« AnteriorContinuar »
THIRD ADDITIONAL SERMON.
ON THE EXHIBITION OF GOOD WORKS.
MATTHEW, CHAP. v.–VERSE 16.
Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, which is in heaven.
AN example, be it good or bad, is the most effectual oratory and prevailing rhetoric, whereby to gain proselytes to our actions and opinions. I put them both together; for as much as it is almost impossible to conceive how we should reconcile any person to one without the other; since men's actions are generally the rules whereby we judge and guess at their opinions: they do mutually depend on, and beget one another; and though most commonly it is the preceding opinion of the good, or satisfaction and pleasure of this or the other action, which makes us put it in execution; yet it often happens that actions, done at first perhaps inconsiderately and rashly, without our seriously setting ourselves to consider the issue and event, and these actions often repeated, do at length beget opinions in us which we never dreamt of before, but which it is now necessary to maintain as some seeming justification of our past actions, or at least as that which renders them more tolerable and excusable to our imaginations than they would appear if tried and judged only by those sentiments of things, by those notions of good and evil, or of laudable and unworthy actions, which we entertained before the commission of them. Which if it be true, it is obvious to any man's conception to comprehend how much the welfare and happiness, or the misery and unhappy estate of a very considerable part of the universe may depend on him, as far I mean as every man's acquaintance or consideration reaches; a reflexion than which there is not any that can be a greater encouragement to a virtuous and well-ordered life, or a greater determent from that which is vicious and disorderly. For as the pleasures of benevolence are infinite and unspeakable, as there is nothing which can leave the mind of man in a more calm, serene, and satisfied frame or temper, than the consideration of that good which he has done to another, in reference either to his spiritual or temporal condition; so doubtless, if ever a man be awakened to a true sense of things, to understand the unreasonableness or disagreeableness of his past actions with reason and religion, nothing will be a greater torture to his mind, or a more intolerable weight on his spirits, than the reflecting on that evil, (either as regards this life or another) to which by his wicked and debauched example, or by his unmerciful and uncompassionate heart, he has reduced those who are possibly cursing the hour of so unhappy an acquaintaince, and the day that proclaimed him heir to a large unprofitable estate. The words which we have read in the text are part of our Saviour's excellent Sermon on the Mount, sufficiently confirming us in the truth of what hath been already said, and encouraging us in the practice of it; first, by his positive command in the beginning of the words to give a holy and blameless example; ‘let your light shine before men:' secondly, from that prerogative or honor which will accrue to us thereby, in that we do in some measure tend to the exalting of God's glory; “that they may see your good works,’ and thus being provoked by the example of righteousness and holiness, may by the performance of the same acts themselves, “glorify your Father which is in heaven.' For the better understanding of these words, we shall endeavor to manifest, first, what is meant by the former part of them, or when any one can properly be said to have his light shining before men, or to be a light shining to men. Secondly; taking occasion from thence, we shall detect those several sorts of impostors in the world, who pretend to be great lights, when really they be not so, but quite the contrary; as also we shall
here evidence what it is that gives occasion to their presumption. Thirdly, we shall likewise show the contrary mistake of others, who for fear of really being, or of being accounted vain-glorious, do almost utterly abandon in public all laudable and commendable actions; by which means one grand design of them wholly perishes and is lost; to wit, their influence on the minds of others. Fourthly, and lastly, we shall dilate on what will be the effects of our light shining before men; to wit, the conversion of our brethren from a state of darkness and ignorance to one of light and knowlege; from a state of sin and wickedness to one of a holy and godlike conversation; and lastly from an estate of misery and destruction, whither in all probability they are now running, to an estate of happiness and tranquillity, to uninterrupted pleasures and unbounded joys at God's right hand for evermore: nor shall we advantage our neighbor only, but ourselves also; for God will account himself honored by this piece of service which we shall do for him, and will undoubtedly and infallibly reward us.
I. As to the first of these heads, when properly our light may be said to shine before men, I answer generally, that then it is, when by all the actions of our lives we make it apparent to the world that we are Christians in deed and in earnest; that we have not taken a profession of Christianity on us, either that it may conciliate to us a tolerable esteem and good liking among the rest of our neighbors, or that we may be accounted orthodox in our tenets and opinions, or that it may tend to the preserving and improving our temporal riches and estates, or for any other sinister design whatsoever; but then only, when after being fully convinced in our minds of the truth and certainty, of the purity, excellence, aud reasonableness of the religion we profess, from the power of God so eminently manifested in its introduction into the world, from the signs and miracles afterwards attending it for its preservation and establishment, as also from the precepts and injunctions which it imposes, so agreeable to the mind of every man that is not perfectly sunk into an estate of brutishness, so becoming the great lawgiver in his dealings with his offspring, so representing him as not to beget foolish and superstitious fears in our minds, but a masculine, free, and generous compliance with his will and commands; so highly maintaining his grandeur and majesty, and so powerfully influencing our reverence and adoration; when, I say, being convinced by such considerations as these only, and not making any veils or covers of hypocrisy, we so act that the whole sense of our actions may speak nothing else to the world but the true thoughts and real sentiments of our minds. That our light therefore may be said truly to shine before men, it is not enough that we make our constant appearance in the assembly of God's people, or that we there make a profession of the Christian faith; that we profess to renounce the devil and all his works; that we partake, with the rest of the congregation, of the holy communion; nor, to go farther, that we stand on defence of our Christian religion against all opposers and gainsayers; that we plead hard, and sweat ourselves into an holy zeal and anger against Jew or Infidel: these ought to be done, but the other parts of our duty ought not to be left undone; neither are these sufficient to make our light shine before men, that they seeing our good works may glorify our Father which is in heaven: for if we do these things only, do not even the publicans and pharisees the same 7 What do we more than they and we can no faster bring heathen and strangers into a good opinion or esteem of our faith and religious worship by these actions only, than they will be taught to contemn and despise it again by those who perform the same actions with ourselves, without having any farther respect to the more positive, weighty, and fundamental commands of God, as the exercise of justice and righteousness; of charity, love, and benignity; of meekness, patience, and humility: of selfdenial, purity, chastity, and other such-like Christian virtues. We can no sooner bring any to think so well of our faith, as to glorify our father which is in heaven, but they will be taught by those who are hypocrites in our religion, to look on our God as a mock Deity only, whom we worship for no other end than our interest among men, for no other cause than that of our education, or it may be sometimes our divertisement; by those, I say, who satisfy themselves with a form of godliness whilst they deny the power thereof. He, then, that would be a true Christian, such as our Saviour would have us to be, who would have his light to shine before
men, and bring them to embrace the same effectual faith with himself, and to glorify his heavenly father, let his example go farther than the exercise of those things which to him may be of pride or ostentation only, or which he can do without danger of hazarding the smallest interest, without defraying one mite towards the relief of the necessitous, without bestowing one crumb to satisfy the craving of an hungry stomach, or one drop to allay the thirst of the scorched traveller, without contributing any small benevolence towards the clothing of the naked, the relieving of the miserable captive from his intolerable yoke, or the prisoner from his cloister more infectious than the chamber of death; which he can do without laying any restraint on his unruly appetites, without denying himself the satisfaction of any lust and passion, without patience and submission under the dispensation of God's providence, or without any more love and charity to his neighbor than what proceeds from that which he bears to himself. If we would be true Caristians, and such as may be instrumental to make others so too, we must rise a degree higher; our works and actions must profess our religion, and not a bare profession serve the turn of both. Let us then exercise all those Christian virtues, on all occasions, which either the rebellion of our passions, the extravagancy of our desires, a prosperous or an afflicted estate, the necessity of others; in a word, which any part of our duty towards God, our neighbor, or ourselves, calls for at our hands. Have we a fair opportunity of making any unjust advantage on another, without danger of being discovered, or of hazarding our credit and reputation, prevailing on his ignorance and despicable estate in the world, by our policy, might, and interest ? then by the exercise of justice and honesty, do we cause our light to shine before Inen. Do we embrace all opportunities, which our own circumstances will permit us to do, with prudence and discretion, of relieving and supplying the wants of those who are in a worse condition than ourselves? then do our good works appear, in our tender pity and compassion to the exigencies of mankind. Are we at any time oppressed with grievous sickness, pain, and torture of the body, or with any other afflic