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THE DANGER OF FREQUENTING EVIL COMPANY.-SERMON I.
PROVERBS xiii. 20.
But a companion of fools shall be destroyed.
The writer of this book particularly, and the Scriptural writers generally, teach us, that by folly they mean sin. Thus Solomon observes, that the thought of foolishness is sin. “Fools," he also says, “ despise wisdom;" that is, religion ; " and make a mock at sin :" a character, which with particular propriety belongs to gross sinners. Such sinners seem, also, to be especially iritended in the following declaration; “It is an abomination to fools to depart from evil.” It is hardly necessary to observe, that all these passages clearly teach us, as indeed do many others, that the writer of them by folly intended sin, and by fools those who practise it.
The propriety of this use of these terms is obvious. Sin is folly by way of eminence, and those, who practise it, are fools in a higher degree, than any other men.
With this explanation, the text may be easily seen to contain the following Doctrine : He, who frequents the company of sinners, is in danger of eternal destruction,
The declaration of the text is absolute; but, like other absolute declarations, of which the Scriptures, particularly this book, contain a very great number, is intended to be understood with some qualifications. It is not true, that every one, who frequents the company of sinners is destroyed in any sense. Some persons keep company with men of this description for a considerable period; and then renounce it, from a conviction of their
danger. Of these, undoubtedly some become pious ; and escape the destruction intended in the text. Others, also, are compelled to frequent such company by their own proper, lawful business; and instead of being corrupted, regard their com panions with loathing and dread ; and derive from them little else, beside warning and amendment. The case, however, considered in the general manner, which is here supposed, is far otherwise. The greater number, and all, who voluntarily choose such company through life, are ruined. Every one, therefore, ought to believe himself to be in the most serious danger.
That eternal destruction is here designed is too clear to admit of a question. Otherwise the observation is so evidently untrue, that it could never have been written by a sober man. Many of the persons, spoken of, undoubtedly come, from this very cause, to an untimely death. Some are killed in duels. Some sink under the pressure of infamy. Some become suicides. Multitudes are victims to intemperance; and not a small number are swept away by the hand of public justice. Still, it is not generally true, that such persons do not, very commonly, reach the usual limit of human life. Evidently, therefore, the destruction here specified cannot have been of a temporal nature; but lies undoubtedly, beyond the grave.
This sentence was uttered by the wisest man who has hitherto been found in the present world ; a man, peculiary versed in the affairs of his fellow men; a man, who watched human conduct with a more critical attention, than any other, and with a more piercing eye; whose observations concerning it are more just, various, and profound, than any, which are left upon record. It was uttered, after he had lived long, and seen its truth proved by abundant experience. It was uttered by the Spirit of God, who had surveyed all the conduct of men from the beginning, and had seen this truth verified in innumerable instances, in every nation, and in every preceding age, of the world. It was uttered by the judge of all the earth; who both rewardeth the fool, and rewardeth the transgressor, with the very destruction, denounced in this solemn and benevolent warning. The truth of the declaration is, therefore, established beyond every doubt.
Still, it may be useful to examine the subject, as it is presented to us by experience. Illustrations from this source may always be advantageously subjoined to Scriptural declarations. What we see we are apt peculiarly to feel. Our conviction may not, perhaps, be more complete ; but our impressions cannot fail of being enhanced
In illustration of this doctrine, I observe, therefore,
1st. Sinners, when they become Companions, devise wickedness for each other.
Different persons see the same subjects in different lights, and on different sides. Some sinners turn their thoughts to wickedness in one form. Others survey it in another. The views of the whole number, found in any collection of such men, are much more extensive, various, and complete, than the views of an individual. All these by communication become, in the end, the views of all. Thus in the unhappily managed State prisons of this country the youngest criminal, after a short confinement, acquires all the knowledge, art, and skill, of all the hackneyed villains wao are his fellow prisoners; and is turned out upon the world a veteran in adroitness, in determination, and in hopeless obduracy.
So at the gaming table all the tricks of play, all the arts of sharping and defrauding, are soon learned even by the youngest adventurer. In the same manner the companions of thieves, highwaymen, forgers, and coiners of false money, soon imbibe all the arts of the oldest transgressors. In a similar manner also, those, who frequent the haunts of lewdness, and intemperance, become practised votaries to these sins; and, as guides, direct the unhappy novice to the successful perpetration of their respective crimes, and to the scenes of guilt and pollution, in which they are ensnared and destroyed.
Nor is even this all. In a great multitude of cases they invent new kinds of wickedness; new ways, in which that, which has been long pursued, may be safely and advantageously practised ; new modes of providing against the evils of detection; and new Vol. II.
barriers against the intrusion or the resentment of parents, mag. istrates, and others who may be especially dreaded.
Thus multitudes of crimes are devised and perpetrated, which owe their existence solely to the fact that the criminals kept company with each other.
Hence it is often said by the wretch, who has been discovered in the commission of gross sins, "I should never have thought of doing such a thing, had I not been in that place, or in that company."
2dly. Sinners by being companions encourage each other to sin, In the first place, by Example.
Mankind are creatures of imitation. The propensity to imitate is conspicuous even in infancy, but much more in early childhood. Children then scarcely do any thing, but what they see others do; and attempt to do almost every thing, which they see done by others. This original characteristic of our nature is never lost. All men imitate much through life: and many do little else. Not a small portion even of virtuous conduct owes its existence to this cause, while sins are multiplied by it without end.
To sin we are prone by nature. The sight of sin, therefore, in the example of others leads us by mere social impulse to the commission. Nor is this all. The example emboldens, nay it prompts, us to follow. We feel an ambition to resemble our companions, and to rival them in whatever they do. At the same time, the guilt and the danger gradually lessen in our apprehension. On the one hand, they become familiar by being frequently presented to our view; and, on the other, are little felt by the hardened beings, who sin continually before our eyes. Thus both become less, and less ; until they are finally forgotten.
Secondly. Sinful companions encourage each other to sin by Arguments.
Older and more shrewd, perpetrators have long been obliged to consider, extensively, the means of quieting the soul under the consciousness of guilt, and the apprehensions of danger. All the arts of self justification, and self flattery, and all the
means of resisting the force of arguments against their practices, they have been compelled to explore and adopt. To these refuges they have been often driven, and have thus rendered them familiar. They have found them necessary to themselves; and therefore know that they will be useful to others. Hence they bring them out on every occasion, to quiet the scruples, and sustain the trembling hearts, of young beginners.
To these adepts in iniquity, also, every advantage, arising from the commission of the sin in question, is at hand; and such advantages they fail not to exhibit in the fairest colours. The disadvantages, at the same time, whether real or pretended, which may spring from not committing the crime, and losing the favorable opportunity, and from obeying the dictates of conscience, they know how to set forth in lights equally strong and affecting; and thus place the unskilful adventurer on enchanted ground; where every thing wears a false form, and deceitful hue.
Thirdly. Such companions encourage others to sin by Exhortations.
Every passion is addressed by these men, from which they expect any aid. The fears of novices are attacked on the one hand ; their resolution, on the other. Their sympathy is awakened. The obligation of being faithful to the fraternity is urged. Their cowardice is censured. Their courage is praised. Their hopes are stimulated. They are promised esteem, honour, and rewards. They are threatened with contempt, desertion, discovery, and punishment. Like the Philistines, when they fought against the ark of God, these modern enemies of his cross and kingdom, mutually cry, “Be strong, and quit yourselves like men."
Fourthly. Such sinners encourage each other to sin by Flattery.
No persons so industriously labour to find out the weak side of others as hardened sinners: and none more usually succeed. To this they address themselves with a power, not easily resisted. All the qualities, for which they see their young companions value themselves, they enhance. Those, of which they are ashamed, they either soften, or annihilate. To their persons