|« Prev||Sermon L. Romans xii. 18.||Next »|
If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
WHEN I first entered upon these words, I laid the prosecution of them in the discussion of these four particulars.
I. To shew what was included in this great duty of living peaceably.
II. What were the measures and proportions by which it was to be determined.
III. What were the means by which it was to be effected.
IV. What were the motives and arguments by which it might be enforced.
The two first of these I have at length despatched; and the two last, as containing nothing of controversy, but being of plain and practical consideration, I shall finish in this discourse, and conclude this subject.
And first, for the means conducible to our performance of this excellent duty, I shall, amongst those many that possibly each man’s particular experience may better suggest to him, select and reckon these.
1. A careful suppression of all distasteful, but however of all aggravating apprehensions of any ill turn or unkind behaviour from men. He that will preserve 98himself in a regular course of acting, must not only attend the last issues of the performance, but watch the beginnings, and secure the fountains of action; and he will find it but a vain attempt to oppose it in its birth, when he should have encountered it in its conception. A great sin or a great virtue is a long time in forming and preparing within, and passing through many faculties before it is ripe for execution. And when that chain of preparations is laid, this perhaps is then necessary and unavoidable.
As when a man has fixed his thoughts upon an affront offered him, resented it sharply, and rolled it in his mind a long time, so that the rancour of those thoughts begin to reach and infect the passions, and they begin to rise and swell, and those also to possess the will, so that this espouses it into full resolves and purposes of revenge: it is then too late to command a man, under these dispositions and proximities of action, to be peaceable; he is possessed and full, and admits of no advice. The malicious design has got head and maturity; and therefore will certainly pass into act, and rage in a man’s behaviour, to the degree of railing, or downright blows, or perhaps bloodshed; or some other instance of a great mischief.
But had a man, by an early wariness and observance of his teeming thoughts, crushed those infant sharpnesses, those first disgusts and grudgings, that began to sour and torment his whole mind, he would have found the humour curable and conquerable; and for all these seeds, and little essays of disturbance, yet, as to the main event of practice, he must have passed for a peaceable man.99
Has a man therefore received an injury, a disrespect, or something at least that he thinks to be so; if he would now maintain himself in a due composure of spirit, and stop the sallyings out of an hasty and indecent revenge, and all this with success and a certainty of effect; let him first arrest his thoughts, and divert them to some other object. Let him but do this easy violence to himself, as to think of something else: amongst those thousand things in the world that may be thought on, let him fix upon any one; as, his business, his studies, or the news of the time: but amongst other things, let the thoughts be directed rather to reconciling objects, such as are apt to leave a pleasure and a sweetness upon the mind; as a man’s lawful and innocent recreations, the delights of a journey, of a cured sickness or an escaped danger, or the like. But chiefly, let the thoughts be busied upon such things as are peculiar and proper antidotes against the grudge conceived. As, let a man remember whether he never received a courtesy from that person who he thinks has provoked him; and let him consider, whether that courtesy did not outweigh the present injury; and was not done with greater circumstances of kindness, than this of disrespect. Now by such arts and methods of diverting the thoughts, the quick sense of the injury will by degrees be eluded, weakened, and baffled into nothing: and the grudge will strike a man’s apprehensions, but as a gentle breath of air does his face, with a transient, undiscernible touch, leaving behind it neither sign nor impression.
For we must know that it is the morose dwelling of the thoughts upon an injury, a long and sullen 100meditation upon a wrong, that incorporates and rivets it into the mind. And upon this reason it is ill affronting the melancholy and the thinking man, whose natural temper and complexion lays what he has observed before him, by more frequent remembrances, and more stable and permanent representations; so that the mind has opportunity to carry its examination to every particular circumstance, part, degree, and occasion of the affront, brooding upon it with such a close and continued intention, till it binds the remembrance and resentment of it upon the soul with bands of iron and links of brass, never to be dissolved, or fetched asunder, by time, or kindness, or any after-attempts of reconciliation.
If a man will indulge his thoughts upon a disrespect offered him, he will find how by degrees they will raise and advance, and get the mastery of him. That which first did but lightly move, shall presently warm, then heat, afterwards chafe, and at length fire and inflame him: and now the evil is grown mighty and invincible; and swelled into a strange unlimitedness, so that that which perhaps but a week or two ago was no more than a slight displeasure, and to be smiled, or talked, or slept away, is now like to go off like a clap of thunder, to scatter an huge ruin, and determine in something dismal and tragical.
We shall find that this way of thinking had the like effect upon David, but upon a better subject, in Psalm xxxix. 3, My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue. We see here the gradation by which this holy man’s thoughts led his zeal up to its full height. In like manner, when an injury has 101passed upon a man, he begins to muse upon it, and upon this his heart grows hot within him, and at length the fire burns, and then he speaks with his tongue; perhaps railing and reviling: and it is well, if in the issue he does not also strike with his hand. The lion has not always such a present supply of fierceness as to fit him to fly upon his prey, till, by the echoes of his own roarings, and the frequent striking of himself with his train, he has called up his drowsy spirits, and summoned his rage to attend his appetite, and so fully chafed himself into his natural fury; and then he is a lion indeed, and to meet him is death, and to behold him a terror next to it.
This is exactly the case of the angry and contentious man; he provokes and works up himself to a passion by a restless employment of thought upon some injury done him; till from a man he grows into a beast of prey, and becomes implacable and intolerable. Surely therefore it concerns the virtuous and the wary, and such as know how absolutely necessary it is to conduct every action of piety by the rules of prudence, to endeavour peaceableness, by keeping down the first inconsiderable annoyances and disturbances of it, which like the mustard seeds in their first sowing are very small and contemptible, but being grown up, shoot out into branches and arms, spread into a vast compass, and settle into a firm strength and consistency of body.
Compare a disgust in its beginnings and after its continuance, in the first appearance and the last effects of it; and we shall find the disproportions monstrous and unmeasurable. No man is able to give laws to an overgrown humour, and to grapple 102with a corruption ripe and armed with all its advantages. Who would think, when he sees a little spring-head, and beholds the narrowness of its circle, its quiet bubblings and small emissions, that by that time this little thing had crope three or four miles off, it should be spacious in its breadth, formidable in its depth, grow insolent in a tempest, rise and foam and wrestle with the winds, laugh at every thing in its way, and bear its conquering stream over dams and locks, and all opposition? Why thus also it is with the mind of man: after he is offended, if he will not be brought to discharge his thoughts of the offence, he may think and think so long, till he has thought a distasteful apprehension into an action of murder.
But as in order to a man’s keeping of the peace, both with himself and others, it highly lies upon him to give no entertainment to disgustful thoughts, conceived from the behaviour of men towards him; so he is much more to abandon and take heed of all aggravating thoughts. If he will not pass over and forget an offence, at least he is not to heighten it; to make that great, which is but small; and numerous, that is but single. If a man were to chastise a child for a fault, and presently by an error of fancy should persuade himself, that certainly that child was some great porter, and should measure out stripes to him accordingly; there is no doubt but the injury would quickly appear in a sad effect.
There are indeed no venial sins towards God, but there are between men; and therefore he who shall prosecute a venial offence with a mortal hatred, and swell a molehill into a mountain, beholding every 103thing under new created heights and additions; he betrays a turbulent disposition, and a mind to which peace and the spirit of peace is wholly a stranger.
It is not unusual to hear such speeches fall from some mouths: He did such a thing purposely to spite me; had he not known that I disgusted it, it had never been spoke or done by him. Whereas perhaps the man, in the word or action for which he is censured, thought no hurt, much less designed any: but did it by an innocent carelessness, not sufficiently alarmed by an experience of the baseness, the falseness, and the exceptiousness of men, to set a greater caution or guard upon his behaviour: or perhaps, take it at the worst, it was a word extorted from him by the exasperation of his spirit, and before he was aware, borne upon the wings of passion, and so quickly out of his reach, and not to be recalled.
But shall we now play the exactors and the tyrants, squeezing every supposed irregularity till we fetch blood, and according to that unworthy course condemned in Isaiah xxix. 21, make a man an offender for a word? Are we so perfect ourselves, as to need no allowances, no remissions, no favourable interpretations of what we do or say? Or are we so unjust, as when we need these things ourselves, to deny them to others?
Would any one be willing to be took upon an advantage? to have every slip and weakness of his discourse critically observed, every inadvertency in his behaviour maliciously scanned, and at length heightened, and blown up to a crime, or a great accusation? Surely there is no man so privileged from the common lot of humanity or natural affections, 104but that he is sometimes more open and gay, free and unconcerned, and so obnoxious to the unseasonable rigours of a watching, ill-natured adversary. And, on the other side, there is no man but sometimes suffers the vicissitude of trouble, business, thought, and indisposition of mind, that may cast a roughness upon his deportment, and for a while interrupt the complaisance of his converse.
And shall these things be now counted grounds sufficient to build a dislike upon, that shall vent itself in the disturbance of a man’s peace, the hatred of his person, the undermining of his interest, and the extinguishing his reputation. It is as certain as certainty itself, that oftentimes they do so: and therefore I have nothing to say more as to this particular, but to make use of that prayer of St. Paul, 2 Thess. iii. 2, God deliver us from unreasonable men: for the way of peace such have not known.
And thus much for the first means to help us in the duty of living peaceably; namely, a mature and careful suppression of all distasteful, but especially of all aggravating apprehensions, either of the defective or faulty instances of men’s behaviour towards us.
2. A second sovereign means conducing to the same great purpose, is the forbearing of all pragmatical or malicious informations against those with whom we converse. It was a worthy saying of Solomon, well beseeming that reputation of wisdom which he stands renowned for in holy writ, that he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends. The carrying of a tale, and reporting what such an one said or such an one did, is the way to sow such grudges, to kindle such heart-burnings between 105persons, as oftentimes break forth and flame to the consumption of families, courts, and perhaps at length of cities and kingdoms. The mischief such incendiaries do is incredible, as being indeed for the most part inevitable. And a vine or a rose-tree may as well flourish when there is a secret worm lurking and gnawing at the root of them; as the peace of those societies thrive, that have such concealed plagues wrapt up in their heart and bowels.
For let us consider the case a little: there is perhaps in some united body, collection, or society of men, some pick-thank caterpillar or other, who, either to ingratiate himself with some great one, or to mischief some whom he maligns, or peradventure both, comes and cringes and whispers, and tells his story, and possibly with some dissembled expressions of respect to the person whom he is about to ruin: as, that he is heartily sorry that such an one, whom he had always an esteem for, should so misbehave and forget himself, as to be guilty of such things as he found and heard him to be; and indeed was a long time before he could believe any such matter of him, out of the great honour he bore him. Nevertheless thus and thus it is, and he is troubled that he should be forced to be the messenger of any thing to his disadvantage.
Well, the good man has told his story, and the secret bolt is shot: let us now see into how many cursed consequences this viperous piece of villainy is like to spread itself; and that, whether we consider the accusation as true or as false; as relating to the person accused, or to him before whom he is accused. And first we will take the allegation that such informers usually make in their own behalf, 106that truly they said nothing but what was truth, and they conceive truth may be lawfully spoken. Very good! Be it therefore a truth. But yet give me leave to ask such persons a few questions: as, whether a truth may not be reported with as malicious a design as the greatest falsity that ever was hatched in hell; and whether to tell a truth with the purposes of malice, be not a sin of as black an hue in the accounts of Heaven, as to contrive and tell a downright lie. I would also ask, whether the person who told this truth would have been as ready to tell it, had it made for the other’s advantage as much as it does for his prejudice: and whether he would be willing that every thing should be told and published which is true of himself. I believe the answer to these interrogatories would appear but very lame and imperfect.
But since truth is a thing that seldom dwells in the mouths and discourses of informers, we will suppose the accusation to be, as for the most part it is, really false; and that either as to the very matter of it, there being absolutely no such thing as is reported; or at least in respect of some portion and circumstance of the narration; some little thing being added, over and above the true state of the matter, or something being concealed that should have been mentioned; either of which may make such an alteration in the case, that that which one way is innocent and allowable, the other way becomes impious, vile, and criminal. It is in such reports as it is in numbers, the addition or detraction but of one unit makes it presently another number.
But now, if we proceed further, and direct the consequences of this degenerous practice to the persons 107concerned in it; as first, to him that is informed against: we shall find that, whether the information be true or false, his condition is very miserable. For if it be true, all opportunities of deprecating his offence, and of reconciling himself to the person offended, are cut off, and took out of his hands; but in the mean time, the accusation lies festering in the other’s mind to whom it is delivered, waiting only for an occasion suddenly to attack or ruin the poor man, who knows not of the cloud which hangs over him, nor of the snare that is spread under him; but is snapt and destroyed before he is aware, without any remedy or escape.
But if the things deposed against him be false, as frequently they both are and may very well be, by reason of the accuser’s presumption that he shall never be brought to vouch or prove what he has said; why then an innocent person unheard, untried, and bereaved of all power to clear himself, and to confute his accuser, is concluded against, and condemned; his sentence is passed, the purpose of his ruin sealed, and the man is blown up before ever he understands that there is so much as any crime, accusation, or accuser of him in the world.
And is not this an horrid and a barbarous thing, and a perversion of the very designs of society? For to what purpose do men unite and convene into corporations, if the mischiefs they suffer under them are greater than those that attend them in a state of dispersion and open hostility?
Certainly it is a grievance to nature, and to that common reason and justice which presides over mankind, to see a brave, an upright, and a virtuous person fall by the informations and base arts of an 108atheist, a sycophant, and an empty dressed fellow; such an one, that, if but one third part of mankind were like him, neither God nor man would think the world worth preservation. And yet such are the men that overthrow virtue, disappoint merit, and render the rewards of the good and the vicious accidental and promiscuous; and in a word, are the pests and vermin that disturb and infest society.
But neither is the poor, accused, ruined person the only one that is abused and injured by the false and malicious informer, but even he who by such information is brought to ruin him. For is it not the worst of injuries, that such a wretch should make a great person the instrument of his sin, and the prosecutor of his malice; and all this by abusing his intellectuals with a lie? deceiving and cheating him with false persuasions, in order to a gaining him to a base or a cruel action; first blinding his eye, and then using his hand, and making him to do that upon a false representation of things, which, had he been rightly informed of, he would not have done for a world. It is like the making of a man drunk, and then causing him to sign a deed for the passing away of his estate. In short, it is a daring encroachment, and an intolerable injury. And if there were any one that might lawfully not be forgiven, it is this.
But the abuse rests not here; for such sycophants by these practices do not only abuse men in their understanding, their interest, and their peace, by first making them to believe a falsehood, and then to sacrifice a friend or an innocent man to such a belief; but further, they abuse them in that very instance for which they accuse others. It being very 109frequent, nay my own little experience has observed it, that those who are so officious, by the traducing of others, to fawn, cog, and flatter men to their faces, are as apt to vilify them behind their backs as any other whatsoever: nay, the matter of the accusation by which they secretly stab others, are usually some unwary expressions slipt from those persons, while they have been trapanned into a compliance with the informer’s discourse, in his undervaluing, upbraiding, and detracting from the same men, before whom afterwards he is so diligent to accuse them.
Now in this case there is nothing so much to be wished for, as that some lucky hand of Providence would bring the person informed against, and the person to whom he was informed against, together; that they might compare notes, and confer what the informer had said on both sides. And the truth is, so it falls out by a strange connection and trace of events, that usually such whisperers are discovered, and that that which passing from the mouth is but a whisper, from the echo and rebound becomes a voice: the effect of which is, that a vile person comes to be understood, and then to be abhorred, and to be pointed at as he passes by, with such kind of elogies as these; “There goes a person for whom no one breathing was ever the better, but many ruined, blasted, and undone; the scourge of society, a spit-poison, a viper, and to be abandoned and shunned by all companies, like a mortal infection: and yet withal so despicable, so detested, and that amidst the greatest successes of his base projects, that the condition of him who is most ruined by him, even while he is ruined, is much 110more eligible, and desirable; as of the two, I know no man, but had rather be spit upon by a toad than be a toad.”
I wonder what such persons think, or propose to themselves, when they come to affront God in his house, praying, hearing sermons, and receiving sacraments; when there is no sin or corruption incident to the depraved nature of man, that more peculiarly unfits them for this divine and blessed duty, than the sin that we have been discoursing of. And I am confident, that when such a person thrusts himself upon the ordinance, and receives the consecrated elements; he yet partakes no more of the body and blood of Christ, or the real benefits of them, than the rat that gnaws the bread, a creature like himself, close, mischievous, and contemptible.
We have seen here how much such persons and practices interrupt the peace of societies; but yet we are to know that the burden of this charge is not so wholly to lie upon the framers and bringers of such informations, but that some is to rest upon those also who are ready to hear them. For as there is a parity of guilt between the thief and the receiver, so there seems to be the like between the teller and the hearer of a malicious report; and that upon very great reason. For who would knock, where he despaired of entrance? or what husbandman would cast his seed but into an open and a prepared furrow? so it is most certain, that ill tongues would be idle, if ill ears were not open. And therefore it was an apposite saying of one of the ancients, that both the teller and the hearer of false stories ought equally to be hanged, but one by the tongue, the other by the ears: and were every one of them so served, 111I suppose nobody would be so fond of those many mischiefs brought by such persons upon the peace of the world, as to be concerned to cut them down, unless, perhaps, by cutting off the forementioned parts, by which they hung.
But when there is a conspiracy and an agreement on both sides, and one ill-nature tells a tale, and another ill-nature thanks him for it; and so encourages him in the custom, by shewing how ready he is to hear his words, and to do the intended mischief; so that the ball is kept up, by being tossed from one hand to the other: let not that society or company of men, who are blessed with such persons amongst them, expect any such thing as peace; they may as well expect that the winter sun will ripen their summer fruits, or the breath of the north wind preserve their blossoms. No, they will find, that the blasts of contention will blow and whistle about their ears, and a storm arise, which shall endanger their tranquillity to an utter shipwreck, without any possibility of being appeased, but by throwing such wretches and renegadoes from God and good-nature overboard.
Let this therefore be the second means to advance us in the duty of living peaceably; namely, to abominate such practices ourselves, and to discountenance them in others. It is a prescription easy and sovereign, and such an one as will not fail in the experiment: but according to the proportions of its efficacy, will manifest a certain and an happy influence, for the restoring of peace, and the refreshing of human converse: for when the troublers of Israel are removed, the trouble of it must needs cease.112
And thus much for the second means of maintaining the duty of peaceableness.
3. The third that I shall prescribe is, that men would be willing in some cases to wave the prosecution of their rights, and not too rigorously to insist upon them. There are some things which it may be lawful for a man to do, but falling under cross circumstances, may be infinitely inexpedient. To require reparation for a wrong, is a thing good and lawful; but sometimes it may be done so unseasonably, that peace, which is a much better thing, is lost by it. That same stomachus cedere nescius found in most, is the thing that foments quarrels, and keeps men at such unpeaceable distances. I will not lose my right, says one; and I will suffer no wrong, says another: and so they enter into a conflict, both pulling and contesting, till the quietness of society is torn asunder betwixt them. Now it is here apparent, that unless one of these shall relinquish what he supposes to be his right, the controversy must of necessity be perpetual. But certainly peace is an enjoyment so high, that it deserves to be bought at the rate of some lesser abridgments; and a man shall find that he never does himself so much right, as when, upon such an occasion, he parts with his right. It may possibly be of some difficulty to assign all those instances in which peace may challenge this of us, as to surrender a right for its preservation; and though cases of this nature are as numberless and indefinite as particular actions and their circumstances; yet, to contribute something to the conduct of our practice in so weighty and concerning a matter, I shall presume to set down some.113
(1.) As first, when the recovery of a right, according to the best judgment that human reason can pass upon things, seems impossible: prudence and duty then calls upon a man to surcease the prosecution of that, and rather to follow peace. It will perhaps be replied here, that this case is superfluous and absurd, for no rational man will endeavour after that which he apprehends impossible. I answer, that this seems true indeed, did all that were rational act rationally. But besides, supposing this also; yet unless a man acts virtuously as well as rationally, he may propose to himself the prosecution of a thing impossible, not indeed with a design to obtain that thing, but for some other end or purpose; as either to gratify an humour, or to annoy an enemy, or the like. As for instance, he that should prosecute a poor widow, not worth above two mites, for the debt of a thousand talents due to him from her, yet by reason of this her great poverty, contracted by losses and misfortunes, utterly unpayable; that man prosecutes an impossible thing, and at the same time knows it to be so, and accordingly despairs of the recovery of his debt, yet he continues the suit, because his disposition may incline him to be troublesome, vexatious, and unmerciful; and where money is not to be had, to pay himself with revenge. He may be one that tastes the calamities of a ruined adversary with an high relish, that finds a music in the widow’s sighs, and a sweetness in her tears.
But now, in such a case is it not rational to conclude, that Christianity calls us to peace, rather than to a fruitless prosecution of a desperate right? where Providence, by taking away all possibility and 114means of payment, seems to have decided the case for pardon, and the opportunities of exercising a Christian grace.
We may be also called to the same duty of not demanding our right, when the power and villainy of the oppressor put the regaining of it under an impossibility. But you will reply; This is a very hard saying: for ought any one’s injustice to prejudice me in the claim of my right? I answer, no: if that claim had any likely prospect of a recovery. Otherwise, what rational effect can follow it? for by all a man’s clamours and suits for right, he is not at all benefited, and yet the peace is disturbed; nay, it is enough to stamp his action irrational, that he loses his own peace without the least recompence; all his endeavours expiring into air, and vanishing with no effect: for the door of justice is shut, and his little attempts cannot force it open.
It is a thing in itself lawful and commendable, for a subject to vouch and assert the title of his prince. But should it so fall out, that a tyrant and an usurper steps up into his throne, and there surrounds himself with armed legions, and a prevailing interest, so that justice and loyalty are forced to shrink in their heads, and so all purposes of resistance become wholly insignificant; will any one say, that it is here the duty of any particular person to stand forth and defend his prince’s claim, in defiance of the usurper, by which neither his prince’s right is in the least advantaged, nor the oppressor’s power at all weakened or infringed; but yet the common peace is interrupted, and a ruin brought upon his own head, and the head of his confederates.
Thus, when a bird comes to be immured in the 115cage, being took from its natural range in the air and the woods, and begins to feel the injury of a restraint and the closeness of a prison, it strives and flutters to recover its native liberty; and perhaps with striving breaks a wing or a leg, and so pines away: and after all this unquietness, is yet forced at last to die in the cage.
It is so with a person overpowered in his right, and bereaved of it by those with whom he cannot grapple. Christianity and reason command him not here to labour in vain, but to make a virtue of necessity, and to acquiesce, expecting the issues of Providence, which disposes of things by a rule known only to itself. And by so doing a man is no worse than he was before; but the peace is maintained, and the rewards of patience may be well expected.
(2.) In the second place, it seems to be a man’s duty to quit the claim of his right, when that right is but trivial, small, and inconsiderable, but the recovery of it troublesome and contentious. That which being lost makes a man not much the poorer, nor recovered, much the richer, cannot authorize him to enter into the turmoil, the din, and noise of a suit, or a long contest.
Nothing can warrant a man in these courses but necessity, or a great inconvenience; which, in the supposed instance, is not pleadable. But he proceeds upon the dictates of humour, the suggestions of revenge, and the instigations of an unquiet disposition: the consequences of which, in this world, are but ill; and the rewards of them in the next much worse.
This whole method is like the applying of corrosives, and caustics, and the most tormenting remedies, to remove the pain of a cut finger, or like the 116 listing of armies to chase away flies: the means and the design are hugely disproportionable.
(3.) In the third place, it seems to be a man’s duty to recede from his claim of any particular right, when for the injury done him he has a recompence offered him, in some good equivalent, and perhaps greater, though of another kind. A man has deposited a jewel in another’s hand; the jewel comes to be lost or stolen: but the person to whose keeping it was intrusted is willing to make him satisfaction, in paying him the full value of it in money, or in giving him another of a greater price. In which case, should the person endamaged utterly refuse all such satisfaction, and rigidly insist upon the restitution of that individual thing, he declares himself a son of contention, an enemy of peace, and an unreasonable exactor.
Nay, the equity of this extends even to those losses, for which, perhaps, no recompence perfectly equivalent can be made; yet, when the utmost that the thing is capable of comes to be tendered, justice, acting by the rules of charity, will tie up the injured man from righting himself by any further prosecutions. As for instance, we will suppose a man defamed, and injured in his reputation; in this case, the word that gave him the wound cannot be unsaid again, or revoked, any more than a spent hour be called back, or yesterday brought again upon the stage of time; but it is gone, and past recovery. Yet the mischief done by this word is permanent and great; it has spilt a man’s good name upon the ground; which, like spilt water, cannot be gathered up again. But after this, the slanderer comes to be touched with remorse and sorrow for what he has 117done, acknowledges and deprecates his fault before his slandered brother; retracts his words as publicly as they were spoke, offers him a large sum of money or a great advantage: what now is the injured person to do in this condition? True it is that a good name is unvaluable; and all the pelf in the world is not an equal ransom for it. Yet it is also as true, that no quarrel, how just soever, ought to be immortal; but ought to be let fall upon due reparation: and the very nature of this case admits of no other or greater reparation than what has been offered. Should it therefore be flung back in the offerer’s face, and the action of slander go on rigorously and inexorably, I am afraid the scene would be altered, and that he who prosecutes his right, having yet more malice than right of his side, would, in the estimate of the supreme Judge, from the injured person turn to be the injurious.
The like may be said in the loss of a limb, or any part of the body, as an eye or an arm. Certain it is, that he who has struck out my eye, or cut off my arm, has not the magazines of nature so in his power, as to be able to give me another; nor will all his estate recompense the injury of a maimed, deformed body: yet if he will endeavour to give me the best recompence my sad condition will receive, and make up the loss of these with supplies of other advantages, I must be contented, and lie down patiently under my calamity, no longer owning it under the notion of an injury from the man that did it, but as a sad providence from heaven, as an arrow shot from the bow in the clouds, to punish my sins and to exercise my patience. And therefore all suits and actions and endeavours after a severe retribution, must be 118let fall; I must not vex, worry, and undo him. The eye that God has left me must not be evil because man has robbed me of the other; nor the remaining arm stretched out to revenge the blow that lopped off its fellow.
And thus I have shewn the cases in which the duty we all owe to peace may command us sometimes to remit the rigid prosecutions of our right; which was the third means proposed to give success to our endeavours after peaceableness.
4. A fourth is, much to reflect upon the great example of Christ, and the strict injunction lying upon us to follow it. We shall find that his whole life went in a constant recession from his own rights, in order to the tranquillity and peace of the public: he was born heir to the kingdom of the Jews, yet never vouched his title, but quietly saw the sceptre in an usurper’s hand, and lived and died under the government of those who had no right to govern. When tribute was demanded of him, he clearly demonstrated the case to Peter, in Matthew xvii. 24, 25, 26, that they had neither right to demand, nor he obligation to pay any; yet, in verse 27, we find that he would be at the expense of little less than a miracle, rather than, by refusing to obey an unjust exaction, to disturb the peace. Lest we should offend them, says he to Peter, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and thou shall find a piece of money in his mouth: that take, and give for me and thee. But what if they had been offended, it had been but an offence taken, not given: for where nothing is due, nothing was to be paid, nor consequently to be demanded; yet so tender was he of the public peace, that he waved all 119 these pleas and argumentations, and complied with the common practice.
Nay, and what is more, in the great concernment of his life, rather than occasion a tumult, or any unpeaceable disorder, though amongst persons then about the greatest villainy that ever the sun saw; he quitted the grand right of self-preservation: which case, though it was peculiar and extraordinary, and so obliges not us to every particular of the action; yet the design of peaceableness, which induced him to such a behaviour, calls for our imitation in general, that we should be willing to brook many high inconveniences, rather than be the occasions of any public disturbance. They sent out an inconsiderable company with swords and staves to apprehend him; but what could this pitiful body of men have done to prejudice his life, who, with much more ease than Peter drew his sword, could have summoned more angels to his assistance, than there were legions of men marching under the Roman eagles? But he chose rather to resign himself silently and unresistingly, like a lamb to the slaughter, and so to recommend the excellency of patience to all his disciples, in a strange instance and a great example.
Now I suppose that it needs not much labour to evince, that what Christ did, upon a moral account,, equally engages the practice of his disciples, according to their proper degree and proportion. And therefore we are to study those divine lessons of peace, to admire, and conform to his behaviour, to transcribe his copy, and to read a precept in every one of his actions. And this is the fourth means to enable us to quit ourselves in the great duty of peaceableness.120
5. The fifth and last which I shall propose, which surely, for its efficacy and virtue, will be inferior to none of the former, is this; not to adhere too pertinaciously and strictly to our own judgments of things doubtful in themselves, in opposition to the judgment of our superiors, or others, who may be rationally supposed more skilful in those things. If we pursue most of those contentions which afflict the world, to their first principle, we shall find that they issue from pride, and pride from self-opinion, and a strange persuasion that men have of their knowledge of those things of which they are indeed ignorant. I am not for the implicit faith of the papists, or for any man to pluck out his own eyes, and to be guided by another man’s, in matters plain, obvious, and apprehensible; and of which common reason, without the assistance of art and study, is a competent judge. But surely, in things difficult and controverted, the learned, who have made it their business to wade into those depths, should be consulted, and trusted to, before the rash and illiterate determinations of any particular man whatsoever.
The not doing of which, I am sure, has ruined the peace of this poor church, and shook it into such unsettlements, that the youngest person alive is not like to see it recovered to its full strength, vigour, and establishment. There is not the least retainer to a conventicle, but thinks he understands the whole business of religion, as well as the most studied and profound doctor in the nation. And for those things that by pious and mature deliberation, grounded upon the word of God, and the constant practice of antiquity, have been ordained for the better and more decent management of divine worship, there is 121 scarce any preaching, discontented ignoramus, any groaning old woman, or any factious shopkeeper, who, for want of custom, sits reading the Bible, but will very pertly, and, as they think, also very judiciously, call them in question. For of those many thousands who use to read the scripture, there are few who understand it, and fewer who think they do not; whereupon they venture on all occasions to affix such bold interpretations on the most concerning passages, as either their interest or their ignorance shall suggest.
And having upon such pitiful grounds took up an opinion, they are as ready to fight for it, and to assert it with the last drop of their blood. Armies shall be raised, swords drawn, and the peace of a kingdom sacrificed to a notion, as absurdly conceived as impudently defended. Laws must be repealed, or lie unexecuted, customs abrogated, and sovereignty itself must be forced to bow before the exceptions of a tender conscience, and to give way to every religious opiniator, who is pleased to judge his peculiar sentiments in sacred matters the great standard of truth, to which all must conform. For though they deny a conformity to the church in its constitutions, yet they think it very reasonable, nay, necessary, that the church should conform to them; whereas it is most certain from experience, that such persons seldom persist so steadily in any one opinion, as for a year’s space to conform thoroughly to themselves.
I conclude therefore, that there is no such bane of the common peace, as a confident singularity of opinion: for men’s opinions shall rule their practices, and when their practices shall get head and countenance, they shall overrule the laws. If when men 122shall refuse to yield obedience to statute and government, and for such refusal plead, that their conscience will not give them leave to think such obedience lawful, and for this assign no other reason, but because they are resolved to think so, or allege some places of scripture, which they will be sure to understand in their own sense, though persons much more numerous and knowing than they understand them in a far different one; and then, after all, shall have this accepted by governors, as a sufficient reason to exempt them from the common obligation that the law designs to lay upon every subject; there is no doubt but that, by this course, the very foundation of peace and government will quickly be unsettled, and the whole fabric of church and state thrown back into its former confusion.
And thus much for the third particular proposed for the handling the words, namely, to shew by what means we might be enabled to the great duty of living peaceably. I come now to the fourth and last, which is to shew,
IV. What are the motives and arguments by which this duty may be enforced. I suppose, many may be gathered here and there from what has been already delivered, and therefore I shall be the briefer in this.
1. The first enforcing argument that I shall propound, shall be taken from the excellency of the thing itself; which indeed is so great, that the highest appellations of honour recorded in scripture are derived from peace. God himself is pleased to insert it amongst his own titles, and to be called the God of peace, Rom. xv. 33. It is also the honourable name of the Messiah, that he was to be the 123Prince of Peace, Isaiah ix. 6; and that in the most eminent manner that could be: for he designed the time of his nativity when there was a general peace over the whole world in the reign of Augustus Caesar. And the first message that was sent from heaven upon his nativity was a message of peace; Luke ii. 14, Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men. The whole doctrine that by himself and his apostles he preached to mankind is called the gospel of peace, and the word of peace, Rom. x. 15. The last legacy that he bequeathed to his disciples at his departure out of the world was a legacy of peace; John xiv. 27, My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. And the works of the Holy Ghost in the hearts of believers are expressed by the same thing, Galat. v. 22. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace. And in the last place, both the effects and rewards of piety are set forth by this, Rom. xv. 13, The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing. In a word, there is no one virtue or excellent quality in the world, from which there be half so many denominations of honour and expressions of blessing taken by the penmen of holy writ, as from peace. It is the very style and phrase of scripture; and if I should endeavour to mention how often it is thus used in it, I must not so much quote particular texts, as transcribe books and chapters.
Now certainly that must needs be a glorious thing, that thus gives titles of glory to the Prince of glory, that thus fills the heraldry of heaven, and calls gifts, graces, blessings, and every good thing, after its own 124 name. The heathen custom was to derive their names of honour from the triumphs of war, as Numidicus, Asiaticus, Africanus: but Christian religion, that came to unite and cement society, to compose differences, and to conquer minds only, has made up its catalogue of honours with names of peace, a virtue of a more benign nature, that can adorn one man without the disgrace of another.
2. The second motive to peace shall be taken from the excellency of the principle from which peaceableness of spirit proceeds. It is from a pious, a generous, and a great mind. Little things are querulous; and the wasp much more angry and troublesome than the eagle. He that can slight affronts, despise revenge, and rather suffer an inconvenience than employ his passion to remove it, declares himself above the injuries of men, and that though others would disturb him, yet he will not be disturbed, he is too strong to be shaken; and so, has both his quietness and his reputation in his own keeping.
Now certainly it is more desirable to be such a person, than to be a subject and a slave to every man’s distemper and imprudence; for so he is whom every man is able to exasperate and disquiet: he has let go his happiness, and put it into the power of those who regard not their own; and therefore is forced to be miserable, whensoever any other man shall think fit to be proud, insolent, and passionate. I suppose I need no greater argument to recommend a peaceable temper, than the misery of such a condition.
3. The third motive to peace shall be taken from the consequent blessing entailed upon it by a peculiar 125promise, Matth. v. 9, Blessed are the peacemakers; and I may add, by a parity of reason, no less blessed are the peace-preservers. The treasures of heaven are opened, and the designs of Providence laid, to serve the interest of the peaceable. All contingencies, unusual passages and casualties of affairs, shall conspire into an happy event, in reference to such persons. For when God intends a blessing, a blessing with an emphasis and a peculiarity, as he does here, he takes a man into a nearer tuition, espouses his concerns, directs his actions, and orders his occasions.
I do not doubt but the blessing here pronounced to the peaceable is such an one as reaches heaven, and runs forth into eternity, and does not determine in these transient enjoyments and earthly felicities; yet since these also lie in the bowels of the promise, and may come in as a fair overplus, or serve as a comfortable earnest of those greater happinesses that as yet are but within our prospect; I shall take notice of two instances of this blessing, that will certainly attend the peaceable in this world.
(1.) The first is an easy, undisturbed, and quiet enjoyment of themselves. While a man is careful to keep the peace with others, he will in the rebound find the influence of it upon himself. He has no enmities to prosecute, no revenges to beware of, no suspicions to discompose his mind. But he that will disturb others, of necessity casts himself under all those evils. For he that affronts or injures a man, must be at the trouble to make that affront good; he must also expect that the affronted person waits for an opportunity to repay him with a shrewd recompence: 126whereupon he is to be always upon his guard, to hearken and look about, and contrive how he may frustrate the intended blow. All which is a continual torment and a sad vexation; and like being upon the watch every night, while others are at their rest.
But then the chiefest misery of all is this, that as it is a very restless, so it is a very needless condition. For what necessity is there that I should undertake the trouble of troubling another? Why should I take so much pains to be disturbed and out of order, when the charge at which I may purchase my own quietness is no greater than only to let other men enjoy theirs? If I should strike any one a great blow on the teeth, it is very probable that I may bruise my own hand as well as hurt his face.
But the peaceable man is composed and settled in the most of those disturbances that embroil the world round about him. He can sleep in a storm, because he had no hand in the raising it. He conjured no evil spirit up, and so is not put upon the trouble to conjure him down again. He is like a sword resting in its scabbard, which, by that means, both hurts nobody and preserves itself.
(2.) The other instance of the great blessing attending the peaceable in this world, is that honour and reputation which such a temper of mind and course of life fixes upon their persons. Every one looks upon such a man as a public blessing, as a gift from heaven, as an help and remedy to the frailties and miseries of mankind. There is none but is forced to confess that he has been the better for such an one; and consequently, to acknowledge a debt to 127Providence, that ever he knew him or conversed with him.
But on the contrary, is there any one that prays for or honours a plague, a rat, a serpent, or, which is worse than all, a false and a malicious informer? As amongst all the trees and plants of the earth the bramble is the most troublesome, so it is also the most contemptible. It is the great and notable curse of the earth to bear briers and thorns: and it is also their doom to be burnt; and I know nobody that would find a miss of them.
For when such persons are removed, afflicted society seems to have a little respite and time of breathing: for while they have scope to act the mischief of their temper, they are like some flies, that first by their venom make a sore, and then set upon it and afflict it.
But it being the nature of mankind to fasten an honour there only where they find either something like to God, or beneficial to themselves; let not such nuisances think, that any generous mind can either honour or affect them; for such can be considerable for nothing, but because they are able to do mischief; and I know nothing so vile or base in nature, but that sometimes it has power to do hurt. Is there any thing more weak and pitiful than a flea or a gnat? and yet they have sting and sharpness enough to trouble a wise man.
It is therefore the peaceable mind only, the mind which studies how to compose, and heal, and bind up the bleeding wounds of society, that is truly great and honourable. The name of such is like an ointment poured forth, which we know is both healing and fragrant. Honour and respect court 128them and pursue them; and when they have finished a glorious life here, ennobled by the good offices done by them, their report survives them, and their memory is blessed. Their name is glorified upon earth, and their souls in heaven.129
|« Prev||Sermon L. Romans xii. 18.||Next »|