« AnteriorContinuar »
the rule and measure of the means, and a worldly minister will frame his sermons, and order his affairs to obtain the world. If it be for his secular interest, he will appear as an apostle, full of zeal against errors and sins: but if the preaching the doctrines of truth and holiness be prejudicial to his worldly designs, he will neglect his duty to preserve the minds of men untainted from destructive errors, he will mollify the threatenings of scripture, rebate their edge, and thereby harden the hearts of presumptuous sinners. As it is observed * of the vines, if they are supported upon crooked stakes, they will grow so; so carnal preachers will conform themselves according to the humours of those upon whom they servilely depend.
In courts of judicature, the temptations are intimated in the wise advice of Jethro to Moses, “ that he should choose men fearing God, and hating covetousness.” Without the overruling fear of God, judges will not do their duty evenly and courageously: human respects will tempt them to bend the rule to the obliquity of their minds and desires. When they are influenced by the fear or favour of men, they will part with justice, and conscience, and true honour, and their souls. And how often does the weight of gold turn the scales in judgment, and preponderate the reason of the cause with those who are most solemnly obliged to universal rectitude in the discharge of their office ? Judges should so impartially, and with that noble resolution perform their duty, as to discourage all attempts to pervert them. Zeuses having painted a boy carrying some grapes, so coloured according to nature, that the birds pecked at them: † an observer said, the birds discredited the picture; for if the boy had been drawn with equal life, they had not been so bold to fly at the grapes ; a sign they fancied the grapes true, and the boy painted. Thus whoever tempts those who sit in judicature to unworthy things, disgraces their dignity, and constructively declares that he esteems them to have an appearance of virtue without sincere zeal for it. And how many who are pleaders, by fallacious colours commend a bad cause, and discredit a good, and thereby expose themselves to that terrible denunciation, “ woe be to them that call good evil, and evil good.” A degenerous mind, and mercenary tongue, will plead any cause to obtain the ends of avarice and ambition: as if, according to what an Italian lawyer said of himself, they were the advocates of their clients, and not of justice.
* Pravitas stastatuminum ad similitudinem sui vitem configurat. Columel. I, 4,
+ Aves male existimare de tabula, non advolaturas si puer similis esset. Plin. lib. 35.
In short, every calling has its temptations: in the various ways of commerce, there are deceitful arts which an upright man observes and abhors. Some callings expose to more temptations than others; so that without circumspection and care, men are undone in the way of their callings. Some engage persons in such a throng of business, that from one rising of the sun to another, they never seriously remember God or their soul. It is therefore a point of great wisdom in the choice of a calling, with a free judgment to consider what is least liable to temptations, and affords more freedom of serving God, and regarding our spiritual state; for the body is not the entire man, and the present life is not his only duration. The apostle directs christians to choose such a state of life, that they may have the advantage of “ attending upon the Lord without distraction.” 2 Cor. 7. 35.
I shall add, that the several relations wherein we stand, as husbands, parents, masters, and wives, children, servants, have peculiar temptations; and many whose general conversation seems fair and blameless, are not observant of their relative duties. A husband may be harsh and unkind, a parent fond and viciously indulgent, (it was Eli's sin that brought ruin upon his family) a master may be severe and rigorous. Superiors who are to instruct and govern families by holy counsels and examples, often neglect their duty; and by their evil carriage, set a copy which their children and servants transcribe, and derive a woful guilt upon themselves from their multiplied sins. And how often are those in lower relations careless of their proper duties : wives disrespectful, and not observant of their husbands, children disobedient, servants unfaithful ? If conscience be enlightened and tender, it will regard the whole compass of our duty, it will see and feel our sinful neglects in any kind, and make us careful according to the extent of its obligation.
2. The opposite states of prosperity and adversity, have suitable temptations adherent to them.
Prosperity is beset with the thickest and most dangerous temptations. In a garden the tempter lay in ambush, and made use of the fruit “ that was pleasant to the taste, and pleasant to the eye, and desirable for knowledge ;" and by those allurements corrupted and ruined our first parents, to the loss of their innocence and felicity. Although prosperity be a blessing in itself, yet it is often more destructive than adversity, by the inseparable and engaging snares that surround the persons that enjoy it: pride, luxury, security, impiety, grow and flourish in prosperity. Affliction calls home the wandering spirit, makes us reflect with solemnity upon ourselves, excites us to arm our minds with religious resolutions against the world; whereas prosperity relaxes and dissolves the spirit, and foments the lusts of the flesh. Those who live in the courts of princes, where the height of honour, and the centre of pleasure are, where ambition, hypocrisy, avarice, and sensuality reign, are encircled with dangerous inchantments, and usually are charmed and corrupted by them. The court life is splendid to the eye, but very perilous; like a ship that is finely carved and painted, but so leaky, that without continual pumping it cannot be kept above water; so without the strictest guard over their hearts and senses, the prosperous cannot escape the “ shipwreck of a good conscience, and fall into many foolish lusts that drown men in perdition." Yet this state of life many aspire to as the most happy. When Lot separated from Abraham, he chose the “ pleasant fruitful country that was like the garden of the Lord." Gen. 13. Sad choice! the land was the best, but the inhabitants the worst : within a short time the cry of their sins reached as high as the throne of God, and brought down showers of fire and brimstone, that turned that natural paradise into a hell.
Riches have a train of temptations, and poverty is not exempt from them. It was the wise prayer of Agur, "give me neither poverty nor riches, lest I be full and deny thee, and say, who is the Lord ? Or lest I be poor and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.” Prov. 30. 8, 9. A full estate entirely possesses the heart, and excludes the eternal world from the thoughts and affections: it is therefore wise advice,“ if riches increase, set not your heart upon them," intimating they are a snare to the most in the corrupt state. They often induce in men's minds an ungrateful oblivion of their divine Benefactor, as it is charged upon
Israel, “ their hearts were exalted, therefore they have forgotten me." They incline men to presume upon self-sufficiency, and to rob God of the homage that is due from his creatures, an humble thankful dependance upon his providence every day. The psalmist saith, “ they trust in the wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches.” They are engaging snares to renounce religion, whenever the sincere, and open professsion of it, exposes our estates to hazard. Briefly, as the Israelites made an Egyptian idol of their Egyptian jewels; so worldly things are abused for worldly lusts. The most who enjoy prosperity, perish by the abuse of it: it is a rare effect of divine grace to preserve the heart and conversation pure in such a contagious air, when a thousand fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand. And the contrary state of poverty and affliction in any kind, if sharp, has its peculiar temptations ; discontent, and the use of unlawful means to obtain what they want and desire, is the sin of the poor. The afflicted are ready to faint under the weight of sorrow : the loss of one comfort blasts all the content of their lives. There is a perpetual consumption of their thoughts and time in revolving the afflicting circumstances of their condition, and they are apt to think as if God were regardless or very severe to them. Fearful depth! they wretchedly neglect the means that might alleviate their sorrows, and refuse to be comforted, as if they were persons, consecrated to calamity; thus life is lingered out in continual languishings, or ended with deadly grief.
If the affliction be singular and extraordinary, sorrow often increases to such dismal degrees, that most woful effects proceed from that passion. The anguish of spirit either breaks out in unkindly and unholy expressions, or inwardly festers with repining, vexatious thoughts at their condition. Stubborn spirits are impatient of the evils they suffer, and insensible and undervaluing of the blessings they possess. They neither look upward to the hand of God that disposes all evils, nor inward to their sins, the most righteous procuring cause of them: but serious reflection would constrain them to acknowledge that God punishes them less than their sins deserved, and that their dross needed the vehemence of the fire to purge it away: a meek yielding ourselves, and a complying with the blessed ends of his afficting providence, will make us to understand by experience,
that all our sharpest sufferings were most wisely and divinely ordered by our heavenly Father.
3. We must search for our peculiar sin in the society with whom we are conversant. Our company that we choose, and are frequently engaged with, discovers us to others and may to ourselves. It is a true glass that by reflection makes visible the countenance and complexion of our minds. Love proceeds from likeness, and the election of friends from a correspondence in the tempers of men. It is true, there may be foreign' motives of friendship and commerce, with others from our secular affairs and interests ; but inclination is the internal cause of friendship. It is visible, that carnality in its various kinds, cements friendships: the intemperate, the lascivious, the worldly, are endeared to one another by the resemblance in their minds and manners. Besides, examples, if often in our view, and especially of those whom we love, have a strange power to change us into their likeness. It is the observation of the wise man, “ he that has fellowship with a proud man, will be like him." * The vicious affections of the heart transpire in words and actions, and insensibly infect others : and in familiar society the contagious evil the more strongly infects, being immediately conveyed. If our intimate friends are worldly wise, who " mind earthly things," sagacious to forecast advantages, and active to accomplish their designs, we may judge of the strain of our affections; for if our " conversations were in heaven," if our frequent and serious discourses were of things above, how to improve spiritual riches, our company would be ungrateful to them: without sympathy there can be no complacence in society. The garlic and onions of the Egyptian earth, is more tasteful to their palates than the bread of angels.. Besides, by constant familiarity our minds are apt to be corrupted to value the world as our substantiat felicity, and our hearts to be corrupted with the love of it, which is of the spring of men's sins and misery. Thus if we are associates with the voluptuous, there will steal into the heart an allowance of sensuality, and a dislike of holiness as a sour severity. If unregenerate men, though of a civil conversation, be our chosen and familiar friends, our zeal for religion will decline, and lukewarmness be insensibly infused into us. Briefly, as the wax re
* Serpuat vitia, & in proximum quemq; transiliunt & contactu nocent,