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OF SINCERITY TOWARDS GOD AND MAN. (Fragment of a Sermon preached at Kingston, July 29, 1694.
John I. 47.
Jesús saw Nathanael còining to him, and saith of him, Behold
an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile. 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 Religion, 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 remembring 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 piely, 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 bid in the quiet and silent virtues of humility, and meekpess, 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 shew's of devotion summon the eyes of men to behold, him, and do, as it were,
call alond to them to take notice of his plety, and to come and see his zeal for the Lord of hosts. It is not impossible but such a man with all his vanity and 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 tougue be after 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 mens' words are hardly any signification of their thoughts; and if any man measuré 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 sicerity, that generous integrity of pature 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 swelld with vanity and compliment, and so surfeited (as I may say) of 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 be
fore 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
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 afvicted 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 cyphers. However it is still a just matter of complaint, that sincerity and plainness are out of fashion, and that our language is running into a lye; that men have almost quite perverted the use of speech, and made words to signify nothing; that the greatest part of the conversalion 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. 9. O that I had in the wilderness a lodging-place af way - faring 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; ore speeketh 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 nation as this?
Such were the manners of the people of Israel at that ttme, which were both the forerunner and the cause of those terrible calamities, which befell them afterwards; and this character agrees but to well to the present age, which is so wretchedly void of truth and sincerity; for which “reason there is the greater need to recommand this virtųe 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 kiss 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 greatest stress and weight lạid upon it; it is spoken of as the sun and comprehension of all Religion. Only fear, the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and truth, says Joshua to the people of Israel, Jos. 24, 14. God takes great pleasure in it; so David assures us, 1 Chron. 29, 17, I know, my God, that thou tryest the heart and hast pleasure in uprigthness; , 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. 15, 1. 2.
Lord who shall dwell in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He the walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness,
and speaketh the truth from his heart.' Psal. 32, 2. i Blessed is the man, unto whom the Lord imputeth no sin, and in whose spirit there is no guile.
And 'tis 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, and 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 ms an Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile. And the
Apostle mentions this quality, as the chief ingredient into të character of the best man, that ever was, our blessed Saviou who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth.
Secondly, the rarity of this virtue is a farther comme dation of it.' A sincerely pious and good man, without ar guile or disguise, is not a sight to be seen every day. O Saviour in the text speaks of it, as a thing very extraord nary and of special remark and observation, and breaks ou into some kind of wonder upon the occasion, as if to se a man of perfect integrity and simplicity were an occurren very rare and unusual, and such as calls for our more espe cial attention and regard. Behold, saith he, an Israelite in deed, in whom there is no guile.
Thirdly, the want of sincerity will quite spoil the virtu and acceptance of all our piety and obedience, and certainl deprive us of the reward of it. All that we do in the ser vice of God, all our external obedience to his laws, if no | animated by sincerity, is like a sacrifice without, a hear which is an abomination to the Lord.
Fourthly, hypocrisy and insincerity is a very vain an foolish thing; it is designed to cheat others, but is in trut a deceiving of ourselves. No man would flatter or dissem ble, did he believe he were seen and discover'd; an ope knave is a great fool, who destroys at once both his desig and his reputation: and this is the case of every hypocrite all the disagreement, which is between his tongue and h thoughts, his actions and his heart, is open to that eye, sro which nothing can be hid: for the ways of man are befor the eyes of the Lord, and he seeth all his goings; there no darkness nor shadow of death, where the workers of in quity may hide themselves.
Fifibly, truth and reality have all the advantages of ap pearance, and many more. If the shew of any thing be goo for any thing, I am sure sincerity is better; for why doe any man dissemble, or seem to be that which he is not, bu because he thinks it good to have such a quality as he pre tends to ? for to counterfeit and dissemble, is to put on th 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 man times as troublesome to make good the pretence of a goo quality, as to have it; and if a man have it not, it is ten t