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DISASTROUS EFFECTS OF LITTLE SINS IN CHRISTIANS. Ecclesiastes x, 1. Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send
forth a stinking savor : 80 doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wis. dom and honor.
The love of reputation is natural to men. God has implanted this love in the human heart to subserve a benevolent purpose in the present scene of our being. And the individual who has so far perverted this part of his original constitution, as to feel no regard for the good opinion of the wise and the vir. tuous, is prepared to become the pest of the community, and the perpetrator of the foulest deeds of darkness. To the native desire of the individual for the esteem of others, may be referred much of that courtesy and common kindness which diffuse their blessings over the various circles of society. But no man, in this country especially, is born to the inheritance of a good name. He must merit it by his real or supposed virtues, before it will be awarded to him. And it is not a rare or solitary act of goodness, however imposing, that will secure to the individual that “good name, which is better than precious ointment.” As it is with care and caution that the apothecary compounds and prepares his precious perfume, so a fair reputation can only be obtained by combining in their just proportions, and exhibiting in their fulness and harmony, those elements of character that meet the approbation of the better part of society. But while such is the difficulty and delicacy of establishing a character for wisdom and honor, it may be easily lost, utterly lost, without destroying all or any of its great and prominent qualities. “Dead flics cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a bad savor”—yet these flies bear but an exceeding small proportion to the whole substance of the ointment in which they are lodged. Character, like perfume, then, may be de. stroyed without a destruction of all its principal component parts. Let but a little folly attach to him who is in reputation for wisdom and honor, and it may utterly ruin his influence. This is the truth exhibited for our contemplation in the text.
The object of the remarks that follow shall be first, TO NOTICE SOME ELEMPLIFICATIONS OF THE TRUTH, THAT COMPARATIVELY TRIFLING DEFECTS DESTROY THE REPUTATION AND INFLUENCE OF A PROFESSING CHRISTIAN_and secondly, TO INQUIRE INTO THE REASONS OF THIS.
I. First, then, we are to notice some exemplifications of the truth, that comparatively trifting defects destroy the reputation and influence of a professing Christian.
Every professor of religion is at first, by his very profession, in reputation for wisdom and honor. He is supposed to have taken a wise step, to have assumed a lofty stand. He has claimed connection, intimate alliance with
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the Source of all honor and moral excellence. Must he then be guilty of some flagrant violation of the divine law, before he can lose his character and influence ?-No; a little folly will destroy them both. He may not break the Sabbath, nor swear profanely, nor steal, nor be chargeable with falsehood, nor with gross and palpable injustice, nor with habitual neglect of the social and secret worship of God. He may not be impure or intempe. rate, a railer or false accuser, an unruly or insubordinate member of the church. He may neither be quarrelsome nor insolent with his neighbors; and yet he may have that in his character which will as effectually destroy his influence as though he were guilty of much greater enormities. Let him be reckless and imprudent in the minor points of Christian conduct. Let him heedlessly or wilfully postpone the claims of justice, even in little matters. Let him have a little of self-confidence, and a meddlesome forwardness some share of self-will and unyielding pertinacity of opinion-some irasci. bility of temper that cannot brook contradiction, or bear to be overborne by the opinions of a majority of his peers, without throwing him off his balance and causing him to speak unadvisedly with his lips ;-any one of these may be amply sufficient to destroy his influence, though that charity that hopeth all things and believeth all things, may both hope and believe still that he is a Christian. Or take a professor of religion, otherwise irreproachable, but who has the unhappy habit of giving the highest coloring to his representa. tions, of using great exaggeration, of making loose and somewhat distorted statements, of taking a little poetic license in the narration of facts; and though no court, ecclesiastical or civil, could convict that man of palpable lying, yet there is a fly in the ointment, and the savor is offensive. The man's Chris. tian character and influence is a perfect nullity. Take' another, in other respects unblameable, but who is known in his business transactions to go just as far as the letter of the law will permit in getting the best of a bargainwho evinces a peculiar shrewdness, not to say cunning, in calculating the bearings on bis own interest of certain unsuspected legal phrases in a contract —who can satisfy his own conscience, and attempt to justify to others, the advantage he has thus gained by saying that it is perfectly legal—that the other contracting party acted voluntarily and with his eyes open. Now, though such a one can neither be convicted by a church session nor a civil court, of illegal bargaining or dishonesty, yet his reputation as a professing Chris. tian, and his influence in the church of God, are somewhat worse than a cipher! Again : suppose an individual, who is not chargeable with any approximation to overreaching in his dealings with others, and whose reputa. tion is respectable in the eyes of men generally, except that it is known that he loves exceedingly to retain what he has honestly acquired, irrespective of any demands of God or man on his substance: let it be known that he always receives applications for contributions with a mal-grace: that, when the ob. ject presented for his liberality is one of unquestioned propriety and benevo. lence, he admit it, but fill his mouth with objections: that he will resort to apologies and excuses, the weight of which it is to be suspected he does not himself feel : let it be known that to all questions of this kind he has a set of negative answers-answers which show that he clings inordinately to his gold --that he loves it in itself, instead of as the means of doing good to a dying world; that he is somewhat, at least, inclined to avarice and covetousness; and though this be not regarded as a disciplinable offence by the church (and I do not see why it should not be, for the New Testament declares it to be IDOLATRY ;) yet what is that professor's character worth in the estimation of an enlightened Christian community ? Worth just as much as his treasures will be to him, when God takes away his soul. And even where there is not such an approach to downright covetousness—where there is no such ap. proximation to that “love of money, which is the root of all evil”-no such idolatrous attachment to riches, yet it is possible for the individual to be guilty of a littleness of soul-a parsimonious meanness and management in pecu. niary affairs, that will as certainly undermine and destroy the character and influence of a professing Christian, as avarice and covetousness in their grossest forms.
Let us now contemplate a professing Christian, free from all these defects of which we have spoken, but prone to a certain unbecoming levity of spirit. Such a one may not attend theatres, operas, balls, or dancing and dashing parties. He may frequent no haunts of dissipation and mirth-nay, he may not be habitually found in the society of the trifling and the thoughtless. But there may be a certain effort at dress and fashionable appearance, a certain love of attracting attention and wioning admiration, a prevailing desire to be witty, a love of showing off a little, an unrepressed gayety and levity of spirit, a disposition to trifling and puerile conduct in the absence of customary restraint, moments of frothy conversation and vain jestings, and some lean. ings occasionally to very thoughtless companionship. Now, though the indi. vidual to whom these things attach, never proceeds to such lengths as might at all make him liable to the formal discipline of the church, yet what effect have they on his reputation and influence as a professor of religion ? It is true, they leave him in his place, untouched by discipline as a member of the church, but the fragrance of his good name they have not only destroyed, but caused that name to send up an odour highly offensive to all that is grave, dignified, and consistent in piety. Or suppose an individual to be at a great remove from all that is gay
and trifling, suppose
him to be serious and punctual in all external observances, sufficiently grave in all his intercourse with the world, possessing a moral character of no positive faultiness, somewhat zealous and enterprising in be. nevolent efforts ; yet let him be inclined to a murmuring, restless, dissatisfied spirit, rather disposed to censoriousness, mostly or always differing in opinion respecting the most simple matters from the majority around him, greatly alive to the defects and blemishes of others, complaining that every thing in the church and the world seems to be going wrong, and disposed to innova. tion and change, provided it be of his own dictation. Now in all this he may do nothing really worthy of disciplinary stripes. He may not in the judg. ment of the candid bring his own personal piety into doubt, and yet his salu. tary influence as a Christian is as utterly destroyed as though he had been guilty of some heinous offence: there are at least enough of " dead flies" in the ointment to destroy its fragrance, if not to cause it to send forth a posi. tively bad odour.
We may now examine the effect of a little folly in one who is in reputa. tion for wisdom and honor as a father or head of a family. Such a one, in order to lose his character and influence, need not be destitute of natural affection, he need not be a stern and arbitrary tyrant in the domestic circle, imposing the iron yoke of his despotism on the weak and unoffending necks of his wife and children, and inflicting brutal violence on those whom God and nature require him to protect and cherish. Nor on the other hand, need he neglect all discipline and yield up the reins, and leave his children to run without restraint in the course which their ardent and wayward desires may dictate. He may not allow them to spurn his authority in the graver mat. ters of their duty, to break over the restraints of an external morality, and violate the Sabbath, or profane the name of God, or steal, or utter falsehood, or frequent places of gaming, and drunkenness, and lewdness, and riot. He may not permit them to offer a direct disobedience to any of his positive and prominent requirements as a father, and yet there may be a little folly attach. ing to him in this relation which will destroy his own influence and ruin his children, as inevitably as more glaring delinquencies. Let him fail to exer. cise a vigilant inspection over the forming habits of his children; let him yield his authority, contrary to his own conviction of right, to the persuasive im.