Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

and he had given instances of it before. He does not go about to define or explain it, but appeals to every man's mind and conscience, to tell him what it is. It is not any thing that is difputed and controverted, which some men call good, and others evil; but that which all are agreed in, and which is universally approved and commended by Heathens as well as Christians, that which is substantially good, and that which is unquestionably so. It is not zeal for lesser things, about the ritual and ceremonial part of religion, and a great strictness about the external parts of it, and much nicety and scrupulousness about things of no moment, as the Pharisees tything of mint, &c. about meats and drinks, and the observation of days, and the like; but a pursuit of the weightier things of the law, a care of the great duties of religion, mercy, and justice, and fidelity; those things wherein the kingdom of God consists, righteousness and peace : such as there the Apostle had instanced in, as substantial and unquestionable parts of goodness, things which admit of 10 dispute, but do approve themselves to the reason and conscience of all man. kind; and the practice of these he calls following of that which is good *

: Be ye followers of that which is good; the word is pellental, if ye imitate the good you see in others; in one copy the word is (viawtai, if je be zealous of that which is good. And this is not amiss. Zeal about lesser and disputable things is very unsuitable and misbecoming : but we cannot be too earnest, and zealous in the pursuit of things which are substantially and unquestionably good; it is good, and will become us to be zealoully affected about such things. Some things will not bear much zeal, and the more earnest we are about them, the less we recommend ourselves to the approbation of sober and considerate men. Great zeal about little and doubtful things, is an argument of a weak mind, infatuated by superstition, or over-heated by enthusiasm : but nothing more, becomes a wise man, than the serie ous and earnest pursuit of those things which are agreed on all hands to be good, and have an universal approbation among all parties and professions of men, how

wide · * See more of this in Sermon 102.

wide soever their differences may be in other matters. This for the qualification Supposed, If ye be followers of that which is good. I proceed to the

Second thing in the text, the benefit and advantage which may reasonably be expected from it, and that is, security from the ill usage and injuries of men. Who is he that will harm you, &c. The Apostle doth not absolutely fay, none will do it: but he speaks of it as a thing so very unreasonable, and upon all accounts so unlikely and improbable, that we may reasonably presume that it will not ordinarily and often happen. Not but that good men are liable to be affronted and perfecuted, and no man's virtues, how bright and unblemished foever, will at all times, and in all cases, exempt him from all manner of injury and ill treat. ment : but the following of that which is good, as I have explained it, doth in its own nature tend to secure us from the malice and mischief of men, and very frequently does it, and, all things considered, is a much more effectual means to this end, than any other course we can take; and this the Apostle means when he says, Who is he that will harm you?

And this will appear, whether we consider the nature of virtue and goodness; . or the nature of man, even when it is very much depraved and corrupted; or the providence of God.

1. If we consider the nature of virtue and goodness, which is apt to gain upon the affections of men, and fecretly to win their love and esteem. True goodness is inwardly elteemed by bad men, and many times had in very great esteem and admiration, even by those whoare very far from the practice of it : it carries an awe and majesty with it; so that bad men are very often with-held and restrained from harming the good, by that secret and inward reverence which they bear to goodness.

There are several virtues, which are apt in their own nature to pervent injuries and affronts from others. Humility takes away all occasion of insolence from the proud and haughty, it baffles pride, and puts it out of countenance. Meekness pacifies wrath, and blunts the edge of injury and violence. Suffering good for evil is

apt apt to allay and extinguish enmity, to subdue the roughest dispositions, and to conquer even malice itself. And there are other virtues which are apt in their own nature to oblige men, and gain their good-will, and make them our friends, and tie their affections strongly to us; as courtesy and charity, kindness and compallion, and a readiness to do all good offices to all men; and the friendhip, and good-will of others, is a powerful defence against injuries. Every man will cry shame of those who shall fall foul upon him that hurts no body. He that obligeth many, shall have many to take his part when he is assaulted, to rise up in his defence and rescuc, and to interpose between him and danger. For a good man, says the Apostle, some would even dare to die.

Besides, it is very considerable, that none of thele virtuves expose men to any danger and trouble from human laws. Wlaen Christianity was perfecuted, because it differed from, and opposed the received religion and fuperftition of the world, it was commonly acknowledged by the Heathen, as Tertullian tells us, that the Christians were very good men in all other things, saving that they were Christians. When the laws were most severe against Christians for their meetings, which they called leditious, and for their refusal to comply with the received superstition of the world, which they called contempt of the Gods, yet there were all this while no laws made against modesty, and humility, and meekness, and kindness, and charity, and peaceableness, and forgiveness of injuries. These virtues are in their na. ture of so unalterable goodness, that they could not possibly be made matter of atcusation; no government ever had the face to make laws against them. And this the Apostle takes notice of as a singular commendation, and great testimony to the immutable goodness of these things, that in the experience of all ages and nations, there was never any such inconvenience found in any of them, as to give occasion to a law against them. Gal. v. 22. 23. But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, fidelity, meekness, temperance. Against such things there is no law. So that goodness from its own nature hath this security, that it brings men under the danger of no law.

II. If we consider the nature of man, even where it is very much depraved and corrupted. There is something that is apt to restrain bad men from injuring those that are remarkably good; a reverence for goodness, and the inward convictions of their own mind, that those whom they are going about to injure, are better and more righteous than themselves; the fear of God, and of bringing down his vengeance upon their heads,

by their ill treatment of his friends and followers; and · many times the fear of men, who though they be not

good themselves, yet have an esteem for those that are fo, and cannot endure to see them wronged and opprefsed, efpecially if they have been obliged by them, and have found the real effects of their goodness in good of fices done by them to themselves.

Besides that bad men are seldom bad for nought, without any cause given, without any manner of temptation and provocation to be so. Who will hurt a harmless man, and injure the innocent ? for what cause, or for what end should he do it? he must love mischief for itself, that will do it to those who never offered him any occasion and provocation.

III. If we consider the providence of God, which is particularly concerned for the protection of innocency and goodness. For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness, and his countenance will behold the upright. This the Apostle takes notice of, in the verse before the text, as the great fecurity of good men against violence and injury; The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. So that if bad men were never fo ill-disposed toward the good, and bent to do them all the injury and mischief they could devise, the providence of God hath a thousand ways to prevent it; and if he pleases to interpose between them and danger, who can harm them if they would ? He can snare the wicked in the works of their own hands, and make the mischief which they have devised against good men, to return upon their own heads; he can weaken their hands and infatuate their counsels, so that they shall not be able to bring their wicked enterprizes to pass; he can change their hearts, and turn the fierceness and rage of men against us, into a fit of love and kindVOL. IX.

ness, nefs, as he did the heart of Efau towards his brother Jacob; and their bitterest enmity against truth and good. ness, into a mighty zeal for it, as he did in St. Paul, who, when he came to Damascus, fell a preaching up that way, which he came thither on purpose to persecute. And this God hath promised to do for good men who are careful to please him. When a man's ways please the Lord, he will make his enemies to be at peace with him."

So that considering the nature of goodness, and the n'ature of man, and the providence of God, who is like to harm us, if we be followers of that which is good ? none can reasonably do it, and he must be a very bad man that can find in his heart to do it, when there is no cause, no temptation or provocation to it ; and the providence of God, who hath the hearts of men in his hands, and can fway and incline them as he pleaseth, is particularly concerned to preserve good men from harm and mischief.

And yet we are not to understand this saying of the Apostle, as declaring to us the constant and certain co! vent of things, without any exception to the contrary. For good men to appearance, nay those that are really so, and the very best of men, are fome times exposed to great injuries and sufferings ; of which I shall give you an acount in these following particulars.

I. Some that seem to be good, are not sincerely so; and when they, by the just judgment of God, are punished for their hypocrisy, in the opinion of many, goodness seems to suffer. Some, under a great profession and colour of religion, have done very bad things, and when they justly suffer for great crimes, they call punishment persecution, and the party, and church which they are of, call them saints and martyrs.

II. Some that are really good are very imperfetly fo, have many flaws and defects, which do very much blemish and obscure their goodness; they are followers of that which is good, but they have an equal zeal for things which have no goodness in them, or so little that it is not worth all that stir and bustle which they make about them; and will contend as earnestly for a doubtful, and it may be for a false opinion, as for the articles of the creed, and for the faith which was once delivered to

[ocr errors]

the

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »