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companions. We are astonished at first to hear with how much ease they speak of those things which we have been taught to shudder at, and with how little reluctance and regret they practise them: but our surprise by degrees wears off. We begin to think there cannot be all the danger or guilt in those indulgences which we supposed: we then insensibly gather courage; and as we set not up for singularity, or a superior standard of virtue, we do not understand how that should be so heinous an offence in us, which others allow to themselves without concern or remorse. Thus are our sentiments insensibly changed; and yet the nature of things is not thereby changed. What was immoral, and profligate, and destructive of the happiness of human society, and contrary to God Almighty's commands, and under the sentence of condemnation in his Word which he has revealed to us, is so still. Nor are the consequences less likely to overtake us because we have forgotten them. Another thing, which vastly increases the baneful influence of dissolute company, and renders us, as some may suppose, almost excusable, is a certain shyness in some men, which will seldom allow them to make much opposition to the solicitations and example of their companions, how contrary soever to their own choice and judgement, if they had been permitted to choose and judge for themselves: and then there is generally, in addition to all this, the fear of ridicule, which to the tenderness and sensibility of young minds is like
the fear of death. And the misfortune is, they make no distinction-their being laughed at, whether with reason or without, is equally insupportable; and especially when these scruples look like want of spirit, or their companions give that turn or that name to it; though, in truth, it is want of spirit, and nothing else, that keeps them in such company; for what, in reality, can be more mean-spirited than to be led in a state of subjection to those about us, without choice, force, or judgement of our own; and to be compelled, for it is compulsion, to give up our consciences, principles, and resolution?
I mention this, not so much to fortify young men against the influence of bad company (for I have little hopes of that) but to advise them to keep out of their way to be wary and cautious how they trust themselves in the society, much less with the intimacy, of a dissolute character.
The last and great preservative I shall mention is the regulation of the thoughts. "Whosoever," says our Saviour, "looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery already with her in his heart," that is, whoever voluntarily entertains loose and bad thoughts and designs, makes himself in a degree a partaker of the crime, so that our Saviour imposed it as a duty upon his followers to lay a restraint upon their thoughts; and our Saviour knew what was in man when he did so he knew that, without a proper control and regulation of our thoughts, it is in vain to expect virtue in our prac
tice; for licentious thoughts will, earlier or later, according as opportunities present themselves, or we grow tired of struggling with them, lead to licentious practices. I have already mentioned the way of managing our thoughts, that is, by keeping them constantly employed upon some proper object; and I believe there is no other way.
These, then, are the precautions which, with the blessing and assistance of divine grace, are most fitting to conduct us through this world, and in a debauched and licentious age of it, with innocence in that respect, in which of all others there is the most danger, and by which men are drawn into such confirmed habits of universal profligacy as are dreadful to observe.
Men are perpetually complaining that they resolve against these vices, but that their resolutions, in the time of trial, never stand out: and how should they? They have never used any of those cautions -put in practice any of those preservatives, which are absolutely necessary to keep up self-government, or a command over their passions, and to give stability and success to any resolutions. Their virtue does not take the alarm in time. They take up with an idle life: they see no harm in that, if they can afford it or if they cannot, it is their own concern. Profaneness, drunkenness, unreasonable hours, are only so much frolic, which is over the next morning. They find out, or are found out, by dissolute companions. They are courted for their mirth, or viva
city, or humour, or entertaining qualities, without any care about the danger of the consequences. A habit of vicious thoughts is suffered to grow upon us, because, if it do not lead to a habit of acting, where is the mischief? And then all vice, or entry to vice, is laid open-every precaution neglected, every incentive excited or inflamed, and we are surprised that we are overcome.
1 TIM. VI. 6, 7, 8. .
Godliness with contentment is great gain-for we brought nothing into the world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out-and having food and raiment, let us be therewith content.
RESTLESSNESS and impatience in the situation of life they are placed in, is in some men a disposition, in others a habit; in others, again, a false calculation of the advantages and disadvantages of different conditions. But it is in all a temper of mind extremely prejudicial to a man's happiness, as it will not suffer him to acquiesce in, or enjoy, the satisfactions which are within the reach of his present situation; and is no mean whatever of procuring him a better. It has an ill effect upon his virtue ; as no man accommodates himself properly to the duties of a station with which he is discontentedwhich he is labouring only to get rid of. Although there may be no reflections, perhaps, which can compose the fretfulness of his disposition, or correct a confirmed habit of being out of humour with every thing that belongs to himself, and pleased with what