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all sound men do 'shut up themselves, and all sick men walk abroad, how necessarily must the plague reign in the place ?
. II. Charity toward our neighbor demandeth from us a great care of our conversation before men.
The law of charity, which is the great law of Christianity, doth oblige us earnestly to further our neighbor's good of all kinds, especially that which is incomparably his best good, the welfare of his soul; which how can we better do, than by attracting him to the performance of his duty to God, and by. withdrawing him from the commission of sin? And how can we do that without an apparently good conversation, or without plainly declaring, as occasion showeth, for virtue, both in word and deed ? how can a shy reservedness conduce to that end? what will invisible thoughts or affections of heart confer thereto?
It is a precept of charity, that we should pursue things wherewith one may edify another :' and how can we perform that duty, without imparting our mind, and, as it were, transfusing it into others; so as by converting them from error and sin, by instilling good principles, by exciting good resolutions, to lay in them a foundation of goodness, or by cherishing and improving the same to rear a structure of virtue in them? how can we mutually edify without mutually advising virtue, exhorting to it, recommending and impressing it by our exemplary behavior ?
The Apostles do enjoin that we should • exhort one another, and edify one anottier ;' that we should consider one another, to provoke (or to whet and instigate one another) to love and to good works;' the which can nowise be performed, without expressly declaring for goodness and remarkables acting in its behalf: to commend and press it by word is a part of our duty; but not all of it, nor sufficient to this purpose ; especially seeing we cannot urge that with good confidence, nor shall be held serious in pleading for it, which we do not ourselves embrace in practice; for how can we expect that our reason should convince others, when it doth not appear really to have persuaded ourselves, when our doings evidently do argue the weakness of our discourse?
Words hardly will ever move without practice, although
practice sometimes will persuade without words; according to that of St. Peter, Ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands, that if any obey not the word, they may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives, while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear,' (or due reverence to them.)
Again; we are frequently commanded to shun the giving any offence,' or 'the putting a stumbling-block, or an occasion to fall, in the way of our brother;' that is, to do any thing, which anywise may confer to his incurring any sin: the which precepts are violated not only by positive and active influence, by proposing erroneous doctrine, evil advice, fraudulent enticements to sin, or discouragements from duty ; but also by withholding the means serving to prevent his transgression ; such as a tacit indulgence or connivance, when good admonition may reclaim him; the omission of good example, when it is seasonable, and probably may prove efficacious: for these neglects have a moral causality, inducing or encouraging the commission of sin ; our silence, our forbearing to act, our declining fair opportunities to guide hing into the right way will be taken for signs of approbation and consent; and consequently as arguments to justify or to excuse bad practice, in proportion to the authority and esteem we have; which ever will be some in this case, when they favor the infirmity of men.
Charity doth farther oblige us, on just cause, and in due season, to check and reprove our neighbor misdemeaning himself; for, · Warn the disorderly,' saith the Apostle; and, · Have no fellowship,' saith he,' with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them;' and, • Thou shalt not,' saith the law,
bate thy brother in thy heart, thou shalt in anywise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin on him :' where forbearance of reproof is implied to show not only a defect of charity, but hatred of our brother; and a good reason is intimated for it, because in so doing we suffer sin to lie on him; not hindering his progress in it, not endeavoring his conversion from it: but reproof is an overt act; involving somewhat of openness and plain freedom, such as the wise man doth prefer before close good-will; for, Open rebuke,' saith he, is better than secret love."
We are all thus far the keepers of our brethren,' and it is a charge incumbent on us, by all good means to preserve them from the worst of mischiefs.
In fine, there is plainly nothing more inconsistent with true charity, than such a compliance with sin or neglect of duty in the sight of our neighbor, which is scandalous, or may prove contagious to him; for how can we love him whose chief good, whose eternal welfare we do not tender? whom we do not fear to seduce into the way of extreme misery, or do not at least care to lead into the way of happiness ? whom without any check we can suffer to forfeit the best goods, and to incur the saddest calamities?
Wherefore if the love of ourselves and a sober regard to our owo welfare be not sufficient to induce us, yet a charitable disposition and a concernedness for our neighbor (for our brethren, our relations, our friends) should move us to a good, innocent, virtuous, fruitful, and exemplary conversation : if we do not care to save ourselves, yet let it pity us to damn and destroy others by our negligence.
III. But if charity will not move us, yet justice, exacting from us a care of our good conversation before men, should constrain us thereto.
Exemplary and edifying conversation is a debt which we owe to the world, a good office imposed on us by the laws of common humanity.
When without our own hurt or inconvenience we can do considerable 'good to our neighbor, he hath a title thereto, (granted by the common Author of our nature, the absolute Lord of all we are or have,) and he may justly demand it from us; as we in like case might claim it from him, and certainly would in matters agreeable to our humor expect it: wherefore seeing good conversation not only doth not harm or incommode us, but is most beneficial to ourselves, and it exceedingly may benefit our neighbor, it is most just that we should afford it to him; it is no more than fair dealing to do it; to neglect it is a real injury to him.
To set ill example before our neighbor, or (which is in part and in effect the same) to withhold good example from him, (for not to give a good example is a bad thing, and so a bad
example; this,) I say, is plainly a great iniquity, and a wrong to him. For,
Is it not an injury to offer a cup of poison to any man, to invite him to drink it, to be his taster of it, so drawing him to take it off without suspicion or fear of deadly mischief? is it not an injury to forbear warning him thereof, or not to deter him from it, when it standeth before him, and he is ready to put it to his mouth? would not such a man in all conscionable
for a murderer of his neighbor ? Is it not a great wrong to carry any man out of his way (out of a right, easy, fair, and safe road) into mazes, thickets, and sloughs, or into intricate, foul, dangerous by-ways? Is it not wrongful, when he doth wander or err, not to reduce him thence, not to set him in the right way?
Is it not very foul dealing to bring a man to a steep precipice, and thence to leap down before him? is it not so, not to stop him, when he is on the brink, and blindly moving forward to cast himself down headlong?
If these be injurious dealings, then palpably it is far more such to yield any enticements or encouragements, yea not to put obstructions, if we are able, to our neighbor's incurring sin, which to his soul is all those things; the most baneful venom, the most woful exorbitancy, the most pernicious gulf that can be.
We by sinning do not only, as the wise man saith, 'wrong our own souls, but we do also wrong the souls of others; drawing them or driving them, by the efficacious impulse of our example, into mischief and misery; for, “When,' saith St. Paul, ‘ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ :' he there speaketh of bad example; the which he not only affirmeth to be sinful in regard of Christ, but calleth it sinning against our brethren; and supposeth that we thereby do wound or smite their conscience ; which to do is surely no less wrong to them, than if we should assault, beat, and wound their bodies; the wounds of conscience being of all most grievous, and producing most insupportable affliction ; according to that of the wise man, The spirit of a man will bear his infirmities, but a wounded spirit who can bear?'
Indeed by thus hurting our neighbor, we do him a wrong, not only very great in itself, but such as may probably be irreparable, for which hardly we can ever be able to make him any restitution or compensation ; for a better example scarce will reach all whom a bad example hath touched; the best example hardly will avail to undo that which a bad example hath done ; if thereby we have engaged our neighbor in sin, we by no means can restore his lost innocence, or prevent his saying, • • Woe be to me, for I have sinned :' it will be very difficult to recover him into that state (that sound condition of soul) from which we did move him; it will however cost him, if not a final ruin, yet a sore repentance; the pangs whereof no compensation which we can yield will requite: the wounds which we thereby do inflict may rankle and prove incurable ; they assuredly will find no easy cure; they must however either in consequence or in the correction be very painful; and they will leave an ugly scar behind them.
The injustice of this practice may also farther appear on divers special accounts.
All men esteem pity a debt which one man oweth to another, as liable to grief and misery, (the obligation whereto is written in the bowels of each man ;) which pity will incline to succor the object of it in danger or distress; wherefore every man by the natural law is bound to endeavor the prevention or the rescue of another falling into mischief ; according to that of St. Jude, · Of some have compassion, making a difference, and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire;' whence to draw men into sin by ill practice, or not to restrain them from it by good, is unjust, as a pitiless, hardhearted, cruel thing
Again; all men hold flattery to be a practice very abusive, or more than simply wrongful; as with injury joining contempt and cozenage; taking advantage of a man's infirmity to work prejudice to him; it is indeed a mischievous, a pernicious, and withal a perfidious, an insidious, an ensnaring practice; for, “A flattering mouth,' saith the wise man, “worketh ruin;' and, 'A man that flattereth his neighbor, spreadeth a net for his feet :' but flattery is not only verbal; the worst flattery is not that whereby men sooth and gloze with their