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There is such a thing, as being blameless and harmless, and without rebuke, in the midst of the vicious and profane. There is such a thing, as discharging the duties of relation and friendship to bad men, without an imitation of their wicked manners. You are not to seek connexions with the ungodly; you are not to choose them for your stated companions. There is always danger in associating with the vicious: And you are not unnecessarily to throw yourselves into the jaws of danger. It was David's wisdom, that, when he resolved to keep God's commandments, he said to evildoers, Depart from me. But if providence so orders your situation in life, that you are unavoidably conyersant with the wicked, you must guard against the infection of their corrupt advice and example. If you must have fellowship with them in your civil concerns, yet have no fellowship with their unfruitful works, but rather reprove them. The man who voluntarily runs into the company of the profane, will easily be seduced by them; for he goes with a heart disposed to conform to their manners; and, by inviting temptations, he forfeits the divine protection. But if providence calls you into the place of temptation, and you take heed to your ways, while the wicked are before you, the grace of God will be ready to your assistance.
Let this resolution be fixed in your minds, that you will walk in the path of virtue; and when you ineet with temptations to depart from it, listen not to them; repel them in their first approach; renew your good resolution; think of the danger of violating it; and apply to God for his preserving grace. Thus you may keep yourselves unspotted from the world, and the wicked one will not touch you.
4. The young are here cautioned, that they abuse not the grace of God.
You see, that persons in the same family, and under the same advantages, pursue different courses, and come to different ends. If external means alone were sufficient to religion, why was Herod so different from Manaen? The grace of God was undoubtedly to be acknowledged in the preservation of the latter from the guilty course of the former. But what if Manaen had continually opposed every serious sentiment, conviction and resolution excited in his mind? What if he had studied to extinguish a sense of virtue, by encouraging the principles of infidelity? What if he had constantly sought to banish all rational thoughts and religious purposes, by dissipation and sensuality? Is it prob able that we should have found him among the professors and the teachers of religion? Some, indeed, are recovered, late in life, from gross wickedness. But more usually, they who give themselves up to impiety and irreligion in youth, become so harden.
ed in their sins, and so dead to a sense of their dan ger, that nothing awakens them to repentance.
If you depend on the grace of God, it is of importance that you early attend to its kind motions on your hearts; that you encourage the convictions which it awakens on your consciences; and that you pursue the virtuous resolutions which it excites. Never dare to act contrary to the real sense and feeling of your minds--never dare to en tertain any corrupt and licentious principles-never dare to make light of things serious, and to treat with contempt the sacred institutions of religion. Carefully avoid whatever tends to stupify the conscience, and to deaden the sensibility of the heart. For if you thus oppose and abuse that grace of God, on which you depend, you have reason to fear, that you will soon be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, and will finally perish in your guilt and impenitence.
5. Let the young be rational and discreet in forming their worldly prospects.
Herod's royal birth gave scope to his ambition; and the expectation of worldly greatness contributed to draw him off from religion, and to plunge him into those vices which terminated in his ruin. If the honours and the riches of the world are so dangerous, let none raise high prospects to themselves. Set out in life with an aim to do goodto serve God in works of piety, and to serve your generation in the practice of justice and charity. Think of no worldly honour and wealth, but what shall rise on the foundation of virtue and righteousness. You may aim at a degree of respectability among men. This is an honest and manly aim. But never aim at any kind of worldly greatness, but what may be attained in a way of well doing. Virtue is dignity in itself. All kinds of worldly dig. nity, but that which is built on a virtuous character, are but marks of infamy.
Remember, you have a part to act in this world, which bears a relation to the future. Seek first the kingdom of God. Seek nothing that is contrary to this. Governed by a superior regard to futurity, you may pursue your worldly interests with innocence. While religious principles predominate in your heart, you may proceed safely. Your secular employments will be subservient to the interest of your souls; and your religion will also contribute to your temporal happiness.
When you see the young, who enjoy the means of religion, and the advantages of a good education, running headlong into the path of vice and ruin, look upon them with compassion and fear. Pity them, and tremble for yourselves.
Let a view of their danger awaken your caution to avoid the same. Warn them of the misery before them. At least, show them, by your exam
ple, that you view their track as fatal. Fly from it, and walk in the way everlasting. "Blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful; but who delights in the law of his God, and meditates therein continually."
6. How unhappy will be the case of those youths, who have not only enjoyed a good education, but been favoured with pious examples among the youths of their connexion, and yet, after all, have pursued the path of vice. This was the case of Herod. Manaen was much to be commended, that he had followed religion in opposition to the vicious example of Herod, with whom he had been brought up. Herod is worthy of a sorer condemnation, because he turned away from religion, when he had so inviting an example before him in the amiable life and manners of Manaen his foster brother. The virtue of the one is exalted; the guilt of the other is aggravated, by the contrast.
Know, my young friend, if sinners entice you," you are not to consent. You cannot excuse yourself in a vicious course, though you have ever so many enticements. How inexcusable are you then, if you run into this course, in opposition to the virtuous and pious examples of your friends and companions. You may not follow a multitude to do evil; much less may you forsake the virtuous to do evil alone. The true penitent will no longer run, with former guilty companions, into excess of riot. And will you dare to run into excess of riot, when you see others flying from the fatal track?
You are brought up in a religious family. You have, in common with others, received seasonable instructions and warnings, Do you see some with whom you are educated, walking in wisdom's way, devoting themselves to God, and working out their VOL. II. G g
salvation? And are you careless and sensual, profane and ungodly; regardless of God's word, and of your own salvation? What excuse will be found for you? Those virtuous youths have been brought up with you; And why have you perverted an education, which has been so salutary to them? You and they have dwelt together here, and enjoyed similar advantages, you value their company and friendship, you esteem them for their virtuous manners; But will you pursue a course so diverse from theirs? Must there soon be an eternal separation between you and them? While they are rising to the world of glory, Will you rush headlong down to the regions of darkness?
Let their example rebuke your impiety; awaken you from your carelessness; and engage you to mind, in this your day, the things which belong to your peace.
Be a follower of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Be the companion of them who fear God and keep his commandments. Let their friends, be your friends; their God, your God; and whither they go, do you go also.