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without whom we are incapable of any prosperity, security, joy, or comfort: this point enlarged on, and illustrated by quotations from holy writ. 3. Men often neglect the open practice of virtue, out of care to decline envy; for evil persons seeing others endowed with worthy qualities which they want; performing good deeds, to which by their depravity they are averse; and entitled to commendations and advantages to which they cannot aspire; look on such persons with an evil eye, and conceive malevolence against them, which vents itself in spiteful practices, &c. But thus to appease envy by deserting virtue, is very foolish and absurd. It is to cast away our best goods, because another would not have us to enjoy them : it is to render ourselves miserable, because another would not have us to be happy. Because my neighbor wants charity, must I forego innocence? because he does not love me, must I hate myself? Would any man on such terms part with his estate, or destroy his reputation ? If we would avoid envy, we should not do it by incurring a worse evil, but should surmount and quash it by constant blameless conduct. 4. Another principle of this our bad practice is a fear of infamy and reproach, to which the strict practice of virtue is liable. Expostulation with a person who is thus diverted from his duty; on his renouncing all wisdom, abandoning his best interests, and forfeiting his happiness, to decline a squib or a flurt. Example of David. As the commendation of vile persons is of no worth, so their reproach is less considerable; and we disparage our own judgment by heeding theirs: the folly of thus acting farther shown. Also it is the lot of good men, for probation and trial to be persecuted; and it is peculiarly commendable to suffer for being good, for the temper more than the name of Christ, for doing well more than for professing truth. Instances of our Lord, of his Apostles, and of the prophets of old, &c. Moreover, it is not only according to reason, but the command of God himself, that we regard not the censures of men, in comparison with our duty to him : Is. li. 7, 8.
5. Men often decline the public practice of duty out of affectation thereby to be deemed more honest and sincere, or to decline the suspicion of being hypocritical. As this is the most obvious and usual calumny wherewith dissolute people do charge good men, so to persons of generous disposition it is of all censures most poignant; whence oftentimes they choose rather to seem indifferent to goodness, than zealously attached to it.
But this proceeding is very unreasonable; for what can be more absurd than to be really and notoriously bad, (as whoever omitteth his duty is) to prevent a surmise of being so How can we more gratify the enemy of our salvation than by approving ourselves in truth to be what he would falsely challenge us to be, mockers of God and traitors to our own souls 2 We have certainly more reason to be satisfied with the sure conscience and sense of our own integrity, than to be moved with any presumptuous assertions of wretches devoid of charity: and the testimony of God himself, who is greater than our hearts, may abundantly support us under such aspersions. It is surely better to be called a hypocrite by men, for doing our duty, than to be treated as a hypocrite by God, for neglecting it. Concluding observations on the two species of hypocrisy, that of pretending conscience which we want, and this of denying conscience which we have; that of seeming better than we are, and this of seeming worse than we may be : whence it may appear that the latter is in nature more vile, in tendency more dangerous, and in effect more mischievous than the former.
Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.
If we observe the world, we may easily therein discern many persons, who being inwardly well disposed (standing right both in judgment and affection to goodness) are yet loath to appear very good, and hardly will own Christian virtue in the constant discharge of public duties, or in strict abstinence from sinful practices; but commonly (against the dictate of their reason, and sense of their heart) neglect the one, and comply with the other: an odd sort of hypocrites or dissemblers; who studiously conceal their better part, and counterfeit themselves worse than they are; who adore God in their hearts, and address devotions to him in their closets, but scarce will avow him in their visible profession and practice; who have a conscience, but are shy of disclosing it, or letting it take air, and walk in open light, confining it as a criminal to close restraint or obscure retirement; who gladly would be religious and staunch, if there might be no notice taken of it, but take care of being remarkable (or as it were scandalous) for it; who think fit to compromise and compound the business between God and the world, maintaining a neutrality and correspondence with both, so as privately to court the one, and publicly to close with the other.
Such practice is flatly repugnant to that rule, which otherwhere in precept, and here by his own example, the holy Apostle doth recommend to us; directing us not only ‘before God,” (that is, in our heart, and in our secret retirements, which God alone doth behold,) but also ‘before men,” that is, in our external and visible conversation, carefully to perform things good and laudable, eschewing whatever is bad or culpable. Our obligation to which rule hath already been confirmed by divers other precepts in holy Scripture, concurring in the injunction of it; and its observance urged by various positive considerations of great weight and force, (declaring how necessary it is for promoting God's honor and glory, how requisite it is for maintaining the dignity of our profession, and advancing the interests of goodness, how charity and justice toward our neighbor do exact it from us, how conducible it is to the public benefit of mankind, and how advantageous in many respects to our own particular welfare;) and not insisting farther on those considerations, I shall now only enforce it by scanning the common principles, grounds, motives, pretences or excuses of the contrary practice, which I before touched, of openly deserting virtue, or declining the performance of duty before men; and by showing how very foolish and vain, how very naughty and base, how very mischievous, dangerous, and pernicious they are. They chiefly are those which I shall immediately touch and reflect on. 1. Men commonly in their visible conversation do neglect their duty, or comply with sin out of modesty; because they are ashamed of doing that which may expose them to some disgrace or censure; because virtuous practice may raise distaste in the company, and provoke the scorn of those with whom they converse; because such a point of duty is out of request, and slighted in the world; they are “afraid of men's faces;’ their tender forehead cannot sustain derision, or endure to be flouted for being out of the mode, and wearing an uncouth garb of conscience. But this plainly is a perverse and unmanly modesty; a fond, a vile, a shameful shame: fie on it! should any man be ashamed of that, which is his chief beauty, his best ornament, his sole dignity and glory? should a man be ashamed of being evidently wise in his conduct, of following his reason, of consulting his true interest, of pursuing his own certain welfare and felicity ? is it fit that any man should be ashamed of paying due acknowlegement, of yielding due reverence, of rendering due gratitude, of performing due service to his Creator, sovereign Lord, and great Benefactor; to whom he oweth all, on whose will he intirely dependeth, at whose absolute disposal he is 2 Surely these are no shameful things, but such rather wherein we ought to have the greatest confidence, which we ought to perform with the greatest assurance. If we are bashful, let us be so in regard to things which are truly shameful; let us be ashamed of sin, that is, of our most real deformity, our turpitude, our disgrace, our wretchedness; the which indeed is the only dishonorable and despicable thing; the which did first produce shame, and did introduce it into the world, (for while innocence did abide, there was no shame,) and the which will ever carry shame along as its inseparable adherent: it would indeed become us to blush at our horrible unworthiness and detestable ingratitude toward our bountiful Lord, and most gracious Redeemer; it were proper for us to be confounded at our extreme folly and foul treachery toward ourselves, in betraying our souls to guilt, to regret, to wrath and punishment: who should be ashamed, who not, the holy psalmist hath well taught us, ‘Let none that wait on thee be ashamed; let them be ashamed which transgress without cause:’ and, ‘Let the proud be ashamed—but let my heart be sound in thy statutes, that I be not ashamed.” It is true modesty to be ashamed of doing unworthy and unhandsome things; but to be ashamed of doing what reason and duty require, is pitiful weakness of mind. We do not owe so much regard to vicious and vain persons, as to be dashed out of countenance by them; we should rather by our masculine resolution and upright confidence put them to confusion. If shame be an evil which we would avoid, the only remedy thereof we may learn from those words of the psalmist, ‘Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect to thy testimonies:’