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1. A single intention and aim to please God, and approve ourselves to him through our whole course. That it is our principal study to be well accepted with him, before all other considerations, and above all other motives of acting; and that we resolve to conduct ourselves chiefly, and in bar of any thing else, by the hope of his favour, and the fear of his displeasure; this is meant by having "the eye single," Luke xi. 34. To which "a double-minded man" stands opposed, James i. 8. who has some desire to please God, but is in suspense between that and other motives of acting; the balance now turns one way, and then another. It is truly said concerning such a man, that he "is unstable in all his ways." But the basis of sincerity is this, that "whatever we' do, we do it unto the Lord, and not to men," Col. iii. 23. As far as we suffer ourselves to be swayed by other considerations more than by a regard to God, and especially when we are carried away by other inducements to run the risk of losing his favour, and falling under his displeasure, so far a breach is made upon gospel-sincerity, whether it be the pleasing of other men, or the advancement of our own worldly interest, that is set up in competition with him, and allowed a preference before him.
We are indeed allowed not only to aim at our own spiritual and eternal advantage, which is inseparably connected with the pleasing of'God, but also at our temporal interest, whenever it will not interfere with our duty, and at the pleasing of men, when we can have a prospect of reaching that end with a safe conscience. But if either of these be made our main aim, or be pursued at the known hazard of offending God, if we seek to please ourselves, or other men, at this expense, "we are not the servants of Christ," Gal. i. 10. Sincerity is wanting, as far as a concern to please him hath not the preeminence.
Not that we can actually be supposed to form this intention in every particular action we do. In many cases it is sufficient that this design be habitual. In actions where there is no suspension of evil, a man may act with full sincerity, though there be not a direct and express regard had to God therein. But wherever there is deliberation, when there hath been a doubt and struggle, whether we ought, or ought not,
to do a thing, there an actual intention to please God, and to perform our duty, is necessary to sincerity. 2. An impartial inquiry into our duty is an essential part of sincerity. That having fixed it for our aim above all things to please God, we diligently apply ourselves to the use of all proper and appointed means, according to our capacities, to discover his mind and will, “how we ought to walk and to please God,” 1 Thess. iv. 1. Sincerity consists not with a rashness of acting, or a negligence in inquiry, but necessarily implies a hearty desire to “know what is the good and acceptable will of the Lord.” A sincere man is willing to discover his Master's will, though it should happen to contradict the sentiments of which he is firmly persuaded at present, or the practices of which hitherto he hath been most tenacious ; and is ready to change his mind, or his course, upon COn VICtlon. He not only cannot satisfy himself to shut his eyes against light when it is offered him, but diligently applies himself to the means of information. He will consult the dictates of his own mind, and carefully search the word of God, and gladly embrace any opportunity by which he may be assisted to understand the meaning of it better. He is desirous to be free from prejudice and prepossessions that might give him a wrong bias, and hinder him from the admission of light and proper evidence, from whatever quarter, and by whatever means it is offered him. And, therefore, as conscious of his own liableness to mistake, and how easy it is to have latent prejudices of which a man may not be particularly sensible at the time, he often applies to God by earnest prayer, that he would be his guide and teacher, and would relieve him by his grace against every sinful bias and wrong impression, or influence, he may be under. “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do P’ is the frequent language of his heart: “What I know not, teach thou me.” He sets himself to prove all things, as he hath opportunity, to consider and make the most impartial judgment that he can upon the means of information. And, as sensible of his continuing imperfection, he still “follows on to know the Lord,” and would ever remain open to light. This of upright inquiry is a great branch of sincerity. It is observable, that Nathanael had that illustrious character given him by Christ, of being “an Israelite indeed, in whom
was no guile,” upon his discovering himself to be an impartial inquirer. He had as yet no actual knowledge of Christ. Upon Philip's telling him, John i, 45. “We have found him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth;” Nathanael, like a man careful not to be deceived in a matter of the greatest importance, as this was, whether Jesus was the promised Messiah, honestly proposes an objection, which in his mind, upon what Philip had said, “Can any good thing, (says he,) come out of Nazareth P’’ ver, 46. Either the meanness of the place, or the bad character of the inhabitants, might lead him to suspect it. Or he might be prepossessed with the same mistaken sentiment which some teachers of the law expressed, in John vii. 52. that “no prophet could come out of Galilee.” Or, perhaps, he understood Philip to mean, that Jesus was born in Nazareth ; and then knowing, with the rest of the Jews, from Micah's prophecy, that Christ was to be born at Bethlehem, till he was set right in this fact, he could not yet get over the objection. Philip, without standing to answer him, it may be without being able to do it, because he was yet but a young disciple, presses Nathanael to come and see ; to go along with him and converse with Christ, that he might make a trial himself, whether there was not reason to think the same of Christ, that Philip did. Nathanael, like a truly upright and conscientious man, as he would not take so great a matter upon trust without evidence, so, on the other hand, he would not neglect an opportunity of better information, when he was so fairly led to it, but goes along with Philip to Jesus. And no sooner was he come within hearing, but, before any conversation had passed, Christ receives him with this encomium, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile.” Wherein our Lord eminently fixes this character upon an impartial inquirer after truth. As if he had said, “Thou hast acted like an honest and sincere man, both in the objections thou hast started against me, and in coming to make a farther trial. Thou didst, without favour or affection, say of me what thou thoughtest agreeable to scripture, and yet, upon Philip's invitation, art come to inquire whether thou canst discover anything more certain. Thou hast neither shewn a rash credulity, in taking me for the Messiah without proper evidence, nor an unpersuadable obstinacy in refusing to use the means in thy
power for better information. This is worthy of a sincere man.'
S. An entire and universal application to the practice of duty, as far as it is known, without stated and allowed reserves and exceptions. Sincerity comprehends integrity in it, or making conscience of the whole compass of known duty.
If our governing end be to please God, we shall as carefully pursue that end, where we have only that motive, as where there are other considerations likely to influence, beside the pleasing of God. And really there is no trial of our sincere and impartial regard to God, more clear and decisive than this, to observe how we stand affected to those parts of religion to which /God and our own consciences alone are privy. For instance,
We shall be as careful. about the exercise of every grace and virtue, in the inward frame and temper of the heart, as in the visible action that should flow from it. A hypocrite is satisfied to "make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, though within he be full of extortion and excess, Mart, xxiii. 25. But sincerity will concern itself about the inward disposition, in mortifying "the thought of foolishness," as well as the fruit of it in the life, and in cultivating a right temper of soul to God and man, as well as a blameless outward behaviour to both. A sincere man will bewail the sins which go no farther than thought, if he be conscious that Ids heart gave in to them, though the conception should, by some means or other, prove abortive; and both in his devotions to God, and his transactions with men, he will be solicitous not only to escape the censure of men, but that the actions they are ready to commend, flow from an inward principle, and that dispositions be not wanting in the heart, correspondent to all the "light shewn before men."
For the same reason, sincerity will engage to equal care m private conduct, as when we are upon the public stage, h will not allow a man to be a libertine in secret, as long as be appears in open view a man of probity and virtue; nor to be an Atheist at home, while he wears the mask of a saint abroad; nor to be in readiness to practise a base trick, when he aD hope for concealment, while he appears accurately just in cases where he knows he is strictly observed. An upright man makes conscience of owning God in his family and his closet, as well as of public worship, and will be as careful to maintain life and seriousness in the one as in the other. It is probable that Christ points at something of this nature in Nathanael's case, when he tells him, "Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig-tree, I saw thee," John i. 48. Possibly he was there in retirement, engaged in holy meditation and devotion; and Christ lets him know, that when he was there alone, out of the reach of any human eye, he saw and observed him. It is plain, that .some private transaction of importance passed there, because Nathanael declares himself immediately to be convinced of Christ's extraordinary character from his being able to give him a hint of this; and it is equally plain, that it was some good thing that he had done in private, because Christ, instead of reproving him for it, produces this as an additional evidence, that he had not spoke at random in pronouncing him "an Israelite indeed." The reason why a sincere man. is the same in private as in public,' is in truth because he never thinks himself alone, but always in the presence of God, as well as of his own conscience; and that consideration has principal weight with him.
And sincerity disposes to pay an indiscriminate regard to God's authority, or an equal respect to it in all cases, where we can discover it; that it be allowed to command and sway the whole man, so that we are willing to receive any thin<j for truth upon his testimony, and any thing for law upon the signification of his will, and to consecrate all that we have, and are to his service without reserve. It is a false and dissembled respect to God, if we consent not to be at his direction universally and without exception, if we count not, "all his precepts concerning all things to be right, and hate not every false way," Psal. cxix. 128. I say not, that any man performs actually perfect, unsinniug obedience, but that if is' inconsistent with gospel-sincerity to have a fixed and known exception against any particular branch of duty, or in stated favour of any irregular habit, or inclination, which we are convinced to be such.
4. A correspondence and harmony between inward sentiments and the words and actions, is necessary to constitute sincerity.
This must be maintained in the affairs of religion, if we