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our hearts and ways, and apply to it with the greater vigour, let us dwell a little upon that sacred expression in the Psalms, “ Wherewith shall a young man purify his way?” The answer is, “ By taking heed thereto according to thy word *.” In this question, several things offer themselves to our observation.
1. That, without controversyt, purity of life, or conversation, is a most beautiful and desirable attainment, and that it must, by all means, begin at the very fountain, that is, the heart; whence, as Solomon observes, “proceed the issues of life.” In the beginning of the psalm, they are pronounced blessed, “Who are pure, or undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord.” And, in another place, “ Truly God is good to Israel, says the Psalmist, even to such as are of a clean heartf.” And the words of our Saviour to this purpose are, “ Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God S.” Nor is the true and genuine beauty of the soul any thing distinct from this purity and sanctity; this is the true image of its great Creator; that golden crown, which most unhappily dropt off the head of man, when he fell : so that, with the greatest justice, we may lament and say, • Woe unto us that we have sinned.” And it is the general design and intention of all religion, all its mysteries, and all its precepts, that this crown may be again restored, at least, to some part of the * Psal. cxix. 9.
ή ομολογεμένως. . | Psal. lxxiii. 1.
Matth. v. 8.
human race, and this image again stamped upon them ; which image, when fully completed, and for ever confirmed, will certainly constitute a great part of that happiness, we now hope for, and aspire after. Then, we trust, we shall attain to a more full conformity and resemblance to our beloved head. And, even in this wayfaring state, the more deeply and thoroughly our souls are tínctured with the divine flame of charity, joined with this beautiful purity, the more we resemble him, “ who is white and ruddy, and fairer than the sons of men.” The Father of mercies has made choice of us, that we may be holy; the Son of God, blessed for ever, has once for all shed his blood upon earth, in order to purify us, and daily pours out his spirit from heaven upon us, for the same purpose.
But to consider the matter as it is in itself, where is the person, that does not, even by the force of natural instinct, disdain filth and nastiness, or at least prefer to it purity and neatness of body? Now, as the soul greatly excels the body, so much the more desirable is it, that it should be found in a state of beauty and purity. In like manner, were we to travel a journey, who would not prefer the plain and clean way to one that were rough and dirty? But the way of life, which is not the case in other matters, will be altogether such as you would have it, or choose to make it. With God's assistance, and influence of his grace, a good man is at pains to purify his own way; but men of an im
pure and beastly disposition, who delight to wallow in the mire, may always easily obtain their sordid wish. But I hope that you, disdaining such a brutish indignity, will, in preference to every thing else, give your most serious attention to this inquiry, by what means even young men and boys may purify their way, and, avoiding the dirty paths of the common sort of mankind, walk in such as are more pleasant and agreeable.
2. Observe, that purity is not such an easy matter, that it may fall by chance in the way of those that are not in quest of it, but a work of great art and industry. Hence you may also learn, that the way, even of young men or boys *, stand very much in need of this careful attention. It is indeed true, that, in some respect, the reformation of youth is easier, and sooner accomplished, that they are not accustomed to shameful and wicked ways, nor confirmed in sinful habits; but there are other regards, wherein it is more difficult to reduce that period of life to purity, particularly, as it is more strongly impressed with the outward objects that surround it, and easily disposed to imbibe the very worst : the examples and incitements to vice beset youth in greater abundance, and those of that age are more apt to fall in with them.
But, whatever may be said of the easiness or dif. ficulty of reforming youth and childhood, it is evident from this question, which, without doubt, is proposed with wisdom and seriousness, that this
* The Hebrew word used in the text, properly signifies a boy.
matter is within the verge of possibility, and of the number of such as are fit to be attempted. Youth is not so headstrong, nor childhood so foolish, but by proper means they can be bent and formed to virtue and piety. Notwithstanding the irregular desires and forwardness* of youth, and that madness, whereby they are hurried to forbidden enjoyments, there are words and expressions that can soothe this impetuosity, even such, that by them youth can tame and compose itself, “ By attending to itself and its ways, according to thy word :" that matchless word, which contains all those particular words and expressions, not only that are proper to purify and quiet all the motions and affections of the soul, but also, by a certain divine power, are wonderfully efficacious for that purpose. And what was said of old, concerning Sparta, and its discipline, may be, with much greater truth, asserted of the divine law, and true religion, viz. that it had a surprising power to tame and subdue mankindt. And this leads us directly to the answer of the question in the text; “ By attending thereto, according to thy word.”
This is not, therefore, to be done according to our philosophy, but according to thy word, O eternal light, truth, and purity! The philosophy of the heathens, it is true, contains some moral instructions and precepts, that are by no means despicable; but this is only so far as they are agreeable to the word of God, and the divine law, though the philosophers themselves knew nothing of it: but the only perfect system of moral philosophy, that ought to be universally received, is the doctrine of Christianity. This the ancient fathers of the primitive church have asserted, and fully proved, to the honour of our religion. But those, who spend their lives in the study of philosophy, can neither reform themselves nor others, if nature be but a little obstinate ; and their wisdom, when it does its utmost, rather conceals vices, than eradicates them
* αχάλινος, αδάμασος. + Δαμασιμβροτον.
; but the divine precepts make so great a change upon the man, and, subduing his old habits, so reform him, that you would not know him to be the same. If any of you then aspire to this purity of mind and way, you must, with all possible care, conform yourself, and every thing about you, to the instructions and precepts of this divine word. Nor think this a hard saying; for the study of purity has nothing in it that is unpleasant or disagreeable, unless you think it a grievance to become like unto God.
Consider now, young men, nay you, who, without offence, will suffer yourselves to be called boys; consider, I say, wherein consists that true wisdom, which deserves to be pursued with the most earnest study and application, and whereby, if you will, you may far exceed those that are your superiors in years; be ambitious to attain the advantage mentioned in the text, and consequently the condition upon
which it depends, for they are inseparably connected together ;