THE I DIRECT MEA S OF CO VERTI G SI BY JOH HOWARD HI TO , M.

A,

ERS.

"Ye are the light of the world. ... Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." Matthew v. 14 and 16. WE are now to proceed, dear brethren, to consider THE MEA S which may be employed for the conversion of sinners. I must take it for granted, therefore, that the motives which

THE I DIRECT MEA S. 255 I have so long been pressing upon you have been rightly estimated, and that \inder their influence you are ready to labour in the method which may be opened to you. Is it true that you are so 1 ? Or shall I herein be making an assumption more pleasing than the actual state of your minds will justify] But, be the case as it may, I must turn to other topics; observing only that, while we are not accountable to each other for the influence of the quickening considerations addressed to us, we shall have a solemn account to render, at a future day, to him who searcheth the hearts and trieth the reins. The means which may be employed for the conversion of sinners are of great variety ; but our contemplation of them will become more easy by noticing two principal classes into which they divide themselves. The end may be promoted either by direct efforts of instruction and persuasion, or by the silent yet powerful influence of example. The latter species of exertion constitutes what we have called the indirect means of converting sinners, and forms the subject of the present discourse. The duty of rendering personal and individual piety as

exemplary and influential as possible, is strikingly exhibited in the passage before us. It was of his disciples universally that the Redeemer said " Ye are the light of the world," and he added " Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." It is obvious that our Lord here asserts the adaptation of exemplary character to impart instruction, as a lamp diffuses light ; and that he enjoins such a cultivation and manifestation of piety as may be most powerfully conducive to this end. Let us notice, in the first place, the value of the efforts thus enjoined; and in the second, the method in which the injunction may be fulfilled. I. We notice, in the first place, the value of the efforts here enjoined. i. Endeavours to convert sinners by the force of example have a general and obvious value, arising from the well known force of example itself. Although no person is constrained to imitate another, yet a very strong tendency to imitation exists in our nature, and it operates through the whole of life. It is by virtue of this tendency that we acquire the art of walking, of speaking, of writing, and

256 I DIVIDUAL EFFORT. almost every other; the portion of originality and invention belonging to the great majority of men being extremely small, and by no means large in proportion to acquirements by imitation even in the most elevated minds. To the same cause is to be ascribed the wide prevalence of anything which once becomes fashionable, and the surprising perpetuity of local customs from age to age. ow, although, , through the depravity of our fallen race, there is a much greater aptness to follow evil example than good, yet the constitution of our nature is not altered as to the influence of example itself; and the force of this instrument is as available for good as for evil.

The method in which exemplary piety is adapted to operate is not difficult of illustration. It conveys instruction. It tends to show an ungodly person, for instance, that all men are not alike, but that there is an actual difference in the character and happiness of men far exceeding what may be ascribed to the force of circumstances or diversity of constitution. He will not be long before he is constrained to ascribe this difference to religion, its only adequate, and its real, cause ; and thus he learns some of the most important truths. He finds that religion is not a mere name, a form, a pretext, a farce, as it has often been considered ; but that it is a reality, a thing of power and practical energy. He finds, too, that religion is not merely powerful, but excellent; that it gives birth to principles of the very highest worth, that it forms a character of very siiperior excellency, and that it opens sources of most exalted pleasure. He sees that it imparts fitness for every station; that it guards its possessor equally against intoxication in prosperity and depression in adversity, and that it provides him alike with the energies required in life and the consolations necessary in death. He learns, moreover, the practicability of piety. He beholds before him a man who has actually become wise unto salvation, who has really conquered his once reigning passions, and overcome the long fascinating world ; he can no longer say, therefore, that such things are impossible, and that we are born under a tyranny which it is hopeless to resist. ow whatever teaches lessons like these is inestimably eloquent ; for these are truths in the knowledge of which true wisdom begins, and in imparting which the most eloquent of men might be happy to expend his utmost powers.

TSE I DIRECT MEAtfS. 2 $7 You must frequently have observed the influence of correct example in conveying, not only instruction, but reproof. When persons are placed in similar circumstances with ourselves, we naturally set their conduct in comparison, or

in contrast, with our own; and hence the observation of the exemplary demeanour of others has a direct tendency to exhibit to us our own faults. It is in this way that a censorious spirit (to quote a single instance for illustration) has often been rebuked by the mere exercise of candour in another; and on many occasions the influence of an exemplary person is so powerful, that his very presence not only reproves, but banishes, as by a heavenly light, innumerable evils, which come forth unblushingly in a more congenial darkness. Holy example, therefore, tends to induce such reflections as these: "This man is right, and I am wrong; he is aiming at what he ought to be, I am willingly what I ought not to be : and I ought to be a different man." Besides, example generates a powerful attraction. What we value in the condition of others we naturally desire for ourselves. " Such an one is going to heaven," will an irreligious person, perhaps, say; "and why should not I] My acquaintance has broken the bands of dissipation; how miserable it is that I should still be enthralled by them ! I see a neighbour turned to the Lord ; I wish I were so too ! Why are they escaping on every side of me from the wrath to come, and leaving me behind to perish in my sins'? How many people are happy in the possession of substantial joys and blessed hopes, while I have only present anguish and future woe ! I will arise, and go unto my Father." 2. If endeavours to convert sinners by the force of example derive a general value from the acknowledged force of example itself, they will be found to possess a special value also, arising from a comparison of t/tem with other means which may be employed for the same end. The lessons inculcated by example are peculiarly convincing. In the oral communication of religious instruction you may be met by many objections, which, if you should not find it difficult to answer, you may find it impossible to silence; or you may even be suspected of a want of honesty and sincerity, as though you did not really attach to religion the value you express. But instruction by example obviates

these difficulties. There is a substantial, matter-of-fact

258 I DIVIDUAL EPFOET. character about the lessons thus imparted, which brings them quite home to the understanding, and answers at once all imaginable objections. It stamps the teacher with the character of an honest man, and renders it impossible to suppose that he is recommending what he does not practise. To illustrate this representation, I need refer only to the controversy which has been agitated whether Christianity has done most good or harm in the world : a question respecting which much has been found to be said on both sides, and which, as a matter of argument, is undecided still. If every Christian had been an exemplary one, this question never could have been asked; and, when every Christian shall be an exemplary one, it never can be asked again. The influence of example, unlike that of any other mode of instruction, may be perpetual. You cannot be always speaking, or using any other direct means of spiritual good, but you may be every moment exhibiting the beneficial aspects of pure and undefiled religion. Whether in the concerns of the family or the engagements of business, whether in select society or in the crowded streets, you may everywhere be, and appear to be, a Christian indeed. Your light, like that of the stars, or even like that of the sun by which their radiance is kindled, may be ever shining, and your good works and heavenly tempers be always visible. This method of endeavour for converting sinners, therefore, is one from which your hand need never be withdrawn, since it is adapted, without interrupting any of your employments, to run through them all. The influence of example may also be carried to a much wider extent than any other mode of exertion. Those to whom we can personally address ourselves on the great subject of religion are comparatively few; while those to

whom our character may speak are far more numerous. We may thus instruct or reprove every one in whose company we remain long enough to exhibit the aspect of piety, and undoubtedly many to whom we can have no other means of approach, if not also many who may not be accessible by any other neans of benefit at all. Like a lamp in a dark place, we may enlighten, not merely the ordinary residents, but the stranger or the chance passenger who may but once cast his eye on the light. Endeavours to do good by the influence of example are

THE I DIRECT MEAtfS. 259 pre-eminently inoffensive. It may be doubtful on some occasions whether a more direct attempt would not be resented as an unwarrantable freedom, and so, perhaps, do harm instead of good. But no man can avow himself offended with the eloquence of a bright example. Without provoking any resentment, your perpetual cheerfulness may teach the worldling his misery, your elevated aim may discover the baseness of his pursuits, your fervent benevolence may reprove his selfishness. In such efforts, therefore, you enjoy an unquestionable safety for yourselves; and, what is much more valuable, you disarm those whom you would benefit of the weapons by which they might foil your endeavour, and convert it into an injury. It is a further recommendation of the force of example, that, as it cannot be resented, so it cannot be avoided. Even those with whom you are most intimate may refuse to lend you their ear, when you would occupy it with solemn and unwelcome topics; but they cannot with equal ease turn away their eyes from the light which may shine in your general deportment. This they must see, however unwilling they may be to acknowledge its excellency, or to yield to its force; and we may indulge no unreasonable hope that admonitions thus continually received will finally prevail.

Once more, endeavours to convert sinners by the force of example are peculiarly easy. In more direct exertions we often allege that we find difficulty; we do not know how to open a conversation, or what topics to select, or how to remove perplexities. But the exhibition of an instructive example encounters no such obstructions. It requires us only to be what we ought to be, namely, of correct and exemplary piety. It calls for nothing but a just and obligatory discipline of our own heart and character. Only be an eminent Christian, and you will thus be using a means powerfully adapted for the conversion of sinners, without any difficulty to encounter but such as may arise within your own breast. 3. Endeavours to convert sinners by the force of example derive a still higher value from the stress which is laid upon them by our blessed Lord. It seems evident that he has the effect of example particularly in his eye, when he says of his disciples in every age, " Ye are the light of the world," since he immediately

260 I DIVIDUAL EFFORT. conjoins this declaration with a command, that our light should " so shine before men that they may see our good works." It is manifest, therefore, that he has assigned to exemplary piety a very important share in the actual conversion of the world, and that he has large expectations from it. ow, doubtless, he estimates eveiything according to its true value, and would never have given sanction to such an idea respecting the importance and efficacy of a bright example, if it had not been according to truth. It should be observed, also, that he has done everything to render the influence of our example extensive and decisive. He has not suffered us to remain unknown in the wicked

world from which he has separated us, and to tread an obscure path to his kingdom; but, by calling upon every disciple to make a public profession of his name, he brings us into a more conspicuous situation for the very purpose of our being more extensively seen. Hence he describes his church as "a city set on a hill, which cannot be hid ;" and uses the following familiar, but striking, illustration : " either do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house." Such is one of the great purposes of our religious profession; it sets the candle on a candlestick, that its light may be more widely diffused. There is named on us the name of Christ in order that there may be fixed upon us the observation of men; and, because the exhibition of exemplary piety is adapted to be a benefit to the world, the professors of it are elevated in order that they may engage the more attentive regard. What, then, shall we say to these things? The force of example is a means of converting sinners powerful in itself, peculiarly powerful in comparison with every other, and much relied upon by our Lord Jesus Christ. Is it a means which we are ready to employ? And are our hearts in unison with the injunction, "Let your light shine before men"? II. We notice, in the second place, the method in which this injunction may be fulfilled. Here it may be observed in passing, that the text affords no sanction whatever to a spirit of forwardness and ostentation. It is our light which is to shine, not ourselves; and this is so to shine, not that we may be glorified by it, but

THE I DIRECT MEA S. 26 1 our Father who is in heaven. A spirit of humility and modesty, therefore, is strongly enjoined by the language

itself. o small part of the splendour of piety consists in practical self-abasement, and it is above all things essential to its usefulness that the light of oxir Father's glory should conceal in its brightness the instrument by which it is exhibited. i. The fulfilment of our Lord's injunction requires, in the first place, the cultivation of exemplary piety. We are placed in such a manner that our character will inevitably appear; so that the precept, " Let your light shine," might seem to be little more than this, Let it be kept in unsullied brightness. If a lamp is to be serviceable, it is above all things needful that it should burn brightly and steadily; otherwise it may, indeed, just be visible in the darkness, but it will be of no more value to the passenger than if it were altogether extinct. So with respect to personal piety; however prominently it may be exhibited, it cannot answer the purpose of a light if it has not a happy degree of consistency. An inconsistent example, and even a materially defective one, serves rather, like a dim lamp, to increase perplexities, and to present the greater obstacles to exertion. Character, to be exemplary, should be complete. o part of it looks well alone. There is great importance in the sterner virtues of self-denial, integrity, and fortitude; but there is scarcely less importance in the milder graces of courteousness, meekness, and compassion. The latter without the former have an aspect of unattractive debility, the former without the latter an aspect of repulsive strength. Like a landscape or a building, religion never appears to advantage in fragments. It is far more beautiful when seen as a whole ; as the sternness of the mountain height increases the loveliness of the cultivated valley, or as all the parts of an edifice must be beheld in combination in order to exhibit the wisdom and beauty of the general design. Exemplary piety must also be eminent. o man who wishes his example to be beneficial should content himself with being merely a sincere Christian. This undoubtedly is of infinite importance; but it goes a very little way towards

fulfilling the injunction now before us. Sincerity is compatible with many and great imperfections; but great imperfections, though they do not impugn the reality of piety, not

202 I DIVIDUAL EFFORT. only diminish, but destroy, its exemplariness. Metal has its value in the mass, but it is only the polished surface which is available as a mirror. One considerable- fault may ruin the influence of an otherwise admirable character. Though a man may possess in high perfection almost every Christian grace, the existence of a single glaring defect suppose covetousness, for instance, or any other obscures the whole, and the value of his character as an example is totally lost. or is the effect of many smaller faults at all less injurious. A person who, without any remarkable failing, is scarcely in any respect near enough what he ought to be worthy of imitation, is as unfit for an example as a surface which has been smoothed, but not polished, is for a mirror. It should be recollected, too, that the great beauty of piety consists in little things; that is to say, in its great principles being carried into minute operation. Actions comparatively trivial constitute by far the greater part of life, and by their perpetual recurrence present the most considerable materials of observation to those around us. They afford also the most delicate tests of character, by showing the high finish to which it is wrought. Religion must, indeed, have a basis of substantial virtues, just as a house must have a solid foundation; but as the beauty of an edifice consists, not in the strength of its foundation, but in the perfection of the workmanship in its subordinate parts, so the principal charm of Christian character arises from the style of its minuter portions. The words, the manners, and even the looks, of a professing Christian, may more materially influence the general aspect and estimation of his piety than the whole body of substantial virtue.

The value of piety as an example depends not so much upon its reality, as upon the manner of its exercise ; not so much upon what we are, as upon what we appear to be. There is a possibility of doing very Christian things in a very unchristian manner, and of investing religion, angel of light as she is, with such a mantle of unloveliness as to conceal almost her whole title to esteem. Charity may be given with a scowl ; integrity may be clothed in moroseness; resolution may imitate self-will ; and prudence may wear the aspect of timidity. It should be our endeavour to avoid such an evil; and, while we should be far from assuming merely the appearance of a virtue in its real absence, we should be equally

THE I DIRECT MEA S. 263 anxious to honour virtue itself by exhibiting it in a manner worthy of its excellence. The result of these observations is that, if we would have our light shine beneficially before men, our character must be wisely and sedulously cultivated. We must maintain a high and steady aim at the glory of God and the good of men in all things; a decided and consistent nonconformity to the world, without censoriousness or harshness; an elevated and continual spirituality of mind, apart from austerity or gloominess; a well-governed tongue and temper, both on ordinary and extraordinary occasions ; together with a general deportment characterized by a happy combination of gravity and cheerfulness. To these should be added a watchful readiness for such peculiar exercises of the Christian temper as our individual circumstances may demand ; that we may rule without severity, and obey without reluctance; that we may be faithful to every trust, and patient under every injury; that we may be temperate in prosperity, and resigned in affliction, knowing how, with the apostle,- both to abound and to suffer need. 2. The fulfilment of our Lord's injunction requires, not

only the cultivation of eminent piety, but the intentional exhibition of it. He says not merely, Let your light burn brightly : but, " Let your light shine before men." We are called upon, therefore, to cherish a continual endeavour that our example may be as much adapted as possible to the spiritual good of others. Upon a moment's consideration, it will be manifest that it may be rendered more or less so, without any material alteration of our character itself, by the pains we take, or neglect to take, for this end. It does not at all follow that a man's example will be as influential as it might be merely because he is an eminent Christian; just as it is not the brilliancy of a light which determines the benefit it shall afford, but the wisdom and care with which it is exhibited. It is plainly incumbent upon us, therefore, even if we were all that we ought to be, not to content ourselves with whatever good our example may chance to effect without our effort; but, on the contrary, to recollect habitually that our example is a means of exertion put into our hands of which we are to make a studious and diligent use. We should always be trying to do good with it. In every company it should be our inquiry,

264 I DIVIDUAL EFFORT. What good may my example now be promoting; who are those around me; what do they most need to learn; and what aspect of piety can I present to them with the greatest benefit? You will find a much greater scope for such exertion than you may imagine; some you may aim to convince of the happiness of religion, others of the worth of integrity and truth; to some you may show the value of godliness by your tranquil submissiveness in affliction, and to others by your guarded firmness in the midst of temptation. According to the words of our Lord, we sJiould make it our business to show our religion everywhere, and under all circumstances. It is a general maxim in the world that a

man should accommodate himself to his company; and this rule is too frequently acted upon to a very sinful extent by professors of religion. We can let our piety appear or disappear, according to circumstances; as though we carried it in a sort of dark lantern, by which the light of it might be alternately exhibited and concealed. Very perceptibly pious in some companies, in others, perhaps, we may be for hours or days without giving any person reason to suspect it. We fear, in the presence of worldly men, to make any such acknowledgment to God, to give any such general indications of spirituality, or to show any such anxiety for religiousobjects, as might attract notice, or, possibly, occasion ridicule. o doubt, this is the easiest way of passing through the world ; but it is a course which our divine Lord expressly forbids. " Let your light shine," says he; but this is hiding it, and hiding it to a degree which not only greatly diminishes the force of our example, but to a considerable extent annihilates it. These people, before whom we conceal our character, are pre-eminently those whom we should endeavour to bene6t by it ; yet, by shrinking from observation, we totally abandon the effort. Our Lord's words enjoin a just solicitude respecting public opinion. They are directly contrary to a sentiment which we hear in the mouths of some professors : " I do not care what men may think of me; I know what I am." There is a very imposing air of independence about such language; and, if it is meant only to say that, as to the actual judgment of character, we appeal from all human tribunals to the Divine, it is just; but whatever goes beyond this is fallacious and unchristian. Since the opinion which men form

THE I DIRECT MEA S. 265 of our conduct may be either beneficial or injurious to them, it ought to be a matter of anxiety to us what they think of it; and no pains should be spared by us to avoid every appearance of evil, and to take from them every pretext,

however groundless, by which the instructive efficacy of our example might be diminished. Behold, then, dear brethren, one of the means we possess for the conversion of sinners. " Let your light so shine before men." Shall we employ it ] We ought to esteem it a privilege of no ordinary value to have the opportunity of promoting so estimable an end by such simple means. Are we prepared for the effort? I call it an effort, for it will in reality be one. Very little good is done inadvertently, or by accident. It requires design. And the maintenance of a perpetual design to be doing good is one of the hardest of all things. Amidst unnumbered methods of occupation and enjoyment it is extremely apt to be forgotten, even if, when remembered, it would not be uninfluential and unwelcome. What have we done in this direction in days that are past 1 Perhaps nothing; certainly far less than we ought. Which of us has realized the adaptation and capacity of this sacred weapon to the work of conversion, and with any adequate attention applied it to this end 1 ? Has not our anxiety respecting our example been very much confined to the prevention of such inconsistencies as might do mischief? Even on this score, perhaps, we have not been very solicitous, or very successful. Does not our present meditation recall to every one of us much matter for humiliation and regret 1 ? What a grievous thing it is, by our unguarded levity, by our ungoverned passion, by our uncorrected infirmities, to have obscured the light of truth and the excellence of piety, to have afforded a sanction to error and confirmation to wickedness, or to have allowed any person to say that we are saints at one time and like the rest of the world at another ! But we are now called upon to regard our example in a much higher point of view. It is enjoined upon us to give it, not merely a character of negative excellence so that it may do no harm, but one of positive excellence in order that it may do good ; and, if the former has required more diligence and labour than we have hitherto applied to it, how much more will be necessary to the latter. Without effort, similar matter for repentance will be furnished by every day that is to

266 I DIVIDUAL EFFORT. come ; and, while the Saviour who gave himself for us, and to whom we have given ourselves, calls us to participate in so glorious a work as the salvation of souls, we shall let the opportunity slip, and drop the instrument from our hands. Do we mean to do so? If we should do so, what will the reasons be but a reluctance to the labour, and an affectionate tolerance of imperfection, which to every sincere Christian ought to be impossible 1 ? One thing is certain. If our example does not do good, it will do mischief. It will be either a blessing or a curse. Do not let us imagine that it can be neutral If our conduct does not reprove sin, it will sanction it ; if it does not teach men that there is excellence in religion, it will confirm them in the belief that it has no value at all. What a solemn, what a dreadful, alternative is this! Surely the very idea of such a baneful inOuence is intolerable to us. Enter into your closets r therefore, beloved brethren, and commence a holier work. " Ye are the light of the world. Let

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