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I. Shew you what this caution of the apostle supposes ;
I. What does this caution of the apostle suppose? It supposest
-that the way, the manner or the course of this world is very bad—that Christians, nevertheless, are too prone to conform to it--and that there is great danger attending such conduct. You will excuse me, if I here insist particularly on the two first of these, as they are considerations which, rightly understood, will prepare the way for what is to follow.
First, It is taken for granted that the way, the manner, the course of this world is
bad. And which of us is there, who knows any thing of the world, but will readily acknowledge that this is the fact? What scenes of avarice and oppression, deceit and falsehood, malice and revenge, pride and vanity, vice and debauchery, does this earthly globe, yea every part of it, exhibit to our view! How variously are the passions of men agitated! What divers characters do they assume! And what different parts do they act on the stage of life! Some we see contending for power and dominion, some for honour and applause, some for wealth and riches, and some for sensual pleasures and gratifications; and each in order to compass bis ends, exhausting all the force of art, ingenuity, attention, labour and influence. Here we shall see one putting on the mask of friendship and affection, to allure and deceive; another secretly undermining his neighbour's reputation and good name; another defrauding him of his substance, by open violence, by wilful perjury, or by private art and collusion; another grinding the poor ; another courting the great; another seducing the innocent; yea another, horrible to behold! imbruing his hands in human blood. Shall I tell you of the thousands slain in the field, to gratify the pride, ambition and power of princes ? Shall I describe to you the flattery and adulation, the faithless vows and promises, and the numerous intrigues and policies which prevail in courts ? Shall I say what schemes are contriving, and what measures are daily executing, among men of trade and business, to compass their unlawful designs and avaricious purposes ? Shall I point to the secret recesses of lewdness and debauchery, and tell you of the wantonness, folly and luxury that are to be found there? Shall I remind you of the feuds and animosities of public bodies of men, of the quarrels and contentions of families, and of the extravagance and gaiety, the avarice and selfishness of individuals? In short, were it in my power to lead you into the hearts of
men, those secret chambers of imagery; to give you a history of the passions, their rise, progress and effect; and to shew you the abominations of fraud, perfidy, dissimulation, pride, envy, lust, malice and revenge, that have been perpetrated on the wide theatre of this earth, among all ranks and orders of men, privately and openly, and under all shapes and appearances, how would you stand astonished !-Such then is the way of the world, such the temper and spirit of the greater part of mankind, whatever restraints knowledge, education, decency and the authority of human laws, may have in some instances laid upon
their conduct! But it is not my design, nor am I able, to give you a complete picture of the world: you have only the outlines of it. Yet with me surely you will acknowledge, from this general view of it, that its form is hideous and detestable.
And such the world hath been from the beginning, I mean ever since the apostacy of our first parents. What a miserable appearance does the old world make in history! It stood a long while, and was very full of inhabitants : but we have little else told us concerning it, except its wickedness, that the wickedness of man was great, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually; and again, that God looked upon the earth, and behold, it was corrupt ; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth a. They seem to have risen to the greatest heights of impiety imaginable; for the apostle Peter calls them emphatically, The world of the ungodly b. And the contagion of vice and evil example seems to have taken a universal spread; for it is remarkable that we read of but four good men between Adam and Noah; and that was a period of upwards of a thousand years. The course of the world was then surely very bad. a Gen, iv. 5, 12.
b 2 Pet, ii. 5.
But was it better afterwards ? Perhaps when light increased the manners of men might change; at least decency and civility might more generally prevail. But alas ! we read of little of this down to the time of Moses, and the erection of the Israelites into a separate nation in the land of Judea. And though through their means, under the blessing of God, the doctrine of morality was better understood than it had been before; yet mankind for the most part discovered the same depraved disposition, and ran into the same corrupt practices they had formerly done. Yea the Jews themselves, though distinguished by the peculiar advantages of a divine revelation and an extraordinary providence, soon became infamous for their pride, hypocrisy, impiety and unbelief. So that the psalmist complained in his time, that among them as well as the Gentiles, there were none righteous no not one;' that none sought after God, none did good, but all were gone out of the way;' that their throat was an open sepulchre,' that their tongues used deceit,' that their mouth was full of cursing and their feet swift to shed blood;' that destruction and misery was in their ways, and the fear of God was not before their
And how it was when our Saviour appeared on the earth, both sacred and profane history largely testifies. The whole world, the apostle John tells us, lay in wickedness, overwhelmed with ignorance, guilt and misery b. The prince of the power of the air had extended his dominion far and wide, and both Jews and Gentiles were all agreed in their subjection to him. The like abominable and diabolical practices, though in some places perhaps more subtilly refined and clothed in a more decent habit, every where prevailed. And, whatever effect the gospel might have where it was preached, and however the works of the devil, the established institutions of idolatry and superstition, were in many countries shaken and destroyed, yet, in a few countries, Satan seemed to have almost entirely recovered his former power, and those very nations where the gospel had been received returned again to his allegiance. So that for a long course of years the world was as ignorant, stupid
a Compare Rom. iji. 9-18. with Psal. xiv, liii, &c. 61 John v. 19.
and wicked as ever, except a small remnant in some remote corners of the earth, who kept their garments from defilement, and maintained the gospel in its genuine purity. And after this, when the light of the reformation shone upon the world, and apostolic times again returned; how soon did these and the other nations, which had reaped such singular advantages from that extraordinary, I had almost said miraculous, iuterposition of divine power; how soon, I say, did they again relapse into their former evil customs and practices, though not into the like degree of ignorance and superstition ! And if we look around us and inquire into the present state of things among us, must we not acknowledge that, amidst all the light and liberty we enjoy, the course of the world is much the same as it hath been all along? Mankind are still governed by the same maxims, the same prejudices, the same passions. They are now, the generality of them, as sensual, worldly and diabolical in their temper and practice as ever. They are all pursuing the same ends, and many of thein scarcely held within the bounds of decency even by human laws, enforced by the most severe sanctions. Yea, under the mask of religion, what villany and wickedness is perpetrated in our land ! Such then is the course of the world, so it always hath been, so it is, and so it always will be, I fear, to the end. And this is what, in the first place; the text supposes. It supposes also,
Secondly, That Christians are too prone to conform to the world. I mean not that good men are in any great danger of copying after the world, in those flagrant instances of vice which have been just now mentioned; though even from these, when assaulted with sudden and violent temptation, they had veed of the grace of God to secure them. But, what I mean is an unwarrantable approach towards the world, an inconsiderate compliance with such modes and usages of it as are of a sinful and pernicious tendency, and some taints, though but partial, of its deflement, and which I shall by and by more particularly explain. Of this evil there is great danger,
and we cannot but be sensible of it from our own experience, and from daily observation on thousands around us, of whom, however, we would hope better things thau that they are mere nominal professors of religion. Now from whence does this danger arise, which gives occasion to the caution in our text? Why,
1. From that depravity of nature, which though in a good measure corrected and subdued, is common to them with others. There are the same seeds of folly and sin in Christians as in the rest of mankind; and they are continually springing up in their breasts, to the great detriment of their peace and comfort, and their purity and usefulness. Which of us can say he is wholly free from pride, ambition, envy, lust, and other irregular inclinations ? The grace of God does not absolutely and entirely extirpate these passions out of the human heart, but permits them, like the beasts in Daniel, to live while it deprives them of their dominion. And of consequence there will be a propensity to conform, at least in some instances, to the world: the injurious effects of which we shall hereafter consider. Great danger arises also,
2. From the peculiar situations and connexions of some Christians. We are all more or less connected with the world, and with the men of it: but there are some who are obliged to converse more intimately with it than others. Their affairs unavoidably lead them into an extensive acquaintance with the customs and manners of the times. They are under a necessity, how much soever against their inclination, to be the spectators of many sad scenes of pride, gaiety and wantonness, of fraud, dissimulation and iniquity. And, as the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, it is ever in danger of catching fire from the sparks of sin thus continually flying around it. They who live therefore in the midst of a perverse and adulterous generation, had need use great caution to keep their garments from defilement.
3. Good-nature proves also a snare to many, and is a just ground for the caution in the text. A free, courteous, affable behaviour is very commendable, and not a little ornamental to religion. Nay religion teaches it: it forbids moroseness and severity, and warmly inculcates a spirit of generosity, kindness and love. But then it often happens, that as good-nature and complaisance, when carried to an excess, make a very near ap