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tively; what a mighty consolation then is the testimony of a good conscience! What a treasure is integrity, and how many worlds would some men then give for it, were they masters of them ! how cheering is the remembrance of a sincere honesty and singleness of heart; and how will the want of it break and sink the spirit of a wicked man, when going to give an account of his works to an all-seeing and most righteous Judge; and overwhelm him with unspeakable anguish, in dreadful expectation of the reward of his iniquity! What will his thoughts then be of the wisdom of the world, its arts of management and turning into all shapes, right or wrong, to gain a point which is not to be reached by the good old way of simplicity and godly sincerity, when the sad parting minute comes that lets into eternity! What good will the gain of oppression do us, and what we have scraped together by deceit and fraud, and undermining one another, when we are leaving the world as naked as we came into it, and are going whither nothing will follow us but the guilt of our evil deeds, which will eternally confound us in the day of just retribution !
If any thing in nature deserves to be called folly and madness, it is the preferring gain before godliness; and making shipwreck of that most valuable thing, our integrity, which would be our comfort when every thing else shall fail us, for that which, even in its fullest enjoyment, cannot make us happy. And it will be but small satisfaction for any one to reflect at the point of his departure hence, when this world is slipping from under him for ever, that he has raised his family indeed, but with the loss of his own salvation!
And at the time of our great future account, when we shall be summoned to appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad', what other plea can even the best of us make, why the most dreadful sentence of, Depart, ye cursed, shall not be passed upon us, but our sincerity in his service, which, next to the merits of the great propitiatory sacrifice, the blood of Jesus Christ the righteous, will be our best apology; and is made the indispensable condition, and a very merciful one, of even that sacrifice availing to our pardon ?
But what apology can we make for the want of sincerity? That is indeed our all, not only our greatest wisdom, as we have seen; but,
Secondly, our only perfection: that alone which we ought to value ourselves upon, or any body else; and that alone which will render us acceptable in the sight of God. It is the true intrinsic worth of every man; and what St. Paul says of charity is very applicable here: though we speak with the tongues of men and angels, are endowed with the noblest gifts, and understand all knowledge, yet without sincerity we are nothing.
For what is a man's excellency in any art or profession of worth to his neighbour or the public, unless he is true to the trust they repose in him, when they desire his assistance? What are power and authority and parts, without sincerity, but so many destructive instruments to do the more mischief withal ? And what are the fairest pretences to brotherly love and friendship, to sanctity and religion, without it, but so many snares laid to entangle the credulous, and make them properties to the worst of men ?
1 2 Cor. V. 10.
So that simplicity and godly sincerity gives weight to every thing, and to every person, in what rank or station soever he is placed ; and is the only perfection we are capable of here below.
There is no man but has his failings and defects; and he that has the fewest we esteem as the most excellent person in his way: and it is the only notion we have of an excellent person here.
But now, what greater preservative against errors and mistakes, false steps, and undue measures, than sincerity? It puts a man upon all requisite diligence to understand and to discharge his duty; it secures him from all false biasses, and keeps his eyes clear from those mists of passion and private interest which are apt to cause him to mistake his path; and sets him above the little affrightments which scare too many into courses that can never be justified. And when, through the incurable imperfection of human prudence and knowledge, sudden surprises, or natural decays of any of the powers of the soul, things happen to be managed otherwise than they should be, no better salvo to a man's own conscience, to God and the world, than this:-It was not designed amiss; my intention was right, and I endeavoured in sincerity to do my best.
Such an excuse indeed will not do in the mouth of every man; but where a constant integrity has been observed in a man's whole conversation formerly, there it is accepted, and atones for all defects; and it is but reasonable that it should do so.
From all which it appears, that simplicity and
godly sincerity is the only perfection we are capable of in this world ; a perfection within the reach of every one, and therefore is indispensably required of every one, and will be accepted of our gracious God, through the mediation of our blessed Redeemer, instead of that which is perfection indeed, as being the utmost that in our present state we are able to attain to. And as God is represented in scripture as truth, and light, and one ; truth, without the least mixture of falsehood and deceit; light, without the least alloy of darkness; and one simple, uncompounded essence; so we should endeavour to resemble him, as his genuine offspring, in simplicity and sincerity of heart. Nothing will make us more like to him than this, and therefore nothing is more our perfection. And when at any time we are exhorted to be perfect in scripture, and others are said to be so, the meaning is sincere.
And accordingly the blessed apostle in my text, who had so many excellencies and divine favours to glory and rejoice in, seems to forget them all, even his rapture into the third heaven; and tells us, that his rejoicing is this, the testimony of his conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity he had had his conversation in the world: as if he valued himself chiefly upon this, as truly above all things.
Since therefore to do our proper duty in our several stations and callings with uprightness of heart is our all to recommend us both to God and man; that which will secure happiness to us in all the varieties of this life; giving the truest relish to a prosperous condition; allaying the uneasiness of lower circumstances; sweetening the bitter draught of troubles and afflictions; ministering the truest comfort on the bed of sickness and approach of death; and, finally, being the best excuse we can make for our other failings and defects, and our only acceptable plea and apology at the day of judgment: since simplicity and godly sincerity is indeed all this, and valued accordingly by our great apostle, as his main comfort in his most hopeless and forlorn condition, we also should esteem it as our wisdom and perfection, and make it our chief endeavour to be masters of so great a treasure : and, like good Nathaniel, to be Israelites indeed, in whom there is no guilem; that so the triumphs of a good conscience here may improve to joy unspeakable and full of glory in the kingdom of heaven.