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1. I am briefly to shew you, what I would now caution you against.
And here surely, I need not be large in telling you what I mean by bad company. It is, in general, "the conversation of those, who are apparently destitute of the fear of God;" and so it takes in, not only persons of the most dissolute and abandoned characters, but those vain and worthless creatures, who manifest a neglect of religion, though free from gross and scandalous immoralities. So that what I have to say will be applicable to all sinful companions whatever; but the more notorious their vices are, the more evident will be the force of each of those arguments, by which I shall now endeavour to fortify you against their society.
Neither shall I use many words in telling you, how far you are to avoid such company: For to be sure, you cannot imagine, that I am endeavouring to dissuade you from a necessary commerce with them in the common affairs of life, and the business of your calling; since Then, as the apostle expresses it, you must needs go out of the world*, considering the state of religion and morality in it. Nor would I lead you to a neglect of any offices of humanity and civility to them; for such a behaviour, instead of adorning the gospel, would greatly prejudice their minds against it. Least of all, would I hinder you from applying yourselves to them by serious admonitions, in order to convince them of their sin and danger, and to engage them to repentance and reformation. In these views the blessed Jesus himself conversed freely with persons of the most infamous characters, though he were perfectly Holy, harmless, undefiled, and in that sense, separate from sinners+. The folly I would caution you against is, "chusing irreligious persons for your intimate friends, and delighting to spend your vacant hours in vain conversation with them." My design does not require farther explication; the great difficulty I apprehend, is, what I shall meet with while I am attempting,
II. To fortify you against the danger of such companions, and to engage you cautiously to avoid them.
When I call this the most difficult part of my work, it is not because I am at a loss for arguments, or apprchend those arguments to be either weak or obscure. A variety of considerations immediately present themselves to my mind, so plain, and yet so important, that I am confident were the matter to
+ Heb. vii. 26.
* 1 Cor. v. 10.
be weighed in an equal balance, a few moments would be sufficient to produce a rational conviction of what I am to prove. But oh, who can answer for the effect of such a conviction? When I consider the unaccountable inchantment, which there seems to be in such company as I am warning you against; and reflect on the instances, in which I have seen young persons of sense and education, who once appeared to promise remarkably well, at length intangled, and some of them ruined by it; I dare not presume on the success I might otherwise expect. Nevertheless I know, that The word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword; and I know, that if it be guided by the hand of the blessed spirit, it will be effectual to divide you from your most delightful carnal associates; since it can separate things as near to each other, as the joints and the marrow, and lay open the heart to so clear a view, as that it shall seem to have discerned even its thoughts and intentions*.
It is this encourages me to make the attempt, and I hope the difficulty and importance of the case will not only excuse my handling it at large, but will also engage all, who have any regard to the happiness of the rising generation, to lift up their hearts to God, that he may assist and succeed me in pleading this weighty cause, in which the interests of time and eternity are so apparently concerned.
Give me leave then to bespeak the most serious attention of all that hear me, and especially of the younger part of my audience, while I urge on your consciences such considerations as these. Seriously reflect on the many unhappy consequences which will attend your going in the way of sinners :-Think on those entertainments and pleasures which you give up for the sake of their society:-And consider how little advantage you can expect from thence, to counter-balance the pleasures you resign, and the evils you incur by it.
1. Let me intreat you seriously to reflect on the many unhappy consequences which will attend your entering into the path of the wicked, and going in the way of evil men.
You probably will by this means quickly wear out all serious impressions;-you will be exposed to numberless temptations to sin and folly,-and thrown out of the way of amendment and reformation ;-and thus will be led into a great many temporal inconveniences,-till at last you perish with
*Heb. iv. 12.
your sinful companions, and have your eternal portion amongst them in hell.
(1.) By this means you will be in the ready way to lose all sense of religion, and out-grow the impressions of a serious education, if providence have favoured you with it.
If your hearts are not harder than the nether mill-stone, some such impressions were surely made in your younger years; and I believe, few that have been trained up in religious families have entirely escaped them. If these are duly improved, they will end in conversion, and glory; but, if they are resisted, they lead to greater obstinacy in sin, and throw the soul still farther from the kingdom of God. Now what can be more evident than the tendency of vain and carnal conversation to quench the blessed spirit of God, and hinder the mind from falling in with his preparatory work upon it.
I am persuaded, that if they, who are under some prevailing sense of divine things, consider how difficult they often find it to preserve those impressions on their spirits, in the company of some who appear on the whole to be serious people, even they will be afraid frequently to venture into the company of the sensual and profane. As Mr. Bolton finely expresses it*, "Throw a blazing firebrand into snow or rain, and its brightness and heat will quickly be extinguished; so let the liveliest christian plunge himself into carnal company, and he will soon find the warmth of his zeal abated, and the tenderness of his conscience prejudiced." Now, if it be so detrimental to those that have deliberately devoted themselves to the service of God, and have had some experience of the goodness of his ways, judge how much more dangerous it must be to him who has only some feeble desires, and, as yet undetermined purposes, in favour of it. Young people are extremely rash and credulous; and when you see your favourite companions neglecting serious godliness, and, perhaps, deriding it, it is a thousand to one, that you will not have courage to oppose them: You will probably, at first, be silent; and then, you will grow ashamed of your former tenderness; till at last, seduced by The crafti ness of them that lie in wait to deceivet, you may secretly censure religion, as an unnecessary and burthensome thing, if you are not transported so far as openly to revile it, and join in the senseless and impious cry, against those that appear to be influenced by it.
* Directions for walking with God, page 10.
† Eph. iv. 14.
Again, when you have been used to the pleasures of such company, and, perhaps, of that unbridled luxury which they may be ready to lead you into, you will, no doubt, lose your relish for all the entertainments of devotion. The hours you spend in the exercises of it in public, or in the family, will grow tedious, and almost insupportable to you; and you will rejoice when the dull work is over, that you may return to your beloved companions again. Thus will all regard to religion be gradually worn out of your mind: And this seems to be the argument suggested by St. Paul, to dissuade the Corinthians from being Unequally yoked with unbelievers: For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? or what communion hath light with darkness*? This alone would be a very considerable evil; but it is far from being all you have to fear; for, I add, (2.) By frequenting ill company, you lay yourselves open to many temptations, and probably will be drawn into a great deal of guilt.
You know, there is a strong force in example. "We are all," says Mr. Locke, " a kind of camelions, that take a tincture from that which is near ust." So that, if you converse with wicked people, you will probably become like them yourselves. It is an argument, which Solomon urges against forming any peculiar intimacy with those that are passionate; and it is equally applicable to many other cases: Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go; lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul.
Alas, sinners, you are too apt to be led into guilt by your own corrupt hearts, even when you have the fairest advantages against it, amidst the wisest instructions, and the holiest examples: How forcibly then will the temptation assault you, when you see others, and those your most intimate friends, yield to it without any appearance of remorse? and when, it may be, you hear them pleading in favor of the compliance, and endeavouring to persuade you to join in the practice, as what they have themselves found delightful and advantageous ? It is no small evil for an immortal creature, who was sent into the world to serve God, and to secure a happy immortality, to live in vain, and trifle away hour after hour, in mere idleness and impertinence: Yet this is the least sin that bad company leads a man into. Unhappy as this is, would to God that it always rested here! the world would at least be more peaceful,
Prov. xxii. 24, 25.
* 2 Cor. vi. 14. + Locke's Works, Vol. iii. page 23.
and your damnation, sinners, would be less intolerable. But daily observation undeniably proves, that by evil examples, and wicked companions, people generally learn gluttony and drunkenness, swearing and uncleanness. It engages them in foolish quarrels, in which they blaspheme the name of God, and injure their neighbour; and it habituates them to such extravagant ways of living, as they are forced to support by secret dishonesty, and very often by open robbery. Thus they gradually fall into those scandalous enormities, which at first they could not have thought of without horror. This fatal effect is plainly hinted at in Proverbs, where the wretch that abandoned himself to the society of sinners, is represented as acknowledging that he Was almost in all evil, in the midst of the congregation and assembly*; i. e. he was so hardened in his various crimes, as not to be ashamed to commit, or at least to avow them in the most public manner.
(3.) By frequenting sinful company, you will throw yourselves out of the way of repentance and reformation.
I before observed, that you will by this means contract a disrelish for the exercises of devotion; and this will probably be attended with the neglect of those ordinances, which God hath appointed as the great means of our conversion and edification: And when these are neglected, how can you expect that God should pursue you with uncommon interpositions of his grace? That when his word is despised, and his house forsaken, he should seize you as it were by violence, amongst your dissolute companions, and convert you in your midnight revels? Your pious friends may indeed have some opportunities in private of expostulating with you; but it will require a great deal of resolution to attempt it; and when they do, they must take it as a peculiar favor, if you give them a patient hearing, and do not affront and revile them for their charitable endeavour of delivering your souls from the pit of destruction, and plucking you as Brands out of everlasting burningst.
But if we should allow, that their importunity, or any other consideration, should sometimes bring you within the hearing of an awakening, practical sermon, and some serious impression should be made upon your minds by it, it is very probable all these convictions will wear off, as soon as you return to your
+ Amos iv. 11.
* Prov. v. 14.