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SUMMARY OF SERMON XXI.
I THESSALONIANS, CHAP. IV.-VERSE 11.
In the matter before us, duty and offence are on the confines of each other, and the difference is almost imperceptible. St. Paul here bids us to be studious of quiet ; elsewhere he enjoins us to be earnestly active ; here, to mind our own affairs; elsewhere, to look not only to our own things, but also to the things of others: Phil. ii. 4. Farther observations on this point. How then shall we reconcile these things ? how, in the case before us, separate the bounds of duty and blame? It is difficult to do so precisely, and with distinctions that shall reach all cases. The endeavor however is made, and some rules and directions proposed for the regulation of our intercourse with others. First, the terms are considered in which the precept is couched.
Study: the word (pidorqueiolai) signifies to be ambitious, that is, to affect quiet with as much vehemency of desire as men are wont to pursue fame, dignity, and power.
To be quiet: this signifies not a physical but a moral rest ; not a total forbearance of action, or drowsy listlessness, but a calm, regular, steady way of proceeding, within the bounds prescribed by justice, charity, and modesty.
To do our own business, signifies to do things proper and pertinent to us; things which suit our condition or vocation ; whereby we may discharge our own duties, supply our own needs, and benefit, or at least avoid troubling others. The text therefore, as it implies an obligation lying on us to be industrious in our own calling, so it is chiefly designed to prohibit our meddling with the concerns of others : but how to settle the limits of these two duties, is the difficult task to be encountered. The method observed is as follows: first, some cases are brought forward in which it is allowable or commendable to meddle with the affairs of others; next some general rules are propounded, according to which such meddling is commonly blameable; then some directions are assigned which are proper to the chief and most obvious kinds of meddling; and, lastly, some considerations are offered to dissuade men from this pragmatical humor.
1. Superiors may intermeddle with the business of their inferiors, who are subject to their charge, in all matters relating to the needful execution of their office : instances of magistrates, parents, pastors, &c.
2. In any case wherein the honor of God is much concerned, we may interpose in vindication and maintenance of it: this enlarged on.
3. When the public weal and safety are manifestly concerned, we may also intermeddle to support or secure them : this also enlarged on.
4. We may also meddle for the succor of right against palpable outrage and wrong: for example, we may help an honest man against a thief, &c. : example of Moses, Acts vii. 24.
5. We may likewise meddle with the proceedings of others when our own just defence requires it: this is indeed but doing our own business.
6. When the life or welfare, either spiritual or temporal, of our neighbor is deeply concerned, and cannot be supported or relieved but by our aid, we may lawfully interpose to yield it: this enlarged on.
7. In fine, if any signal opportunity of doing our neighbor considerable good, especially to his soul, offers itself, we should éven in charity embrace it; and we may then obtrude on him our direction and advice.
In these and like cases we may lawfully, and without offending, intermeddle : but we must even then take heed that our pretences be real and well grounded, that our proceedings be regular and fair, &c.
1. We should never, out of ambition, covetous desire, or self-conceit, so meddle as to invade any man's office, or to assume the exercise of it: instances given.
2. We should not, without call or allowance, meddle with our superiors, so as to advise or reprehend them, to blame or inveigh against their proceedings; for this is to confound the right order of things, &c.: and nothing is more usual in a busy and licentious age than for private men to invade the office, exercise the duties, and canvass or control the actions of their superiors: this topic considerably enlarged on.
3. We should not indeed so much as meddle with the affairs of our equals, who are not subject to our command and charge, so as to control or cross them; for this also is to usurp an undue authority.
4. We should not, without the desire or leave of parties concerned, intermeddle in the smaller temporal interests of others ; for every man should be left to choose and manage his own affairs consistently with law and justice towards others.
5. We should not indeed ever, in matters of indifferent and innocent nature, so far meddle as, without reason or need, to infringe any man's liberty, cross his humor, or obstruct his pleasure, however discordant these may be to our judgment and palate.
6. We should never offer to put a force on any man's inclination, or strive to bend it to a compliance with our own; in attempting which we shall commonly be disappointed, and never come fairly off; for no man likes to be overborne with violence and importunity.
7. We should not in conversation meddle so as to impose our opinions and conceits on others.
8. Nor ordinarily in converse affect or undertake to teach.
9. We should be cautious of interrupting any man's discourse, or taking the words out of his mouth.
10. We should be careful of intrenching on any man's modesty in any way, either of commendation or dispraise, so as to put him to the blush, or expose him to scorn.
11. It is good to be very staunch and cautious of talking about other men and their concerns, in way of passing characters on them, or descanting on their proceedings, for want of other discourse ; which is the common refuge of idleness, &c.
12. Farther, we should not be inquisitive into the designs of other people; for this, besides its vain curiosity and impertinence, is to assail their modesty, and cause disturbance both to them and ourselves.
13. We should not press into the retirement of men; it being unjust, as well as rude, to disturb any man in his lawful freedom and private satisfaction, to prevent him from enjoying his own thoughts, and meditating on his own concerns, &c.
14. We should not pry or peep into people's secrets, which is commonly impertinent curiosity, or gross injury.
15. We should not lie in wait to surprise or catch any man at an advantage, to overthrow him when he trips, to insult him on his mistakes or disasters, &c.
16. Lastly, we should never, at least with much earnestness, meddle with affairs more properly belonging to others, and which we do not, or may not pretend to understand so well as others; such are affairs out of our profession or calling, &c.
; Other considerations on this subject are reserved for the next discourse.
OF QUIETNESS, AND DOING OUR OWN
I THESSALONIANS, CHAP. IV.- VERSE 11.
And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business.
As frequently between neighboring states there do rise dissensions and contests about the just limits of their territories ; so doth it frequently happen between virtue and vice, right and wrong, duty and miscarriage in practice; for although the extreme degrees, and even the middle regions of these things are very distant, yet the borders of them do lie very close together, and are in a manner contiguous; a certain ridge of separation running between them, which commonly, being very narrow, thin, and obscure, it is not easy to discern. So it particularly falleth out in the matter before us, wherein our text is concerned. Duty and offence do nearly confine, and almost indiscernibly differ one from the other : for there are about this case precepts which seem to contradict; there are duties appearing to thwart one another.
St. Paul here biddeth us to be studious or ambitious of quiet; otherwhere he injoineth us to be earnestly active, (to be orovdņ un ókunpoi, ‘not slothful in business :') here he would have us to mind our own affairs ; otherwhere he prescribeth that we should ‘not look every man to his own things, but every man also to the things of others.'
According to the general drift of Scripture, and the tenor of our religion, we are in charity obliged to concern ourselves