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Though men debase themselves by the meani. est vices, and abandon themselves to the grossest wickedness; yet they are unwilling to sink in the esteem of their fellow men, and especially of the more virtuous and reputable part of soci. ety. The idea excites painful emotions. But they know that, in proportion as virtue is honoured, vice is disgraced. Our good opinion of others is founded, not so much on their absolute, as on their comparative worth and excel. lence. Sinners, the viler sort in particular, making the comparison, at once perceive that they are not entitled to equal respect with their more virtuous neighbours, and, averse to a reformation, find it necessary to entice others into the vices that stamp their own character, that they may hold equality with them. Hence arises that levelling disposition so prevalent among the most vicious part of mankind, as much in respect to virtue and character, as to property and power. The wicked, whose evil habits have brought them into poverty and contempt, discover a strong propensity to reduce those of eminent wisdom and goodness to their own base standard, rather than to rise by an imitation of their examples. Envy, the meanest and worst of human passions, rankles in
their breast, and hurries them into conduct as detestable, as the motive by which they are actuated. Though they feel a secret veneration for the pious and good, they sicken at the praise which such characters receive. The honours of virtue the most profligate desire ; but will not secure them by cherishing its principles, and exhibiting its fruits. Hence arises the dispo- ' sition to hypocrisy, to exhibit an appearance of religion and moral rectitude, and to make it pass for the reality. .
Envy is an uneasy and sordid passion, which seeks relief in the destruction, or injury, of its object. But how despicable the wretch, who, wishing to receive the honour and respect of his pious and virtuous neighbour, instead of imitating him, and thus rising to worth, is content with bringing him down to his own level ! How mean the spirit, which, having no desire, or design, to acquire a good reputation, seeks to destroy the good name and real worth of another by enticing him into vice and folly! How sordid the soul, that, instead of aspiring to any thing noble and good in principle and practice, is ambitious to extend the empire of sin and depravity! Such meanness, such sordid dispositions, may be attributed to all who, with de.
111 sign, entice others from virtue and religion, to vice and impiety. Conscious inferiority, instead of exciting a generous emulation, too often generates, or calls into action, those corroding passions, which banish the benevolent affections of the heart, destroy every virtuous sentiment of the mind, and furnish motives to entice and degrade the innocent.
But other motives operate. Wicked purposes are not, at all times, to be accomplished without the aid of sinful companions. Sinners, therefore, entice others to join hand in hand, that they may with greater ease effect their object. Many species of wickedness cannot be perpetrated by a solitary agent; and some that may be are not so alluring and gratifying without, as with a number of companions. It would not be difficult to adduce examples; but it is unnecessary; your own minds will suggest a sufficient number.
Another circumstance merits attention. Mankind, when engaged in scenes of iniquity, do not enjoy self-approbation, but seek a kind of justification in the consent of others to the same, or similar practices. We often hear persons attempt to vindicate, or palliate, their own conduct, by comparing it with that of others,
than which it seldom fails to appear, in their view, less heinous. A desire to pacify their own minds, free themselves from all restraint, and justify themselves to the multitude, becomes a secret but powerful motive to entice others, not yet lost to virtue, into the same vices that have marked their own character. A course opposite to their own, and manifestly pure and good, is a tacit but pointed reproof, and will excite some unpleasant reflections, a consciousness of their own guilt. Determined sinners, therefore, feel an interest in drawing others into their own habits and society, that they may relieve their own minds, diminish that worth of others, and destroy the foundation of that esteem, which they are not content they should possess.
These are some of the probable motives of the sinner's conduct in enticing others; and they are as base, as their practice is detestable. Convinced of this, you will be prepared to
attend, * Thirdly, To their methods of enticing others.
To point out all the ways and means sinners adopt to corrupt the minds of the virtuous, to lead youth astray from God and duty, and to draw them into degrading and destructive sen.
timents and habits, is more than we can undertake at present. But we shall notice some of the most common.
1. Their examples have a surprising influ. ence. Man is an imitative creature, prone to copy what he observes in those with whom he is conversant. With youth this method is most successful ; though it has an effect at every period of life. The examples that are set be. fore us become, in a greater or less degree, the directory of our conduct, and often give a turn to our sentiments, mode of thinking, and moral feelings. Those of the wicked are an enticement to the virtuous. They may, at first, shock a person of real virtue, and be less likely to have an ill effect upon one of habitual piety and rectitude. But such a person is not wholly free from danger. He may be insensibly influ. enced by evil examples, when they have become familiar, and drawn into actions his sober reason condemns ; such as he once abhorred, and such as cannot fail to be a source of future regret. Observation evinces the humbling truth, that persons of fair character, of sober life and conversation, whose consciences never reproached them with any Aagrant wickedness,