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cusable, therefore, must those be, who neglect to pursue this easy and effectual mode of reformation!
8. If the force of example be so great as we have represented, then it certainly concerns reformers in particular to set good examples. This is the principal method by which they can reach their desired purpose. And the want of their own good examples will effectually frustrate all other methods they can possibly use, for the reformation of morals. The eyes of all will be upon their conduct. If they act up to their profession, it will give energy both to their profession, and to all their exertions for the suppression of vice. They must cast the beam out of their own eye, before they offer to cast the mote out of another's eye. They must heal themselves, before they attempt to heal others. In all their attempts for a reformation, they must act under the shield of their own bright example. With this armor, they may safely attack the strong holds of vice, and bid defiance to all the impotent arrows of obloquy and reproach. They must set an example of all virtue; but especially of those particular virtues, which stand in opposition to the particular vices, which they wish to reform. And here, I beg leave to mention a few examples, which it highly concerns them to exhibit.
Punctuality is a virtue of great importance in society; and the want of it is a source of innumerable disadvantages and embarrassments. One small disappointment may prove the occasion of twenty or fifty great ones. Let reformers, to cure this evil, observe the strictest punctuality in all their promises and appointments.
The due observance of the Sabbath greatly tends to promote christian knowledge, piety, and virtue among a people. And this duty is more promoted by the law of example, than by any other law. People in general govern their conduct on the Sabbath, not according to the word of God or the law of the land, but according to the law of example. They mean to attend public worship every Sabbath, if they see those above them attend it every Sabbath. They mean to attend public worship both parts of the day, if they see those above them attend it both parts of the day. They mean to take their places in the house of God before public exercises begin, if they see those above them set them the example. They mean, after public worship is over, to visit their own habitations, and spend the remainder of the day in retirement, if they observe this to be the practice of their superiors in age, knowledge and reputation. Let reformers, therefore, remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, and, by their own example, restrain others from the outward profanation of it.
The wise and profitable improvement of time is the best antidote against sinful diversions. The habit of industry destroys the habit of idleness, and when the habit of idleness is destroyed, the propensity to vain and sinful diversions is cured. Hence Paul, to cure the Thessalonians of their idle habits, made himself an example of industry. Let reformers therefore follow his example, that theirs may restrain others from idleness and vanity. It is the very business of reformers to employ the
employ the power of laws in their service. They ought to improve the advantage which our great and wise men have put into their hands. They ought to display the same virtue in executing, which was displayed in framing the laws against vice. And to encourage you in the prosecution of your duty, I have a right to observe, that some of you have already set a good example, and merited the public approbation. Be not weary in well-doing, but persevere in every laudable method for the suppression of vice. You have every possible motive to animate you in your arduous but noble undertaking. For the approbation of God, the applause of the virtuous, and the gratitude of the reformed, will be your sure and ample reward. Amen.
SEPTEMBER 2, 1793.
The Lord pardon thy servant in this thing. - 2 Kings, v. 18.
THESE are the words of Naaman, the Syrian, on a very remarkable occasion. He had just been miraculously cured of his leprosy, by washing seven times in Jordan, at the direction of Elisha. Though at first he despised this simple remedy, yet when he found that it had completely removed his loathsome disease, he altered his opinion of the prophet, and wished to reward him amply for his kindness. Accordingly " he returned from Jordan to the man of God, he and all his company, and came and stood before him: And he said, Behold, now I know there is no God in all the earth but in Israel : Now therefore I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant. But he said, As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none. And he urged him to take it; but he refused. And Naaman said, Shall there not then, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules burden of earth? servant will henceforth offer neither burnt-offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the Lord. In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon; when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon thy servant in this thing."
Naaman was a great and valiant general, who had commanded the armies of the king of Syria, and delivered his kingdom from surrounding enemies. He stood high in the favor, of his prince. He was his prime minister. He attended him VOL. II.
to be wrong.
at his public devotions, as well as at his other public appearances. And after his mind had taken a religious turn, he was still willing to serve both his God and his king; but he was not willing to oppose sinful customs. This threw him into great embarrassment. Though he could lavish his treasure on the prophet, and though he could expose his life in the field of battle, yet he could not summon sufficient resolution and courage to attack those reigning customs, which he verily believed
He felt as though he must renounce the service of the God of Israel, unless the God of Israel would allow him to tolerate, and in some measure comply with the sinful customs of his country. “ The Lord pardon thy servant in this thing. I beg, I entreat that I may be excused from opposing sinful customs. I know their strength. I know the danger of attacking them. I may lose my office, and what I still more dread, I shall certainly lose the love and respect of my fellow
I must be excused from this hazardous, and I fear fruitless attempt. Require me to do any thing else, and I will cheerfully do it, at the risk of my fortune or my life; but in this thing pardon and excuse thy servant." So Naaman felt. And he felt just as other men feel. Hence the general observation is this :
Every body desires to be excused from opposing sinful customs.
I shall show, first, that every body desires to be excused from this; and then, that nobody can be excused from it.
I. I am to show, that every body desires to be excused from opposing sinful customs.
This truth needs but a very little proof. It carries its own evidence to every one, who has attended to the exercises of his own mind. Though men may differ in their opinions about some customs, yet there are many customs, which all believe to be sinful. All therefore have had an opportunity of knowing their own minds upon this subject. And were all to speak the real language of the heart, they would unanimously say, that they have often felt a strong reluctance to opposing sinful customs. “ As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man." All feel as Naaman felt, unwilling to combat sinful customs, and wish to be excused from the disagreeable task. This will more fully appear, if we consider,
1. That every body is apt to neglect opposing sinful customs. Men will often and readily oppose sinful actions. But do we find them equally ready and forward to oppose sinful customs ? Are they not very apt to connive at practices which custom has long sanctioned ? Even those who are very careful to avoid all appearances of evil themselves, are very negli
gent as to opposing sinful customs in others. But why are men so generally and almost universally negligent in this particular? Can it arise from any thing but a strong desire in every one, to be excused from opposing sinful customs ?
2. Men are unwilling to unite in opposing sinful customs. This is sometimes proposed; but how generally is the proposal rejected! We have actually made the experiment. A few have had virtue and resolution enough to overcome the natural reluctance to such a hazardous undertaking. They have invited others to unite their exertions in opposing sinful customs; but the greater part have declined. And should the same proposal be made through the land, it is more than probable that a very great majority would desire to be excused, and refuse to join in such an important and benevolent design. This is another evidence, that every body naturally desires to be excused from opposing sinsul customs. I may add,
3. Those who have resolved and engaged to oppose sinful customs are extremely prone to come short of fulfilling their resolutions and engagements. Though they are really sincere in their resolutions and attempts, yet upon trial, they find a strong desire to be excused in this, in that, and the other instance. To will is present, but how to perform they find not. It requires more self-denial and fortitude, to oppose customs which have been long established, than any can imagine, before they have made the attempt. Hence the best of men, and the boldest reformers, have neglected to perform this arduous and disagreeable task.
Asa was a good man, and a great reformer; but there were some sinful customs in his day, which were so formidable, that he dared not oppose them. And Asa did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, as did David his father. And he took away the Sodomites out of the land, and removed all the idols that his father had made. And also Maachah his mother, even her he removed from being queen, because she had made an idol in a grove; and Asa destroyed her idol, and burned it by the brook Kidron. But the high places were not removed.” We have the same account of his son. Jehosaphat the son of Asa began to reign over Judah in the fourth year of Ahab king of Israel. And he walked in all the ways of Asa his father, he turned not aside from it, doing that which was right in the eyes of the Lord : Nevertheless the high places were not taken away; for the people offered and burnt incense yet in the high places.” There were two sorts of high places in Israel. One sort was devoted to the service of the true God, and the other sort was devoted to the service of idols. The high places devoted to the service of the true God