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52. On the Importance of a Good Repu.
tion, especially to such Young
ON A PROPER ESTIMATE OF THE OPINION OF THE WORLD.
THE number of offenders seems to be supposed by many persons a sufficient apology for the practice of what is wrong, as if a multitude of sinners could change the nature of good and evil; or as if they thought the Almighty would be unable or afraid to punish the violation of his laws if they united to defy his power. But the many instances which arise in Scripture, of armies laid waste and nations destroyed,—nay, and of the destruction of the whole world except one righteous family, who were saved for their obedience, are strong examples to warn us from following such a pernicious opinion. When present objects occupy the
mind, we forget the consideration of a fu ture judgment. We are afraid of the ridicile of those who are less conscientious than ourselves; and instead of showing, by our behaviour, that we act upon a better princi. ple, we blush to acknowledge our reverence for religion, or our fear of God. But, to secure yourself from any sudden attack, you must review, my young friend, in your private hours, what it is of which you are so apprehensive; and by a habit of reflec tion you will acquire that resolution of mind, which will be very necessary in your com. merce with mankind. The practice of vir. tue would be rendered much easier if we could mix only with the good; but you must be prepared to join the indiscriminate numbers, who form the community where you dwell, and whose difference of disposition, manners, taste, characters, and situation, form the reciprocal trials of social life. It is your duty, my dear reader, as has been already observed, to cultivate the good opinion of your fellow-creatures, where you can innocently do it; but there is an eager desire to be applauded, which cannot be gratified but at the expence of virtue; and
when the first question you ask your heart is, what will the world or my companions say of my conduct, you forget that you are an accountable being, and will often be led to disregard your Master who is in heaven; nor can you establish any certain or respect. able character, if you endeavour to conform to the various opinions of those with whom you associate. Men are so different from each other, nay, they are so different from themselves in different circumstances, that he who commends you at present, will perhaps blame you hereafter for the very same sentiment which he now approves. The young, especially, establish their decisions by the reigning fashion of the time. They do not in general consider what is prudent, estimable, or praise-worthy, but what will best agree with their prevailing inclinations; and if you build your hopes of their favour on so uncertain a foundation, how fluctuating and despicable must be your conduct ! Nor is it possible, with your utmo exertions, to suit the whims, and accommodate yourself to the caprice of all with whom you are connected: it is therefore absolutely necessary if you mean to pass through life with
happiness and esteem, that you should esta blish some determinate principle, which may regulate your behaviour, and to which all your actions should be submitted. The fear of God, and the desire to obey his will, is the only guide on which you can rely with safety; and while you are conscious that your conduct is approved by him, you should disregard the opinions of those who may deride your steadiness, or would pervert your sense of duty. In order to strengthen your resolutions on this subject, consider that a time will come when you must give a solemn account of your thoughts, words, and actions, before the tribunal of an omniscient Judge. Were this the whole of your existence, you might plead some excuse for regarding the favour of the world, as the governing motive for your direction; but when you may be immediately summoned from this state of being, and when your memory will be so soon forgotten, it is madness and folly to give up an acknowledged duty from complaisance, or out of compliance with the custom of others. I do not mean to suppose that you will always mix with the profligate and abandoned; these,