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SEASONABLE ADVICE TO YOUNG PERSONS.
PSALM i. I.
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
HERE is an old and beaten obfervation, that human nature, in all ages, is the fame. To this I add, or rather offer, by way of illuftration of it, that fin, which bears fo much fway in human characters and actions, has been the fame, in its operation and influence, in all ages, fince the fall of Adam. For this reafon the characters drawn in the holy fcriptures, and particularly the obfervations on human life, contained in the Pfalms of David, the Proverbs of Solomon, and book of Ecclefiaftes, are as perfectly adapted to the prefent age, as if they were but of yesterday's date.
As the ten commandments, which are the fum of the moral law, confift moftly of prohibitions, the Pfalmift, in this paffage, draws the character of the good man in a negative form, by its oppofition to the bad. At the fame time, the danger to which the unwary are expofed, the enticing and deceitful nature of fin, and its monftrous enormity, when arrived at its full height, are couched in the most admirable manner: "Bleffed is the man that walk
"eth not in the counsel of the ungodly;-nor ftandeth in "the way of finners ;-nor fitteth in the feat of the fcorn"ful."
It is not agreed among interpreters, who was the author of this Pfalm; and, indeed, it is a matter more of curiofity than moment, very critically to inquire. Some think it was the Pfalmift David, because of the high efteem expreffed in it for the law of God, a thing which fo remarkably diftinguishes his other writings. Others refer it to a later period; and fuppofe that Ezra, or fome other after the captivity, who collected the facred hymns of different authors into one volume, prefixed this as a fort of argument or preface to the whole. It is, indeed, a fummary of all that follow. It plainly contains a character both of good men and bad; the ufual courfe of divine Providence towards each of these claffes, as well as the final iffue of their conduct, in the everlasting happiness of the one, and the everlasting mifery of the other.
Even the most curfory reader muft obferve, that there is a gradation in the expreffions of the text, which rife one above another in their strength and energy: nay, it is the opinion of many, that they are chofen with peculiar art, and contain a double, if not a threefold gradation.
1. In the character, beginning with the ungodly, who are without proper impressions of religion, and habitually governed by other principles than the fear of God. Next, sinners, or those who are more openly flagitious, and vifibly guilty of grofs crimes. And finally, the scornful, who fet reproof at defiance, and treat every thing ferious and facred with contempt and disdain.
2. In the communication of others with them, walking; which feems to imply occafional, unforeseen, and tranfient intercourfe;-standing, which feems to indicate a greater degree of approbation and voluntary compliance with their example;—and sitting, which fignifies being fixed and fettled in an evil course, and refufing to depart from it. To this fome add the other expreffions, the counsel, the way, and the seat; on which I forbear to infift, but proceed to obferve,
That we have, in this paffage, a moft ufeful and inftructive lesson of great moment in every place and age; and peculiarly fuited, on feveral accounts, to the prefent circumftances of this congregation. It is, therefore my refolution to difcourfe a little, through the affiftance of divine grace, on the three diftin&t branches into which it may be naturally divided.
I. The infectious nature of fin, or the danger of" walk"ing in the counsel of the ungodly."
II. The deceitful and hardening nature of fin, which infenfibly leads from "walking in the counsel of the un"godly," to "ftanding in the way of finners."
III. The finishing ftage of wickedness, the most criminal and most pernicious character, viz, of the scornful, who are bold enough to treat things ferious and facred with derifion.
Having done this, I fhall make fome application of the fubject, for your inftruction and direction.
In the first place, let us confider the infectious nature of fin, or the danger of walking in the counfel of the ungodly. That the fociety of bad men is highly dangerous to all, but especially to young perfons, is indeed a truth which no fober man will deny, and which hath been often fet in the strongest light by religious and moral writers: it may therefore feem unneceffary to infift upon it. But, my brethren, I am perfuaded, that it fares often with known and common truths, as with common mercies, they are despised for their cheapnefs. Though their certainty be readily allowed, their use and application is, notwithstanding, or, perhaps, for that very reasons, in a great measure neglected. How feldom is it that men make the diftinction with care, and act upon it with prudence and refolution; either in their own conduct, or in the difpofal of their children? Bear with me, therefore, while I endeavor to imprefs your minds with a fenfe of your obligation to depart from the fociety of evil-doers, and to preferve, with the utmost folicitude, all young perfons under your care, from the mortal contagion.
For the importance and neceffity of this, you have the concurrent teftimony of wife and good men, in every age and nation; experience hath taught it to the moft barbarous, as well as most improved and polifhed people. There is no nation of which history hath preferved us any account, but, in their proverbial fayings, which are the product of time, we find a warning against the infection of corrupt fociety. What dying parent, in his laft or parting adieu to his children, ever omitted to caution them against the fociety of bad men? nay, doth not daily experience prove this, beyond difpute, to every one who hath the leaft degree either of memory or reflection? Is there among you any perfon, who has arrived at the unhappy diftinction of being known for a profligate? Whenever this happens, thofe about him are able to mark the progrefs of his corruption, and can even point out the persons, or societies, where he was firft taught the rudiments of vice, and initiated in the principles of licentioufnefs and riot. I am none of those who either deny or conceal the original, inherent, univerfal corruption of human nature; and yet I fcruple not to affirm, that example, inftruction, and as fiftance, are neceflary to our improvement even in vice. Without this, no fingle perfon is capable of arriving at that degree of depravity which we have fometimes occa fion to obferve.
Whoever would examine into the reafons, and imprefs his mind with a fenfe of the danger of corrupt fociety, ef pecially to youth, may just reflect upon the following par ticulars.
1. We are all by nature prone to fin. It is the growth of the foil, as weeds of the curfed ground. If weeds can hardly be reftrained by the utmost diligence and care of the husbandman, what an enormous product might he expect if he would directly apply himself to their encourage. ment and cultivation? Juft fo, if by the utmost care and attention, parents can hardly restrain the irregularities of their children, and form them to true piety and goodness; what wickednefs may they not arrive at, if they are delis vered over to schools of profanity, and fuffered to form their fentiments and manners, from thofe who have long
"walked in the ways of their own hearts, and in the fight "of their own eyes," without "fearing God, or regarding man ?"
2. Young perfons are ignorant and unfufpicious; ftrangers to the world, they are alike ignorant of the cha racters of men, and the effects of vicious courses. What a prey muft fuch be to the artful and infinuating language of those, who, enslaved by habit, and wearing the chains of vice, find their chief remaining pleasure in feducing others into the fame miferable flate? Jufily is the great enemy of mankind called the deceiver, because he betrayed our first parents into rebellion by a lie; and in the fame way he and all his fervants continue to paint and varnish over fin with falfe colours, that it may be embraced without reluctance, by those who know not that afterwards" it biteth "like a ferpent, and flingeth like an adder. Need I tell you in what a decent garb fin is often clothed; and what honorable names it often affumes in the world, to gain the eafier admiffion? Senfuality and intemperance is focial affection, and good fellow fhip: filthy obfcene converfation is but harmless mirth and freedom: anger and refentment are but honor, refolution, and dignity of mind. In fhort, the whole tenor and ftrain of fafhionable converfation is often little elfe than a ftrong illufion put upon the mind, to pervert the dictates of reason, and evade the reproofs of confcience. How dangerous fuch intercourfe to young unwary minds, who are often deeply penetrated with the poison, before they fo much as fufpect the defign of its being administered? It requires no common degree of fortitude and refolution, as well as no finall meafure of fpiritual wifdom, to refift the importunity of finners, and unravel the fubtilty with which they lie in wait to deceive.
3. Vice is ufually baited with pleafure, of which young perfons are peculiarly fenfible: their affections of every kind are in the most lively and vigorous ftate. One of the first and most important leffons, which parents and guardians muft teach them, is moderation and reftraint; whereas the immediate effect of allociating with the profane, is not only to firengthen their paffions by indulgence, but to inftruct them how to plead in their defence; and VOL. II. 3Q