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HONOURING OUR PARENTS.
Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long.
JUST before the destruction of Jerusalem, the Romans are represented as without natural affection, disobedient to parents. Bad husbands and bad wives, bad parents and bad children, abounded amongst them, especially amongst persons of rank and fortune, and betraying and murdering of parents was a common thing; which was no wonder, since a disbelief of a Providence and of a future state, impurity, luxury, cruelty, revenge, ambition, avarice, bribery, robbing the public, and plundering of provinces appeared openly without fear or shame, and unnatural vices had expelled natural affections. Christianity has wrought a change in these things; and the promise of long life to obedient children under the old covenant, is extended to the clearer promises of eternal life under the christian revelation.
The good providence of God silently but effectually prospers obedient children.-Whence comes it to pass that young persons neglect their business, keep bad company, give themselves up to vile courses, disoblige their friends, lose their reputation, run into debt, ruin their health, fly their country, get into jails, and there get jail diseases of body and mind, and commit crimes which bring them to an untimely and ignominious death? This comes, as themselves often confess, from an undutiful behaviour to their parents, a contempt of their authority, and a neglect of their advice, entreaties, and reproofs. Parents, usually speaking, though they have their faults, and have committed faults in the days of their youth, yet desire that their children should behave themselves well, and prosper in the world; that they should be modest, civil, sober, temperate, regular, and industrious: and children, who in these things obey their parents, take the best method to secure to themselves long life and prosperity.
The scriptures exhort us to pray for each other, and frequently mention the efficacy attending the supplications of the righteous. The dying prayers and blessings of patriarchs, and of other eminent persons, were often prophetical, and fulfilled in their posterity. The pagans had high notions of the prayers of parents for their children, and held them in reverence, as being remarkably effectual; they also accounted their imprecations to be of dreadful consequence, and thought that he who was cursed by his parents could never prosper. The text will bear a sense suitable to these opinions: Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long. It may be translated that they may prolong thy days; that is, that by their prayers and blessings they may cause thy days to be lengthened.
But since, under the gospel, spiritual promises are fully propounded, and all things temporal are represented as precarious, if long life should not always be the effect of a dutiful behaviour to God and to parents, it is to be considered that, when a pious and excellent person dies in the flower of his age, to such an one to live is loss, and to die is gain; it is to depart hence and to be with the Lord, which is far better. The conclusion therefore is, that godliness is profitable unto all things, having a promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come; of the life that now is, in all fair probability; of that which is to come, with absolute certainty.
DUTIES TO GOD AND TO JESUS CHRIST.
This is life eternal, to know Thee the only true God; and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.
BUILD the whole of your duty on the foundation of piety. Love God above every other object; and dread the violation of his commands as the worst of evils. Elevate your minds with the contemplation of his attributes. Let his power and wisdom excite your admiration; let his justice inspire you with fear; let his goodness fill your hearts with joy. Contemplate him, not only as your creator and judge, but as your tender father and best friend. Never speak of religion in a light and irreverent manner; and dare not to blaspheme the Majesty of heaven; for remember that God will not hold him guiltless, who taketh his name in vain. Let not the fear of being thought superstitious induce you to conceal the devotion, which glows in your heart. Consecrate your bodies as well as your souls to God. Reverence the day of sacred rest, which in all christian countries is devoted to religion. Constantly attend public worship, unless prevented by necessity or the calls of mercy: but go to church for the sake of being instructed in your duty, and of paying homage to the Supreme Being. Let the Father of all the families of the earth be publicly worshipped each day in your houses; and let your fervent and grateful prayers frequently ascend in secret to him, who seeth in secret, and who will reward you openly. In a word, let God be in all your thoughts. Consider yourselves as ever in his presence, and as acting under his eye. This consideration will preserve you from sin, and animate you to the practice of every good work.
Next to God, let your Saviour Jesus Christ be the object of your ardent affection. It is the happiness of the christian, that he has received his religion from a person, who has not only taught him a complete system of duty, but has also established the whole by his own immaculate example. Learn of Jesus what the Lord your God has required of you; and you will obtain rest unto your souls.Obey all his commands; comply with all the ordinances which he has instituted, particularly with the sacred rite of the Lord's supper, which was ordained to commemorate the highest instance of his love to you, his submitting to death for the salvation of mankind. Let not the sophistry of infidels shake your faith, or induce you to reject the christian religion, before you have carefully examined its evidence. If you attend to it with seriousness and impartiality, you will probably believe that it is a system which came from heaven; and you will submit to the authority of God, who has established its divinity by many infallible signs, by many convincing arguments. When you are persuaded of the truth of the christian religion, dare to profess it openly. Be not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, even in an age of infidelity. Study the doctrines of divine revelation, as they are contained in the New Testament, carefully rejecting the corrupt additions, which have been made to them by the craft of the designing, or the weakness of the superstitious. Let your faith be simple and rational; equally removed from the two extremes, of credulity on the one hand, and scepticism on the other. Be neither bigoted nor indifferent in maintaining your religious opinions. In a word, as the disciples of Christ, be liberal in your principles, but piously strict, and virtuously scrupulous in your practice.
PERSONAL AND SOCIAL DUTIES.
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.
AFTER the love of God and your Saviour, the most important duties of man are the relative duties. If you act well in the relations of husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister, master and servant, ruler and subject, you have then performed the greatest part of the duty which God requires of you. Your personal duties are in this view, all important. Let men take heed to themselves. Be temperate and chaste. Go not to the houses of riot and drunkenness frequent not the company of the impure and debauched. Let not your corruptible bodies press down your souls; but subject all your appetites and passions to the dominion of reason.As a branch of temperance, and as promoting your own comfort and the comfort of others, I would recommend to you to be neat in your persons, your dress, and your houses. Cleanliness has been styled a half virtue; and by the power of association, it naturally produces purity of mind.-As another branch of temperance, and as in particular conducing to health and usefulness, I would advise you to retire to rest long before midnight, and to accustom yourselves to breathe the salutary air of the morning. This practice will furnish you with many bright hours, in which you can make the most valuable acquisitions of knowledge, virtue, and piety.-Be industrious in performing the duties of your stations, industrious in obtaining manual skill, industrious in enriching your understandings with useful knowledge. Whilst you live, you must work; or suffer the consequence of becoming torpid in body, and discontented in mind. -Walk circumspectly live by rule: divide the day into regular portions, and assign to each its proper employment.--Be honest in all your dealings; true in your words; faithful in your engagements. If you have raised expectations, even by your looks and general course of behaviour, though you have not promised in words, be careful to fulfil them.-Whatever your income may be, endeavour to live within it, and enjoy the happiness of being punctual.Settle your accounts regularly, and never suffer them to get into confusion. Think nothing your own, until you have paid for it. Do not fall into the mean habit of borrowing small sums of your friends and neighbours, and of never returning them. Wear your old garments, if you are not able to buy new ones. The necessaries of life you must have, though to obtain them you are compelled to anticipate your earnings; but never run in debt for its pleasures, or even its comforts. If you are rich, be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate. Appropriate a certain part of your income to the poor; and let your charities be governed by method and discretion. Be not satisfied with giving to those, who ask you; but seek out objects of distress. Be active and liberal in works, which may promote the comfort and welfare of your fellow citizens. If you are poor, be not dispirited. Increase your diligence and sobriety, and rely on divine Providence, who will take care of you. Fret not yourselves at the sight of the rich and great; but content yourselves with the moderate pleasures, which you can certainly obtain, if you are industrious. If you have seen better days, and are, by misfortune, or by extravagance and imprudence, reduced to indigence, manfully reject every temptation to indulgence. Curtail your expenses within the bounds of simple necessaries.
FURTHER SUMMARY OF IMPORTANT DUTIES.
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.
ENVY none their superiour endowments, whether bodily or mental. If you build your happiness on the good opinion of others, if you love praise, envy, unless you are constantly on your guard, will enter your bosoms. Wherever you see beauty, talents, or popularity, you will be grieved that they are not your own. But courageously contend against the beginnings of so foul a vice. ever you think, let not your thoughts be audible. Whisper not a word of evil against those who excel you; but compel your hearts to rejoice at their success. Accustom yourselves to a generous manner of speaking of those, who outshine you; and with whatever reluctance you do this at first, you will in time bring over your feelings to the side of your reason.
Whilst you do not calumniate any one, who possesses more merit than yourselves, have too much dignity of sentiment to slander those, who, you suppose, have foibles and vices, from which you believe yourselves exempt. Avoid pride, as an odious; and vanity, as a contemptible vice. Be humble; but talk not of your humility, nor affect it in your external deportment; for, like certain volatile spirits, the virtue entirely evaporates, when exposed to the air. Let your humility appear chiefly to your heavenly Father, who is acquainted with every motion of your hearts. Let there be no affectation in any part of your character; but let sincerity govern all your actions. Be simple and undisguised, without any secrets and mysteries. Be artless and unreserved in conversation, but at the same time discreet. Talk not too much; for you may repent of your rash speeches; but will seldom have cause to repent of your silence.— Cover all your good qualities with the veil of modesty. Leave them to be discovered by others, and never ostentatiously display them. Whilst you boast not of your good qualities, be constantly on your guard against your prevailing passion. Among all the sins, there is in particular one, which most easily besets you. There is a weak part in your mind, which you must endeavour to strengthen by all the means of reason and religion. Whether it is idleness, intemperance, irrascibility, envy, pride, or covetousness, fortify yourselves against the attack of the enemy. Leave not the place a moment exposed, but defend it night and day. You may yet stand; but take heed lest you fall. Be not high-minded, but fear.
Let moderation preside over all your conduct. Avoid extremes ; and balance one virtue by another. There is scarcely any action, however good it may be in itself, which, if carried too far, does not degenerate into a vice.-Be moderate in particular in your expectations of earthly felicity; for this world is a scene of trial, and contains sorrow as well as joy.-But give not way to a discontented spirit. Happiness does not universally prevail, but it predominates even on earth. God is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works. There are many pleasures of the senses, of which you may innocently partake; and they are daily and hourly renewed. You have the pleasures of the imagination and understanding, of conversation and friendship, of sympathy and devotion. If you are young, you have indulgent parents to provide for your wants; if in middle life, you have children to delight you; if in old age, you have still your children to call out your fondest affections.
It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.
THE serious reflection on death is a preservative against almost every vice. You will therefore frequently have it in your minds. It will guard you against the snares of prosperity, and console you under adversity. Though you are rich, and great, and healthy, and popular, and eloquent, and wise, when you remember that there will soon be an end of all your prosperity in the dark and silent grave, you will not be puffed up with conceit. On the other hand, if you are poor, and sick, and despised, and friendless, and destitute, you will reflect that death is the cure of every evil. It restores your health and youth; it relieves you from every embarrassment; it removes every mortification. It brings you again into the presence of the beloved friends whom you have lost. It seats you in a place of safety, where temptation cannot assault, where care cannot vex you; where there will not be either disease, or pain, or sin, or misery. Be mindful then that you must die. But reflect at the same time, that the virtuous and pious only can have hope in death.When Jesus has restored you to life, you will be called before the bar of your judge; where you will have to give an account for every idle and vain word, which you have uttered, for every impious and malignant deed, which you have committed; and if you are found guilty, you will be consigned to a place of wretchedness, from which you cannot expect to be released till the uttermost farthing is paid, till the infinitely wise and gracious purposes, which God designs in your punishment, are fully accomplished.
In fine, be ever mindful of the end for which you were created, which is the unbounded love of God, and disinterested benevolence to all his rational creatures. The christian religion has this great object in view; and our Saviour has forcibly expressed it in the following words: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. This is the perfection and happiness of your nature, a perfection, to which few have yet attained. But do you heroically resolve to aim at this height. As you have received of your instructers, how you ought to walk and please God, abound more and more. Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Strive continually to excel yourselves: and then will that animated happiness, which dwells in aspiring minds, still accompany you, and reward your progress.
I am anxious to recommend this summary of important duties.— But happily you have in your hands a discourse, which is able to supply all its deficiencies. This admirable discourse you have often read; but I would request you to read it once more, and to impress its precepts deeply on your hearts. The discourse is Christ's sermon on the mount. Never man spake like this man. If you sincerely practice what he taught, you will stand like a house, which is built on rock. Though the rains descend, though the floods come, though the winds blow, it will not fall: Temptation will not shake you, affliction will not overwhelm you, death itself will not alarm you; but after this short life is ended, you will be found heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; who will place you with him on his throne, where you will reign with him forever and ever.