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to the design of the text. A point of this nature, if treated of in any measure suitable to its dignity and importance, may, I presume, deserve the attention of any Christian auditory, and of this especially ; where are many present whose education and circumstances give them a more peculiar concern in it, and are such as will bear in the application. Now, to come to the business in hand; the advice of the text, to "let our light shine “ before men,” may be conceived to imply two things:
1. That we give sufficient outward proofs of being ourselves moved and actuated by a true spirit of godliness.
1. That we make it our endeavour, by all practicable and prudent methods, to implant and propagate the same in others.
1. As to the first part, our giving sufficient outward proofs of our being actuated by a true spirit of religion, or godliness ; this is to be done partly by the constant tenor of our lives and conversations, and partly by our occasional joining in any public services tending to the honour of God and the happiness of mankind.
Pious and good men may give sufficient proof of what they are, by the constant tenor of their lives and conversations. Indeed, a man cannot be throughly religious, but the world must see a great deal of it; and every fair and impartial judge will readily understand it. Humility, temperance, modesty, friendliness, affability, and other the like social virtues, will of course appear; and it will not be difficult for bystanders, of any reasonable discernment, to distinguish between real unaffected goodness and any false appearances of it, especially if it be accompanied with a religious observance of such public duties as cannot be hid from the world. Of this kind are these ; a careful attendance upon the solemn and public worship, a reverent regard to God's holy word and sacraments, a conscientious performance of charitable exercises, such as visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and relieving the oppressed : to all which may be added, any occasional promoting and encouraging public designs set on foot for the glory of God and the benefit of men. Such instances of duty, if done at all, must be done in public, and cannot be concealed. The world is the proper stage for them: it is scarce possible for a man to be, as it were, a common friend or benefactor, but men must see it and take notice of it. And it is very agreeable to the precept of the text, for a man to desire even to be seen of men, while he sets them such good example : provided only that he disclaim the glory of it, rendering it up entire to Almighty God, to whom alone all glory does of right belong.
It may perhaps be objected to what hath been said, that our blessed Saviour, in the next chapter, cautions us very strictly against fasting, praying, or giving alms, with any design to be seen of men. And that he means a great deal more than the forbidding us to make that the only motive for what we do, is very plain from the strict secrecy which he enjoins in the performance of those duties: we must industriously hide and conceal them from the view of the world, to prevent the very suspicion of our being so employed. How is this reconcilable with the advice of the text, to “ let our light shine before men;" and for this very end and purpose," that they may see it?"
This seeming difficulty will admit of a very plain and obvious answer, if we distinguish between private and public duties; which have their several ends and uses, and are therefore to be conducted by different rules and measures.
To clear this point, let us take into consideration the three duties before specified, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. There is a private kind of prayer, proper for the closet; a secret intercourse to be religiously kept up between God and our own souls. For this kind of prayer, enter your closet, and shut the door, and pray only in secret.
But then there is also a public kind of prayer, in the family, or in the Christian assemblies ; the very end and design of which is to implore public blessings, and to keep up an open show, an outward face of religion in the world: here “ let your light “ shine before men,” by your constant attendance thereunto, and by all the outward becoming tokens of a serious and fervent devotion.
The like may be said for fasting. Good men will, for many private reasons proper to themselves, undertake sometimes voluntary fasts, such as the world need not, ought not to be acquainted with. Here let the rule be, to "anoint the head, “ and wash the face, that you appear not unto men to fast.” But besides these private fasts, there are also public standing fasts of the Church, and occasional ones of the State: here “let
your light shine before men:” fast as you are commanded to do, and let others know that you do so, for the sake of the benefit they may receive from your good example.
The third instance is almsgiving. A pious and good man will often do alms in secret, for reasons proper and private to himself. In such cases as these, “ let not your left hand know “ what your right hand doeth :" be as secret and reserved as possible. But there are also many public occasions for the exercise of the duty of almsgiving : here " let your light shine “ before men, that they may see it:" be charitable and generous in the face of the world, that men may observe it, bless God for it, and take example by it.
Thus are the private and public duties admirably contrived and tempered together, so as mutually to support and strengthen each other. Were they all of a public kind, religion might become matter of form, and degenerate into hypocrisy and vain-glory: or were they all to be done in secret, the benefit of example would be lost, and religion would of course decline daily, for want of public countenance and encouragement. Private duties are, as it were, the life and spirit of religion ; without which it would be a kind of dead ceremony and lifeless form : while the public serve to give the greater gloss, grace, and strength to the other; and most of all contribute to the continuance and propagation of religion in the world.
Having shewn how we are to “ let our light shine” by the proofs we give of our own righteousness, I come now,
2. To consider the other way of s letting our light shine," by our endeavours to implant and propagate the same spirit in others. Example is of greatest force in this matter: and so far this article will coincide with the former. Only, there I considered it as a proof of what the man is in himself; here I am to consider it under another view, in respect of its happy influence upon other persons. Any duty or virtue may be sooner learnt by example than by rule. This shew's at once what many words would but imperfectly describe. It is a lesson suited to all capacities ; such as a child may apprehend, and yet the oldest and wisest may improve by. It is learnt without trouble, and steals upon us almost without thought. It comes in by the eyes and ears, and slips insensibly into the heart, and so into the outward practice; by a kind of secret charm transforming men's minds and manners into its own likeness. When I speak of example, I suppose it to consist in words as well as in actions. A good man's discourse, in the way of pattern and example, may be as edifying as his life. His ordinary conversation, tempered with prudence, sweetness, and modesty, may be very instructive in the main ; and, even without the formality of grave admonitions, may be a kind of lecture of morality to all around him. There will be something peculiar and distinguishing in his manner, something savouring of the pious frame and disposition of his heart. His candour in judging, his modesty in censuring, his caution and reserve in believing or reporting ill of any man, his charity in excusing, or giving every thing the kindest turn that it can bear; these and many other graces may appear, even when he seems least to design it; and may be highly useful and edifying to as many as observe it. The due government of the tongue, which is the glory of a man, as well as the perfection of a Christian, can be no other way so easily and so handsomely taught as in the way of example.
But though example be the standing and the most effectual method of diffusing our light, yet there are many other occasional means, proper at some seasons, to enforce and strengthen it. Among which, in the first place, may be mentioned exhortation ; which, as it is more direct and plain, so it may sometimes awaken and rouse those whom no example could move. The office of exhorting more especially becomes persons of superiority and eminence, in profession, age, dignity, or abilities; as magistrates, ministers, parents, masters, &c. It may indeed be exercised toward equals or superiors: only then it requires a different manner, a more cautious treatment, and a more ceremonious address. “To exhort one another daily” seems to be the duty of Christians at large, the duty of all towards all; provided only it be done pertinently, discreetly, and seasonably; with due regard to time, place, person, and other circumstances. It is however a duty very much grown into disuse, since we have fallen from the primitive simplicity: nor is it easy to revive it in these times; there being few fit to discharge it as they ought, and fewer that would bear it. Yet those who are really good men themselves, and endowed with the gift of prudence, may often engage in it with success, and thereby diffuse their light further than they can by example alone.
Another method, near akin to the former, is that of reproof. It is the duty of persons in authority to rebuke and reprove offenders, in such a way and at such seasons as are the fittest and most proper for answering the ends of it; viz. the reclaiming of the sinners themselves, and putting a stop to the contagion of their example. Great tenderness and caution are required in a point of this extreme nicety; though the same general rules may, for the most part, serve either for exhortation or reproof, and I need not repeat them.
To conclude this head, whatever endowments, stations, or abilities a man is possessed of, affording him means for the promoting of piety or the suppression of vice; these are all so many ways pointed out for diffusing his light abroad, and making it shine out with lustre, and to advantage. The world has been much obliged to the several religious societies, happily set on foot in this kingdom, for the many and various means they have devised of spreading a sense of religion and piety far and near; by forming of schools of charity, by taking care of the execution of good laws against profaneness and immorality, by dispersing religious books, by improving and augmenting parochial libraries, by sending out missionaries into foreign parts to propagate the Gospel, and by sundry other commendable services too long to be mentioned. In a word, whatever ways and means can be thought on for instructing, converting, or improving present or future generations; all are referred to this head, and fall under the precept of the text, to “ let our light shine before men.” Having thus stated and cleared the duty, I now proceed to my second general head,
II. To lay down some considerations proper to enforce the practice of it.
And these are three: the glory of God, the public good, and our own particular interest in a life to come.
1. Let the first consideration be the glory of God, which is the motive hinted in the text; "that they may see your good works, " and glorify your Father which is in heaven." It must be a public and exemplary profession or practice, that must bring the greatest honour to Almighty God, and make his name famous to all the ends of the earth. A private, retired virtue, however safe and easy to a man's self, does but little, in comparison, to promote God's honour in the world. It is well known how very shy and reserved many otherwise pious and good men are with respect to any outward show or appearance of religion. They are apt to seek corners and privacies on purpose to conceal it ; as if they had a mind to go to heaven in disguise, and to steal through the crowd into a better world. And though the saving