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doubt with you; and yet you behave, as if the very contrary to what you believe were evident certain truth. In short, it is the most barbarous part you act, and more like that of an enemy than a parent.
It is not that you are insensible of the workings of parental tenderness. No, far from that, it may perhaps sometimes rise to a weak and criminal dotage; yet I repeat it again, you are acting a hostile and barbarous part. You are greatly solicitous for their temporal happiness. For this you labour and watch; for this you deny yourselves many an enjoyment, and subject yourselves to many an uneasy circumstance: But, alas! Sirs, where is the real friendship of all this, while the precious soul is neglected? Your children are born with a corrupted nature, perverted by sinful examples, ignorant of God, in a state of growing enmity to him, and, in consequence of all, exposed to his wrath and curse, and in the way to everlasting ruin: In the mean time it is your great care, that they may pass through this precarious, momentary life, in ease and pleasure, perhaps in abundance and grandeur; that is, in such circumstances, as will probably lull them into a forgetfulness of their danger, till there be no more hope. How cruel a kindness!
It brings to my mind the account which an ancient writer* gives of the old Carthaginians, which I can never recollect without great emotion. He is speaking of that diabolical custom which so long prevailed amongst them, of offering their children to a detestable idol, which was formed in such a manner, that an infant put into its hands, which were stretched out to receive it, would immediately fall into a gulph of firet. He adds a circumstance, which one cannot mention without horror; that the mothers, who with their own hands presented the little innocents, thought it an unfortunate omen that the victim should be offered weeping; and therefore used a great many fond artifices to divert it, that soothed by the kisses and caresses of a parent, it might smile in the dreadful moment in which it was to be given up to the idol§. Pardon me, my friends; such is your parental care and love; such your concern for the present ease and prosperity of your children, while their souls are neglected: A fond solicitude, that they may pass smiling into the hands of the destroyer.
+ Diodor. Sic. lib. xx. cap. 14. Euseb. Præp. Evang. lib. iv. cap. 7.
Blanditiis & Osculis comprimente Vagitum, ne flebilis Hostia immoletur, Minut. Fel. Octav. §. 30. page 57. Tertull. Apol. cap. ix.
You know with what just severity God reckons with the Israelites for their abominable wickedness, in Taking his sons. and his daughters, for so he calls the children of his professing people, and sacrificing them to be devoured*: And can you suppose, he will take no notice of the unnatural neglect of yours? Not to endeavour to save, is to destroy; and is it a little guilt, when an immortal soul is in question? You probably remember those terrible words in Ezekiel; (may they be deeply inscribed on the hearts of all whom they concern!) Son of man, I have made thee a watchman to the house of Israel, therefore hear thou the word from my mouth, and give them warning from me ;—and if thou speakest not to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood will I require at thine hand. If ever you read this passage with attention, you must own it is exceedingly awful, and must be ready to say, "The Lord be merciful to ministers! They have a solemn account to give." Indeed they have; and we thank you, if you ever bestow a compassionate thought and prayer upon us. But permit me to remind you, that though it be our case, it is not ours alone; you have likewise your share in it. Your children are much more immediately committed to your care, than you and they are committed to ours; and, by all parity of reason if they perish in their iniquities, while you neglect to give them warning, their blood will be required at your hand.
And when God comes to make inquisition for that blood, how will you be able to endure it? That awful day will open upon you, and the tribunal of God, in all its terrors, will stand unveiled before you. Give me leave to direct your eyes to it in this distant prospect, while there is yet room to mitigate those terrors. If you go on in this cruel negligence of the souls of your children, how will you dare to meet them at that judgment-seat? How will you be able to answer the great Father of spirits, when expostulating with you on account of his offspring, as well as yours, who have been betrayed and ruined by your neglect "Inhuman creatures," may he justly say, "to whom should I have committed the care of them, rather than to you? Did they not, by my appointment, derive their being from you? Did I not implant in your hearts the natural affections of parents towards them? And to increase the obligation, did they not pass through the tender scenes of infancy and childhood in your arms, and under your eye? If you had
no compassion for their perishing souls, if you would exert no efforts for their deliverance and salvation, from whom could those compassions, those efforts have been expected? But wherein did they appear? Behold the book of my remembrance, the 'records of thy life, thrown open before thee! Where is the memorial of one hour spent in holy instruction, or in fervent prayer with them, or for them? Can I approve, can I acquit you on such a review? Or shall I not rather visit for these things, and shall not my soul be avenged for such a conduct as this?"
And your children,
will they be silent on the occasion? Did Adam in the distress and amazement of his soul, when in the presence of his judge, accuse Eve, his wife, so lately taken from his side, and committed to his protection, and still, no doubt, appearing lovely in the midst of sorrow? And will your children in that terrible day spare you? You may rather expect, they will labour to the utmost to aggravate a crime which costs them so dear, that so they may, if possible, alleviate their own guilt, or if not, indulge their revenge. "O God," may they perhaps then cry out in the most piercing accents of indignation and despair, "thou art righteous in the sentence thou passest upon us, and we justly die for our own iniquity. We have destroyed ourselves. But wilt thou not remember that our ruin is in part chargeable here? Had these our parents been faithful to thee, and to us, it had perhaps been prevented. Had our infancy been formed by religious instruction, we might not have grown up to wickedness; we might not in the advance of life, have despised thy word, and trampled on thy Son; but might this day have been owned by thee as thy children, and have risen to that inheritance of light and glory, which we now behold at this unapproachable distance. Oh! cursed be the fathers that begat us; cursed the womb that bare us; cursed the paps that gave us suck! Remember us, O Lord, whilst thou art judging them; and let us have this one wretched comfort, in the midst of all our agonies, that it is not with impunity that they have betrayed our souls!"
This is indeed shocking and diabolical language; and for that very reason, it is so much the more probable on so dreadful an occasion. And give me leave to ask you one question, my friends, and I will conclude this head. If your children were thus crying out against you in the bitterness of their souls, could you attempt to silence them, by reminding them of the care which you took of their temporal affairs, or of the riches
and grandeur in which you left them on earth? Nay, could you have the heart so much as to mention such a trifle? And if you could not, then, in the name of God, Sirs, how do you satisfy yourselves to confine all your thoughts and labours to that, which, by your own confession, will neither secure your children from everlasting destruction, nor give them one moment's relief in the review, when they are falling into it?
I will make no apology for the plainness, and earnestness, which I have used. Eternal interests are at stake, and the whole tenour of scripture supports me in what I say. I had rather you should be alarmed with hearing these things from me now, than tormented with hearing them in another manner from your children, and from God at last. If you please to take proper measures for preventing the danger, I have told you the way at large: If you do not, I hope I may say, in this respect, clear from your blood, and the blood of yours, who may perish by your means: Look you to it."
But it is high time that I proceed in my address, and apply myself,
2. To those parents, who have been careful to discharge the duty, we have so copiously described and enforced.
I cannot suppose, that any of us would pretend to maintain, that in this, or any other branch of duty, we have acted up to the utmost extent and perfection of our rule. I hope, an humble sense of the deficiences of all the best of our services, is frequently leading us to the believing views of a better righteousness than our own, in which alone we can dare to appear before a holy God, and answer the demands of his perfect law. Nevertheless, it is surely allowable to Rejoice in the testimony of our conscience*, with regard to the regularity of our own behaviour, so far as it is conformable to reason and scripture; and it is an important duty thankfully to own those influences of sanctifying and strengthening Grace, by which we are what we are†.
It is with great pleasure I recollect the reason I have to believe, that many of you, christians, who hear me this day, are, in the main, conscientiously practising these duties; and that some of you were doing it long before I was capable of exhorting and directing you. Acknowledge the singular goodness of God, by which you have been excited to them, and furnished for them.
More especially have you reason to adore it, if through grace you can say, with regard to the present success, what you may certainly say, as to the future recompence, that your Labour in the Lord is not in vain*. Let God have the glory of his own work. I persuade myself, you understand the gospel too well, to ascribe it to the prudence of your own conduct, to the strength of your reasoning, or to the warmth and tenderness of your address. Whatever of these advantages you have possessed, were derived from God; and your very care for your offspring, is, as the apostle expresses in a like case, The earnest care which God has put into your hearts. But it was not this care, or these advantages alone, that produced so happy an effect. In vain had your doctrines from day to day Dropped as the rain, and distilled as the dew, in the most gentle and insinuating manner; in vain had the precious seed of the word been sown with unwearied diligence, and watered with tears too; had not God commanded the operations of his blessed Spirit to come down, as a more efficacious rain, as more fruitful showers to water their hearts. Oh! be not insensible of the favour! Your own souls might to this very day, have been a barren wilderness, a land of draught, an habitation of devils; and behold, not only they, but your families too, are like A field, like a garden, which the Lord has blessed§. God might have cut you off many years ago, for your neglect of his covenant, or your breaches of it; and behold, he is establishing it, not only with you, but your seed after you, for an everlasting covenant. Methinks your hearts should overflow with gratitude and holy joy, while you dwell on such reflections as these. This should add a relish to all the pleasure you find in conversing with your children: This should quicken you to farther diligence in cultivating those graces, which you have the satisfaction to see already implanted: This should reconcile you to all the afflictions, with which providence may exercise, either you or them: This should support you in the views of a separation, either by your own death, or by theirs; since you have so comfortable a hope, that if they are removed they will go to a heavenly Father, and that if they are left behind you, they will be safe and happy under his care till you meet in a better world, where you will be for ever to each other a mutual glory and joy.
* Cor. xv. 58.
Gen. xxvii. 27.
† 2 Cor. viii. 16.
+ Deut. xxxii. 2.