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through the righteousness and grace of the Redeemer, that the blessed God, the eternal and inexhaustible source of happiness, would Lift up the light of his countenance upon you, and bid you welcome into his gracious presence. This is an argument which St. Paul urges, in the view in which I now mention it, when, dissuading the Corinthians from forming any intimate alliance with sinners, he pleads, that God hath said, Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty*. And God forbid, that you should ever arrive at such a degree of impious madness, as to question, whether the favour and friendship of the majesty of heaven be preferable to the converse of a vain, sinful worm. Oh that he would grant you the visit of one hour, of one moment; and you would need nothing farther to teach you to say, Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire but thee; none that I desire in comparison with thee; how much less in opposition to thee!
Once more, if you are companions of the saints now, you may enjoy the reviving hope, that you will shortly meet them in the presence of God above, and for ever converse together, with the greatest ardour of mutual affection, as well as the noblest improvement, both in capacity, temper, and circumstances. Nor will you there only meet your pious friends, with whom on earth you Took sweet counsel together, and perhaps went to the house of God in company; but you will form many new acquaintances with the most excellent and glorious of created beings; you will come To the innumerable company of angels, and to the spirits of just men made perfect; nay, you will dwell for ever with God, the judge of all, and Jesus the Mediator of the covenants. But surely you cannot expect a favourable reception into that blessed world, or any of the preparatory felicities I have been describing, if you resolutely adhere to foolish and wicked companions now. David would not have presumed to pray, as he doth, gather not my soul with sinners, if he could not have said, as in the preced ing words, I have not sat with vain persons, neither will I go in with dissemblers; I have hated the congregation of evil-doers, and will not sit with the wicked. And if you think to reconcile such companions, with such enjoyments and hopes, you delude yourselves with inconsistent dreams, in direct opposition to the voice of reason, as well as of scripture. Give me leave, once more, to intreat you to consider,
*2 Cor. vi. 17, 18.
+ Psa. 1xxiii. 25.
Psal. lv. 14.
Psa. xxvi, 4, 5, 9.
3. How little advantage you can receive from such society, to counter-balance the damage you sustain, and the happiness you forfeit for it.
I am sure it ought to be something very grand and important, for which you grieve your friends, and provoke God; for which you cut yourselves off from the most valuable enjoyments in this world, and a better, and at length plunge yourselves into everlasting destruction. And now shew us, I intreat you, the worthy prize; tell us what those friends are, whose company you purchase at so dear a rate; and what important offices they can do for you, to make you amends for all you must lose, and for all you must suffer on their account? Poor wretches! The most they can do, is to administer something which may gratify your appetite, or amuse your imagination, for a few transient moments. A relishing meal, a cheerful cup, a thoughtless, noisy burst of laughter, are some of the best things they can procure for you. And are these so great? Surely, if it were reasonable in any case, it is peculiarly so in this, to Say of laughter, it is mad; and of mirth and luxury, what doth it? It is but a poor entertainment while it lasts, which Solomon elegantly compares to the useless momentary blaze of a few Crackling thorns under a pot + And there is a mixture of uneasiness often attending it from a view of the consequences, which will often force itself on the mind; so that Even in laughter, the heart is sorrowful. But if the satisfaction it gave were ever so transporting, or ever so complete, yet still it would be very contemptible, because its duration is so short. Death is continually advancing towards you, which will very shortly separate you from your chosen companions; and if the most beloved of them were waiting round your bed, they could by no means deliver you from the grave, or moderate the agonies which were bringing you thither. Even before your trembling souls are dislodged from your bodies, your relish for their converse will be entirely spoiled; so that you would think yourselves barbarously insulted by them, if, in the midst of your anguish and distress, they should offer you those entertainments which you once so fondly pursued together, and which were the cement of your precarious and short-lived friendship. Judge then, whether those things are so highly valuable, which, in the near views of eternity, you would behold with horror, rather than with pleasure; and whether your most rational fecility in both worlds is to be sacrificed to such vanities as these.
I firmly believe, that, upon such reflections as these, you must be compelled, even to your own condemnation, to confess, that, as Solomon declares, He that followeth vain persons, is void of understanding*. And if you are convinced of it, then let me intreat you, my dear unhappy friends, who are entangled in this fatal snare, that, in the strength of divine grace, you would immediately attempt an escape. It will indeed require resolution; but, remember, it will amply reward it: And therefore determine upon it this day, that you will go no more to their assemblies of vanity, and of sin; and When they would entice you, consent not to them; but rather tell them plainly and seriously, that you know and consider, that your souls are at stake; and tell them, you avoid their company now, because you dread it in hell. And who knows, but such a serious and lively admonition from those who were once their brethren in iniquity, may do more to awaken them, than many addresses from the pulpit? Who knows, but it may effectually reclaim them, and be a means of forming them to such characters, as may make their friendship as safe and as honourable, as ever it was dangerous and infamous? At least, you will have delivered your own soul, and may comfortably hope, that your life will be given you for a prey. With this solemn charge, as in the name and presence of God, I dismiss you from this head, and proceed,
III. To those reflections and inferences, with which I shall conclude the discourse.
1. If so many evils and dangers attend the pursuit of wicked company, how careful should parents and governors be, to keep young people out of the way of it!
You see from all I have been saying, how necessary this care is, if you desire they should be happy in this world, or the next. It is a dreadful charge that is brought against Eli, and a dreadful doom is pronounced upon him for it; that His sons made themselves vile, and that he restrained them not. And therefore, as you love your own souls, and those of yours, endeavour, with all possible resolution, to avoid being culpable yourselves on this account.
And here I would observe, that your care must begin very early, and that it must take a great compass. You should endeavour betimes to lay in an antidote against the future poison,
*Prov. xii. 11, VOL. II.
+ Prov. i. 10.
1 Sam. iii. 13.
by labouring to the utmost to possess their infant minds with a sense of the divine presence, a desire of pleasing God, and a dread of offending him. You should endeavour to inspire them with an abhorrence of sin, and a love to the ways and people of God. Endeavour to find out suitable company for them, and to make your own company as delightful to them as you can. Indulge them in such diversions, as duty and prudence will admit; for too rigorous a restraint from these things makes them eager to pursue them, wherever they are to be found. And if you see they begin to form an acquaintance with such as you think likely to insnare and corrupt them, first gently warn them of it, and endeavour by the easiest methods to draw them off: If those will not do, reason with them more largely on the head; lay before them the various dangers they will be exposed to, and shew them the instances of those who have been injured and ruined by such company: Instances, which, it is to be feared, you will always have near at hand: And if all this be not enough, interpose with the authority God has given you; absolutely forbid them the place and company, and let them see, by your after-conduct, that you are in good earnest in the prohibition. At the same time, endeavour to recommend religion to them in the most amiable light, that they may be convinced it carries its entertainment along with it, so that there is no need of seeking pleasure in The paths of the destroyer. I know this is a matter of difficulty, and requires a great deal of prudence and steadiness to conduct it aright; but I am persuaded, if parents and masters were careful in this respect, few would be ruined till they came to be at their own disposal, and the destruction of multitudes would be entirely prevented. May God graciously give you wisdom to know your duty, and faithfulness to perform it!
2. If wicked company be so pernicious, as we have heard; then how cautious should we be in the choice of a companion for life, if you are in such circumstances, as to have that choice before you.
It is evident, that, as all bad company is dangerous, so the nearer it is to us, and the more frequent the opportunities of conversing with it, the greater mischief will it probably do us. Those who are in the conjugal relation, should make it their great business and care, to assist and animate each other in the ways of God; and such is the prevalency of our sinful nature, and so many the snares and temptations of life, that, with all
frequently interrupted. What then could you expect, if you had those, not only in your houses, but in your arms too, from whom you would hardly ever hear a serious word; and who would perhaps be unwilling to give you the hearing, if you should attempt any such discourse: Nay, might possibly revile or banter you for it, and, by their impious language and wicked example, might greatly deaden religious sentiments in your own heart, and either prevent or frustrate your endeavours for communicating them to those under your care? When christians, of one sex or other, chuse such a companion for life, they seem to lie under great difficulties, and will be in imminent danger, either on the one hand, of failing in a due affection and regard, or on the other, of being perverted and ensnared by that very affection, which both the duties of the relation, and the comfort of life so evidently require. If any of you have taken this hazardous step, I have nothing to do but to advise you, to be daily looking up to God for that extraordinary prudence which your circumstances require. But this is such a situation, that I cannot forbear praying, that, as for those of you who are yet single, no considerations of beauty, wit, temper, or fortune, may ever prevail upon you to bow your necks to so unequal a yoke.
3. How much reason have you to be thankful, if God has delivered you from the snares of wicked company, and given you a relish for such as is good.
Think how easily you might have been entangled and undone. Think how many, in other respects at least your equals in wisdom and capacity, are in this instance making a foolish choice; and Bless the Lord, who has given you counsel*. It is his mercy, that gives you serious and useful friends, and gives you a heart to value them. By their converse you may gain many advantages directly opposite to the evils I have been describing. Be humbled, that you have improved these advantages no better; and pray for the aids of divine grace, that for the future they may be more diligently regarded: And if Providence ever lead you into the company of carnal sinners, which the most pions and resolute cannot wholly avoid, labour that they may be something the better for you, and you not the worse for them; and consider all the irregularities you observe in them, as farther motives of thankfulness to God, for making
Psal. xvi. 7.