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the participation of it. Imprudence makes some kind of christians lose much of their labour, in speaking for religion, and they drive those further off, that they would draw into it.
And, 2. This defence is to be made with fear. Divine things are never to be spoke of in a light perfunctory way, but with a reverent grave temper of spirit: and, for this reason, some choice is to be made both of time and persons. The confidence that is in this hope makes the believer not fear men, to whom he answers, but still he fears his God, for whom he answers, and whose interest is chief in those things he speaks of. The soul that hath the deepest sense of spiritual things, and the truest knowledge of God, is most afraid to miscarry in speaking of him, most tender and wary how to acquit itself when engaged to speak of and for God.
4thly, We have the faculty of this apology, be ready. In this there is implied knowledge, and affection, and courage. For knowledge is not required of every christian, to be able to prosecute subtilties, and encounter the sophistry of adversaries, especially in obscure points; but all are bound to know so much, as to be able to aver that hope that is in them, the main doctrine of grace and salvation, wherein the most of men are lamentably ignorant.
Affection sets all on work; whatsoever faculty the mind hath, it will not suffer it to be useless, and it hardens it against hazards in defence of the truth, and produces that undaunted courage which this readiness expresses.
But the only way so to know and love the truth, and have courage for it, is that, to have the Lord sanctified in the heart. Men may dispute stoutly against popery and errors, and yet be strangers to God and this hope. But sure it is the liveliest defence, and that which alone returns comfort within, when it arises from the peculiar interest of the soul in God, and in those truths, and that hope, that are questioned. It is then pleading for the nearest friend, and for a man's own rights and inheritance, and these will animate and edge it, when you apologize, not for a hope you have heard or red of barely, but a hope in you; not merely a hope in believers in general, but in you, by a particular sense of that hope within. But, although you find it not so strong in
for your particular interest, yet, Are you seeking after it, and desiring it mainly? Is it your chief design to attain unto it? then forbear not, if you have occasion, to speak for it, and commend it to others, and to maintain the sweetness and certainty of it.
And, to the end you may be the more established in it, and so the stronger to answer for it, not only against men, but that great adversary that seeks so much to infringe and overbear it, know the right foundation of it; build it never on yourselves, nor. any thing in you.
The work of grace may evidence to you the truth of your hope; but the ground it fastens on is Jesus Christ, in whom all our rights and evidences hold good: his death assuring us of freedom from condemnation, and his life and possession of glory being the foundation of our hope".
If you would have it immoveable, rest it there ; lay all this hope on him, and, when assaulted, fetch all your answers for it from him, For it is Christ in
your hope of glory".
you that is
Ver. 16. Having a good conscience, that whereas they speak
evil of you, as of evil-doers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
The prosperity of fools is their destruction, says Solomon. But none of God's children die of this disease, of too much ease. He knows well how to breed them, and fit them for a kingdom. He keeps them in exercise, but yet so as they are not surcharged. He not only directs them how to overcome, but enables and supports them in all their conflicts, and gives them victory. One main thing, tending to their support and victory, is this, which is here rem Heb, vi. 19.
n Col. i. 27. * Prov. i. 32,
quired in the saints, and is withal wrought and maintained in them by the Spirit of God, Having a good conscience, &c.
1. We have here two parties opposed in contest, the evil tongues of the ungodly, and the good conscience and conversation of the christian; they speak evil of you and falsely accuse you, but have you a good conscience.
2. The success of their contest; the good conscience prevails, and the evil-speakers are ashamed.
For the first, The parties engaged : of the first, it is said, They speak evil. This is a general evil in the corrupt nature of man, though in some it rises to a greater height than in others. Are not tables and chambers, and almost all societies and meetings, full of it? And even they that have some dislikings of it, yet are too easily carried away with the stream, and, for company's sake, take a share, if not in lending in their word, yet in lending their ear.
Men willingly hear the detractions of others; and, unless it be of their friends, or such as they have interest in, do insensihly slide into some forced complacency, and easily receive the impression of calumnies and defamings. But the most are more active in this evil, can cast in their penny to make up the shot; have their taunt or criticism upon somebody in readiness, towards furnishing out the feast, such as most companies entertain one another withal : But it is a vile diet: satan's name, as the Syriack calls him, is an eater of calumnies. This tongue-evil hath its root in the heart, in a perverse constitution there. Pride and self-love, an overweening esteem that men naturally have of themselves, mounts them into that chair, gives them a fancied authority of judging others; and self-love a desire to be esteemed; and, for that end, they spare not to depress others, and load them with disgraces and injurious censures, seeking, upon their ruins, to raise themselves.
But this bent of the unrenewed heart and tongue to evil-speaking, works and vents most in the world, • Ex alieni nominis jactura gradum sibi faciunt ad gloriam. SALL.
against those that walk most contrary to the course of the world ; against such this furnace of the tongue, which is kindled from hell, as St. James tells us, is made seven times hotter than ordinary. As for sincere Christians, a company of hypocrites, (say they,) who so godly? but yet they are false, and malicious, and proud, &c.; and no kind of carriage in them shall escape, but there shall be some device to wrest and misname it. If they be cheerful in society, that shall be accounted more liberty than suits with their profession; if of a graver sad temper, that shall pass for sullen severity: Thuis, John Baptist and Christ were censured. If they be diligent and wary in their affairs, then in the world's construction, they are as covetous and worldly as any; if careless and remiss in them, then silly witless creatures, good for nothing : still something stands eross.
The enemies of religion have not any where so quick an eye, as in observing the ways of such as seek after God; my remarkers, David calls them, they that scan my ways, as the word is, and will not let the least step pass unexamined. If nothing be found faulty, then their invention works, either forges complete falsehoods, or disguises something that lies open to mistake ; or if they can catch hold on any real failing, there is no end of their triumph and insultations. 1. They aggravate and raise it to the highest. 2. While they will not admit to be judged of themselves by their constant walk, they scruple not to judge of the condition of a Christian by any one particular action, wherein he doth, or seems at least to miscarry. 3. They rest not there, but make one failing of one Christian the reproach of all; “ Take up one of your devoto's, there is “ never one of them better.” 4. Nor rest they there, but make personal failings, of those that profess it, the disgrace of religion itself. Now, all these are very crooked rules, and such as use them are guilty of gross injustice.
1. There is a great difference betwixt a thing © James iii. 6. d Matt. xi. 18, 19. e Psm. lvi. 6.
taken favourably, and the same action misconstrued. And,
2. A great difference betwixt one particular act and a man's estate or inward frame, which they either consider not, or willingly or maliciously neg. lect.
3. How large is the difference that there is betwixt one and another in the measure of grace, and of their prudence, either in their naturals, or in grace, or possibly in both? Some who are honest in matter of religion, yet being very weak, may miscarry in such things as other Christians come seldom near the hazard of; and though some should wholly forsake the way of godliness, wherein they seemed to walk, yet why should that reflect upon such as are real and stedfast in it? They went out from us, says the Apostle, but were not of us'. Offences of this kind must be, but the woe rests on him by whom they come, not on other Christians: And if it spread further than the party offending, the woe is to the profane world, that take offence at religion because of him; as our Saviour hath expressed it, Wo to the world because of offences. They shall stumble and fall, and break their necks upon these stumbling blocks or scandals. . Thou that art profane, and seest the failing of a minister or Christian, and art hardened by it, this is 'a judgment to thee, that thou meetest with such a block in thy way. Wo to the world : It is a judgment on a place, when God permits religion, in the persons of some, to be scandalous.
4. Religion itself remains still the same, whatsoever be the failings and blots of one or more that profess it. It is pure and spotless; if it teach not holiness, and meekness, and humility, and all good purely, then except against it. But, if it be a straight golden reed by which the temple is measured, then let it have its own esteem, both of straightness and
preciousness, whatsoever unevenness be found in those that profess to receive it. Suspect and search yourselves, even in general, for pi John ii. 19.
& Matt. xviii. 7.