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“ laid together; and no remembrance remain of «6 either of us under the sun. How many mistakes
may there have been between us? Had not he “ his virtues and good qualities as well as I ? When “ we both shall appear before the judgment-seat of
God, shall I be found innocent and free of blame, “ for all the enmity I have borne to him?” — My friends, let the anticipation of such sentiments serve now to correct the inveteracy of prejudice, to cool the heat of anger, to allay the fierceness of resentment. How unnatural is it for animosities so lasting to possess the hearts of mortal men: that nothing can extinguish them but the cold hand of death? Is there not a sufficient proportion of evils in the short span
of human life, that we seek to increase their number, by rushing into unnecessary contests with one another? When a few suns more have rolled over our heads, friends and foes shall have retreated together; and their love and their hatred be equally buried. Let our few days, then, be spent in peace. While we are all journeying onwards to death, let us rather bear one another's burdens, than harass one another by the way. Let us smooth and cheer the road as much as we can, rather than fill the valley of our pilgrimage with the hateful monuments of our contention and strife.
Thus I have set before you some of those meditations which are naturally suggested by the prevalence of death around us; by the death of strangers, of friends, and of enemies.
Because topics of this nature are obvious, let it not be thought that they are without use. They require to be recalled, repeated, and enforced. Moral and reli
gious instruction derives its efficacy not so much from what men are taught to know, as from what they are brought to feel. It is not the dormant knowledge of any truths, but the vivid impression of them which has influence on practice. Neither let it be thought that such meditations are unseasonable intrusions upon those who are living in health, in affluence, and ease. There is no hazard of their making too deep or painful an impression. The gloom which they occasion is transient; and will soon, too soon, it is probable, be dispelled by the succeeding affairs and pleasures of the world. To wisdom it certainly belongs that men should be impressed with just views of their nature and their state; and the pleasures of life will always be enjoyed to most advantage when they are tempered with serious thought. There is a time to mourn, as well as a time to rejoice. There is a virtuous sorrow, which is better than laughter. There is a sadness of the countenance, by which the heart is made better.
On the PROGRESS of VICE.
1 CORINTHIANS, xv. 33.
Be not deceived: Evil communications corrupt good
THOUGH human nature be' now fallen from its
original honour, several good principles still remain in the hearts of men. There are few, if
any, on whose minds the reverence for a Supreme Being continues not, in some degree, impressed. In every breast, some benevolent affections are found, and conscience still retains a sense of the distinction between moral good and evil. These principles of virtue are always susceptible of improvement; and, in favourable situations, might have a happy influence on practice. But such is the frailty of our nature, and so numerous are the temptations to evil, that they are in perpetual hazard of being either totally effaced, or so far weakened as to produce no effect on conduct. They are good seeds originally sown in the heart; but which require culture, in order to make them rise to any maturity. If left without assistance, they are likely to be stifled by that profusion of noxious weeds which the soil sends forth around them. Among the numerous causes which introduce cor
ruption into the heart, and accelerate its growth, none is more unhappily powerful than that which is pointed out in the text, under the description of evil communications; that is, the contagion which is diffused by bad examples, and heightened by particular connections with persons of loose principles, or dissolute morals. This, in a licentious state of society, is the most common source of those vices and disorders which so much abound in great cities; and often proves, in a particular manner, fatal to the young; even to them whose beginnings were once auspicious and promising. It may therefore be an useful employment of attention, to trace the progress of this principle of corruption, to examine the means by which evil communications gradually undermine, and at last destroy good manners, or (which here is the proper signification of the original word) good morals. It is indeed disagreeable to contemplate human nature, in this downward course of its progress. But it is always profitable to know our own infirmities and dangers. The consideration of them will lead me to suggest some of the means proper to be used, for preventing the mischiefs arising from evil conmunications.
AGREEABLY to what I observed of certain virtuous principles being inherent in human nature, there are few but who set out at first in the world with good dispositions. The warmth which belongs to youth naturally exerts itself in generous feelings, and sentiments of honour; in strong attachments to friends, and the other emotions of a kind and tender heart. Almost all the plans with which persons who have been liberally educated begin the world, are con
nected with honourable views. At that period they repudiate whatever is mean or base. It is pleasing to them to think of commanding the esteem of those among whom they live, and of acquiring a name among men. But, alas! how soon does this flattering prospect begin to be overcast! Desires of pleasure usher in temptation, and forward the growth of disorderly passions. Ministers of vice are seldom wanting to encourage, and flatter the passions of the young. Inferiours study to creep into favour, by servile obsequiousness to all their desires and humours, Glad to find any apology for the indulgences of which they are fond, the young too readily listen to the voice of those who suggest to them that strict notions of religion, order, and virtue, are old-fashioned and illiberal ; that the restraints which they impose are only fit to be prescribed to those who are in the first stage of pupillage; or to be preached to the vulgar, who ought to be kept within the closest bounds of regularity and subjection. But the goodness of their hearts, it is insinuated to them, and the liberality of their views, will fully justify their emancipating themselves, in some degree, from the rigid discipline of parents and teachers.
Soothing as such insinuations are to the youthful and inconsiderate, the first steps, however, in vice, are cautious and timid, and occasionally checked by remorse. As they begin to mingle more in the world, and emerge into the circles of gaiety and pleasure, finding these loose ideas countenanced by too general practice, they gradually become bolder in the liberties they take. If they had been bred to business, they begin to tire of industry, and look with contempt on the plodding race of citizens.