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those who no otherwise interfere with us, than barely by seeing how we act, we shall conclude, we owe them the benefit of a good example, as much as we do any other debt. If by making our light to shine before them, we may bring them to glorify our Father which is in heaven, nay, and guide them by that light to him and their own happiness, it must undoubtedly be one of the most important duties we have in our power to perform, either towards God or man, to set the best examples we can.
The sin therefore of setting no example, is that of neglecting the cause of religion and virtue, of refusing to do our fellow-creatures the greatest good in our power, which will cost us nothing, but what we must otherwise have done on our own account; and of standing neuter between God and his enemy.
If so great is the crime of a neuter, when God is a party, what must be that of declaring for his enemy by an example of folly and wickedness! This is not stopping the tribute of honour and glory due to God out of the talents he hath entrusted us with, in order to add a proportionable weight to the good examples he intended we should set; but is turning all those talents, whether of understanding, wealth, power, or length of days, and the whole importance of the example arising from thence, directly against the honour of God; and furnishing the irreligious and the peevish with a temptation to blaspheme his Providence for joining so much wealth and folly, so much power and wickedness together.
What then, you will say, is to be done? We see the consequences of setting mankind at liberty from the ties of religion, and know, that no other ties can prevent their running riot into rebellion, rapine, and misrule ; and we see also, that in case the upper class of mankind should shew a contempt for religion, the lower classes would soon get into the fashion, and become as errant atheists as their betters. We are therefore willing to go to church, and pay some respect to the religion of our country. Is this all you can do ? All, unless you would have us become hypocrites and dissemblers in a business of so sacred a nature. But, in the name of common sense, are you not dissemblers in going so far? There is not only this objection against your conduct, that it subverts itself in the very principle, but two more of no less weight. Your going to church is either a good or a bad action. If it is a good one, then you do it with a bad intention, namely, to keep the populace in ignorance, that they may be governed by stricter rules of morality than you think fit yourselves to submit to. If it is a bad action, and done only with a view to that peace and order which good men, as well as you, wish to see established in the world, even upon mistaken principles, rather than on none; then you do evil that good may come of it; and I must tell you, that, as sure as there is a God, such a conduct must be extremely offensive to him, because it is built on the reproachful and blasphemous belief, that the sins of dissimulation and imposture are necessary to the government of a world which he made ; and so made, as either not to need the interposition of his own wisdom, much less of your cunning, or as intended for a part of his providential empire, to the government of which, under almighty wisdom, no arts borrowed from the author of deceit can possibly, to say no more, be requisite. But secondly, your method is liable to this farther objection, that appearances of this kind are never given, but by halves; that they cannot long be kept up; and that the vanity of boasting the discoveries you have made to the dishonour of religion, the sensual desires, the covetous or anıbitious designs, the violent passions, the inveterate habits, which opened your eyes to the weak side of Christianity, cannot be held within a disguise as feeble as it is flimsy. How long is it to be supposed, you will wear a mask, put on, much against the grain, for no immediate benefit of your own, and merely for the sake of keeping others in some order; a consideration of no great weight even to the reason of one who can think religion so necessary, and yet so false?
Besides, this conduct, instead of doing any honour to religion, serves only to bring on it all the reproach due to the many enormities of your infidel life, which, were you not mistaken for a Christian, must be ascribed to their real cause, your utter want of principles. This pretence of Christianity therefore, which so many now-a-days give into and defend with very specious arguments, is but a cunning piece of folly in some, and a double artifice in others, whereby they propose to throw the odium of their actions
off that infidelity which encourages, on Christianity which cries aloud against, them. The cause of Christ never stood in need of, and disdains, such aids, if aids they may be called. No, let Christ have either sincere friends, or open enemies; and let his religion stand on its own truth, or sink under its falsity, as the judge and guardian of truth shall determine.
There is a great majority of these, whose obscure characters and low situation in the world confine the influence of their examples to very narrow bounds. However, there is no man so inconsiderable as never to be imitated. He must be too little to be seen, who is too little to be copied. Besides, the generality of imitators are short-sighted, and we know the eyes of all such are magnifiers. Similitude insensibly grows out of mere observation. Natural wit, beauty, bodily strength, personal peculiarity, and the most trifling superiority in circumstances, excite observation, and with it a degree of respect, in the vales of human life, which those on its eminences look down upon, as sunk in one indistinct and promiscuous level. The poorest parent is an object of some veneration to his offspring, and consequently of imitation, through which he propagates piety or irreligion, sobriety or drunkenness, honesty or knavery, as fast as he does children; for children, as if all eye, are led by their sight into any thing that strikes that sense, especially in the behaviour of their parent, whom, as newcomers, they are obliged to take for a-guide in a world altogether strange to them. How careful therefore ought he to be, who is surrounded with natural mimicks, perpetually taking off his likeness in every action, and preparing to spread and hand down his manners, as far in point of time and space, as his posterity shall extend themselves in the world! Masters also, in respect to example, are a sort of second parents, and what their servants did not; or could not learn in their father's house, they perfect themselves in under the government of their master. They either have not been taught, or have not time, to read; and therefore, as imitation generally looks upward, they take the behaviour of their master for a summary of all that excellence in higher life, which they are so ambitious of copying after. Him they read, him they transcribe into themselves, till their minds have put on his livery, as well as their bodies. A family is the most important seminary in the world, a nursery, wherein are formed all the members of the community, wherein every child of God, and every servant of the devil, receives the rudiments of virtue or vice, and those infinitely more by example, which makes the fashion, than by instruction, which is under its discountenance.
All mankind are exemplary in a greater or less degree, but they most whose fortune or station hath lifted them most into view, and set them highest. They are seen far and
near; and such is the compliment paid, by the pretended renouncers of this world, to its pomps and vanities, admired as far as they are seen, and imitated as far as the narrower funds of their inferiors can stretch to. Their vices grow into virtues, and their virtues into heroism, as they descend on the observation of the herd.
Piety and virtue, not only for their native dignity, but for their great singularity, in a person of distinction, look nobly, and produce the most happy effects among his inferiors, discouraging the vices of the bad, and invigorating the virtues of the good, whose laudable dispositions seem to kindle at his; so that, as if they were inspired by some preternatural impulse, they improve on a spirit not their own, and act and live above themselves.
Infidelity and wickedness in a person of distinction look nobly too, extinguishing the virtues and fomenting the vices of all beneath him. Privileged by his example, the creature, who is as poor in pocket as he is in soul, sets up for grandeur, on a second-hand sneer at religion, on bis week of keeping, or his hour of gaming, till distress and despair drive him to that road, which terminates in the gallows; or, at best, till sober poverty degrades him again to Christianity. The sower of tares enlarges those seeds in the richer soil of a great fortune, from which otherwise he could not expect so plentiful a crop, on a change to hungrier grounds. There are several sorts of exotic vices that cannot be raised, but in the hot-bed of wealth, title and figure, which nevertheless thrive apace when transplanted thence into common earth. It is often a diverting, but it should be a shocking sight to the great ones of the world, to see how their vices are mimicked by the little ones, who, influenced by their examples, as if possessed by some demon, run, regardless of all that decorum which gives a sort of grace to politer wickedness, into downright brutality. and madness.
The great and powerful impose what customs they please on the inferior part of the world. The examples of kings particularly, are more absolute than their commands. The court follows them; the capital follows the court; and the nation that, as fast as eager imitation can snatch the fashion from above; till the manners of the head are visible in the very feet. Even that religion which a people have thought of consequence enough to be fought for with the utmost bitterness, hath not been considered as too great a compliment to their princes. The ten tribes of the Israelites that followed Jeroboam, followed him to his golden calves; and, excepting a very few, continued in his idolatry, or sunk into worse, during all the reigns of his successors. The other two tribes went, most of them, into the religion or superstition of their kings, with a readiness at every change, that seems astonishing to one who knows not how few in any country really and sincerely give their hearts to religion. During the usurpation of these kingdoms, cant, enthusiasm, and hypocrisy took the place of Christianity in the great ones, and prevailed almost universally. In the reign immediately following, profaneness, atheism, and dissolution of manners, ran down from the throne to the lowest of the people so fast, and took so firm a possession as they went, that the present debauchee and scoffer at religion may probably thank the court in that reign for his not being at this day a formal hypocrite, or a sour enthusiast. How ought they to watch over their own behaviour, whose every action is mimicked by a multitude, perhaps a nation! How little are the most ordinary actions of great men their own, when each of them is attended with so long a train of happy or fatal effects upon the people.
The actions of the clergy are still less their own. They owe a good example as a debt to Christ, whom they take upon them to represent, and as a debt to their people, by whose labour they subsist. I say not this from an opinion, that the people would imitate them, were they saints of the first magnitude to a man. No, they are too much hated