- 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 the wickedness and misery of envy and contention.
James, iii. 16.—For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
The world was originally created in great beauty and order; but the disobedience of its inhabitants soon introduced that deformity and irregularity which every thinking mortal cannot but see and deplore.
The natural state of things underwent a sad alteration for the worse at the fall of man, and so also did the moral and intellectual. The heart, which was formed by its benevolent Maker for every tender sentiment, for love and humanity, became hardened to insensibility, or alive to the malignant passions of envy, hatred, and revenge.
Man, in his fallen state, was to be his own tormentor, and the instrument of his own punishment. For this purpose his heart was opened to the entrance of pride and malice, which consistently with their evil nature, sting the bosom in which they are most warmly cherished.
I dwell not on the common topic, that envy tortures the bosom in which it is harboured, because it is universally acknowledged; and those who are under the influence of the passion, have felt a conviction of this truth more forcibly, than the most persuasive language of the orator or philosopher have ever been able to inculcate it. I mean rather to consider envy and strife, as they tend, according to the text, to produce confusion and every evil work is society.
I shall review their effects in private families, in the intercourse of a neighbourhood, in government, in the church, on whole nations, and on the eternal welfare of those who are habitually and incorrigibly under their malignant influence.
There is not perhaps, under the canopy of heaven, a more lovely sight, nor a happier state, than that of whole families connected by the bands of love, no less than of consanguinity, living together in unity. The happiness of every individual is augmented by mutual participation. The warmth of the nest is reverberated and increased. The sincerity of their endeavours to please and accommodate each other, gives an additional value to every enjoyment, and to every convenience resulting from the happy association. Angels might stoop down from heaven, to behold that charming picture, a virtuous and a happy family.
But if the advantages of family union are great, the evils of disunion are of equal magnitude. From the unnatural animosities of parent and child, of husband and wife, it cannot be supposed but that misery of a peculiar and aggravated kind must originate. A separation usually takes place; for life cannot be borne amidst briars and thorns; and the offspring which still wants the support of parental protection, is extruded from the warm and safe nest into the wide world, without one faithful guide; the parent is deserted by those from whom he had every, reason to expect comfort, and his grey hairs are brought with sorrow to the grave; or else the pair who have mutually vowed fidelity for life, and brought an offspring into the world, are driven from each other, in violation of the most solemn engagements, compelled by their passions to drag an uncomfortable life in solitude, and exposed to all the temptations of involuntary celibacy. Confusion indeed, and every evil work, as the Apostle justly observes, are the natural consequences of violent and exasperated contention. I have indeed remarked, that many have plunged themselves into excess, riot, and debauchery, either to avoid and forget the miseries they experienced under their domestic roof; or from the want of an asylum from the wicked, in their parents' habitation.
There is indeed no doubt, but that the evil spirit, who goeth about seeking whom he may destroy, takes the opportunity of entering into those families from which natural affection is excluded. He fills their hearts not only with hatred and malevolence, but with those other evil propensities which are found to accompany the uncharitable sins. All kinds of wickedness and misery have proceeded from family dissension; and I recommend it to all who are anxious for the preservation of their innocence as well as peace, to cultivate the mild affections and gentle virtues, which lead to the establishment and continuance of domestic union.
To avoid the irritation of temper which arises from trifling causes, but produces serious effects, one of the best rules which can be given is, that every member of the family should pay a reciprocal respect; not indeed by a formal and reserved behaviour, for that, I believe, is incompatible with sincerity and affection, but a polite deference, derived from sentiments of real esteem and Christian love. Whereas, unfortunately, the civilities of many families are reserved for the visitor and the stranger.
But, indeed, it will operate as a more powerful motive to the duty of seeking family peace and ensuing it, if we consider that God has, in a peculiar manner, required it of those who are his faithful servants. Honour thy father and mother, is among the express commandments which came from the mouth of God on Mount Sinai; and love and charity are so strongly and constantly required in the gospel, that there can be no doubt but that the violation of them in the family circle, where reason as well as religion more particularly enjoins them, must be a sin of no inconsiderable malignity. They cannot pretend to love mankind at large, and strangers, whom they have not seen, and to whom they owe no particular favours, who hate and despise the persons to whom they are indebted for their being under God, and for all the comforts and conveniencies of it.
Ye fathers, children, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, who have been hitherto so imprudent and wicked as to live in the world without natural affection, without endeavouring to bear each other's burthens, and to increase each other's ease and comforts; turn from the error of your ways, from the thorny and rough road of strife and hatred, to the flowery path of love∗ Thus shall you preserve each other from many sins; thus shall you increase all the comforts of life; thus shall you sweeten many of its bitter ingredients; thus shall you please the Father of us all, who intended that the great family of mankind should all be bound together in the cords of love, as dear children of one almighty and all-merciful Parent, in every age and every clime. Consider how short is life, and that when a dear relative is laid in the grave, how we shall wish, in the anguish of our hearts, that we had made our peace with him before he went hence, and was no more seen∗ Agree with him therefore quickly, lest death interpose and render that enmity, which arose perhaps from the transient impulse of pride and passion, eternal∗ O heal the wounds that rankle in your heart, by pouring in the oil and balsam of true Christian benevolence∗
I have not considered envy as affecting the peace of private families, because I believe it seldom operates in that confined sphere; but strife is too commonly found in them, and happy should I be, if any thing which I advance could lessen its pernicious influence, and strengthen the silken cords of domestic love.
But I proceed to the consideration of another scene of human affairs, in which both envy and strife are equally conspicuous and injurious; I mean, in the intercourse of neighbourhood.
Such is the present constitution of things, that there cannot be an equality of conditions in the world; that some will be rising in life, while others fall, or continue stationary.
There is something which has the appearance of chance in all things; though it is in fact the secret operation of divine Providence. Whatever be the cause, it is certain, that it is not possible to find a neighbourhood where all are on a level with respect to the advantages of external fortune. Unhappily, he who rises above the level, becomes a mark for the shafts of envy. No pains are spared which can tend to reduce him to the situation of the enviers. Few men are so spotless in their characters, as not to afford some scope for evil report among those who examine their actions and characters with the searching and unwinking eye of envy. Their real faults will be exaggerated beyond all bounds, and invention will be active in adding a long catalogue which have no foundation in truth. Calumnies will be industriously spread in the dark, till all friendship and communication with the envied objects are utterly rescinded. The angry passions are inflamed, between those who ought to afford mutual respect and assistance, situated, as they are, by Providence in the vicinity of each other, and enabled to contribute to mutual comfort during their passage through this turbulent world.
But I forbear to enlarge on the subject of envy as a topic of morality, because it has been treated by all moralists, since men began to consider actions in a philosophical light; and it is difficult, as well as unnecessary, to add any observations upon it, recommended by the grace of novelty. Viewing it as a Christian, rather than a moralist, I believe it will appear peculiarly atrocious, and most repugnant to that merciful system of religion which was introduced into the world by Jesus Christ.
The natural or unregenerate man is a compound of envy, hatred, and malice, the very qualities of the evil one; and it was the grand purpose of the Gospel to change this diabolical disposition to the angelic state of love and charity. He who professes the Gospel of Christ, and is at the same time under the influence of those malevolent affections, can have no just reasons to suppose that his professions are sincere, or that the external actions of religion, which he performs from custom or a regard to decency, will be accepted.
No man can be envious without knowing it; for envy is universally acknowledged to be a most painful passion. Let every one, therefore, who feels this viper gnawing at his heart, immediately consider the dangerous, as well as tormenting state in which he is involved. Let him consider, that his envy is an infallible symptom of his want of grace; an indubitable proof of his not being a member of Christ, and a child of God. Envy and sincere Christianity are incompatible.
How many are there, notwithstanding the evidence of these most important truths, who attend constantly at the church, and are decent in all religious offices, who, at the very same time, are in the gall of bitterness, and, as the Scriptures very strongly express their unhappy state, children of the devil.
Christianity teaches to rejoice with them that rejoice; but how can he obey this precept, to whom the joy of another is an occasion of sorrow; the sorrow of another, an occasion of joy? Behold him all pale and ghastly, gnashing his teeth in some dark corner, while the voice of joy and health is singing the carols of innocence in the house of the prosperous. Can God Almighty look down from heaven, and behold the selfish wretch with complacency? Certainly not, for God is a God of love and mercy. But the devil must rejoice at the sight, and glory in beholding a proselyte, and a child of his own, so similar to himself in the deformity of his disposition.
Envy naturally produces strife. The bitterness of the passion vents itself in reproachful language and unkind behaviour. Parties are formed who defend what others attack, and the whole neighbourhood is involved in a state of war from the malice of a few individuals. I do not enlarge on the unhappi ness of such a state, because all who are in it must acknowledge, that there are few conditions and situations more uncomfortable. I consider it rather as affecting our future happiness than the present, as displeasing to God, and as rendering us incapable of receiving the benefits of Christ's redemption. It alienates the heart from God as much as from man.
On this topic it is evident that few arguments are necessary; for no truth of Christianity is more universally known, than that which teaches men, that love, mercy, benevolence, and charity, are the virtues which are best able to recommend us to the favour of God, and to cover the multitude of sins which our wickedness and presumption lead the very best among us to commit. Who has not heard that our Saviour came into the world to teach men a new commandment, the great law of universal love? A new commandment I give you, that you love one another. It was indeed a new commandment; for in the times of heathenism, which God winked at, it was unknown, or known so imperfectly as to be little observed. Envy, and revenge, and strife, if they were conducted with spirit, constituted a heathen hero. But to forgive and forget offences argues a greater soul, and to the honour of Christianity is one of her sublime doctrines.
I am afraid that moral precepts will contribute little to the banishment of envy, hatred, and malice; for none had finer moral precepts than the heathens, who yet gloried in some practices which arose from extreme malevolence.
I therefore conclude, that nothing can effectually reform the heart of man but the grace of God; that nothing can soften its obduracy, nor sweeten its acrimony, but the all-powerful influence of the Christian religion, the vital streams of grace from heaven melting the heart of hardened unregenerate man. It is necessary that a new creation should take place in us before we can entirely overcome the malignant propensities of man in a state of nature. And how is this to be effected? By faith in Jesus Christ, by prayer, and by earnest endeavours to attain perfection. Every effort which it is in our power to make, by the help of our own reason, must be made, and the deficiencies will be supplied by God's grace, by the emanation of the Holy Spirit.
There is, however, an irritability of temper is many, which causes them to be involved in dissensions, without any deliberate intention to give or to take offence. Habitual indulgence often gives such strength to this disposition, that it is found to destroy the happiness of the person who is under its influence, and of all around him. Nothing bnt persevering endeavours to correct this unfortunate temper, can prevent its diffusing extreme misery. Whoever is possessed of it will, as he values his own ease and the tranquillity of all who have any connection with him, be constantly on his guard to restrain the very first tendency to anger. By habit he will find himself enabled to subdue this very painful passion, and instead of journeying through life in a path full of thistles, thorns, and briars, he will walk in smooth and flowery ways. But though the irritability which I mean to describe, arises not from malevolence of heart, and therefore is less culpable than real malice, yet it is liable to the displeasure of God when indulged; and I cannot help thinking, that God will lend his gracious ear to the man who sincerely endeavours to restrain its excesses. I must recommend prayer therefore, as one of the most efficacious means of correcting the evils of an irritable temper.
It is too obvious to require proof or illustration, that pride, vanity, arrogance, self-conceit, ostentation, have an immediate tendency to destroy the comforts of a good neighbourhood, and are on that account, as well as in their own nature, greatly displeasing to God, at the same time that they are a nuisance to society.
But I proceed to another topic which the text suggests to my consideration. Where envying and strife is, says the Apostle, there is confusion and every evil work. Confusion in public affairs is remarkably the consequence of the malevolent passions. Our own country, and indeed all free countries, in which there was a licence of speech or of writing, have exhibited melancholy proofs of the ill effects attending a spirit of contention. Riot, tumult, and disorder, have been excited by the virulence of opposing parties; who, though each pretended to a remarkable love of their country, have contributed more than any foreign foe, or real calamity, to destroy its prosperity.
Such, indeed, is the violence of political animosity, that every social and Christian duty is sacrificed to the indulgence of it. Hatred of the most bitter kind is occasioned by a difference of opinion in politics, or by an attachment to a favourite statesman, or system of public conduct. And it is greatly to be lamented, that this violence of zeal arises not from the pure motives of genuine patriotism, to which it arrogantly pretends, but from envy; from a contentious temper, from vanity, from ambition.
I most earnestly admonish all who are instigated by these motives to seditious language, writing, or action, to consider that they are insulting the King of kings; who delights in order and tranquillity, and whose gracious Gospel particularly requires a peaceful submission to the laws of a country, and to the powers legally established. Confusion and every evil work are the consequence of the unruly passions of envy and strife, when they direct their force against the civil government and its proper administrators. “Fear God, and honour the king,” are commands joined together in the Scriptures so closely, as to induce one to conclude, that to honour the king, is to perform a duty, at least approaching to the nature of a religious office. But if this should not be allowed, yet it is certainly true, that to disturb good government, is contrary to the duty of a good man, and particularly inconsistent with the character of a good Christian; who should study to be quiet, and to mind his own business, and not follow those who, from envy and strife, are given to change, or unnecessary innovation.
But the evil spirit of contention is too common in a department which ought to exhibit exemplary instances of peace and unity; I mean, in the discussion of religious doctrines, and in ecclesiastical controversy. I would not be understood to dissuade from inquiry. It is the duty and delight of every rational mind, to employ itself in the investigation of important truth. But I wish the conviction to become universal, that charity is of far more consequence than knowledge, and that there are few speculative points so really interesting as to justify the violation of charity in their discussion.
It is indeed greatly to be feared, that religious controversialists are often under the influence of pride, envy, and a contentious disposition, which they and their admirers mistake for the warm glow of a pure zeal. I am led to draw this unfavourable conclusion from the vehemence and acrimony of their language. The love of truth operates indeed steadily and uniformly, but not violently. It is the love of victory and superiority which sharpens the style. The desire of literary fame, of becoming the patron or leader of a sect, of silencing the voice of opposition, usually inspires that eagerness and warmth of temper, which it is not natural that the truth or falsehood of any speculative opinion should excite. I will not mention the names of many illustrious polemical divines, whom death has removed beyond the reach of their opponents' anger; but I will lament over their graves, that they imbittered their own lives, rendered themselves disagreeable to others, and disobedient to God's law of charity, without the smallest advantage to those churches which they pretended to serve, or to the general cause of Christianity.
Sensible and moderate Christians among the unlearned, cannot but be offended when they see their teachers disputing on subjects of religion, with an acrimony which no religion, and much less the Christian, can justify. They argue with great appearance of reason, that those persons cannot be sincere in teaching charity, who appear themselves totally destitute of it towards their brethren. So that I may venture to affirm, that religious controversies, when conducted with animosity, whatever abilities may be displayed on either side, are injurious to the cause of Christianity which they pretend to promote. I hope, in this enlightened age, whenever ecclesiastical combatants are disposed to proceed beyond the limits of moderation, the public will turn away their eyes from the indecent contest, and thus discourage it by contempt and neglect. This, I believe, is the most effectual method of discouraging it, as such controversies owe their violence to pride and vanity, which can no longer be gratified when readers, hearers, and spectators, unanimously refuse their attention.
It is dangerous to begin a religious dispute. On no subject do the angry passions take fire so soon as on religion. The most lamentable events in history have been caused by religious rage. An enthusiasm, similar in its effects to real madness, originates from ungoverned zeal in ecclesiastical controversies. Let us then, as we value the cause of Christianity, our own tranquillity, and the prosperity of our country, avoid those violent disputes which infallibly tend to injure them all. The beginning of strife is like as when one letteth out water, says holy writ; no one knows whether he shall be able to stop the torrent; and whether himself and his opponent, as well as every thing for which they contended, may not be overwhelmed in the deluge.
But virulence and rage are not only visible in religious, but also in literary discussions. It might be supposed, that in such disputes, where no interest is concerned, truth might be elucidated by opposition without enmity. A liberal and generous contest excludes not mutual benevolence; but here also, it is to be feared that victory, not truth, is the object of pursuit. A defeat argues an inferiority of knowledge and of abilities; and a conquered combatant would rather, that truth and all her interests should be deserted, than that his pride should be humbled by submission. Knowledge, when used only for the purposes of haughty disputation, puffeth up; but charity edifieth; that is, a benevolent disposition, without much learning, will contribute more to real improvement, than profound science, with envy, and a contentious disposition.
I mean not to suggest, that learned disputations, or liberal contentions, are of no value. As iron sharpeneth iron, so does the ability of one man improve that of another, by a kind of collision. But I wish all who engage in controversy to preserve the liberality of gentlemen, and that indeed which includes it, the charity of true Christians; remembering, that the glory of conquering an antagonist is not comparable to the satisfaction of conquering ourselves, and becoming emancipated by our own efforts from the slavery of pride and anger.
But to return to the scenes of private life and social intercourse, where envying and strife are most visible, and most productive of confusion, I will only add a short exhortation. Let us all duly consider, of how little value this world, and all it contains, is, to a creature who exists but for a short time; and who is liable, every hour of his existence, to be called from all which attaches his heart, and dazzles his imagination. The best things which the world can bestow, are not, in the eye of the true Christian, worthy to excite a virulence of resentment, or cause a violation of the law of love. Let us, I say, seriously consider this, and act in consequence of such a conviction. If we can obtain any honour or advantage without violation of justice and charity, there is certainly no reason to decline it; but let us avoid all disputes in which rivalry may induce us to injure and vex our competitors. Let us also endeavour, as we value our own tranquillity, to cultivate a peaceable temper; to seek peace and ensue it; and, as much as in us lies, to live peaceably with all men. Most of us are ready to profess a regard for peace, and attribute all the blame of its violation to the perverseness and ill-usage of an adversary. But have we really done every thing in our power to prevent the rupture before it began, and to close it afterwards by amicable reconciliation? I fear, there are but few among those who live in a state of enmity, who can with truth answer this question in the affirmative. Let all, then, who, notwithstanding the plausible words of their lips, are conscious that they have not done all that in them lies to avoid the violation of charity, or to restore it when violated, enter immediately, before this day's sun goes down, on the performance of a duty, which reason, religion, and common humanity require.
But as exhortations merely moral, and precepts founded only in human wisdom, have not been sufficiently efficacious in correcting the malignity of the human heart, I must most earnestly entreat you, to pray to him who ruleth the heart, and is able, by the secret influence of his holy spirit, to purify all its pollutions, to correct all its errors, and to assist you in your endeavours in the cultivation of a charitable and peaceful disposition. He will, if yon sincerely ask for so great a blessing, bestow on you that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtue; wherefore, from this hour, laying aside all malice, and all guile and hypocrisies, and all evil-speaking, as new born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.
And may your prayers be heard, and granted, by that benevolent Spirit to whom be ascribed, as is most due, all honour, might, majesty, and dominion, now and for evermore. Amen.