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It is not only a good office of charity to this or that man, but it lays a general obligation on our country, on our age, on posterity itself; on which an exemplary virtue may have notable influence. The benefits which may arise from the examples of good men in this point of view dilated on. Instances of the holy Apostles. V. A care of our conversation in the sight of men is needful for the preservation of our good name and fair repute among them. A good name is in holy Scripture represented as a special gift and blessing of God, bestowed in recompense of piety and virtue. Also reason and experience concur in showing it to be a valuable possession, &c. Wherefore in duty and wisdom we should be careful of preserving so precious a jewel. But how can men conceive and keep a good opinion of us, otherwise than from a view of our worthy qualities and good deeds 2 Ye shall know them by their fruits, is our Saviour's own rule. This topic enlarged on. VI. Lastly; the public discharge of a good conscience will yield manifold advantages and great benefits to ourselves. It will much secure and strengthen us in goodness, by the consideration that we have gained so great a victory over temptations. It will afford us great satisfaction of mind to reflect on the consequences of such a practice. We shall highly oblige those, whom by our endeavors or example we may convert to righteousness, or reclaim from iniquity. We shall thereby escape the sore complaints and curses of those whom our naughty or careless demeanor might have involved in a sinful practice. It is also no small advantage, that by a good conversation we shall procure the particular friendship and affection of good illon.
Such considerations may induce all persons to observe this apostolical precept, so far as their capacities may reach : we may however, in fine, observe that it especially concerns persons of quality, in proportion to their eminency in power, authority, reputation, or any peculiar advantage, whereby the beneficial efficacy of good conversation is increased : reasons for this given, to the end.
ROMANS, CHAP. XII.-VERSE 17.
I HAve formerly discoursed on this apostolical precept; and having declared the meaning of it, (briefly importing that we should have a special care of our external behavior, coming under the view and observation of men, that it be perfectly innocent and inculpable,) I did propose divers motives inducing to the observance of it; but divers others of great importance the time would not allow me to urge; I shall therefore now proceed to offer them to your consideration. I did then show that a regard to the reason and nature of things, to the satisfaction of our conscience, to the honor of God, and to the credit of our religion, did require from us a good conversation before men; I now farther add, that, I. The real interest of piety and virtue do exact such a conversation, as the most effectual way of upholding, advancing, and propagating them among men. Example is a very powerful thing either way, both for attraction to good, and seduction to evil; such is the nature of men, that they are more apt to be guided by the practice of others than by their own reason, and more easily can write after a copy than by a rule; that they are prone to imitate whatever they see done, be it good or bad, convenient or inconvenient, profitable or hurtful, emulating the one, and aping the other; that they love to be in the fashion, and will go anywhither in company, presuming of support, defence, and comfort therein; that they will satisfy their minds and justify their doings by any authority, deeming that laudable or allowable, or at least tolerable and excusable, for which they can allege precedents; judging that if they are not singular, they are innocent, or however not very culpable; that hardly they will undertake any thing without countenance, whereby their modesty is in some measure secured, and partners engaged to bear a share with them in the censure to which their deportment is liable. Hence a visible good conversation will have a great efficacy toward the promotion and propagation of goodness; the authority of that being adjoined to the native worth and beauty, to the rational plausibility, to the sensible benefit of virtue, will cogently draw men to it; it will be a clear pattern, whereby they shall be informed what they are obliged and what they are able to perform; it will be a notable spur, smartly exciting them to mind and pursue their duty; it will be a vigorous incentive, inflaming their courage, and provoking an emulation to do well. The visible succor and countenance of many, espousing the cause of goodness by their practice, will assuredly bring it into request and vogue, and thence into current use and fashion; so just a cause cannot fail to prosper, having any reasonable forces to maintain it; it will have great strength, great boldness and assurance, when a considerable party doth appear engaged on its side. Yea, sometimes even the example of a few will do it great service; the rarity giving a special lustre to their virtue, and rendering it more notable; according to that intimation of the Apostle, when he thus doth exhort the Philippians to a cheerful and forward practice of goodness; “Do all things,’ saith he, ‘without murmurings and disputings; that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world.” A good conversation doth notify good men to one another, and draweth them together, and combineth them in a party, for the protection of goodness, heartening and aiding one another therein. Such advantages goodness doth always need; for it ever hath in the world many adversaries, striving by violent force to beat it down, or by treacherous fraud to supplant it; who use their authority and interest to suppress it; who by their evil example do seduce from it; who labor by detraction to blast it, by scorn and reproach to discourage it, by divers temptations and baits to entice from it; who combining their forces with the wicked spirits, and with the corrupt inclinations of men, do raise a mighty party for wickedness. Wherefore, to balance such oppositions, goodness doth need friends to maintain it; not only friends in heart, or secret wellwishers; but open friends, who frankly will avow it, and both in word and deed will stoutly abet it. A demure, bashful, timorous friendship, will rather prejudice than help it; for nothing will more animate its foes to assail and persecute it, than observing its friends to slink and sneak: when good men hide their faces, as if they were ashamed of their goodness, then bad men will grow more impudent and insolent in their outrages against it. Wherefore, if we would have goodness hold up its head, we must openly take its part; if we would not be guilty of its ruin, we must stand up to uphold it; for whoever openly complieth with sin, or neglecteth his duty, may well be charged with its ruin; since if thou so desertest goodness, another after thy pattern may do the like, and a third may follow him ; so the neglect of it may soon be propagated, until at length it may be quite abandoned, and left destitute of support: if it doth not thus happen, it will as to thee be accidental, and no thanks to thee for its better fortune. The declension of piety is not perhaps more to be ascribed to any other cause than to this, than that men who approve goodness in their hearts are so backward to show it in their practice; that good men do so affect retirement and wrapping up their virtue in obscurity; that most men think it enough if in the cause of religion against profaneness and dissoluteness they appear neuters, and do not impugn it: for if in a time of infection