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There can be no good reason, why men should be prying and inquisitive into the private affairs of families, or particular persons. When such things are known, there can be very seldom any good purpose served by divulging them. If they are mentioned at all, certainly there can be no good reason for giving them a wrong turn, making things appear worse than they are, concealing circumstances, that might alleviate an imprudence; and possibly adding some others, that tend to aggravate and enhance it.
This must be owned to be an unreasonable practice: but yet it is not uncommon. Though every man is tender of his own good name, how many act, as if the reputation of other men and their families was a thing of small value in their esteem !
We are therefore to be upon our guard here. We are not to form and raise stories to the prejudice of others. Nor are we to report what we have heard without reserve, or caution, or any good occasion for so doing: Nay, it might be well if sometimes we would decline receiving relations of this kind, that the practice of tale-bearing may be the more effectually discouraged: or, if we cannot well avoid hearing them, however doing it without any satisfaction, real or apparent, and diverting the discourse to other matters, as soon as may be.
If we do not arrive at this degree of perfection, yet let us take heed, that we be not rash and severe in our censures; nor condemn and exclaim against actions and conduct, of which we know but very few circumstances.
We are all too apt to transgress in many things, and in few things more, than in an abuse of the faculty of speech. Says St. James: “ My brethren, be not many 'masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation: for in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able to bridle the whole body," James ini. 1, 2.
I might here particularly caution and argue against loading men with censures and reproaches on account of their differing from us in matters of speculation. For whereas upon other occasions some turn the imprudences of others into heinous sins; here men often make that a crime which is a virtue. They censure men as abandoned of God, and in a state of damnation, for believing certain opinions, which possibly are true and reasonable: but if they be false, still those persons would not deserve to be severely censured by us, if they have honestly used their best endeavours in the search of truth. Let us not be conformed to others in such a temper and conduct as this. But when men differ from us, let us take the more favourable side of the question ; and hope, that though they are mistaken, as we think, yet they do not err wilfully, or obstinately, but that they are open to conviction, and are sincere and upright. But at present I say no more of this matter.a
7. We are not to be conformed to this world, or the men of it, in a luxurious and extravagant course of life. And have we not reason to be upon our guard here? Is not this a prevailing and general fault? Has it not invaded all ranks and orders of men ? Is not this one of the sins of our days? And does it not manifestly bring upon us many distresses and calainities, and threaten us with more ? Does not extravagance prevail, not in one thing only, but in all ? Is it not seen in diet, apparel, furniture, equipage, diversions, and in every article of expense that can be named ?
What can be said in defence of that) gaming, in various forms, which has been so greatly improved and cultivated ; in which great numbers of people have attained such exquisite skill and understanding? Is not this the ordinary diversion, or rather business of many among us; of rich and poor, high and low, young and old ? Are there not numerous instances of this practice, which are plainly and extremely unreasonable ? Certainly, it cannot but be offensive to see those gaming for sums of money, be they greater or smaller, who, as far as can be judged by their outward appearance, are extremely destitute: and it must be a manifest and heinous immorality, for men to misspend time, and hazard sums of money in this way, whose families are unprovided with things necessary for their support.
If then transgressions of this kind are common with any of our rank and acquaintance, we ought to be upon our guard, and take heed that we be not conformed to them. For gaming is altogether improper for some: and to be addicted to it, or to hazard large sums of money
of money this way, must be unreasonable in all. The loss of time, hazard of estate, health, temper, and virtue, with which this practice is attended, should either entirely deter men from it, or at least induce them to be very careful not to exceed.
But this is not the only thing to be avoided by us. There
* If any should find this discourse too long for one reading, they may break off here.
• Since these discourses were composed and pronounced, an Act of Parliament has passed for the more effectual preventing of excessive and deceitful gaming. All wise men, I am persuaded, agree in wishing it may have a good effect.
31 are many other ways of profuseness: and when this is the case: when frugality is unreputable; when economy is thought to be below all people of rank, of both sexes ; when they who make a decent appearance, and pay to all what is justly due to them, and relieve and support distressed families, and are liberal in promoting divers good works : when such as these can scarce maintain their credit in the world, for want of pomp and splendour, and a glittering show and appearance; then certainly we have need to be upon our guard against that profuseness, which is above our circumstances, which might exhaust our substance, involve us in perplexing and inextricable diffi. culties, and hazard the total loss of that little virtue that remains in us.
8. Another thing, in which we ought not to be conformed to this world, is uncharitableness in things of a religious
This we may have reason to guard against : for the pride of our hearts, the good opinion we are too apt to have of ourselves, disposes us very much to be offended with those who differ from us. Therefore, if unfavourable sentiments of some persons, and a severe treatment of them, be common, we are in great danger of being misled. Indeed this has often been a common, though it be an heinous injustice. It has been common among those who have been the people of God by profession, as well as among ignorant heathens and idolaters. How strangely a blind zeal, or uncharitable temper toward such as differed from them, raged among the Jewish people, we see in the history of the New Testament; particularly in their treatinent of the apostle Paul, and other harmless disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. If we were to look into the history of christianity, since it prevailed in the Roman empire, and observe the conduct of the several sects and parties of christians ; we should find it a difficult undertaking to vindicate the conduct of any one of them, when they have been uppermost, and have had power in their hands. Scarce any age or period, but affords instances of hard and unrighteous treatment of men for the sake of some differences in religious opinions. Very few of those who have had the chief direction of church-affairs, who have not been blameable for some rigour and uncharitableness in sentiment or practice. And oftentimes they who by their stations have been guides and teachers of others, have earnestly inculcated such a zeal, such a temper and conduct toward those who have not been in all things of the same mind with them, as is extremely unrighteous and unmerciful. Nor are they those only who are chief in power that are guilty in this respect: for they also who are few in number, and of small authority, in comparison of others, will sometimes assume, and become imperious and uncharitable toward those who differ from them in these points.
This then is a very common fault; and because common, the greater care and circumspection are necessary : for every one has a right to think for himself, and is obliged to determine according to the best of his own judgment and understanding : and it is a duty incumbent upon every one to inquire seriously into the things of religion, and to judge according to evidence. Therefore no man, or body of men, civil or ecclesiastical, can have a right to impose religious creeds or articles upon other men, and to punish them for not assenting to them. Any one may propose reasons and arguments in behalf of his opinions : but no man ought to enforce assent any further than his arguments convince.
It is true, no one has a right to do, or_teach any thing, that is contrary to the peace of society. That is the magistrate's province. But where opinions are innocent, and have no direct tendency to disturb the peace and quiet of others, and men are guilty of no injustice, they have a right to the protection of the power of the society in which they live, and ought to enjoy the privileges of peaceable subjects,
And that we ought to avoid a persecuting, and a malevolent temper and conduct with regard to men of different sentiments, and to practise much tenderness, mildness, forbearance, and love, is apparent not only from the reason and fitness of things, as just now hinted, but also from the conduct and example of our blessed Lord and his apostles, and from the mildness of the principles and precepts of the christian religion, as recorded in the books of the New Testament; which was not planted and spread in the world by force and violence, by human authority, and the power of the sword, but by reason and argument, and the example of a holy and amiable life and conversation. Moreover, the christian religion did by the like means spread and prevail for a good while after the death of Christ's apostles, and their fellow-labourers, without human supports, and notwithstanding frequent and violent persecutions. And though the favour of the civil power and authority, upon the conversion of Constantine, might be an advantage for a while: yet I suppose, it may be allowed to be a just observation, that since christians, instead of being persecuted, as they had been by Jews and Heathens, have persecuted one another, christianity has made little progress, but has rather lost ground. For the once numerous and flourishing churches of the East, and in a large part of Africa, have been all, in a manner, long since swallowed up in Mahometism. And I presume, it may much dispose us to moderation to observe, that where there is the most rigid imposition, and tyrannical government, as in the church of Rome, there are the grossest errors, and the most unreasonable superstitions, together with a very deplorable corruption of manners, especially where that ecclesiastical tyranny is at the greatest height.
Let us not then be afraid of religious liberty, as prejudicial and unfriendly to truth. Let us not by any means concur in any methods of rigour and severity toward men of different sentiments, as thinking thereby to promote the interest of religion and virtue. For beside that such methods are in themselves unreasonable and unrighteous, they are also detrimental to the cause of truth.
9. Another thing, in which we ought not to follow others, is indifference about the things of religion. Of this men may be in danger on various accounts. Considering the many differences and dissensions there are upon this head; the animosity and fierceness with which religious disputes are often managed; the many abuses of religion, that is, its name and profession, by hypocritical, artful, and self-interested men; some may be apt to take offence, and to determine no more to concern themselves about it, but let all things abroad have their course; whilst they, for their part, secure, as far as possible, their own present worldly ease and advantage.
Others may be in danger of much indolence upon this head from other considerations. Religion, say they, is an abstruse and difficult thing. Let us therefore acquiesce in the determinations of our superiors and governors in church and state, and believe as they require: or, let us follow those to whom we are allied, and do as they desire, especially if they are at all importunate, without giving ourselves any pain about this matter.
But this indifference and indolence ought to be guarded against. Whatever dissensions there are in the world, partly through human weakness, partly through human wickedness and deceit, there is a difference of things. Truth and virtue are realities, built upon solid foundations : and with care and attention the great and general principles of true religion, and the main branches of virtue, may be discerned from error and vice.
Every man therefore should endeavour, to the best of his