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I have here one advantage not common to every subject; I mean, that the guilty will immediately know themselves. When we apply ourselves in general to unconverted sinners, ignorance of the nature of true religion, a neglect of conversing with your own souls, or the insinuating prejudices of self-love, may disguise the true state of the case, and teach people to speak peace to themselves, under the most awful denunciations of wrath and vengeance. But here, one would imagine, that the recollection of a few moments might be sufficient to determine the case; be. cause the question relates to past fact, and that not merely to one particular action, but to a long train and succession of labours and attempts.
Now let your consciences witness, whether I am guilty of a breach of charity, when I take it for granted, that there are some amongst you, who have been, and are very negligent of the duty I have now been enforcing? You have probably contented yourselves with teaching your children to read, and setting them to learn, like parrots, a prayer, and perhaps too, a catechism and a creed. But I appeal to your consciences, have you from the very day of their birth to this time, ever spent one hour in seriously instructing them in the knowledge of God, and endeavouring to form them to his fear and service; in setting before them the misery of their natural condition, and urging them to apply to Christ for life and salvation; in representing the solemnities of death, and judgment, and the eternal world, and urging an immediate and diligent preparation for them? Where is the time, where the place, that can witness, that you have been pouring out your souls before God on their account, and wrestling with him for their lives, as knowing they must perish for ever, without the righteousness of his Son, and the grace of his Spirit? Where, or when, have you thus prayed with them, or for them? What sermon have you heard, what scripture have you read, with this thought, “ This will I carry to my children, and communicate to them as the food of their souls?” I fear there are several of you that have been so far from doing it, that you have hardly ever seriously thought of it as a thing to be done.
And I would ask, Why have you not thought of it, and why have you not done it? Are these creatures that you have produced, like the other animals of your houses or your field, mere animated systems of flesh and blood, made to take a turn in life for a few days and months, and then to sink into everlasting forgetfulness? Or are they rational and immortal creatures, that must exist for ever in heaven or in hell? This is not a matter of 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 risc 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 bim, 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, wbich 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 bands, 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 idolş. 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
* Minutius Felix.
$Blanditiis & Osculis comprimente Vagitum, ne flebilis Hostia immoletur, Minut. Pel. Octav, 8. 30. page 57. Tertull, Apol, cap. 1X. VOL. II.
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 niouth, 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 handt. 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 yon. 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 Fa. • ther 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 obli. gation, did they not pass through the tender scenes of infancy and childhood in your arms, and under your eye? If you had
* Ezek. xvi. 20, 21.
# Ezek, iü. 17, 18.
-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 mnight 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, () Lord, whilst thou art judging them; and let us have this one wretched confort, 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, “ I am, 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 aret.
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.
* 2 Cor. i, 12.
+ 1 Cor. xv. 10,