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PHILIPPIANS i. 27.
Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel
It will be to little purpose to inquire what kind of conversation becometh the gospel of Christ, till we be satisfied, in the first place, that this charge, which was originally addressed to the Philippians, may, with equal propriety, be addressed to us.
The qualifying particle only, with which the Apostle introduces the exhortation, plainly denotes, that, in his own judgment, the demand he made was no less moderate than it was just: Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ. This is all I require; and you cannot with decency ask, nor in reason hope, that less should be accepted. To this conclusion he was naturally led by the character and circumstances of those to whom he wrote. His epistle was inscribed, not to unbelieving Jews or Gentiles, but to saints in Christ Jesus; to men who had been converted to the Cbristian faith, as we learn from the foregoing part of the chapter. And it is material to observe, that as Christianity had been treated with peculiar indignity at Philippi, where Paul and his companion Silas were, by or. der of the magistrates, publicly scourged and cast into prison, therefore the profession of the gospel, in such a place, was justly entitled to the most favourable construction: for nothing less than a deep conviction of its truth
and excellence could be supposed to have induced any inhabitant of that city to profess a religion that inevitably exposed him to those contemptuous, as well as painful sufferings, which a generous and feeling mind would of all others most anxiously wish to avoid.
Surely, then, the Apostle could have no reason to sus. pect, that a demand so moderate would either offend or surprise them: Let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ. You have embraced the faith of the gospel, and continue to make an open confession of it, without any allurements of a temporal nature, nay, in the face of the most obvious and alarming discouragements; and therefore, as there can be no room to call in question either your belief of its doctrines, or your regard to its laws, I may, without presumption, hope to obtain your consent, when I only exhort you to act a consistent and uniform part, by suiting your conversation to the religion you have chosen, and have the fortitude to avow.
It is true, and it ought to be gratefully acknowledged, that our present situation in these lands is very different from that of the ancient Philippians. Christianity, as reformed from the corruptions of Popery, is the esta, blished religion of our country: so that if a man believe the gospel of Christ, he may, with the most perfect salety to his person and property, make as public a confession of his faith as he inclines. But it is equally true, that no man is compelled by the terrors of persecution to profess Christianity, if he do not believe it; nay, the prefession of incredulity itself, if it break not forth into blasphemy, aggravated by sedition, doth not always prove an unsurmouvtable bar in the way to any office, civil or military, which the person is otherwise qualified to fill, or hath interest to obtain: and therefore, though
the mere profession of Cbristianity be pot attended with any temporal inconveniences, yet as the want of such profession doth not exclude a man from any temporal advantages, and as neither the profession por practice of Christianity can be said, in the ordinary course of things, to belp any man forward in the line of worldly promotion; hence it follows, that every baptized person, who hath not openly renounced as the Lord that bought him," but still retains the name of Christian, and would complain of abuse and injury if his title to that appellation were either denied or called in question, must be considered as acting from the freest choice in the profession be makes; and can have no reason to be startled, far less to be offended, when we address him in the words of this holy Apostle, Let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ. Should it be otherwise with any of us, the consequences are obvious; and upon every supposition we can make, must prove equally fatal to our peace and to our honour.
If we believe not the gospel, why do we profess it? To lie in any case is shameful, how great soever the temptation may be: but to lie deliberately without any temptation at all, which, as I just now observed, is the present case ; nay, to persist in that lie from day to day, when telling the truth could not hurt nor endanger any secular interest whatsoever, is a baseness the most superfluous, and consequently the most contemptible, that can possibly be imagined.
On the other hand, if we truly believe what we profess, what an odious as well as disgraceful appearance must we make, when our conversation is such as doth not become the gospel of Christ? By "holding the truth in uprighteousness," and counteracting the dictates of religion, and the conviction of our own minds, we expose
ourselves to the lashes of that self-reproach which will dot fail to occupy every lucid interval betwixt the tu. multuous gratifications of passion and appetite; while at the same time, by continuing to profess that gospel we counteract, we every day publish our shame and misery to the world around us, and virtually confess, that we are guilty and self-condemned before all who have an opportunity of observing our conduct.
So that the subject of my text is one of the most important that can employ our attention, as our practical regard to this demand of the Apostle is absolutely necessary to preserve the peace and purity of our own hearts, and to support that character which the most profligate reverence, and which all who can discern real beauty and excellence will covet to possess; I mean, the venerable character of an upright man.
Having thus prepared the way, by showing, that the same charge which was primarily addressed to the Phi. lippians, may, with strict justice and propriety, be extended to us, let us now proceed to examine, with attention and candour, the standard to which our conformity is enjoined; or, in other words, let us inquire into that gospel of Christ to which our conversation, that is, the whole of our external conduct, as expressing the inward temper of our hearts, ought to be suited.
Among the various particulars included in the gospel of Christ, the two following may be selected as the most distinguishing and comprehensive, namely,
I. The Doctrines we are taught to believe ; and,
Each of these particulars I shall examine apart; from whence we shall discover, with ease and certainty, what mander of conversation it is that may be said to become the gospel of Christ.
I. 1 BEGIN with the doctrines of the gospel, or the truths we are taught to believe. And without descend. ing to the peculiar tenets, or modes of expression, by which Christians of any denomination have chosen to distinguish themselves, I shall contine myself entirely to those capital points, in which the sober and intelligent of almost every denomination will be found to agree.
Now the gospel, strictly so called, or that “word of reconciliation,” the substance whereof the Apostle hath elsewbere expressed in one short sentence, to wit, “That God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them," pecessarily supposes, that man is in a state of distance and alienation from God, liable to punishment in consequence of his apostacy; and so perverted and enfeebled, that he hath neither the disposition nor the ability to do any thing that can be effectual for his own recovery.
It informs us, that “ God, who spared not the angels that sinned, but hath reserved them in everlasting chains under darkness to the judgment of the great day," so pitied the human race, " that he sent his only begotten Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved." The nature and dignity of this great Deliverer are thus described by an inspired Apostle: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” This 6 Word,” adds he, 66 was made flesh, and dwelt” or tabernacled 6
among men." “ He who was in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, made himself of no reputation, took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men ; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient un