« AnteriorContinuar »
that for duties which are statedly to return, a stated time in the morning and the evening should be pitched upon as that which we intend commonly to employ this way, farther than extraordinary occasions may make an exception; and this at such a time wherein, upon the knowledge of our own constitutions and business, we may expect to be most lively and least interrupted; for a truly pious mind will not content himself commonly to put God and his soul off with the dregs of his time and spirits. For the manner, prudence, aiming at the great end of piety, must still be our guide. As, suppose, for the posture used, whether prostration, or kneeling, or standing, we should choose that wherein our minds are most free, and least liable to discomposure. By the same measure, we should be conducted either to use the voice, when privacy will admit of it, or to forbear it; and 1 may also add, either wholly to address God in such thoughts and expressions as our own hearts suggest, or at some times to use the assistance of pious forms or hints prepared by others, when our own minds may not be in the best frame. For the length of them, prudence must direct that too; and I believe most people will find it ordinarily expedient, that their devotions should rather be frequent than long, that at least the length of them should be proportioned to the fervour and seriousness of the spirit. In the social duties of religion, we are concerned to mind the good of others, as well as of our own souls, and therefore Christian prudence must consult that. We should adjust the time of our family-devotions, as may best comport with the general edification of the members of it, if possible, when they can be all present, and when they are least likely to be sluggish and indisposed. The matter of our addresses should be things of the most common concern to all, and suitable to the circumstances of the family as such. Care should be taken in the manner and expressions, that, as far as possible, it may not be justly exceptionable. And here especially, in the daily service of God in our families, tediousness is carefully to be avoided; for want of prudence in which I doubt many children and servants in pious families, have been led to disgust religion more than otherwise they would hare done.
2. Prudence is equally necessary to acconpwy zeal and goodness in performing our duty to ourselves.
In the first and fundamental part of it, the immediate care of our souls. This cannot be well done without Christian prudence. To become well acquainted with the bias of our constitutions and natural tempers, which belongs to prudence, will give us the principal light to discern the "sins that most easily beset us, and the best methods of escaping them, and to discover the graces and virtues wherein we have the best prospect of shining." The more we discern the devices of Satan, We shall be the better prepared to obviate them; for if we are ignorant of them, he is like to "gain an advantage over us," 2 Cor. ii. 11. Prudence must point us to the happy and advantageous seasons, the promising minutes, which may be most successfully improved for strengthening our good habits, and mortifying the several irregular dispositions that attend us. Prudence describes the temptations which are apt to excite our irregular appetites, and directs us to avoid them; whereas, if without it we rashly enter into temptation, how difficult it is to preserve our innocence!
In making the interests of soul and body consistent, as far as possible, prudence is of vast service. We must not neglect the care of our bodies while we sojourn in them, but endeavour, as far as is practicable, to make the welfare of soul and body comport together. And this end might in many cases be obtained by the exercise of Christian prudence, far more than some good men reach it, or than worldly men think practicable. By a prudent observation and improvement of the proper times and seasons for both, there would be room, in the ordinary state of-things, for all the diligence in men's worldly b usiness that can be reasonably desired, and yet their better interests not be neglected. If men would but observe God's rule for the strict observation of the Lord's day, they would not find that to interfere with a close application to their secular business, on other days, nor to their success in it, and yet they might be able to preserve the strongest affection for things above. Nor Would it be difficult, with a little prudent forecast, or the "ordering of their affairs with discretion," so to manage them, that convenient time might be found on every day for the wor- . ship of 'God in private, and in their families, and sometimes occasionally in public worship, without any detriment to their outward interest. Experience shews this daily, in many instances of people who carry on their trades and worldly business
with the greatest success, and yet are very diligent for their souls too, in season and out of season. Thus, by innocent prudence, we may often avoid temporal inconveniencies for our profession, which we should endeavour to do, as far as may be done without intrenching upon a good conscience. This is the particular case referred to in the text, the escaping of persecution, as far as may lawfully be avoided. Sometimes it is impossible to be staved off without making shipwreck of faith and a good conscience, and then all regards to the body must give place to the everlasting interests of our soul. So Christ exhorts in this chapter, ver. 28. “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” But sometimes we may avoid suffering in a time of persecution, without violating duty; and we are directed to use any wisdom of the serpent for that purpose consistent with integrity, particularly if we can escape it by flight, ver. 23. “When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another.” To the same purpose, Prov. xxii. 3. “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself.” This is an ordinary rule, though it may admit of exceptions, as Nehemiah said, “Should such a man as I flee?” Neh. vi. 7. Being the supreme magistrate at Jerusalem, by whose influence and encouragement the Jews were chiefly animated in their work, and foreseeing that if he forsook them, they would quit their work and fly too; in this case he resolved to run all risks. The same may be the case of some in a public character in time of persecution; they may be so circumstanced, that it may not consist with duty to fly. But prudence, upon an impartial weighing of the particular circumstances, must direct in this matter. Prudence, as least, will contribute one way very much to our safety from many sufferings. As far as we are governed by it, we shall not expose ourselves to sufferings by mere imprudences, which indeed give rise to many instances of unkind usage. Christian prudence will take away the occasions of ill treatment on any other account than as Christians; it will not allow us to suffer as busy bodies, or upon account of needless provocations. And, I doubt, good men too ofteu heighten the ill-will of others against them by such means. 3. Prudence is yet farther necessary to the regular and
successful discharge of "our duty to our neighbours." Innumerable instances might be produced on this head: I shall only single out a few. ►
Prudence should attend our sincere endeavours to do good to the souls of men. Most men are so indifferent about their / best interests, and so readv to misinterpret the most honest methods taken for that purpose, that some policy and prudence must be used to make such charitable endeavours to go down. He who would hope to succeed in instructing of the ignorant, or convincing of gainsayers, or reforming of the vicious, must take some pains to render himself acceptable, as far as that may be done without sinful compliances. The preacher must "seek to find out acceptable words;" only he must be careful that they be "upright, even words of truth," Eccl. xii. 10. He must be content, out of a desire of doing good, to imitate St Paul's example, 1 Cor. ix. 20—22. "Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law; to the weak, became I as weak, that I might gain the weak; I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." That is, he was ready to condescend to the capacities, humours, and prepossessions, of all with whom be had a concern, as far as his duty to his Master would allow, in order to be a successful instrument for their good; and so must every faithful minister be content to do, who has the service of Christ and souls at heart. And Christians, in a private station, should study to "please their neighbour for his good to edification," Rom. xv. 2.; to accommodate themselves, by all easiness of behaviour and prudent address to other people, that they may be the more capable of serving them to their everlasting interests. There is one instance of usefulness to others, which is made a general duty upon Christians, "reproving them for their sins;" but possibly there is not more prudence requisite in the discharge of any one part of religion. A reproof may be thrown away where it will do more hurt than good, Prov. ix. J, 8. "He that reproveth a scorner, gets to himself shame; and he that rebuketh a wicked man, gets to himself a blot. Reprove not a scorner, lest
he hate thee; rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.•' If you see a man desperate in sin, so as to mock at reproof, it is a vain thing to reprove him any longer, you would but provoke him to add sin to sin, and expose yourself to needless trouble, without serving any good end by it. But there may be some hope of success in reproving "a wise man," one who has yet some commendable modesty remaining, and will patiently give you the hearing. Prudence must make a proper distinction of persons, and it must direct to the fittest opportunities; as, to reprove in private for more private offences, and to observe people's most serious and tender minutes, to take the advantage of convictions or awakening providences: and, in like manner, to suit a reproof to men's different tempers, capacities, and stations: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. As an ear-ring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear," Prov. xxv. 11, 12.
There is need of prudence in the exercise of mercy and charity to the bodies of men. Not only for the management of our outward affairs with discretion, "that we may have to give to him that needeth," Eph. iv. 28.; but to distinguish the most proper objects of charity, since we cannot reach all cases, and to proportion the measures of our bounty to the extent and importance of occasions; and, in many cases, to judge of the best methods effectually to reach the good ends we propose.
Prudence is of equal use in the management of common conversation; to judge when it is fit to speak, and when to keep silence; to consider the different tempers, expectations, and views, of those with whom we converse, that we may avoid offence; and for directing us in other incidents of society without number. One instance must not be omitted, when we are speaking of Christian prudence. We are commanded, that "our discourse be good to the use of edifying. Eph. iv. 29- This plainly intimates, not only that we should be always careful, lest any thing pass from us in conversation which may tend to corrupt the minds of others, but also that religious discourse, or that which directly tends to their spiritual good, should frequently be our theme in conversation. But wisdom is needful to direct in this matter. We should "not cast our pearls before swine," Matt. vii. 6, "nor speak