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sincere, they will be in hazard of falling into some wrong direction, unless they be properly guided by wisdom. Too many instances have appeared of persons who, setting out in life with fair and virtuous purposes, have been so far bewildered by mistaken forms of goodness, as to be betrayed, first into errors, and then into vices and crimes. In order to act our parts with propriety and steadiness, there must be a due proportion of light in the understanding, as well as of warmth and goodness in the heart. The Psalmist was sensible of this when he declares in the text, his resolution, of not only walking in a perfect, or upright way, but of behaving himself wisely in that perfect way. Of the wisdom or prudence which is necessary to guide and support virtue, I purpose to treat in this Discourse. I shall adventure, with great plainness and simplicity of language, to propose some practical rules and directions for that purpose; which may be of service to persons, who with good dispositions and intentions, are beginning the career of life ; and which may, perhaps, deserve attention from persons in every period of age. -I begin by observing,
I. That it is most necessary to lay down principles on which we are to form our general conduct. If we set out without principles of any kind, there can be no regular plan of life, nor any firmness in conduct. No person can know where they are to find us ; nor on what behaviour of ours they are to depend. If the principles which we pitch upon for determining our course be of a variable nature; such, for instance, as popular opinion, reputation, or worldly interest; as these are often shifting and changing, they can impart no steadiness or consistency to conduct. Other principles there are, which some affect to adopt, founded on a sense of honour, on the beauty and excellency of virtue, and the dignity of human nature. But however fair these may be in appearance, they will be found ineffectual in many trying situations; unable to repress the violence of contending passions, or to support the heart under many discouragements and sorrows. · The only sure principles we can lay down for regulating our conduct, must be founded on the Christian religion, taken in its whole compass; not confined to the exercises of devotion, nor to the mere morality of social behaviour ; but extending to the whole direction of our conduct towards God and towards
The foundation is to be laid in faith in Christ as the Saviour of the world, through whose merits only we can look for final acceptance with God. We must evince the sincerity of our faith by good works; that is, by a faithful discharge of all the duties incumbent upon us in our several stations of life: continually looking up to Divine grace for assistance in the part assigned us to act; and trusting to that recompence of our present labours, which is promised to the virtuous in a future and better world. Supposing, that having laid the foundation in such principles, we set forth to act a worthy and virtuous part; resolved that, whatever may befall us, till we die we will not remove our integrity from us; that our hearts shall not reproach us so long as we live.* I proceed to advise,
* Job, xxvii. 5, 6.
II. That we begin with reforming whatever has been wrong in our former behaviour. This counsel is the more important, because too many, in their endeavours towards reformation, begin with attempting some of the highest virtues, or aspiring to the most sublime performances of devotion, while they suffer their former accustomed evil habits to remain just as they were. This, I apprehend, is beginning at the wrong end. We must first, as the Prophet has exhorted, put away the evil of our doings from before God's eyes; we must cease to do evil, before we learn todo well.* All attempts at reformation of manners are vain, where this is not studied. Let us remember, that as long as the weeds and tares are allowed to remain in the ground, the soil is vitiated by their roots spreading deep and wide; and no good grain will have room to spring up. -Every man who inspects his own character, may learn that there are certain failings to which, from constitution, circumstances, or long habit, he is prone; termed in Scripture the sins that most easily beset us. To dis, cover these, must be his first care; and his first purpose, if he in truth wishes to become a good man, must be gradually to check and finally to extirpate them, of whatever nature they are; whether, perhaps, habits of intemperance, unlawful indulgences of pleasure, indirect methods of acquiring gain, or propensions to malice, resentment, or envy. To overcome those evils when they have become inveterate, to pluck up those thorns by the roots, is perhaps the most difficult part of reformation, and therefore what we are generally the most backward to
* Isaiah, i. 16.
undertake. At the same time it is certain, that as long as, by this tender indulgence to favourite vices, men remain in a divided state between good resolutions and evil habits, they are so far from behaving wisely in a perfect way, that they can scarcely be accounted to have entered on that perfect way; irresolution will be spread over their conduct; and incoherence will mark their character. — In order to facilitate so necessary a step in the progress towards virtue, let me advise you,
III. To shut up as much as possible, the avenues which lead to the return of former evil habits. Here is required that exercise of vigilance, self-distrust, and self-denial, which is so often recommended to us in Scripture. There is always some one side on which each of us is more vulnerable than on another. There are places, there are times, there are circumstances, which every man who knows any thing of himself at all, must know will prove the occasions of calling forth his latent frailties, and bringing him into some fatal snare. Then ought that caution of the Apostle to sound in his ears; Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.* Let him not only walk cir. cumspectly, but rather altogether fly the dangerous ground : aware of the viper which lurks under the grass, ready to sting. But presumption to flatter ourselves, and to think that we are able to withstand every danger, is a weakness inherent in man. It is on a moderate and humble estimation of our abilities that wisdom directs us to form our conduct. As in civil and political life, he who believes himself equal
* 1 Corinth. X. 12.
to every task, and on all occasions comes forward with rash audacity, is likely to meet with many a humiliation and repulse; so in moral behaviour, he who, trusting to the strength of his virtuous resolutions, exposes himself inconsiderately to every occasion of temptation, is sure of being often betrayed into evil.
All the various and dangerous avenues to vice, with which, in great cities especially, modern life abounds, it cannot be expected that I am here to point out. Wealth, luxury, and idleness, are the great nourishers of every frailty; the great fomenters of every bad inclination and passion. To the children of Idleness, the haunts of Dissipation open many a wide and inviting gate by night and by day. When within those gates they carelessly enter, surrounded with loose companions, how often does it happen, that from the halls of pleasure and houses of gaming, they come forth as from caverns of destruction, overwhelmed with losses and miseries, and pining with bitter remorse? - Much does it concern every one who seeks to walk wisely in a perfect way, to be particularly guarded in the choice of his associates and companions. How often among the gay and the giddy will he meet with those who smile and betray! He only who walketh with wise men, shall be wise while the companion of fools shall be destroyed.* Observe the attention which, in the verses immediately following the text, King David declares himself to have given to this rule of conduct; I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes; I will not know a wicked person. Mine eyes shall be on the faithful of the land. He that worketh deceit, shall not dwell within