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business, who acknowledge themselves to be ready to take any advantages, and are restrained by no other consideration than the penalty of the law, who are ready to sacrifice principle and conscience to filthy lucre, must be considered as a source of evil communication, against which we are here expressly warned.
II. But I proceed, in the next place, briefly to point out the way in which “evil communication" operates in corrupting “good manners.”
You know very well, my brethren, that the order of the natural world is maintained by the operation of matter upon matter; and that the order of the moral world is maintained by the action of mind upon mind. As the great revolutions of nature are carried on by the reciprocal action of the various parts of which the visible universe consists, upon each other, whether of smaller portions or of greater masses; so that mysterious order which the Divine Being maintains in the moral world, is upheld and preserved by the mutual action of one mind upon another. This action is incessantly going on; and though it borrows for its instrumentality the organs of the body, yet the ultimate object is mind. The great medium through which this is maintained is the intercourse and conversation of man with man, which brings one mind into contact with another, and is perpetually modifying the mind which is thus drawn into union, and derives modification from that mind with which it converses. We are continually drawing and being drawn, impelling
Yet we may
and resisting or yielding, assimilating ourselves to others and others to ourselves; nor is it possible to go into any company and come from it exactly in the same state of mind. The moral modification is perpetually going on; and, if we trace it exactly, we shall find that it is either evil or good; very seldom, if ever, entirely indifferent or neutral. It is one of the fundamental laws of nature, that our minds should be subject to perpetual modification from the minds of others; nor is it within the reach of our will to determine whether this influence shall be exercised or not. determine to what influence we subject it; we may determine what society we will keep, but not what influence that society which we choose shall have
It operates according to certain fixed and infallible laws, so that no person can, by any pretence of self-control, justify exposing himself to the action of a power, the operation of which is determined by laws quite independent of himself.
One of the first feelings of every person who goes into company is, to please and be pleased. If he be a person of a benevolent and social spirit, he goes with the very design of assimilating his mind, as much as possible, to the minds of those with whom he converses. This is a silent compact, without which pleasure can neither be imparted nor received. Just in proportion to the delicacy and force of this sympathy, is the pleasure derived from society; and they possess it in the most intense and vivid degree who can most imperceptibly slide into the feelings of others, so as to incorporate for a time their sentiments, feelings, and dispositions with their own. Hence we plainly perceive that there is a preparation in the very nature of society, that society especially which is chosen and of a voluntary nature, for an assimilation of our minds to the views and principles, sentiments and dispositions, of those with whom
We not only go into society unarmed, but we go with a preparation in favour of the action of the sentiments and the agency of the minds of others which is then operating upon us. with the intention of being pleased with the sympathies which that intercourse excites, and lay our hearts and minds, as we experience or expect social pleasure, open as much as possible to the full and entire action of the social instinct. Let
. us suppose then, at least, that the society into which we enter is not positively vicious in any other sense than as it is distinguished by a total absence of religion ; let the persons with whom we associate be only characterized by an entire neglect of God, an absence of the fear of the Almighty ; let their general conduct and deportment be such, and such only, as might be supposed to take place if the verities of religion were exploded, and the expectation of a future account entirely dismissed; it is not too much to say that this society itself will possess a very pernicious influence over any mind. It is dangerous to be accustomed to the absence of religion, and to be familiarized to the contemplation of the most solemn and important subjects in a state of disunion from God, and non-advertence to the prospect of eternity.
For a person, especially a young person, to be accustomed to hear life and death, judgement and eternity, and all the most serious and awful scenes of human existence spoken of, I will not say with unbecoming levity, but without advertence to religion, with regard only to physical causes and effects, is a dangerous process, and must be attended with the most serious peril. Next to the infusion of positive impiety, the most evil element in which the mind can be placed, is that out of which religion is expelled. To live without God in the world, and to converse with those who thus live, is, only in a lower degree than positive impiety, less dangerous to a creature who is in a state of probation, and whose everlasting interest depends on acquaintance with and obedience to his Maker.
I recollect, some years ago, that upon reading some very popular tales (Moral Tales they are styled), the talent of which is exceedingly great, but which are distinguished by the total absence of religion, and the want of all reference to it even in the scenes of death; the influence on my mind was such that, during the time devoted to that reading, it was with great difficulty and perplexity I was able to discharge my ministerial duties. It became, therefore, painfully evident to me, that to be conversant long together with trains of thought or associations of ideas from which religion is
entirely excluded, is of most dangerous tendency; for religion is a positive thing, and at the same time it requires to be brought into view : it must be realized by an effort of the mind; it addresses not itself to the senses, does not occur naturally in the paths of life ; it lies in an invisible state, and can only be realized by a positive act of faith, and be made operative by a serious exertion of the mental faculties, by calling our attention to spiritual impressions, and thereby overpowering the mechanical and necessary operations of sensible objects.
In the next place, suppose the society into which we enter be vicious in the sense before adverted to; that it be impure society, distinguished by the prevalence of indelicate jests and lascivious associations; such communication, it is unnecessary to say, must corrupt good manners. Must not the primary effect be, at least, gradually to enure the mind to the contemplation of vicious objects, without horror and disgust ? Are you not aware that familiarity tends to weaken all impressions? As the mind is passive in receiving them, there is nothing so disgusting at the first view but it may be rendered indifferent, or even an object of complacency. Vicious objects, though they revolt a pure and chaste mind, though every well disciplined spirit turns aside from them with strong disrelish, yet they have such an alliance with the corrupt propensities of our nature, which always remain with us (for even the best are but partially sanctified), that the effect of bringing such objects