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[Preached at Kingston, July 29, 1694.]
OF SINCERITY TOWARDS GOD AND MAN.
Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.—John i. 47.
WHO this Nathanael was, upon whom our Saviour bestows this extraordinary character, doth not certainly appear, his name being but once more mentioned in the whole history of the gospel: for certain, he was a good man who deserved this extraordinary commendation; and none but our Saviour, who knew what was in man, and needed not that any should tell him, could have given it, especially of one, whom he had never seen before that time: for when Jesus saw him “coming to him, he saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed.”
The whole nation of the Jews were Israelites by natural descent, being the seed of Jacob or Israel; but, in a special and more excellent sense, none are esteemed the true posterity of Israel, but those who resembled this father of their nation in true piety and goodness; for (as the apostle reasons) 2 “they are not all Israel who are of Israel;” they only are Israelites indeed who resemble good old Jacob in the sincerity of his piety, and the simplicity of his temper and disposition: for our Saviour seems here to allude to that character which is given of Jacob, (Gen. xxv. 27.) that “he was a plain man,” or, as the Hebrew word signifies, “a perfect and sincere man,” in opposition to his brother Esau, who is said to be cunning: so that, to be an Israelite indeed, is to be a downright honest man, without fraud and guile, without any arts of hypocrisy and deceit.
In speaking of this virtue of sincerity, which is the highest character and commendation of a good man, I shall consider it as it respects God and man. As it respects God, so it imports the truth and sincerity of our piety and devotion towards him. As it regards men, so it signifies a simplicity of mind and manners in our carriage and conversation one towards another: both these are included, and very probably were intended in the character which our Saviour here gives Nathanael.
I. I shall consider this grace or virtue of sincerity, as it respects God, and so it imports the truth and sincerity of our piety towards him, that we heartily believe, and fear, and honour him, and that the outward expressions of our piety and obedience to him are the genuine issue of our inward apprehensions of him, and affections towards him; and this no doubt our Saviour intended in the first place, in the character of this good man; that he was a man of a real, and substantial, and unaffected piety, and in truth what he appeared to be: that he did sincerely love God and his truth, and was ready to embrace it whenever it was fairly proposed to him, 3as did plainly appear in his carriage towards our Saviour: for when Philip invited him to come and see him, he did not conceal the prejudice and objection he had against him, grounded upon a common, but uncharitable, proverb, that “out of Nazareth ariseth no prophet;” but, having an honest and sincere mind, he was not so carried away by a popular prejudice, as not to have patience to be better informed, and therefore was easily persuaded to go and see our Saviour, and to discourse with himself; and, being satisfied that he was the Messias, he presently owns him for such, calling him “the Son of God and the King of Israel.” And because sincerity is the very heart and substance of religion, it concerns us not only to endeavour after this temper and disposition, but to inquire into the nature and properties of it, that we may know when we have it, and may have the comfort of it. I shall mention five or six properties of a sincere piety, by which men may sufficiently know the integrity of their hearts towards God.
1. Our piety is then sincere, when the chief reasons and predominant motives of it are religious; and I call that a religious or rational motive, which regards God and another world, in opposition to men and to our present temporal advantages; when the principal and swaying motives of our piety, are a sense of God’s authority over us, and of our duty and obligation to him; a fear of his displeasure and threatenings, and the hopes of the glorious reward which he hath promised to obedience: these motives are properly religious, because they respect God, and are the arguments to obedience which he himself offers to us, to persuade us to our duty; and that is, a sincere piety which is wrought in us by these considerations, 4how unequally soever mixed: for even in the most of men, fear does many times prevail more than love, and, in case of great temptation, may preserve men from sin, when perhaps no other consideration will do it. On the contrary, that is an unsincere piety, to which we are moved merely by the regard of men, and the consideration of some temporal advantages; and, when these have the chief influence upon us, it is easy for any man to discern in himself; for he that will carefully observe himself, can hardly be ignorant of the true spring and motive of his own actions: but there is one sign whereby a man may certainly know that his heart is not right towards God, and that is—if, when these motives are absent, our piety and zeal for the true religion doth either cease, or is sensibly cooled and abated; as if impiety, or popery, or any thing else that is bad, begin to be in fashion, and to have the countenance of great examples; if those whom we fear, and upon whom we depend, do discover any inclination that way; if the garb of religion cease to be for our interest, or, in the revolution of things, happen to be contrary to it: if in any of these cases we let fall the profession of our religion, or neglect the practice of it, this is a plain and undeniable demonstration of the insincerity of our former piety.
2. A sincere piety must be rooted in the heart, and be a living principle within us; for, as the apostle reasons in another case, “he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, but he who is one inwardly, and in the heart;” and without this all outward acts of piety and devotion are hypocrisy, a picture of religion, and a form of godliness, without the life and power of it.
3. A third evidence of a sincere piety is, when 5men are religious in private and in secret, as well as in public and in the open view of men. He is truly devout, who is so in his family, and in his closet, where he hath no witness but God, and his own soul, as well as in the church. He is a downright honest man, who will make good his word, and perform his promise, when no proof can be made of it, and no law compel him to it, as readily as if there had been an hundred witnesses of it. He is sincerely just, who will not detain from another his right, though he be ignorant of it; nor wrong any man, though he could do it with all the secrecy and safety in the world; who will not impose upon another’s ignorance or unskilfulness, though never so much to his own benefit and advantage. He is truly charitable, who would not only as soon, but rather sooner give his alms in secret, than in the sight of men: and he is truly grateful, who, when there is occasion and opportunity, will acknowledge a kindness and requite a benefit to the relations of his deceased friend, though he be sure that all memory of the obligation died with him, and that none are conscious of it, but God and his own conscience. And indeed there is scarce any act of piety and virtue, the sincerity of which may not by this evidence be known by us: as, on the contrary, a man may for certain conclude himself a hypocrite, if he be not the same in the presence of God and his own conscience that he is in the sight of men.
4. Another evidence of a sincere piety is a constant tenor of goodness in the general course of our lives. I do not now speak of the first beginnings of piety in new converts, which are many times very imperfect, and such as afford little or no evidence of a man’s sincerity; but in those who have made any 6considerable progress in goodness; the habits of any known sin, and the wilful and deliberate neglect of our duties, and even the single acts of more heinous crimes, will bring in question our sincerity, and are by no means to be sheltered under the name of infirmity: for these the grace of God, if we be not wanting to ourselves, will enable us to subdue; and he is not sincerely good, who doth not seriously endeavour to be as good as he can, and does not make use of that grace which God is ready to afford to all the purposes, though not of a perfect, yet of a sincere, obedience to the laws of God.
5. Another evidence of a sincere piety is, that our obedience to God be uniform and universal, equally respecting all the laws of God, and every part of our duty, that it do not content itself with an especial regard to some precepts of the law, though never so considerable, and allow itself in the breach or neglect of the rest; no, nor with observing the duties of one table of the law, if it overlook the other; no, nor with obedience to all the commandments of God, one only excepted. St. James puts this case and determines, that, “he that keeps the whole law, saving that he offends in one point, is guilty of all;” that is, is not sincere in his obedience to the rest. And, therefore, we must take great heed that we do not set the commandments of God at odds, and dash the two tables of the law against one another, lest, as St. James says, we “break the whole law:” and yet I fear this is too common a fault, even amongst those who make a great profession of piety, that they are not sufficiently sensible of the obligation and necessity of the duties of the second table, and of the excellency of those graces and virtues which respect our carriage and 7conversation with one another. Men do not seem to consider, that God did not give laws to us for his own sake, but our’s; and therefore, that he did not only design that we should honour him, but that we should be happy in one another; for which reason he joins with our humble and dutiful deportment towards himself the offices of justice and charity towards others. (Mich. vi. 8.) “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” And, 1 John iv. 21. “This commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God, love his brother also.” And yet it is too visible that many, who make a great profession of piety towards God, are very defective in moral duties; very unpeaceable and turbulent in their spirits, very peevish and passionate, very conceited and censorious, as if their profession of godliness did exempt them from the care and practice of Christian virtues. But we must not so fix our eye upon heaven, as to forget that we walk upon the earth, and to neglect the ordering of our steps and conversation among men; lest, while we are gazing upon the stars, we fall into the ditch of gross and foul immorality.
It is very possible, that men may be devout and zealous in religion, very nice and scrupulous about the worship and service of God, and yet because of their palpable defect in points of justice and honesty, of meekness and humility, of peace and charity, may be gross and odious hypocrites. For men must not think for some acts, either of outward or inward piety, to compound with God for the neglect of mercy and judgment, or to demand it as a right from men to be excused from the great duties 8and virtues of human conversation; or pretend to be above them, because they relate chiefly to this world, and to the temporal happiness of men: as if it were the privilege of great devotion, to give a licence to men to be peevish and froward, sour and morose, supercilious and censorious in their behaviour towards others. Men must have a great care, that they be not intent upon the outward parts of religion, to the prejudice of inward and real goodness, and that they do not so use the means of religion, as to neglect and lose the main end of it: that they do not place all religion in fasting and outward mortification; for though these things be very useful and necessary in their place, if they be discreetly managed, and made subservient to the great ends of religion; yet it is often seen, that men have so unequal a respect to the several parts of their duty, that fasting and corporal severity, those meagre and lean duties of piety, in comparison, do, like Pharaoh’s lean kine, devour and eat up almost all the goodly and well-favoured, the great and substantial duties of the Christian life: and therefore men must take great heed, lest, whilst they are so intent upon mortifying themselves, they do not mortify virtue and goodnature, humility and meekness and charity, things highly valuable in themselves, and amiable in the eyes of men, and in the sight of God of great price.
For the neglect of the moral duties of the second table is not only a mighty scandal to religion, but of pernicious consequence many other ways. A fierce and ill-governed, an ignorant and injudicious zeal for the honour of God, and something or other be longing necessarily, as they think, to his true worship and service, hath made many men do many unreasonable, 9immoral, and impious things, of which history will furnish us with innumerable instances in the practice of the Jesuits, and other zealots of the church of Rome; and there are not wanting too many examples of this kind amongst ourselves: for men that are not sober and considerate in their religion, but give themselves up to the conduct of blind prejudice, and furious zeal, do easily persuade themselves that any thing is lawful, which they strongly fancy to tend to the honour of God, and to the advancement of the cause of religion. Hence, some have proceeded to that height of absurdity in their zeal for their religion and church, as to think it not only lawful, but highly commendable and meritorious, to equivocate upon oaths, and break faith with heretics, and to destroy all those that differ from them; as if it were piety in some cases to lie for the truth, and to kill men for God’s sake.
So that, if we would approve the integrity of our hearts to God, and evidence to ourselves the sincerity of our obedience, we ought impartially to regard all the laws of God, and every part of our duty; and, if we do not, our heart is not upright with God. It is observable, that sincerity in Scripture is often called by the name of integrity and perfection, because it is integrated and made up of all the parts of our duty.
6. The last evidence I shall mention of the sincerity of our religion is, if it hold out against persecution and endure the fiery trial. This is the utmost proof of our integrity when we are called to bear the cross, to be willing then to expose all our worldly interest, and even life itself, for the cause of God and religion. This is a trial which God doth 10not always call his faithful servants to; but they are always to be prepared for it, in the purpose and resolution of their minds. This our Saviour makes the great mark of a true disciple: “If any man (saith he) will be my disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” This is a certain sign, that men have “received the word into good ground,” and are well rooted in their religion, when they are not shaken by these fierce assaults; “for many (as our Saviour tells us) hear the word, and with joy receive it; but having no root in themselves, they endure but for a while, and when persecution and tribulation ariseth because of the word, presently they are offended:” nay some, when they see persecution coming at a distance, wheel off and bethink themselves of making their retreat in time, and of agreeing with their adversary whilst he is yet in the way.
So that constancy to our religion, in case of danger and suffering for it, is the best proof of our sincerity. This is “the fiery trial,” as the Scripture calls it, which will try what materials we are made of, and whether we love God and his truth in sincerity.
And thus I have considered sincerity as it respects God, and imports true piety and religion towards him; and I proceed to the second consideration.
II. Of sincerity, as it regards men; and so it signifies a simplicity of mind and manners in our conversation, and carriage one towards another; singleness of heart, discovering itself in a constant plainness and honest openness of behaviour, free from all insidious devices, and little tricks, and fetches of craft and cunning: from all false appearances and deceitful disguises of ourselves in word or action; or, yet more plainly, it is to speak as we think, and 11do what we pretend and profess, to perform and make good what we promise, and, in a word, really to be what we would seem and appear to be.
Not that we are obliged to tell every man all our mind; but we are never to declare any thing contrary to it: we may be silent and conceal as much of ourselves, as prudence, or any other good reason requires; but we must not put on a disguise, and make a false appearance and empty shew of what we are not, either by word or action. Contrary to this virtue is, I fear, most of that compliment which is current in conversation, and which, for the most part, is nothing but words to fill up the gaps, and supply the emptiness, of discourse, and a pretence to that kindness and esteem for persons, which either in truth we have not, or not to that degree which our expressions seem to import; which, if done with design, is that which we call flattery—a very odious sort of insincerity, and so much the worse, because it abuses men into a vain and foolish opinion of themselves, and an ill-grounded confidence of the kindness and good-will of others towards them; and so much the more dangerous, because it hath a party within us, which is ready to let it in: it plays upon our self-love, which greedily catcheth at any thing that tends to magnify and advance us; for, God knows, we are all too apt to think and make the best of our bad selves, so that very few tempers have wisdom and firmness enough to be proof against flattery: it requires great consideration and a resolute modesty and humility to resist the insinuations of this serpent; yea, a little rudeness and moroseness of nature, a prudent distrust and infidelity in mankind, to make a man in good earnest to reject and despise it.12
Now, besides that, all hypocrisy and insincerity is mean in itself, having falsehood at the bottom; it is also often made use of, to the prejudice of others, in their rights and interests. For not only dissimulation is contrary to sincerity, because it consists in a vain shew of what we are not, in a false muster of our virtues and good qualities, in a deceitful representation and undue character of our lives: but there are likewise other qualities and actions more inconsistent with integrity, which are of a more injurious and mischievous consequence to our nature, as false hood and fraud, and perfidiousness, and infinite little crafts and arts of deceit, which men practise upon one another in their ordinary conversation and intercourse. The former is great vanity: but this is gross iniquity.
And yet these qualities, dexterously managed, so as not to lie too plain and open to discovery, are looked upon by many as signs of great depth and shrewdness, admirable instruments of business, and necessary means for the compassing our own ends and designs; and though in those that have suffered by them, and felt the mischief of them, they are always accounted dishonest, yet among the generality of lookers on, they pass for great policy; as if the very skill of governing and managing human affairs did consist in those little tricks and devices: but he that looks more narrowly into them, and will but have the patience to observe the end of them, will find them to be great follies, and that it is only for want of true wisdom and understanding, that men turn aside to tricks, and make dissimulation and lies their refuge. It is Solomon’s observation, that, “he that walketh uprightly, walketh surely; but the folly of fools is deceit.” “The folly of fools;” that is, the most 13egregious piece of folly that any man can be guilty of, is to play the knave: the vulgar translation renders this clause a little otherwise, but yet towards the same sense, sed stultas divertit ad dolos, “but the fool turns aside to tricks;” to make use of these, is a sign the man wants understanding to see the plain and direct way to his end. I will not deny but these little arts may serve a present turn, and perhaps successfully enough; but true wisdom goes deep, and reacheth a great way farther, looking to the end of things, and regarding the future as well as the present, and, by judging upon the whole matter and sum of affairs, doth clearly discern that craft and cunning are only useful for the present occasion; whereas integrity is of a lasting use, and will be serviceable to us upon all occasions, and in the whole course of our lives; and that dissimulation and deceit, though they may do some present execution in business, yet they recoil upon a man terribly afterwards, so as to make him stagger, and by degrees to weaken, and at last to destroy, his reputation, which is a much more useful and substantial and lasting instrument of prosperity and success in human affairs, than any tricks and devices what soever. Thus have I considered this great virtue of sincerity, both as it regards God, and the mutual conversation and intercourse of men one with another.
And now having explained the nature of sincerity to God and man, by declaring the properties of it, and in what instances we ought chiefly to practise it, and what things are contrary to it; that which remains is, to persuade men to endeavour after this excellent quality, and to practise it in all the words and actions of their lives.
Let us then, in the first place, be sincere in our 14religion, and serve God in truth and uprightness of heart, out of conscience of our duty and obligations to him, and not with sinister respects to our private interest or passion, to the public approbation or censure of men. Let us never make use of religion to serve any base and unworthy ends, cloaking our designs of covetousness, or ambition, or revenge, with pretences of conscience and zeal for God; and let us endeavour after the reality of religion, always remembering that a sincere piety doth not consist in shew, but substance, not in appearance, but in effect; that the spirit of true religion is still and calm, charitable and peaceable, making as little shew and stir as is possible; that a truly and sincerely good man does not affect vain ostentation, and an unseasonable discovery of his good qualities, but endeavours rather really to be than to seem religious, and, of the two, rather seeks to conceal his piety than to set it out with pomp; gives his alms privately, prays to God in secret, and makes no appearance of religion, but in such fruits and effects as cannot be hid; in the quiet and silent virtues of humility and meekness, and patience, of peace and charity; in governing his passions, and taking heed not to offend with his tongue, by slander and calumny, by envious detraction or rash censure, or by any word or action that may be to the hurt and prejudice of his neighbour: but, on the contrary, it is a very ill sign, if a man affect to make a great noise and bustle about religion; if he blow a trumpet before his good works, and by extraordinary shews of devotion summon the eyes of men to behold him, and do, as it were, call aloud to them to take notice of his piety, “and to come and see his zeal for the Lord of Hosts.” It is not impossible but such a man, with all his vanity 15and ostentation, may have some real goodness in him; but he is as the hypocrites are, and does as like one as is possible; and, by the mighty shew that he makes, to wise and considerate men, greatly brings in question the sincerity of his religion.
And with the sincerity of our piety towards God, let us join the simplicity and integrity of manners in our conversation with men. Let us strictly charge ourselves to use truth and plainness in all our words and doings; let our tongue be ever the true interpreter of our mind, and our expressions the lively image of our thoughts and affections, and our outward actions exactly agreeable to our inward purposes and intentions.
Amongst too many other instances of the great corruption and degeneracy of the age wherein we live, the great and general want of sincerity in conversation is none of the least. The world is grown so full of dissimulation and compliment, that men’s words are hardly any signification of their thoughts; and if any man measure his words by his heart, and speak as he thinks, and do not express more kindness to every man, than men usually have for any man, he can hardly escape the censure of rudeness and want of breeding. The old English plainness and sincerity, that generous integrity of nature and honesty of disposition, which always argues true greatness of mind, and is usually accompanied with undaunted courage and resolution, is in a great measure lost amongst us: there hath been a long endeavour to transform us into foreign manners and fashions, and to bring us to a servile imitation of none of the best of our neighbours, in some of the worst of their qualities. The dialect of conversation is now-a-days so swelled with vanity and compliment, 16and so surfeited (as I may say) with expressions of kindness and respect, that if a man that lived an age or two ago, should return into the world again, he would really want a dictionary to help him to understand his own language, and to know the true intrinsic value of the phrase in fashion, and would hardly at first believe at what a low rate the highest strains and expressions of kindness imaginable do commonly pass in current payment; and when he should come to understand it, it would be a great while before he could bring himself, with a good countenance, and a good conscience, to converse with men upon equal terms, and in their own way.
And, in truth, it is hard to say, whether it should more provoke our contempt or our pity, to hear what solemn expressions of respect and kindness will pass between men, almost upon no occasion; how great honour and esteem they will declare for one whom perhaps they never heard of or saw before; and how entirely they are all on the sudden devoted to his service and interest, for no reason; how infinitely and eternally obliged to him for no benefit; and how extremely they will be concerned for him, yea, and afflicted too, for no cause. I know it is said, in justification of this hollow kind of conversation, that there is no harm, no real deceit, in compliment, but the matter is well enough, so long as we understand one another; et verba valent ut nummi, “words are like money,” and when the current value of them is generally understood, no man is cheated by them. This is something, if such words were any thing; but being brought into the account, they are mere ciphers. However, it is still a just matter of complaint, that sincerity and plainness are out of fashion, and that our language is running into 17a lie, that men have almost quite perverted the use of speech, and made words to signify nothing; that the greatest part of the conversation of mankind, and of their intercourse with one another, is little else but driving a trade of dissimulation; insomuch that it would make a man heartily sick and weary of the world, to see the little sincerity that is in use and practice among men, and tempt him to break out into that melancholy complaint and wish of the prophet, (Jer. ix.) “O that I had in the wilderness a lodging-place of wayfaring men, that I might leave my people, and go from them; for they are all adulterers, and an assembly of treacherous men; and they bend their tongue like their bow for lies, but have no courage for the truth upon earth. Take ye heed every one of his neighbour, and trust ye not in any brother; for every brother will utterly supplant, and every neighbour will walk with slanders. Thine habitation is in the midst of deceit; one speaketh peaceably to his neighbour, but in his heart he lieth in wait. Shall not I visit for these things, saith the Lord? and shall not my soul be avenged of such a nation as this?”
Such were the manners of the people of Israel at that time, which were both the forerunner and the cause of those terrible calamities which befel them afterwards; and this character agrees but too well to the present age, which is so wretchedly void of truth and sincerity: for which reason there is the greater need to recommend this virtue to us, which seems to be fled from us, that “truth and righteousness may return, and glory may dwell in our land, and God may shew his mercy upon us, and grant us his salvation, and righteousness and peace may 18kiss each other.” To this end give me leave to offer these following considerations.
First, That sincerity is the highest commendation, and the very best character, that can be given of any man; it is the solid foundation of all virtue, the heart and soul of all piety and goodness; it is in Scripture called perfection, and frequently joined with it; and throughout the Bible there is the great est stress and weight laid upon it: it is spoken of as the sum and comprehension of all religion. “Only fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and truth, says Joshua to the people of Israel, (Josh. xxiv. 14.) God takes great pleasure in it; so David assures us: (1 Chron. xxix. 17.) “I know, my God, that thou triest the heart, and hast pleasure in uprightness:” and, again, “Thou lovest truth in the inward parts.”
To this disposition of mind the promises of Divine favour and blessing are particularly made: (Psal. xv. 1, 2) “Lord, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? he that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth from his heart.” (Psal. xxxii. 2.) “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth no sin, and in whose spirit there is no guile.”
And it is observable, that this character of our Saviour here given of Nathanael, is the only full and perfect commendation that we read was ever given by him of any particular person. He commends some particular acts of piety and virtue in others, as St. Peter’s confession of him, the faith of the centurion, and of the woman that was healed by touching the hem of his garment, the charity of the woman that cast her two mites into the treasury, 19and the bounty of that other devout woman, who poured upon him a box of precious ointment; but here he gives the particular character of a good man, when he says of Nathanael, that he was “an Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile.” And the apostle mentions this quality as the chief ingredient in the character of the best man that ever was—our blessed Saviour, “who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.”
Secondly, The rarity of this virtue is a farther commendation of it. A sincerely pious and good man, without any guile or disguise, is not a sight to be seen every day. Our Saviour, in the text, speaks of it as a thing very extraordinary, and of special remark and observation, and breaks out into some kind of wonder upon the occasion, as if to see a man of perfect integrity and simplicity were an occurrence very rare and unusual, and such as calls for our more special attention and regard. “Be hold (saith he) an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.”
Thirdly, The want of sincerity will quite spoil the virtue and acceptance of all our piety and obedience, and certainly deprive us of the reward of it. All that we do in the service of God, all our external obedience to his laws, if not animated by sincerity, is like a sacrifice without a heart, which is an abomination to the Lord.
Fourthly, Hypocrisy and insincerity is a very vain and foolish thing; it is designed to cheat others, but is in truth a deceiving of ourselves. No man would flatter or dissemble, did he believe he were seen and discovered; an open knave is a great fool, who destroys at once both his design and reputation; and this is the case of every hypocrite: 20all the disagreement which is between his tongue and his thoughts, his actions and his heart, is open to that eye from which nothing can be hid; “for the ways of men are before the eyes of the Lord, and he seeth all his goings; there is no darkness nor shadow of death where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.”
Fifthly, Truth and reality have all the advantages of appearance, and many more. If the shew of any thing be good for any thing, I am sure sincerity is better; for why does any man dissemble, or seem to be that which he is not, but because he thinks it good to have such a quality as he pretends to? for to counterfeit and dissemble, is to put on the appearance of some real excellency. Now the best way in the world for a man to seem to be any thing, is really to be what he would seem to be. Besides, that it is many times as troublesome to make good the pretence of a good quality, as to have it; and if a man have it not, it is ten to one but he is discovered to want it, and then all his pains and labour to seem to have it is lost. There is something unnatural in painting, which a skilful eye will easily discern from native beauty and complexion.
It is hard to personate and act a part long; for where truth is not at the bottom, nature will always be endeavouring to return, and will peep out and betray herself one time or other. Therefore if any man think it convenient to seem good, let him be so indeed, and then his goodness will appear to every body’s satisfaction; for truth is convincing, and carries its own light and evidence along with it, and will not only commend us to every man’s conscience, but which is much more, to God, who searcheth and seeth our hearts; so that upon all accounts 21sincerity is true wisdom. Particularly as to the affairs of this world, integrity hath many advantages over all the fine and artificial ways of dissimulation and deceit; it is much the plainer and easier, much the safer and more secure way of dealing in the world; it hath less of trouble and difficulty, of entanglement and perplexity, of danger and hazard in it; it is the shortest and nearest way to our end, carrying us thither in a straight line, and will hold out and last longest. The arts of deceit and cunning do continually grow weaker and less effectual and serviceable to them that use them; whereas integrity gains strength by use, and the more and longer any man practiseth it, the greater service it does him, by confirming his reputation, and encouraging those with whom he hath to do, to repose the greater trust and confidence in him, which is an unspeakable advantage in the business and affairs of life.
But a dissembler must always be upon his guard, and watch himself carefully, that he do not contradict his own pretence; for he acts an unnatural part, and therefore must put a continual force and restraint upon himself. Truth always lies upper most, and if a man do not carefully attend, he will be apt to bolt it out; whereas he that acts sincerely hath the easiest task in the world, because he follows nature, and so is put to no trouble and care about his words and actions; he needs not invent any pretences beforehand, nor make excuses after wards, for any thing he hath said or done.
But insincerity is very troublesome to manage; a man hath so many things to attend to, so many ends to bring together, as make his life a very perplexed and intricate thing. Oportet mendacem esse memorem, 22“A liar had need of a good memory,” lest he contradict at one time what he said at another: but truth is always consistent with itself, and needs nothing to help it out; it is always near at hand, and sits upon our lips, and is ready to drop out before we are aware: whereas a lie is troublesome, and sets a man’s invention upon the rack, and one trick needs a great many more to make it good. It is like building upon a false foundation, which continually stands in need of props to shore it up, and proves at last more chargeable than to have raised a substantial building at first upon a true and solid foundation: for sincerity is firm and substantial, and there is nothing hollow and unsound in it; and, because it is plain and open, fears no discovery of which the crafty man is always in danger, and when he thinks he walks in the dark, all his pretences are so transparent, that he that runs may read them: he is the last man that finds himself to be found out; and, whilst he takes it for granted that he makes fools of others, he renders himself ridiculous.
Add to all this, that sincerity is the most compendious wisdom, and an excellent instrument for the speedy dispatch of business; it creates confidence in those we have to deal with, saves the labour of many inquiries, and brings things to an issue in few words: it is like travelling in a plain beaten road, which commonly brings a man sooner to his journey’s end than bye ways, in which men often lose themselves. In a word, whatsoever convenience may be thought to be in falsehood and dissimulation, it is soon over; but the inconvenience of it is perpetual, because it brings a man under an ever lasting jealousy and suspicion, so that he is not believed when he speaks truth, nor trusted, when 23perhaps he means honestly. When a man hath once forfeited the reputation of his integrity, he is set fast, and nothing will then serve his turn, neither truth nor falsehood.
And I have often thought, that God hath in great wisdom hid from men of false and dishonest minds the wonderful advantages of truth and integrity to the prosperity even of our worldly affairs: these men are so blinded by their covetousness and ambition, that they cannot look beyond a present advantage; nor forbear to seize upon it, though by ways never so indirect; they cannot see so far as to the remote consequences of a steady integrity, and the vast benefit and advantages which it will bring a man at last. Were but this sort of men wise and clear sighted enough to discern this, they would be honest, out of very knavery, not out of any love to honesty or virtue, but with a crafty design to promote and advance more effectually their own interest; and therefore, the justice of the Divine Providence hath hid this truest point of wisdom from their eyes, that bad men might not be upon equal terms with the just and upright, and serve their own wicked designs by honest and lawful means.
Indeed, if a man were only to deal in the world for a day, and should never have occasion to converse more with mankind, never more need their good opinion, or good word, it were then no great matter (speaking as to the concernments of this world) if a man spent his reputation all at once, and ventured it at one throw; but if he be to continue in the world, and would have the advantage of conversation whilst he is in it, let him make use of truth and sincerity in all his words and actions, for nothing but this will last and hold out to the 24end; all other arts will fail, but truth and integrity will carry a man through, and bear him out to the last.
It is the observation of Solomon, (Prov. xii. 19.) “The lip of truth is established for ever: but a lying tongue is but for a moment.” And the wiser any man is, the more clearly will he discern how serviceable sincerity is to all the great ends and purposes of human life; and that man hath made a good progress, and profited much in the school of wisdom, who valueth truth and sincerity according to their worth. Every man will readily grant them to be great virtues and arguments of a generous mind; but that there is so much of true wisdom in them, and that they really serve to profit our interest in this world, seems a great paradox to the generality of men; and yet I doubt not but it is undoubtedly true, and generally found to be so in the experience of mankind.
Lastly, Consider that it is not worth our while to dissemble, considering the shortness, and especially the uncertainty, of our lives. To what purpose should we be so cunning, when our abode in this world is so short and uncertain? Why should any man, by dissembling his judgment, or acting contrary to it, incur at once the displeasure of God, and the discontent of his own mind? especially if we consider, that all our dissimulation shall one day be made manifest and published on the open theatre of the world, before God, angels, and men, to our ever lasting shame and confusion: all disguise and vizards shall then be plucked off, and every man will appear in his true colours. For “then the secrets of men shall be judged, and God will bring every work into judgment, and every secret thing, whether it be good 25or whether it be evil. Nothing; is now covered, which shall not then be revealed, nor hid, which shall not then be known.”
Let us then be now what we would be glad to be found in that day, when all pretences shall be examined, and the closest hypocrisy of men shall be laid open and dashed out of countenance; when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, and all the hidden works of darkness shall be revealed, and all our thoughts, words, and actions, shall be brought to a strict and severe trial, and be censured by that impartial and infallible judgment of God, which is according to truth: “In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.”
To whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be glory now and for ever. Amen.26
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