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of wicked and evil men, he no longer speaks in his own person, but being full of the image of his father when he delivered the instruction, introduces him giving the advice to him, his son ; * Hear, ye children,' says he, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding : for I was my father's son, tender and only-beloved in the sight of my mother. He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words ; keep my commandments, and live.' And soon after follows, among his father's precepts, this : · Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men; avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.'
But what need is there, you will say, to look far for this advice, since it is of all others the most obvious, and an instruction which all parents give to their children as well as David ? It is true they do ; and for that reason it is commonly looked on as advice fit only for children: and young people hardly think themselves men till they have broke loose from all restraints of this kind, and shown the world that they are at liberty to choose the worst of company for themselves, without being called to an account for it. And this weak ambition of showing themselves to be men, and at their own disposal, every day betrays youth into such hands as lie in wait either for their souls or their estates; as if the only way they had to convince the world that they are in their own power, were to do that for themselves which every body knows no friend would do for them.
But to remove this prejudice against the advice implied in the text, I desire you would consider that though David gave this instruction betimes to his son, yet he himself, in his more advanced years, and under his greatest improvements in virtue and holiness, thought fit to lay it down for himself as a rule to be observed in the conduct of his life ; as a great security to his virtue, and defence of his innocence and integrity : Depart from me,' says he, ‘ye evil doers; for I will keep the commandments of my God:' ver. 115. He hardly thought it practicable to associate with evil doers, and yet to keep the commandments of God; as is plain from the reason he gives why he would have the evil depart from him; · For,' says he, ' I will keep the commandments of my God:' which would be no reason, were there not a moral impossibility of keeping the commandments of God, without departing from evil doers. As long as men are in a state of trial, that is, as long as they are in this life, they cannot arrive at such a pitch of perfection as may make it safe for them to expose themselves unnecessarily to the temptations of vice, and to the greatest of temptations, the constant insinuations of wicked men. The reasonableness of the Psalmist's practice described in the text, and of the rule therein implied, must be deduced from the consideration of the great danger of the contrary practice, in keeping ill company, and from the great advantage of contracting friendships with the good.
But before I enter into this argument, I must observe to you, that none are concerned in it but such as have a sense of religion, and a due regard to virtue ; for these are the two things in danger from ill company : and it is certain that such as have no regard either to virtue or religion are not within the reach of any arguments drawn from the dangers which threaten them. On this topic therefore I can only speak to such as have an awe of God, and a sense of their duty on their minds; and such I hope it will not be hard to convince of the great danger there is in contracting friendships and familiarities with men who have prostituted their minds and their bodies to the service of sin. For,
First, let it be considered that no resolutions which we can form to ourselves of keeping clear from the pollutions of the company we keep can give us any security of preserving our innocence and virtue : such resolutions are often carried into bad company, but seldom or never come off whole; for when the foundation on which such resolutions stand is undermined, they must necessarily fall to ruin. You resolve against sin, because
have a sense of the heinousness of it, and the evil consequences which attend it; but it is great odds but this wears off by constantly conversing with such as have learned to make a mock of sin, and can talk of their own and others' vices with a great deal of humor and raillery. When once you come to relish this subject, and to find sport and entertainment in that which ought to give you horror and aversion, it is but an easy step to practise what you thus far approve: and when once
you are giving way, and inclining to yield to the solicitations of vice, your evil genius will soon furnish
many excuses, and many suggestions to encourage you.
It will be no hard matter for you to imagine that your fears are the mere prejudices of education : and the example of your friends, who sin and fear not, will strengthen the imagination; and your heart, your treacherous heart will say to you, Behold they sin, and no evil happeneth unto them. Thus seduced and thus betrayed, you are left an easy prey to sin; your resolutions fall before the prevailing influences of pleasure, in the arms of which you
fall asleep, perhaps never more to wake again to your sense and reason, till the last trumpet calls you, with all your sins, to stand before the judgment-seat of God. But farther,
Secondly, suppose all these unhappy circumstances should not meet to push on and complete your ruin; yet even the opportunities and advantages for sin which an ill acquaintance affords, are of themselves great temptations. Men are not always alike on their guard; their virtue is not at all times equally strong: and it is the happiness of good men, who are unacquainted with the ways of wickedness, that in their weakest state, when they are most tried with temptations, they want the skill and knowlege of sinning. This guard you certainly lose to your virtue and innocence by entering the societies of wicked men: they will always be ready to second your temptations, and make the way to sin easy and practicable : they will, as far as in them lies, prevent the preventing grace of God, and rob you of the benefit of it; they will watch your weakest hours that they may triumph in your fall, and have the malicious pleasure of seeing you become like one of them.
Were I subject to sudden and violent efforts of passion, I would not venture myself in a man's company who I knew would clap a sword or a pistol into my hand in the height of my rage, and rejoice to see the mischief and extravagance of my fury : but this is the very choice which every man makes for himself, when he courts the friendships and acquaintance of wicked men. You are a man subject to passions and temptations; you have inclinations to evil, which you are not always sure of controlling; whenever they attack you, your best refuge is to reason, and thought, and prayer: why then will you put yourself into such hands which you know will never suffer you to enjoy these advantages ; which will leave you no time to think, but will drive you on to follow the present evil passion, till it raises a fame that will consume and destroy you?
Thirdly, it is on all hands acknowleged that there are many difficulties in the practice of religion, even when we call in all the assistance, and take in all the advantages that may be had : and in the nature of the thing it is necessary it should be so ; since we are called here to a state of trial, to give proof of our virtue and faith, and ready submission to the will of God: in doing of which, if there were no difficulty there would be no trial. Now whoever considers this, and that on the consequence of this trial our hopes, our happiness, ourselves depend, must needs think it extreme folly in any man who shall refuse any helps that may be had towards making his work easy to him: or who shall voluntarily expose himself to any difficulties that may render the issue of his trial more doubtful and uncertain : and this every man confessedly does who lays himself open to the art and cunning, and deadly insinuations of evil men, who are industrious in the bad cause they serve ; and as the wise king expresses it, • They sleep not except they have done mis
and their sleep is taken away unless they cause some to fall: they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence. And if you partake in the bread and the wine, it will not be long before you take share in the wickedness and violence that procure them : for that which you esteem perhaps the most innocent employment of your companions, their living in splendor, and in all the delicacy of profuseness, and spending their time in luxurious ease and forgetfulness, leads naturally to all other excesses of vice and lewdness; for when the fulness of meat and drink has driven out thought and care, in the room of them there springs up a blind brutal courage, which neither fears God nor regards man.
Even this sensual indulgence, distinct from the mischievous consequences that attend it, is that which will expose us to the wrath and judgment of God: “Riotous persons and drunkards' are numbered with those who shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven :' it is a crime that is heightened by a kind of self-murder, destroying the man which was formed after the
image and likeness of God; divesting him of sense and reason, and every thing else that was to distinguish him from the beasts of the field, and leaving him even in a worse condition than they, a mere helpless and useless carcass. What a life does that man lead, who wastes half his time in thinking only how he may be without thought the rest of the day! whose short mornings are spent in contriving the excesses of the night, and his waking hours employed in preparing himself for a new lethargy and the sleep of intemperance !
Should you therefore only propose to share these enjoyments with the libertines, and to keep a strict hand on yourself as to all other kinds and degrees of wickedness; yet even this is destructive of the hopes of religion. If you bring but a taste and relish with you for these pleasures, use and custom and example will soon make you a proficient: and you will wonder perhaps, when it is too late, to find yourself lost in such excesses as you never once thought of looking into. Your cheerful nights, and the heavy mornings which follow them, will indis. pose you for thought and reflexion; and the sense of religion, which lives and is nourished only by the exercise of thought and reason, will gradually decay: the comforts of an innocent mind which used to warm your soul with delight, and make it spring forth with joy into the contemplations of God and of futurity, will all forsake and leave you ; and in the room of them will succeed misgiving fears and doubts, full of mistrust, evil suggestions, and jealous apprehensions of God and of yourself; till at last you are forced to fly for refuge to those repeated acts of intemperance, which at first you only tasted as transient diversions. And when once this comes to be the case, that
you are afraid of yourself and your own thoughts, and forced to fly from the presence of your own mind, nothing can save you but the more than ordinary grace of God, which whether you will deserve or no, you yourself shall judge.
But the mercies of God are without measure, and like the sun, “rise on the evil and the good, on the just and the unjust :' perhaps then he will look down on you, and awaken you once more to see your danger and the evil of your ways. This is the best thing which can befal you : but could you
be sure of this, there is no enc
ncouragement in it to enter into the societies