Christian Father's Present to His Children
by John Angell James, 1825
THE CHOICE OF COMPANIONS
Man was made for society, and society is thought to be
essential to his happiness. Adam did but half enjoy the lovely and untainted
scenes of Eden, while there was no rational companion, to whom he could
impart the raptures of his soul—and Paradise was incomplete until God gave
him a friend. How much more might it be expected, that now, when the human
bosom is bereft of its innocence, man should look outside of himself for
happiness, and endeavor to find it in society. Young people, especially, are
anxious to form associations of this kind, and are in imminent danger of
choosing companions that will do them no good. The design of the present
chapter is to put you, my children, on your guard against this evil, and to
assist you in the selection of those friends with whom you daily mingle.
This subject has been already adverted to—but it is of sufficient importance
to occupy a separate chapter.
It behooves you very seriously to reflect on the
influence which your companions, of whatever kind they are, will certainly
have in the formation of your character.
"We are all," says Mr. Locke, "a kind of chameleons, that
take a tincture from the objects which surround us." A still wiser man has
told us, that "He who walks with wise men shall be wise—but a companion of
fools shall be destroyed." Hence he says to us; "make no friendship with an
angry man, and with a furious man you shall not go; lest you learn his ways,
and get a snare to your soul." These admonitions are founded on the general
principle, that the example of our companions will exert an strong influence
in the formation of our own character, slow and silent, perhaps—but
irresistible and successful—and this influence will be in proportion to the
love and esteem we cherish for them. All nations and all ages have confessed
the truth of this sentiment.
The example of a beloved companion is powerful—more
especially if he be a sinful one, because a bad model finds in the depravity
of our nature, something that prepares it to receive the impression. One
evil companion will undo in a month—all that parents and teachers have been
laboring for years to accomplish. Here then pause, and consider that the
character of your associates will, in all probability, be your own. If
you do not carry to them a similarity of taste, you will be sure to acquire
their dispositions; "for how can two walk together except they be agreed?"
Let me now set before you
the DANGERS to be apprehended from
By bad company I mean all those who are destitute of the
fear of God; not only the infidel, the profligate, the profane—but those who
are living in the visible neglect of true religion. Now these are no fit
companions for you. They may be respectable and noble as to their rank in
life; they may be graceful and proper in their manners; they may be people
of fine taste, and cultivated minds; humorous, and polished wit—but these
things, if connected with ungodly habits, only make them the more alarmingly
and successfully dangerous. They are like the fair speech, and lovely form,
and glowing colors, which the serpent assumed when he attacked and destroyed
the innocence of Eve. Look through these gaudy ornaments, pierce this
dazzling exterior, and recognize the fang and the venom of the wily foe! The
more external accomplishments any one has, if he be without the fear of
God—the greater is his power to do evil. And remember, that when you have
listened to his wiles, and feel the sharpness of his tooth, and the deadly
agony of his venom, it will be no compensation, nor consolation—that you
have looked on his gaily-colored skin, and have been ruined by the
fascination of his charms! The companions you are to avoid, then, are those
who are obviously living without the fear of God.
Consider the many dangers arising from such
associates—you will soon leave all sense of serious piety, and lose all the
impressions you may have received from a religious education. These you
cannot hope to preserve; you may as soon expect to guard an impression
traced with your finger in the sand from being effaced by the tide of the
Atlantic ocean. Even they whose religious character has been formed for
years, find it hard to preserve the spirituality of their mind in ungodly
company. "Throw a blazing firebrand into snow or rain, and its brightness
and heat will be quickly extinguished, so let the liveliest Christian plunge
himself into sinful company, and he will soon find the warmth of his zeal
abated, and the tenderness of his conscience injured."
How, then, can you expect to maintain a sense of true
religion, whose habits are scarcely formed, and whose character has yet so
much of the tenderness and suppleness of youth? Do consider your proneness
to imitate; your dread of singularity; your love of praise; your morbid
sense of shame. Can you bear the sneer, the jest, the broad, loud laugh?
With none to defend you, none to join in your reverence for piety, what are
you to do singly and alone?
In such company you lay yourselves open to temptation,
and will probably be drawn into a great deal of guilt. In private and alone,
the force of temptation and the power of depravity are very great—but how
much greater when aided by the example of intimate friends. As united fires
burn the fiercer, and the concentrated virus of many people thrown into the
same room infected with the plague, renders the disease more malignant—so a
sinful community grows in impiety, as every member joins his brother's
pollution to his own. Nothing is so contagious as bad morals! Evil
communications corrupt good manners. Multitudes have committed those sins
without scruple in society, which they could not have contemplated alone
without horror. It is difficult indeed to wade against the torrent of evil
example, and, generally speaking—whatever is done by the group—must either
be done or approved by every individual of which it is composed.
In such company you will throw yourselves out of the way
of repentance and godliness. The little relish you once had for devotional
exercises will soon be lost. Your Bible will fall into disuse, the house of
God will be neglected, and pious friends carefully shunned. Should an
occasional revival of your serious feelings take place under a sermon, or
the remonstrances of a friend, they will be immediately lulled again to
repose, or banished from your bosom by the presence and conversation of an
In many cases, evil society has destroyed forever even
the temporal interests of those who have frequented it. Habits of
self-indulgence, amusements, folly, and extravagance—have been acquired;
character has been ruined, business neglected, poverty and misery entailed.
But if this should not ensue, the influence of evil association will go far
to ruin your souls and sink you to eternal perdition! A companion of fools
shall be destroyed; their path is the way to hell, going down to the
chambers of death. Yes—if you connect yourselves with them, they will drag
you into the vortex of their own ruin, as they sink into the gulf of eternal
perdition. Is there the companion on earth whose society you will seek to
retain at this dreadful hazard? Is there one, for the sake of whose
friendship you would be willing to walk with him to the bottomless pit?
What though you could have the society of the best poets,
philosophers, wits, and fashionables of the age—and yet were to lose your
own souls—what would this profit you? Will it soothe the agonies of your
spirit in those regions of horrible despair, to remember that you joyed in
the company of your mirthful companions on earth? Alas! alas! all that
rendered your communion on earth delightful, will then come to a final end.
There will be no opportunities granted you to gratify your sensual desires
together; no delicious food, no intoxicating liquors; there are no amusing
tales; no merry songs there; no coruscations of wit will enliven the gloom
of hell; no mirthful pleasure will brighten the darkness of eternal despair;
no sallies of humor shall illumine the darkness of everlasting night. "But
there shall be weeping, and wailing and gnashing of teeth—the worm that
never dies, and the fire that is never quenched."
What mind but His, who comprehends the universe in his
survey, can count the multitudes that have been ruined for both worlds, by
the influence of bad company. Their names have been recorded on every roll
of infamy, and found in every memorial of guilt and wretchedness. The
records of the workhouse and the hospital; of the jail and the prisons; of
the gallows and the morgue, would declare the mischief—and could we look
into the prison of lost souls, a crowd of miserable spectres would meet our
eye, who seem to utter in groans of despair, this sad confession, "We are
the wretched victims of evil companions!"
In the large and populous town where Providence has fixed
my lot, I have had an extensive sphere of observation; and I give it as my
decided conviction, and deliberate opinion, that improper companions are the
most successful means which are employed by Satan for the ruin of men's
The advice then which I offer is
1. Be not over anxious about getting friends. Do not
take up the opinion that all happiness centers in a friend. Many of you are
blessed with a happy home and an agreeable circle round your own fireside.
Here seek your companions—in your parents, and your brothers and sisters.
2. Determine to have no companion, rather than have an
evil one. The one case is but a privation of what is pleasant—the other
is a possession of a destructive evil.
3. Maintain a dignified—but not proud reserve. Do not
be too open and naive. Be cautious of too hastily attaching yourselves as
friends to others, or them to you. Be polite and kind to all—but
communicative and familiar with few. Keep your hearts in abeyance, until
your judgment has most carefully examined the characters of those who wish
to be admitted to the circle of your acquaintance. Neither run nor jump into
friendships—but walk towards them slowly and cautiously.
4. Always consult your parents about your companions, and
be guided by their opinions. They have your interest at heart, and see
further and better, than you can.
5. Cultivate a taste for reading and mental improvement;
this will render you independent of living for society. Books will always
furnish you with intelligent, useful, and elegant friends. No one can be
dull who has access to the works of illustrious authors, and has a taste for
reading. And after all there are but comparatively few, whose society will
so richly reward us, as this 'silent converse with the mighty dead'.
6. Choose none for your intimate companions but those who
are decidedly pious, or people of very high moral worth. A scrupulous
regard to all the duties of morality; a high reverence for the scriptures; a
belief in their essential doctrines; a constant attendance on the means of
grace, are the lowest qualifications which you should require in the
character of an intimate friend.
Perhaps I shall be asked one or two questions on this
subject, to which an answer ought to be returned. "If," say you, "I have
formed an acquaintance with a young friend, before I had any serious
impressions upon my mind, ought I now to leave his society, if he still
remains destitute of any visible regard to true religion?" First try, by
every effort which affection can dictate, and prudence direct, to impress
his mind with a sense of true religion—if, after awhile your exertions
should be unavailing, candidly tell him, that as you have taken different
views of things, and acquired different tastes to what you formerly
possessed; and that as you have failed to bring him to your way of living,
and can no longer accommodate your pursuits to his, conscience demands of
you a separation from his society.
Sir Matthew Hale, one of the most upright and able judges
that ever sat upon the bench, was nearly ruined by his dissolute companions.
When young, he had been very studious and sober—but the players happening to
come to the town where he was studying, he became a witness of their
performance, by which he was so captivated that his mind lost its relish for
study, and he addicted himself to dissipated company. When in the midst of
his associates one day, it pleased God to visit one of them with sudden
death. Matthew was struck with horror and remorse. He retired and prayed,
first for his friend, that if the vital spark had not fled, he might be
restored; and then for himself, that he might never more be found in such
places and company as would render him unfit to meet death. From that day he
left all his wicked companions, walked no more in the way of sinners—but
devoted himself to piety and literature.
Young people of good habits should take great heed that
they do not, by insensible degrees, become dangerous characters to each
other. That social turn of mind, which is natural to men, and especially to
young people, may perhaps lead them to form themselves into little
societies, particularly at the festive season of the year, to spend their
evenings together. But let me entreat you to be cautious how you spend them.
If your games and your talks take up your time until you entrench on the
night; and perhaps on the morning too, you will quickly corrupt each other.
Farewell, then, to prayer, and every other religious exercise in secret.
Farewell, then, to all my pleasing hopes for you, and to those hopes which
your pious parents have entertained. You will then become examples and
instances of all the evils I have so largely described.
Plead not that these things are lawful in themselves; so
are most of those in a certain degree which, by their abuse, prove
destruction to men's souls and bodies. If you meet, let it be for rational
and Christian conversation; and let prayer and other devotions have their
frequent place among you—and if you say or think that a mixture of these
will spoil the company, it is high time for you to stop your career, and
call yourselves to an account; for it seems by such a thought, that you are
lovers of pleasure, much more than lovers of God. Some of these things may
appear to have a tincture of severity—but consider whether I could have
proved myself faithful to you, and to him in whose name I speak, if I had
omitted the caution I have now been giving you. I shall now only add, that
had I loved you less tenderly, I should have warned you more coldly of this
dangerous and deadly snare!