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And especially, where admiration of any plausible character will probably seduce others into wrong conduct, their taking off the varnish from it, and exposing it naked to view, so far as may be requisite to prevent any dangerous mistakes, is an important duty.
But indeed, for the most part, the name of the wicked, if let alone, will rot of itself: and all that we shall need to do is, not to undertake the nauseous and fruitless office of embalming it. To endeavour this for private advantage, is one of the meanest and basest subserviences to sin. And even where gratitude or relation may demand from us some regard for the memory of wicked men, we should however always content ourselves, with saying in their favour what we can with truth; and keeping silence, as much as we are able, concerning the rest : but by no means take it amiss, if every one else doth not keep silence; nor expect in the least, that they, who have deserved ill upon the whole, should be esteemed by mankind, merely because they have deserved well of
For by that rule, every wicked wretch upon earth, in his turn, must have a good character inviolably preserved to him.
But let us now proceed to the pleasing part of our duty, the honours that we owe to the memory of the just; whether they lived in former days or within our own knowledge.
Now the regards due to them are briefly these; that we believe them, on proper evidence, to be the good persons they were in reality; that we consider their virtues with due esteem, and their imperfections with due candour ; that we vindicate their names from unjust imputations, and make honourable mention of them whenever a fit opportunity offers ; that we warn and arm ourselves against the temptations, both of
prosperity and adversity, by observing how they have gone through each ; that we incite ourselves to aim at more perfection in all Christian graces, by seeing in them what heights of piety and goodness are attainable ; that we learn watchfulness from their falls, and a speedy and thorough repentance from their rising again; that we thank God in our retirements for the instructions which his providence hath vouchsafed to us in their good lives ; and beg of him wisdom and strength, to walk as they did, not by the sight of things present, but the faith * of things to come.
It may be hoped, we are none of us so unhappy, as not to have had some such acquaintance amongst the great numbers of another sort, which whom we seldom fail to associate. And we are doubly to blame, if neither the good examples of ancient days, acknowledged by all men ; nor the recent virtues, that we have seen in our contemporaries, some of them perhaps endeared to us by nearness of relation, or ties of friendship, can attract our affections and engage our imitation. Or if we have hitherto had no opportunity of being acquainted with such persons; yet, bad as the world is, they are still to be found in it; and all that are weak in goodness, are especially concerned to seek them out, take shelter under their protection, and invigorate themselves by their assistance. But, alas, instead of this, we attend, almost only, to such as can promote our worldly advantages, or favourite amusements; or such as enjoy an uncommon share of either : to those who can serve us, or delight us, we attach ourselves firmly; those who excel us in
any part of the vanity and pride of life, we envy; account them the only happy men; and set our whole hearts on becoming happy in the same way. But serious, humble, self-denying worth, we either quite overlook, or view with an eye of scorn, at best of contemptuous pity: ridicule, if not inveigh against, the truest piety and virtue, if it goes the least beyond that standard, which we have fixed for ourselves, from no better authority than custom or inclination; and are commonly much more severe against the involuntary or imaginary failings of the best people, than the wilful and habitual sins of the worst. Thus we behave to the good in their lives: or if we do happen to treat them a little better then, yet instantly on their deaths, we lay them aside, and are glad to think no more of them; not even of our own obligations to them : though perhaps we have had very particular ones; and certainly a general one of great importance; that such persons are as the Scripture calls them, the salt of the earth *: preserve the world by their wholesome influence, though much too thinly spread over it, yet from being utterly corrupted; and so restrain and mitigate the wrath of God, by their prayers and intercessions, that he often spares the city for the sake of the few righteous that are therein ț. Let us remember then, what reason we have to honour the good, both living and dead; and to mourn when the faithful fail from among the children of men : let us observe, and point out to observation, the usefulness and amiableness of religion in others ; and make it as useful and amiable in ourselves as we possibly can : being not only admirers but followers also of them, who through faith and patience have inherited the promises g. For loving and imitating them here, will qualify us for being happy in an eternal fellowship with them hereafter. And though it is a much lower * Matth. v. 13.
2 Cor. v. 7.
consideration, yet it is far from a contemptible one that by honouring the characters of the worthy persons who are gone before us, we shall best secure that surviving regard to our own, which we all desire: and when our bodies are buried in peace, our name shall live *, and our memorial not depart away t.
* Ecclus. xliv. 14.
+ Ecclus. xxxix. 9.