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Christians on the Sunday. The difference betwixt Sundays and other days, does not consist in any difference in the inward state of our minds, but in the outward circumstances of the day; as a general rest from our lawful callings, and a public celebration of divino worship. This is the particular holiness of the Sunday, which requires a particular rest from labour, and attendance at divine worship; but requires no particular inward holiness of the mind, but such as is the necessary holiness of every day. So that whatever is contrary to that holiness, purity, and wisdom of mind, which is to be our temper on the Sunday, is as much to be abhorred and avoided all the week as on the Sunday; because though Sunday differs from other days in outward marks of holiness, yet Christians are to be every day alike as to the inward state and temper of their minds.
Therefore, though the labours of our ordinary employment and other actions are to be forborn on the Sunday, and yet are very lawful on other days; yet the case is very different as to these books; they are unfit to be read at any time, for the same reason that they are not fit to be read on Sundays. And the reason is this, because though we may do things on the week-days, that we ought not to do on the Sunday, yet we must indulge no temper, nor support any turn of mind, that is contrary to that purity of heart and mind which we are to aspire. after on the Sunday. We may labour on the weekdays, because labour is an external action, that is not contrary to any purity or holinese of mind; but we must no more be covetous on the week-days than on Sundays, because covetousness is a temper of the mind, a wrong disposition of the heart, that is equally contrary to religion on all days.
Now reading is not the labour of our hands, or our feet; but is the entertainment and exercise of the heart and mind; a delight in either good or bad books, is as truly a temper and disposition of the heart, as covetousness and pride is a disposition of the heart. For the same reason, therefore, that pride and covetousness are constantly to be avoided on every day of our lives, because they are wrong tempers of the mind, and contrary to essential holiness; for the same reason is the pleasure of reading ill and corrupt books, always to be avoided at all times, because it is a temper and disposition of our hearts that is contrary to that state of holiness which is essential to Christianity.
If you was to hear a Christian say, that on Sundays he abstained from evil speaking, and corrupt communication, but not on the week-days, you would think him either very ignorant of the nature of religion, or very profane. Yet this is as wise and religious as to forbear reading ill books, and wanton poems, only on Sundays, and to take the liberty of reading them at other times. For that vanity of mind, that foolishness of heart, that depraved taste, which can relish the wild fictions, the lewd speeches, the profane language of mad heroes, disappointed lovers, raving in all the furious expressions of lust, and passion, and madness, is as corrupt a temper, as contrary to holiness, and as odious on its own account, as evil speaking and malice.
When therefore you see a person reading a play as soon as he comes from the Sunday's solemnity of public service, you abhor his profaneness; but pray be so just to yourself, so consistent with common sense, as to think every one liable to the same accusation that delights in the same book on any other time of the week; and that the difference of reading plays on week-days, and not on Sundays, is only the difference of speaking evil on week-days, and not on Sundays.
From these reflections, I hope, it sufficiently appears, that the reading vain and impertinent books is no matter of indifferency; but that it is justly to be reckoned amongst our greatest corruptions; that it
is as unlawful as malice and evil speaking, and is no more to be allowed in any part of our life than pride or covetousness.
Reading, when it is an exercise of the mind upon wise and pious subjects, is, next to prayer, the best improvement of our hearts; it enlightens our minds, collects our thoughts, calms and allays our passions, and begets in iis wise and pious resolutions; it is a labour that has so many benefits, that does so much good to our minds, that it ought never to be employed amiss; it enters so far into our souls, that it cannot have a little effect upon us. We commonly say, that a nian is known by his companions; but it is certain, that a man is much more known by the books that he converses with. These closet-companions, with whom we choose to be alone, and in private, are never-failing proofs of the state and disposition of our hearts.
When we are abroad, we must take such as the world gives us; we must be with such people, and hear such discourse, as the common state of our life exposes us to.
This is what we must bear with, because not altogether to be avoided; and as it is not altogether matter of choice, so it is no proof of what temper we are are of. But if we make our closet an entertainment of greater variety and impertinence than conversation we can meet with abroad; if rakish, libertine writers are welcome to us in secret; if histories of scandal and romantic intrigues are to be with us in our private retirements; this is a plain discovery of our inside, and is a manifest proof that we are as vain, and foolish, and vicious, as the authors that we choose to read. If a wanton poem pleases you, you may fairly reckon yourself in the same state and condition with him that made it." In like manner, if histories of nonsense and folly; if com positions of intrigue and scandal suit your teme: per, such books do as truly represent your nature as they represent the nature of their authors.
Julia has buried her husband, and married her daughters; since that she spends her time in reading. She is always reading foolish and unedifying books; she tells you every time she sees you, that she is almost at the end of the silliest book that ever she read in her life; that the best of it is, it is very long, and serves to dispose of a good deal of lier time. She tells you, that all romances are sad stuff, yet is very impatient till she can get all that she can hear of. Histories of intrigue and scandal are the books that Julia thinks are always too short. If Julia was to drink drams in private, and had no enjoyment herself without them, she would not tell you this, because she knows it would be plainly telling you that she was a poor disordered sot. See here, therefore, the weakness of Julia; she would not be thought to be a reprobate; yet she lets you know, that she lives upon folly and scandal, and impertinence in her closet; that she cannot be in private without them; that they are the only support of her dull hours; and yet she does not perceive, that this is as plainly telling you, that she is in a miserable, disordered, reprobate state of mind.
To return: It is reckoned very dangerous not to guard our eyes; but it is much more dangerous not to guard our meditations; because whatever enters that way, enters deeper into our souls than any thing that only aflects our sight. Reading and meditation is that to our souls, which food and nourrishment is to our bodies, and becomes a part of us in the same manner; so that we cannot do ourselves either a little good, or little harm, by the books that we read.
You, perhaps, think, that it is a dull task to read only religious and moral books; but when you have the spirit of religion; when you can think of God as your only happiness; when you are not afraid of the joys of eternity; you will think it a dull task to read any other books. Do not fancy, therefore, that
your heart is right, and that you are well enough atfected with religion, though you had rather read books upon other subjects; for it is there that you are to charge your dullness; religion has no hold of you; the things of eternity are not the concerns of your mind : it is dull and tiresome to you to be wise and pious; and that makes it a dull task to read books that treat only upon such subjects. When it is the care of your soul to be humble, holy, pious, and heavenly-minded; when you know any thing of the guilt and misery of sin, or feel a real desire of salvation, you will tind religious books to be the greatest feast and joy of your mind.
If you think it dull and tedions to be in wise, prudent, and sober company, it is because you are neither wise nor sober yourself; so if it is dull and tiresome to you, to be often upon subjects of piety and religion, it is as sure a proof that you are neither pious nor religious. If, therefore, you can suppose, that a wise and sober man may be most delighted with the noise and revelings of drunkenness; then you may suppose, that it is possible for you to be truly religious, and yet be most pleased with the folly and impertinence of corrupt and unedifying books. You, perhaps, will say, that you have so much spare time for reading, that you think you need not employ it all in reading good books. It may be so; you may have also more time than you need devote to acts and offices of charity; but will you thence conclude, that you may, at those times, do things contrary to charity, and indulge yourself in spite and malice.
If you have every day more time than you can employ in reading, meditation, and prayer, if this time hangs upon your hands, and cannot be turned to any advantage, let me desire you to go to sleep, or pick straws; for it is much better to do this than to have recourse to corrupt and impertinent books. Time lost in sleep, or picking straws, is better lost