- Sermon I. the Rising Generation Exhorted to Adopt the Religion of Their Christian Forefathers.
- Sermon II. Hope In God.
- Sermon III. On the Means and the Importance of Grace.
- Sermon IV. Corruption of Heart the Source of Irreligion and Immorality.
- Sermon V. Against Despair and Suicide.
- Sermon VI. On the Folly and Danger of Thoughtlessness.
- Sermon VII. Perseverance In the Religious Principles Taught In Youth, and Particularly In Faith and Hope, Recommended.
- Sermon VIII. Good Intentions the Least Fallible Security For Good Conduct.
- Sermon IX. Religion the Chief Concern of Life.
- Sermon X. On Conformity to Fashion and the Customs of the World
- Sermon XI. On Seeking a Remedy For Sorrow, In Vice and Dissipation.
- Sermon XII. Christian Politeness
- Sermon XIII. On the Duty of Preventing Evil, By Actual Coercion, As Well As By Advice and Remonstrance.
- Sermon XIV. On Pursuing Visionary Schemes of Happiness, Without Attending to Scripture, and Revealed Religion
- Sermon XV. the Pride of Human Learning and False Philosophy, a Great Obstacle to the Reception of Christianity.
- Sermon XVI. On the Duty of Servants.
- Sermon XVII. On the Wickedness and Misery of Envy and Contention.
- Sermon XVIII. the Cunning Oe the Wicked Inconsistent With Wisdom.
- Sermon XIX. On the Snares of the Devil, and Means of Escaping Them.
- Sermon XX. Moderation Necessary to All Solid and Durable Enjoyment.
- Sermon XXI. Happiness to Be Found Rather In the Enjoyment of Health and Innocence, Than In the Successful Pursuits of Avarice and Ambition.
- Sermon XXII. On the Duties of the Preacher and the Hearer.
- Sermon XXIII. * On the Benefits to Be Derived From the Sight of a Funeral.
- Sermon XXIV. a Preparatory Persuasive to the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
- Sermon XXV. the Prospect of Perpetual and Universal Peace to Be Established On the Principles of Christian Philanthropy.
- Sermon XXVI. On the Necessity of Increasing the Places of Public Worship On the Establishment; and On the Duty of Supporting the Objects of the Philanthropic Society.
- Sermon XXVII. the Support of the Magdalen Hospital Recommended.
- Sermon XXVIII. the Education of the Poor Recommended.
on conformity to fashion and the customs of the world
Romans, xii. 2.—Be not conformed to this World.
“It is impossible to admit this doctrine,” exclaims the man of the world. “Am I forbidden to conform to the world? Absurd and reprehensible precept∗ It is the business of a polite education, and the study of every man of sense, to acquire such habits as qualify him to conform to the world with gracefulness and address. I look around,” continues he, “and see the ablest and most celebrated among mankind labouring to please the world, by complying with all its extravagancies. On the other hand, i see those who are singular in their opinions and conduct, however virtuous and innocent they may be, the objects of censure and of ridicule. I conclude therefore, that the Christian religion does not command a non-conformity to the world; or if it does, that this is one among the internal evidences of its want of foundation.”
Such probably are the ideas of a worldly-minded man, on hearing the text repeated. But however he may deceive himself with false reasoning, it is evident to every candid mind, that the text forbids conformity to the world in plain and express terms, and without the possibility of evasion. Be not conformed to this world. Language cannot more directly utter any prohibition.
I affirm that the Christian religion certainly does forbid us to conform to this world, however strange it may appear to the man of the world; and, instead of an evidence of want of truth, that this prohibition conveys an idea of its heavenly extraction. No religion but that which originated from Heaven, could teach so sublime and magnanimous a morality.
It is to be lamented that some cautious moralists appear to be under the influence of a fear to offend, which induces them to explain away any doctrine which is unpalatable. They exercise great ingenuity in devising limitations and exceptions to rules which oppose the general inclination. But it becomes every faithful servant of Jesus Christ, to teach such doctrines as he finds in the Gospel, and as his own conscience assures him to be true, though they should appear paradoxical to proud philosophy, and impracticable to the infirmity of human nature. The ministers of the Gospel, may indeed please men for their good, when they do not violate the truth or neglect their duty; but St. Paul says, If i yet pleased men, (by improper compliances,) I should not be the servant of Christ.
However then it may displease men, it is the, preacher's duty to enforce the prohibition of the text in its plain and unsophisticated meaning; which is, that the true Christian must not be conformed to this world.
But it is proper to make a few observations on the Scriptural sense of the word “world” It means a predominating system of conduct and sentiment opposed to good morals and true religion. It comprehends that part of mankind only who are influenced entirely or chiefly by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life; and who, by dint of audacity and falsehood, make proselytes, and lead the fashion. Such persons, even in common language, call themselves the world. All who tread not in their footsteps they consider and represent as no less insignificant than obscure. Versatility of morals and manners, and a compliance with the vices and vanities in vogue, constitute, in their opinion, the summit of all human excellence. To have a great deal of the world, to be persons of fashion and of the world, is considered as a much more desirable character, than to be an Israelite indeed, an honest man, or a pious Christian.
The world then in the Scriptures, when it is censured in the aggregate, means the wicked part of the world, which appears unhappily to constitute so large a part, that, by a very natural figure of speech, it is put for the whole.
It is evident then, without any refinement, casuistry, or sophistry, that nothing can be more reasonable than a prohibition to conform to a wicked world. To correct the vices of a wicked world, is the business of all morality and all religion; and if any arguments should prevail on great numbers not to conform to it, a reformation must be produced in the whole, and the wicked at last become a minority. Numbers keep them in countenance, and every one who conforms, adds confidence to the party.
But not to dwell too long on general topics, I proceed to offer to your consideration several practices, to which many who call themselves Christians conform, but which they must anxiously avoid, if they have any serious expectation to receive the reward of a Christian.
Lust, avarice, and pride, seem to be the principles which influence the conduct of worldly-minded men.
By the abuse of language, and by the arts of the seducer and adversary of human nature, these three principles acquire names far less odious than those which I have given them, and which are indeed their right appellations. Thus lust is denominated gallantry, or sentimental tenderness; and the love of pleasure, youthful gaiety. Avarice is called the spirit of enterprise, industry, economy, frugality, and a talent for the conduct of business. Pride passes under a thousand names and shapes; it is ambition, it is taste, it is spirit, it is activity, it is a just sense of one's own rank and dignity, it is every virtue and excellence; for it can assume the shape of those which are most contrary to its nature, even charity and humility. Let it be remembered, that under pride I comprise vanity, which, though sometimes distinguished from pride, is certainly a species of it.
With respect to lust, the passions of youth are strong; and it is to be hoped that much will be forgiven us in consideration of our infirmity. But much of the corruption which is in the world through lust, arises not from strength of passion, or infirmity of reason. It arises from mere wantonness and presumptuous wickedness. Violations of chastity are so far from causing shame in the man of the world, that they are often the occasion of his boasting, and the subject of his merriment. Many have brought themselves to commit acts of impurity without the smallest degree of remorse, not as submissions to sin after painful reluctance, but as acts which distinguish them for spirit, and give them the enviable title of men of pleasure.
Unlawful pleasures are strictly forbidden in the Scriptures, but they are pursued, in preference to all others, by the man of the world, because they are unlawful. It is a remark confirmed by experience, that human nature, when left to its own conduct, tends to whatever is prohibited, apparently for no other reason than because it delights in frustrating restraints and despising authority.
Look into the gay world, and observe with what levity sins, to which eternal punishment is threatened, are mentioned in conversation. The most intemperate and indecent indulgences are palliated, if not praised, as youthful sallies and harmless frolics.
But does the impudence and wickedness of men alter the nature of things? and are violations of chastity less criminal in the eye of Heaven, because men have consented to connive at them? No; they are still most heinous sins, according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in whatever light they may be considered by the man of the world, and the man of fashion.
Can then the Christian conform to the world, in this instance, without giving up all just pretensions to Christianity? He must add hypocrisy to lust, if he can join the debauchee in wantonly indulging or palliating the irregular and excessive lusts of the flesh.
He will, indeed, like all human creatures who possess human passions in their natural strength, feel tendencies to sensual indulgences; but he will differ in this from the profligate worldling, that he will indulge himself only in lawful and regular methods. If he has not the command of concupiscence, he will enter into the state of matrimony, and live in innocence and mutual love. Marriage is honourable in all, saith the Apostle, and the bed undefiled.
And here I cannot help animadverting on the unlawfulness of living a state of vicious celibacy, and the wickedness of justifying, as is now too common, a life of concubinage. The world justifies what it too often practises; but religion, good order, and good morals, reprobate every other union of the sexes, but that of marriage. To be conformed to the world, so far as to despise or violate that sacred engagement, is to give up all pretensions to the purity which God will require.
Sins of real infirmity, I have observed, will probably meet with mercy; but the lustful practices of the world are sins of presumption. The men of the world glory in their shame. But let every man who values the favour of God, beware how he is seduced, by the worldling's boast or ridicule, to a conformity to the ways of vice, which, though it may gain the applause of a few vitiated companions, leads to the greatest miseries which human nature can know in this world, and to eternal condemnation. He who wishes to purchase the applause of wicked sensualists by conforming to their manners, must pay a great price for it, even his own soul; for fornicators and adulterers are expressly excluded from heaven. But fornication, and all uncleanness, let it not be once named amongst you, as becometh Saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient, but rather giving of thanks; for this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ, and of God. Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.
And can it be thought an improper prohibition, which forbids a conformity to the world in sins, which, though the world seems to consider them of no great consequence, are strictly forbidden by the Gospel, and threatened with eternal condemnation? The world laughs at what it calls gallantry; but he who is to judge the world, denounces vengeance against it, as constituting crimes which are incompatible with holiness, and disgraceful to human nature.
The next principle which regulates the conduct of the worldly man is avarice; and to conform to the world in the practices to which this principle gives rise, is equally repugnant to reason and religion.
The acquisition of money appears to be the sole purpose of many, during the whole course of a long life. And the world is so far from censuring them, that it usually approves and admires them, as men of sense, who know the value of things, and employ their time to advantage. They engage in the transactions of buying and selling with such eagerness, and keep their accounts with such anxious accuracy, that they have no time for religious acts and serious meditation ; but they value themselves, and are esteemed by others, for their indefatigable attention to what is called the main chance.
There are others who scruple not to engage in dishonourable employments, and if they escape the animadversion of the law, and are successful in the accumulation of fortune, they are courted and valued in the world. Such charms hath wealth, that however it is acquired, provided it is not with notorious infamy, the possessors are well received, and even honoured in worldly society.
The professed men of business and of the world, seem to have adopted the precept which the poet of antiquity ironically gave. Get money, says he, first, and virtue after money. Get money, if you can, honestly; but if not, get money. They acknowledge no other object of pursuit to be equally important. And the world, instead of censuring their unreasonableness, applauds their choice, especially if they are successful.
The gamester is usually under the influence of avarice; but the gamester is a character in which scarcely any pure and solid virtue is found to exist. Religion, he considers, if he considers it at all, which is not very likely, as the invention of subtle politicians, and the belief of fools. His morality, if he has any, is mere convenience and utility. But the gamester is by no means in so great a degree of disesteem as such a character deserves. If he has wit, vivacity, and money, he will be much countenanced in the world, and able to overbear the modest and conscientious Christian.
The covetous man of the world never thinks of doing acts of charity by alms-giving. He may, indeed, hypocritically contribute to a collection, if he thinks it will give him credit in the world, and that a mite so deposited will pay good interest; but he gives nothing from religious principle.
He is indeed entirely governed by a most unreasonable self-love. Wherever he can take advantage of others with secresy and safety, he will not be restrained by delicacy of honour, or of principle. He will over-reach in a bargain, availing himself of the ignorance of those with whom he negociates; oppressing his dependents, his servants, his tenants, his relations, and the poor in general; and notwithstanding all this, if he can but abstain from acts, on which the law would animadvert, he shall be considered and esteemed as a shrewd and sensible man.
But can a good man conform to the world in such instances as these? Can a Christian, taught by Jesus Christ, who came in a low estate, to show of how small estimation are riches in the sight of God; can a Christian devote himself to Mammon, and forget the law of love and charity? Woe to him, if he conform to the prevailing manners, which would teach him to live for himself alone, destitute of every benevolent sentiment, trusting in wrong and robbery, depending upon riches as the chief good, and neglecting all the offices of religion, both public and private, in order to become one of those rich men who shall enter Heaven when the camel can go through the eye of a needle.
The Christian knows that godliness is great riches, and resolves that, as he cannot serve God and Mammon, he will serve God only with his whole heart, attending to lucre merely as it is necessary for the moderate comforts and conveniencies of life, for providing for his household, and doing good to the poor. He will so little regard the sentiments of the world, that he will sooner fall into extreme poverty, than endeavour to avoid it by injustice.
But the desire of accumulating superfluous wealth, often arises from pride as well as avarice; and pride is the next ruling principle of the worldling which I proposed to consider.
Pride is not placed last, because it is of least consequence. On the contrary, there is, I think, cause to call it by the name which it has often received, the universal passion. Its universality does not in the least extenuate its malignity, and there is every good reason why the Christian should obey the text, in refusing a conformity to this world in that conduct which originates from pride.
It is evident, on the slightest examination of human nature, that pride was not made for man. He is a poor, weak, and dependent creature; and when he trusts in his own strength, and presumes on his own excellence, he becomes an object of contempt, as well as compassion. But I will not dwell on general invectives against pride, as the topic is quite exhausted. I will rather look into the living world, and remark a few instances of fashionable errors arising from pride, to which the Christian cannot, consistently with obedience to the Law of God, and his own unperverted reason, conform. Under pride, as I said before, for the sake of brevity, I comprehend vanity.
A contempt of others is visible in many who are elevated by fortune a few degrees higher than the middle ranks, and who claim to themselves the distinction of people of fashion. They scarcely condescend to acknowledge the rest of mankind as partakers of the same nature. They are willing to consider them as born to be instruments of their inclinations, and slaves to their pride. They speak of them as of persons whom nobody knows, as dregs and scum, with whom it is impossible to have any intercourse without pollution.
But can the Christian, who is what he professes, conform to this arrogant behaviour? Is he not taught in the volume, in which he seeks the rule of his conduct, to treat all men as his brethren, created by the same Almighty God, and redeemed by the same all-merciful Saviour? Shall he admire and caress a vain haughty crowd, however vicious and impious, only because they have rank or riches, and agree to denominate themselves the leaders of fashion, the lawgivers of decorum? And shall he despise and hate the humble and meek, only because they cannot live with splendour, and are unwilling to adopt fashionable vices? No; it is his duty and inclination to love all mankind, and to promote the general improvement and felicity of human nature. How liberal and enlarged is such a sentiment, compared with those of the mere man and woman of fashion∗ persons of narrow minds, intent on little else but self-admiration, who herd together indeed, and keep each other in countenance; otherwise, from their frivolity, the laughing-stock of mankind. Their audacity is indeed for the most part equal to their ignorance of all solid philosophy and goodness; and, by dint of it, they often have some authority in this world; for this world is their element, and they dare not soar to the sublime regions of heavenly contemplation. Their souls are prone to earth, and destitute of every thing celestial. But the Christian, on the contrary, while he walks on this low orb, dwells with the Most High. He does his duty on earth; but he seeks his honours, distinctions, and best enjoyments in Heaven. To conform to this world, would be to forfeit a better.
Luxury of the table, luxury in dress, luxury in every thing contributing either to pleasure or ostentation, originates from pride. Men wish to draw the eyes of the world upon their persons, their houses, their equipages and retinue. Whatever be the expense of supporting a splendid appearance, it must be incurred. For this, debts are contracted and never paid; or paid reluctantly, and with unjust deduction. For this, the alms due to the poor are withheld, and every expense conducive to the public good, and indeed to the real welfare of the owners, is refused.
But the true Christian cannot conform to such folly and injustice. His ambition leads him not to place his happiness in pomp and vanity, in pleasing the eyes of men, but in doing that which is right in the sight of God. He knows, that, instead of luxury, he is to practise self-denial, abstinence, alms-giving, humility. He is not to be a lover of pleasure, more than a lover of God.
The man of the world is always in pursuit of fashionable amusement. Public places of guy resort are the temples in which he offers his sacrifice, and pays his adoration. All his time is consumed in the hurry and confusion of dissipating delights. But the Christian is obliged to spend many of his hours in prayer and meditation, in which indeed he finds more satisfaction, than a giddy round of unceasing diversions can afford to the voluptuary.
The man of the world glories in the character of a vicious man of pleasure, provided you allow that his vices are such as become a man of spirit and fashion. Such the world denominates adultery, fornication, gaming, and excess in wine. But the Christian is taught to abstain not only from all evil, but also from all appearance of evil.
The man of the world gives way to the most unbounded ambition. If he can raise himself to high rank and fashion by any means, by assisting and maintaining falsehood with audacity, by oppressing modest merit, and overbearing all opposition, the world will admire him as a great man, and he will plume himself on his own wonderful abilities. But the Christian is taught to fix his thoughts on higher things than the honours of this world; and though he refuse, not worldly honours, when they can be acquired by virtue, yet he scorns to supplant another, or to rise one step by violating Christian charity.
The man of the world is very intent on the important business of decorating his person, and more anxious to accommodate his dress with nice exactness, to the laws of fashion, than to observe any rule either of religion or morality. What delight he takes in contemplating his poor frail body, after he has adorned his hair, and clothed himself in the colour and shape dictated by the mode∗ As he admires himself, so is he admired by the world, a model of grace and decorum. But the Christian is more studious to adorn the inner man, with religious sentiment, social virtues, and useful knowledge, than to deck a body which is tending every day to corruption, and which, compared to the soul, is but a casket to the jewel. He takes care indeed to be clean and decent, and to give no offence by external singularity; but he does not doat on his limbs and features, nor the cloth that covers him, like the empty, effeminate, self-admiring man of fashion.
The man of the world values himself on what he calls his honour. And what is this honour? It is not piety, it is not chastity, it is not temperance; for the professed men of honour pride themselves in breaking down all the restraints which these virtues would establish. His honour is therefore a composition of self-love, pride, and anger. How does it display its effects? in a readiness to shed the blood of the first man that shall dare to give an affront. Duelling is a practice forbidden by the laws of God and man; it originates indeed from the most diabolical pride, and is no less repugnant to true humanity, than to Christianity. But still it is in good repute in this world. The duellist is never ashamed of himself. No, he thinks that to have killed his opponent, or to have endeavoured to kill him, is an honour. To use a familiar expression, it is a feather in his cap as long as he lives, and gains him ready admission and admiration in the gayer circles. A very striking and convincing instance of the propriety of that prohibition of the text, which forbids the Christian to conform to this world∗
How much nobler the Christian's conduct∗ how much more courageous and magnanimous∗ He forgives his enemy, he prays for those that have cruelly and despitefully used him. Like a true hero, he dares to act up to his principles, and, in open defiance of the contempt and derision of this world, to obey God, and the Lord Jesus Christ. How poor spirited, timid, and cowardly, is the duellist in comparison∗ He is afraid of the laughter and neglect of a few poor, wicked, hot-headed, mortals like himself, and therefore draws his sword to plunge it into the heart of his fellow-creature, for some trifling offence, without having sought an explanation, or giving room for reconcilement.
Much is to be forgiven to human passion and infirmity, and pitiable is the case of those half Christians, who, through the fear of shame, are driven to appear in arms against their brother, in opposition to their own conviction. The legislature should interfere for the protection of such men; and the professed, habitual, blood-thirsty duellist, who fights without passion, should die by the halter, like every other wilful murderer.
Let it never be esteemed a disgrace, that a believer in Jesus Christ refuses a challenge; for, if he accepts one, he would be worthy of pity, contempt, and every punishment which is justly due to him who deserts his principles in the day of danger. Let the world revile and ill use him as it pleases, he trusts in one who has overcome the world; and did not the world mock and crucify the Lord Jesus Christ, the captain of his salvation, and the judge both of him and of his persecutor, at the great tribunal?
But the time will not permit me to enumerate all the instances of fashionable sin and folly, to which the Christian cannot conform.
The Christian will indeed conform to the innocent customs of the world, whenever he can do it without neglecting or violating the law of the Gospel. When there is no reason against conformity, there is always one for it. Those Christians are to be censured as deficient in judgment, who have given unnecessary offence, and rendered their religion disagreeable and forbidding, by excessive moroseness, and useless rigour.
But the greater danger is, lest men should conform too much than too little, to the manners of the multitude. I must exhort them to obey the text, to assume a moral heroism, and to dare to be singular in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. Many who are unwilling to be thought deficient in resolution and spirit, have not courage to stand against ridicule. They suffer themselves to be laughed out of their religion, and into a compliance with every sin, which fashion, in the vicissitudes of her caprice, shall condescend to authorize. A strange infatuation, to surrender their reason, not to argument, but to a sneer; to be afraid to be called saints, but not sinners; to run the hazard of losing all the advantages promised by religion, not for the sake of gaining the whole world, which would be indeed a sad exchange, but for the sake of avoiding the derision of that part of the world, whose applause and good opinion would be in reality the greatest misfortune and disgrace∗
Those surely who stand so much in awe of man, as to be afraid to obey the words of the text, do not sufficiently stand in awe of God. But, if we really believe, let us think seriously of our situation; that we are placed in a wicked world, a friendship with which, is declared in the Scriptures to be enmity to God. Let us resolve to make the word of God, and not the fashion of this world, the guide of our sentiments, and the model of our conduct. This world endureth but for a moment, and shall we sacrifice, for so short a triumph as that which the momentary applause of men can bestow, the elevation and improvement of our natures, which religion teaches us to obtain? A purchase so dear would argue our folly, as well as our impiety.
And with respect to the character of true gentility and true nobility, since men are so anxious to be esteemed for these qualities, be assured that there is none so truly noble as the real Christian. Compare the real Christian, with that vain, varnished, imitating character which the world admires, and dignifies with the name of the man of the world, the fine gentleman, and the man of fashion. The true Christian is, in every respect, the true gentleman; for he is really gentle and humane, resigned to God, and beneficent to man. But he who conforms to this world in its fashionable sins, is made up of deceit and dissimulation. He has the semblance of virtues, without the substance. He is a whited sepulchre with rottenness within. He is neither pious to God, nor friendly to man, however high his pretensions to wisdom and benevolence. Himself is his idol, and to this he sacrifices in every action of his life. In the last days, men shall be lovers of their own selves; lovers of pleasures, more than lovers of God; and shall seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ. These are the servants of corruption; for, when a man is overcome of the same, he is brought into bondage. Short-sighted and narrow in his sentiments, he who thinks of nothing but this world, and excludes himself from a better: though his fellow-creatures, short-sighted as himself, admire him, he is, in the sight of God, an object of pity and indignation. And how will the world, to which he devoted himself, reward him? in his life, with unsatisfactory enjoyment, and at his death, with infamy or oblivion. But the righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance; for it must be acknowledged, that the world, ill judging as it is while men are alive, usually bestows fame and infamy on the defunct with little partiality.
But indeed, what is the favour or odium of the best part of the world, compared to the pleasure and displeasure of God? Let us first seek the kingdom of God, and the righteousness thereof, and then we shall view this world, and all its vanities, in their proper shape and colour.
I take leave of the subject, wishing to impress on your minds a passage from the word of God, which, duly considered by you, must have more weight than the most eloquent human discourse.
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him: for all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. To be carnally minded, is death; but to be spiritually minded, is life and peace, Be not therefore conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.