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S E R M O N VI.
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 favourible situations, might have a happy inflaance on practice. But such is the frailty of our nature, and so numerous are the emptations to evil, that they are in perpe
tual 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 corruption 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 connexions 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
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 communications.
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 connected 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 pagsions. Ministers of vice are seldom wanting to encourage and flatter the passions of the young. Inferiors 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, their 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. If they be of superior rank, they think it becomes them to resemble their equals; to assume that freedom of behaviour, that air of forwardness, that tone of dissipation, that easy negligence of those with whom they converse, which appear fashionable in high life. If affluence of fortune unhappily concur to favour their inclinations, amusements and diversions succeed in a perpetual round; night and day are confounded; gaming fills up their vacant intervals; they live wholly in public places ; they run into many degrees of excess, disagreeable even to themselves, merely from weak complaisance, and the fear of being ridiculed by their loose associates. Among these associates, the most