Thomas Gataker on Good Company and Bad

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Puritanboard Librarian
Thomas Gataker, The Christian on Watch, pp. 23-27:

2. A second help unto vigilance is the society of saints, the company of those that are godly and religious. "Two," says the wise man, "are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up." A drowsy person, if he be alone, is ready presently to fall asleep, but if he be in company, the very presence of others, besides their mutual conference and discourse, is a good means to keep him awake, and if he begin but to nod, some one or other of the company is ready to jog him on the elbow, and either to keep him awake, or to awake him soon again, if on a sudden he be sleeping.

To this purpose the Apostle exhorts christian men to observe each other, that is, to have an eye one to another, and not each one to himself only; to keep watch one over another, and not each one over himself only, like cursed Cain that asks of God whether he were his brother's keeper. And to what end would he have them thus to watch over their brethren? To keep them watching with themselves. And how is that done? "Iron sharpeneth iron," says Solomon: "so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." The very presence of a religious person, and much more his good speech and his godly carriage, his holy advice, his discreet admonition, his seasonable reproof may be a means to encourage and cheer us up when we do well, to restrain and stay us up, when we are stumbling and sinking down, to recover and raise us up again when we are down unawares. As the whet-stone though dull and blunt itself, yet is able to sharpen iron tools; so even those that be but dull and drowsy of themselves, but yet diligent and desirous to keep waking both themselves and others, may help to sharpen and quicken even those that be otherwise more wakeful, it may be, then themselves. For there is none so learned, but that he may learn something from the very meanest, even from those that are far inferior in gifts to himself. Apollos, though a learned teacher and well read in the Word, yet may be taught something by a simple tent-maker and a weak woman, that he was ignorant of before. Therefore the Apostle wisely adds in another place, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is." The evil when one is alone none sees, none finds fault with. And where there is none to find fault, the tempter is the bolder to assault, and the fault is committed more freely, whereas being in company, you cannot do evil though you would, for you are presently observed, chided, rebuked and reclaimed by the rest. "Woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up."

But as the benefit is great that comes by good company, so is the danger and harm no less that accrues by bad. Association is of much force both the one way and the other. Our society with others and theirs with us cannot but prevail much, either to make us like them or to make them like us. "He that walketh with wise wmen," says Solomon, "shall be wise; but a companion of fools shall be destroyed." The very company of either is accustomed to work even with some efficacy on those that much or often converse though for other ends with either.

3. A third help, therefore, unto watchfulness, may be the shunning of the society and fellowship of wicked and profane persons. "Depart from me," says David, "all ye workers of iniquity." "And a wicked person will I not know." I will have no acquaintance with any such. Yea, to this purpose, as he invites good company to him, "I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts:" such as feared God, were they high or low, were they rich or poor, they were for his company, he was content and desirous to be acquainted with them. So on the other side he bids all profane ones go away from him, "Depart from me, ye evildoers: for I will keep the commandments of my God:" as if he could not keep God's commandments, at least not so well as he would, so long as the wicked were in company with him.

And in this regard, as elsewhere, he professes of himself that he would neither sit among nor go abroad not keep any company with such; so he pronounced him a happy man "that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful," that in no sort or manner converses with those that are wicked, sinful and scoffers at goodness and godliness. Not that a man should immediately in a pharisaical humour condemn or contemn every one that comes short of himself, either in knowledge or in practice of sanctification; or should sequester himself from every one that is not so forward in, or zealous of the better things, as were to be wished and desired, like those proud hypocrites in Isaiah that say, "Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou." Weak ones are to be received, not to be rejected, to be healed and strengthened, not to be turned out. But for those that be openly profane with Esau, scoffers and deriders of religion with Ishmael, by their loose and lewd course of life proclaiming and publishing not only an utter want of goodness and godliness in them, but a perverseness of heart and an aversion to them; such, says the Apostle, should men shun, lest they corrupt us when we cannot correct them. And surely as some bodily diseases are said to be catching and contagious, a man may soon catch them by being in company of or drinking with those that have them, so it is with most diseases of the soul; this spiritual lethargy is contagious, a catching disease, we take it easily one from another. A man shall hardly come with fair apparel amongst colliers and carters and chimney sweeps, but he shall carry some of their soil and their soot away from them, his white apparel will be soiled and sullied by them. And we shall hardly be in company long or often with ungodly ones, but we shall bear away some tincture of their ungodliness with us. "Woe is me!" says the prophet Isaiah, "for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips," as if a man could not lightly live among such but he should be in part like them.

The very sight of others sleeping may make a man sleepy that were otherwise wakeful, as the very sight of those that yawn is wont to set others also yawning. Yea, such is the devilish disposition of man's wicked and wretched heart, that as those that have already spoiled themselves take a delight in and make sport of spoiling others that come in with fair clothes among them, to make them like themselves; so wicked and profane persons usually desire nothing more, delight in nothing more, than in transfusing their wickedness and profaneness unto others. Besides that, we are prone enough of ourselves to take infection without help. Our corruption within us is as tinder, or rather gunpowder ready to be on a light flame if but the least spark light on it, or it come near to the fire at all like flax that of itself catches and draws the flame to it and is all on a flash so soon as it but feels the fire.

As good company therefore ought diligently to be sought and kept, so evil company ought as warily to be shunned and avoided. Not that we may not have commerce at all with such: for he that would do so must go out of the world.

"Make no friendship," says Solomon, ["]with an angry man: and with a furious man thou shalt not go: Lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul." For as those that walk in the sun, thought for other end and purpose, become tanned with it and sunburnt, whether they regard it or no; so those that come often in company with profane and evil disposed persons, though for no evil end, intending nothing less than to become like unto them, come in time to somewhat resemble them both in speech and in practice, and to have a strange change wrought on them, in regard of what they have been, though they perceive not how nor when they change. Israel's posterity had learned Egyptian superstitions by their long abode in Egypt, and heathenish impieties from those heathen people among whom they were mingled in the land of Canann. Yea, Joseph himself by living in Pharoah's court had learned to swear at every word almost by the life of Pharaoh. "By the life of Pharoah ye shall not go forth hence, except your youngest brother come hither. Send one of you, and let him fetch your brother, and ye shall be kept in prison, that your words may be proved, whether there be any truth in you: or else by the life of Pharoah surely, ye are spies." Such apt scholars are we all generally, to learn ought that is evil, and so easy a matter it is even for the best and the strongest to take taint by such societies; and if not to become wholly profane like them, yet by oft sight of sin to have it wax more familiar with them, less distasteful unto them as in times past it was, and so to have the edge of their former zeal and fervour against it abated, and the intention of their watchfulness consequently in some degree slackened. And it is one degree unto evil to be less eager against evil; yea, it is no small degree of evil when a man can well away with evil in others.
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