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to be considered by all Christians, as a mighty encouragement to an exact strictness and regularity of behaviour; that as a holy conversation entitles us to a reward for other people's virtues, so an evil communication, and the folly of our lives, make us liable to a punishment for other men's sins. For we can neither live well or ill tv ourselves alone, but must of necessity do either good or harm to others, by our manner of conversation. This is one great reason why a vain corrupt communication does so grieve the Holy Spirit, because it is so infecting an evil, and does so corrupt the manners of those that we converse with. This doctrine of abstaining from corrupt communication, that we may not grieve the Spirit of God, teaches us a high aim, and exalted degree of perfection, which is peculiar to Christianity. As Christianity lays the design of uniting us to God, and raising us to a more intimate participation of the divine nature; so we are to make the spirit of our religion, and the greatness of its designs, the rule of our perfection.
We must not only conduct ourselves by rules of morality, but pursue such degrees of purity as can only be expressed by an imitation of God, and aspire after such wisdom as is suggested to us, hy considering that we are temples of the Holy Ghost, and must live like beings consecrated by the Spirit of Wisdom. If we were frequently to consider the holy presence of this God within us, and to ask ourselves---does this discourse, this behaviour, become one who is to act according to the inspirations of the Divine Spirit? We should find, that the very thought of this dignity of our state would determine several points where no express law condemns us; we should find such a contrariety in many of our allowed ways to our Christian greatness, to this Holy Spirit that is given unto us, as would sufficiently check our behaviour, only by showing us that we acted below ourselves.
It is common in life to hear a man say, This does not become a gentleman; That does not become a man of quality : now I would have us find out something like this in religion; for certainly if any state of life has its dignity, which can excite men to a suitable greatness of action, surely the state of a Christian, which is a state of such relation to God, which unites us to his Holy Spirit, ought to raise in us a desire of acting suitable to so exalted a condition. For who can so justly be afraid of acting below himself, as he that is made one with Christ? Who can so reasonably think that he is never wise, or holy, or pure enough, as he that is to walk with God in the light of his Holy Spirit, whose soul and body is made a sacred temple for the divine presence?
The heathen philosophers exhorted man to reverence his reason as a ray of the Deity; but we can go much higher; we can exhort him to reverence the Deity that dwelleth in him, and to act with such purity as becomes persons that are inspired by the Holy Ghost.
This is the improvement that we are to make of this doctrine of divine grace; it must make us exact and careful of our behaviour, that we may walk worthy of that Holy Spirit that dwelleth in us.
The Necessity of divine Grace obligeth all Christians
to a constant purity and holiness of Conversation; wherein is shown the great Danger, and great Impiety of reading vain and impertinent Books.
HAVE shown in the foregoing chapter, that the
necessity of divine grace is a mighty argument for an universal care and exactness of life and con
versation. I come now to speak to one remarkable branch of it: Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers ; and grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed to the day of redemption. Now if we are to let no corrupt communication proceed out of our mouth, that we may not grieve the Holy Spirit, and separate him from us; then it follows, that we are also to deny ourselves the entertainment of all corrupt, impertinent, and unedifying books. For if vain and idle words are not to proceed out of our mouths, we must be under the same necessity of not letting them enter into our hearts.
If we would know what books are to be avoided, as corrupt and grievous to the Holy Spirit, we must look back to the rule of our communication ; for as that communication is there said to be corrupt, that does not edify and minister grace to the hearers, so must we look upon all those books as corrupt, which do not improve and confirm our hearts in virtue, or, in the apostle's words, such as do not edify and minister grace to the readers. Now this book-entertainment is as certainly forbidden by the apostle, as cheating is forbidden by the eighth commandment: for if I am not to say foolish and impertinent things myself, because such a communication grieves and removes the Holy Spirit of God; I am as certainly forbid the reading the corrupt and impertinent sayings of other people. The books which mostly corrupt our hearts, and fill us with a spirit of folly, are such as almost all the world allow themselves to read; I mean books of wit and humour, romances, plays, and other productions of the poets. Thus a grave orthodox old gentleman, if he hears that his niece is very good, and delights-in reading, will fill her closet with volumes of plays, and poems on several occasions, on purpose to encourage her to spend her time well, There is not, perhaps, a more surprising infatuation in the conduct of Christians, than with regard to these books.
A father would be very much troubled to see his daughter, in conversation, pleased with the lewd remarks of a rake; he would be afraid that she had lost the virtue of her mind, if she could relish such a turn of conversation : yet this same father shall help his daughter to a volume of occasional poems for her closet entertainment, full of such gross immodesties, as hardly any rake would venture to express in any conversation. It is, perhaps, a collection of the poet's finest, strongest, and most finished thoughts in lewdness and immodesty. Every wantonness of imagination, every transport of passion, every extravagance of thought, which ever seized him in his life, is there preserved for the meditation of the Christian reader; as if profaneness, blasphemy, the grossest descriptions of lust, and the wildest sallies of impure passions, were made good and useful for a Christian, by being put into rhyme and measure. And what shows this infatuation in a yet higher degree is this, that it is still a prevailing opinion in the world, that the reading virtuous books is a geat means of improving in virtue; whereas one would suppose, that the books I have mentioned could only be allowed upon a belief, that there was neither good nor harm to be got by reading.
But however let us remember, that though the way of the world, which is thus inconsistent, may allow this polite kind of entertainment; yet this is no rule or security for our conduct, since we are no more to make the spirit of the world our guide, than we are to make the riches of the world our happiness. The doctrines of the Scriptures are the only rule by which we are now to live, and the rule by which we shall hereafter be judged. Now if we will allow ourselves in the reading profane, impure, and impertinent books, which have every thing in them that can pervert our understandings, and corrupt our hearts; though the Scripture forbids all unedifying discourse, as a thing that grieves the Holy Spirit; it must be said, that we act as contrary to Scripture as if we indulged and pleased ourselves in malice and revenge.
You read a play; I tell you that you read ribaldry and profaneness; that you fill your mind with extravagant thoughts, lewd intrigues, vain fictions, wanton ideas, and impure descriptions. If you ask me where is the sin of this, you may as well ask me where is the sin of swearing and lying : for it is a sin, not only against this, or that particular text, but it is a sin against the whole nature and spirit of qur religion; it is a contradiction to all holiness, and to all the methods of arriving at it. For if evil unedifying communication be forbidden in Scripture, and for this reason, because it grieves the Spirit of God; then the entertainment of such books is certainly forbidden. For certainly the wild rant, the profane speeches, filthy jests, and impure passions, which there abound, are an evil communication in the highest degree, and must, therefore, highly grieve and separate the Holy Spirit from us. Can therefore any practice be forbid upon a more dreadful penalty than this? For without the Spirit of God, we are but figures of Christians, and must die in our sins. If, therefore, we can prove it to be a small matter to grieve the Spirit of God, then we may allow that it is but a small offence to please ourselves in reading those corrupt books. Our blessed Saviour saith, Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, and that these are the things that defile a man; must it not, therefore, be a great defilement to take evil thoughts into our hearts; Need we any other motive than than this, to watch and guard the purity of our minds ? He that, notwithstanding this doce trine of our Saviour's, dares to set apart times for