Abbildungen der Seite

say the things which they approve, when they are before those who they know do not approve them: this case enlarged on. Sometimes men expose their good to be evil-spoken of from pure pride and haughtiness of temper: this is the case when men so despise the world as not to care about guarding against the misapprehensions of those around them. The very reason why you despise the world, and disdain to give an account of your actions, viz. because it is weak and captious, is the reason why you ought to try to satisfy it; and in this the rule of the Apostle is founded, as appears from chap. xv. 1. No man, how great soever he may be, is above rendering an account of himself to the world. It is not greatness of soul, but a narrow-spirited insolence and pride that makes men averse to it, teaching them to glory not so much in the worthiness of their actions, as in despising every one else : a generous virtue enlarged on, showing that if candor were more practised in the world, it might prevent much hatred and animosity; since few intend half the mischief of which they are suspected.-III. 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 be deduced from these principles; the honor of God and of truth, the charity that is due to our brethren, and the justice that is due to ourselves. The honor of God is chiefly consulted by reconciling men's minds to the love of virtue and religion, by removing their prejudices, and gently drawing their affections to the cause of goodness: the most substantial honor that we can pay our Maker, is to exalt his name among the people, and teach every tongue to confess his truth: this point enlarged on. It will

appear also to be a part of that charity which is owing to our neighbor: we know how much his happiness depends on approving that which is good ; for without holiness no man shall see God: this duty then is to be performed not by rendering our good odious and offensive to him, but by setting it forth with

out scandal or offence, that he may be ashamed of nothing, but rather love and embrace it. But farther, it is a piece of justice which we owe to ourselves and our own character, to render our good irreproachable: for when it suffers, we suffer with it, and share in the reproaches that fall on it. It is doubtful whether it be justifiable in the good we do to have regard to our own reputation : to make it the end of what we do is certainly bad; for the applause of the world is not the end of religion : but a good man can do so much good by having a good reputation, that it is his duty to consult his credit and character in what he does : hence he refrains from. those freedoms which the world judges unbecoming his character, though harmless in themselves; and surely this restraint is an innocent way of aspiring to a good reputation. Nor is this prudent behavior inconsistent with a steady and constant adherence to the truth, which is not to be deserted that it may not be evil spoken of, but is to be practised without offence. In matters essential to religion there is no room for compliance; and in matters of Christian liberty there is hardly any room for denying it: where we are free, the greatest deference is to be paid to the opinions, nay, even to the prejudices of others: this point enlarged on to the end.






Let not then your good be evil spoken of.

IN describing the condition of our Christian warfare, St. Peter tells us, If, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God:' to this, says he, you are called by the example of Christ, who suffered reproaches willingly, and when he was reviled, reviled not again. This is a duty in which one would think there should be no danger of any man's overacting his part. Reproach and contempt are not such desirable riches, that we need be warned against their temptations, or cautioned lest we too earnestly pursue after them. We are apt enough to shrink at the approach of calumny, and to invent plausible excuses for the neglect of a duty, which performed would expose us to envy or ill-will. What then means the Apostle by this exhortation, · Let not your good be evil spoken of? Are we called by Christ to suffer revilings and reproaches ? and are we called by his Apostle to fly from them and avoid them ? Our Saviour seems to speak another language to us in his sermon on the mount: ‘Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you :' and if it be our happiness to be reviled, how is it our duty to take care not to be evil spoken of for our good ?

But suppose, however, that it is no way inconsistent with our Christian duty to avoid the calumny and reproach of the world ; yet still is it in our power to stop the mouth of malice and wickedness? When we do our duty, can we help it if others will speak evil of our good? Why are not they rather exhorted not to speak evil of our good, than we not to let our

good be evil spoken of? It is not in our power to govern other people's tongues : is it not enough therefore that the thing we do is good, but must it likewise lie on us to secure our good from the attempts of malice and envy? Is it not sufficient that we suffer patiently under the malice of wickedness, but must we partake in the guilt of it too; and shall it be imputed to us as a crime, that we let our good be evil spoken of ?

Such reasonings as these perhaps the text may suggest at first hearing : but when maturely considered, it will afford excellent instruction for our conduct in the pursuit of those things which are in themselves truly good and praiseworthy; it will teach us not only how to be good in ourselves, but likewise how to be useful in the world, by exercising a truly Christian prudence and address in promoting the interest of virtue and religion.

To court oppression and persecution, to invite the world to misuse us for the sake of our profession, is far from being a duty to which the gospel has called us. It is neither for the interest of our religion, nor the glory of our Master, that we should voluntarily expose either ourselves or our doctrine to the hatred and contempt of the world : in both cases our Saviour has given other directions ; 'Give not,' says he, “that which is boly unto the dogs; neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you :' Matt. vii. 6. And when he sent his disciples forth to preach, he expressly commanded them to beware of men ;' not only allowing, but requiring them to have a regard to their own safety, and cautiously to shift the dangers to which they were necessarily to be exposed.

This may satisfy us of the lawfulness and expediency of guarding against the dangers that may attend the practice and profession of religion in an evil world, and clear our way to the understanding the extent and meaning of the Apostle's advice, Let not your good be evil spoken of.'.

The rule is general, and extends itself to all parts of our Christian conversation : it stands applied indeed by the Apostle to a particular case, which was matter of controversy in the church of Rome at the time this letter was written to them : but as the rule does not arise out of the particular circumstances of that case, there will be no necessity of considering it with reference to the dispute which the Apostle had in his view; but we may deduce it from the general principles of Christian prudence and charity in which it is founded. And that we may proceed clearly to the point we aim at, I shall,

First, inquire what we are to understand the Apostle to mean by 'our good.'

Secondly, endeavor to show that our good' is often exposed to be evil spoken of' through our own indiscretion; and consequently, that it is often in our own power to prevent it : from whence,

In the last place, will appear the reasonableness of the duty enjoined us in the text.

First, we are to inquire what we are to understand the Apostle to mean by our good.' And here we may meet with different opinions : some, by our good,' understand our religion, which is indeed every Christian's chief good; and according to this sense of the words the Apostle must be understood to exhort us to have a regard to the honor of the gospel in all our actions, and to administer no occasion to the enemies of our religion either to deride or despise our holy calling. And thus the text amounts to an argument, or exhortation, to move us to a simplicity of manners and an inoffensive behavior, for fear lest we bring a reproach on our profession. But the Apostle seems to aim at something farther : his business here is not to deter us from the practice of evil, but to direct us in the use and practice of that which is good, that our virtue may be without offence, and secured from calumny and reproach : and our good,' mentioned in the text, is not the topic from which the Apostle draws an argument or exhortation, but is the subject matter concerning which he is giving directions. According to this interpretation of the words, the text may be thus paraphrased : Be not content with merely doing that which is in itself good and commendable, but look forward to the consequences which are likely to attend it, and endeavor to prevent any mischief that may grow out of it to yourself or others, that your good may be inoffensive and irreproachable. In this sense it is that I propose to consider the text; and shall now proceed,

« ZurückWeiter »