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others, and, at the same time, by no means uncommon. "I grant," says one," the person I am about to marry, is not a religious person. She does not make any pretensions to it. She has little thought about it. But she is a beautiful creature. She is extremely agreeable, and I think will make me a lovely companion."
This is a snare indeed! Perhaps one of the greatest that human nature is liable to. This is such a temptation as no power of man is able to overcome. Nothing less than the mighty power of God, can make a way for you to escape from it. And this can work a complete deliverance: his grace is sufficient for you. But not unless you are a worker together with him: not unless you deny yourself and take up your cross. And what you do, you must do`at once! Nothing can be done by degrees. Whatever you do in this important case, must be done at one stroke. If it be done at all, you must at once, cut off the right hand, and cast it from you! Here is no time for conferring with flesh and blood. At once, conquer or perish!
19. Let us turn the tables. Suppose a woman that loves God, is addressed by an agreeable man, genteel, lively, entertaining, suitable in all other respects, though not religious: what should she do in such a case? What she should do, if she believes the Bible, is sufficiently clear. But what can she do? Is not this
"A test for human frailty too severe ??
Who is able to stand in such a trial? Who can resist such a temptation! None but one that holds fast the shield of faith, and earnestly cries to the Strong for strength. None but one that gives herself to watching and prayer, and continues therein with all perseverance. If she does this, she will be a happy witness in the midst of an unbelieving world, that as "all things are possible with God," so al "things are possible to her that believeth."
20. But either a man or a woman may ask, "What if the person who seeks my acquaintance be a person of strong natural understanding, cultivated by various learning? May not I gain much useful knowledge by a familiar inter
course with him? May I not learn many things from him, and much improve my own understanding?" Undoubtedly you may improve your own understanding, and you may gain much knowledge. But still, if he has not, at least, the fear of God, your loss will be far greater than your gain. For you can hardly avoid decreasing in holiness as much as you increase in knowledge. And if you lose one degree of inward or outward holiness, all the knowledge you gain will be no equivalent.
21. "But his fine and strong understanding improved by education, is not his chief recommendation. He has more valuable qualifications than these: he is remarkably good humoured: he is of a compassionate, humane spirit, and has much generosity in his temper." On these very accounts, if he does not fear God, he is infinitely more dangerous. If you converse intimately with a person of his character, you will surely drink into his spirit. It is hardly possible for you to avoid stopping just where he stops. I have found nothing so difficult in all my life, as to conversé with men of this kind, (good sort of men, as they are commonly called,) without being hurt by them. O beware of them! Converse with them just as much as business requires, and no more: otherwise, (though you do not feel any present harm, yet) by slow and imperceptible degrees, they will attach you again to earthly things, and damp the life of God in your soul.
22. It may be, the persons who are desirous of your acquaintance, though they are not experienced in religion, yet understand it well, so that you frequently reap advantage from their conversation. If this be really the case, (as I have known a few instances of the kind,) it seems, you may converse with them: only very sparingly and very cautiously. Otherwise you will lose more of your spiritual life, than all the knowledge you gain is worth.
23. "But the persons in question are useful to me, in carrying on my temporal business. Nay, on many occasions, they are necessary to me, so that I could not well carry it on without them." Instances of this kind frequently occur.
And this is doubtless a sufficient reason for having some intercourse, perhaps frequently, with men that do not fear God. But even this is by no means a reason for your contracting an intimate acquaintance with them. And you here need to take the utmost care, “lest even by that converse with them which is necessary, while your fortune in the world increases, the grace of God should decrease in your soul."
24. There may be one more plausible reason given for some intimacy with an unholy man. You may say, "I' have been helpful to him. I have assisted him when he was in trouble. And he remembers it with gratitude. He esteems and loves me, though he does not love God. Ought I not then to love him? Ought I not to return love for love? Do not even heathens and publicans so?" I answer, you should certainly return love for love; but it does not follow, that you should have any intimacy with him. That would be at the peril of your soul. Let your love give itself vent in constant and fervent prayer: wrestle with God for him. But let your love for him not carry you so far, as to weaken, if not destroy your own soul.
25. "But must I not be intimate with my relations? And that, whether they fear God or not? Has not his Providence recommended these to me?" Undoubtedly it has: but there are relations, nearer or more distant. The nearest relations are husbands and wives. As these have taken each other, for better or worse, they must make the best of each other; seeing as God has joined them together, none can put them asunder; unless in case of adultery: or when the life of one or the other is in imminent danger. Parents are almost as nearly connected with their children. You cannot part with them while they are young; it being your duty, to "train them up" with all care, "in the way wherein they should go." How frequently you should converse with them when they are grown up, is to be determined by christian prudence. This also will determine, how long it is expedient for children, if it be at their own choice, to remain with their parents. In general, if they do not fear God, you should leave them as soon as
is convenient. But wherever you are, take care, (if it be in your power,) that they do not want the necessaries or conveniences of life. As for all other relations, even brothers or sisters, if they are of the world, you are under no obligation to be intimate with them: you may be civil and friendly at a distance.
26. But allowing that "the friendship of the world is enmity against God," and consequently that it is the most excellent way, indeed the only way to heaven, to avoid all intimacy with worldly men; yet who has resolution to walk therein? Who even of those that love or fear God? For these only are concerned in the present question. A few I have known, who, even in this respect, were lights in a benighted land: who did not and would not either contract or continue any acquaintance, with persons of the most refined and improved understanding, and the most engaging tempers, merely because they were of the world, because they were not alive to God. Yea, though they were capable of improving them in knowledge, or assisting them in business. Nay, though they admired and esteemed them for that very religion, which they did not themselves experience: a case one would hardly think possible, but of which there are many instances at this day. Familiar intercourse even with these, they steadily and resolutely refrain from, for conscience' sake.
27. Go thou and do likewise, whosoever thou art, that art a child of God by faith. Whatever it cost, flee spiritual adultery. Have no friendship with the world. However tempted thereto by profit or pleasure, contract no intimacy with worldly-minded men. And if thou hast contracted any such already, break it off without delay. Yea, if thy ungodly friend be dear to thee as a right eye, or useful as a right hand, yet confer not with flesh and blood, but pluck out the right eye, cut off the right hand, and cast them from thee! It is not an indifferent thing. Thy life is at stake: eternal life or eternal death. And is it not better to go into life, having one eye or one hand, than having both, to be cast into hell-fire? When thou knewest no
better, the times of ignorance God winked at. But now thine eyes are opened, now the light is come; walk in the light. Touch not pitch, lest thou be defiled. At all
events, keep thyself pure!
28. But whatever others do, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, hear this, all ye that are called Methodists. However importuned or tempted thereto, have no friendship with the world. Look round, and see the melancholy effects it has produced among your brethren! How many of the mighty are fallen! How many have fallen by this very thing! They would take no warning: they would converse, and that intimately, with earthlyminded men, till "they measured back their steps to earth again!" "come out from among them!" from all unholy men, however harmless they may appear; "and be ye separate:" at least, so far as to have no intimacy with them. As your fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ;" so let it be with those, and those only, who at least seek the Lord Jesus in sincerity. So "shall ye be," in a peculiar sense, "my sons and my daughters, saith the Lord Almighty."