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perhaps silenced them. But it Is a small thing to you, that you have thus wearied men, and will you attempt to weary your God also? Can you dare to hope, that you shall at last carry those proud thoughtless heads triumphant over all the terrors of his word? You imagine it a very happy circumstance, that you have got loose from those mortifying lessons, and uneasy restraint, you were once under. But really, when one seriously considers whither these liberties lead you, and where they will probably end, a just resentment of your ingratitude is almost disarmed, and indignation is converted into pity.
Alas! Sinners, The way of all transgressors is hard+; but yours is peculiarly so. You, to whom I am now addressing myself, are in the morning of your days, and it is not to be supposed, that the impressions of a good education are yet entirely effaced. What future years may do, I know not; but hitherto, I persuade myself, you have frequently your reflections, and your convictions: Convictions, which have force enough to torment you, though not to reform you: to plant thorns in the paths of sin, though not to reduce you to those of duty. But if you feel nothing of this remorse and anxiety, such a dead calm is then more dreadful than the fiercest storm and tumult of thought: A sad indication, that your course in wickedness has been exceeding swift; indeed so swift, that it is probable it may not be long. Oh that it might immediately be stopped by divine grace, rather than by the vengeance you have SO much reason
At least be engaged to pause in it for a few moments, and let reason and conscience be permitted to speak. How is it that you make yourselves, I will not say entirely, but tolerably easy? Is it by the disbelief of christianity? Do you secretly suspect, that the gospel is but a cunningly devised fable? Yet even that suspicion is not enough. Let me rather ask, "Are you so confident it is so, that you will venture to stake even the life of your souls upon its falsehood!" If you were come to such a confidence, yet it is amazing to me, how, even on the principles of natural religion alone, persons in your circumstances can make themselves easy. Can any of the libertines of the present age, that believe a God, imagine that he is Altogether such a one as themselves? Can they flatter themselves so far as to hope, that they, in the ways of negligence, profaneness, and debauchery, are like to meet with a more favourable treatment
from him, than those pious parents whose principles they deride; or that this loose and irregular course will end better, than that life of prayer and self-denial, of faith and love, of spirituality and heavenly-mindedness, which they discerned in them? Few are so abandoned, even of common sense, as to think this?
But these are more distant concerns. I bless God, this kind of infidelity is not in fashion here. You assent to the gospel as true, and therefore must know, that God, who observes and records your conduct now, will bring you into judgment for it another day. And if you go on thus, how will you stand in that judgment? What will you plead? On what will you repose the confidence of your souls, that will not prove a broken reed, which will go up into your hand, and pierce you deep, in proportion to the stress you lay upon it? While you behave like a generation of vipers, think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham for our father*. Think not to plead a relation to the religious parents, whose God and whose ways you have forsaken. Think not to plead an early dedication to him in the baptismal covenant, which you have broken, despised, and in fact renounced. Think not to plead that external profession, which you have so shamefully contradicted, and even by wearing it, dishonoured. You will see the weakness of such pleas as these, and will not dare to trifle with that awful tribunal, so far as to mention them there. And when you are yourselves thus silent and confounded, who will appear as an advocate in your favour? Your parents were often presenting their supplications and intercessions for you before the throne of grace, but there will be no room to present them before the throne of justice: Nor will they have any inclination to do it. All the springs of natural fondness will be dried up; they will no longer regard you as their children, when they see you in the accursed number of the enemies of their God.
And when you are thus disowned by your parents, and disowned by God, whither will you cause your shame and your terror to go? You, who have had so many privileges, and so many opportunities, perhaps I may add, so many fond presumptuous hopes too, how will you bear to see multitudes coming from carnal and profane families, to share with your parents in the inheritance of glory, from which you are excluded? You, who were the children of the kingdom; whose remorse therefore must be the more cutting; whose condemnation therefore must be the more weighty! Observe in how strong and lively a
view, our Lord has represented this awful thought, in words, which though immediately addressed to the unbelieving Jews, are remarkably applicable to you*: There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, (your pious ancestors,) in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out: And many shall come from the north, and the south, and the east, and the west, and shall sit down with them in the kingdom of God; but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into utter darkness+.
But through the divine forbearance you are not yet shut out. There is still hope even for you, if you will now return to the God of your fathers, from whom, by these aggravated transgressions, you have so deeply revolted. Let me then once more tenderly intreat you, and solemnly charge you, by the consolations of the living, and by the memory of the pious dead, by your present comforts, by your future hopes, by the nearly approaching solemnities of death and judgment, by the mercies of God, and by the blood of a Redeemer, that you consider, And shew yourselves ment; that you set yourselves, as it were, attentively to read over the characters inscribed on your memories and understandings in the course of a religious education; that you hearken to the voice of conscience repeating those admonitions, and to the voice of the blessed God, as speaking in his word to confirm them; and finally, that you apply to him in a most importunate manner, for those victorious influences of his Spirit, which are able to mollify and transform these hearts of stone, and to raise even you, from so low a depth of degeneracy and danger, to the character and happiness of the genuine children of Abraham. God forbid that I should sin against your souls, and my own, in ceasing to pray that it may be so! And now,
2. I shall conclude all, with an address to those young persons, who have been, through grace, engaged to a becoming improvement of the religious education they have enjoyed.
I have the pleasure of being well assured, that there are many such amongst you: Many who are now the joy of ministers and parents, and the hope of the church for succeeding years. Let me intreat you, my dear brethren and friends, that you daily acknowledge the divine goodness, in favouring you with such advantages; and, what is still more valuable, in giving you a heart to prize and to improve them.
Luke xiii. 28, 29.
Mat. viii. 11, 12.
Isa. xlvi. 8,
Think how different your circumstances might have been. Providence might have cast your lot in some distant age or country, where the true God had been unknown, where your early steps had been guided to the groves and temples of detestable idols, and you might possibly have been taught to consecrate lust or murder by the name of devotion. Or you might have been educated in popish darkness, where the scriptures would have been to you as a sealed book, and you would have seen christianity polluted with idolatrous rites, on some accounts more inexcusable than those of the heathen, and adulterated with the most absurd and pernicious errors. There the mistaken piety of your parents might have proved a dangerous snare, whilst it had infused a blind, and perhaps a cruel zeal, and a proud furious opposition to all the methods of better information.
Nay, even here, in a protestant country, is it not too evident, there are many families in which had you been born and educated, you had sate as in darkness and the shadow of death, though in the land of light and the valley of vision! Your infant-tongue had been formed to the language of hell, and exercised in curses and oaths, rather than in prayer. You had early been taught to deride every appearance of serious godliness; and all the irregular propensities of nature had been strengthened by examples of wickedness, which might have been sufficient to corrupt innocence itself. When you consider the wide difference between these circumstances and your own, surely whatever your portion of worldly possessions may be, you have reason to lift up your hands to heaven with wonder and gratitude, and to say. The lines are fallen to us in pleasant places, yea, we have a goodly heritage*.
Nor is this all: There are many around you, who have shared in such advantages as these, and have sinfully abused them, to the dishonour of God, to the grief of their parents, and to their own danger, and perhaps their ruin. And why are not you in that wretched number, or Who maketh thee to differ from them+? Why are not your hearts barred against the entrance of a Redeemer, but because The Lord has opened them? Why were not all the good instructions which have been given to you, like seed sown upon a rock; but because God gave the increase§! Adore the riches of this distinguishing grace.
And let me earnestly exhort you, that you. be careful still farther to improve it. Give me leave to say, that these fair
openings of early seriousness, do naturally raise a very high expectation of eminent advances in religion. Let it be your humble and diligent care, that these expectations be answered : That Your goodness may not be like the morning cloud, or the early dew, which soon goeth away*; but rather like The dawning light, which shines brighter and brighter till the perfect day+.
Whilst providence continues these holy parents, to whom you have been so highly indebted, let it be your constant care, by all the most cheerful returns of duty and gratitude, to express your regards to them, and your sense of so great an obligation. And I will add, let it be your care, to hand down to future ages those important advantages you have received from them.
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh. It is highly probable, that in a few years, numbers of you will be conducted into new relations; and we please ourselves with the hope, that you will carry religion and happiness into rising families.
Let not those hopes be disappointed. When God fixes you in houses of your own, let it be your first concern to erect there such domestic altars, as those at which you have worshipped with such holy pleasure, and sensible tokens of divine acceptance. Let the sacred treasure of divine knowledge, which has been deposited with you, be faithfully delivered down to your descendants; that they, in their turn, may arise with the same pious zeal, to transmit it to another generation, that shall be born of them.
And may divine grace, that inexhaustible spring of the most valuable blessings, sweetly flow on to add efficacy to all, that real vital religion, may be the glory and joy of every succeeding age; till this earth (which is but a place of education for the children of God, during their minority,) shall pass away to make room for a far nobler scene and state of existence; where pious parents and their religious offspring shall for ever enjoy the most delightful society, inhabiting the palace of our heavenly Father, and surrounding the throne of our glorified Redeemer! Amen.
Hos. vi. 4.
↑ Prov. iv. 18.
+ Eccl. i. 4.