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proach to insincerity and dishonesty, so they betray persons into undue compliances with the world. How many, through easiness of temper, have sacrificed their immortal souls as well as their temporal interests, to a fond desire of pleasing men, and of being upon fair terms with the world! Their good-nature hath robbed them of their resolution, and so laid them open, thus defenceless, to the sudden attack of every little temptation. Indeed the grace of God, where it bath taken possession of the heart, will lay such restraints upon natural temper as to secure it from these very dangerous excesses. But still there are many instances wherein good men themselves, through a fear of offending, and an unwillingness to contradict, have unhappily been guilty of compliances very unbecoming their character. There are seasons when it is our indispensable duty boldly to assert the cause we profess, and with steadiness to oppose the folly and wantonness of others, But how apt are we on these occasions to yield, if not to considerations of worldly prudence and policy, yet to the dictates of false tenderness and a disinclination to give pain ! Good-nature therefore should be watched, lest it become an occasion of undue conformity to the world. To which I will add what is pretty near a-kin to it, and that is,
4. A dislike of singularity. This is what I hinted at in the beginning of this discourse. It is hard to row against the stream, hard for one to contend with a thousand. We are not easily persuaded to oppose popular notions, much less popular practices. So we either persuade ourselves, though very falsely, that the right is on the side of the multitude, and that if we are with them we shall do as well as they: or else to avoid the charge of preciseness, we keep our religion as much as we can to ourselves, and go to the utmost limits our con, science will allow us in our conformity to the opinions and manners of those around us. A meanness this unworthy of the brave and spirited character of a genuine Christian ! A propensity, however, to it is a ground of the caution in our text.-Thus you see how we become liable to be drawn into an unreasonable and sinful conformity to the world. Again,
Thirdly, The caution supposes danger in such a conformity. And indeed the danger is very great, much greater than, I fear, the generality of Christians imagine. But I forbear to point out the mischief of it in this place, as that will be more properly my business by and by.
Thus have we gone through the first head of discourse, which was to shew what this caution of the apostle supposes. It supposes—that the world, that is, the course or manner of it, is very bad—that even Christians themselves are liable to be drawn into undue compliances with it: which is the effect of the remaining depravity of their nature; of the particular stations of life which some of them fill; of easiness of natural temper; and of an aversion to singularity. And then it further supposes—the danger of this conformity to be very great. We proceed now,
II. To explain the caution, and to shew in what sense a Christian may, and in what he may not conform to the world. First, There are some instances wherein it is
allowable, nay it is the Christian's duty, to conform to the world.
1. In general, to accommodate ourselves to the understandings and tempers of mankind is certainly very right, provided we do not sacrifice truth and conscience to such a conformity. This is what we call good nature, which when carried to excess, as I have just now shewn you, is a great evil, but when held under due restraints, is highly commendable. Surely no one will be so 'mad as to say, that religion requires us to be ill-natured. I know there are some who under pretence of extraordinary piety, assume a severe, morose, gloomy countenance, and take upon them to quarrel with all around them. But this is a conduct by no means to be justified: on the contrary, it is very indecent, and hath done great injury to real religion. It is possible indeed such an appearance and behaviour may in some instances be natural and constitutional: and where this is the case, it should be the business of religion to restrain and correct it. The same apostle, who dissuades us from being conformed to the world, bids us be kind one to another a; and, in this very chapter, exhorts us to be of the same mind one towards another, and to condescend to men of low estate b. And another apostle admonishes us to be courteous, that is, affable and obliging a. And surely affability, as it is a part of moral virtue, very well consists with Christianity, náy is heightened and improved by it. For what hath such a mighty tendency to soften the heart, and to prompt men to an agreeable, obliging carriage towards each other, as the grace and love, the benignity and kindness which breathe through the gospel ? Much of this was seen in our blessed Saviour: and whoever is acquainted with the history and writings of the apostle Paul, must acknowledge that it was in his very nature, and that it shewed itself on all proper occasions, to the honour of that divine religion he professed. And so,
a Eph. iv. 32.
b Ver. 16.
2. It is very allowable to conform to the indifferent customs and usages of the country where we dwell. Some indeed have made religion to consist very much in dress, and have insisted that Christians should distinguish themselves by a remarkable plainness and peculiarity of habit. But there seems no just ground for this either in reason or in the word of God. Every one's dress should be agreeable to his rank; and when we go beyond that, we violate the rules of decency, and consequently of religion. There are also some fashions so vain and foolish, I had almost said immodest, that a giddy compliance with them is most certainly a high affront to that sobriety, which the profession of the gospel teaches and enjoins. And I wish there was no ground for complaints of this sort among some who call themselves Christians. But a remarkable singularity in our outward appearance is as unbecoming, as extravagance the other way; since it savours of vanity and affectation, and leads persons to imagine that religion consists in what is wholly foreign to it. Our Saviour took great pains to correct mistakes of this sort among the Jews, and to shew that the singularities of the Pharisees were very offensive in the sight of God, as they were manifestly the effect of pride and ostentation. We may, we ought then to conform to the world in those civil usages and customs, whether of dress or behaviour, which are in themselves decent, and which are wholly indifferent and unexceptionable.
1 Pet. iii. 8.
And here a question arises with respect to rites and ceremonies in matters of religion. Are we to conform to such rites, I mean, to those which are merely of human appointment? The answer is, I think, very natural and reasonable. We
Christ alone is king in his church. He hath instituted such ordinances and forms of worship, as he hath judged fit and necessary. And to add to them seems at least to carry in it an imputation on his wisdom and authority: and it hath this, I think, unanswerable objection to it, that it opens the door to a thousand innovations (as the history of the Church of Rome hath sufficiently shewn) which are not only indifferent in thémselves, but highly absurd and extremely detrimental to religion. Besides, if there were nothing else to be said against such a conformity, this I think must have great weight with a considerate mind, that when things indifferent come to be imposed and made necessary, they lose their very nature, and are most justly exceptionable.
A conformity then to the tempers of mankind, and to the customs and
country where we dwell, as far as it will consist with decency and a good conscience, is certainly both allowable and commendable: and that for this reason, not only because it is fit in itself, but because it the better enables a Christian to be useful in society, and to promote the real interests of religion. It was expressly with this view that the apostle acted when, as he tells us, he became all things to all men, that he might by all means save some a.– -But it is time I now come to shew you,
Secondly, In what senses we ought not to conform to the world.
Now this caution hath a further view, than merely to restrain us from those notoriously vicious and abominable practices, which were mentioned at the beginning of this discourse; for such practices are diametrically opposite to the Christian doctrine and profession; and he who immerges himself into them is confessedly no Christian, and comes more properly under the denomination of a man of the world, than of one who conforms to it. The spirit of the world is in him, and hath a commanding influence on the general course of his
a I Cor. ix. 22.
life. The meaning of the text therefore is, that we should bear no resemblance to the world, should not be at all fashioned according to it, as the original word is elsewhere rendered a, that we should keep at a distance from the world in our principles, spirit and conduct—that we should not adopt its false maxims and reasonings--that we should not covet its honours, riches and pleasures—that we should not affect to be thought men of the world, studiously endeavour to accommodate ourselves to it, or aim to be held in esteem and reputation by itthat we should not imitate the world in a vain, foolish, sensual temper; in an idle, frothy, unprofitable conversation; and much less in a loose, irregular, disorderly behaviour—that we should connect ourselves as little as may be with the world, abstain from all appearance of evil, and keep our garments, if possible, from all defilement, pure and unspotted.-Such is the general sense of the caution in the text. And from hence it follows, that there is good ground for the distinction the apostle elsewhere observes between the ideas of lawfulness and expediency b. There are a thousand things in the world, in the tempers, customs and manners of mankind, which, however innocent in themselves, are unbecoming a Christian : and these surely it is his wisdom and duty to avoid. Here I might mention many kinds of amusements, which, though generally practised and not absolutely criminal, yet are vain, trifling and unmanly, and therefore unchristian; amusements which tend to enervate the mind, dissipate the passions, and cool the heart to the nobler exercises and enjoyments of religion; and to which there is this further unanswerable objection, that however we might not ourselves suffer materially by them, yet our example would have a very ill effect upon others. In respect, therefore, of all these matters, it is the language of the text, Be not conformed to the world. From whence I now go on,
III. To shew you, as was proposed, the reasonableness and importance of this caution.
It is a caution given us by an inspired apostle; an apostle who had a large acquaintance with the world, who well under
a ouxnualitats, 1 Pet. i. 14.
61 Cor. x. 23.