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V. Having considered these several particulars, let us now make a farther improvement in some reflections.
1. The doctrine of this text may afford comfortable thoughts concerning such as die in infancy, or in very early age, before they have done good or evil. Christ, speaking of little children, says: "Of such is the kingdom of heaven." If he do not clearly say, of these, and such like children, yet he certainly says, of such as resemble them is the kingdom of heaven. And if we should not suppose him to say expressly more than that, yet it is sufficient to fill us with comfortable apprehensions concerning those who are removed hence in very early life. For it cannot be easily admitted, that they should perish everlastingly, who are set before others as emblems of simplicity, innocence and humility, and patterns of imitation and resemblance.
To these do not belong the characters of those whom Christ will bid depart from him. They are not workers of iniquity. They have not refused to entertain and relieve the afflicted and persecuted followers of Jesus on earth. He has declared, that "they who do not receive the kingdom of heaven as a little child, shall not enter therein." And can it be thought that little children shall be excluded?
2. This text teaches us to be cautious, how we disparage the human nature, and say, that it is in its original conception corrupt, depraved and defiled. Our Lord seems not to have acknowledged any original depravity of our nature: for he recommended a resemblance of little children. to his disciples, and others. And when little children were brought unto him, he expressed affection for them. He embraced them, and blessed them, and said, "Of such is the kingdom of heaven."
They who vilify nature, do, in effect (though perhaps unwittingly, and undesignedly) reproach the Author of nature.
Solomon, after an attentive survey of the affairs of this world, and particularly the many disorders therein, was fully persuaded of this truth: "This only have I found," says he, "that God made man upright. But they have sought out many inventions," Ecc. vii. 29.
St. Paul when he proves all men, both Jews and Gentiles, "guilty before God," Rom. iii. 19, alleges not their bad nature, but their evil practices.
Some indeed are early drawn aside into evil courses by the snares of this world; which occasioned the Psalmist to say hyperbolically of some wicked men: "They are estranged from the womb. They go astray as soon as they are born," P's. lviii. 3. And in like manner David, after the commission of the great sins he had fallen into, recollects also his past sins, and says: "he had been shapen in iniquity, and in sin did his mother conceive him," Ps. li. 7; that is, he laments his too great propensity to some sins, and humbly owns, that even in early life he had done things which he ought to repent of, and blame himself for. But he is here speaking of himself, or his own particular constitution, not of all men in general.
The scripture does not ascribe the difficulty of reforming great sinners to the badness of their nature, but to the evil habits they have contracted: representing it as very unlikely, that they should "do good, who had been accustomed to do evil," Jer. xiii. 23.
St. Paul reminds the Ephesians, that once, in their Gentile state, "they were dead in trespasses and sins," Eph. ii. 1. Which expression, however, can never be applied to infants. And with the apostle, a life in sin is not life but death. As he says elsewhere: "She that liveth in pleasure, is dead, while she liveth," 1 Tim. v. 6. And what follows, shews, that he means practice of sinning, or actual and wilful sins. "Wherein," says he to those Ephesians, "in time past ye walked, according to the course of this world," Eph. ii. 2.—He proceeds: "Among whom also we all," we Jews also, for the most part, and gencrally, "had our conversation in times past, in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh, and of the mind: and were by nature,” in our former state, before we were enlightened by the gospel, "children of wrath," deservedly exposed to punishment, "as well as others," ver. 3. "But God who is rich in mercy, for his great love, wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ.And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together, in heavenly places in Christ," ver. 4, 5, 6. The whole context shews, that the apostle is not speaking of punishment due to natural corruption, but to actual sin. Nor does he say, And indeed we all are, but "were by nature children of wrath." So we were when we "had our conversation in the lusts of our flesh." But God in his great mercy had through Jesus Christ delivered the Ephesians, and others, from that state of sin and misery.
We are weak and frail, and liable to temptations. But we can easily conceive how God may treat such creatures wisely and equitably. He will shew his displeasure against the presumptuous, and even the careless. And he will reward the obedient, the careful and watchful. But we are not able to conceive how God should reject and condemn any for what is not owing to choice, but nature.
Some men will confess the corruption of their nature. But, I apprehend, it must be truer humility, for a man seriously, and sincerely, without reserve, to confess all his sins in thought, word, and deed, against God and his neighbour. The former is only an acknowledgment of supposed corruption, common to all; and may be attended with spiritual pride, and scornful disdain of others. But to confess sincerely all our own sins and faults is true humility. This humility is a virtue in such creatures as we are, and the ground of other virtues. It is also acceptable to God. And "whosoever confesseth and forsaketh his sins, shall have mercy,' Prov. xxviii. 13.
3. This history teaches us the right of young persons to be present at the worship of God: and seems to hold forth the duty of those under whose care they are, to bring them early to it. Some brought little children to Christ, that he might lay his hands on them, and bless them. And he received them, and did as he was desired. Though children do not understand every thing that is said, yet they have ears to hear, and eyes to see, and will observe. And gradually a reverence for the Divine Being, and an apprehension and persuasion of invisible things, will be formed in their minds, and such principles implanted in them, as will bring forth good fruit.
4. We may infer from this history, that it is not below persons of the greatest eminence for wisdom and piety to shew affection and tenderness for little children. Jesus Christ is a good pattern for imitation in all his condescensions. And his disciples should do as he has done. Let us receive kindly, and, as we are able, recommend to the divine favour and protection such little children as Jesus himself, when on earth, received and blessed.
5. We hence learn, that all of us arrived to years of knowledge and understanding should see to it, that we bear a resemblance to little children: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
Let us be always like them in freedom from prejudices, being open to conviction, disposed to learn, and make further improvement by all discoveries proposed to us.
Let us resemble them also in humility, or freedom from pride, and high conceit of ourselves: which obstructs improvement, excites to a haughty and imperious behaviour, and disposes to strife and contention, anger and resentment.
Let us resemble them in indifference about worldly things, or a freedom from an inordinate affection for riches, honour and preferment, pre-eminence and authority.
Lastly, let us resemble them in innocence, being as free from all evil practices as possible.
In a word, according to this observation of our Lord, we should always endeavour to be, in many respects, what we once were, and what we still see little children to be. So shall we do no evil. So shall we be Israelites indeed, in whom is no guile.
6. This history affords encouragement to young persons arrived to the use of reason and understanding to come to Christ, and offer up themselves to God in and through him. Jesus received the little children who were brought to him; and he proposed them to others as patterns of resemblance, they being free from customs of sinning. But after all, they were rather emblems of virtue, than virtuous themselves. Much more then will they be received by him, who being still without guile, have an actual propensity and disposition to virtue and goodness. If you should neglect yourselves, when you have attained to the use of your rational powers, and are entering into the world, bad principles and habits will grow up, like weeds in a rich soil, of which no care is taken: and you will soon lose all that innocence and simplicity which endears children to the Lord Jesus.
Let me therefore propound to you the few following counsels and directions.
1.) Be induced to give up yourselves to God with deliberation, and with all the seriousness and solemnity you are able, engaging and resolving, that you will not sin against him, or do any thing contrary to his holy commandments, so far as you are acquainted with them. Such a fixed and deliberate purpose and resolution of mind, once formed, may be of great and lasting advantage to you.
2.) Be diligent, and improve your time for gaining knowledge. You are not to be like little children in every thing. You should resemble them in innocence: but in "understanding
you are to be men," 1 Cor. xiv. 20. Beside attending to the instructions you receive, in order to qualify you for some honest and reputable employment, whereby you may gain a subsistence, without being burthensome to any, and may be useful to others: as you have opportunity, employ yourselves in reading the scriptures, especially the history of the Patriarchs, in Genesis, and the Psalms, the Proverbs, the Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles: and indeed all the books of the New Testament, and also other useful and instructive books. You may likewise endeavour to improve by conversation with persons of sobriety and discretion, and, if it may be, of such as are somewhat advanced above you in years and knowledge. Hereby the mind will be enlarged. You will gain generous sentiments. Your usefulness, when you are settled in the world, will be more extensive. You may have the greater influence and reputation. And you will certainly lay a foundation for a great deal of entertainment and satisfaction within yourselves, which some others want.
doing one thing, and neglecting others, as
3.) Pay a regard to every branch of duty: not many do, but aiming at every part of holiness. of God which bringeth salvation teaches us to righteously, and godly in this present world," Tit. ii. 11, 12.
Live godly: fear and reverence the Divine Majesty in your thoughts. Frequent the assemblies of divine worship, and forsake them not; as some do, who fancy themselves wiser than others, without really being so.
Live soberly: govern your affections, and take care not to be led by evil examples to any excess or indulgence, contrary to strict sobriety.
Live righteously: do to others as you would others should do unto you. Attend much to relative duties. Behave as you ought to superiors, equals, inferiors, agreeably to your rank and station. It is easy to perceive from the epistles of Christ's apostles in the New Testament, that much of religion lies herein: and that they are very imperfect Christians who are defective in relative duties.
4.) Be persuaded to accustom yourselves to private prayer. This may be understood to be included in a preceding direction. Nevertheless, I have chosen to mention it here particularly and expressly. Pray, as you are able. Use the compendious prayer, which our Lord taught his disciples: or some other prayer, suited to your age and condition. What you want, ask God for. Look up to him, and humbly intreat his gracious and watchful care and protection. Say: O Lord, I am thine. Thou hast made me, and I have promised to serve thee. Thou knowest my weakness, and all the snares and dangers that surround me. Do thou keep me from evil; and vouchsafe unto me all those good things which are needful and convenient for me. 'would acknowledge thee in all my ways: do thou direct my steps. Grant that I may seriously attend to, and carefully improve all the means and helps which thou affordest me for obtaining: true holiness, and for persevering therein, notwithstanding the temptations I may meet with. May I cheerfully perform all the duties and services owing from me to those to whom I stand related, and with whom I converse, or have any dealings. And may I so serve and honour thee on earth, as that I may be received in thy due time to the joys of thy heavenly and eternal • kingdom.'
5.) Once more, ever remember the importance of right conduct. This is not a matter of indifference, or of but little moment. But all depends upon it. Good and evil, life and death are set before you; therefore choose the one and refuse the other. Sin is a root of bitterness. It yields bitter fruit, torment, and vexation of mind. But "the fruit of righteousness," or virtue, "is quietness and assurance for ever," Is. xxxii. 17.
Moreover, it should be considered, that "you have been brought to Christ," and instructed in the principles of religion. If after you have had some knowledge of the way of righteousness, you should turn from it, your case would be extremely sad and deplorable. But, I trust, you shall not fall away, but persevere to the end, and at last be placed at the right hand of the Judge of the whole earth, and, together with others, hear that gracious sentence and invitation : "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of, the world," Matt. xxv. 34.
THE HAPPINESS OF HAVING RELIGIOUS PARENTS, AND OTHER PIOUS RELATIVES.
When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith, that is in thee: which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice: and I am persuaded, that in thee also.
THE ensuing discourse is chiefly intended for the benefit of my younger hearers. And upon occasion of this text I would propound these several observations.
I. It is an advantage to be descended of pious parents, and other religious ancestors. II. It is commendable in children to attend to the instructions, and imitate the virtues of their parents, and other religious ancestors.
III. They are to be blamed who degenerate from the virtues of their family.
IV. Children have a right to excel their parents in such things as are good and praiseworthy.
V. It is a great and singular happiness, where there is a general agreement and harmony, as to things of religion, among friends and relatives, and the several branches of a family.
I. It is an advantage to be descended of pious parents, and other religious ancestors. This is evident at first sight. If piety, or any virtue, be preferable to irreligion, and to vicious dispositions and practices, it must be an advantage to be related to such as are religious and virtuous. It cannot but be a privilege, to descend from those who have a knowledge of God, and some just apprehensions of his perfections, and a serious sense of religious things upon their minds. For thereby they are restrained from what is evil: and are obliged, engaged, and excited to that which is good. Moreover, all the behaviour of such persons, and their treatment of others, especially of those who depend upon them, is pleasing, desirable, and agreeable. They therefore who have pious parents enjoy a kind and mild treatment, which many others want.
There is a benefit likewise in the instructions received from such. For they who are themselves pious and religious, will "teach their children, and their household after them, to keep the way of the Lord," Gen. xviii. 19. You, therefore, who are descended from pious parents, have heard of the eternal and unchangeable existence of God, the maker of all things. You have been informed of the goodness and bounty, the mercy and loving-kindness of God to all his creatures, especially those that fear and serve him: and that he has all power in heaven and earth, he is able to defend and uphold all his sincere worshippers, and to reward such as diligently seek and serve him.
You who are born of Christian parents have heard of the love of Jesus Christ in dying for us. You have heard of the mean birth, and humble life of Jesus, who has most clearly taught the way of salvation. You have been acquainted with the promise he made of everlasting happiness to those who sincerely obey the rules of life delivered by him, who love God with all the heart and soul, and their neighbour as themselves, and who persevere in the profession of truth, and the practice of virtue, notwithstanding worldly difficulties and discouragements.
You have likewise such a knowledge of the wonderful works he wrought, that you cannot doubt of the truth of his words. For no man could do such works unless God was with him. His cures of the sick and infirm, and, that by a word, and instantly, and raising the dead, are undeniable proofs, that he spake in the name of God, or that the Father had sent him, and that the whole of his doctrine is true, and from heaven.
You have also been instructed in the history of his resurrection and ascension, and the mighty works that were done by the apostles of Jesus after he had left this world, when they preached the doctrine they had received from him. And you have no doubt but he will come again in glory, to judge the quick and the dead, and to give to all men according to the things done by them in this their state of trial.
By the advantage of your birth you have been favoured with the knowledge of divers
maxims and observations of unquestioned truth and certainty, and of great use to the right conduct of life. You have been told, that a little with the fear of God, is better than great revenues without it, or than the riches of many wicked: that the fear of God, a sense of his care and providence, hope in his promises, especially the great promise of eternal life to the truly pious and virtuous, will afford great peace and satisfaction at all times: that these dispositions will increase the happiness of outward prosperity, and abate the bitterness of all worldly afflictions.
To have been early instructed in these things is a great benefit. How deplorable is the case of those who are ignorant of them!
One thing more I shall mention here, that to your descent from religious parents, possibly, you owe divers temporal advantages. Solomon says: "The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just," Prov. iii. 33. From the usefulness, and honourable, and dicreet behaviour of your ancestors, you have inherited credit and reputation. And to their frugality, discretion, diligence, sobriety, and other virtues, you may reckon yourselves indebted for the competence, or the abundance of good things you possess and enjoy: which otherwise might have been squandered away in luxury and excess.
II. They who have this advantage ought to improve it. And it will be commendable in them to attend to the instructions, and imitate the virtues of their religious parents, and other pious ancestors.
St. Paul esteemed it matter of much joy and thanksgiving, that he had "served God from his forefathers with a pure conscience," 2 Tim. i. 3. He speaks to Timothy in the way of commendation, when he says, "that he was persuaded, the same faith dwelt in him, which had first dwelt in his grandmother Lois, and his mother Eunice."
There is an obligation to attend to wise and wholesome instructions, from whomsoever we receive them: and to follow the good examples we see in any. But there is a more especial. obligation to hearken to, and follow pious parents. This is supposed in divers pathetic admonitions which we meet with in scripture. So in those solemn words of David: " And thou, Solomon, my son, know thou," own and acknowledge, fear and worship, "the God of thy father," and "serve him with a perfect heart, and with a willing mind- -If thou seek him, he will be found of thee: but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever," 1 Chron. xxviii. 9. And says the wise son of king David at the beginning of his book of Proverbs, or collection. of wise sayings and observations: "My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother," Prov. i. 8. Again: "My son, keep thy father's commandment, and. forsake not the law of thy mother. Bind them continually upon thy heart, and tie them about thy neck. When thou goest, it shall lead thee: when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee: and when thou walkest, it shall talk with thee. For the commandment is a lamp, and the law a light,. and reproofs of instruction are the way of life," chap. vi. 20-23.
III. They are to be blamed, and their case is to be lamented, who degenerate from the wisdom and piety of their religious ancestors.
For it is a great advantage to have had such good instructions, and to have seen good examples in the early part of life. And it implies some faulty disposition not to follow them. There must be, surely, some want of capacity, not to perceive and admire the beauty of good. examples: and some perverseness of temper to act contrary to them.
This is often one article of accusation against the Jews, and assigned as a reason of calamities brought upon them, that they had "forsaken the God of their fathers." When God appeared to Solomon after the dedication of the temple, there were affecting warnings, as well as gracious. promises, delivered to him and his people. They are to this purpose: "For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that my name may be there for ever. And mine eyes and my heart shall be there perpetually.But if ye turn away, and forsake my statutes and my commandments, which I have set before you then will I pluck them up by the roots out of my land, which I gave them--And this house, which is high, shall be an astonishment to every one that passeth by it.. Because they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods, and worshipped and served them," 2 Chron. vii. 16—22. That is what is frequently meant in the Old Testament by "forsaking the God of their fathers;" namely, leaving and abandoning his worship, and going after other gods, and worshipping idols. But as the guilt of idolatry was more especially aggravated in that people, who had