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CHRISTIAN MORALITY, viz. GRAVITY, DECENCY, &c.
PHILLIPIANS iv. 8.
Whatsoever things are honest, or grave, pc,
think on these things.
INCE the translation of the Bible into the
English tongue is so excellenta performance in itself, and so necessary a service to the church ; I feel a sensible regret, whensoever there is occasion to complain of it, or to correct it. In the main, I may venture to say boldly, it teaches us all the necessary doctrines and duties of Christianity in a very ample and complete manner, and sets them in an evident light; and what the Spirit of God spoke in antient times in Greek and Hebrew, is gufficiently manifested to us for our salvation in the English Bible.
But in this part of the verse which I am now to VOL. ,
discourse of, the word which we render honest, is not so well translated as I could wish ; for honesty is contained in the words true and just, which go before, and follow my text. "But the Greek scmnos, more properly signifies, grave, decent, or venerable ; and so you find it in the margin, which will oftentimes help you, when the word in the English text is not so expressive of the original sense. The same word semnos, is rendered grave in several other places of scripture ; it is three times so expressed in tine third chapter of the first epistle to Timothy, ver. 8. The deacons must be grave, ver. il. Their wives also must be grave, ver. 5. A bishop must have his children in subjection with all gravity.
It is a word that is used in Greek authors to represent the character of an aged man, a philosopher, or a magistrate, among the heathens. It carries in it the idea of an honourable gravity, and a venerable decency of behaviour ; and this is what the apostle recommends to the practice of Christians. It is as if he had said, “ The character of every common Christian should have something in it so honourable, as may command a sort of veneration and respect from all persons they converse with, as much as the character of a wise old man, magistrate, or a philosopher, does in the heathen world.”
To improve this subject, I shall shew,
I. Wherein this gravity consists.
II. How the light of nature recommends it.
III. How the gospel inforces it.
IV. Lay down a direction or two, in order to obtain it.
First, This gravity and venerable decency which the apostle recommends in my text, may be supposed to consist in these three things.
1. A moderation and decency in our apparel.
2. A gravity and sobriety in our speech and conversation.
3. Honour, decency, and dignity in our whole deportment and behaviour.
. A moderation and decency in our apparel, such as becomes the profession of persons whose chief ornament is religion and godliness. This the apostles, both St. Peter and St. Paul, each in their turn, insist upon, as a necessary qualification of women who prosess Christianity, and as an ornament to the doctrine of the gospel of Christ. 1 Pet. ii. 3, 4, 5. “ Let your conversation be with fear; whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and wearing of gold." 1 Tim. ii. 9, 10. The apostle Paul bids Timothy the young evangelist teach the same doctrine and practice. In like manner I will that women adorn themselves in modest apparel with shamefacedness and sobriety, as becometh women professing godli
Not that all Christians must utterly abandon those richer and more costly methods of ornament, gold or pearls, which the apostle there makes mention of; for every one of us should wear such rai.. ment as suits our character and our age, our company and business in the world ; but let not these be our chief ornaments, still remembering that we are Christians; and let our apparel, as well as our conversation, shew that we despise trifles, and thus maintain the dignity of our high and holy calling.
Here, saith a * learned commentator, “ It is worthy to be noted by the women, that this precept ought not to be slighted hy them, as of little mo
* Dr. Whitby,
ment, seeing it is so carefully inculcated by the two chief apostles of the Jew and Gentile, St. Peter and St. Paul; and the contrary is represented as a practice opposite to godliness.”
Nor while you are dressing, should you forget that you are sinners, and therefore should put on shamefacedness; for all our ornaments and clothing are but a meinorial of our first sin and shame. And when we take a pride in our garments, it looks as if we had forgotten the original of them, the loss of our innocency.
Nor is this sort of advice to be confined to the female world; for, as the same author express it, " If it be so unbecoming a Christian woman to be thus concerned in adorning and tricking up her body, it must be much more unbecoming a Christian man, and that which makes him truly to deserve the naine of a fop."
It is a token of a light and vain mind to be too fond of gaudy habits, a mind not much affected with sin or with salvation. Surely Christians are boru for greater things, and their aim should point at higher excellencies than these arc. Let their chief ornaments be the graces of the spirit, and the virtues of the heart and life. A well adorned body, and a neglected mind, very ill becomes a professor of the gospel.
Christians should look like strangers and pilgrims here, and not think themselves undressed, unless they are conformed to all the niceties and vain fa. shions of the world. Sometimes it may be) we are too much afraid we shall not look like the children of this world, whereas the apostle advises us rather to look like strangers. We are travelling homeward through a foreign country, having the ornaments of holiness on us, which is the raiment of heaven. I confess, we are not required to affect singularity, nor to seek a foolish and useless distinction
from the custom of our country, where they are proper, innocent, and becoming ; for the kingdom of God does not consist in any affected peculiarities of dress or behaviour ; but let us remember too, that it is below the glory of our character, and the dignity of our calling, to have our thoughts uneasy, if every pin and point that belongs to our apparel be not placed in the most fashionable manner ; to fret and rage, if every fold of a garment be not adjusted in perfect conformity to the mode.
Then we may be said to fall short of that venerable decency in our apparel which Christianity shou!d teach us, when we are among the first in any new devised and gaudy fashions; when we are some of the foremost in the gaieties of the age ; when we run to the the extremes of every new mode, and affect to vie with the vainest of our sex ; when the business of dressing is made one of the most frequent, important, and solenin inquiries, and concerns of life, and when it employs some of our most serious thoughts and our warmest passions ; when we indulge a greater expense in finery than our circumstances will allow, or our stations require ; when we waste more time in adorning ourselves, than the duties we owe to God or man will reasonably permit; and especially if we intrench upon the hours which should be devoted to sacred purposes. I should add also, that then we certainly break in upon Christian sobriety, when we indulge such sort of clothing as in its own nature becomes a temptation to immodesty, and brings fuel to the impure fire of the eyes, or of the heart.
I would not be thought to treat too largely upon this subject, or handle it too severely; but let us remember, that our biggest danger in this age is excess, and luxury, and vanity of mind; we are pretty secure now-a-days from too great a carelessness ia