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save sinners,” but was “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.* When Satan himself came, he found nothing in him. Does it follow that we, who are placed at so infinite a distance beneath him, should be safe in such contagion ? “ Be not deceived ;" do not take a partial view of our Saviour's character; do not consider one portion of it only—his exposure to moral danger,while you forget his sanctity, his watchfulness, his care over his own conduct, his self-government, and the constant use of those rules of prudence and piety which are recommended by other parts of his example. If you can find an infallible way to overcome temptation, and achieve the victory over the enemies of your salvation, you may then plead the precedent of our Lord's example against the genius of his religion and the import of his precepts. It was impossible that his spotless character should be contaminated. Can we plead that exemption and impossibility ?
2. Be not deceived by your past experience. You may be ready to say, that you have been frequently exposed to vicious society, you may be living in it now, and perceive none of those evils, discern none of that degeneracy and corruption to which we have adverted; and you appear to pass through it with impunity : “ Be not deceived:” you are very ill judges, it may be, of the state of your own minds; you may imagine that you have received no injury because you have fallen into no great crime, have violated none of
* Heb. vii. 26.
the more essential laws of social morality ; but, if you look within, you may perceive a preparation for the commission of these, in the weakening of that conscience which preserves you in the fear of God, in the decay and eclipse of the spirit of faith, in the relaxed hold of the great prospects of eternity which you had before. What has been the effect of such society on your private devotions ? Has it carried you to your closet ? Has it prepared you to retire for communion with God ? Has it endeared to you the Scriptures, or estranged you from them? Has it made the transition easy, to the duties of private and solitary piety? Did you find such society calculated to make it more difficult, or more easy, for you to enter into the true spirit of religion; and to practise those duties, without which all the devotions of the sanctuary will be only “ walking in a vain shew," and seeking the applause of man, instead of the approbation of Him who “ seeth in secret ?”
3. Do not be deceived by any complacent reference to the time of life at which you have arrived, or the progress in religion which you have already made. Though the influence of evil society upon the young is of the most corrupting tendency; though their minds, in the period when the character is formed, are most subject to its hurtful influence; yet, the danger of “ evil communications” is by no means confined to them. No: at whatever period of life you have arrived, “ evil communications” will “ corrupt good manners.” Habits are lost in the same way as they are
acquired; the fruits of long custom in right action are speedily dissipated and destroyed by exposure to contrary custom in doing wrong; and the mind of no person has arrived at such a state of confirmation in holy habits as to make a relaxation of vigilance safe, or enable it to yield itself up securely to the casual influence of place and society. Religion is a perpetual warfare; religion is a perpetual exercise of self-command; it is a perpetual reference to the will of God; it is a perpetual use of the power of self-government, and attention to the invisible eye of Him that seeth in secret. If you commit yourself to evil society now, what shall hinder you in the most advanced age from forsaking the law of God, and disgracing the latter part of your life by conduct totally different from that which conferred dignity on your youth ? Solomon, in his youth, feared God, but when old age came upon him, through the contagious example of his idolatrous wives, he forsook the God of his fathers and exposed his kingdom to perdition and ruin. No, my brethren, there is no such thing as depending upon any force of habit, unless its influence produces right conduct at present; if it inspires us with a holy resolution, and gives a right view of our duty at the present moment, and determination to adhere to it, we may rejoice in that habit; but if it produces recumbency, a slothful dependence upon God, and neglect of the precautions of religion and the rules of duty, we have reason to believe, that he who thus thinketh he standeth, will soon fall.
4. Be not deceived by any supposed strength of resolution with which you may enter into such society. It is much easier abstained from than renounced. The paths of sinners are much more easily shunned than they are quitted. When confederacies are formed it requires a powerful effort to break them. It is far less difficult to keep out of society than to resist its current. The action of fire is mechanical and necessary, you may approach it or not; so you may avoid evil company if you please. The ranks of impiety are not so thin as not to give you sufficient warning to escape them; but when you are in them, in the very focus of temptation, no resolution you can exert, will, for a moment, stop its progress : you must submit to its action; you are committed to your fate and must take the consequences; you must be deteriorated and degenerated with the causes of deterioration and degeneracy. Be not deceived, then, by supposing that any previous resolution has considerable influence on the conduct of men, when they are off their guard and open to the impression of social affections. This is the season, of all others, in which mental resolution has least power; the mind is not only open, but, before it is aware, becomes relaxed; the love of association soon comes to supplant all other thoughts ; all the cooler reflections, the wiser resolves of the closet, vanish; all the force of the most strenuous intentions melt like wax before the sun, in the warmth of social intercourse. In proportion as the social affections are vivid and warm, in that proportion is the necessary effect in dissipating and giving to the wind the force of the most strenuous resolutions.
Hence permit me to suggest one or two cautions of prudence. In the first place, let those who have a serious sense of religion bind themselves with the vows of God, and enter on a solemn profession of them, at an early period of life. Enter into the church of God, take upon you the vows of the Almighty; if your hearts are sincere with him, if you have reason to believe you are in earnest in seeking after him, and have committed yourself to the Redeemer, take upon you his yoke openly, bear his name upon your forehead before men. This will have the happiest effect in strengthening you against the force of evil example. Recollecting the nature of your engagements, you will be awakened to a sense of consistency of conduct, and be shocked at the thought of bringing reproach on the cause of God. A sense of self-respect will come in aid of the higher principles of religion, and the higher motives to virtuous conduct. You will remember that you have assumed, if I may so say, a peculiar caste; and when you look upon the pure and holy robe of the profession of christianity you thus wear, you will be anxious, if you have been sincere in making that profession, to keep it “ unspotted from the world.” It is well, in such a state of temptation, to render retreat difficult, if not impossible, to put yourself on ground from which you cannot retreat. He who has done this effectually, has given up his name to Christ, and enrolled himself among his disciples, has