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mercies of God, like the sun, rise on the evil and the good, on the just and the unjust. Perhaps then he will awaken you once more to a sense of danger. This is the best thing that can befal you : but could
be sure of this, there is no encouragement in it to enter into the societies of wicked men ; for even thus you little think what misery you are preparing for yourself. When immersed in sensuality, the gentle calls of the Spirit will not awaken you; rougher methods are then necessary: this point enlarged on, showing that the methods to be used for rousing a lethargic or apoplectic man, are to be employed in spiritual distempers: by such methods was David called back to himself : this case enlarged on. Yet the external evils and afflictions which we call down on ourselves, will be but a light part of our misery; for when at length we come to see nothing to keep us from everlasting ruin but our slender thread of life, what despair will possess our minds! This awful state enlarged on to the end.
PSALM CXIX. -VERSE 63.
I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep
THERE is nothing more useful or necessary in the pursuit of virtue and holiness, and indeed in the whole conduct of our lives, than to observe the rules and methods by which men of approved righteousness, who are set forth to us as patterns and examples in holy Scripture, did attain to that perfection which made them the shining lights of the world, and the declared favorites of God. If therefore we look into such examples, and from thence draw rules for our own use, we shall be sure of two very great advantages; namely, that the rules we prescribe ourselves will be both proper and practicable : practicable, because drawn from the practice of men like ourselves; and proper, because we aim at no other end than that which good men before us have attained to by the use of these very means, and consequently, for the attaining of which these rules have already by experience been found to be proper.
This division of the 119th Psalm, from which the text is taken, sets before us the several steps by which David recovered himself from the sin in which he had been involved : in the first verse he declares his choice, Thou art my portion, O Lord;' and his resolution to pursue that choice, I have said that I would keep thy word :' this he knew by sad experience that he was not able to do without the assistance and support of God; and therefore the next step was to apply for his assistance, * I intreated thy favor with my whole heart.' Having thus prepared himself, he set diligently to examine his heart, and to form resolutions, and immediately to put those resolutions into practice: I thought on my ways ; I turned my feet unto thy testimonies; I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments. This was a good beginning, and these very promising resolutions; but to secure them there was need of patience and courage, and faith towards God. The way that leads to life is narrow and bese with dangers : and we begin in vain, unless we are prepared to endure hardship like good soldiers of Christ. The next thing therefore he mentions, and which we are to learn from him, is steadfastness when we are tried: The bands of the wicked,' says he, have robbed me ; but I have not forgotten thy law.' He then resolves on a constant and uninterrupted devotion towards God: “At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee, because of thy righteous judgments. After this follow the words of the text, “I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts.
At first sight this seems to be but a little thing to mention, after so many great attainments spoken of before : after he had remembered his holy resolutions, his immediate and uninterrupted pursuit of them, his constancy and steadiness under affliction, his perpetual devotions, what should lead him to fall so low as to add, that he was careful to keep good company? What else could lead him to it but his own experience, which had taught him that this care was the great preservative of all his other attainments, without which they would soon waste away, and leave him once more an easy prey to the soft allurements of vice ? He knew and had felt how great the contagion of ill company was; and therefore with reason adds, in the last place, that which was his greatest care, the avoiding the society of wicked and voluptuous men : a snare in which he had once already almost perished, and in which he had been intirely lost, had not God sent his afflicting angel to terrify and awaken his conscience, which was stupified with sensual pleasures, and sleeping the sleep of death. So sensible was the holy Psalmist of this danger, that he not only resolved for himself to avoid it, but made it his early care to forewarn his son of it; and such impressions did the repeated admonitions of his father make on the mind of Solomon, that in the book of Proverbs, when he comes to mention this necessary advice of shunning the company
of wicked and evil men, he no longer speaks in his own person, but being full of the image of his father when he delivered the instruction, introduces him giving the advice to him, his son ; • Hear, ye children,' says he, 'the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding : for I was my father's son, tender and only-beloved in the sight of my mother. He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words ; keep my commandments, and live.' And soon after follows, among his father's precepts, this : “ Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men; avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.'
But what need is there, you will say, to look far for this advice, since it is of all others the most obvious, and an instruction which all parents give to their children as well as David ? It is true they do ; and for that reason it is commonly looked on as advice fit only for children: and young people hardly think themselves men till they have broke loose from all restraints of this kind, and shown the world that they are at liberty to choose the worst of company for themselves, without being called to an account for it. And this weak ambition of showing themselves to be men, and at their own disposal, every day betrays youth into such hands as lie in wait either for their souls or their estates; as if the only way they had to convince the world that they are in their own power, were to do that for themselves which every body knows no friend would do for them.
But to remove this prejudice against the advice implied in the text, I desire you would consider that though David gave this instruction betimes to his son, yet he himself, in his more advanced years, and under his greatest improvements in virtue and holiness, thought fit to lay it down for himself as a rule to be observed in the conduct of his life ; as a great security to his virtue, and defence of his innocence and integrity : Depart from me,' says he, ‘ye evil doers; for I will keep the commandments of my God:' ver. 115. He hardly thought it practicable to associate with evil doers, and yet to keep the commandments of God; as is plain from the reason he gives why he would have the evil depart from him; · For,' says he, ' I will keep the commandments of my God:' which would be no rea
son, were there not a moral impossibility of keeping the commandments of God, without departing from evil doers. As long as men are in a state of trial, that is, as long as they are in this life, they cannot arrive at such a pitch of perfection as may make it safe for them to expose themselves unnecessarily to the temptations of vice, and to the greatest of temptations, the constant insinuations of wicked men. The reasonableness of the Psalmist's practice described in the text, and of the rule therein implied, must be deduced from the consideration of the great danger of the contrary practice, in keeping ill company, and from the great advantage of contracting friendships with the good.
But before I enter into this argument, I must observe to you that none are concerned in it but such as have a sense of religion, and a due regard to virtue; for these are the two things in danger from ill company: and it is certain that such as have no regard either to virtue or religion are not within the reach of any arguments drawn from the dangers which threaten them. On this topic therefore I can only speak to such as have an awe of God, and a sense of their duty on their minds; and such I hope it will not be hard to convince of the great danger there is in contracting friendships and familiarities with men who have prostituted their minds and their bodies to the service of sin. For,
First, let it be considered that no resolutions which we can form to ourselves of keeping clear from the pollutions of the company we keep can give us any security of preserving our innocence and virtue : such resolutions are often carried into bad company, but seldom or never come off whole; for when the foundation on which such resolutions stand is undermined, they must necessarily fall to ruin. You resolve against sin, because you have a sense of the heinousness of it, and the evil consequences which attend it; but it is great odds but this wears off by constantly conversing with such as have learned to make a mock of sin, and can talk of their own and others' vices with a great deal of humor and raillery. When once you come to relish this subject, and to find sport and entertainment in that which ought to give you horror and aversion, it is but an easy step to practise what you thus far approve : and when once