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DOING GOOD, A SECURITY AGAINST INJURIES FROM MEN.
And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?—1 Pet. iii. 13.
THE apostle, in this and the former chapter, earnestly presseth Christians to a holy and unblameable conversation, that the heathen might have no occasion, from the ill lives of Christians, to reproach Christianity; particularly, he cautions them against that abuse of Christian liberty, which it seems too many were guilty of, casting off obedience to their superiors under that pretence; telling them, that no thing could be a greater scandal to their religion, nor raise a more just prejudice in the minds of men against it: and therefore he strictly chargeth them with the duty of obedience in their several relations, as of subjects to their governors, of servants to their masters, of wives to their husbands; and, in short, to practise all those virtues, both among themselves and towards others, which are apt to reconcile and gain the affections of men to them; to be charitable and compassionate, courteous and peaceable, one towards another, and towards all men: not only to abstain from injury and provocation, but from revenge by word or deed; and instead thereof to bless and do good, and by all possible means to preserve and pursue peace. (Ver. 8, 9.) “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of 47another; love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous, not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing, but, contrariwise, blessing; knowing that ye are there unto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.”
And to encourage them to the practice of these virtues, he tells them, that they could by no other means more effectually consult the safety and comfort of their lives: (ver. 10.) “For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile; let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.”
And this was the way to gain the favour of God, and engage his providence for our protection: (ver. 12.) “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.”
And that this would also be the best way to reconcile men to us, and to gain their good-will, and to prevent injuries and affronts from them: (ver. 13.) “And who is he that will harm you,” &c.
In these words we have, first, a qualification supposed, “If ye be followers of that which is good.”
Secondly, The benefit and advantage we may reasonably expect from it: viz. security from the ill usage and injuries of men. “Who is he that will harm you?”
First, The qualification supposed is, that we be “followers of that which is good.” But what is that? The apostle takes it for granted, that every body knows it, and he had given instances of it before. He does not go about to define or explain it, but appeals to every man’s mind and conscience, to tell him what it is. It is not any thing that is disputed 48and controverted, which some men call good, and others evil; but that which all are agreed in, and which is universally approved and commended by heathens as well as Christians, that which is substantially good, and that which is unquestionably so. It is not zeal for lesser things, about the ritual and ceremonial part of religion, and a great strictness about the external parts of it, and much nicety and scrupulousness about things of no moment, as the pharisees tithing of mint, &c. about meats and drinks, and the observation of days, and the like; but a pursuit of the weightier things of the law, a care of the great duties of religion, mercy, and justice, and fidelity; those things wherein the kingdom of God consists, righteousness and peace: such as these the apostle had instanced in, as substantial and unquestionable parts of goodness, things which admit of no dispute, but do approve themselves to the reason and conscience of all mankind; and the practice of these he calls following of that which is good.11 See more of this, Sermon CCI. vol. viii. p. 465.
“Be ye followers of that which is good;” the word is μιμηταὶ, “if ye imitate the good you see in others;” in one copy the word is ζηλωταὶ, “if ye be zealous of that which is good;” and this is not amiss. Zeal about lesser and disputable things is very unsuitable and misbecoming; but we cannot be too earnest and zealous in the pursuit of things which are substantially and unquestionably good; it is good, and will become us to be zealously affected about such things. Some things will not bear much zeal, and the more earnest we are about them, the less we recommend ourselves to the approbation of sober 49and considerate men. Great zeal about little and doubtful things, is an argument of a weak mind, infatuated by superstition, or overheated by enthusiasm; but nothing more becomes a wise man, than the serious and earnest pursuit of those things which are agreed on all hands to be good, and have an universal approbation among all parties and professions of men, how wide soever their differences may be in other matters. This, for the qualification supposed, “if ye be followers of that which is good.” I proceed to the
Second thing in the text, The benefit and advantage which may reasonably be expected from it; and that is, security from the ill usage and injuries of men: “Who is he that will harm you,” &c. The apostle doth not absolutely say, none will do it; but he speaks of it as a thing so very unreasonable, and upon all accounts so unlikely and improbable, that we may reasonably presume that it will not ordinarily and often happen. Not but that good men are liable to be affronted and persecuted, and no man’s virtues, how bright and unblemished so ever, will at all times, and in all cases, exempt him from all manner of injury and ill treatment; but the following of that which is good (as I have explained it), doth in its own nature tend to secure us from the malice and mischief of men, and very frequently does it, and, all things considered, is a much more effectual means to this end, than any other course we can take; and this the apostle means when he says, “Who is he that will harm you?”
And this will appear, whether we consider the nature of virtue and goodness; or the nature of man, even when it is very much depraved and corrupted; or the providence of God.50
I. If we consider the nature of virtue and goodness, which is apt to gain upon the affections of men, and secretly to win their love and esteem. True goodness is inwardly esteemed by bad men, and many times had in very great esteem and admiration, even by those who are very far from the practice of it; it carries an awe and majesty with it; so that bad men are very often withheld and restrained from harming the good, by that secret and inward reverence which they bear to goodness.
There are several virtues which are apt in their own nature to prevent injuries and affronts from others. Humility takes away all occasion of insolence from the proud and haughty, it baffles pride, and puts it out of countenance. Meekness pacifies wrath, and blunts the edge of injury and violence. Suffering good for evil is apt to allay and extinguish enmity, to subdue the roughest dispositions, and to conquer even malice itself. And there are other virtues which are apt in their own nature to oblige men, and gain their good-will, and make them our friends, and to tie their affections strongly to us; as courtesy and charity, kindness and compassion, and a readiness to do all good offices to all men; and the friendship and good-will of others, is a powerful defence against injuries. Every man will cry shame of those who shall fall foul upon him that hurts nobody. He that obliged many, shall have many to take his part when he is assaulted, to rise up in his defence and rescue, and to interpose between him and danger. “For a good man (says the apostle) some would even dare to die.”
Besides, it is very considerable, that none of these virtues expose men to any danger and trouble from human laws. When Christianity was persecuted, 51because it differed from, and opposed the received religion and superstition of the world, it was commonly acknowledged by the heathen (as Tertullian tells us), that the Christians were very good men in all other things, saving that they were Christians. When the laws were most severe against Christians for their meetings, which they called seditious, and for their refusal to comply with the received superstition of the world, which they called contempt of the gods, yet there were all this while no laws made against modesty, and humility, and meekness, and kindness, and charity, and peaceableness, and forgiveness of injuries. These virtues are in their nature of so unalterable goodness, that they could not possibly be made matter of accusation; no government ever had the face to make laws against them. And this the apostle takes notice of as a singular commendation, and great testimony to the immutable goodness of these things, that, in the experience of all ages and nations, there was never any such in convenience found in any of them, as to give occasion to a law against them: (Gal. v. 22, 23.) “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, fidelity, meekness, temperance. Against such things there is no law.” So that goodness from its own nature hath this security, that it brings men under the danger of no law.
II. If we consider the nature of man, even when it is very much depraved and corrupted. There is something that is apt to restrain bad men from injuring those that are remarkably good; a reverence for goodness and the inward convictions of their own mind, that those whom they are going about to injure, are better and more righteous than themselves; the fear of God, and of bringing down his 52vengeance upon their heads, by their ill treatment of his friends and followers; and many times the fear of men, who, though they be not good themselves, yet have an esteem for those that are so, and cannot endure to see them wronged and oppressed, especially if they have been obliged by them, and have found the real effects of their goodness in good offices done by them to themselves.
Besides that, bad men are seldom bad for nought, without any cause given, without any manner of temptation and provocation to be so. Who will hurt a harmless man, and injure the innocent? For what cause, or for what end, should he do it? He must love mischief for itself, that will do it to those who never offered him any occasion and provocation.
III. If we consider the providence of God, which is particularly concerned for the protection of innocency and goodness. “For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness, and his countenance will be hold the upright.” This the apostle takes notice of, in the verse before the text, as the great security of good men against violence and injury: “The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.” So that if bad men were never so ill disposed toward the good, and bent to do them all the injury and mischief they could devise, the providence of God hath a thousand ways to prevent it; and if he pleases to interpose between them and danger, who can harm them if they would? He can snare the wicked in the works of their own hands, and make the mischief which they devised against good men, to return upon their own heads; he can weaken their hands and infatuate their counsels, so that they shall not be able to 53bring their wicked enterprises to pass; he can change their hearts, and turn the fierceness and rage of men against us, into a fit of love and kindness, as he did the heart of Esau towards his brother Jacob; and their bitterest enmity against truth and goodness, into a mighty zeal for it, as he did in St. Paul, who, when he came to Damascus, fell a preaching up that way, which he came thither on purpose to persecute. And this God hath promised to do for good men who are careful to please him. “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he will make his enemies to be at peace with him.”
So that, considering the nature of goodness, and the nature of man, and the providence of God, who is like to harm us, “if we be followers of that which is good?” None can reasonably do it, and he must be a very bad man that can find in his heart to do it, when there is no cause, no temptation, or provocation to it; and the providence of God, who hath the hearts of men in his hands, and can sway and incline them as he pleaseth, is particularly concerned to preserve good men from harm and mischief.
And yet we are not to understand this saying of the apostle, as declaring to us the constant and certain event of things, without any exception to the contrary. For good men to appearance, nay those that are really so, and the very best of men, are sometimes exposed to great injuries and sufferings; of which I shall give you an account in these following particulars:
I. Some that seem to be good, are not sincerely so; and when they, by the just judgment of God, are punished for their hypocrisy, in the opinion of many, goodness seems to suffer. Some, under a 54great profession and colour of religion, have done very bad things, and when they justly suffer for great crimes, they call punishment persecution, and the party and church which they are of call them saints and martyrs.
II. Some that are really good, are very imperfectly so, have many flaws and defects, which do very much blemish and obscure their goodness; they are “followers of that which is good,” but they have an equal zeal for things which have no goodness in them, or so little that it is not worth all that stir and bustle which they make about them; and will contend as earnestly for a doubtful, and it may be for a false opinion, as for the articles of the creed, and for “the faith which was once delivered to the saints;” and will oppose a little ceremony with as much heat as the greatest immorality. In these cases, it is not men’s goodness which raiseth enmity against them, but their imprudent zeal, and other infirmities which attend it: but, however, bad men are glad to lay hold of these occasions and pretences of enmity, which their indiscretion offers. Good men may be, and frequently are, mistaken in their opinions and apprehensions of things; but it is a great mistake to have an equal zeal for little and doubtful things, as for the great and indispensable duties of the Christian life, and yet many times so as to neglect those to a great degree; and men must blame themselves for the inconveniences that happen to them for their own indiscretion; for neither will the nature of the thing bear them out alike, nor will the providence of God be equally concerned to protect men in the following of that which they, through a gross mistake and a heady conceit of their own knowledge in religion, think 55to be good, as in the following of that which is really and unquestionably good.
III. The enmity of some men against goodness is so violent and implacable, that no innocency, no excellency of goodness, how great soever, can restrain their malice towards good men, or hinder the effects of it, when it comes in their way, and they have power to do them mischief. Against these the providence of God is our best safeguard, and it is wisdom, as much as is possible, to keep out of their way, and to pray with St. Paul, that we may be “delivered from wicked and unreasonable men.” Men of so absurd a malice against goodness, that it is not to be prevented by any innocency or prudence; and so implacable, that there is no way to gain and reconcile them, nor, perhaps, is it much desirable: their good word would be no credit to us, and their friendship would be pernicious, when it cannot be had upon other terms than of conniving at their faults, and being concerned in their quarrels, and at last quarrelling and breaking with them, unless we will “run with them to the same excess of riot.” The friendship of such men is more terrible than their enmity, and their malice much less to be dreaded than their kindness,
IV. The last and chief exception is that of the cross, when the sufferings and persecutions of good men are necessary for the great ends of God’s glory, for the advancement of religion, and the example and salvation of others. And with this exception, all the declarations of Scripture concerning the temporal prosperity and safety of good men, and all the promises of the New Testament, are to be understood. And this exception our Saviour him self expressly makes: (Mark x. 29, 30.) “Verily, I 56say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake and the gospel’s, but he shall receive a hundred-fold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life;” that is, so far as a state of persecution would admit, all these losses should be recompensed to them in this present time; as they were to the apostles in a remarkable manner: when they who had but little to part with for the gospel, had the estates of Christians laid at their feet and committed to their disposal, for the noblest purposes of charity, and common support of Christians, which was as much to them as if they had been masters of the greatest estates; and whatever was wanting to any of them in the accomplishment of this promise, was abundantly made up to them in the unspeakable and eternal happiness of the world to come. And this exception the apostle St. Peter is careful to mention expressly, immediately after the text; for after he had said, “Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?” he immediately adds, “But, and if ye suffer for righteousness sake, happy are ye; and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled, but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts;” that is, in this case, fear God more than men; “and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you;” that is, if ye be questioned for being Christians, be ready to own your profession, and to give a reason of it: so that the apostle supposeth, that, notwithstanding what he had said, that ordinarily it is not in the nature of men to persecute men for true goodness, 57yet they must not expect to be exempted from, persecution, which was necessary for the establishment of the Christian religion.
In these cases, God permits the devil to instigate and exasperate evil men against those that are good, to act beyond their usual temper. Thus God, when he designed an illustrious example of patience for all ages of the world, he lets loose the devil, not only to stir up his instruments the Chaldeans and Sabeans against Job, but to afflict him immediately himself with bodily pains and diseases. In these and the like cases, the best men are exposed to the greatest sufferings. Thus God permitted Socrates, that great light among the gentiles, and the glory of philosophy, to be cruelly treated and put to death for an example of virtue, and a testimony against their impious and abominable idolatry. And thus, likewise, when it was necessary for the common salvation of men, and to give the world an example beyond all exception of the greatest innocency, en during the greatest indignities and sufferings with the greatest patience, that one should suffer for all mankind, he permitted the best man that ever was, God and goodness incarnate, “by wicked hands to be crucified and slain;” and afterwards, when it was necessary for the propagation and establishment of Christianity in the world, that the truth of it should be sealed by the death of so many martyrs, God was pleased to suffer the rage of bad men to break out into all manner of violence and cruelty.
But yet, notwithstanding these exceptions, those who make it their business to do good, and to excel in those virtues which are apt to win and oblige mankind, may, in ordinary cases and times, expect great safety and protection against the injuries of 58the world, from an exemplary piety, and innocency, and goodness; for these sayings in the New Testament, that “through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God,” and that “who ever will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution,” are not equally to be extended to all places and times; but more peculiarly to be under stood of the first times of Christianity, when the providence of God thought fit to establish the Christian religion upon the innocent lives and patient sufferings of the first professors of it.
The result from all this discourse is, that we should not be weary of well-doing; but mind and follow the things which are substantially and unquestionably good; not doubting but, besides the infinite reward of it in the other world, it will ordinarily turn to our great security and advantage in this life, and save us harmless from a great many mischiefs and inconveniences which others are exposed to. If we endeavour to excel in those Christian virtues which the apostle mentions before the text, and which he means by our being “followers of that which is good;” we shall undoubtedly find the comfort of it, in those temporal benefits that will redound to us: for the Scripture hath not said in vain, “Trust in the Lord and do good, so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Glory, and honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good.” That “the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that work peace;” that, “by well-doing, we shall put to silence the ignorance of foolish men;” that “the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy, in the Holy Ghost;” and that “he 59that in these things serveth Christ, is accepted of God and approved of men.”
But if we mistake religion, and place it in those things wherein it doth not really consist, in airy notions and doubtful opinions, in superstitions conceits and practices, and in a fiery and furious zeal for things of no weight and substance, of no real virtue and goodness; if we be defective in the great virtues of meekness and humility, of peaceableness and charity, of kindness and courtesy, of forbearance and forgiveness, of “rendering good for evil, and overcoming evil with good,” qualities which will universally endear us and recommend us to the favour and protection of God, and to the esteem and good-will of men; and if, instead of these, we abound in malice and envy, be proud and conceited, censorious and uncharitable, contentious and unpeaceable, rude and uncivil, impatient and implacable; we must not think it strange if we be ill treated in this world, not for our goodness, but for our want of it; and we have no reason to wonder, if, at every turn, we meet with the inconveniences of our own heat and indiscretion, of our peevish and morose temper, of our factious and turbulent disposition. For this is an eternal rule of truth, “As we sow, so shall we reap;” every man shall be “filled with his own ways, and eat the fruit of his own doings.”60
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