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were allowed before the temple was built; but after that was built, Jerusalem was the only place where men ought to worship. And though the reformers destroyed the high places devoted to the service of idols, yet they were afraid to destroy the high places devoted to the service of the true God. The people had been so long and so generally accustomed to meet in these before they were forbidden, that after they were forbidden they still persisted in their old custom. And this old and venerable custom the boldest reformers wanted resolution and fortitude to oppose.
The bold and zealous Peter was afraid to oppose a custom which was once lawful, but had become sinful. It was once lawful for the Jews to abstain from eating with the Gentiles; but after the gospel was published, this bar of separation was taken down, and the believing Jews had no right to follow this custom any longer. But Peter, through fear of reproach, followed this sinful example, for which Paul sharply rebuked him. So he tells us in the 2d of Galatians. “ But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed: for before that certain came from James he did eat with the Gentiles; but when they were come he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.” So formidable are long-established customs, that the most bold and zealous reformers are afraid to oppose them. And this shows in the clearest manner that every body desires to be excused from opposing sinful customs. But I proceed to show, as proposed,
II. That nobody can be excused from it.
Naaman desired to be excused, but there is no evidence that God excused him. I know the prophet said unto him, “ Go in peace.” But he did not ask the prophet to excuse him. He addressed his petition to God, who alone had a right to excuse him. “ The Lord pardon thy servant in this thing." This request probably struck the prophet very disagreeably, and therefore he said ironically, “Go in peace. If it seem evil to serve the God of Israel, and oppose ceremonies and customs, which dishonor his name, go worship in the house of Rimmon, or wheresoever you please. I have no more to say to you. You cannot serve God and mammon. And if
will not renounce mammon you must renounce God, who never will indulge you in conniving at sinful customs." This leads me to observe,
1. That God will excuse none from opposing sinful customs. Though he knows that all wish to be excused, yet their wishes will not move him to excuse them from a plain duty. They
evidently ought to honor and glorify their Maker, and of consequence to oppose and restrain whatever tends to his dishonor. But sinful customs certainly tend to dishonor God, and wound his cause and interest in the world. And besides, God has clearly revealed his mind on this subject. He has expressly said to every person,
“ Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil.” He has expressly said, “ Be not conformed to this world.” He has expressly said, “ The friendship of the world is enmity with God.” He has expressly said, “ Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” And again he has expressly said, “ Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy brother, and not suffer sin upon him.” After God has laid such solemn injunctions on men to avoid and oppose sinful customs, they must be guilty of the greatest presumption, to imagine that the Lord will pardon or excuse them, if they neg. lect their duty in this thing.
2. Christ will not excuse any from opposing sinful customs. He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, and changeth not. He came into the world to condemn sin in the flesh. When he was in the world he loved righteousness and hated iniquity. And while he lived among sinful customs, he uniformly and strenuously opposed them. He began his ministry by preaching against what had been said and done by them of old time. He attacked without fear or favor the reigning sinful customs of the Jewish nation. They had a sinful custom of putting away their wives without any just cause; this he condemned and opposed. They had a sinful custom of swearing by the earth, by heaven, and by Jerusalem ; this he condemned and opposed. They had a sinful custom of calling hard names; this he condemned and opposed. They had a sinful custom of abusing their aged parents, by taking what ought to be expended for their support, and dedicating it to religious uses; this he condemned and opposed. They had a sinful custom of profaning the temple, by buying and selling in it; this he condemned and destroyed. . And they had a sinful custom of treating all other nations with neglect and contempt; this he condemned and reproved, by the parable of the Jew and Samaritan. In short, it appears to have been a peculiar object with Christ to oppose all sinful customs. And if this was his own feeling and practice, we may presume that he will never excuse any from this most reasonable and important duty. 3. Those who follow sinful customs will not excuse any
from opposing them. The time is coming when their consciences will be awakened, and they will see things in a true light.
And whenever this time comes, whether before, at, or after death, they will not excuse those who neglected to restrain and reclaim them. Of this they have often given abundant evidence. How many unhappy creatures at the gallows have condemned those who neglected to oppose their wicked practices. How many vicious persons, on their death-beds, have bitterly upbraided their ministers, their parents, and their friends, for winking at their vices, and neglecting to oppose their sinful customs. And all who are now pursuing evil courses will
, sooner or later, upbraid those who neglect to oppose and restrain their vices. Though at present, they love and caress those who indulge and countenance them in their evil ways, yet when they come to have just views of things, they will see the sin and folly of others, as well as their own presumption and guilt. And as they will not be able to excuse themselves, so they will not be able to excuse those who had excused them. But of all men, they will become the bitterest accusers and upbraiders of all who neglect the duty of opposing sinful customs.
It must be observed in the last place,
4. That none can excuse themselves from opposing sinful customs. It is a duty, a plain duty, which approves itself to every one's conscience. All know that they ought to oppose whatever opposes the glory of God, the good of society, and the eternal happiness of mankind. And all know that sinful customs have this malignant and destructive tendency. One sinner destroyeth much good. Evil pursueth sinners. He that pursueth evil, pursueth it to his own death. The wages of sin is death. Sinful customs have destroyed their thousands and ten thousands. To prevent such dreadful evils, must be the duty of every person, so far as his power and influence extend. Nor will any one's conscience excuse him, if he neglects this plain and important duty. Though men desire to be excused; though they devise arguments of excuse; and though the arguments they devise in their own defence may lead others to excuse them; yet nothing will effectually excuse them before their own enlightened consciences. For, " to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” And says Solomon, “ if thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain ; if thou sayest, behold, we knew it not: Doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? And he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? And shall he not render to every man according to his works?” Thus it appears that none can be excused from opposing sinful customs. God will not excuse them, nor Christ, nor sinners, nor their own consciences. It only re
mains to apply the subject to the purpose for which we are convened.
1. We learn from what has been said, that there is nothing which men are more afraid of, than opposing sinful customs. Every body desires to be excused from this attempt; and this desire arises from fear. It requires no great strength, no great knowledge, no great expense, to oppose sinful customs. But it does require great courage and fortitude of mind. Here lies the only difficulty. But this difficulty is generally insurmountable. Men, who can brave the perils of the wilderness, the perils of war, and the perils of the sea, shrink back from the dangers of opposing sinful customs. The hardiest seaman is afraid to rebuke his comrade for blaspheming his Maker, and calling for the curses of Heaven to fall on his own soul. The bravest general, who has often led his army into the hottest battle, is afraid to reprimand his fellow officer, or to correct his fellow soldier, for a sinful custom. This is exemplified in Naaman. He would have scorned to be excused from exposing his life to the point of the sword. He would have blushed to turn his back upon the most dangerous station in the field of battle. But yet he beseeches the Lord to excuse him from opposing sinful customs, and exposing himself to the scorn of men.
This was more than he had courage and fortitude to support. The danger of opposing sinful customs, therefore, is the danger of which the most of mankind are the most afraid.
2. We learn from what has been said, that there is nothing which more deserves the public esteem, than the opposing of sinful customs. If every body desires to be excused from this difficult and hazardous duty; and if few, very few, have virtue, zeal, and resolution enough to perform it, then it is one of the strongest expressions of self-denial. And for persons to deny themselves, in the tenderest point, and in the highest degree, for the public good, deserves the largest share of public applause.
Sinful customs are the greatest public evils. A thousand sinful actions are not so injurious to the public as one sinful custom. Sinful actions are transient; they produce their effects, and immediately cease.
But a sinful custom is permanent, and may continue its destructive influence for ages. I will illustrate this by a single instance. It is that of playing cards. This sinful custom has continued for ages past, and may continue for ages to come. How many estates, how many characters, how many lives, and how many souls, has this sinful custom destroyed! And all sinful customs have a like extensive and destructive influence. Those, therefore, who dare to condemn and restrain sinful customs, do the greatest public good, and deserve the greatest public esteem. The
public are naturally grateful to their benefactors, when they discover them, and they generally do discover them sooner or later. Reformers, therefore, have generally been finally rewarded by the largest portion of public honors. Witness the rigid Cato, among the Romans; and the virtuous Asa, Hezekiah, Josiah, and Jehoiada, among the Jews.
3. We learn from what has been said, that nothing requires union more, than the attempt to oppose sinful customs. If every individual wants courage to make this attempt, then it especially requires the united aid of numbers. There is nothing like union among individuals, to inspire them with courage and zeal in any design whatever. It is the union of individuals that forms and preserves every sinful custom. Custom is not the effect of the few, but of the many. Whatever sinful practice the multitude pursue, is, for that very reason, a sinful custom. And as union forms sinful customs, so union alone can destroy them. A small number united by virtuous ties, can oppose and restrain a much larger number united only by the brittle bands of vice. It therefore highly concerns those who are engaged in opposing sinful customs, to be firmly and heartily united. They should with one voice speak the same things, and with one heart pursue the same measures.
66 Two are better than one, and a threefold cord is not quickly broken." This the vicious know, and this the virtuous ought to consider. If it be the policy and strength of the vicious to divide the virtuous; then it is the duty and strength of the virtuous to divide the vicious. And this, in a multitude of instances, may be easily done. The beginnings of vice are weak and timid. There are many, who, for a time, halt between two opinions, and stand in doubt which of two paths to pursue. These, by wise and prudent measures, may be easily detached from the veterans in vice, and deterred from the paths of the destroyer.
4. We learn from what has been said, that there is nothing more criminal than the approving and the supporting of sinful customs. It is a sin against God. It is a sin against man. And it is a sin against every person's own conscience. But the great and visible evils which flow from this sin, are the great and visible aggravations of it. Men may do much more mischief to the world, and much more injury to the cause of God, by approving and supporting, than by actually pursuing sinful customs. A sober, regular man, who avoids sinful customs himself, may do ten times more to spread and continue sinful customs, than the most artful and profligate wretch. And were it not for the countenance and support of such apparently sober, virtuous, and religious persons, all sinful customs would every where become contemptible. This is the fate of all practices which