THE MINISTRY OF HOME  or "Brief Expository Lectures on Divine Truth"
by Octavius Winslow

The Influence of Companionship

"He who walks with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed."  Proverbs 13:2O.

God has made us social beings. He has implanted in every bosom a desire for companionship. Man was never intended to be an isolated thing, a hermit, or recluse. When God created Adam, having furnished him with all the attributes of a social being, He met this necessity of his nature by the creation of Eve, whom He brought to him henceforth to be his equal, his companion, and friend- "another self, a kindred spirit, with whom he might lessen his cares by sympathy, and multiply his pleasures by participation."
  Not only is there this social craving of our nature, but there is sown in us all a strong desire to reproduce ourselves by the influence which our own hearts and minds bring to bear upon others. This is a sort of moral transmigration of which, more or less, we all have the power- the power of molding the mind, shaping the opinions, ruling the affections, and influencing the lives of our fellows to our own.
  In no passage of God's Word is this truth more forcibly brought out as in the one the exposition of which is now to engage our attention. In it two different characters are portrayed, and the influence which each one exerts upon others is described. The "wise"- making wise: the "fool"- destroying fools. Here each character is represented as reproducing itself in others. "He that walks with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed."
  What an appropriate and solemn subject is this for our consideration, especially of the young! Love of society, or craving for companionship, is a natural and strong impulse of youth. And yet this very companionship- so great blessing when wisely and holily directed- has proved one of the most fatal rocks in the voyage of life, upon which many a gallant youth has made shipwreck for time and for eternity. In view of a subject so practical, important, and solemn, may the Holy Spirit guide and bless our meditation!
  Let us present both of these characters- the "wise" and the "foolish"- in contrast. The first character delineated in the passage is, the wise man. Who is the wise man? He is not necessarily a learned or intellectual man; a man of literary attainments and scientific acquisition. Knowledge and wisdom are not convertible terms. Learned men are not always wise men. Knowledge is what we acquire by study, research, and education; wisdom is the power of applying that knowledge to the best and highest end. We may have much knowledge with little or no wisdom, and much wisdom with but limited knowledge. Just as a man may have physical strength and energy to fell the tree or quarry the marble, without the genius or the skill to carve the one, or to chisel the other.
  But who is the truly "wise man"? God has given to man a natural, or worldly wisdom, which, although essentially differing from, and infinitely inferior to, the "wisdom of the just," is not to be denied or ignored. Our Lord Himself recognized it when He said-  "The men of the world are wiser in their generation than the children of light." But I wish more especially to speak of the "wisdom that comes down from above;" for the "wisdom of this world," necessary and valuable as it is in conducting the affairs of the present life, is "foolishness with God." An individual may be a wise man in things appertaining to the life that now is, and a fool in things appertaining to the life that is to come.
  Let us, then, trace some of the characteristics of the truly wise. And we pray that the Spirit of God may move effectually and convertingly upon the hearts of the young whose eye shall trace these pages, that they may, one and all, become truly "wise unto salvation."
  A truly wise man is he who knows himself. This is the first step in true knowledge, though not, as a classical poet has remarked, the greatest. The greatest and most excellent knowledge is to know Christ. The grandest of all science, is the science of the Gospel. But the first step in this knowledge is to know ourselves to be sinners. The first step towards a knowledge of the Savior, is to know that we are lost. We know the worth of a plank when it has floated us safely to the shore. We value the fitness of the life-boat that has rescued us from the wreck. We appreciate the sovereign efficacy of the remedy that has healed us of our disease. It is thus we become experimentally acquainted with the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit reveals to us our sinfulness; makes us acquainted with the plague of our hearts; opens our eyes to the discovery of our moral shipwreck; shows us that the barque we thought so strong and safe is sinking; that the planks we trod so firmly and so proudly are yielding beneath our feet; and that death- eternal death, the death that never dies- stares us grimly, darkly in the face.
  And now amid the storm the eye descries a speck far off upon the dark waters- it approaches nearer, and grows larger lo! it is the life-boat hastening to our rescue. How welcome its arrival! How beautiful to the eye does it appear! But, the enquiry arises: "May I trust it? Will it battle successfully with the raging billows, and carry me in safety to the shore? Is it for me? May I venture into it?" Thus a soul, convinced by the Spirit of its sin, that it is "ready to perish," when urged at once to accept the Savior as able to save it to the uttermost of its lost, undone, and perilous condition, begins to reason- "Is Jesus able to save? Is He willing to save? Will He save me? May I venture my sinful soul in humble faith upon His salvation?"
  These are questions which often arise at the turning-point of the sinner's salvation. Nevertheless, He who began the good work, carries it on unto completion; and having shown the sinner that he is poor, and wretched, and naked, and miserable, and lost, He shows him Jesus as just the Savior that he requires; reveals the Cross as the plank that will rescue him from the yawning deep; and then gives him simple faith to take hold of it and be saved.
  Have you, my reader, reached this first stage of your salvation? Truly this is the first step in divine and heavenly wisdom. He alone is the truly wise man who sees his follies- the folly of his heart, the folly of trusting to his own works, the folly of seeking to enter heaven upon the babel of his own righteousness. He truly is the wise man who, led by the Spirit to an acquaintance with himself, is, by a subsequent and concluding step in his heavenly teaching, and by the same Spirit, made acquainted believingly and savingly with the Lord Jesus Christ.
  The "fool" is he who, ignorant of his spiritual condition as a sinner, not knowing that he has broken God's law by original and by actual transgression, and is therefore under present condemnation, and is exposed to future and eternal punishment, yet lives on in his rebellion and sin: like Galeo of old, "caring for none of these things." He is a "fool " who, when God has "laid in Zion a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone," for sinners to build their hope of heaven upon, rejects this most sure foundation, and rears the fabric of his hope upon the sliding, treacherous, fatal quicksand of his own fancied goodness and merit, and thus is "in danger of hell fire,"- he, without the shadow of a doubt, is the foolish man.
  But, as this subject more especially addresses itself to the young, and to young men particularly, let me in its further exposition enumerate a few of the more prominent characteristics of the "wise," leaving the reader, by the power of contrast, to portray in his own mind the character of the "foolish."
  It is a distinctive mark of a "wise" man that he possesses a high appreciation of the importance of character. Such a man knows that personal character is, to a certain degree, everything to a young person. That, without it, he is but a wreck, a mere waif on the sea of human life, tossed from billow to billow, no one claiming, no one caring for, no one pitying him. That, he is looked upon in his family as a disgrace, in society as a blot, in the world as a cipher.
  The wise man knows that "a good name is better than precious ointment." That a character for uprightness and integrity, for virtue, sobriety, and loveliness, is of more worth to him than the ermine of the Judge, the coronet of the Peer, or the diadem of the Sovereign. The ermine may be sullied, the coronet may be shaded, and the kingly diadem may be the symbol of despotism and cruelty; but, a man of integrity, though poor, who can lift up his head among his fellows without a blush, whose principles and fame no man can justly impeach or gainsay, he is a wise man: to know whom is an honor, and to call whom a "friend" is among earth's richest treasures.
  The "fool" is he who makes light of this priceless, precious jewel of personal character; who treats it as the swine does the pearl, trampling it in the mire beneath his feet. He who lives "a fast life," reckless of principle, and honor, and fortune; reckless, too, of the feelings, reputation, and influence of those with whom in life he is closely and endearingly linked; reckless of a father's honor, of a mother's happiness, of a sister's peace; he who deems "a merry life and a short one" the very acme of wisdom, and the 'summum bonum' of happiness, he, unquestionably, is a "fool" doubledyed. Young man! guard your character as your fairest jewel, as your richest birth-right. Rank is not equal to it; wealth cannot purchase it; learning cannot redeem it. "Keep yourself pure;", "flee youthful lusts;" and pray to God that "uprightness and integrity may preserve" you.
  But, if on the contrary, you select as your companions those to whose character there is attached a taint, whose religious sentiments are low, whose moral principles are base, who live in the indulgence of secret vice, in the commission of secret sin; whose influence is vitiating and destructive, you then at once compromise your character and name, and will by society be placed on a footing with your associates. It is a quaint but truthful aphorism- "Show me your companions, and I will tell you what you are."
  It is another mark of the truly wise that they regard their physical, intellectual, and moral powers, their endowments of rank, wealth, and influence, as conferred by God: and, therefore, for God's glory are to be employed. The great end of man's creation is, "to glorify God here." God created every thing for His praise. "He has made all things for Himself." He, then, is a truly wise man who fully recognizes this solemn truth, and practically lives it. He feels that he is not his own proprietor; that his wealth, and his power to acquire it- his talents, and his opportunities of employing them- his influence, and the sphere in which it is exerted, are all the gift of God; and, therefore, are all to be consecrated to the service and glory of the Giver.
  He is a "fool" who merely imagines that God created him for his own self; that he is his own proprietor; that he may, therefore, without consulting his Creator, and with impunity, waste, and squander, and prostitute those powers and endowments as he will. O what a "fool" and unfaithful steward is he who buries his talents, be they many or few, in the earth! Reader, you are to give an account of yourself to God! For every talent you possess God regards you as responsible, and Christ holds you answerable. "Every one of us shall give account of himself unto God."
  He is truly a "wise" man, who allows no vice, evil habit, or sin, to enslave him. A young person, jealous of his character, guarding as with more than vestal watchfulness the golden lamp of his personal reputation, will never allow a low-born principle or vicious propensity to obtain the mastery. He knows to whom, under God, he belongs; and is resolved prayerfully, solemnly resolved- that, by God's help, no sin shall claim him as its own; no vice shall rule him as its servant; no evil habit shall enchain him as its slave.
  Fool and slow of heart to appreciate what is for his highest interests is he who lends himself to low-born habits, mingles with loose society, cultivates a companionship that depresses rather than elevates him, indulges in habits of prodigal expenditure and reckless extravagance- blind to what is due to self-respect, to filial duty, to parental authority, and to home happiness!
  We reach now the moral influence which companionship exerts. "He that walks with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed." I have already remarked that a desire for association is a natural and powerful instinct of the young. Not more naturally and spontaneously does the gentle vine seek the sheltering wall, or the feeble ivy stretch its tendrils towards the strong oak, than does the young heart yearn for, and go forth to meet and embrace, some kindred self whom it can love, in whom it can confide, and with whom it may associate.
  Now this only renders the path of a young person all the more intricate, difficult, and perilous. Suppose, in selecting his companions, or forming his friendships, he should make a wrong or fatal choice? Suppose, in the ingenuous, too confiding, and unsuspecting feelings of his young heart, he should admit to his confidence a fiend instead of a friend, a "serpent" instead of a "dove"; one who, having obtained an ascendency in his affections, now exerts the influence thus possessed for evil and not for good- who can calculate the sad results of such a calamity?
  But, it is a mark of a truly wise youth that he "walks with the wise." Exercising the rational powers of discernment God has given him, following the virtuous tastes and self-respecting instincts of his nature, he is enabled to discriminate, and to select from the crowd competing for his friendship and companionship, the "wise," -walking with whom he himself may become wiser. O the blessing of associating in confiding love, and sacred friendship, and sweet communion, with those who are furnished with "the wisdom that comes from above, which is first pure, then peaceable;" who are wise unto salvation; who walk with God, whose fear rules their hearts, and shapes their lives.
  How powerful for good is their companionship! How sanctifying and far-reaching their influence! Seek, my young reader, your associates, select your friends, from among the virtuous and the good, the holy and the God-fearing, the Christ-loving and the Christ-like. You will by association and communion assimilate with their spirit, and grow wiser, holier, and more useful by the all-powerful molding influence both of their precept and example.
  The influence which we all exert is not a matter for us to determine. The fact is certain. That influence is fixed. The great question is, what kind of influence shall it be? Since others take their mold from our society, this becomes a solemn question. Happy for us, happy for others, if our piety is so decided, our views of truth so evangelical, our life so holy and useful, that others, beholding it, shall say- "We will go with you, for we perceive that God is with you." Thus it becomes a matter of infinite moment that our families should be homes of piety- our households God-fearing households.
  And what a mercy if, whether as relations or as friends, whether as visitors or as domestics, our sojourn is in a house where the fear of God is. Seek such, my reader. Say with David- "I am a companion of all those who fear God, and keep His precepts." What a wise decision was that of Ruth when she cleaved to her mother-in-law with the impassioned resolve- "Intreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you: for where you go, I will go; and where you lodge, I will lodge: your people shall be any people, and your God my God: where you die will I die, and there will I be buried."
  "But a companion of fools shall be destroyed." What true and solemn witnesses to the truth of this are our reformatories and jails, our convict transports, and our penal settlements, and, alas! our public scaffolds! Go and inquire of all the wretched, forlorn, unhappy occupants of these miserable abodes, the first step which conducted them- perhaps from high social position, from virtue and prosperity, from home and happiness, to their present crime, degradation, and shame; and the great majority will reply- "I became the companion of fools, and they destroyed me! I was ensnared by their hollow reasoning, was fascinated by their insinuating address, was influenced by what I deemed their heroic example, and was seduced by their well-laid schemes- and my present lamentable condition is the inevitable and sad result!"
  Turn then, from all evil companionship, from all social association injurious to your principles and character; to your morals, influence, and reputation; to your present and eternal well-being. Shun the infidel and an infidel literature, as you would the serpent's fang and the impoisoned cup. Keep at an immeasurable distance from the debauched, as you would from the man smitten with the plague. "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them."
  Equally shun the teaching of those divines who entertain lax views of the Inspiration of the Scriptures, -who preach false doctrine, and observe a ritualistic and superstitious form of worship. "Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causes to err from the words of knowledge." "In vain," says Christ, "they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." Bring the doctrines you hear to the test of God's Word. "Prove all things by it, and hold fast that which is good." Make the Lord's people and Christ's true ministers your friends, associates, and teachers. You will share their benediction and privileges, for God's blessing is upon His people.
  But, select fools, and people regardless of religion, and the propagators of error, as your companions and teachers- and you must inevitably share the destruction of their social position, their blasted reputation, their ruinous influence, and blighted prospects now; and, hereafter, they will be the companions of your misery, and your tormentors forever.
  "He that walks with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed." Hearken to the invitation which Moses gave to Hobab, and which the Lord's people address to you "We are journeying to the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you: come with us and we will do you good : for the Lord has spoken good concerning Israel." Accept this invitation to Christian Companionship; and the issue will be, happiness in this world, and glory, honor, immortality, and eternal life in the world which is to come.
  This subject is solemnly instructive to the saints of God. Let your companionship be decidedly and pre-eminently Christian. Much association with half-religionists-  with worldly disciples- with the cold-hearted, volatile, and frivolous religious professor, will be to you of incalculable evil. It will naturally and seriously damage your personal piety. Your spirituality and heavenliness of mind will be essentially and sadly deteriorated. It will be utterly impossible for your soul to escape their influence. Imperceptibly, and unsuspectingly to yourself, you will grow like them. But, associate with the most pious, holy, and heavenly. Walk in close communion with those who walk in close communion with. God. Be much with those who are much in converse with their Bible, who are much anointed of the Spirit, and who live in personal converse with eternal realities. They will help you heavenward.
  You may have but few Christian companions- but few of kindred spirit with yourself, who are taught as you are taught, who are tried as you are tried, who are tempted as you are tempted, -nevertheless, if the Lord has given you but one spiritually-minded, close-walking fellow traveler, bind yourself to that one; and as iron sharpens iron, so will intimate, prayerful converse with that one fellow believer increase your personal piety, advance your heavenliness of mind, divine knowledge, and comfort of spirit. Let your aim be, in its most exalted sense- CHRISTIAN COMPANIONSHIP.
 "Let others choose the sons of mirth,
To give a relish to their wine;
I love the men of heavenly birth,
Whose thoughts and language are divine.
 "O may I see Your tribes rejoice,
And aid their triumphs with my voice!
This is my glory, Lord, to be,
Joined to Your saints, and near to Thee.