Avoiding Sins of every Appearance.




Here is a precept which in its most obvious and literal sense cannot be obeyed. It has therefore been a source of much trouble to many a conscientious Christian. The teaching of the Scripture must be obeyed : and here is a command which no strength of intellect, no skill, no high moral sense, no spotlessness of life and sanctity of soul can possibly fulfill.

What is to be done in such case ? Why, plainly this : we must say before examining the original that there is some mistake of the translation here, simply because we know that the Almighty Father will never require of his children an impossibility. That this is an impossibility, as our English version literally stands,

needs no argument, while it is susceptible of almost unlimited illustration.

The ''appearance" of material things does not depend entirely upon their form, but largely upon the medium through which, the light in which, and the eyes by which, they are seen. Some men are color-blind. Some men have the jaundice. All objects depend for their " appearance" upon some light, and vary their appearance with the amount of light and the angle at which the rays fall on them.

This familiar truth in regard t6 objects perceived by the senses quite as much obtains in the realm of thought and feeling. Thoughts and feelings are still more liable to be misapprehended, because they must be addressed by one soul to another through the senses, — the eye, the ear, the touch, by the pressure of the hand, by speech, by gesture, by writing. A thought or emotion, therefore, suffers a double refraction in passing from one mind to another. And thus it comes to pass that even in communities composed of most serene and wise intellects and loving hearts, the appearance does not always match


and represent the ideal. It is mere ordinary charity to suppose that much of the misrepresentation of the world comes from misapprehension, and when I find myself blundering so often I must forgive you if you so often misunderstand me.

The difficulty of the rule, as it stands in our version, is simply this: There is nothing so good

that it may not appear evil ; to the evil, all, even best things, seem evil; you can always make your act good, but you cannot always make it " appear" good to another ; the character of the act depends on you, the "appearance" of the act on him. Was there ever a virtue that did not seem a vice to a man's enemy ? Does not his liberality appear prodigality, his economy parsimony, his cheerfulness foolish levity, his high conscientiousness puritanism, his temperance asceticism, his courage fool-hardiness, his devotion hypocrisy ? How is it possible to avoid such judgments as these unless a man could have the whole world for his friends?


Can the Heavenly Father demand more of you than that you really be true and faithful and pure? Must you also fritter your strength away in striving to make your good life seem good in the eyes of perverse men ? No, my brother, there is no such foolish requisition in all God's holy word. Your life must be essentially good. Leave it then to take naturally what appearance it will. To attempt a literal obedience to this command is to make yourself a consummate hypocrite and to sacrifice the substance for the shadow.

Just fancy a man trying to do it. He is making all persons about him see the good that is in him. Among thelii must be some vile souls, and if his acts appear good to them there must be some wrong in those actions, for these people have long ago said with Satan, "Evil be thou my good." The same action, in the same form, under the same circumstances will appear good or bad as the beholders see it. Some men are purblind. They cannot distinguish objects in an ordinary room, but in the open field a sunburst startles them, and they perceive the difference between light and darkness. So


sometimes a good act is so conspicuously and splendidly good that it bursts upon the sight of a sinner like a vision of a higher sphere. But ordinarily he does not discern the goodness. A rose-bush, with a sweet child's pure garment thrown upon it, will rise like a^ frightful spectre to the eyes of a superstitious rustic as he timidly walks his way by night. It will certainly

occur that while you are striving to make your Hfe "appear" good to some, it must by those very efforts appear evil to others.

I should not have dwelt on this subject so long if good men had not long suffered from the apparent strictness of this precept, and its obvious difficulty in practical life, and if it had not been made an implement in the hands of fanatics to embarrass and distress weak men, who are striving to be good. A man does a really good thing. It cannot avoid seeming wrong just because it is so unusually good. His fanatical neighbor reproves him, and says: "You must not do so again ; your neighbors say that you are vain, or proud." What is the poor man to do? He is cleanly in his habits, and neat in his dress, and


polite in his manners ; they say he is a dandy. He must avoid that "appearance of evil," and so he neglects his person, and his dress, and his address. Then they say that he is a sloven. If he strike out a course, a golden mean between finical fastidiousness and gross slovenliness, and adhere to what suits him, he is regarded as prim and pragmatic.

The attempt to gain the favorable verdict of all men is not only impracticable, but it is demoralizing. It occupies a man with appearances, and not realities; with the outside, and not the inside ; with his reputation, and not with his character. There can be devised no shorter cut to thorough hypocrisy than a constant effort to "abstain from all appearance of evil." What then did the Apostle mean ? If you hold to these precise English words, you come near his meaning by a different collocation : "Abstain from evil, of all appearance." Against what was he warning his Thessalonian brethren? Against somethmg apparent, — or, against something real ? Against what they could not avoid, — or, against what they could avoid ? Surely the latter. Look at the context.


In the verse next preceding, he says: "Prove all things ; hold fast that which is good." As if he had said : Do not depend on appearances ; prove the thing ; it may appear evil, when in very deed it is most good ; if you find it really good, hold fast to it, no matter how evil it seerns in some men's eyes. His doctrine simply is. Hold to the good, and keepfrotn the evil, regardless of appearances. This is the very reverse of what some fanatics teach, and all hypocrites practice. To them, reputation is everything, character nothing. They reverse the old maxim, and seek to seejn, and not to be. Not so Paul. Character was the first thing with him. He would take care of his character. He left

his reputation very much to take care of itself, believing that a good character was the most probable security for a good reputation. Not that he loved his reputation less, but that he loved his character more. And so he would have his brethren ; and so, dear people of my congregation, I would have you.


The lesson is, total abstinence from what is really evil. The complementary thought is, that evil can never be good by a mere change of appearance. The first thing you must decide, in regard to every opinion and habit of thought, every emotion and habit of feeling, every act and course of conduct, is, whether it is really and essentially evil. Your standard of evil is not to be the effect of an action on your own comfort or position in society. The only standard is the will of God. What pleases God is good, and what displeases God is evil. If evil, it is to be avoided, no matter what flattering promises it gives of pleasure or of profit.

To make this a useful and practical discourse, let us look at some of the ways in which we may follow what is really evil because its appearance is that of being good. For that is our danger, the danger of most men, the danger of all men who are honestly striving to be good. Generally men do not commit sin because they prefer the evil on account of its being evil, but that they are deceived by some appearance of good ; otherwise Satan would never have occasion to disguise himself as an angel of light.


First of all, in the department of thought, it is quite easy to be betrayed into following the essentially evil because it is apparently good. That may come in the highest range of thought about the most important things of humanity The most important thing about any man is his faith. Conduct is the child of faith. A thorough belief in a real truth is life : it will reproduce itself in the outward action. Action is a mere form of life, faith is life itself. Even here how easy it is to find real evil that is apparently good. To strive to compel men to uniformity seems a good, whereas it is really an evil. One may even quote Scripture in justification and say, " Is it not written one faith V A man may forget that the essential principle may be one while the phenomenal presentation may be manifold. There is " one hope," but its witchery of enticement is a thousand-fold. There is one love, but its charming exhibitions are indescribably manifold. There is one truth, but its forms are as countless as the combinations of human words, human thoughts, and possible human standpoints. There is one law of reflec-



Avoiding Sins of every Appearance.

tion for light, but no two eyes can possibly see the same rainbow, but each does see a rainbow, each rainbow being the product of the one law and the several positions of the observer. The ray of light is refracted in passing from denser to rarer medium. You put a portion of a straight rod in a vessel of water. It appears broken or bent at the point where the water meets the air. It only appears so. If is really straight. The air and the water have not changed the rod. They have changed the course of the lines of the light coming from the rod to your eye. If you so altered the rod that it should appear straight when a part is in the water and a part in the air, it would be in reality crooked, and would be seen to be crooked if all


were in the air or all in the water. Human intellects are media, some rare, some dense, some denser, some densest. You can succeed in making a truth seem straight to all only by making it crooked, that is, by making it no truth.

All compulsory uniformity is pregnant with falsehoods. The Holy Office of the Inquisition produced cruelties among good men and hypocrisies among bad. Uniformity belongs only to the outward, unity to the inward. In its essence truth has always unity, but in development seldom uniformity. It takes on as many forms as creative energy does. Uniformity is against God's will. It is therefore evil. Abstain from it. no matter what appearance it may assume. It would be delightful to have all men see every truth at the same angle. Would it? Do you not see that it is impossible for any two men to do that ? If there were but two men in all the universe, and one should profess to see the same physical object in the same line and at the same angle as the other, he would either be totally mistaken or be uttering a falsehood.

The laws of impenetrability prevails in mind


as in matter. The Blessed Virgin, and St. John, and St. Mary of Magdala, stood by the cross. All saw Jesus at the same moment. Each saw Him in a different light. What was true of their bodily senses was true of their intellects and hearts. "That same Jesus" was a different Jesus to the Mother, the Disciple, and the Adorer. Blessed be God that there are as many views of Jesus or any other Truth as there are eyes to behold !

You desire to see all the churches one, all the denominations one, all believing the same truth the same way, and performing the same worship with the same rites. Give over the effort. If you could succeed, what a Devil's Church you would have ! No. Let grace be natural and

nature be gracious. Give room for God. Let His Holy Spirit work. And as that Spirit gave largest exhibitions of variety in unity in the realm of nature, so will it in the realm of grace. Would you abolish species and genera in plants, and have all vegetable products the


same ? Why should you attempt it in intellect, in belief? God will not have it so : you cannot make it so. Abstain from the evil of compulsory uniformity although it have the appearance of the good of regularity.

The next illustration may saem to you to be over against that which I have jiist employed. In this case the "angel of light" is liberty, and the "Satan" is licentiousness. Abstain from this evil, whatever may be the beauty of its appearance. There is something very captivating in "liberty." The very word sounds open and breezy. It is a large and wealthy word. There is a fine chord in every heart which responds to it. with a thrill. Liberty has been made a queen and a goddess. More money has been spent for her, and more blood shed for her, than for any other. The poets have laid their best crowns on her head, and the orators have filled the world with her praises. The demagogues know the power of the catchword of her name, and have drawn thousands to the field in the professed cause of liberty, where they were ignorantly shedding their blood to cement the chains which tyranny had fastened


on their fellows. When one recollects the history of the race, one is not surprised that when that splendid woman, Madame Roland, amid the horrors of the French Revolution, was going to her doom, she should have saluted the statue of Liberty with the bitter exclamation, " O Liberty, what outrages are perpetrated in thy name !"

It is exceedingly difficult to draw the line between licentiousness and liberty, and hence the danger is greater. The name and attractions of one are used to give fatal power to the acts of the other. True freedom of intellect and heart and life consists in voluntary and exact obedience to the law of God. A compulsory obedience is mere hypocrisy. An inexact obedience is a perpetual weakness. Every step taken in the statutes of the Lord, with a free will, is a step of freedom. David perceived this when he said, in the nineteenth Psalm, "I will walk at liberty, for I seek Thy precepts." But, the moment a man lifts his foot from the law of the Lord, and sets it down outside, he places it in the nets of evil, and is ensnared. But the modern and atheistic idea of liberty is the


Avoiding Sins of every Appearance.


absence of all law, or the refusal to be controlled by law. In other words, it is licentiousness. Avoid it, no matter what its appearance. Remember that the huzzy Licentiousness is no more the stately and chaste virgin Liberty, than the bedizzened harlot whom the madmen of the French Revolution drew about in a chariot and enthroned as Goddess of Reason was in reality Reason's lofty self. Remember that when you set yourself free from law you set yourself free from strength and safety and love and faith and truth.

How vast are the hull and rigging of the largest vessel on the ocean, and how small is


the helm ; and yet that little helm turns that great bulk whithersoever the helmsman listeth. Suppose the great vessel should say, " I will not endure this impertinent interference, this incessant control," and should throw the helmsman overboard, and unship both helm and rudder. She would be free then, would she not ? Yes, but a free prey to all winds and waves, tossed about over the stormy sea, lashed by its billows, and crushed in its troughs. Is that the freedom to be desired? And yet that is the idea of this age. Parental control, ecclesiastical discipline, civil government, are all to be overturned. The State, the Church, the Family are to be overthrown, for men must be free ! It is pitiful and painful to see human beings struggling to be free to be hated, free to starve, free to die, free to be damned. Brethren, be wise. Avoid this evil. Remember that no splendor of dress can make a leper clean, and no brilliancy of appearance can make an evil good.

Let us also illustrate this theme by looking at some of the evils of our temper, which put on deceitful appearances of good. The dogma of


infallibility is not a mere ecclesiastical development. The seed of it is in every human heart. No man will claim it in so many words ; but who does not feel it ? Or, if we are all unconscious of its existence, who does not act upon it ? So few of us have any horror of the responsibility of sitting as judges, but are ready to go on the bench at any time and try any cause, however important and complicated, and however slender the evidence on either side. We pronounce judgment as if there could be no appeal, and act upon such sentences as final. Nay, more. There is a disposition on the part of many to go beyond, and keep surveillance of society, making themselves general detectives. They are often heresy-hunters. They are often self-constituted Health Boards, enforcing social

sanitary regulations of their own. The plain fact is that they are censorious. They hold every man guilty until he proves his innocence. Every act is considered to have sprung from a wrong motive until the contrary shall be made to appear.


The reason they do not " abstain from" this "evil" is, because it has the "appearance" of good. It seems to evince a high moral sense. It looks like loyalty to truth and to high right. It looks unselfish. The man is not seeking to be popular ! He dares oppose a popular vice, and a popular sinner ! He dares beard the lion in his den ! He is a martyr to his sense of right ! It is good and grand ! He applauds himself. He feels that others ought to applaud him. He undertakes to execute his own sentences. If he cannot hang the condemned, he treats him as an outlaw. If he cannot literally transport him, so far as he is able, he socially sends him "to Coventry." The condemned is treated like a leper, like a lost man.

All this is done that the purity of the judge shall be evinced. Men and women seem to think that kindness to a sinner is indorsement and participation of his sin. Hence the evil of social ostracism. A man that has fallen has so few helps to rise, and a woman who has fallen — God help her ! — has no aids but those which God gives. "Abstain from this evil" of cen-


soriousness of temper, whatever "appearance" of devotion to the right it may have. Be careful of your "virtuous indignation." I never find the least difficulty in getting up the requisite amount of virtuous indignation on any befitting occasion ; but, brethren, I do find it very difficult to keep my indignation virtuous. While burning the sin I ought to hate, it will so soon begin to flame up and burn the sinner, whom I ought to love.

There is many a vice, very ruinous to the moral character, which is merely an exaggeration of a virtue. Excess of good may be evil. Excess of elements that minister to life may result in death. It is well to have the requisite moisture in the body, but dropsy is an evil. All the more, because it is an evil which has a side that looks toward virtue, must we abstain from it. It is necessary only to point out a few of these, and you must supply other illustrations from your own lives and your observation on society.

There is an evil of careless prodigality which calls itself by many an alias of good names,


such as liberality, generosity, open-handedness. It is an evil. It leads men to be careless and


Avoiding Sins of every Appearance.

lazy about their expenditures. A man with such a disposition never troubles himself to examine the claims of applicants for his time or his money. That would be troublesome. The result is hurtful to all parties. Because there are so many easy-givers we have so many easybeggars. It is injurious to give to the undeserving as it is injurious to withhold from those who do deserve. Many a man feels that he is most charitable and liberal who is merely careless. He says, " I must have given away ten or twelve thousand dollars in the last five years." Mark : he does not know whether it is ten or


twelve. The fact is, he does not know how much. The man who walks through the streets talking or thinking, and pulls something out of his pocket for every beggar without looking the applicant in the face or recollecting him ten minutes after, is not charitable. He is a thriftless prodigal. True charity and true liberality and true generosity know Jioiv much, and to whom, and why, they gave ; not in remembrance of selfcomplaisance, but that they may see how much more they can do. Abstain from the evil of prodigality which has the appearance of liberality.

On the other hand, there is the evil which I should call stinginess, if Webster had not declared that word "not admissible into elegant writing," and which, therefore, I suppose must be classically denominated parsimony. Whatever its name, it is the grip of selfishness on money. It is the vice that makes a man feel that it is better ninety-nine worthy cases suffer than that one unworthy case be helped. It is a stoneblind vice. Men know when they are liars, thieves, murderers, but they do not know when they are covetous. Every sin committed by man


against man has been admitted by some one who was guilty, except two ; and one of them is covetousness. It puts on so good an "appearance !" It is called among men prudence, economy, thrift, any word which glosses over the inner viciousness. It was so in the time of David, who said, " Men will praise thee when thou doest well to thyself." But "abstain" from this "evil" of doing so well for yourself that you can do nothing for others, and remember that the Lord will praise thee when thou doest well to another.

There is another " evil" which must be mentioned in the connection. It is the evil of regardlessness of appearances. We are not to do a thing that is wrong because it has the appearance of right in the eyes of many, and we are bound to do good, however it may seem to oth-

ers; but we are also to see to it that our " good be not evil spoken of." There is in some men a swaggering boastfulness of independence of the opinion of others, of determination to do just


what they think right, and of regardlessness of the feelings of others. They think it looks well. There is en Appearance of stern virtue in all this, of character, of independence. Such men will be very much pleased with the former part of this discourse, which they will indiscriminately wrest to confirm them in their "evil." That is always the fate of truth. Error would be mobbed in the streets if she did not go disguised in the garb of Truth. But I now warn such men that no such meaning is in what the apostle teaches and what I am enforcing. The lesson is that we must abstain from what is evil, no matter how beautiful it may appear ; and to them the lesson is that their want of thought, of prudence, of sense of propriety, is "evil," although it look so big and smart and manly to them.

Surely no Christian man will take on an appearance of evil. Any voluntary hazarding of the appearance of evil is most foolish, if not criminal. No man has a right on any pretense to " give a just offence to the moral sentiments" of the community. And so, while as the words stand in our version, the precept is impracticable ; as the apostle taught it is one of the plainest


of all practical moral precepts, and in any collocation of the words there is the intimation of a secondary lesson very important to us all, namely, that we are not only to abstain from all kinds and forms of evil, but also, as much as in us lies, from appearing to do evil when our intent is to do right. Our main strength is to be directed against " evil." From that we must "abstain," absolutely and resolutely; and then if there be any moral strength left we may expend that on making the world see how resolutely and absolutely we are so abstaining.

Let me not close this discourse, brethren, without calling your attention to the fundamental truth which underlies this precept, namely, that total obedience to the whole law of God is imperative. In regard to all His holy commandments our obedience must be universal and prompted by the love we bear our Heavenly Father. We cannot choose among the statutes and commandments of the Lord, and " Compound for sins we are inclined to By damning those we have no mind to." It is the law of the Lord. To disobey is evil and only evil. Loving obedience is good and


only good. If we do not love the Father all His commandments will be grievous, but love will

Avoiding Sins of every Appearance.


make all light. Fashion and popularity should not be allowed for a moment to sway us on such a question. Sins take their turn, like other deformities, in being fashionable. We know that deformities sometimes come into fashion. A woman has a curved spine. She contrives a dress to conceal the deformity ; whereupon all the followers of fashion deform themselves by their dresses. A lady has a wen on her head, and she naturally does not desire the ugly thing to be always in the sight of her family, and contrives a head-dress to conceal it ; whereupon all the followers of fashion appear as if they had


wens on their heads. So sins are made fashionable. Out of fashion the sin is hideous. In fashion the sin is tolerable and perhaps attract-

ive. But in fashion or out of fashion the sin is sin, the evil is evil, and no ceremonials of religion or elegancies of etiquette can consecrate a lie. The Satan is not in the fearful picture of hoofs and horns and tails, nor the angel in the white robe, the downy wing, and the lilywand. The Satan is in the heart of evil, the angel in the heart of love. Let me beseech you not to be carried away by appearances, but resolutely abstain from evil always, and always most resolutely when the evil is most attractive. And then shall be fulfilled to us the prayer of the apostle : The very God of peace shall sanctify us wholly, and our whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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