Page images

press images. On this principle, our text, I think, will admit of only three senses, in each of which, we may sell truth.

1. Sell not the truth, that is to say, do not lose the disposition of mind, that aptness to universal truth, when you have acquired it. Justness of thinking, and accuracy of reasoning, are preserved by the same means, by which they are procured. As the constant use of these means is attended with difficulty, the practice of them frequently tires people out. There are seeds of some passions, which remain, as it were, buried during the first years of life, and which vegetate only in mature age. There are virtues, which some men would have practised till death, had their condition been always the same. A Roman historian remarks of an emperor, that he always would have merited the imperial dignily, had he never arrived at it. He, who was a model of docility, when he was only a disciple, became inaccessible to reason and evidence as soon as he was placed in a doctor's chair. He, who applied himself wholly to the sciences, while he considered his application as a road to the first offices in the state, became wild in his notions, and lost all the fruits of his former attention, as soon as he obtained the post, which had been the object of all his wishes. As people neglect advancing in the path of truth, they lose the habit of walking in it. The mind needs aliment and nourishment, as well as the body. To sell truth is to lose, by dissipation, that aptness to universal truth, which had been acquired by attention; to lose, by precipitation, by prejudice, by obstinacy, by curiosity, by gratifying the passions, those dispositions, which had been acquired by opposite means. This is the first sense, that may be given to the precept, Sell not the truth.



2: The wise man perhaps intended to excite those, who possess superior knowledge, to communicate it freely to others. He intended, probably, to reprove those mercenary souls, who trade with their wisdom, and sell it, as it were, by the penny. This sense seems to be verified by the following words, wisdom, and instruciion, and understanding. Some supply the first verb buy, buy wisdom and instruction. The last verb may also be naturally joined to the same words, and the passage may be read. Sell neither wisdom, nor instruction. Not that Solomon intended to subvert an order established in society; for it is equitable, that they, who have spent their youth in acquiring literature, and have laid out a part of their fortune in the acquisition, should reap the fruit of their labor, and be indemnified for the expence of their education; the workman is worthy of his meat, and they, who preach the gospel, should live of the gospel, Matt. x. 10. 1 Cor. ix. 14. Yet, the same Jesus Christ, who was the herald, as well as the pattern of disinterestedness, said to his disciples, when he was speaking to them of the miracles, which he had impowered them to perform ; and of the truths of the gospel in general, which he intrusted them to preach, Freely ye have received, freely give, Matt. x. 8. And St. Paul was so far from staining his apostleship withi a mercenary spirit, that, when he thought a reward for his ministry was likely to tarnish its glory, he chose rather to work with his hands than to accept it. That great man, who had acquired the delightful habit of living upon meditation and study, and of expanding his soul in contemplating abstract things ; that great man was seen to supply his wants by working at the mean trade of tent-making, while he was laboring at the same time in constructing she mystical tabernacle, the church; greater in this noble abasement than his pretended successors in all their pride and pomp. A man of superior understanding onght to devote himself to the service of the state. His depth of knowledge should be a public fount, from which each individual should have a liberty to draw. A płysician owes that succor to the poor, which his profession affords; the counsellor owes them his advice; the casuist his directions; without expecting any other reward than that, which God hath promised to benevolence. I cannot help repeating here the idea, which Cicero gives us of those ancient Romans, who lived in the days of the liberty, and of the true glory of Rome. They acquainted themselves, says the orator, with whatever might be useful to the republic. They were seen walking backward and forward, in the public places of the city, in order to afford a freedom of access to any of the citizens, who wanted their advice, not only on matters of jurisprudence, but on any other affairs, as on the marrying of a daughter, the purchasing, or improving of a farm, or, in short, on any other article, that might concern them.

3. A third sense may be given to the precept. of Solomon, and, by selling we may understand what, in modern style, we call betraying truth, To betray truth is, through any sordid motive, to suppress, or to disguise, things of consequence to the glory of religion, the interest of a neighbor, or the good of society..

It would be difficult to demonstrate which of these three meanings is most conformable to the design of Solomon. In detached sentences, such as most of the writings of Solomon are, an absolute sense cannot be precisely determined: but, if the interpreter ought to suspend his judgment, the

preacher may regulate his choice by circumstances, and, of several probable meanings, all agreeable to the analogy of faith and to the genius of the sacred author, may take that sense, which best suits the state of his audience. If this be a wise maxim, we are obliged, methinks, having indicated the three significations, to confine ourselves, to the third.

In this sense, we observe six orders of persons, who may sell truth.

I. The courtier.
II. The indiscreet zealot.
III. The apostate, and the Nicodemite.
IV. The judge.
V. The politician.
VI. The pastor.

A courtier may sell truth by a mean adulation. An indiscreet zealot by pious frauds, instead of defending truth with the arms of truth alone. An apostate, and a Nicodemite, by loving this present world, 2 Tim. iv. 10. or by fearing persecution, when they are called to give a reason of the hope that is in them, 1 Pet. iii. 15. and to follow the example of that Jesus, who, according to the apostle, before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession, 1 Tim. vi. 13. A Judge may sell truth by a spirit of partiality, when he ought to be blind to the appearance of persons. A politician by a criminal caution when he ought to probe the wounds of the state, and to examine, in public assemblies, what are the real causes of its decay, and who are the true authors of its miseries. In fine, a pastor may sell truth through a cowardice, that prevents his declaring all the counsel of God; his declaring unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin, Micah. iii. 8.

Thus the flattery of the courtier ; the pious frauds of the indiscreet zealot ; the worldly-mindedness and timidity of the apostate, and of the Nicodemite; the partiality of the judge ; the criminal circumspection of the members of legislative bodies; and the cowardice of the pastor; are six defects, which we mean to expose, six sources of reflections, that will supply the remainder of this discourse.

I. Mean adulation is the first vice we aitack: the first way of selling truth. We intend here that fraudulent traffic, which aims, at the expence of a few unmeaning applauses, to procure solid advantages; and, by erecting an altar to the person addressed, and by offering a little of the smoke of the incense of flattery, to conciliate a profitable esteem. This unworthy commerce is not only carried on in the palaces of kings, it is almost every where seen, where superiors and inferiors meet; because, generally speaking, wherever there are superiors, there are people who love to hear the language of adulation; and because, wherever there are inferiors, there are people mean enough to let them hear it. What a king is in his kingdom a governor is in his province; what a governor is in his province a nobleman is in his estate ; what a nobleman is in his estate a man of trade is among his workmen and domestics. Further, the incense of flattery doth not always ascend from an inferior only to a superior, people on the same line in life mutually offer it to one another, and sometimes the superior stoops to offer it to the inferior. There are men who expect, that each member of society should put his hand to forward the building of a fortune, which entirely employs themselves, and which is the

« PreviousContinue »