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II. Gravity and sobriety in our speech is another part of that honourable conduct and character which we ought to maintain, and to which the holy apostle invites us. In the second chapter of Titus, ver. 6, 7, 8. you have this direction of the apostle to Titus the evangelist, how he ought to behave himself, and what he speaks to bim chiefly as a minister, may be given as a rule to all Christians whom he must instruct in all things. Shewing thyself a pattern of good works ; in doctrine, or in discourse, shewing uncorruptness, gravity, and sincerity, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil to say
He gives all the Christians at Ephesus the same advice, Eph. iv. 29. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers." Talk of something that may improve one another in knowledge, in virtue, in religion ; and let each of us be ashamed to think that we have been an hour or two in each other's company, and have neither spoke nor heard any thing that is worth remembrance. How often, affer a visit among friends, must we take up this just and shameful complaint, Alas, I have said nothing for their improvement, nor heard any thing for my own!"
In Epb. v. 4. the apostle there secindes some sort of conversation from the lips of Christians, neither fithiness nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient, which are not agreeable to our profession. Foolish talking and jesting are here forbidden, as well as filthiness. By foolish talking we may suppose such sort of language to be intended, from which it is impossible any profit or advantage should arise to a wise or a good man.
And by jesting, the apostle here designs such sharp and biting jests that wound the reputation of a person
concerning whom they are spoken. Such a turn of wit, as the original word signifies, that at the same time wounds a good name, and gives a bitter reproach. Not that every thing pleasantly spoken is supposed to be unlawful ; or that the apostle any where forbids all manner of mirth and jesting in conversation ; for there are proper times and seasons for such sort of discourse : and there may be valuable ends in it too, when it is innocently used, on purpose to recreate nature, and refresh the mind. And how far this may be indulged, I shall have occasion to speak toward the end of this sermon.
III. Another thing that is included in this word gravity, is honour and decency in our whole deportment and behaviour. Each of us should be careful to maintain our public character as a Christian, with a due sense of the dignity of it. Christians should be ashamed to debase the powers of their nature, to practise any thing that is sord und unworthy nor make the members of their flesh, nor faculties of their mind, slaves to that which is ridiculous or foolish.
How unbecoming is it to see a Christian spoil his conntenance, and disfigure a human face, by practising all the wild and wanton grimaces of folly and madness! To see man, who is made after the image of the Son of God, distort his body in the most antic postures, and give up all the honours of his nature to base and senseless mcriment! Surely the duties of Christianity lead us to nothing below the dignity of man.
Here I would not be mistakon, nor do I pretend that the gospel requires such a constant solemnity of countenance and language, as though we were all preachers, cr always preaching. There is no need to put on serious airs at all times : we are not bound to banish mirth when we become Christians. Laughter is a natural action, and the faculty was not given lo mankind in vain, nor is the exercise of it forbidden for ever.
The chief ends of it seem to be these two ; either to recreate animal nature by expressions of mirth, or to put folly out of countenance.
There may be tines to recreate nature, to unbend the spirits from business, and to indulge mirth among our friends. The wise man assures us, there is a time to laugh as well as to mourn. There are times proper for weeping, and some persons may have times for dancing too. Ecclesiastes jii. 4. And in the 191h verse of the 10th chapter, the same divine writer says, “ A fcast is made for laughter.” At the mutual entertainment of friends, we may be merry and not sin. Our holy religion only demands this of us, that we confine our mirth within the limits of virtue, and take heed lest when we give a loose to the sprightly powers of animal nature, we should trans. gress the rules of piety, or trespass upon things sacred.
Another purpose for which laughter was made, is to reprove and punish folly, and put vice out of countenance. There are seasons wherein a wise man or a Christian may treat some criminal or silly characters with ridicule and mockery. Ehjah the prophet condescended thus to correct the priests and worshippers of Baal ; but this sort of conversation must by no means be the business of our lives, and the daily work and labour of our thoughts and our tongues. It is the heart of a fool that is in the house of mirth, for he would dwell there continually, Ecclesiastes vii. 4. If we are always affecting to throw out some turns of wit upon every occurrence of life, and tack on a jest to every thing that is spoken ; if we interline all our discourse and conversation with merriment, banter and joking, it is very unworthy of that gravity and honour that belongs to the Christjan life.
The second head of liscourse which I proposed, is to prove, that the light of nature, or the law of reason, requires something of this gravity of speech and behaviour ; and this is manifest, if we consider the nature of man in opposition to the brute that perishes, or the growth and age of man in distinction from children and babes.
1. If we consider man in opposition to the brutal world ; man, who has a rational soul, should act conformable to that sublime principle within him, 3nd not devote himself to a life of fantastie humour, or content himself with the character of an everlasting trifler. What a poor and contemptible account is it of any person to say, he is a walking jest, a mere living trifle! His thoughts are made up of vanity and emptiness, his voice is laughter, and his whole life is composed of impertinences.
There is a sort of persons in the world who never think well of themselves but when they are dressed in gay attire, and hope to command the respect of mankind by spreading abroad their own fine feathers. Their raiment is the brightest and best thing that belongs to them, and therefore they affect to shew it. There is another sort of men who value themselves upon their merry humour, and that they can make their company laugh when they please. But the more refined and rational part of the world value all these creatures as they do peacocks, or other animals that imitate the voice and actions of man. They use them as an entertainment for their eyes or their ears, to give a fit of diversion, or to pass away a merry hour. We generally look upon this kind of people as very worthless things, as something beneath ourselves, and as sinking below their own species. We seldom converse with them upon the level, or to attain any of the nobler purposes of life. We only borrow their wit, or their folly, their humour, or their finery, for a season of
upon the level, or to attain any of the nobler purposes of life. We only borrow their wit, or their folly, their humour, or their finery, for a season of amusement, and justly despise them when the laughing hour is at an end. Reason itself tells us, that human nature was made for something greater and better, for contemplation and action much superior to what these trifling creatures are acquainted with.
2. If we consider man as he stands in distinction from childhood, surely a more grave and solemn carriage becomes him. Children are pleased with painted toys ; gaudy garments and sounding trißes are their chief delight. They are entertained with little impertinences agreeable to their ignorance and the weakness of their age ; but it is a shame to a person of well grown years to practise the child for
He that devotes himself to a life of useless idleness, and treads round the circle of perpetual mirth and amusement, without profitio himself or the world, is but a child in longer garments, or an infant of larger size.
The third general head leads us to consider, what, forcible arguments Christianity furnishes us with to practise this sobriety, gravity, and decency of behaviour; and I shall throw them all into a few expostulations.
1. Do we not bear the name of Christ, a sacred and a venerable name? And shall we cast disgrace upon it by any thing that is mean and dishonourable ? Do we not profess to be the followers of a crucified Jesus, to be disciples of the cross ? But wherein do we follow him, if we spend our days in mirth and trifling ? His conduct was all holy and heavenly, and we can never look like his disciples, if our conversation savour of earth and vanity. What a noble simplicity runs through all his speeches, through all the actions and the behaviour