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vourable opinion. You are to relinquish this opinion, rather than to violate conscience; for it is more common for persons to be hypocritical, than for a man's conscience to judge that to be sinful, which is not so. Care must be taken to inform the mind, to become acquainted with the rules of duty God hath given. By the light of his word we are to judge of the fitness of any course of conduct. If by this, conscience de. termine that to be evil and wicked, to which a man entices you, there is reason to conclude, unless you have ground to suspect an errour in his judgment, that his heart is not right, whatever you once thought of his character. But we go upon the supposition that conscience is impartially attended to, as the judge of right and wrong, that the mind is not under a strong bias, that it is not interested, or inclined, to pervert the decisions of conscience; but disposed to understand the truth. In this case, from the very things to which they entice you, the real character of your fellow beings is, in a great measure to be determined.
There are exceptions to this general rule. You may be serious and honest, but superstitious; and others may aim to free you from such an infirmity; but you, not aware of your
own superstitious notions, may feel yourselves bound to retain them; and from this circumstance form a wrong estimate of the character of those that would persuade you to renounce them. On the other hand, they who would persuade you to any thing you believe wrong, may not be corrupt in heart, but erroneous in judgment. But persons of sober reflection will commonly discover when this is the case, and guard against false and uncharitable conclusions. These are exceptions; but they do not destroy the general rule of judging the characters of mankind. By it you may discover right and wrong, and the temper and disposition of those who entice you to evil; and therefore it can be scarcely a palliation of your fault, to say you consented, because, from your good opinion of your enticers, you had no apprehension of being led into vice and folly.
The wicked may persuade you to some actions which are materially good, and which are so in a moral sense, is performed from right motives. Nor ought you any more to refrain from a good action, because a supposed bad man recommends it, than to perform an evil one, because it is sanctioned by a person you esteem virtuous. When the latter entices you
126 to any thing confessedly wrong, he forfeits his character, and ought to lose his influence. “By their fruit ye shall know them.” If this be corrupt, it is no breach of charity to conclude it proceeds from a corrupt tree. High pretenders. to goodness are not to be credited on the author. ity of their own word; but are to be known by their works. Judging by this rule, it is many times found that they deserve to be ranked with the vilest sinners, because they have enticed others into the grossest wickedness. Their apparent sanctity and zeal in religion have increased their influence, and proved means of : enticing the unsuspicious into dishonourable and destructive courses. Be on your guard, and consent not to their way; refrain your feet from their path.
The next thing that calls for your attention , is, Fifthly, Wherein you may be said to consent to the enticement of sinners.
There are different degrees of consent. The highest is a complete conformity in temper and conduct. But those degrees, which are not so highly criminal, are wrong, and extremely injurious to the cause of religion and virtue. When you discover no disapprobation, or opposition, you virtually, though tacitly, consent
to the enticement of sinners. Nor have you any right to accuse them with unfairness, if, from such manifest indifference on your part, they say, “ He that is not against us is for us;" and conclude, that you in heart consent, and will be indụced by continued solicitation to do it in practice. It is not at all unlikely that this may soon be the case, if you are so wanting in virtuous resolution, as to manifest no abhorrence of what you deem sinful. If you are so irresolute, as not to discover an opposition of feeling and sentiment to what you know to be wrong, it is not to be expected you will long - shun the practice of it. If you conceal, or jus
tify, the iniquity of others, you will; in many cases, bę partakers of their sins.
Some fancy themselves, entirely innocent, if they do not conform, externally, to the way of the wicked, though they feel no abhorrence of it, and in no manner discountenance it, except by refusing open compliance with their solicitations. But this is all mistake. He who does not abhor, and discountenance sin, implicitly consents to it. His silence and composure encourage bold transgressors and betray a want of virtue in himself.
The consent is still more complete, when, instead of any visible disapprobation of their conduct, or indignation at their attempts to entice you into the paths of vice, you discover signs of pleasure and satisfaction. An approving air, a smiling countenance, or even a look of indifference, will embolden sinners, and give them reason to believe you are almost ready to join them hand in hand. Such appearances would not be exhibited if you were not in some measure consenting, or very indifferent about
their conduct. The face is an index of the mind. By it sinners read your feelings and sentiments. The countenances of those with whom they are conversant restrain, or render them more active and persevering in their attempts to extend the dominion of sin. There is no person, perhaps, who cannot rebuke, or reprove, by a single look.' Strong disapproba. tion may be expressed in the countenance ; and, when words may be improper, looks and gestures must supply their place. If they do not, what will sinners conclude, but that they have gained your consent? They who wish to hold a fair moral character often give encouragement to the wicked and profligate by their apparent indifference, or satisfaction.