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IF IT BE POSSIBLE, AS MUCH AS LIETH IN
YOU, LIVE PEACEABLY WITH ALL MEN,
THE first and greatest design of the Christian religion, is to reconcile man to God : the next, is to reconcile men to one another, and to abolish, if it were possible, all enmity from the earth. That this will actually be possible, the Apostle does not affirm: and, as things are now constituted, it certainly is not. The world is a mixture of good and evil : it is a field, wherein wheat and tares grow up together; a plantation, in which trees that bear good fruit are surrounded with briars and thorns, offensive to the flesh, and fit only to be cut up and burned in the fire. Peace, whether public or private, is to be maintained by endeavours which are
inutial : as the roof of an house is kept up by a wall on each side. If either of these be withdrawn, ruin must be the consequence. No single person can secure that
which must arise from the joint endeavours of other people : but he must do his own part, and contribute what he can towards it.
The duties which a man owes to society, will depend much on that state of life, to which it hath pleased God to call him. Men in society differ from each other in their offices, as the limbs and members of the same body differ in their uses. We do not expect that the hands should speak, or that the feet should see: all men cannot perform high and eminent services to the public : but if every man keeps his own place and rank in quietness, he performs the duty enjoined in the text. And let not him that can do much, despise him that can do little ; for mean as the offices of some men may appear, their help can as ill be spared, as that of the lower and weaker members in the body. The Providence of God hath tempered the world together with so much wisdom, that we are all necessary to one another : and supposing we were not so, there is no member of society so insignificant as to be incapable of doing mischief, and disturbing the peace of others.
Every man can do what vermin and creeping things, and insects are able to do; that is, every man if he sets about it, can make himself hateful and troublesome to other people.
They who are placed in a lower station, should therefore submit to the offices which Providence requires of them; and if they cannot do any great good, they should at least be careful to do no harm. But they whose character in life gives them any influence over others, are bound to study the peace of society in a more particular manner. It is frequently in their power to moderate the unhappy differences of contending brethren, or to sow the seeds of hatred, and to foment strife, till it spreads into a wide and destructive flame.
God, who is the common father of us all, hath given us many precepts, which ought to lead us to peace and unity amongst ourselves. The reasons upon which they are grounded, are such as these ; that a contentious disposition is not only sinful in itself but is the occasion of a multitude of sins. Who, that has any
knowledge of the world, does not see what strange opinions are kept up,
perverse actions are defended, and applauded, only for the purpose of supporting an opposition, when it hath been , once begun. Where envying and strife is, saith
the Apostle, there is confusion and every evil work. So that contention is a sort of mothersin, which brings forth many others, and some of them such as the contending parties never thought of in the beginning of a dispute. Such is the obligation which arises from the consideration of our own nature: if we consider the nature of God, we are told, that he is the God of peace ; that his holy spirit is the spirit of peace; that his kingdom is a kingdom of peace ; and that they who hope to be members of it in heaven, where there will be nothing but peace, must first endeavour to agree together upon earth.
We have strange passions to contend with ; and unless we set a strict watch over them, their natural tendency is to destroy us and disturb the world. Experience would teach us, if the bible did not, that the seeds of strife are in all the children of Adam ; and that if they are left to themselves, they will as certainly grow up into disorder and confusion, as thorns and thistles will spring from their own proper seeds. It is chiefly on this account, that the world is so miserable a place as we find it to be. The inhabitants of it, blinded by ignorance, and agitated by every turbulent passion, are like a fleet of ships upon a rough sea in a dark night, which
are in continual danger of running foul of each other: and as no vessel can give a shock to another without receiving some injury to herself, so cannot any one man hurt another without diminishing his own peace and comfort at the same time.
Peace is so necessary to private happiness, that without it there can be no proper enjoyment of life: therefore, let us now proceed to enquire, how so great a blessing may be
promoted amongst us.
He who revolves this subject in his mind, will soon discover, that the passion which propagates the greatest misery in this world, is no other than pride. Let pride be out of the
question, and the world will soon be quiet; as the waves of the sea settle into a calm when the wind has done blowing. How is a man to stop the workings of his own pride, but by thinking meanly of himself, and being contented with his own station? Why do we quarrel with others, but because we give ourselves the preference, and wish to be set above them? So weak and silly is this vain passion of self-esteem, that two families have frequently been divided for life, only because they could not agree, which of the two ought to walk into a room before the other. Peace can be the effect only of a meek and