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thought, every unruly appetite, every unsocial affection, and every criminal habit, into captivity to the obedience due to Christ-if, at all times and in all respects, you employ all your powers to walk worthily of the high name by which you are called, and to adorn by your lives, as well as to magnify by your praises, that doctrine which has been delivered to us in the Gospel of your Saviour, and through him, for the sake of mankind, graciously revealed by your Father and your God.
ON AVOIDING THE APPEARANCE OF EVIL.
1 THESS. v. 22, 23.
Abstain from all appearance of evil, and the very God of all peace
sanctify you wholly.
WITHOUT adopting indiscriminately the opinions of some philosophers, who resolve all the fundamental principles of virtue into the doctrine of sympathy, and who apply their favourite system to the most familiar as well as the most arduous offices of morality, we are led by experience, as well as instructed by religion, to keep steadily in view the judgment that is passed upon our actions by our fellow-creatures. Various, no doubt, are the means, which our Creator has employed for preserving us from wrong, and encouraging us to right. In respect to ourselves, he has united the impulses of our feelings, the researches of our reason, and the guidance of our conscience. In reference to others, he has given additional vigour to our exertions by inspiring us with the love of reputation and the dread of infamy. In the breasts of other men he has created a tribunal, the decisions of which anticipate, and in some degree resemble the sentence, that will be passed on all moral agents at the last day; and as that sentence is founded upon a common, and most active sense of moral rectitude, there is a visible propriety in making it the object of serious and stedfast attention. Doubtless it is not always possible for us to penetrate the secret and complex motives of human actions, or to determine accurately the value of those circumstances, which in particular cases enhance merit or extenuate guilt. Hence arises a necessity of general rules for deciding upon the character of mankind, for connecting appearances with realities, and for inferring the merits and demerits of moral agents from the external marks, which are stamped upon their conduct. This principle is acknowledged by our Lord himself, when he refers to the outward action of men as evidences of their inward propensities. For, having stated that “a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit,” he lays down this plain rule—that "by their fruits we shall know them."
* June 1815.
Much of the beauty, and much of the utility, which belong to virtue depend upon the aspect which it bears in the estimation of mankind, and upon the influence by which it operates as an example to terrify the vicious and to encourage the well disposed. It may therefore be considered as a proof not only of a misguided understanding, but of a perverse and callous spirit to throw off all regard to the interpretation which other men are accustomed to put upon our behaviour. Dangerous, indeed, is that presumption, which induces us to set at defiance the disapprobation of the wise and good; and when it is considered that in the absence of
personal temptation and personal interests, men less wise and less good are usually governed by general notions of duty, and a natural love of rectitude, the esteem even of such persons is not to be slighted : for, whatsoever allowances they may make to themselves for their own misconduct, they quickly take alarm at the faults of their fellow creatures, and decide with impartiality, and sometimes with severity against those sins, to which they are not themselves peculiarly addicted. They welcome every instance of that virtue which they are accustomed to practise. In higher points of morality they admire what they would be unable to imitate, and in matters less important, the consciousness of their own powers, it may be their own habits, produces immediate and sincere disapprobation of deliberate and frequent deviations from acknowledged duty. Thus we see the connection between virtue and religion, between that which is approved by man, and that which will hereafter be rewarded by the deity.
Now in the chapter preceding that, from which my text is taken, the Apostle most earnestly and most eloquently expatiates upon a life to come, upon the solemn judgment that was prepared for all mankind, upon the resurrection of Christ as a proof of our own resurrection, and upon his descent from heaven with the voice of an archangel, and with the
trump of God. Having recommended these grand events to their meditation, he reminds his Thessalonian converts that “ they are the children of light”he instructs them to watch, and to be sober-he inculcates many momentous duties, the performance of which was necessary to prepare them for meeting their righteous Judge. Among other precepts connected, you will observe, with the expectation of those awful scenes, which he had been describing, he exhorts them “to abstain from all appearance of evil”—he gives new force to the exhortation by connecting with it a long and interesting series of religious instructions, and by following it up with an ardent supplication that “the God of Peace inight sanctify them wholly.” It was not enough for the Thessalonians that “they prayed without ceasing"—that they quenched not the Spirit—that they despised not prophecyings—that they proved all things—that they held fast that which is good. In order to fill up the measure of their Christian perfection, it was incumbent, on them to abstain from all appearance of evil, and when such abstinence was added to the other Christian graces which the Apostle had enumerated, they might consider themselves as wholly sanctified.
These precautions were the more necessary from the circumstances in which the first converts to Christianity were placed, while they were exposed to the captious malignity of the Jews, and to the supercilious contempt of the Gentiles. We know from scriptural and ecclesiastical history that every tenet, every action, every word, and every look of