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affairs of life we would cheerfully serve you to the utmost of our power, and therefore at least reasonably expect to stand on a level with the rest of your friends in like circumstances. And our character as ministers, if we be careful to answer it, gives us some peculiar claim to your regard. For you we give up many more splendid prospects in life, which, in other employments, we might possibly have secured; for you we lay out our time and our strength, in study, in prayer, and in preaching. We bear you upon our hearts in our public ministrations, and our private retirements: (And God is witness with what sincerity.) Nor would we refuse those laborious services, which, in human probability, might hasten upon us the infirmities of age, and the approach of death, if they might be the happy means of your conversion and salvation. And is this the reward of all our friendly care? to weaken our hands, to grieve our souls, and to behave in such a manner, that the more tenderly we love you, the more deeply we must be afflicted by you?
Many of you treat us with a great deal of humanity and decency; with the appearances of affection and esteem. You are ready to serve us in the common offices of friendship, and would express your resentment if you saw us injured, in actions, or in words. We thankfully acknowledge your goodness in such instances as these; but permit us to ask you, why you will not be so kind and so grateful to us, as to take care of your own souls, when nothing could oblige us more than such a care, and nothing can afflict us more than the neglect of them? Let me conclude this head with those pathetic words of the apostle, If there be any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye our joy*. And let me intreat you to consider, once more,
4. That the propagation of religion to future generations does, under God, chiefly depend upon you.
For this reason the pious Israelites are represented, as resolving to declare the wonderful works of God unto their children, That the generation to come might know them, even the children that should be born; that they might arise, and, in their turn, declare them unto their childrent, and so the intail might be carried on to the remotest ages.
Now, my brethren, it is evident, that the propagation of religion to succeeding generations does, humanly speaking, depend on you, and others, who with you are entering upon life. If you are under the influences of serious godliness, you will
Phil. i. 1, 2.
+ Psal. lxxviii.
carry them along with you to the end of your days; and when God calls you into families of your own, it will be your desire that you and your houses may serve him*. Family prayer, and family-instruction will be maintained: You will be teaching your children to know the Lord, and exhorting them to serve him, and praying for a blessing on those endeavours: And who knows what a remarkable blessing might attend them? Your children, under the impressions of such an education may be eminent for religion, as you have been. They may be equally diligent in the care of their posterity, and God may favour them with equal success; and so there may be thousands of your remote descendents, who never saw you, nor perhaps heard of your name, who yet, under God, may owe their religion and their happiness to you. The prospect of it may now afford you a sensible pleasure; and it is highly probable, that when they meet you in the regions of the invisible world, such an important obligation may engage them to treat you with peculiar respect and affection: As surely all other obligations will appear trifling, when compared with this.
On the other hand, if you neglect religion yourselves, it cannot be thought you will be much concerned to transmit it to others. You would hardly be at the pains to give them good instructions; supposing you much more capable of doing it than you can expect to be: Or if you do attempt it, those instructions will be like to have little effect, when they are contradicted by the daily language of your example. Nay, it is possible you may arrive at such a height of wickedness, as directly to oppose practical godliness, and breed up your children in the contempt of it; which is often to be seen, even in this christian country. And what do you think will become of such children as these? If you have been so wicked, notwithstanding all the restraints of a serious education, what will they be, who miss of the advantages you enjoyed, and must be exposed to numberless temptations from which you were free? Shall these be a seed to serve the Lord? Shall these be accounted to him for a generation? It might almost as well be expected, that a race of men should spring up in a desart, where no human creature ever appeared before them, as that true christianity should be propagated in the world by the children of such an education. And have you, after all, so utter an indifference to the honour of that Redeemer, into whose religion you were baptized, and whose name you bear, as that you could be contented it
Josh. xxiv. 15.
should be lost in the world? Was it for this, that the Son of God descended from heaven that he might publish the gospel covenant, and expired on the cross that he might establish it? Was it for this, that the pious labours of our ancestors have transmitted this religion to us through so many succeeding ages; and that so many martyrs have sealed it by their sufferings and their blood? Was it for this, that our sacred liberties have been so courageously asserted by the best of men, and almost miraculously defended by the hand of God? For this, That the precious intail should be cut off by us, and this invaluable treasure, the charge and the glory of so many former generations, should perish in our hands? that the name of christianity should, for the future, be lost in the world; or which is altogether as bad, that it should sink into an empty name, and a lifeless circle of unmeaning forms? Yet, humanly speaking, this must be the consequence, if you, and others of the rising generation, will not heartily engage in the interests of it.
Such a variety of arguments concur to prove the great importance of the rising generation. They are so plain and so weighty, that I cannot but think, you, my brethren, to whom I have particularly applied them, are in your consciences convinced, that they are not to be disputed.
How that conviction should work, I have not time largely to shew you; but if it be seriously and deeply impressed on your minds, you cannot long be at a loss for proper directions, amongst so many pious friends, and excellent books; especially if you consult the scripture, and seek for the teachings of the blessed Spirit. To these assistances I heartily recommend you, and omitting many other reflections, which would naturally arise, shall conclude my discourse with one, which I shall immediately address to another part of my auditory.
Reflection. How solicitous should we be in our endeavours for the religious improvement of the rising generation, since its character appears of so great importance!
We have all our concern in the thought, but I would peculiarly recommend it to those of you, who are parents and masters, or have the education of youth under any other capacities: Imagine not, my friends, that it is an inconsiderable charge which is lodged in your hands. Providence has intrusted to you the hopes and the fears, the joys and the sorrows, of many hearts, and of many families. Future generations will have reason to applaud or detest your memory, as your present duty is regarded or neglected; and, which is infinitely more,
the Father of the spirits of all flesh will require a strict account of those precious souls which he committed to your care.
It is not for me, at this time, to direct you at large, as to the particulars of your duty with regard to them*. In the general you will easily apprehend, that some methods are to be taken to inform their minds with divine knowledge, and to impress them with an affecting sense of what they know. And if you find the work attended with great difficulty, I hope it will engage you thankfully to accept of the assistances of ministers, and other christian friends, and earnestly to implore those communications of the Spirit, which are absolutely necessary to make them effectual.
And if God have any mercy in store for so sinful a nation as ours, we may humbly hope, that, in answer to our united supplications, he will Revive his work amongst us in the midst of the years; and, according to the tenor of his promises, Will pour out his Spirit on our seed, and his blessing on our offspring; so that they may spring up before him as the grass, and as willows by the water-courses; and calling themselves by the name of Jacob, and subscribing with their hands unto the Lord may be acknowledged by him as a generation of his people. Amen.
*Something of this kind I have since attempted in the Sermons on the Religious Education of Children, which are now reprinted in the same form with these ; though I have there been obliged to repeat some thoughts, which occur here, though in different words, and in a different view.
TO YOUNG PERSONS.
Christ formed in the Soul, the only Foundation of Hope
Gal. iv. 19.—My little Children, of whom I travail in Birth again, until Christ be formed in you.
T was the unhappy case of Agrippa, that though almost, he was only Almost, persuaded to be a christian*; and I fear, it is now the case of many, and particularly of many young persons, who have enjoyed the advantages of a religious education. I believe it is difficult to find any amongst them, who have not been brought under some serious impressions betimes. With regard to the internal operations of the blessed spirit, as well as external means, the morning of life is generally to them, in a peculiar sense, the day of their visitation; and they often seem to know it, and in some measure to improve it: But in too many instances we find their Goodness as a morning cloud, and as the early dew, which soon passeth away+. The blossoms open fair and beautiful, and gives a very agreeable prospect of the plentiful fruits of holiness in life: But too often, when storms of temptation and corruption arise, the goodly appearance is laid in ruins; the blossoms do as it were fall to the ground, and leave the tree blasted and naked; or at best covered only with leaves of an external profession, which, however green and flourishing they may for the present be, will not at last secure it from being cut down and cast into the burning. Though they for a while had Escaped the pollutions of the world through lust, they are afterwards entangled and subdued; and the consequence is, they prove a scandal to religion, and a discouragement to others, till, in the end, they bring aggravated destruction on themselves; so that on the whole, as the apostle most justly observes, It had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than thus, after they have known it, to turn aside from the holy commandment.
Acts xxvi. 28.
+ Hos. vi. 4.
+2 Pet. ii. 21.