Page images

and despised, for reasons quite foreign to their moral characters, to be considered as objects of imitation. Besides, the people, I know not how, have got it into their heads, that the clergy are, or ought to be, creatures of a different species from themselves, acting on principles, and bound to duties, so very foreign from those which are to govern the rest of mankind, that imitation, for want of a common footing to build on can here have no place. If one of us behaves himself pretty well, which in such times, I think, is no small matter, lives soberly and modestly, waits on his duty with perhaps a little more than ordinary care; our lay brethren look on it as nothing. Why, say they, is he not a clergyman? Who thanks him for being good? and say it with such an air, as plainly shews, they do not think themselves obliged to be sober, modest, honest, by the same laws that bind their teachers; or shews, at least, that they believe they do very well, if they are but half so good as the clergy, perhaps the worst of the clergy. I speak not of all the laiety. God be thanked, there are here and there some of them, who are fit to be patterns to the best of us.

But in case a clergyman shall generally misbehave himself, his example instantly acquires a force exceeding that of the greatest king, so far as the sphere of his notoriety extends. His bad actions, although tenfold more odious in him than they would be if done by another, are, by an astonishing juggle of thought, snapped at with the greatest pleasure, not only as matter of universal reproach to his order, but as so many comfortable licences for all manner of wickedness in laymen. If a clergyman, say they, can do such things, what may not we do? They know best how far a man may go downhill without plunging into the abyss; and surely a layman may go twice as far as a clergyman, and not find himself, after all, in a more desperate condition.

Now, although this is very bad reasoning, and worst of all among Protestants, who will have their clergy to be teachers of the most limited kind, and not guides; yet as it is likely to be the reasoning of thousands every where, till all false reasoning is banished quite out of the world, it will, no doubt, be severely required of us as a primary duty,

that we do the rest of mankind no harm at least, if we can do them no good, by our examples. A clergyman, by preaching for twenty years with the tongue of an angel, shall not edify his hearers so much, as he shall corrupt his seers by one material slip in point of conduct. Their ears are asleep, while their eyes are open. Our sermons, they know, may be borrowed, but our actions are our own. On the merits of these they severely try our faith by the rule of St. James; and indeed we should think it our greatest happiness, that they will not allow the smallest share of that toleration to our immoralities, which they do to their own. This is being kinder in effect to us, than they are to themselves.

Since the influence of example goes so far, that few men think they are obliged to be better than their superiors, or than the generality of people on a level with themselves, detraction may be considered, not only as one of the blackest in the catalogue of vices, but also as one of the greatest corruptors of mankind, inasmuch as this agent of mischief is perpetually employed by ill-nature, envy, and suspicion, to take off from the merit of good actions, and aggravate the sin of bad ones; to represent a worthy man as less worthy, and a wicked one as more wicked, than he really is; and by these means to poison the almost only fountain of action in the minds of the giddy, and of those who are naturally disposed to conceive ill of their neighbours. Thus it is that the slanderer destroys the effects of good examples, and makes the most of bad ones; sullying the lustre of the noblest virtues, and swelling frailties into crimes; increasing the apparent number of offenders, in order to increase the real. This is doing the whole work of the enemy. It is gratifying malice; it is accusing, it is corrupting souls, all in one act. It were an office of far less inhumanity to make a collection of contagious fevers and plagues, and then to go about through the world communicating the infection. Thus, on the other hand, it is, that the fool is entrapped into a greater degree of wickedness, than the mistaken example he follows will authorise, and so loses his whole excuse; and thus a disposition to think too hardly of others converts the opinions, the suspicions, the censures of the malevolent into so many principles of wickedness in himself. A bad conscience, like a

bad stomach, turns all it receives into foulness and poison for the whole man.

To draw at length towards a conclusion, let me once again remind you, that example governs almost all the affairs of this life; that it relieves the poor in one place, and oppresses them in another; that here it cools devotion, and thins God's house and table, while it gives warmth and spirit to religion there, and compels numbers to come in;' that fraud, perjury, and tyranny, carry all before them by the example of the great ones in these countries, while in those, justice, moderation and mercy, present us with the bright side of human nature, and almost make even this life happy.

It is every man's duty to forward the happiness of others, as much as he can; and if his example is of any importance (as whose is not?) to make it ́shine like a lamp before men,' that it may light them to happiness, not like a meteor to mislead. Is it not infinitely a more pleasing employment' to go about doing good,' and encouraging others to do good, than to go about like a pestilence, that walketh in darkness, and the destruction that wasteth at noon-day?' a pestilence that infects the minds of such as still sit in religious darkness, and a destruction that ruins souls in the day-light of the gospel?

When we come on our last trial, the judge may very pertinently ask us, why this neighbour of ours was guilty of fraud, or that dependant, of drunkenness? to which it will be no satisfactory reply, to say, we neither lent our mouths to the intemperance of the one, nor our hands to the deceits of the other. To have furnished an example was as bad. We hear it as commonly, as absurdly, said of a spendthrift, who ruins his fortune, his health, and his soul by debaucheries of all kinds, that he hurts nobody but himself; as if, beside the necessary partners of his crimes, his example were not too contagious, to be harmless.

As all men live in society, no man can hurt himself, without hurting others. This is more importantly true in a religious, than in a civil sense. 'We are all members, one of another, in the body of Christ.' No one therefore can maim his own soul by sin, without, in proportion, incapacitating himself to do the office of a member, and maiming the body

itself. Besides, a distempered member (such are the effects of example) is sure to infect the next, and spread its own unsoundness into all that are near it. How grievous an injury this must be to others, he who can think at all, may easily conceive; and how it will be resented by Christ the head, who feels this second crucifixion more sensibly, than he did the first, in every part of his body, may be sufficiently understood by those terrible expressions of his; offences must needs come, but woe to him by whom the offence cometh. Whoso shall offend one of these little ones (the smallest of Christ's members) it were better for him, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.'

[ocr errors]

Directly opposite to this woe, and equally great in its kind, is that blessing which he will receive, who makes the light of his good and holy example so to shine before men,' as to discountenance and reprove the evil deeds of some; to encourage and ripen the good inclinations of others; and to give all occasion to cry out, what a worthy, what an excellent man is this! How just in all his dealings! How charitable to his poor brother! How forgiving to his enemies! How regular, how constant, how warm, and yet how unostentatious, as to every duty of religion, in his closet, in his family, in God's house, and at his table! How fast he ascends towards God! How he burns in the love of God, and brightens, as he rises, increasing still more and more unto the perfect day!'

[ocr errors]

Glory be to thee, our Father which art in heaven, who giveth such grace unto men. Hallowed be thy name, O Father of lights, for the benefit of this happy example. Thy kingdom come in us, as in him, that thy will may be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, as thou hast given it to him, even the bread of eternal life in thy son Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee, and the Holy Ghost, be all glory and honour, now and for evermore. Amen.




Be not conformed to this world.

WERE there no other world nor life after this, the wisdom of conforming to the precept in my text rather than to the world, might be at least as easily maintained, as questioned, I mean, in times like the present; for, howsoever disagreeable it may be to deny ourselves the sinful pleasures of this world; or inconvenient, to live in opposition to its vain and idle customs; it is certainly far more disagreeable to bear the expense and effects of those pleasures; and more inconvenient, more troublesome and burthensome, to follow the customs of the world in a course of life almost wholly artificial, and slavishly governed by the practice of others, who are governed at random themselves by whim and folly, to say no worse.

But whereas there actually is another world, whither we are to be transplanted by death from this, and where for ever we may enjoy, if qualified for it by an habitual exercise of piety and virtue in this place of trial, so great a degree of happiness, as not all our highest transports of pleasure here can help us to conceive; and whereas the ways and customs of this world, where our stay is by innumerable accidents rendered so uncertain, and on the footing of nature must, at best, be very short, are for the greater part, destructive of that piety and virtue, whereon only our hopes in futurity can be rationally founded; the word of God, in a thousand places, calls on us to consider ourselves as strangers and pilgrims here,' to fix our eyes by faith on heaven, as our native country, and to remember, that, which way soever our journey leads, whether upward or downward, it can neither be very long nor pleasant. My text, in particular, casting an eye at either world, and finding the customs or fashions of this, an infinite hindrance to all the necessary qualifica

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »