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God; and we cannot be innocent while we sacrifice the good will of God to the vanity of being well spoken of in the world. Instance of Paul and Felix commented on.
II. Them that honor me, I will honor, saith the Lord; and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed. The only way therefore to seek honor from God, is by paying to God the honor that is due to him. A sincere regard to truth and justice is the truest honor, indeed the only honor, we can pay to God ; all external signs, though expressed in the method prescribed by himself, become empty shows, unless they proceed from an honest heart : this point enlarged on. And as it is in practical duties, so it is in faith likewise : he who professes to believe in Christ merely in compliance with the world, may obtain perhaps its riches and honors; but he has his reward; for this temporal faith will procure for him no praise or honor from God.
How differently people will act in religious matters, when they seek the praise of men, and when they seek the praise of God, may be collected from the knowlege we have of God and the world, and the measures that are necessary to please them : this however is fully shown by instances from holy Scripture.
III. Respecting self-examination. All times do not afford the same trials of faith and sincerity, yet there is no time which has not some. If persecution fails, prosperity has its temptations; and it is perhaps as hard to deny ourselves the glories and honors of the world, as it is to submit to its afflictions. St. Paul tells us, that there must be heresies among us, that they which are approved may be made manifest: when heathen persecutions ceased, internal divisions arose in the Church, and the
powers of the empire were sometimes on one side of the controversy and sometimes on the other : what influence this had on the faith of multitudes, a moderate experience of the world may teach us.
But farther ; times of ease and prosperity naturally abound in vice, and a neglect of the things
pertaining to salvation ; and it is counted a wise thing to sit still and give way to the torrent, and not to create trouble for ourselves and others by opposing a general corruption; and perhaps it may be wise : but is it wisdom towards God or towards the world? Is it seeking that honor which comes from above, or the honor which comes from men ? Could the man, seeks it, have had courage in the day of trial and persecution ?
Let us then examine ourselves on this head : if we think it a happy choice to sacrifice the honor of God and religion to a corrupt generation, and to screen ourselves from the indignation of the world by a professed indifference, is it not directly preferring the good-will of man to that of God? and can we complain, if we are left to seek our sole recompense from the world, whose servants we are ? Conclusion.
How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek
not the honor that cometh from God only?
The chief exercise of reason consists in disposing and regulating our actions, so as to render them subservient to the end
happiness which we propose to obtain. And though perhaps, with respect to the great numbers of men in the world, but few in comparison choose well for themselves, and fewer still pursue wisely and steadily the good they choose ; yet all men have something which is the object of their desires, and are endeavoring to attain their wish by some means or other. When we choose ill for ourselves, the more wit and dexterity we have to compass our designs, the nearer we are to ruin, the more inevitable is our destruction. Our best actions, when directed to ill purposes, become criminal, and leave nothing behind them but the foul stain of hypocrisy on our consciences.
This general truth might easily be illustrated by many particular instances from common life. There is nothing more commendable than a spirit of beneficence, and an inclination to do good to our fellow-creatures : but when the air of beneficence is assumed merely to carry on private views, when an inclination to do good is professed only to promote our own designs, and to make our way the easier to wealth or honor, what is it but fraud and deceit?
If civil virtue thus loses its name and nature by being misapplied, religion does so much more. The man who aims at reputation and interest under the disguise of religion, affronts God and abuses the world, and lays up for himself certain
ruin, the just reward of those who have the form of godliness, denying the power thereof.'
But there are degrees in this vice as in most other, and men oftentimes act under the influence of it without being conscious to themselves of so much baseness, as deserves to be branded with the name of hypocrisy. Pride, vanity, and self-love naturally give a tincture of hypocrisy to men's behavior ; they lead them to conceal whatever the world dislikes, and to make a show of whatever the world hoņors and admires. In the common affairs of life, where virtue and morality are not directly concerned, it may be very right perhaps to comply with the world ; but when our vanity, and love of praise and reputation, come to influence us in matters of religion, they will ever give a wrong turn to our minds, and disable us from doing justice to our own reason in judging between truth and falsehood,
This was the case of those to whom our Saviour in the text applies himself: he had done among them such works as never man did :' to these he appeals as an evidence that he came from the Father: • The works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father bath sent me.' He appeals likewise to the ancient Scriptures, those oracles of God, committed to the Jews :
Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me? If ye suspect that I have any views or designs of my own, and that I speak in the name of God without his commission, look to the works which I do; the blind receive their sight, the dumb their speech, the sick and lame are made sound, the dead are restored to life. His servant I am, whose works these are; and do ye yourselves judge from what hand these mighty things do proceed. If you think that I am come to pervert the law and the prophets, let the law and the prophets judge between us : I claim no more authority than they give me: search therefore the Scriptures and see. A fairer issue could not be proposed; so fair it was, that it had its full effect on many of the first rank among the Jews. St. John tells us, that : among
the chief rulers
many believed on him ;' but they made a secret of their conviction, and kept it to themselves, for fear of being put out of the synagogue : • for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.' Which last words are parallel to those of the text, and express the same sense.
A concern to be well with the people made some incapable of conviction, and made others, notwithstanding the conviction they were under, dissemble their real sentiments, and reject the authority to which in their own minds they could not but assent.
If we consider the nature of religion, it will appear to us why this is and must be the case. Religion arises from the relation we bear to God, and him only it does respect; and therefore when it is made to regard other objects, it necessarily becomes either idolatry or hypocrisy. He who serves any other than the God who made him, is an idolater : he who serves God with a design to please men rather than God, is an hypocrite. And since the end we propose to ourselves will always influence us in the choice of the means, whoever proposes to please the world by his religion will certainly choose such a religion as the world approves. Such an inquirer can have no regard for truth, for he takes his direction from the opinion of the world : he concerns not himself to know whether Jesus Christ be a prophet approved of God; he considers only whether he is approved by the people. It is an old and a very common observation, that the zeal and piety of Christians fell into decay when the empire became Christian. I am willing to think that the observation is not quite just, and to hope that those who were before pious believers, continued so after this great change, and that the Church has, in all ages since, had many faithful members. But true it is, that, when the
powers of the empire were converted to Christ, true believers had a calmer passage through the world, and left not behind them such shining examples of their zeal as the times of persecution always afforded. But the great and visible alteration was, that when the powers of the world came into the Church, they were followed by all such as • loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.' Whoever professed himself a Christian in the times of trial and persecution, gave to others great evidence of his being a sincere believer, and had great ground of confidence in himself that his heart was right with God: but since the days of prosperity, pro