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Exod. xxiii. 2.
T&>« ^/ja/^ not follow a multitude to do evil:
"IMITATION is one of the great characteristics of J3. the human species. As the passion for society is strong in the breasts of all rational creatures, the gratification of it is sought after as one of the highest enjoyments of life. The same passion that impels us to society, impels us to take part with our companions in their interests and inclinations. Insensibly and without thought we fall into their customs and their manners; we adopt their sentiments* their passions* and even their foibles* and follow the same course as if we were actuated by the same spirit. This principle appears in children even in the infant state. From their earliest years they love to mimic whatever strikes the organs of sense - and soon as the young idea begins to shoot, and the embryo of the manly character to appear, they form themselves insensiblv upon the model of their parents, and the' persons with whom they converse. To this, and not to any fancied physical cause, is owing that strong and striking resemblance, which we frequently find between the parents and the offspring; a resemblance as remarkable in the temper and character, as in the features of the face. x
This principle is not confined to individuals, it extends to nations. There is a national character, a national spirit, and even a national mode of thinking, down the current of which we are insensiblv carried. When any novelty, any improvement in art or in
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science, makes its appearance in a nation, it flies from man to man, and from place to place by a kind of contagion, till it has overspread the wh61e country. So powerful is sympathy, and the love of imitafion among men: and thus are our minds framed by the hand of our Maker, to accord with those of others; like the strings of musical instruments in unison, when one is struck, the rest correspond to the impression, vibrate in the same key, and sound the same note. As this principle is implanted in us by the Author of our nature, it must no doubt be intended for great and important purposes. It serves to strengthen the bonds of society, to promote friendship and love, and is the aptest and most successful means, not only to teach wisdom and goodness, but also to inspire them.
But as all principles have their unfavourable and vicious extreme, to which they may be carried, so likewise hath this. Here, therefore, hath the Almighty interposed, and set bounds to it which it ought not to pass, and on the farthest verge of innocence hath engraven this inscription, 'c Hitherto shalt "thou come, and no farther j here shall the progress "of thy imitation be stayed;" or,- as it is expressed in the words of our text, "Thou shalt not imitate "men in their wickedness? thou shalt not follow a '' multitude to do evil."
In further treating on this subject, I shall, in the . Jirst place, endeavour to shew you by what means we are to keep ourselves from following a multitude to do evil ; and, in the second place; adduce some arguments that urge the necessity of this duty.
The Jirst thing proposed, was to shew you by what means we are to guard ourselves from the multitude that do evil.
And, in the first place, In order to this, let us be early and firmly established in the principles of our holy faith. When we look about us into life, and behold how many persons enter into the world, without having their minds instructed, or their hearts esta* bUshed in the great principles of virtue and religion, we cannot be surprized that they go astray on occasion of the first temptation, and follow the multitude to do evil. Perhaps they have acquired some general knowledge of Christianity, but their knowledge of it is merely speculative, has played round the head, but has not reached the heart. Accordingly, as mere $peculation is utterly unfit; to combat the strength of passion, and the violence of temptation, they soon fall off', and sink into all the'corruptions of the world around them. This course, of life is well described in the beautiful parable of the sower and the seed: "Behold a sower went forth to sow; and as he *' sowed, some seeds fell upon the stony places, "where they had not much earth, and forthwith they "sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth; "and when the sun was up they were scorched, and "because they had no root, they withered away.". That is, they had received the knowledge of the Christian religion, but they had not attained to that true faith, which is not barely an assent of the understanding to speculative truth, but which is also a principle of action which purifies the heart, works by love, and regulates the whole conversation. /
It is education chiefly that forms the human character; and it is a virtuous and religious education that forms the character of the Christian. The mind at that early and innocent period, being untainted with actual guilt, and all alive to every generous impression, bends without labour to the force of instruction; is easily formed to all the beauties of holiness, and, by frequent and repeated acts, acquires habits of devotion and virtue. The principles that are then imbibed, and the habits that are then acquired, although they may be sometimes shaken and weakened by the contagion of evil example, are seldom or never entirely obliterated. When the good seed is thus sown, we have the promise of Almighty (rod,'that lie will grant it the increase, and cause it to spring up into everlasting life. When the Christian doctrines are thus received, not merely as articles of belief, but also as principles of action, through the blessing of God, they will attain the ascendant over the unruly passions, and e^ert such an entire influence over the mind, as will enable it to resist temptation, and tq come off triumphant. When the good foundation is thus laid, the winds may arise, and the rains maydescend; the tempest may blow and beat upon the house, bnt the foundation of the structure shall not fail, for it rests upon a rock.
Next, In order to preserve our innocence and integrity uncorrupted from the world, let us beware with what company we associate. Evil communication corrupts good manners. It is not indeed always in our power to avoid falling into the company of the wicked, but it is always in ourpower not to make such persons our confidents and companions. It is the grand secret of life, both with respect to virtue and to happiness, to select good and worthy persons to be our friend- and companions ; such persons, with whom we would not only wish to live, but also desire to die.' Such persons whom we would not only choose to be the companions of our careless hours,' but also the partners of our enjoyments through all eternity.
There is something in the friendship and familiarity of good men, extremely great and honourable to human nature; arid there are some considerations in Christianity that carry these to their highest perfection. The'great commandYnent of our Lord to his followers, was to love one another. In the holy sacrament of the supper, we are united together in such intimate bonds of union, as to become members of one body. We have one faith, one hope, one baptism, one Lord, the Father ol all, one Saviour who died for the sins of the world, one Spirit who dwells in the hearts of the faithful. We are fellow-heirs of the Same grace of life, fellow-expectants of the same hea/venly rewards.
Under these considerations, the friendship of good men would be attended with the most beneficial etfects. They would support each other in the temptations and afflictions of life, and by quickening each other's diligence, provoke one another to love and to good works. Such associations of good and worthy persons, in times of public degeneracy and corruption, are spoken of in Scripture with the highest honour. "Then they that feared the Lord, spake often "one to another, and the Lord hearkened and heard "it: and a book of remembrance was written before S* him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought "upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the f Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up my "jewels ; and 1 will spare them as a man spareth his "own son that serveth him/'
Further., In order to keep ourselves unspotted from the world, let us acquire firmness and fortitude of mind. There is no principle in human nature that is attended with a train of more dreadful consequences, than that facility of manners, that simplicity of disposition, that weakness of soul which is easily persuaded from its resolution, to comply with every proposal. This good nature, as it is falsely called, is the worst nature in the world, and is the occasion of more calamities, and of more crimes, than the actual inclination to wickedness. To oppose the actual vicious inclination, Almighty God hath endued us with an understanding to discern its evil, and with a conscience to check its progress; but this pernicious feebleness of mind has the appearance of sociableness and of virtue, and, by that appearance, deceives us to our ruin.
Persons of such a character make no original efforts of mind. They seem born to enlist under a leader, and are the sinners or the saints of accident.
Fortitude of mind, and strength of resolution, are requisite for every purpose of human life. In particular, they are necessary to keep us from the contagion of evil example. Let us be cautious in laying down resolutions, let us be cautious in concerting plans of action : but when we have once lesolvcd, let