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I will endeavour to state the mode of conduct, by which we may best approve ourselves chil, dren indeed of His heavenly wisdom.
Now, it is undeniable, that much has been left by the gospel to each man's own prudence and discretion. We are not subject by it to particular rules about our use of lawful things: there is no scripture which exactly prescribes to us when, and in what measure, we may enjoy them, and when we must altogether forbear. So various, in fact, are our tempers and circumstances, that one may safely take up what another cannot safely touch, or look at : wherefore, since no two persons are equally liable to the same dangers and temptations, God hath treated us in these last times, not like children under a schoolmaster, but like men, who may be trusted in a great measure to order themselves. Accordingly, by being circumspect, and continually temperate in all things, we shall best justify the wisdom of His treatment, and shew ourselves fit to use the permissions which He hath granted us. Our Lord and Master (it may be remarked) hath nowhere given precise commandments on the subject of meats and drinks; nevertheless, we have reason to believe, that if any overcharge their hearts with surfeiting and drunkenness, or only in such a degree as to disqualify them for watchfulness and prayer, they are not worthy to be reputed His disciples. He hath nowhere positively forbidden us to partake in worldly business, and diversions; nay, hath signified to us, that we may not improperly have to do with them; yet are we no true followers of Christ, if the most allowable of such occupations engross our affections, or prevent us from setting them on things above. Use not, then, the liberty unto which you have been called, “ for an occasion to the flesh,”—for an excuse to be serving divers lusts and pleasures, and fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind : nor live as caring only for the goods, which ere long must perish, or be given up, because you have been left at liberty still to retain them. On the contrary, study to exercise a constant and an universal moderation. Suspect danger in various pursuits and acquisitions, which have not been absolutely forbidden, or declared unlawful; and remember to abstain, at times, especially from the things to which by nature you are most strongly inclined, both because they will be apt otherwise to engender sin, and because it is necessary that you should be prepared to resign them without reluctance.
In such a method, my brethren, by all soberness of conversation, and by a discreet exercise of self-denial, according as every one may find occasion for it, be careful practically to justify the wisdom of Him who hath called you unto holiness. Be not undisciplined, or unwise, in matters of religious prudence, but understanding what the will of the Lord is, even that you should love nothing in comparison with Him, and spare not resolutely to cease from every thing, which is likely to separate between Him and your souls.
Walk thus, as men superior to licentiousness, and alive to the duty of ordering themselves properly before God. And finally, at the same time bear in mind, that no Christian should either value himself, or condemn his neighbour, on account of any of those things, which our common Master hath referred to each one's own prudence and determination. It is doubtless universally indispensable that the flesh be subdued to the Spirit, and be kept ready to obey His godly motions. This grand point, however, being sufficiently cared for, whether, in order to it, a man hath fasted more or less rigorously, and in what respects chiefly, he hath denied himself, are particulars of very inferior moment. Let none, therefore, contemplate with admiration their own peculiar scheme of selfdiscipline, or be in haste to think evil of others, who will not agree with them, and adopt it; but let all, as best they may, press towards this only necessary mark. The prevailing evil decidedly is, that Christians are not strict enough; and it should seem scarcely possible for a man to be too strict, while he remains clear from censoriousness and pride. There is surely no just fault to be found with the strictest life, unless the person be disposed to boast of it, or to judge those who do not outwardly live like him. Yet we ought to reckon it, on the whole, a better and a safer way, to “ use the world “as not abusing it,” than to aim at standing entirely apart from its concerns. He that in this way serveth Christmi. e. by labours and watchings, by pureness and by love unfeigned, in the midst of worldly trials is probably the most acceptable unto God, and most worthy to be had in esteem by his fellow-creatures.
GALATIANS v. 13. Brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use
not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love
serve one another. In various places of the New Testament, and not least in this Epistle to the Galatians, they who have been baptized into Jesus Christ are evidently discoursed with, and admonished, as thence entitled to liberty from bondage. And under no change of circumstances should believers choose to forget, or overlook what is written on this subject, no doubt, for the common edification. Christian liberty should always seem an interesting topic, and one which it will behove us justly to consider, and to apprehend. Taking occasion, therefore, from my present text, I will proceed to shew, first, that ye, my brethren, have been called unto liberty ; secondly, that such liberty, however, ought not to be used for an occasion to the flesh; and, lastly, the opposite line of conduct, which, being at liberty, we ought continually to observe.