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In that divine assembly; at that great era in the kingdom of Jehovah ; that birth-day of the new heavens and the new earth; when those undefiled mansions shall be filled with all their inhabitants; when, like the drops that form the bow in the cloud in the day of rain, the children of God shall be illumined by the Sun of righteousness with supernal beauty; and all, united, shall form one perfect circle, arrayed in the endless diversities of immortal light and glory; let me ardently hope, and oh ! may the Father of all mercies fulfil the hope, that not one of you will be found missing.
ON CONFORMITY TO THIS WORLD.
To the Candidates for the Baccalaureate, in 1808.
ROMANS XII. 2.
“ And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by
the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God."
This chapter is the beginning of St. Paul's practical application of the preceding parts of this Epistle. It commences in the first verse with an earnest request of the Apostle to the Roman Christians, that they would present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. In other words, that they would consecrate their bodies to his service finally, and without reserve, as a sacrifice is consecrated to him. In the text he urges them to be no longer conformed to this world, but to be transformed, by the renewing of their mind, in such a manner that they may prove, or experimentally discern, the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God. In the former verse, the Apostle beseeches the Romans to devote their external powers and actions wholly to the service of their Maker. In the text, he exhorts them not to suffer either their external or internal conduct to be conformed to the opinions or practices of the world, and so to regulate the state of their minds, as that this shall be the happy consequence. The words
may be thus rendered : Be not fashioned like unto this
world, but give to your life a new form or shape, by means of that renovation of your understanding which ye have lately received from the Spirit of God.
As the Roman Christians are here directly spoken of as already renewed, the transformation mentioned cannot be that great change from sin to holiness customarily styled regeneration, nor the conformity to the world, that general spirit of sinning, found in unregenerate men. Both the conformity here forbidden, and the new fashioning or transforming of character here enjoined, plainly respect the course of life, and the doctrines or practices according to which it should or should not be regulated. To the opinions and practices of the world the Romans, and, for the same reasons, all others who are under the Gospel, are forbidden to conform. To the doctrines and precepts, or rules of practice contained in the Gospel, they are required to conform. In doing this, they are also required to avail themselves of the renovation, or spiritual illumination, of their understanding ; i. e. to make use of the heavenly light which they now enjoy, for the direction and purification of their conduct.
These explanations will, I hope, either prevent or remove all doubts concerning the construction of this passage of Scripture. I shall therefore proceed to address the directions given in it to the youths who are just finishing their academical education in this place. The two precepts in the text are so intimately related, that they may, without any disadvantage, be considered together; every departure from conformity to this world being a real advancement in the transformation here enjoined. Concerning both sides of this subject, therefore, I shall make such observations as shall occur to me, promiscuously, and without any formal marks of separation. In performing this task, I shall be necessitated to confine myself to a few particulars only. The field opened by the text is in a sense boundless ; and can be barely entered at the present time. The particular subjects of conformity to the world, which I shall especially select, will not be the obvious, the gross, and the scandalous; but such as are scarcely suspected of coming within the reach of the prohibition ; such as are generally esteemed decent, often honourable, and perhaps almost always safe. They will be schemes of thinking, generally believed to be almost, if not entirely, free from error; and schemes of acting, which, if not absolutely right, are considered as far remote from being wrong.
While I request the attention of my audience generally, I solicit with peculiar earnestness, I think I may with the best reasons expect, the attention of those for whom this discourse was peculiarly written. You, my young friends, have received from me many instructions. I entertain not a doubt that you, have believed them all to be given with sincerity and affection, with a full conviction that they were true, and with the most earnest wishes that they might be useful. In this discourse I shall give to you, as a class, my last counsels. It is my design that they shall be just and scriptural; it will be your part to make them profitable to yourselves.
Let me exhort you, then, not to be conformed to this world,
I. In your formation of a standard of moral character.
Men who think at all, universally adopt, either from reflec, tion or accident, certain prime rules of thinking and acting, to which they have an almost constant and peculiar reference, both in directing their own conduct, and in judging concerning that of others. These rules, taken together, are what I intend by a standard of moral character. They are not a standard of
moral action only, but of moral thinking also. Thought is the · source of action, as action is the end of thought. All our ac
tions derive their moral nature solely from the state of our thoughts, so that as a man thinketh, so he is. Such, in other words, as is the character of his thoughts, is the character of the man; never better, in any case, than might be fairly supposed from the comparative tenor of the doctrines which he holds.
The importance of such a standard as I have mentioned lies in this fact, that the man refers to it, both when he is and when he is not aware of such a reference, most of his thoughts and most of his conduct. If doctrines presented to his con
templation agree with this standard, they are, in his view, sound and orthodox; when they disagree, they are erroneous and heretical. Actions accordant with it he readily pronounces to be virtuous. Such as vary from it he considers as vicious, or at least as defective in worth. In the same manner also he estimates the characters of other men. • The world, by which you are to understand, not only those also who oppose the Gospel, but a great part of those also who professedly adhere to it, has formed various standards of moral character, all of which are greatly lowered beneath the point of evangelical perfection. Each of the divisions of this great body of mankind has its own code of primary rules respecting thinking and acting, by which it proposes to regulate, and by which it does in fact chiefly regulate, all its estimates of moral character. Whatever comes up to this standard, those who adopt it pronounce to be right, fair, and good. Whatever falls short of it, they declare to be so far defective in truth, wisdom, or worth.
This subject, like many others, will be best illustrated by examples. Those who compose one class of such men style themselves men of honour. To be a man of honour, in the full sense annexed by them to this phrase, is, in their view, to have attained the perfection of human character. But of what is this perfection composed ? 6 The law of honour,” says Dr. Paley, “ is a system of rules, constructed by people of fashion, 56 and calculated to facilitate their intercourse with one an“ other, and for no other purpose. Consequently it forbids “nothing but what tends to incommode this intercourse.
Accordingly, it allows profaneness and impiety in every “ form ; cruelty, injustice, fraud, falsehood, and a total want “ of charity to inferiors. In the same manner, also, it permits “ fornication, adultery, drunkenness, prodigality, duelling, and revenge
in the extreme. The virtues opposite to these vices “ it neither requires nor commands; such as temperance,
chastity, justice, truth, kindness to inferiors, and piety to « God.”
The law of honour is the standard of moral character adopted by these men. The good man, the best of men, as esti