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livered his kingdom from surrounding enemies. He stood high in the favor of his prince. He was his prime minister. He attended him at his public devotions, as well as at his other public appearances. And after his mind had taken a religious turn, he was still willing to serve both his God and his king; but, he was not willing to oppose sinful customs. This threw him into great embarrassment. Though he could lav. ish his treasure on the prophet, and though he could expose his life in the field of battle, yet he could not summon sufficient resolution and courage, to attack those reigning customs, which he verily believed to be wrong. He felt as though he must renounce the service of the God of Israel, unless the God of Israel would allow him to tolerate, and, in some measure, comply with the sinful customs of his country. “The Lord pardon thy servant in this thing. I beg, I intreat, that I may be excused from opposing sinful customs. I know their strength. I know the danger of attacking them. I may lose my office, and what I still more dread, I shall certainly lose the love and respect of my fellow men. I must be excused from this hazardous, and, I fear, fruitless attempt. Require me to do any thing else, and I will cheerfully do it, at the risk of my fortune, or my life; but in this thing pardon and excuse thy servant.” So Naaman felt. And he felt just as other men feel. Hence the general observation is this:
Every body desires to be excused from opposing sinful customs.
I shall first show, that every body desires to be excused from this, and then show, that nobody can be excused from it.
I. I am to show, that every body desires to be excused from opposing sinful customs. Occa.
This truth needs but a very little proof. It carries its own evidence to every one, who has attended to the exercises of his own mind. Though men may differ in their opinions about some customs; yet there are many customs, which all believe to be sinful. All, therefore, have had an opportunity of knowing their own minds upon this subject. And were all to speak the real language of the heart, they would unanimously say, that they have often felt a strong reluctance to opposing sinful customs. “As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.” All feel, as Naaman felt, unwilling to combat sinful customs, and wish to be excused from the disagreeable task. This will more fully appear, if we consider,
1. That every body is apt to neglect the opposing of sinful customs. Men will often and readily oppose sinful actions. But do we find them equally ready and forward to oppose sinful customs? Are they not very apt to connive at practices which custom has long sanctioned? Even those who are very careful to avoid all appearances of evil themselves, are very neg. ligent as to opposing sinful customs in others But why are men so generally, and almost universally neg. ligent in this particular? Can it arise from any thing but a strong desire in every one, to be excused from opposing sinful customs?
2. Men are unwilling to unite, in opposing sinful customs. This is sometimes proposed; but how generally is the proposal rejected! We have actually made the experiment. A few have had virtue and resolu. tion enough to overcome the natural reluctance to such a hazardous undertaking. They have invited others to unite their exertions in opposing sinful customs; but the greater part have declined. And should the same proposal be made through the land, it is more than probable, that a very great majority would desire
to be excused, and refuse to join in such an important and benevolent design. This is another evidence, that every body naturally desires to be excused from opposing sinful customs. I may add,
3. Those who have resolved and engaged to oppose sinful customs, are extremely prone to come short of fulfilling their resolutions and engagements. Though they are really sincere in their resolutions and attempts, yet, upon trial, they find a strong desire to be excused in this, in that, and the other instance. To will is present, but how to perform, they find not. It requires more self-denial and fortitude, to oppose customs which have been long established, than any can imagine, before they have made the attempt. Hence the best of men, and the boldest reformers, have
neg. lected to perform this arduous and disagreeable task.
Asa was a good man, and a great reformer, but there were some sinful customs in his day, which were so formidable, that he durst not oppose them. “And Asa did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, as did David his father. And he took away the Sodomites out of the land, and removed all the idols that his father had made. And also Maachah his mother, even her he removed from being queen, because she had made an idol in a grove; and Asa destroyed her idol, and burned it by the brook Kidron. But the high places were not removed.” We have the same account of his son. “And Jehoshaphat the son of Asa began to reign over Judah in the fourth year
of Ahab king of Israel. And he walked in all the ways of Asa his father, he turned not aside from it, doing that which was right in the eyes of the Lord: Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away; for the people offered and burnt incense yet in the high places.” There were two sorts of high places in Israel. One sort was devoted to the service of the true God, and the other sort was devoted to the service of idols. The high places devoted to the service of the true God were allowed of before the temple was built; but after that was built, Jerusalem was the only place where men ought to worship. And though the reformers destroyed the high places devoted to the service of idols, yet they were afraid to destroy the high places devoted to the service of the true God. The people had been so long and so generally accustomed to meet in these before they were forbidden, that after they were forbidden, they still persisted in their old custom. And this old and venerable custom, the boldest reformers wanted resolution and fortitude to oppose.
The bold and zealous Peter was afraid to oppose a custom, which was once lawful, but had become sinful. It was once lawful for the Jews to abstain from eating with the Gentiles; but after the gospel was published, this bar of separation was taken down, and the believing Jews had no right to follow this custom any longer. But Peter through fear of reproach, followed this sinful example, for which Paul sharply rebuked him. So he tells us in the 2d of Galatians. “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed: For before that certain came froin James he did eat with the Gentiles; but when they were come, he withdrew, and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circuincision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.” So formidable are long established customs, that the most bold and zealous reformers are afraid to cppose them. And this shows, in the clearest manner, that every body desires to be excused from opposing sinful customs. But I proceed to show, as proposed,
II. That nobody can be excused from it.
Naaman desired to be excused, but there is no cridence, that God excused him. I know the prophet said unto him, “Go in peace.” But he did not ask the prophet to excuse him. He addressed his petition to God, who alone had a right to excuse him. “The Lord pardon thy servant in this thing.” This request probably struck the prophet very disagreeably, and therefore he said ironically, “Go in peace. If it seem evil to serve the God of Israel, and oppose ceremonies and customs, which dishonor his name, go worship in the house of Rimmon, or wheresvever you please. I have no more to say to you. You cannot serve God and mammon. And if you will not renounce mammon, you must renounce God, who never will indulge you in conniving at sinful customs.” This leads me to observe,
1. That God will excuse none from opposing sinful customs. Though he knows that all wish to be excused, yet their wishes will not move him to excuse them from a plain duty. They evidently ought to honor and glorify their Maker, and of consequence, to oppose and restrain whatever tends to his dishonor. But sinful customs certainly tend to dishonor God, and wound his cause and interest in the world. And besides, God has clearly revealed his mind on this subject. He has expressly said to every person, “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil.” He has expressly said, “Be not conformed to this world." He has expressly said, “The friendship of the world is enmity with God.” He has expressly said, "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them."
them.” And again he has expressly said, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart: Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy brother, and not