« ÎnapoiContinuați »
adulterated with wrong principles; or because, at the best, it amounts only to a faint and feeble principle of life, lodging more in the head than in the heart. From whence again we may infer, that the character of the text is the more rare and uncommon, since none but the religious can ever fully come up to it; and not all they, but those only who have the honour and the happiness to be deeply tinctured with piety, and who constantly make it the ruling principle of their hearts and lives.
Having thus largely accounted for the prevailing growth and influence of guile and insincerity, I proceed now, secondly,
II. To set forth the wisdom and excellence of sincere and upright conduct, both with respect to the world that now is, and to that which is to come.
1. No doubt but many and great worldly advantages may ordinarily be obtained by the practice of guile ; otherwise there would be no temptation to it, or none great enough to draw such numbers into it. On the other hand, it must be acknowledged likewise, that there are ordinarily many and great worldly advantages arising from honest and sincere conduct; so that, upon the whole, it may justly be questioned, whether the men of guile are generally the greatest gainers, even with respect to this present life. It is true, we may sometimes observe immense riches gathered by dishonest or treacherous practices ; and it is certain, that crafty deceivers do sometimes raise their own fortunes
upon the ruins of much better men : but such instances may perhaps be justly looked upon as a few glittering prizes among a multitude of blanks: for it is certain, on the other hand, that great numbers are daily undone by dishonest courses; while their indirect practices first blow up their credit, and soon after sink the men. I believe it will be generally allowed, as to matters of trade and commerce, that honesty is, for the most part, the truest policy, the surest way to thrive. One that is known to make a conscience of telling the truth, who is remarkably faithful in all his dealings, who is exact and punctual in his contracts or covenants, who is content with moderate and reasonable gains, and who scorns to take any
indirect or mean advantages; I say, such a person as I have here described will, generally speaking, find favour amongst all men ; and, by the strength of his friendships, and God's blessing upon them, will be able to bear himself up in the world: whereas, when once a person begins to be marked as a dishonest or designing man, few will choose to have dealings with him ; few will contribute to support or countenance him. In the general therefore, and in the ordinary course of affairs, a plain honest man appears to stand upon a surer foot than a master of guile; and is much more likely to thrive and prosper in the world.
Another considerable advantage which he has lies in the ease, and peace, and tranquillity of his mind. He has no laboured schemes to lay, no perplexing difficulties to torment him, no contradictions in conduct to reconcile; but his way is plain, easy, and clear before him. He can meet his acquaintance with a free and open countenance, with a pleasing and cheerful aspect. As his conduct is all fair and clean, and he is conscious of it, he is under no pain or uneasiness about future discoveries or after-reckonings, nor about any the most prying or even malicious inquiries. Search his conduct to the utmost, and the better will it appear: his righteousness, upon the scrutiny, will in the last issue be made as clear as the light, and his just dealing as the noonday.
Such is the security and comfort of the upright man, (generally speaking,) and there is no other pleasure of life comparable to it. This I take to be almost universally true, with respect to that kind of honesty of which I am now speaking, such as concerns matters of property, or belongs to trade and commerce. But withal I must own, and it may not be improper here to observe, that there is another kind of honesty, which often lies under hardships, and does not ordinarily meet with such favourable acceptance in the world; I mean the honesty of resisting importunate solicitations to something ill, and preserving à conscience clear of all undue compliances. There are few persons of a general acquaintance, or of any large scene of business, who inay not frequently upon occasion find, that some designing man or other (having sinister ends to serve, for which they want instruments) may importune them vehemently to do wrong things. If an honest man declines and hangs back in such cases, (as in duty he is bound to do,) he is certain to get ill-will for the time, and both to lose friends and to raise to himself enemies. Most of us have wither relations, or benefactors, or allies, or companions to please, who may severally in their turns request improper favours; and at the same time may be so partial to their own schemes or interests, as not to bear a repulse with any candour or
patience. When party differences happen to run high, such difficulties will occur very frequently ; and they often prove sore trials upon honest and upright men, who have no guile of their own, and who cannot, with a safe conscience, consent to be made instruments to the guile of others, or to be partakers of other men's sins. If they are persecuted or maligned for their noncompliance in such cases, (as commonly happens,) they must be content to bear it as becomes Christians. Virtue would be no virtue, or very slight, if it met with no trials to exercise, improve, and perfect it. In such instances chiefly is the proof made, whether we are really religious or are only men-pleasers; whether we value the solid and lasting praise of God, or the vain and transient caresses of men. Honesty, in this view, may sometimes (perhaps often) fail of its due reward here; but it is certain to have it in full measure hereafter.
2. Therefore, secondly, the wisdom and excellency of a sincere and upright conduct, with respect to a life to come, is very plain and indisputable. It is securing the main chance, and laying up for eternity. “ Providing things honest in the sight of all “men” (whether men observe it or not) will infallibly recommend a man to God, who sees it, and marks it, and will finally reward it. The securing this great point is true wisdom, as it is pitching upon the noblest and best end, and pursuing it by fair and just means. An honest and good heart is the top perfection of man, and is, in the sight of God, of the greatest price. With persons 80 qualified, God chooses to abide here; and such shall also eternally abide with him hereafter. There will be no guile or hypocrisy in the regions of the blessed. Those ill-natured qualities are calculated only for the low interests of this life, (and not for them always,) but will have no place in the other. All things are naked and open to God now, and will be also both to men and angels hereafter. There is nothing hid, but what shall then be revealed ; nor any thing kept secret, but what shall then be made known : for God will make manifest the counsels of the heart. How mean, how despicable will all deceitful contrivances and all ungenerous practices appear at that day, when every mask of dissimulation shall be thrown off,
studied refinement of guile and malice disclosed, and nothing but sincere and undisguised honesty will be found able to stand the test. Then will be seen what complicated folly there always is in every the most artful contrivance of guile; and what a depth of wisdom and good sense there constantly is in plain and sincere dealing.
I do not say, that the innocency of the dove may not be frequently found where the wisdom of the serpent may be wanting. An honest heart and a discerning head do not always go together: there may be perfect sincerity (humanly speaking) where there is not perfect wisdom. But this I may presume to think and say, that the first and best part of wisdom always goes along with sincere and upright conduct. There is a wise choice made of the noblest and best end, and due provision laid for the main thing, which, in effect, is every thing.
We may observe, in our blessed Lord, a bright example of the most perfect innocency joined with consummate wisdom. No guile was found in his mouth or in his life; no slip, no failure in point of discretion, through his whole conduct. Numberless traps and snares were laid for him, to entangle him in his talk, or to overreach him in business : but he had wisdom sufficient to defeat them all, and even to turn the insidious craftiness of his adversaries
their own heads. This he was able to do; for he was God as well as man. He is a finished pattern for his disciples to copy after in some measure, though never to come up to. Their integrity, after all, must come vastly short of his; and so must their wisdom also: for we can neither resemble the dove nor the serpent to any such degree of perfection as he did. Nevertheless, we ought to use our best endeavours to attain to such perfection as we may in both respects. Or, however we may be found wanting in point of wisdom or capacity, (which is no crime to fail in,) let us labour to be as exact as possible in point of sincerity, which is more in our own power. In order thereunto, give me leave, by way of application of what hath been said,
III. To subjoin a few plain and brief directions, for our improvement in so admirable a quality.
1. Let no one ever persuade you, that the practice of guile and circumvention is any argument of superior parts or understanding. It is the easiest thing in the world to be deceitful and disingenuous. Children are capable of it soon after they can speak; and they will daily improve in it by mere instinct of nature, if not seasonably restrained by wholesome discipline or wise instruction. Persons of very low capacities are often
capable of a great deal of low cunning, when they are scarce found capable of any thing besides. And though sometimes men of very bright parts may be observed (under strong attachments to this world) to take into the ways of guile ; yet it must be owned to be a great disparagement to their parts that they do so: and had they sense or consideration sufficient to look forwards to the end of things, and to lay all circumstances together well and wisely, they would abhor that very guile, which now perhaps they are proud of. Honesty and wisdom are but words of the same import in holy scripture, and mean the same thing ; because, in reality, there is no true wisdom but in true integrity.
2. Let no one ever be offended or chagrined, if he should any time observe, that some particular persons thrive and prosper by fraud, guile, or treachery. Such instances are rare in comparison, as I before hinted : and for one that grows considerable in such a way, hundreds perhaps fail and sink in their circumstances by these very means. Besides, what enjoyment have those few thriving deceivers in their ill-gotten advantages ? Little, very probably, or none. But suppose the very best we can imagine in their favour; yet scripture more than once assures us, that in the last issue, even the “ prosperity of fools “ destroys them.” Were they to gain the whole world by unrighteous practices, it would profit them nothing ; since, in the last result, they are certain to lose their own souls, and to perish utterly.
3. Let not the sense of any perplexing straits or difficulties ever move you to go out of the plain road of duty, for the sake of any present relief. Those are temptations which Satan throws in our way, and by which he leads the unthinking into the crooked paths of guile and dishonesty. Perhaps, by some convenient use of fraud, some seasonable treachery, a man may rid himself at once of some pressing difficulties : but then, let it be considered on the other hand, that this is only serving a present exigency, to lay in for future troubles and future repentance; and is losing more in the general, than can be gained in the particular instance. Let a man be content, in such cases, to venture no further for the extricating himself out of difficulties, than he honestly and justly may; leaving the rest to God, who often relieves good men in the greatest extremities, and works