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CAUTION AGAINST BAD BOOKS.
PROVERBS xis. 27.
CEASE, MY SON, TO HEAR THE INSTRUCTION WHICH CAUSETH TO ERX FROM THE WORDS OF KNOWLEDGE.
HE fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. To hate knowledge is the same as not to choose the fear of the Lord. My son, if thou wilt “ receive my words, and hide my commandments « with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wif“ dom, and apply thine heart to understanding; yea, “ if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy “ voice for understanding—Then shalt thou underftand “ the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of “ God. For the Lord giveth wisdom; out of his “ mouth cometh knowledge and understanding, The “ knowledge of the Holy is understanding. Buy the “ truth, and fell it not."
From these various expreffions it appears, that by the words of knowledge true religion is intended. The instruction which caufeth to err from the words of knowledge therefore means instruction opposed to the doctrines and duties of religion-instruction in whatever is subversive of religious faith or practice. The teachers of errour are frequently more attended to than the teachers of truth.
The fources of errour are bad company and bad books. In my last discourse, our young people were furnished with cautions against the former. The design of
the present discourse is to guard them against the baneful instruction, contained in books calculated to pervert their understanding; and corrupt their hearts.
The books in my view are of various description. One class would make you infidels in practice ; another class would make you infidels in speculation as well as practice. Their instruction alike causeth to err from the words of knowledge. When the erroneous instruction they contain hath been pointed out, the reafons will be offered which enforce the advice of the text, peculiarly on the rising generation. Cease, my son, to hear the instruction which causeth to err from the words of knowledge.
The books which contain this instruction are the light and frivolous—the licentious, coarse and obscene -those which refine upon vice and impurity—those which make ridicule the ftandard-and those written with much labour and fophiftry, in support of universal scepticism and fatality.
First, the light and frivolous.
Of these there are a great variety. They have no useful object in view--no certain ends unless to avail the authors of the foible of that large class, who read merely to find something novel and strange. Filled with “ trifles light as air,” they exhibit no other than utopian ideas of life, visionary characters, visionary bliss. If they may afford a few moments'amusement, amidst serious studies and occupations, it is the most that can be said of them. The writers who furnish the materials of this amusement, have little or no claim on the gratitude of mankind, their object not being general utility. They cause to err from the words of knowledge, by preventing the acquisition of it, filling the mind with vain imaginations, and consuming the time which should be applied to real improvement. With no other than such reading, you will “ die with“ out inftruction, and in the greatness of your folly go “ astray.” But“ a wise man will hear, and will increase learning."
Secondly, Another class of books we call licentious, coarse and obscene.
These, much more than the first mentioned, cause to err from the words of knowledge. Some of them are the grofsest vehicles of impurity. The authors, with a brow of brass, and an heart which is a sink of pollution, have set themselves to excite lufts, which otherwise might never have been conceived-passions which never might have been excited—lusts and passions subversive of all order and peace ; which violate all the dearest interests of individuals, families and communities. Such books are more destructive than the wide wasting pestilence. They cannot be read in company, but at the expence of all decency; nor in the closet, without opening the heart to every foul spirit: They prostrate the foundations of society, and make man like the beasts which perish.
Some may think that publications of this kind should never be suffered to proceed from the press. The only effectual way to restrain them may be not to read them. Let them lie on the shelves of the authors and publishers, and they will cease to be printed. No care of the education of youth will avail, if such books are in their hands, and read with any satisfaction. Immodest language in conversation is an insult to decent company; and in books, it is an insult to the public: It is appearing abroad in a dress, of which one should be ashamed at home.
But fome authors have a talent of refining upon vice and impurity. Their indecency is polished, and not of the gross kind just mentioned. These constitute a third class of bad books.
Can the ornaments of stile change the nature of things? make darkness light, and light darkness ? make evil good, and good evil? make bitter sweet, and sweet bitter? If not, then language thus abused is a prostitution of talents given for a better use. The allurements of stile may ensnare minds, which would not be corrupted by grofs obscenity. Immoral books, written in insinuating language, do more extensive in jury to the cause of truth and virtue, than those diftinguished for impudent and shameless ribaldry. The latter may be read by the coarse and ill-bred; the former are designed for polished life. Many useful obfervations on life and manners are intermixed with instruction which causeth to err from the words of knowledge. Writers of splendid talents, when their object is to please, rather than to improve the mind or the heart-when their real wifh is to give currency to dissimulation, impurity and excefs, have influence, above all others, in seducing into the paths of errour. CHESTERFIELD ranks first among writers of this defcription ;. as STERNE does, in some of his writings, among the grossly obscene.
A fourth class of books make ridicule a standard? They aim to bring truth and virtue to this test.
This is a powerful weapon. Those who cannot be reasoned out of their principles, may be laughed out of them. Men who are averse to cool reflection, and have not a talent for found discussion, may be
prompt at a jest and sarcafm--may know how to pick flaws, to seduce the simple and unwary. A great part of the writers against revealed religion have adopted this mode of attack, with a success to be much regretted. If misrepresentation, sneer and contempt, lewd and profane wit, and every species of obloquy, could have borne down and extirpated Christianity, it had been rooted out in the apostolic age : It was every where Spoken against : Its author was reproached as the son of a carpenter, a Nazarene; and its disciples, as Galileans. They were accounted as the filth of the world, and offscouring of all things. No exertions were spared to expose him and them to popular scorn. Nor are any attempts of this kind wanting in our own times. Every part of Christendom, this country in particular, is filled with publications calculated to make Christianity appear ridiculous-yea, publications which are a burlesque upon virtue, and renounce all pretensions to it as hypocrisy. This indeed is instruction which causeth to err from the words of knowledge. Are truth and sincerity—all ideas of moral government and accountableness, to be scouted down by impious jests? Books which would teach you to deride the difference between truth and falsehood, right and wrong—to deride all principle of conscience and moral obligationto deride death and judgment, heaven and hell, can be read only by such as hate the truth, and have pleasure in unrighteousness.
The last class of books, against which I would caution you, is, Those which are written with great labour and Sophistry in defence of infidelity.
They undertake to appeal to your reason and understanding. They would persuade you that nothing rational or solid can be said in behalf of the gospel—that it is founded in imposture; is, in its internal frame, a contradiction to reason and natural religion, altogether unworthy of the wisdom of God; and, in its external proof, without anyfolid support—that the miracles, said to have been wrought in confirmation of it, never were wrought—that the Spirit of prophecy was merely a conjecture; or, instead of being a prediction, is only an history. Uniform experience is opposed to both, especially to the miracles. It is urged that philosophers and learned men have in general agreed to reject Christianity; and that it is fit to be embraced only by weak minds, incapable of research.
This description of writers do not descend to the buffoonery of the former: They are cool, deliberate and sophistical defenders of scepticism and universal fatality. They studiously cherish sentiments opposed, not only to Christianity, but to natural religion. Through the pride of their countenance, they seek not after God they pay him no acknowledgments. While they take much pains to pull down and destroy, what do