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us and increase continually. We know how all these abound in the men that know not God. And it cannot be but they will insinuate themselves into all, who frequently and freely converse with them : they insinuate most deeply into those who are not apprehensive of any danger: and most of all, if they have any particular affection, if they have more love than duty requires, for those who do not love God, with whom they familiarly converse.
13. Hitherto I have supposed that the persons with whom you converse, are such as we used to call good sort of people : such as are styled, in the cant term of the day, men of worthy characters : (one of the most silly, insignificant words, that ever came into fashion.) I have supposed them to be free from cursing, swearing, profaneness; from sabbath-breaking and drunkenness, from lewdness either in word or action; from dishonesty, lying, and slandering: in a word, to be entirely clear from open vice of every kind. Otherwise, whoever has even the fear of God must in anywise keep at a distance from them. But I am afraid I have made a supposition which hardly can be admitted. I am afraid some of the persons with whom you converse, more than business necessarily requires, do not deserve even the character of good sort of men: are not worthy of any thing but shame and contempt. Do not some of them live in open sin?-In cursing and swearing, drunkenness or uncleanness? You cannot long be ignorant of this; for they take little pains to hide it. Now is it not certain, all vice is of an infectious nature; for who can touch pitch, and not be defiled ?
From these, therefore, you ought undoubtedly to flee as from the face of a ser pent. Otherwise, how soon may “evil communications corrupt good manners !"
14. I have supposed, likewise, that these unholy persons with whom you frequently converse, have no desire to communicate their own spirit to you, or to induce you to follow their example. But this also is a supposition which can hardly be admitted. In many cases their interest may be advanced, by your being a partaker of their sins. But supposing interest to be out of the question, does not every man naturally desire, and more or less endeavour to bring over his acquaintance to his own opinion or party? So that as all good men desire and endeavour to make others good like themselves, in like manner, all bad men desire and endeavour to make their companions as bad as themselves.
15. But if they do not, if we allow this almost impossible supposition, that they do not desire or use any endeavours to bring you over to their own temper and practice, still it is dangerous to converse with them. I speak, not only of openly vicious men, but of all that do not love God, or at least fear him, and sincerely seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Admit, such companions do not endeavour to make you like themselves, does this prove you are in no danger from them? See that poor wretch that is ill of the plague ! He does not desire, he does not use the least endeavour to commuaicate his distemper to you. Yet have a care! Touch him not
Nay, go not near him, or you know not how soon you may be in the same condition. To draw the parallel"; though we should suppose the man of the world does not desire, design, or endeavour to communicate his distemper to you, yet touch him not ! Come not too near him. For it is not only his reasonings or persuasions that may infect your soul, but his very breath is infectious; particularly to those who are apprehensive of no danger.
16. If conversing freely with worldly-minded men has no other ill effect upon you, it will surely, by imperceptible degrees, make you less heavenly-minded. It will give a bias to your mind, which will continualiy draw your soul to earth. It will incline you, without your being conscious of it, instead of being wholly transformed in the renewing of your mind, to be again conformed to this world, in its spirit, in its maxims, and in its vain conversation. You will fall again into that levity and dissipation of spirit, from which you
had before clean escaped, into that superfluity of apparel, and into that foolish, frothy, unprofitable conversation, which was an abomination to you, when your soul was alive to God. And you will daily declino from that simplicity both of speech and behaviour, whereby you once adorned the doctrine of God our Saviour.
17. And if you go thus far in conformity to the world, it is hardly to be expected you will stop here. You will go farther in a short time : having once lost your footing and begun to slide down, it is a thousand to one, you will not stop till you come to the bottom of the hill: till you fall yourself into some of those outward sins, whicb your companions commit before your eyes, or in your hearing. Hereby the dread and horror which struck you at first, will gradually abate, till at length you are prevailed upon to follow their example, But suppose they do not lead you into outward sin, if they infect your spirit with pride, anger, or love of the world, it is enough: it is sufficient, without deep repentance, to drown your soul in everlasting: perdition : seeing (abstracted from all outward sin) to be carnallyminded is death.
18. But as dangerous as It is to converse familiarly with men that know not God, it is more dangerous still for men to converse with women of that character; as they are generally more insinuating than men, and have far greater power of persuasion; particularly if they are agreeable in their persons, or pleasing in their conversation, You must be more than man, if you can converse with such, and not suffer any loss. If you do not feel any foolish or unholy desire; (and who can promise that you shall not?) yet it is scarce possible, that you should not feel more or less of an improper softness, which will make you less willing and less able, to persist in that habit of denying yourself, and taking up your cross daily, which constitute the character of a good soldier of Jesus Christ. And we know that not only fornicators and adulterers, but even the soft and efseminate, the delicate followers of a self-denying Master, shall have nu part in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
19. Such are the consequences which must surely, though perhaps slowly follow, the mixing of the children of God with the men of the world. And by this means more than by any other, yea,
than by all others put together, are the people called Methodists likely to lose their strength, and become like other men. It is indeed with a good design, and from a real desire of promoting the glory of God, that many of them admit of a familiar conversation with men that know not God. You have a hope of awakening them out of sleep, and persuading them to seek the things that make for their peace. But if, aftera competent time of trial, you can make no impression upon them, it will be your wisdom to give them up to God; otherwise, you are more likely to receive hurt from them, than to do them any good. For if you do not raise their hearts up to heaven, they will draw yours down to earth. Therefore, retreat in time, “and come out from among them, and be ye separate."
20. But how may this be done? What is the most easy and effectual method of separating ourselves from unholy men? Perhaps a few advices will make this plain, to those that desire to know and do the will of God.
First: Invite no, unholy person to your house, unless on some very părticular occasion. You may say,
You may say, “But civility requires this; and sure, religion is no enemy to civility. Nay, the Apostle himself directs us to be courteous, as well as to be pitiful.” I answer, You may be civil, sufficiently civil
, and yet keep them at a proper distance. You may be courteous in a thousand instances, and yet stand aloof from them. And it was never the design of the Apostle to recommend any such courtesy as must necessarily prove a snare to the soul.
21. Secondly: On no account accept any invitation from an unholy person. Never be prevailed upon to pay a visit, unless you wish it to be repaid. It may be, a person desirous of your acquaintance, will repeat the visit twice or thrice. But if you steadily refrain from returning it, the visitant will soon be tired. It is not improbable, he will be disobliged; and perhaps he will show some inarks of resentment. Lay your account with this, that when any thing of the kind occurs, you may neither be surprised nor discouraged. It is better to please God and displease man, than to please man and displease God.
22. Thirdly: It is probable, you were acquainted with men of the world, before you yourself knew God. What is best to be done with regard to these? How may you most easily drop their acquaintance? First, allow a sufficient time to try, whether you can: not, by argument and persuasion, induce them to choose the better. part. Spare no pains. Exert all your faith and love, and wrestle with God in their behalf. If, after all, you cannot perceive that any impression is made upon them, it is your duty gently to withdraw from them, that you be not entangled with them. This may be done in a short time, easily and quietly, by not returning their visits. But Xoll must expect they will upbraid you with haughtiness and unkind
ness, if not to your face, yet behind your back. And this you can suffer for a good conscience. It is, properly, the reproach of Christ,
23. When it pleased God to give me a settled resolution, to be not a nominal but a real Christian, (being then about 22 years of age,) my acquaintance were as ignorant of God as myself. But there was this difference: I knew my own ignorance; they did not know theirs. I faintly endeavoured to help them; but in vain. Meantime I found, by sad experience, that even their harmless conversation, so called, damped all my good resolutions. But how to get rid of them was the question, which I resolved in my mind again and again. I saw no possible way, unless it should please God to remove me to another College. He did so, in a manner utterly contrary to all human probability. I was elected a Fellow of a College, where I knew not one person. I foresaw, abundance of people would come to see me, either out of friendship, civility, or curiosity; and that I should have offers of acquaintance, new and old : but I had now fixed my plan. Entering now, as it were, into a new world, I resolved to have no acquaintance by chance, but by choice; and to choose such only, as I had reason to believe would help me on my way to heaven. In consequence of this, I narrowly observed the temper and behaviour of all that visited me. I saw no reason to think that the greater part of these truly loved or feared God. Such acquaintance, therefore, I did not choose : I could not expect they would do me any good. Therefore, when any of these came, I behaved as courteously as I could. But to the question, “When will you come to see me?" I returned no answer. When they had come a few times, and found I still declined returning the visit, I saw them no more. And I bless God, this has been my invariable rule for about threescore years. I knew many reflections would
but that did not move me, as I knew full well it was my calling to go through evil report and good report.
24. I earnestly advise all of you who resolve to be, not almost, but altogether Christians, to adopt the same plan; however contrary it may be to flesh and blood. Narrowly observe, which of those that fall in your way, are like-minded with yourself: who among them have you reason to believe fears God and works righteousness ? Set them down as worthy of your acquaintance; gladly and freely converse with them at all opportunities. As to all who do not answer that character, gently and quietly let them drop. However good natured and sensible they may be, they will do you no real service. Nay, if they did not lead you into outward sin, yet they would be a continual clog to your soul, and would hinder your running with vigour and cheerfulness the race that is set before you. of your friends, that did once run well, “ turn back from the holy commandment once delivered to them;" first use every method that prudence can suggest, to bring them again into the good way. But if you cannot prevail, let them go; only still commending them unto God in prayer. Drop all familiar intercourse with them, and save your own soul.
And if any
25. I advise you, Fourthly, Walk circumspectly with regard to your relations. With your parents, whether religious or not, you must certainly converse, if they desire it; and with your brothers and sisters ; more especially, if they want your service. I do not know that you are under any such obligation, with respect to your more distant relations. Courtesy, indeed, and natural affection may require that you should visit them sometimes. But if they neither know nor seek God, it should certainly be as seldom as possible. And when you are with them, you should not stay a day longer than decency requires. Again, whichsoever of them you are with at any time, remember that solemn caution of the Apostle, “Let no corrupt communication (conversation] come out of your mouth : but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers.” You have no authority to vary from this rule; otherwise, you grieve the Holy Spirit of God. And if you keep closely to it, those who have no religion will soon dispense with your company.
26. Thus it is that those who fear or love God should come out from among all that do not fear him. Thus in a plain scriptural. sense, you should be separate from them; from all unnecessary intercourse with them. Yea, Touch not, saith the Lord, the unclean thing or person, any farther than necessity requires ; and I will receive you into the household of God. And I will be unto you a Father, will embrace you with paternal affection ; and ye shall be unto me sons and daughters, saith the Lord. Almighty. The promise is express to all that renounce the company of ungodly men, (provided their spirit and conversation are, in other respects, also suitable to their duty.) God does here absolutely engage to give them all the blessings he has prepared for his beloved children, both in time and eternity. Let all those, therefore, who have any regard for the favour and blessings of God, first, beware how they contract any acquaintance, or form any connexion with ungodly men; any farther than necessary business, or some other providential call requires: and, secondly, with all possible speed, all that the nature of the thing will admit, break off all such acquaintance already contracted, and all such connexions already formed. Let no pleasure resulting from such acquaintance, no gain found or expected from such con. nexions, be of any consideration, when laid in the balance against a clear, positive command of God. In such a case, pluck out the right eye, tear away the most pleasing acquaintance, and cast it from thee: give up all thought, all design of seeking it again. Cut off the right hand : absolutely renounce the most profitable connexion, and cast it from thee. It is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, or one hand, than having two to be cast into hell-fire.