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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.
2 Cor. viii. 16. Jer. xxxii. 39, 40.
‡ Deut. xxxii. 2.
But I cannot congratulate you on such an occasion, without the danger of adding affliction to the afflicted parents, whose circumstances, alas! are far different from yours. I fear, my friends, that there are some amongst you, who look round you, and look forwards, with far different prospects; some who are, with bleeding hearts, borrowing the complaint, which we who are ministers of the gospel, so frequently breathe forth, We have laboured in vain, and spent our strength for nought*. "Oh!" (may you perhaps add,)" that it were only in vain! Those dear children, which we early devoted to God in baptism, which we endeavoured to educate in the knowledge and fear of the Lord, the children of our hopes, the children of our prayers, are unfruitful under all our cultivation, or, it may be, visibly turned aside from the good ways in which they were trained up; as if they had known them only to reject and affront them: So that, we have reason to fear, that all we have already done as it is an aggravation of their guilt, will be a proportionable aggravation of their ruin."
It is indeed a very pitiable case. We owe you our compassions, and we owe you our prayers; but permit us to intermix our consolations and our admonitions. You have at least Delivered your own soulst; and as you participate in the sorrows of faithful ministers, you may share in their comforts too; and say with them, though the objects of our compassionate care Be not gathered, yet shall we be glorious, for our work is with the Lord, and our reward with our God. Go on therefore in the midst of all your discouragements, and, in this respect, be not weary in well-doing§. Take heed of such a despair, as would cut the sinews of future endeavours. If your child were labouring under any bodily distemper, you would be very unwilling that the physicians should quite give him over, and try no farther medicines: You would follow them, and say, "Can nothing more be done? Is there not the least glimmering of hope?" Alas! my friends, a child given up by a pious parent, is, to a believing eye, a much more melancholy sight, than a patient given over by the physicians. Excuse me then, if I follow you with the question, "Can nothing more be done? Is there not the least glimmering of hope?" Who told you, that the sentence of condemnation is sealed, while you are sure it is not executed. Is the danger extreme? Let your efforts be so much the more zealous, your admonitions so much the more frequent and serious, your prayers so much the more earnest and
Isai. xlix. 4.
+ Ezek. xxxiii. 9.
Isai. xlix. 4, 5.
importunate. And, on the whole, to allude to the words of David, on a much lower occasion, Who can tell, whether God will be gracious to you, that the child may live* ? And the sad apprehensions which you now entertain, may only serve to increase the joy with which you shall then say, This my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found+.
II. I would address myself to children: To you, the dear lambs of the flock, whom I look upon as no contemptible part of my charge. I have been speaking for you a great while, and now give me leave to speak to you; and pray do you endeavour, for a few minutes, to mind every word that I say.
You see, it is your parent's duty to bring you up for God. The great God of heaven and earth has been pleased to give his express command, that you should be trained up in the way in which you should go, even In the nurture and admonition of the Lord. It is the wonderful goodness of God to give such a charge; and methinks you should be affected with it, and should be enquiring what you should do in return.
Now there are three things, which I would ask of every one of you, in return for this gracious notice which the great God has taken of you children; and I am sure, if you love your own souls, you will not deny me any of them.-Be willing to learn the things of God;-pray for them that teach you ;-and see to it, you do not learn them in vain. Listen diligently, that you may understand and remember each of these.
1. Be willing to learn the things of God.
The things of God are very delightful, and they are very useful; and, whatever you may think of it, your life depends on your acquaintance with them. So Christ himself says, This is life eternal, that they may know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent§. Therefore you, children, should not think much of the labour of learning these things. Oh! far from that, you should be every day upon your knees, begging God, that you may be taught to know him, and to know Christ. God has done a great deal more for you, than he has for many others. You might have been born in a place, where you would never have seen a bible in all your lives; where you would never have heard of the name of Christ, where you might never have been instructed in the nature of duty and sin, nor have been told of the world beyond the grave; and so would
•2 Sam. xii. 22. + Luke xv. 24.
+ Eph. vi. 4.
§ John xvii. 3.
probably have fallen into hell, before you had known there was such a place. And the great God has ordered matters so, that you are born under the light of the gospel, and have such plain and such excellent instructions, that you may know more of divine things in your infancy, than the wise men amongst the heathens did, when they were old and grey-headed, and had spent all their lives in study. And will you be so ungrateful, as not to be willing to learn, when such provision is made for your instruction? God forbid! Shall God give you his word, and your parents and ministers employ their time, and their pains, to teach you the meaning of it, and will you refuse to attend to it? That were foolish, and wicked indeed. I hope much better things of you. That is my first advice: Be willing to learn. I add,
2. Pray for those that are to teach you.
I would hope, you, little creatures, dare not live without prayer. I hope God, who sees in secret, sees many of you on your knees every morning and every evening, asking a blessing from him as your heavenly Father. Now let me intreat you, that at such times you would pray for those that instruct you in divine things; pray that God would bless them for it, and pray that he would help them in it. In praying thus for us, you do indeed pray for yourselves. There is a gracious promise to the people of God: And they shall be all taught of God* : Pray, that it may be fulfilled. Pray, that God would teach us to teach you; else we shall attempt it to very little purpose. Pray for your parents, and pray for your ministers.
Pray for your parents: That God would help them to instruct you in such a manner as they have now been directed : That they may do it plainly, so that you may be able to understand what they say; and seriously, that you may be brought to an holy awe of God; and tenderly that you may be engaged to love God and his word, and Christ and his ways, and pray, that your parents may be stirred up to do it frequently, to give you line upon line, and precept upon precept, that you may be put in mind of what you are so ready to forget.
And let me desire you, my dear charge, when you pray for your parents, to pray for your ministers too. I declare it again in the most public manner, it is my earnest desire that children would pray for me. And I verily believe, every faithful minister of Christ would join with me in such a request. We do not, we
John vi. 45.
dare not, despise the prayers of one of these little ones. Far from that, I am persuaded it would greatly revive and encourage us, and we should hope God had some singular mercy in store for us, and his people, if we were sure the children of the congregation were every day praying for a blessing on our labours.
3. Take heed that you do not learn in vain.
The great truths which you are taught from the word of God, are not intended merely to fill your heads with notions, but to make your hearts and lives more holy. You know the way to your father's house every step of it, but that would never carry you home, if you would not go in it. No more will it signify to know the way to heaven, unless you walk in it. If you know these things, says the Lord Jesus Christ himself, happy are ye if ye do them*. And I may add, that if ye do them not, it had been happier for you, if you had never known them. Dear children, consider it; it is but a little while, and you must die: And when those active bodies of yours are become cold, mouldering clay, the great God of heaven and earth will call your souls to his judgment-seat. As sure as you are now in his house, you will shortly, very shortly, be standing before his awful throne. Then he will examine, to what purpose you have heard so many religious instructions, so many good lessons. Then he will examine, whether you have feared him, and loved him, and served him, and received the Lord Jesus into your hearts, as your Saviour and your King; whether you have chosen sin or holiness for your way, earth or heaven for your portion. And if it be found that you have lived without thought, and without prayer, without any regard to the eye of God always upon you, and the word of God always before you, it will be a most lamentable case. You will have reason to wish, you had never heard of these things at all; for he has said, The servant which knew his Lord's will, and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripest. Even while I am speaking to you, death is coming on; perhaps his scythe may cut you down, while you are but coming up as flowers. I speak to you thus plainly and earnestly, because I do not know but you may be in eternity before another Lord's day. Oh! pray earnestly, that God would give you his grace to fit you for glory; and that all you learn may be so blessed; that you may be made wise to salvation by it. The Lord grant that it may!
John xiii. 17.
+ Luke xiii. 47.