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into artificial confusion the moral properties and names of actions, in which the happiness of moral agents is deeply concerned. In me you will never find an instructor for you voluntarily to deceive and to be deceived—to become dastardly and obsequious respecters of persons, to prophesy smooth things, that ye may captivate the vain, or shelter the wicked, nor for the sake of fleeting popularity to call evil good and good evil. There is I am aware, a race of specious and smiling flatterers, who insidiously and ostentatiously commend the vicious, lest same commendation bestowed upon the virtuous should procure for them the distinction which they really merit. But who would set any high value on praise thus bestowed and thus intended? Or who would be so beguiled, as to think highly of his own faults, because exempted from censures thus restrained? Our nature gives us a quick perception of the difference between good and evil. Our religion does not command us on all occasions to dissemble or to repress it, when our own safety or our own honour calls upon us to speak according to our real and unprejudiced conviction of demerit in other
Not to feel so were to confound truth and falsehood—not to act so were to degrade the worthy to a level with the wicked. Did not our Lord himself reprove the pharisees with the utmost severity? Did not St. Paul speak of some wicked converts as deserving excommunication? Did not John the Baptist rebuke vice boldly? Did not St. Peter and St.Jude employ the most vehement language against notorious and obdurate sinners?
But, when we plead apostolical example, let us examine our own bosoms and be quite sure that we are governed by motives quite worthy of an Apostle. The case stands thus Religion is never at variance with sound reason, and sound reason informs us that, as we are required to act among other men and for other men, as well as from ourselves and for ourselves, it is necessary for us to form some clear judgment upon their characters, while we strictly endeavour to explore, to correct, or to improve our own. By their fruits alone can they be known, and the honour as well as the security of ourselves may be deeply concerned in acquiring that knowledge. By their fruits ye shall know them. But what are the sound fruits which adorn, and the corrupt which deform the human mind, you may learn from that which the Apostle enjoins, and that which he forbids men, at the end of the lesson read to you this day-he charges his Roman converts “to put off the works of darkness” as an incumbrance unseemly to be worn by the professed disciples of Jesus—" to put on," not “the armour,” (as you read in your version,) but “the dress and garb adapted to the light.” He charges them not to walk “ in rioting and drunkeness,” “ in chambering and wantonness," as they had been accustomed to do among their heathen companions, and “ in strife and envying" towards their Christian brethren, as some of them were yet disposed to do.
If therefore men in their daily conversation are immodest, censorious, or profane-if the sabbath, a portion of which ought to be dedicated to the offices
of devotion, is perpetually squandered by them in coarse tumultuous debauchery—if they are intent upon sowing discord among their relations or their neighbours—if they employ their wealth, or their power, or their perverted understandings in provoking the patient and insulting the humble—if they turn a deaf ear to the prayers of the
of the poor, and spurn the reasonable complaints of the widow and the orphan-if they sicken on beholding as they are compelled to behold, the good qualities, and hearing as they are compelled to hear, the good name of their acquaintance-if they depreciate the abilities which they never possessed, and the virtues which they never practised-if they make differences in religious or political opinions a ground for personal invective and even personal injury-if they brood over petty or imaginary wrongs to justify themselves in overt acts of fell and infuriate vengeance--if they stoop to the ignominious artifices of mercenary accusers, or lean upon the support of perjured auxiliaries—if, rushing beyond the limits of frailty they plunge into libertinism, and make a mock of sin committed under the most aggravated seduction to the unsuspecting virgin or the affectionate wife -if they find a plea for fraud, extortion, pharasaical pride, and intolerant bigotry, in the exterior severity of their manners, the assumed orthodoxy of their faith, and the boasted plenitude of their grace—in all such cases good and wise men will judge them, and contrast their wicked dispositions with opposite and better properties. They will be led so to judge, and warranted in so judging by their love of real wisdom and real goodness. From motives of sound prudence they will form a judgment that shall enable them to protect themselves and their fellow creatures from lurking envy and outrageous hatred. They will act under the guidance of a judgment not widely dissimilar from that which, if those odious sinners repent not, will be hereafter proclaimed before men and angels, when the last trump shall have sounded, and the oppressor, the scorner, and the profligate, shall be raised from their graves, and receive from God himself a dreadful and irreversible sentence of condemnation.
Now experience tells us that other men act from their ruling passion, from latent views of profit, or honour, or revenge- from the silent, and to themselves almost imperceptible, influence of prepossessions and humours, of early habits and uncontroled affections. But it also tells us that our own judgments are frequently misguided by our own prejudices and humours, by our credulous acquiescence in groundless rumours, by our undue predilections for individuals, and our excessive attachment to the interests and credit of a particular profession, a political party, or a religious sect. It tells us that men of discernment and candour are disgusted and even incensed at the proneness of polemics indirectly to arrogate to themselves superior sagacity or superior sanctity-to charge criminal intentions upon the ablest and fairest advocates of speculative opinions different from their own—and thus to judge harshly, and it may be erroneously, of their fellow labourers
in the search after truth, while they are themselves in danger of being judged. But in order to perceive the guilt of such judgments, we need not wait for the slow decisions of our minds upon elaborate and formal proofs of duty and propriety. With the rapidity as it were, and the vivacity of instinct, nature herself bears witness to the ascendancy, which the benevolent affections ought to have over the unsocial. When we find ourselves to have formed an unjust opinion of enlightened and well principled men, we instantly feel shame and compunction—we retrace our thoughts, and would gladly recall our words. But, when our error is on the favourable side, we lament indeed the mistake, but smart under no humiliating or mortifying chastisement from within, in our reflections upon the motive—we have not judged criminally, and therefore in this instance we fear not to be judged.
To conclude. For our general guidance in practice, and our general consolation under evil report, let us avail ourselves of the instructions which the Scriptures have given us for acquiring the habit of judging righteously. Have we not errors, prejudices, humours, and irregular appetites of our own? Are they not sometimes unaccompanied by any efforts of self-command, and sometimes unsuspected by ourselves through the blindness of self-love? And yet, my brethren, for our secret faults, as well as our more open and presumptuous sins, must we not one day render an account before the Searcher of all hearts? These awful reflections will instantly impress us with feelings of Christian