« AnteriorContinuar »
channel, as knowing it to be not only the safest, but the shortest way to the point he makes.
Yet thus to court the affections of men is by many thought below the dignity of religion : but where does this indignity lie? Ought not men to be made in love with virtue and religion ? Yes, you will say: and how is that to be done? Must it not be by engaging their affections in the cause of religion? Undoubtedly it must. And is it then necessary to engage men's affections in the cause of religion ? And is it yet · an unworthy attempt to endeavor to engage them? How can these things be made to agree? But if it must be allowed that it is necessary to apply to men's affections in the cause of virtue and religion, it will show the reasonableness of the Apostle's advice in the text, and the necessity there is of having recourse to Christian prudence and wisdom to direct us in the practice even of that which is good : for all things have not the same appearance to all men ; nay, the same object appears differently to the same man, as it is exposed in different lights ; which holds as true with respect to the eyes of the mind as of the body: and therefore it lies on us to guard against any ill impressions that may be made on others by the good we do.
This care not to offend is the foundation of civility and good breeding in common life, and will likewise be productive of mutual love and condescension in religion : it will teach us to be tender of each other's infirmities, and to avoid the occasions of giving offence, which men who have not this care on their minds rather labor to seek and to improve. Let us but view the difference there will be in one Christian grace, when attended with this care, and when not: let the grace be zeal, which is in itself, without doubt, an excellent gift; but where men have no regard how far they trust or offend others, how rash and intemperate does it grow, in reproaching not only the vices, but the follies and weaknesses of mankind; how easily does it degenerate into censoriousness, and transport men beyond all bounds of charity and discretion! The consequence is, that it is-immediately surrounded with enemies of its own raising, and suffers under the names of fury and uncharitableness. But on the other side, where it is found in company with prudence, and joined with a care not to offend, it is a gentle and heavenly flame, which warms without scorching : it falls on its right object, the honor of God, and the good of men, and confines itself to such methods only as may best serve to promote both: it will therefore never run into any indecencies of passion, which are unbecoming the cause it maintains; nor will it provoke and exasperate those whom it labors to reform, as knowing what little benefit men can receive by being ill-treated. Thus will it secure itself from being evil spoken of, and appear with advantage in the eyes of all that behold it. But farther,
Some there are who have so little regard to the securing their good from being evil spoken of, that their zeal for good arises even from envy and strife. This spirit is still in being; and it is no uncommon thing for men to be spitefully good, and to delight in the opportunities of exasperating others who differ from them: men often fall on subjects for no other reason but because they know how disagreeable they are to some of the company; and to justify themselves, they say that men ought not to be ashamed when they are in the right, or afraid of owning the truth ; which are two very good reasons very sadly applied; for men ought to be ashamed of making this use of truth, which is merely insulting the prejudices of mankind, and not correcting them. It is a very unnatural effect of love for the truth, to labor to make others hate it; and yet what else .can be expected from these measures ? To make a reproach of the truth, and to upbraid men with it, is to place it in such a light before them, that it must necessarily appear to them a frightful object. It is certain that men are never to be complimented at the expense of truth or religion; nor can too hard a name be given to the mean spirit that makes men always join in the opinion of their company; nor are the opportunities which conversation affords of justifying ourselves and our opinions from the misapprehensions of others, to be neglected. It is mightily for the advancement of peace and truth that men should rightly understand each other; and this is one of the best ends that is served by conversation : and therefore there is the greater mischief in perverting it, and using it as an opportunity of revenging ourselves: the consequence of it is very plain ; it makes men seldom care to converse with any
but those of their own opinion ; which is the way to establish error, and to propagate it for ever. There is a difference between beating a man with the truth, and endeavoring to convince him of it; and between raising his passions to opposé it, and preparing them to receive it. This is the true end of conversation, though the other is too often the use of it; and the mischief is sufficiently great, if we only consider what a stubborpness in opinion men contract by being so unseasonably provoked.
But there is still a farther mischief: when men truly labor to promote truth, and recommend it to others, they always place it in its best light, and take care to obviate the misapprehensions of those they deal with; but where they enter into a question merely for opposition sake, or for the pleasure of exposing somebody else, they care not how little he understands the truth, or how grossly he mistakes; for the more violence and passion he shows against it, the greater the entertainment; and therefore instead of obviating his doubts, stumbling-blocks are laid in his way, and the thing is painted industriously in such colors as are known to be most offensive to him ; and what is the consequence? He for ever takes his measure of your opinion from this representation of it, and goes away persuaded that you could not answer the objections which you would not : you have your entertainment for the present, and he his error, it is probable, for ever. And is not this wilfully to expose our good to be evil spoken of, and for the sake of an illnatured diversion, to sacrifice the interest of truth and religion ?
The same effect is often seen to proceed from a mixture of zeal and ignorance: in this case men often judge it absolutely necessary to do or say the things they approve, when they are before those who they know do not approve them : they look on it to be asserting the truth; and to do otherwise, in their opinion, is deserting it. This was something of the case which the A postle had before him when he wrote the words of the text. The question in the church of Roine was, concerning the lawful or unlawful use of meats forbidden in the law of Moses : those 'who held it lawful to use them were never more zealous of their liberty, or more certain to make use of it, than when they met at table with those of another opinion : this gave rise to many scandals and offences. The Apostle, who allowed the use of all meats indifferently, disapproved this perverse uncharitable use of them ; and among many other reasons, gave this as one, • Let not your good be evil spoken of.' But to proceed :
Sometimes men expose their good to be evil spoken of out of pure pride and haughtiness of temper: this is the case when men have such a contempt for the world as not to think it worth their while to guard against the misapprehensions of those about them. They reckon it below their dignity to render any account of what they do, and a mark of guilt to descend so low as to justify their actions. But surely, if we estimate the thing fairly, it is betraying of that which is good to reproach, and laying of stumbling-blocks in the way of the blind. The very reason why you despise the world, and disdain to give any account to it of what you do, because the world is weak and captious, and below a wise man’s notice, is the reason why you ought to endeavor to satisfy it. This rule of the Apostle has its rise from the weakness of men ; and the very end of it is to direct us how to walk with respect to those who are weak, and unable to judge of things so perfectly as we do. Do but read the first verse of the next chapter, in which the Apostle sums up the advice he had given, and you will see that the Apostle lays his foundation in the known or supposed weakness of men : then,' says he, that are strong, ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves :' and when he advises us not to let our good be evil spoken of, what else is it but to advise us to guard against the weakness and misapprehensions of men ? He knew surely that good could not be liable to be evil spoken of but by being misunderstood; and therefore he can mean nothing else in this charge, but that we should condescend to the weakness of others, and keep our good out of the way of being misunderstood by them.
How much below a wise man you may think this conduct I cannot say; bnt I am sure it is not below a good man, who will think nothing below him that tends to the honor and advancement of virtue ; and nothing more does so than to justify virtue and goodness in the eyes of the world. Things are capable of very different constructions; and all men cannot equally judge
of the consequences and tendencies of opinions and actions; and therefore it is a duty owing to yourself, your neighbor, and the truth, to fence your actions and principles against the misapprehensions of weak minds. Your own reputation, your neighbor's satisfaction, and the honor of truth, are equally concerned, and equally demand this justice at your hands.
Nor is any man, huw great soever he is, above rendering an account of himself to the world. It is not true magnanimity or greatness of soul that makes men averse to it, but a narrowspirited insolence and pride that possesses them, and teaches them to place their glory, not so much in the worthiness of their actions, as in despising and contemning every body else. A generous virtue is open and free, harbors no ill designs, and therefore fears no discovery; and never appears more truly glorious than when it is most truly understood : it loves the light, because its deeds are good ; and is always ready to render an account of itself, because it can always render a good one. Were this openness and plainness more practised in the world, perhaps it might prevent a great deal of that hatred and animosity, which are founded in mutual jealousies and suspicions: I imagine this would be the consequence, because I verily believe that few men intend half the mischief that they are suspected of.
There are other instances to be given, in which men expose their good to be evil spoken of : when a man sacrifices truth and honor to interest, and basely deserts the cause which he approves, truth itself often suffers, and others think there was but little in the profession, since so little appears in action : but in this and the like cases men may be more properly said to expose themselves to be evil spoken of than their good; for the world is generally so quick-sighted as to know that such treachery is to be charged, not on the cause, but the man: these instances therefore do not so immediately belong to the present subject. I proceed now to the last particular, which is to show,
Thirdly, that as it is often in our power to prevent our good from being evil spoken of, so in many cases it is our duty.
This duty may, I think, be deduced from these principles ;