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The Temper of a Christian with regard to Morai
Good and Evil.
Abhor that which is evil : cleave to that which is good.
THE difference between good and evil is here fuppofed to be already understood and acknowledged. These Romans, even in their gen, tile ftate, had known God, though they had not glorified him; and they had received the infcription of the great rules of morality on their hearts, though they had not obeyed them. By the golpel there had been made to them a more full difcovery of the divine law and of moral obligation ; and, at the same time, a way had been opened for the pardon of their past tranfgreffions. They muft therefore now have been capable of judg. ing what was right.
The wickedness of the world, besure of the Christian part of it, is owing far more to the want of an honest difpofition, than to the want of necessary information. Though various speculative opinions are adopted among Christians, yet con.
cerning right and wrong in practice there is a general agreement, except where the judgment is perverted by the habits of vice. The main point is to abhor that which is evil, and cleave to that which is good. With this temper governing our hearts, we shall be secured from dangerous errors ; or at least from their dangerous influence.
We will consider the two branches of our text diftinctly.
First. We will explain and illustrate the abhorrence of evil.
On a careless, fuperficial view of themselves, some may imagine, they abhor evil, when they really cleave to it. To prevent misapprehensions, we must examine our hearts with attention.
1. There is a great difference between a real abhorrence of evil, and an external forbearance of it.
Men do not always pursue the course of life, which, under other circumstances, their hearts would really choose. A regard to worldly interest, the want of means or opportunity, the apprehension of detection and disgrace, the power of education and example, may be a temporary restraint from the iniquity to which they are strongly inclined, and which, as soon as the restraint ceases, they will pursue with avidity. King Joash did right, while he was under the influence of Jehoiada the priest ; but when the good priest was dead, the king fell away to idolatry ; and even murdered Jehoiada's son, who had the boldness to reprove his apostacy. He who loves iniquity is, in the judgment of God, deemed guilty of it, though he thould not actually practice it ; for, in this case, the practice is prevented, not by voluntary choice, but by external restraint.
The divine law forbids covetousness, as well as
oppression , lust, as well as adultery ; envy and malice, as well as cruelty and revenge. It requires us to put off the old man, not only with his deeds, but with his lusts too. The thought of foolishness it pronounces to be fin. Wrath and hatred indulged, it condemns as murder conceived in the heart. The outward conduct forms the character in the fight of men ; but in the fight of God the character is determined by the habitual temper : for he feeth not as man seeth.
To know ourselves then, we must observe the current of our thoughts, the tendency of our defires, and the general run of our wishes and intentions.
We forbear fome iniquities, which we see in others. So far it is well. But what restrains us ? - Is it a settled principle of opposition to evil ? Is it a sense of God's holy presence and a regard to the glory of his name? Is it a fear of his displeasure and an apprehension of the judgment to come? Or is. it only fome inferior motive arising from considerations of temporal convenience ? The man, who avoids evil from the latter motive, may be called prudent. It is only the influence of the former, which denominates him virtuous.
2. There is a great difference between an kabitual, and an occasional abhorrence of evil.
One who, in the general course of his life, is devoted to a particular vice, may, at times, feel an abhorrence of it. Excess of indulgence will often produce a temporary disguft, without eradicating the habit. Nature, clogged and enfeebled by a debauch, loathes the pleasures with which it is overloaded : but as soon as it rises from the depreffion, the defire of gratification returns with its former violence. Sickness or affliction may, for the present, deaden the relish for particular VOL. y.
fins, or awaken such convi&ion and remorse, as will produce a temporary abhorrence of them; and yet, when health and prosperity are restored, the love of these very sins operates as usual. There is no alteration in the temper of the mind; the only difference is in the state of the body, or in the outward condition.
There are few wicked men, but who have their serious and thoughtful frames. The admonition of a friend, or their own reflections may awaken sentiments of opposition to vice, and resolutions to forsake it ; and yet these sentiments and refolutions may never be carried into effect.
This occasional indifference, or disrelish to evil, is not a real abhorrence of it. The mind still is bent toward it : there is only an accidental suf. pension of the habitual desire.
3. There is a material difference between our abhorrence of evil in other people, and our abhorrence of it in ourselves.
The man addicted to vice condemns in others every vice, but his own ; and this too, when he happens to suffer by it in his interest or reputation.
There are thofe, who take great freedom with the characters of their neighbours, and seem to think it perfectly innocent for them to divert themselves at the expense of any man's peace and honour. But none are more severe to condemn this liberty, when they are the objects of the flander. The most dishoneft man, that you meet with, if he happen to be cheated in a bargain, or injured in his property, will exprefs great abhorrence of fraud and oppression. And even in indifferent cases, men usually censure in others the vices, of which they think themselves to be clear. The knave abhors the drunkard, the prodigal del.
pises the miser, and the profane scofter detefts the difsembler in religion.
A forwardness then to condemn fin in others, is no proof of a real abhorrence of it ; for this may proceed from partiality, selfifhness, pride, ill nature, or a disposition to justify ourselves. The main question is, In what light we view our own fins ? These we may moft clearly discern ; and from these we have most to fear. These we should contemplate with peculiar abhorrence, and condemn with greatest severity. David says, “ I was upright before God, and I kept myself from mine iniquity.
4. There is an essential difference between the abhorrence of evil itself, and the abhorrence of its consequences.
All fin, by the divine constitution, tends to misery. Even in the present life, we see this to be, in some degree, its usual effect.
Nature perverted loves sin; but nature cannot be so changed as to love mifery. The fin may be pleasing, but the proper fruits of it never can be fo.
The wicked man, while he loves his vices, abhors their tendency. When he has destroyed his health by excess, and his substance by prodigality, he may with he had been more temperate and frugal. He may lament the painful consequences of his irregularity But he would have felt the fame uneasiness and disquietude, if he had loft his substance by fire, or his health by a fever. He is not displeased with his own conduct, but with the divine government, which has established a connexion between vice and misery. “ The fool ifhness of man perverteth his way, and his heart fretteth against the Lord.” If he resolves to refrain from his former vices ; ftill it is his wilha,