« AnteriorContinua »
to overcome. Nothing less than the mighty power of God can make a way for you to escape from it. And this can work a complete deliverance: his grace is sufficient for you. But not unless you are a worker together with him: not unless you deny yourself, and take up your cross. And what you do, you must do at once; nothing can be done by degrees. Whatever you do in this important case, must be done at one stroke. If it be done at all, you must at once cut off the right hand, and cast it from you! Here is no time for conferring with flesh and blood. At once, conquer or perish!
19. Let us turn the tables. Suppose a woman that loves God, is addressed by an agreeable man; genteel, lively, entertaining; suitable in all other respects, though not religious; what should she do in such a case? What she should do, if she believes the Bible, is sufficiently clear. But what can she do? Is not this,
"A test for human frailty too severe ?"
Who is able to stand in such a trial? Who can resist such a temptation ? None but one that holds fast the shield of faith, and earnestly cries to the strong for strength. None but one that gives herself to watching and prayer, and continues therein with all perseverance. If she does this, she will be a happy witness, in the midst of an unbelieving world, that as "all things are possible with God," so all "things are possible to her that believeth."
20. But either a man or woman may ask, "What, if the person who seeks my acquaintance be a person of a strong natural understanding, cultivated by various learning? May not I gain much useful knowledge by a familiar intercourse with him? May I not learn many things from him, and much improve my own understanding?" Undoubtedly you may improve your own understanding, and you may gain much knowledge. But still, if he has not at least the fear of God, your loss will be far greater than your gain. For you can hardly avoid decreasing in holiness as much as you increase in knowledge. And if you lose one degree of inward or outward holiness, all the knowledge you gain will be no equivalent.
21. "But his fine and strong understanding improved by education, is not his chief recommendation. He has more valuable qualifications than these he is remarkably good humoured: he is of a compassionate, humane spirit; and has much generosity in his temper." On these very accounts, if he does not fear God, he is infinitely more dangerous. If you converse intimately with a person of this character, you will surely drink into his spirit. It is hardly possible for you to avoid stopping just where he stops. I have found nothing so difficult in all my life, as to converse with men of this kind, (good sort of men, as they are commonly called,) without being hurt by them. Oh beware of them! Converse with them just as much as business requires, and no more; otherwise, (though you do not feel any present harm, yet,) by slow and imperceptible degrees, they will attach you again to earthly things, and damp the life of God in your soul.
22. It may be, the persons who are desirous of your acquaintance, though they are not experienced in religion, yet understand it well, so that you frequently reap advantage from their conversation. If this be really the case, (as I have knr wn a few instances of the kind,) it seems
you may converse with them; only very sparingly and very cautiously : otherwise you will lose more of your spiritual life, than all the knowledge you gain is worth.
23." But the persons in question are useful to me, in carrying on my temporal business. Nay, on many occasions, they are necessary to me; so that I could not well carry it on without them." Instances of this kind frequently occur. And this is doubtless a sufficient reason for having some intercourse, perhaps frequently, with men that do not fear God. But even this is by no means a reason for your contracting an intimate acquaintance with them. And you here need to take the utmost care, "lest even by that converse with them which is necessary, while your fortune in the world increases, the grace of God should decrease in your soul."
24. There may be one more plausible reason given for some intimacy with an unholy man. You may say, "I have been helpful to him. I have assisted him when he was in trouble: and he remembers it with gratitude. He esteems and loves me, though he does not love God. Ought I not then to love him? Ought I not to return love for love? Do not even heathens and publicans so?" I answer, you should certainly return love for love; but it does not follow, that you should have any intimacy with him. That would be at the peril of your soul. Let your love give itself vent in constant and fervent prayer: wrestle with God for him. But let your love for him not carry you so far, as to weaken, if not destroy your own soul.
25. "But must I not be intimate with my relations; and that, whether they fear God or not? Has not his providence recommended these to me?" Undoubtedly it has: but there are relations, nearer or more distant. The nearest relations are husbands and wives. As these have taken each other for better for worse, they must make the best of each other; seeing as God has joined them together, none can put them asunder; unless in case of adultery: or when the life of one or the other is in imminent danger. Parents are almost as nearly connected with their children. You cannot part with them while they are young; it being your duty to "train them up" with all care," in the way wherein they should go." How frequently you should converse with them when they are grown up, is to be determined by Christian prudence. This also will determine, how long it is expedient for children, if it be at their own choice, to remain with their parents. In general, if they do not fear God, you should leave them as soon as is convenient. But wherever you are, take care, (if it be in your power,) that they do not want the necessaries or conveniences of life. As for all other relations, even brothers or sisters, if they are of the world, you are under no obligation to be intimate with them: you may be civil and friendly at a distance.
26. But allowing that "the friendship of the world is enmity against God," and consequently that it is the most excellent way, indeed the only way to heaven, to avoid all intimacy with worldly men; yet who has resolution to walk therein? Who even of those that love or fear God? For these only are concerned in the present question. A few I have known, who, even in this respect, were lights in a benighted land: who did not and would not either contract or continue any acquaintance with persons of the most refined and improved understand
ing and the most engaging tempers, merely because they were of the world; because they were not alive to God: yea, though they were capable of improving them in knowledge, or of assisting them in business: nay, though they admired and esteemed them for that very religion, which they did not themselves experience: a case one would hardly think possible, but of which there are many instances at this day. Familiar intercourse even with these, they steadily and resolutely refrain from, for conscience' sake.
27. Go thou and do likewise, whosoever thou art, that art a child of God by faith! Whatever it cost, flee spiritual adultery! Have no friendship with the world. However tempted thereto by profit or pleasure, contract no intimacy with worldly minded men. And if thou hast con tracted any such already, break it off without delay. Yea, if thy ungodly friend be dear to thee as a right eye, or useful as a right hand, yet confer not with flesh and blood, but pluck out the right eye, cut off the right hand, and cast them from thee! It is not an indifferent thing. Thy life is at stake: eternal life or eternal death. And is it not better to go into life, having one eye or one hand, than having both, to be cast into hell fire? When thou knewest no better, the times of ignorance God winked at. But now thine eyes are opened, now the light is come, walk in the light! Touch not pitch, lest thou be defiled. At all events, "keep thyself pure !"
28. But whatever cthers do, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, hear this, all ye that are called Methodists! However importuned or tempted thereto, have no friendship with the world. Look round, and see the melancholy effects it has produced among your brethren! How many of the mighty are fallen! How many have fallen by this very thing! They would take no warning: they would converse, and that intimately, with earthly minded men, till they "measured back their steps to earth again!" Oh "come out from among them!" from all unholy men, however harmless they may appear; " and be ye separate:" at least, so far as to have no intimacy with them. As "fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ," so let it be with those, and those only, who at least seek the Lord Jesus in sincerity. So "shall ye be," in a peculiar sense, "my sons and my daughters, saith the Lord Almighty."
SERMON LXXXVI.-In what Sense we are to Leave the World.
"Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the LORD, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,
"And I will be to you a Father, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty," 2 Cor. vi, 17, 18,
1. How exceeding few in the religious world have duly considered these solemn words! We have read them over and over, but never laid them to heart, or observed that they contain as plain and express a command as any in the whole Bible. And it is to be feared, there are still fewer that understand the genuine meaning of this direction. Numberless persons in England have interpreted it as a command to come out of the established church. And in the same sense it has been
understood by thousands in the neighbouring kingdoms. Abundance of sermons have been preached, and of books wrote, upon this supposition. And indeed many pious men have grounded their separation from the church, chiefly on this text. "God himself," say they," commands us, 'Come out from among them, and be ye separate.' And it is only upon this condition that he will receive us, and we shall be the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty."
2. But this interpretation is totally foreign to the design of the apostle, who is not here speaking of this or that church, but on quite another subject. Neither did the apostle himself, or any of his brethren, draw any such inference from the words. Had they done so, it would have been a flat contradiction, both to the example and precept of their Master. For although the Jewish church was then full as unclean, as unholy, both inwardly and outwardly, as any Christian church now upon earth, yet our Lord constantly attended the service of it. And he directed his followers in this as in every other respect, to tread in his steps. This is clearly implied in that remarkable passage; "The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat all, therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do: but do not ye after their works; for they say and do not," Matt. xxiii, 1. Even though they themselves say and do not; though their lives contradict their doctrines; though they were ungodly men; yet our Lord here not only permits, but requires his disciples to hear them. For he requires them to "observe and do what they say:" but this could not be, if they did not hear them. Ac cordingly the apostles, as long as they were at Jerusalem, constantly attended the public service. Therefore it is certain, these words have no reference to a separation from the established church.
3. Neither have they reference to the direction given by the apostle, in his first epistle to the Corinthians. The whole passage runs thus: "I wrote unto you in an epistle, not to company with fornicators. Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world; or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters: for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you, not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one, no not to eat," chap. v, 9-11. This wholly relates to them that are members of the same Christian community. The apostle tells them expressly, he does not give this direction, not to company with such and such persons, with regard to the heathens, or to men in general: and adds this plain reason; "For then must ye needs go out of the world :" you could transact no business in it. "But if any man that is called a brother;" that is connected with you in the same religious society; "be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one, no not to eat." How important a caution is this! But how little is it observed, even by those that are, in other respects, conscientious Christians! Indeed some parts of it are not easy to be observed; for a plain reason: they are not easy to be understood. I mean, it is not easy to be understood, to whom the characters belong. It is very difficult, for instance, to know, unless in some glaring cases, to whom the character of an extortioner, or of a covetous man, belongs. We can hardly know one or the other, without seeming at least, to be "busy bodies in other men's matters." And yet the prohibition is as
strong concerning converse with these, as with fornicators or adulterers. We can only act in the simplicity of our hearts, without setting up for infallible judges, (still willing to be better informed,) according to the best light we have.
But although this direction relates only to our Christian brethren; (such, at least, by outward profession;) that in the text is of a far wider extent it unquestionably relates to all mankind. It clearly requires us, to keep at a distance, as far as is practicable, from all ungodly men. Indeed it seems, the word which we render unclean thing, 78 axadaptov, might rather be rendered unclean person; probably alluding to the ceremonial law, which forbade touching one that was legally unclean. But even here, were we to understand the expression literally, were we to take the words in the strictest sense, the same absurdity would follow; we must needs, as the apostle speaks, "go out of the world:" we should not be able to abide in those callings, which the providence of God has assigned us. Were we not to converse at all with men of those characters, it would be impossible to transact our temporal business. So that every conscientious Christian would have nothing to do, but to flee into the desert. It would not suffice, to turn recluses; to shut ourselves up in monasteries or nunneries; for even then we must have some inter course with ungodly men, in order to procure the necessaries of life.
5. The words, therefore, must necessarily be understood with considerable restriction. They do not prohibit our conversing with any man, good or bad, in the way of worldly business. A thousand occasions will occur, whereon we must converse with them in order to transact those affairs which cannot be done without them. And some of these may require us to have frequent intercourse with drunkards, or fornicators: yea, sometimes it may be requisite for us to spend a considerable time in their company otherwise we should not be able to fulfil the duties of our several callings. Such conversation, therefore, with men, holy or unholy, is no way contrary to the apostle's advice.
6. What is it then which the apostle forbids? First, the conversing with ungodly men, when there is no necessity, no providential call, no business, that requires it: secondly, the conversing with them more frequently than business necessarily requires: thirdly, the spending more time in their company than is necessary to finish our business: above all, fourthly, the choosing ungodly persons, however ingenious or agreeable, to be our ordinary companions; or to be our familiar friends. If any instance of this kind will admit of less excuse than others, it is that which the apostle expressly forbids elsewhere: the being "unequally yoked with an unbeliever" in marriage: with any person that has not the love of God in their heart; or at least the fear of God before their eyes. I do not know any thing that can justify this: neither the sense, wit, or beauty of the person; nor temporal advantage; nor fear of want; no, nor even the command of a parent. For if any parent command what is contrary to the word of God, the child ought to obey God rather than man.
7. The ground of this prohibition is laid down at large in the preced ing verses. "What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? What communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an unbeliever?" (Taking that word in the extensive sense, for him that hath