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duty. It will first sap the foundations of Religion : it will, by little and little, damp our zeal for God: it will gently cool that fervency of spirit, which attended our first love. If they do not openly oppose any thing we say or do, yet their very spirit will, by insensible degrees, affect our spirit, and transfuse into it the same lukewarmness and indifference toward God and the things of God. It will weaken all the springs of our soul, destroy the vigour of our spirit, and cause us more and more to slacken our pace, in running the race that is set before us.
10. By the same degrees all needless intercourse with unholy men will weaken our divine evidence and conviction of things unseen: it will dim the eyes of the soul whereby we see him that is invisible, and weaken our confidence in him. It will gradually abate our "taste of the powers of the world to come," and deaden that hope, which before made us" sit in heavenly places with Christ Jesus." It will imperceptibly cool that flame of love, which before -enabled us to say, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee!" Thus it strikes at the root of all vital religion, of our fellowship with the Father and with the Son.
11. By the same degrees, and in the same secret and unobserved manner, it will prepare us to 66 measure back our steps to earth again." It will lead us softly, to relapse into the love of the world from which we were clean escaped; to fall gently into the desire of the flesh, the seeking happiness in the pleasures of sense; the desire of the eye, the seeking happiness in the pleasures of imagination; and the pride of life, the seeking it in pomp, in riches, or in the praise of man. And all this may be done, by the assistance of the spirit, who beguiled Eve through his subtilty, before we are sensible of his attack, or are conscious of any loss.
12. And it is not only the love of the world in all its branches, which necessarily steals upon us, while we converse with men of a worldly spirit, farther than duty requires; but every other evil passion and temper, of which
the human soul is capable: in particular, pride, vanity, censoriousness, evil-surmising, proneness to revenge: while, on the other hand, levity, gaity, and dissipation, steal upon us and increase continually. We know how all these abound in the men that know not God. And it cannot be but they will insinuate themselves into all, who frequently and freely converse with them: they insinuate most deeply into those who are not apprehensive of any danger: and most of all, if they have any particular affection, if they have more love than duty requires, for those who do not love God, with whom they familiarly converse.
13. Hitherto I have supposed that the persons with whom you converse, are such as we use to call good sort of people: such as are stiled, in the cant term of the day, men of worthy characters: (one of the most silly, insignificant words, that ever came into fashion.) I have supposed them to be free from cursing, swearing, profaneness; from sabbath-breaking and drunkenness, from lewdness either in word or action; from dishonesty, lying, and slandering: in a word, to be entirely clear from open vice of every kind. Otherwise, whoever has even the fear of God must, in anywise, keep at a distance from them. But I am afraid I have made a supposition which hardly can be admitted. I am afraid, some of the persons with whom you converse, more than business necessarily requires, do not deserve even the character of good sort of men: are not worthy of any thing but shame and contempt. Do not some of them live in open sin ?-In cursing and swearing, drunkenness or uncleanness? You cannot long be ignorant of this: for they take little pains to hide it. Now is it not certain, all vice is of an infectious nature; for who can touch pitch, and not be defiled? From these, therefore, you ought undoubtedly to flee as from the face of a serpent. Otherwise, how soon may "evil communications corrupt good manners!"
14. I have supposed, likewise, that these unholy persons with whom you frequently converse, have no desire to communicate their own spirit to you, or to induce you to follow
their example. But this also is a supposition which can hardly be admitted. In many cases their interest may be advanced, by your being a partaker of their sins. But supposing interest to be out of the question, does not every man naturally desire, and more or less endeavour, to bring over his acquaintance to his own opinion or party? So that as all good men desire and endeavour to make others good, like themselves, in like manner, all bad men desire and endeavour to make their companions as bad as themselves.
15. But if they do not, if we allow this almost impossible supposition, that they do not desire or use any endeavours, to bring you over to their own temper and practice, still it is dangerous to converse with them. I speak, not only of openly vicious men, but of all that do not love God, or at least fear him, and sincerely seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Admit such companions do not endeavour to make you like themselves, does this prove you are in no danger from them? See that poor wretch that is ill of the plague! He does not desire, he does not use the least endeavour to communicate his distemper to you. Yet have a care! Touch him not! Nay, go not near him, or you know not how soon you may be in the same condition. To draw the parallel; though we should suppose the man of the world does not desire, design, or endeavour to communicate his distemper to you, yet touch him not! Come not too near him. For it is not only his reasonings or persuasions that may infect your soul, but his very breath is infectious: particularly to those who are apprehensive of no danger.
* 16. If conversing freely with worldly-minded men has no other ill effect upon you, it will surely, by imperceptible degrees, make you less heavenly-minded. It will give a bias to your mind, which will continually draw your soul to earth. It will incline you, without your being conscious of it, instead of being wholly transformed in the renewing of your mind, to be again conformed to this world, in its spirit, in its maxims, and in its vain conversation. You will fall again into that levity and dissipation of spirit, from which you had
before clean escaped, into that superfluity of apparel, and into that foolish, frothy, unprofitable conversation, which was an abomination to you, when your soul was alive to God. And you will daily decline from that simplicity both of speech and behaviour, whereby you once adorned the doctrine of God our Saviour.
17. And if you go thus far in conformity to the world, it is hardly to be expected, you will stop here. You will go farther in a short time: having once lost your footing and begun to slide down, it is a thousand to one, you will not stop till you come to the bottom of the hill: till you fall yourself into some of those outward sins, which your companions commit before your eyes, or in your hearing. Hereby the dread and horror which struck you at first, will gradually abate, till at length you are prevailed upon to follow their example. But suppose they do not lead you into outward sin, if they infect your spirit with pride, anger, or love of the world, it is enough: it is sufficient, without deep repentance, to drown your soul in everlasting perdition: seeing (abstracted from all outward sin) to be carnally-minded is death.
18. But as dangerous as it is to converse familiarly with men that know not God, it is more dangerous still for men to converse with women of that character: as they are generally more insinuating than men, and have far greater power of persuasion : particularly if they are agreeable in their persons, or pleasing in their conversation. You must be more than man, if you can converse with such, and not suffer any loss. If you do not feel any foolish or unholy desire; (and who can promise that you shall not?) yet it is scarce possible, that you should not feel more or less of an improper softness, which will make you less willing and less able, to persist in that habit of denying yourself, and taking up your cross daily, which constitute the character of a good soldier of Jesus Christ. And we know that not only fornicators and adulterers, but even the soft and effeminate, the delicate followers of a self-denying Master, shall have no part in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
19. Such are the consequences which must surely, though perhaps slowly follow, the mixing of the children of God with the men of the world. And by this mean more than by any other, yea, than by all others put together, are the people called Methodists likely to lose their strength, and become like other men. It is indeed with a good design, and from a real desire of promoting the glory of God, that many of them admit of a familiar conversation with men that know not God. You have a hope of awakening them out of sleep, and persuading them to seek the things that make for their peace. But if, after a competent time of trial, you make no impression upon them, it will be your wisdom to give them up to God: otherwise, you are more likely to receive hurt from them, than to do them any good. For if you do not raise their hearts up to heaven, they will draw yours down to earth. Therefore, retreat in time, "and come out from among them, and be ye separate." 20. But how may this be done? What is the most easy and effectual method of separating ourselves from unholy men? Perhaps a few advices will make this plain, to those that desire to know and do the will of God.
First: Invite no unholy person to your house, unless on some very particular occasion. You may say, "But civility requires this; and sure, religion is no enemy to civility. Nay, the Apostle himself directs us to be courteous, as well as to be pitiful." I answer, You may be civil, sufficiently civil, and yet keep them at a proper distance. You may be courteous in a thousand instances, and yet stand aloof from them. And it never was the design of the Apostle to recommend any such courtesy as must necessarily prove a snare to the soul.
21. Secondly: On no account accept any invitation from an unholy person. Never be prevailed upon to pay a visit, unless you wish it to be repaid. It may be, a person desirous of your acquaintance, will repeat the visit twice or thrice. But if you steadily refrain from returning it, the visitant will soon be tired. It is not improbable but he will be disobliged: and perhaps he will shew some marks