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portunity of his child ; let him connive at the child's ingenuity to avoid colli. sion with his known will in a given case, and yet to carry its own point; let him sometimes accept a partial and reluctant obedience; nay, let him even hold the reins of his parental government with an unsteady hand, and what will be the effect on his reputation as a Christian father, and what the influ. ence on his children? The evidence of his folly, however small it may ap. pear to himself, will come before the public as soon as its effects have ripened into maturity in the character of his children. Whatever may be his other excellencies, the world will not respect him as a judicious Christian father. His little folly is sufficient effectually to destroy the fragrance of that good name, which attaches to the exalted character of a discreet, consistent, Chris. tian father. And it will equally destroy his influence on his own children. Having learned that they may, in some instances, succeed in avoiding a cor. dial and unqualified obedience to his reasonable requisitions—that they may carry their point by management and persuasion—their reverence for his parental authority is gradually weakened, the strong ties of filial respect and fear become loosened, the charm that bound them in implicit obedience to a father's will and wishes is at length dissolved, and the progress to insubordi. nation, recklessness of all restraint, and to ultimate ruin, is neither slow nor uncertain. The destruction of character and hopes amongst the children of professing parents, is never effected by great and crying parental delinquency. A “ little folly” in those who are in reputation for wisdom and honor as Christian parents, hath done this ! “ Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth !"
Once more: the truth of our text is strikingly exemplified in the case of some ministers of the gospel. The more delicate the perfume, the more easily destroyed by a small ingredient of an offensive kind. So the higher and more sacred the reputation for wisdom and honor, the more easily ruined by a little folly. To lose his character and influence, it is not necessary for the minis. ter to be infected with gross heresy, or to be guilty of gross immorality; he needs not be chargeable with indiscretions as palpable as those that mar the character of ordinary Christians. Nay, he may preach the truth eloquently and fervently; he may have a general honesty and uprightness of intention ; some degree of sincere desire to do good. He may be laborious in his official duties; an example of liberality to the poor, and to all objects of benevo. lence; industrious and careful in his studies; attentive in his visitations to the sick, and to his flock generally : but let him be known as a man of some. what rash and imprudent temperament, or as possessing a hauteur and ill. judged independence, wounding to the feelings of others; or let him be prone to occasional levity, excessive fondness for anecdote, and an unrestrained in. dulgence of his sense of the ludicrous ; or let him be known as a little in. clined to be insidious and managing; a little disposed to the compromising and turning of a merely secular policy ; somewhat desirous of the praise of men, or at least a little too sensitive respecting his own popularity: any one of these, however small, if persisted in till it become habitual, will undermine and ultimately blast his reputation, and blot out his name from the records of a respectable and useful ministry. How many men of talents are at this day wasting and waning under defects entirely too trifling to be made the objects of an ecclesiastical process, or even to bring their personal piety into doubt. Dead flies are, however, in the ointment, and its original purity and fragrance only serve to enhance their offensive odour. The very transparency of the consecrated vessel that contains them, serves to magnify those impertinent in. truders in the eyes of the spectator, and prepares him to receive the greater offence from their ill savour. It may well make the serious mind to tremble, and the sensitive heart to sink in anguish, to think how a little folly may utterly destroy the character and influence of him who is in reputation for wisdom and honor as a minister of Jesus Christ.
II. Let us now, in the second place, inquire into some of the reasons why it is that a little folly will thus destroy the character and influence of a professing Christian.
1. One reason of this is, that the Christian, by his profession, creates large expectations respecting his character. His profession lays claim to all those exalted and ennobling attributes which belong to regenerated human nature. He professes to have experienced a great moral change, so radical in its in. Auence on his being, that the sacred scriptures denominate it new crea. tion"-a “ being born again”—a “passing from death unto life”-from “ darkness to light”-from sin to holiness. He professes to be the friend of God, the disciple of Jesus Christ, the temple of the Holy Ghost. He affirms by his profession that he has solemnly " renounced the hidden things of dis. honesty;" that he has thrown off the spirit and maxims and customs of a guilty world, as no longer to interfere with, or influence his conduct; that he is actuated by a higher and holier principle—by that supreme benevolence to God, and that impartial love to man which the sacred scriptures require ; that he has adopted rules of life so gloriously pure and rigid, that they require him, under the most solemn sanctions, to "abstain from all appearance of evil.” In a word, that the great law of his renewed nature is strenuously to aim to be holy even as God is holy. All this, and other specifications that might be added, are involved in a public profession of religion. Is it not natural, that such a profession should create large expectations in the world respecting the character of him who makes it? He gives an illustrious host. age to public opinion—a pledge that he will sustain no ordinary reputation for wisdom and honor. The world have accordingly high expectations; and, forgetting that the Christian does not profess present perfection, they regard him as though he did. Now where there is such a high profession on the one hand, and such enlarged expectations on the other, it is manifest that a comparatively trifling defect attaching to such a character, will be as the dead flies in the ointment of the apothecary. The same obliquity which, in the case of one not in reputation for wisdom and honor, would pass wholly unobserved, will be amply sufficient in the case of the Christian to destroy his character and influence. Nor does it matter that the world are unreasona. ble in their requirements, and expect too much. We must take human society as it actually is, not as it should be, when we are examining the reasons of trifling defects on the reputation of the Christian. If men are unrighteously severe in condemning the Christian for a little folly, it is not the less a fact that his reputation with them is destroyed, and his influence neutralized and lost. The want of charity in the world to overlook his slightest faults, ought only to prove a more powerful stimulus to him to avoid the very appearance of evil.
2. A second reason why comparatively trifling defects blast the Christian's reputation, is to be found in the fact, that most men judge, whether right or wrong, that little things often furnish a clew to the general character. That this is true in many instances cannot be doubted. Hence the adage, that "straws indicate the current of the ocean." And it would be true in regard to a little folly in the professing Christian, were there not certain counteract. ing influences in the very principles of his renewed nature. Were thero no humiliation in view of the least perceptible folly that attaches to him; no sincere penitence on its account before God; no resistance offered to it; no habitual resolves and efforts in divine strength to overcome it, then that little defect would furnish a proper clew to his whole character for piety. But the world sees not the operations of this counteracting influence. "The Christian's folly is before the world, openly; but the deep humiliation which it occasions, is an exercise of his soul in retirement. The tears he sheds over it are wept in secret, and seen by none but the omniscient eye; the resistance he opposes to it is amongst the secrets of his own heart; the resolves and efforts which he makes to conquer and to root it out from amongst the habi. tudes of his soul, are not matters of public observation. Hence the men of the world take the little folly which they see attached to him as the proper data on which to form their estimate of his whole character. All his excellencies are thus tarnished and go for a thing of naught. They attempt to explain them away, or account for their existence in the professing Christian, through his hypocrisy, or his love of the praise of men, or it may be his fear of falling under the censure of the church, or his desire to promote by such fair appearances some secular and selfish end. Thus it being assumed that these visible though small defects are a proper clew to his general character, that character is destroyed, and the Christian's influence worse than lost, in the judgment of such men, by a little folly.
3. A third reason of this fact is, that the world abounds with that envy which is anxious to reduce all excellencies of character to its own level.
There are some men who live only to be tormented by the good name of others. Of small capacities and very stinted virtues, they are nevertheless gigantic in the single desire of fame. Popular esteem is their idol. With the love of this as their ruling passion, when they find themselves consigned to an unnoticed mediocrity, their disappointment and chagrin speedily distils the bitterest envy. If genius or moral worth rises within their view, and soars and sheds glory from its wings-like the crows in pursuit of the eagle they must need chatter at it, though it is far aloft beyond their range on its shining way toward the sun. There are those who consider all others that are in better reputation than themselves as their rivals and natural enemies. No matter whai species of excellence it may be for which the individual is distinguished, it is sufficient to secure for him their envy and hatred. These passions burn like the smothered fires of the volcano, and struggle for an opportunity to break forth and blacken the reputation of that individual, till it is of the same hue as their own. Such men have adopted the equality principle in regard to the characters of others, and are determined never to rest till they have done what they can to reduce them to a level with their
Now as envy cannot exist without some materials, fabricated or existing in fact, you may judge, my hearers, with what avidity it seizes on the trifling defects of the Christian, and commences its diabolical work of ruining his good name. But for these defects it would lack all the materials that could afford any probability of success to its infernal machinations. With this little folly in him who is in reputation for wisdom and honor, as the basis, envy can construct its stories, throw out its surmises and insinuations, and ruin a name otherwise better than precious ointment. While then our world is the theatre of the dark and guilty passion of envy, this will afford one reason why comparatively trifling defects in the Christian will serve to de. stroy his character and influence.
4. A fourth and last reason of this may be found in the fact, that wicked men hope by magnifying these comparatively trifling faults of the Christian, and injuring his reputation, to quiet their consciences in view of their own grosser sins and deformities.
There are some men who fear no disturbance to their consciences so much as that excited by the consistency and pre-eminent holiness of the lives of Christians. They can hear the finest theories of religion, and listen to the most overwhelming evidences of its truth, and still strive to persuade them. selves and others that it is but a theory, not capable of being actuary reduced to practice. They may be warned by all the terrors of the Lord of the wickedness of their way, and of the woes in which it will terminate, and yet if they see no marked difference in character between themselves and those who profess religion, their consciences can still repose in quiet. But if the holy and unblameable life of a Christian--one whose character is as free from imperfection as even the world can reasonably expect it to be-throws its light in upon their darkness, conscience is troubled. These men are then afraid that there is such a distinction of moral character as the Scriptures assert, between the righteous and the wicked. And if there be, they know that their case, while they continue what they are, is hopeless and deplorable beyond expression. To silence conscience then, they must do one of two things-either repent and be converted, and become holy, or endeavor to persuade themselves that there is not much difference between the charac. ter of those who are highest in reputation for piety and their own. The latter is the easiest and the most grateful to the depraved heart, and withal the least humbling to its native pride. Accordingly such men seize on the little folly connected with the Christian, though it be but as the spot on the disk of the sun, to shield the eyes of conscience from the tormenting splendors of full-orbed Christian character. They withdraw their attention from all his preponderating excellencies, and fix it strongly on his most trifling defects. These they exaggerate and magnify, and make the foundation of more sweeping conjectures and suspicions, till, through the deep deception of their own hearts, they persuade themselves, and would fain persuade others also, that the best Christian is after all little if any better than themselves. Thus wicked men feel as though their peace of conscience were staked on the success of their efforts to make a little folly in the professing Christian the means of destroying his character and influence. How effectually they succeed, the bleeding cause of Christ in our world abundantly shows.
And, my dear Christian friends, it is vain for us to complain of such a constitution of things. God permits it, to impose on us the necessity of the highest possible attainments in holiness of which our present condition is capable. God holds up all these reasons, which we have been exposing, to show us why it has been and always will be true, that “as dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savor, so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honor." A truth big with terror to the thoughtless, uncircumspect Christian, as it is with infinite disaster to the interests of piety in the world.
We may infer from this subject, then, the obligation of Christians to be peculiarly circumspect in regard to things that may seem as trifles compared with the more prominent and imposing parts of Christian character.
My Christian friends, it will not suffice for us to be careful that we are not guilty of any direct immorality—that no one shall be able to lay palpable and flagrant sin at our door. The restraints of society, and our regard to public opinion, will ordinarily save us from any thing gross and revolting in our moral conduct. It is not here that we are to double the watch and fortify the walls of our religious character. The towers and battlements may all be stable and strong, while the wicket-gate to the heart may be unbolted and ready to open at the touch of the enemy. It is against the little obliquities of Christian conduct that we are most sedulously to guard. It is here that the sternest circumspection is required. We have seen that our religious character and influence can be as effectually destroyed by a little folly, as by more flagrant crimes. We have seen that there are many reasons why this must be so. We have seen that the very profession of the Christian, on the one hand, and the exorbitant expectations of the world on the other; that the habit of judging of general character by little acts ; that a leveling envy, and a desire of quieting conscience amongst the wicked by exaggerating the faults of Christians, are all operating as so many causes to take advantage of a little folly in him that is in reputation for wisdom and honor, for the destruction of his good name and influence in society. What then is the manifest and imperious duty of Christians thus situated ? Verily, that they walk circumspectly in little things-not as fools, but as wise to foresee the fatal consequences to their reputation, if they neglect this duty. With what care ougnt they to set themselves to the task of watchfulness in this respect ! Conscience is feebler, less sensitive and wakeful, in proportion to the estimated littleness of these defects, in themselves considered, and without reference to the mighty sweep of their destructive power on Christian character and influence. How necessary then to stir up our vigilance and circumspection, by looking at the inevitable consequences of what may be softened by the name of mere frailties or failings ! They will in the end, if not arrested, work out a destruction of our Christian reputation and influence, as certain, and deep, and dreadful as the most palpable immoralities could do. They will leave us as mere spots in the church's feasts of charity-as clouds without rain, to shut out the moral sunshine and dews of heaven from this parched and barren world. In themselves they may be little things, but in their destructive power on our good name, they “do the work of tempests in their might." “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, be sober, be vigilant, gird up the loins of your minds, see that ye walk circumspectly,” in that which is least as well as in that which is greatest-remembering that the world waits to receive its deepest convictions of the purity of your conscience, the strength of your religious principle, and the infuence of the love and the fear of God on your hearts, from your scrupulous regard to LITTLE duties.
Finally-We may remark from this subject, how strange it is that professing Christians should be so insensible to the guilt of what are deemed LITTLE SINS.
If the preacher inveighs against profaneness, or intemperance, or lewdness, or Sabbath-breaking, or theft, or fraud, or falsehood, or any of the grosser crimes, they are willing to hear him, and to shudder for that professor of religion to whom aught so flagrant can be applicable. They think that if they were in his condition they would be overwhelmed with a sense of guilt, and would give up all hope. But when the man of God dwells on the blemishes, or the petty defects of their Christian character, there is scarcely enough of sensibility in their consciences to keep their attention to the subject. They look away from these to the more prominent and imposing excellencies of their character as abundantly counterbalancing them. Why, brethren, why such torpor of conscience amongst Christians about little sins ? If they are sufficient to destroy your good name, and your Christian influence on a dying world, why may they not suffice to put conscience in an agony till penitence and the blood of Jesus remove them from the soul? What is your existence worth to God or to his universe, when you are as salt that has lost its savd 4-when you are stript of the reputation and the influence of a Christian ? 'What though you may get to heaven at last, and be “saved so as by fire?" Will you have fulfilled the high responsibilities of your standing on earth-your connection with mortals? Did God design that on your way to immortality you should be a mere negative thing—should exert no permanent goodly influence? And yet such must be the certain result of little sins indulged. And does it constitute any palliation, that you barter your name and influence at a price so small? Oh, can conscience sleep over those little things, which yet are so great in their consequences as to disrobe you of the exalted attributes of a consistent Christian, and throw you as a dead weight on the struggling cnergies of the church, and finally dismiss you from the world as little better, perhaps, than a cumberer of the ground! My dear Christian friends, wherever else conscience may sleep, Oh, let it not do this over little sins. Here let it wake up, and weep, and lead to fervent, agonizing prayer, till, through abounding grace, you may stand confessed before the world, “ blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke."