« VorigeDoorgaan »
when we part with it for Honour, Wealth, , or Pleasure. In this Circumstance Men take Pains to thew how little they value their Religion, and seek Occasions to display their Libertinism and Infidelity, in order to make their way to the Favour of a corsupt and degenerate Age. This Behaviour admits of no
Excuse. These are they, who, properly speaking, love the World more than God and his Christ; and let us not envy them the Love of the World, for they will find it a dear Purchafe at the last.
But whenever Infidelity grows into Credit and Repute, and the World has so vitiated a Taste, as to esteem the Symptoms of Irreligion as Signs of a good Understanding and found Judgment; when there is so little Sense of serious Things left, that a Man cannot appear to be in earnest concerned for his Religion without being thought a Fool, or suspected to be a Knave; then there arises another Temptation to make Men ashamed of Christ, and of his Word. No Man likes to be despised by those about him; and he who wants perhaps neither Riches nor Honour, wants however to live in Credit, and in good Esteem with his Acquaintance, and to preserve at least the Character of a Man of Sense
and Understanding. How this general and almost natural Inclination must work, whenever the Age is so far debauched, as to esteem Irreligion a sure Sign of a good Understanding, is easily conceived. Those who have a large Share of Vanity will be drawn in to approve and encourage, to admire and imitate the much celebrated Freedom of thinking; for so it is called, though, properly speaking, it might more truly be styled a Freedom of talking. Others will be tempted to fit still, and give way to the Humour of the World; and will carefully hide their Faith in their Hearts, for fear any Signs of it should appear to the utter Discredit of their Understanding. This is, this always will be, the Case in such Circumstances. But what must be done? may some say: Must we feclude ourselves from Conversation, or must we set up to reprove and rebuke
idle Word we hear? If we do, our Company will foon leave us, though we leave not them. Wonderful Difficulties these! So hard, it seems, it is to refrain from the Company of those, who make a Mock of Sin! An Hardship which a good Man would chufe, and which every
bad one must chufe, if ever he intends to forsake the Error of his Ways.
There is a Contagion in ill Company, and he who dwells with the Scorner shall not be guiltless. But, since these Difficulties appear fo great, compare them with the real HardThips that surrounded the Christians of the first Ages: They lived in Perils, on all Sides were Terrors, within were Fears, without was Death. In these Circumstances they were called to confess Christ in the Face of an enraged and cruel World; and the Rule given them to go by was, Not to fear those, who could kill the Body only, but to fear Him, who could destroy both Body and Soul everlastingly. If this was their Rule under such real Difficulties, what must be yours under such pretended ones? If they were not permitted to fear the Rage of Kings and Princes, shall you be excused for fearing the Scorn or the Resentment of a light Companion ? If they were called to brave the Sword, and to look every Image of Death boldly in the Face; shall you find Pity, because you were afraid perhaps of being laughed at, and despised by those who are void of Understanding ?
But not to insist upon this, which may perhaps be too high a Degree of Virtue for the Times we live in, let us come lower: If
you care not to be a Reprover or Rebuker of this Iniquity, yet surely there is no Neceffity for you
to be an Admirer or Encourager of it: It is no great Sacrifice you
make to Christ, when
you resign your Share of the Applause, which belongs to those who persecute and blaspheme him. In a word : Consider with yourselves that Religion is, of all others, the most serious Concern. If its Pretensions are founded in Truth, it is Life to embrace them, it is Death to despise them. We cannot in this Case stand neuter: We cannot ferve two Masters; we must hold to the one, and despise the other. If we confess Christ before Men, he will also confess us before God, and his holy Angels: If we deny him before Men, he will deny us at the last Day, when he shall come in the Glory of his Father to judge the World.
Had our Lord been merely a Teacher of good Things, without any special Commisfion or Authority from the great Creator and Governor of the World, it would have been highly absurd to assume to himself this great Prerogative of being owned and acknowledged before Men. Several have from the Light of Reason taught many good Lessons to the World : But are we bound to take
reasonable Man, who recommends the Practice of Virtue, for our Master? to own his Authority at the Peril of our Lives? No Man ever thought so. Socrates taught many great Things to the Greeks before Christ came into the World. If he followed Reason, he did well; and we shall do well to follow it too, and farther we have no Concern with him. But, if there be any Truth at all in the Gospel, the Case is far otherwise with respect to our blessed Redeemer; we must own his Authority, we must confess him before the World, be the Danger of so doing ever so great or extreme. Whence arises this Obligation? It cannot rest merely upon this, that he was a Teacher of Reason and good Morality; for in that Case it would be sufficient to submit to the Reason and the Rules of Morality which he taught, without concerning ourselves with his Authority, which was no more than what Reason and Virtue give every Man. But the case with us is otherwise : Our Lord requires of us, that we should confess him before Men; and has declared, that if we deny him before the World, he will deny us in the Presençe of God and his holy Angels, when he.comes to judge the Quick and the Dead. Consider what manner