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From these words I shall be led to shew the effects of piety and impiety on the surrounding world. And, I. Of impiety
Whatever be men's line of conduct, they must, of necessity, “ have pleasure in those who pursue the samea.” Those they will of course choose for their companions; and if for no other reason, yet in their own vindication they will approve of and applaud their ways. The proud will commend the proud, and “ call them happy b;" as will the worldling also “ bless the covetous, whom God abhorreth.” Indeed, it
be laid down as a general rule, that if only you“ do well to yourself,” by studying your own ease, interest, and honour,“ all men will praise you,” as men that are wise, and worthy of imitationd. It is a matter of course that “ the world will love its own." This, however, is a very partial view of our text; the true sense of which lies much deeper. The praise which an ungodly man will give to those who are like himself, is bestowed not only occasionally with the lips, but uniformly and without intermission in the life. A man who refuses submission to the will of God, and “ forsakes his Law," does by that very act tacitly, though most intelligibly, declare to all around him, 1. That obedience to God's Law is unnecessary
[He will acknowledge the Scriptures to be a revelation from God; and would be greatly offended, if his belief in that revelation were questioned. But his faith in it is nothing more than a speculative assent: he regards not the authority of God in it; and by his contempt of that authority he says, in fact, that a submission to it is unnecessary. The language of the heart and of the life is interpreted in this way by God himself: “ Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of Hostsé?” And this construction is just; for what a man avows to be unnecessary for himself, he must be understood as maintaining to be unnecessary for others.]
2. That not even the Gospel itself entails any obligation upon us
a Rom. i. 32. b Mal. iii. 15. c Ps. x. 3. d Ps. xlix. 18. e John xv. 19. f Mal. ii. 14.
[Many who profess to believe the Gospel, and to make it the ground of their hope towards God, yet feel no constraining influence from all its wonders of love and mercy. They practically say, ' True, the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world, and “ died the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God." But what has this to do with the regulation of our lives? We need not be “ brought to God” in this world : it will be quite sufficient to be brought to him in the world to come: and we may be
vouchsafed unto us, that God will accept us, even though no change shall have taken place in our hearts and lives. He has sent his Son indeed, as we are told, “ to bless us, in turning every one of us from our iniquities b:" but we need not be anxious about experiencing any such effect of the Redeemer's mission : we may live to ourselves, and obtain his favour, as effectually and as certainly as if we lived to him.']
3. That the way of wickedness is preferable as it respects this present world
[Finding pleasure only in the things of time and sense himself, he encourages the same taste in others. For, for what end “has God given us all things richly to enjoy," if we are not to enjoy them? As for a compliance with the precepts of the Law, it is obvious that it must require continual self-denial: and what happiness can there be in that? It must detach us, also, from those who are most able and willing to administer to our happiness : and how can that operate, but to our disadvantage? As for repentance, and holy exercises of every kind, they may be very good in a dying hour ; but to a person in health they can be a source of nothing but gloom and melancholy. Thus he sanctions the ungodly in the whole of their conduct, and encourages them in all the delusions by which they are misled.]
4. That no evil is to be apprehended from it in the world to come
[This necessarily follows from all the rest : for, if he really thought that God would execute his threatenings against the violators of the Law, he would be more attentive to his own ways. But he persuades himself, that God is too merciful to punish any one in the eternal world, or, at all events, for such slight offences as he commits : and, by his open contempt of God's threatened judgments, he says to all around him, that they have nothing to fear, since the Lord will do neither good nor evili.” The exact description of these persons is given by the Psalmist, when he says, “ The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts. His ways are always grievous: thy
8 1 Pet. iii. 18. h Acts iii. 26. i Zeph. i. 12.
judgments are far above out of his sight: and as for all his enemies, he puffeth at themk."]
The very reverse of this is the influence, II. Of piety
The man who forsakes the Law, praises the wicked; but the man who keeps the Law, contends with them. He does this, 1. By the silent testimony of his life
[A godly man is like " a light shining in a dark place.” However unobtrusive his conduct may be, it forms a contrast with that of all around him, and especially with that of those who move in his sphere of life. If he be young, his sobriety is a reproach to all the giddiness and folly of his youthful acquaintance. If he be of a more advanced age, his zeal for God reproves the worldliness and indifference even of his most respected neighbours. Whether we view his abstinence from sin, or his practice of holiness, he equally casts reflections on the great mass of mankind." They are of the world, and speak of the world : he is of God, and both speaks and acts for God!." “ He is not conformed to the world” in any of its vanities: “ he comes out from the world, and is separate; and will not so much as touch the unclean thingn.” He endeavours so to walk in the world, as to “ keep his garments cleano,” and undefiled with any of its abominations. He is even “ crucified to the world, and regards it as a man would who was suspended on a cross, and looking for a speedy dissolution P.” At the same time he gives himself to holy exercises; and determines, with God's help, to fulfil every duty, as in the presence of his God. He shews that he has other views, other desires, other pursuits, than the world has any conception of; that he belongs to another world ; that his conversation is in heaven;" and that, “though in the world, he is not of the world, even as the Lord Jesus Christ was not of the world"."
Now all this, of necessity, attracts notice, and constrains all who behold him to say, “If he is right, we must be wrong.” The effect of his conduct is precisely like that of Noah's, when he built the ark. It is said of Noah, that “ being moved with fear, he prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the worlds." How did this act of his condemn the world? He was, it is true, “ a preacher of righteousness;" but it was not so much his preaching, as his practice, which was here said to condemn the world. His faith condemned their unbelief; his fear, their security; his obedience, their disobedience. He needed not to say any thing: his conduct spake sufficiently; and the consciences of the beholders made the application. Thus it is, in a measure, with every godly man; he is “an epistle of Christ, known and read of all ment." The ungodly world may shut their eyes against the light of God's written word; but him they are forced to see, whether they will or not: and in him they see what is the line of conduct which God requires, and how far they are from walking according to it.
k Ps. X. 4, 5.
1 1 John iv. 5, 6.
m Rom. xii. 2.
That the world consider themselves as condemned by the godly, is evident, from the indignation which they manifest when the light of God's truth is made to shine before them. They instantly endeavour, by every possible means, to extinguish the light, or at all events to induce the godly to put their light under a bushel, and to hide it from their eyes". They will profess to reprobate the sentiments of the godly: but they would never concern themselves about the sentiments of the godly, if they could but induce them to alter their conduct. It is their conduct that reproaches them, and that forms the real ground of their indignation against them. “If ye were of the world," says our Lord," the world (whatever your sentiments might be) would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but Í have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you?.” Let piety enter into any family amongst us, and we shall see a fulfilment of that word, “ Think you that I came to send peace on earth ? I came not to send peace, but a sword y."] 2. By the open avowal of his sentiments
[A faithful servant of God, in whatever line he move, will not be ashamed of Christ, but will “confess him openly before mena.” This he feels to be a bounden duty. He does not wish to make a parade of his religion : but he is commanded to “ let his light shine before mena ;" and not only “not to have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but, when opportunity occurs, to reprove them b.” Hence, though he is cautious, "not to cast pearls before swine, who would only trample them under their feet,” he is ready to give to every inquirer a reason of the hope that is in him with meekness and fear." Nor will he be afraid to reprove sin, where he has any hope that his admonitions will be well received. If he be a minister, he will be “bold in the Lord to speak the Gospel of God with much contentione;" not fearing the face of man, but declaring, before all, and without reserve, “ the whole counsel of God.” Nor, though he move in a private sphere, will he be backward to exert his influence, so far as it extends, for the suppression of evil, and for the diffusion of piety through the world. This indeed will raise up enemies against him: for men will “ hate him that reproveth in the gate 8.” They hated our blessed Lord principally on this account; as he himself told them: “You, (who countenance its proceedings,) the world cannot hate ; but me it hateth, because I testify of it that the works thereof are evil h." It was this that incensed Ahab against Micaiah : “I hate Micaiah because he doth not speak good concerning me, but evili. And it was the faithfulness of John, in reproving Herod's unlawful commerce with his brother Philip's wife, that brought down the vengeance of that prince upon him. But, notwithstanding all the odium that such fidelity will bring upon him, the true Christian will exercise it as occasion serves, declaring candidly his conviction, that “the broad road of the world leadeth to destruction, and that the narrow way alone will issue in eternal life!.”] From this subject we may clearly SEE, 1. How much guilt attaches to us all[I will not now speak of those who have lived in
t 2 Cor. iii. 3. u John ïïi. 19, 20. x John xv. 19. y Matt. x. 34-36. z Matt. x. 32.
a Matt. v. 16. b Eph. v. 11. c Matt. vii. 6.
d 1 Pet. iii. 15. e 1 Thess. ii. 2.
and flagrant sin; though, of course, all that I shall say will apply with double force to them; but I will speak of those who, though moral and discreet, have not given up themselves unfeignedly to God; or who grew up to maturity before they fully embraced the Gospel. Look back to your early childhood: your example even at that time had an influence on your youthful companions; and said to them, in language which they clearly understood, that there was no occasion for them to seek after God. As you grew up towards manhood, your influence became proportionably extended, and proportionably more injurious also. Go now to your different companions, and to the thousands who, unknown to you, derived from your example encouragement in sin: go, tell them how you regret the injuries you have done, and how anxious you are to repair the evil, by making known to them the way of life and salvation. Thousands, alas! are gone beyond the reach of any effort, and are already enduring in hell the miseries which you contributed to heap upon them. But of those to whom you may gain access, how many, do you suppose, would listen to your advice? there would scarcely be found one amongst them all that would not laugh in your face, and account you either a fool or mad. King Manasseh, by his
f Acts xx. 27.
g Isai. xxix. 21.
h John vii. 7.