persons, and with all authority. All which is no more than putting in practice the direction of Solomon: "Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit," Prov. xxvi. 5. I have now set before you some general rules of prudence, and some particular directions concerning divers branches of conduct. But you are not to suppose, that prudence is
to be learned by rules only. It is rather a habit, which must be gained by observation, action, and experience. Suffer not yourselves to be embarrassed and perplexed with a great multitude and variety of rules, nor be over solicitous about a proper decorum; for too great anxiety always spoils the performance. In a word, be but fully master of your own character, and possessed of an habitual desire of pleasing, together with a modest persuasion that you shall do well, and you will do so.
There can be no occasion for me to add a particular recommendation of the study of prudence, having before shown the necessity, and the grounds and reasons of it. The text itself demonstrates the lawfulness and expedience of prudent conduct. Nor can any be altogether insensible of the importance of it to success in life. Virtue, learning, the knowledge of arts and sciences, are like diamonds, that have an intrinsic value, but must be set and polished, before they are fit for show. or use. Though divers other natural and acquired accomplishments may procure affection and esteem, it is discretion only that can preserve them.
I am not apprehensive of any abuse of the directions here laid down. They have no tendency to make men selfish or cunning. They are designed for the young and unexperienced; as likewise for the honest, the good natured, and the generous, of any age and condition. Though you should be simple, they who are designing will practise their arts of subtilty and mischief. By a prudent behaviour you will not encourage their evil practices, but only secure yourselves against them, and be better qualified for success and usefulness in the world.
After all, you are not to depend upon your own care and prudence, but to recommend yourselves and your honest well laid designs to the divine protection and blessing. It has been seen by those who have diligently observed human counsels and events, "that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill, but time and chance happeneth to them all," Ecc. ix. 11. As all human affairs are liable to accidents and disasters, a firm persuasion, and serious regard to the overruling providence of God, which is not limited by the present scene of things, cannot but contribute to your happiness, by preparing your minds for all events, and enabling you to bear afflictions and disappointments with patience.
It may likewise be one good foundation of happiness, to
admit but moderate affections for the great things of this world. If you are truly religious, you may be content with a little, and will manage that well. Without a great estate, by frugal and prudent conduct, you may have enough for yourselves, and your immediate dependents; and be able to do good to others also. Happy had it been for some men, as well as for the public, if from the very first, and all their days, they had rather aimed to be wise and good, than rich or great. Finally, if you do good for the sake of doing good, which is a noble principle; and with a view to future rewards, which are incomparably great and certain: you will not be much concerned, though you miss of present rewards, which you know to be but trifles, and never were your principal aim.
May you then add to virtue prudence, and abound in both yet more and more; that you may escape the snares of the wicked, and the misapprehensions of the weak; may have success in business, acceptance with mankind, happiness in friendship and every private relation; may be useful members of civil society, and of the church of God; may enjoy contentment, and peace of mind in all events: and at length obtain the distinguished recompenses, which God, who is infinitely wise and holy, will bestow upon those who have not only been "undefiled in the way," Psal. cxix. 1, but have also advanced the welfare of their fellowcreatures, and the honour of his name in the world.
THIS chapter contains directions for the practice of many virtues. It begins with exhortations of a general nature, recommended with great earnestness: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present
your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind." In the remaining part of the chapter are recommended to christians divers virtues; such as humility, faithfulness, and diligence in the improvement of their talents and in the discharge of the duties of their several stations, undissembled love of each other, patience under afflictions, a love of peace, forbearance of enemies, and even kindness to them if they are in distress.
My present design is to consider the cautionary direction of the text: "And be not conformed to this world." By the world, as you well know, in the New Testament and in common discourse, is often meant this present state, and the things of it. It likewise sometimes denotes the sinful customs and practices of men who live in this world; or the bad men of the world who live according to the lusts of the flesh, and as if they looked for no other happiness, but what consists in the possessions and enjoyments of this world; and so generally had men abandoned themselves to sin and folly, that Satan is spoken of as the "god of this world," 2 Cor. iv. 4, as if he had been the deity they acknowledged and worshipped.
Indeed before the coming of Christ, and the publication of his gospel, human nature lay in a very deplorable and degenerate condition, being generally involved in great darkness and ignorance, and under the power of irregular and exorbitant appetites and affections: little virtue, either in the Heathen or the Jewish world: things contrary to reason practised by men of every rank: the very principles of the guides and instructors of men too much suited to extenuate vice, or too weak to check the torrent of it; and often recommending little else but a bare performance of external acts of religion, without, and in the stead of, real virtue and true piety.
The apostle, therefore, now writing to the christians at Rome, judged it necessary at the beginning of his practical directions, to caution them against being carried away with the stream of irreligion and wickedness: and it is to be feared, that still there may be reason for such a caution. The gospel may have made some considerable alteration in the world. Yea, it ought to be owned, that the world has been greatly reformed and amended thereby. It has blessed many with juster sentiments concerning God and the way of serving him, It has also had a good effect upon the manners of men; and many have been influenced by the
good principles they have received. Great numbers have been preserved from sins they otherwise would not have escaped. And others have reached to degrees of virtue, which they never would have attained without its assistance: and the number of truly good and upright men is not so small as formerly; but, we may reasonably suppose, much enlarged and increased.
Nevertheless there are many whose lives are not agreeable to the rules of right reason, or the precepts of the christian religion. And though it should be allowed, or charitably supposed and hoped, that they are not now the most, who act contrary to the precepts of religion; yet a caution not to be conformed to the world, may not be useless or needless. If there are but few who act as men of the world, and are principally influenced by the things of this present life; yet considering the deceitfulness of our hearts, the bias of inclination to some sins, and the force of only a few bad examples, (especially where there are many,) it may be reasonable to guard against imitation of them, or conformity to others in that which is evil.
In discoursing on this text I shall take the following method:
I. I shall endeavour to show the design and meaning of this direction.
II. I intend to consider the importance of observing it, and offer some reasons and arguments against conformity to this world.
III. After which, I shall conclude with a few reflections. I. I shall endeavour to show the design and meaning of this direction.
And hereby is not to be understood, that we are studiously to avoid all conformity and agreement with men of the world. We all agree in one common nature, and perform the ordinary functions and operations of the animal and rational life: and we are to provide for the wants and necessities of nature, as well as other men. Nor does the apostle design to restrain or forbid a diligent pursuit of the comforts and advantages of this life, in any methods that are lawful and innocent: but what he means is, that we should not be led aside by multitudes, or by any of those we converse with, into the practice of any thing sinful and unlawful.
But beside this general explication of the words, I would mention some particulars, in which we ought not to be conformed to others, how much soever such things may prevail. 1. We are not to be conformed to the world in those sins