People very often go into company in order to avoid communing with their own heart. They are afraid, or at least not fond, of being alone. And whereas the good man is satisfied from himself, they seek their happiness from external objects. If people found happiness within themselves, they would not so restlessly be seeking it elsewhere. A good man has more pleasure in solitude than the votaries of mirth can find in any company or in any diversion.
How little rational pleasure can a person find in the generality of company. If we were to suppose that he took down in writing what passes in genteel company, and compare this with the conversation of ordinary people, one would be at a loss to say where the advantage lay.
If people met in company with the view to the improvement of their minds, conversation would be worthy of rational creaturesÂ—it would be a constant source of pleasure and delight. Instead of idle chat which is scarcely worth to be repeated, they would talk of subjects which would refine their sentiments and better their hearts. The great works of nature would always supply topics of conversation; and if heathens formerly could find such delicious pleasure in rational conversation as to say of such talk, O nodes coenaeque deorum, “O nights and feasts worthy of the gods,” what a shame is it for those who have the advantages of revelation not to have a taste formed for such a pure pleasure. Instead of spending a night in playing at cards, or any other idle diversion of which a person can reap no pleasure when it is over, if they pass the time in edifying conversation, they would reap several advantages. By meeting in company, it is said there is no harm in such or such amusements. True; but is there any good in them? What useful purpose do they serve? If they indispose the mind for the duties of religion, are they not then hurtful? Amusement, in such cases, instead of doing good, steals our time, and insensibly undermines our religion Â— it is a slow spiritual poison. A Christian should contrive matters so that his very amusements might contribute to his advancement and improvement in religion and virtue. In fact many of them do soÂ—there are many books that convey pleasure and instruction at the same time; by blending the useful with the agreeable, they render their instructions palatable to all kinds of readers.
History has a fund of rational entertainment. Any man whose circumstances enable him to entertain company can gather as much knowledge as will enable him to make several useful reflections upon what he reads in history. Agreeable and entertaining anecdotes respecting the lives and characters of great and eminent men is another source of very great pleasure.
Scripture says, “Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” If this be the rule of a Christian’s conduct, he will consider whether everything he engages in has a tendency to that great end. Like a traveller, his thought is constantly engaged upon the end of his journey. When he sits down to rest and refresh himself, it is only to strengthen him to proceed; he will not stay too longÂ—that would hinder him. Someone may ask. Are we to consult the glory of God when we divert ourselves? The answer is at handÂ—whatever we do; and if a person thinks that diversion or amusement is incompatible with the Christian life, let him give it up. Recreation, when carried too far, is an enemy to the soul.
There is not a greater source of pleasure and improvement than good company. When men of talents, virtue and elegant manners converse together, a person gathers knowledge and improves in moral goodness. He catches their sentiments, imbibes their manner of thinking, and follows their example. When such company meet, the most ordinary subjects they treat upon become serious. As the waters of a river are tinctured with the colour of soil through which they pass, in like manner subjects become useful or insipid by the people that handle them. A good man, especially a man of learning, will give some edifying turn to every subject; his conversation is seasoned with salt. A single hint from such a person often gives a new turn to the discourse of the company he is in. How much more when he meets with companions like himself. A man of prudence and religion will often be silent in company; he cannot join the discourse, and when he finds they cannot relish the wholesome language of grace, he takes his Saviour’s advice, “Do not cast your pearls before swine.” A religious expression is perhaps received with a laugh, or with a sullen silence. In either case, it is unwelcome. But, unwelcome as it is, it answers a good purpose; he discharges his duty; if the word is blest, a soul is gained; if it finds no room, it will be a witness, for it cannot fall to the ground without doing something. When Providence throws a good man into bad company, if he improves it, he will get good by it. But, in general, let him beware; let him take the wise man’s adviceÂ—avoid it, pass by it, turn from it, and pass away.
Lachlan Mackenzie 1754-1819