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the reading the evil and impure thoughts that are in these books, does as plainly despise the doctrine of Christ as he that murders, despises the doctrine of the sixth commandment.
You will say, perhaps, that you only read these books now and then for amusement, and only to dirert your spirits; and that most of the time which you devote to reading, is spent in reading books that may improve your piety. If this be your case, you can say that for yourself which very few cau; for the generality of readers make other books their chief and most constant entertainment. But to speak now to your excuse: you only read such books now and then for your amusement, and to divert your spirits; that is, you entertain your mind with evil thoughts, you read, relish, and digest the lewdness, profaneness, and impurity of these books, not with a serious design of making yourself lewd, profáne, and impure, but only as it were in jest, and to have a little pleasure from them. Now this is the plain meaning of this excuse, which is as ab. surd as any thing can well be supposed. It is as if a man, who allows himself now and then to get drunk, and swear, and rant, should say in his excuse, that he is, for the most part, very sober; and that, when he takes these liberties, it is not through any desire or liking of the sin of drunkenness, but only as it were in jest, and through the mere gaiety of bis spirits. You will ask, perhaps, if the sin of reading plays be like the sin of drunkenness? I answer, very like it, and perhaps equally grievous to the Spirit of God. For are not evil thoughts, vanity of mind, and impurity of heart, the most dreadful state that we can be in? Can you, therefore, imagine, that the feeding and entertaining your mind with evil thoughts, and impure discourses, is a less sin than drinking too much? What rule of reason or Scripture have you to go by in such a judgment? You may fancy that there is something
much more gross and shameful in drunkenness than in this practice; but if you would judge, not by fancy, but by the light of religion, you would find, that it is a drunkenness and intemperance of the mind, as gross and shameful, as abominable in the sight of God, and as contrary to piety, as that stupid intemperance which consists in drinking too much.
One great shame of drunkenness is this; that it fits us for ribaldry, and all the folly of discourse; that it inakes us say silly things ourselves, and be pleased with the most foolish rant, and extravagant nonsense of other people. Are not you, therefore, doing that which is most shameful in drunkenness? And is it not a sign of greater impurity, and greater want of piety, for you coolly and soberly to seek and relish such rant and folly of discourse, such profane jests and wantonness of wit, as men are most pleased with, when drink has made then half mad? Now the liking of such discourse as this, makes up great part of the guilt of drunkenness, must it not, therefore, imply a greater guilt in you, who like such foolish discourse when you are sober? Drunken men like ill discourse, because reason and religion have then no power over them; if, therefore, you have as false a judgment, and relish a discourse that is equally foolish and mad, must it not be owing to the same thing, because reason and religion have thep no power over you? Drunken men like any sort of madness; they are not nice in their, taste; if a discourse be but wild or lewd, they delight in it; but you like only a madness that is put into verse; you only delight in the impure descriptions and ravings of lust, when they are adorned with beautiful expressions, and made musical to the ear.
So that the difference betwixt you and a drunken man does not consist in this, that you have a more religious taste, or purity of mind than he; but in this, that he likes all sorts of rant and wan:
tonness of discourse; but you do not like it, unless it be in rhyme, and divided into acts and scenes. He likes a song because it is a song; but you do not like it, unless its impurity and profaneness be made more charming by soft and dying sounds. If, therefore, a young lady will go to bed with her play, she must not reckon herself better employed than her brother, who is, at the same time, half mad over his bottle. For it is impossible to show, that the entertaining ourselves with such evil thoughts and filthy communications is a less sin, than to be ranting over a bottle. He that can do this
also prove, that it is a less sin to tell a lie when you are sober than when you are drunk.
Again; You say in your excuse, that you only read these books now and then, to divert your spirits, and that you mostly read good books. Now this excuse carries its own conviction; for it acknowledges all that is necessary to condemn it: for it owns that these books are vain and corrupting, that they are of a contrary nature to good books, and naturally produce contrary effects: and you reckon yourself only secure from being hurt" by them, for this reason, j because your mind is so well seasoned and strengthened by the use of good books. But pray consider the absurdity of all this: for this is saying, I venture into temptations; not because I cannot avoid them, or am ignorant that they are temptations, but because I know myself to be strong. I read impure imaginations, filthy jests, and profane harangues; not because they are an harmless, innocent diversion; but because the purity and piety of my mind is too great to receive the least injury from them.
Now nothing can be conceived more absurd and irreligious than such an excuse as this. Yet what Christian that reads plays can possibly make a better? For to say that our plays are not full of profane rant, filthy, jests, and gross descriptions of
impurity, is the same thing as to say, that we have no plays in English.
Farther; there is a proper time for every thing that is lawful to be done: now can you tell me when it is proper for a Christian to meditate upon these books? Is it to be left to your temper to entertain yourself as it suits with you, or can your reason point out the convenient seasons for it? If you are blindly to follow your temper; then you are in no better state than other people, who are blindly following other tempers. If your reason can appoint any time for such entertainment, it must be because there is some time that is proper for it. Now the different times or states of our mind, may perhaps he all comprehended under some one of these.
There is a time when our hearts are more than ordinarily raised towards God; when we feel the joys and comforts of religion, and enjoy a peace that passes all understanding. reason will not allot this time for the diversion of such books.
There is a time, when either through the neglect of duty, remorse of mind, worldly vexations, bodily tempers, or the absence of God's Spirit, that we sink into dejection and dulness, grow burthensome to ourselves, and can hardly think of any thing with satisfaction. Now if reason is to judge, this is of all times the most improper for such entertainment. For if there is any time that is more proper than another to think upon God, it is when we are in heaviness.
When we are sick, it is time to apply to the physician; when we are weary, it is a proper time to rest; now there is the same natural titness in having recourse to God and religion, when we are under any dejection of mind. For it is not more the sole property of light to dispel darkness, than it is is the property of religion to relieve all uneasiness. Is any
Now I suppose one afflicted, says the apostle, let him pray. Now this we are to look upon, not only as a wise advice of something that is very good to be done in affiction; but as a strict command, that leaves us no choice of doing any thing in the stead of it.
It is as absolute a command, as if he said, Hath any one sinned, let him repent. For an application to God, is as much the one thing to be done in the hour of trouble, as repentance is the one thing to be done in time of sin. Our blessed Saviour saith, be of good comfort, I have overcome the world. He therefore, that in the want of comfort seeks for it in any thing else, but in the redemption of Christ, in his conquest over the world, is no more a true Christian, than he that does not believe in Christ.
You seem to make times of dulness the occasion of your reading those books, by saying that you only read them to divert your spirits; so that, that which you take to be a reason for reading them, is a strong objection against it. For it is never so improper to read those books, as when you want to have your spirits raised, or your mind made easy to itself. For it is the highest abuse you can put upon yourself to look for ease and quiet in any thing, but in right apprehensions of God's providence. And it is a sin against the whole nature of religion, not to make it the whole measure and reason of all your peace, and enjoyment in every occurrence of life,
If you must amuse yourself with a volume of plays, because you are laid up with a broken leg, or have lost a friend, you are as far from wisdom, as a child that is to be made quiet with a rattle, and not much more religious than those who worship idols; for to seek to such things for relief and refreshment, is like applying to the devil in distress. A man that drinks drams every time he is dull or uneasy, is a wise, prudent, and sober man, if compared to the Christian that in seasons of dejection has recourse to wanton wit, and profane rant, to divert his spirits: