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and compassion, is another ornament and recommendation of the gospel. Nor is affluence, or extensive liberality, requisite in order to diffuse this benign light around us : provided our exertions bear some proportion to our ability. A loving spirit may be manifested in a narrow sphere, by a continual attention to little incidents; and by such beneficent actions as are within the power of every man whose heart is properly disposed.
These tempers ought to be associated with forbearance and gentleness under insults and injuries ; a readiness to forgive repeated and most trying provocations; and persevering endeavours to
overcome evil with good.” And, when the believer is also willing to acknowledge, without reserve, the mistakes and faults into which he
may have been betrayed ; and to make suitable concessions and amends to all whom he has in any respect offended ; “his light shines before men’ in a very resplendent manner. Patience and resignation also, in those trying circumstances which excite others to peevishness and rebellious murmurs; cheerful contentment at a distance from those pleasures, which most men deem the solace of life ; moderation and regard to expediency in the use of things lawful; indifference about distinctions, pre-eminence, or applause: and discretion in the management of secular affairs, contribute to recommend, and consequently to diffuse, the light of divine truth.—This is more especially the effect of a diligent improvement of our talents, according to our rank in life, or our situation in the church ; by employing wealth, authority, ininfluence, genius, learning, and every endowment,
with a steady aim to promote the cause of true religion in the world, and to render mankind wiser, holier, and happier, by every means we can devise.
By a combination of these dispositions, and an habitual regard to every part of our conduct, according to the brief hints here given ; avoiding extremes, rashness, harshness, and affected singularity ; endeavouring to unite a courteous obliging behaviour with religious constancy and fortitude; and studying the proprieties of our several stations; we may, I apprehend, comply with our Lord's exhortation, and “ let our light shine before men.”
III. We proceed then to consider the object which we ought to propose to ourselves in attending to these duties.
It has been hinted, that our light should shine “ before men,” and not at a distance from human society. They who quit the active scenes of life to which providence has called them, that they may cultivate piety in privacy and retirement, too much resemble such soldiers as decline the combat, and refuse to face danger or endure hardship in the service of their country. Some employments indeed are absolutely irreconcilable with a good conscience : but, when this is not the case, it is generally the believer's duty to “abide in his “calling." Christianity suffices to teach every man, from the monarch to the slave, how to glorify God and serve his generation, by a diligent and self-denying performance of the duties belonging to his station. And this is the best method of exhibiting before men the nature and efficacy of that remedy, which God hath devised for the disorders of this evil world.
Our Lord, in this same sermon, warns his disciples not to do their “works to be seen of men :" yet here he requires them to “ let their light so • shine before men that they may see their good “ works.” Our actions, however good in themselves, are corrupt in their principle, if they spring from vain-glory, or are made known with ostentation ; as if we sought human applause. But, if we “abound in the fruits of righteousness," and
patiently continue in well doing,” it will be impossible that our good works should be wholly concealed. Our Lord “ went about doing good ;” and he always shunned human observation in his constant exercise of beneficence, as far as his circumstances would admit of it: yet his love and power were undeniable, and “his fame spread “ abroad” through the adjacent regions. Indeed almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, of which Christ spake afterwards, generally demand secrecy: but hypocrites especially seek glory by openly performing them : while the habitual tenour of a sober, righteous, and godly life, must be visible to those among whom we reside. Yet even here we ought to watch against every degree of ostentation. But there may be occasions, in which the honour of God and the edification of our brethren, may require us to make known even those parts of our conduct, which should in general be concealed. Thus Daniel opened his windows, and prayed three times a day, as a protest against the impious decree of Darius, or rather of his ministers; and the primitive Christians publicly sold their estates, to provide for the needy. And thus martyrs, in prison or at the stake, prayed singly in the most
open manner, though at other times accustomed to retire into a closet.
The object which we are instructed to propose to ourselves, in making our light “ shine before
men,” is this, “ that they may glorify our Father “ which is in heaven:” and our conduct may be regulated in most cases, by carefully examining how that end may be most effectually attained. So far from our good works conducing in any degree to our justification before God, even the gracious recompense, promised to the fruits of the Spirit in the hearts and lives of believers, is not so much as mentioned in the passage before us. Higher and nobler motives are exclusively proposed; motives in which self-love is allowed no gratification, except we can find pleasure in glorifying God and doing good to men.
The people of the world have in general a very unfavourable opinion of evangelical doctrines. “ The preaching of the cross is to them that perish “ foolishness ;” and the plan of redemption seems to many of them irrational, inconsistent, and calculated to level all distinctions of character and capacity, and to militate against the interests of morality and science. They therefore commonly entertain a contempt for a man's understanding, when they discover that he has zealously embraced this religious system : and the disgusting conduct, or extravagant notions, of too many who profess these doctrines, confirm these fatal prejudices, and furnish them with anecdotes and objections with which to oppose the truth. But when a man soberly avows his belief of the gospel, and“ is ready “ to give a reason of the hope that is in him, with
“ meekness and fear;" when he discourses rationally on other subjects, and behaves with increasing propriety and consistency in all his various relations and engagements; the prejudices of observers gradually subside, and they begin to allow that his principles are not so intolerable as they once conceived them to be. Finding that, while he decidedly resolves“ to obey God rather than “ man,” he also is ready to serve or oblige others, when he can do it with a good conscience; and that his conduct, when most exactly scrutinized, appears to the greatest advantage; and feeling perhaps that their own interest and comfort have been materially advanced by the change: they are prepared to receive more favourably any hint he may drop concerning the salvation of Christ ; to read a book that he earnestly recommends, or to give the preachers of the gospel an occasional hearing. Thus many are led to an acquaintance with the truths of Christianity in the most attractive manner; their aversion and contempt are almost imperceptibly removed ; and one after another is brought to the knowledge of Christ, and faith in his blood. Then a new light is set up to shine before men, that others may sec his good works also, and be won over to join in glorifying our God and Father.
The Lord alone, it is true, can open the understanding and change the heart : but he almost always uses means and instruments; and the pious example and zealous endeavours of Christians, as well as the preaching of the gospel, are blessed to the conversion of sinners. Every believer therefore should habitually design and endeavour to be useful in this manner, within his proper sphere;