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righteousness* to a people who shall be born of them, that he has done this; that it is the hand of God which has wrought out this great salvation. And though there are not many generations mentioned here, yet other scriptures assure us, that the kingdom of the Messiah is to be of perpetual duration, and consequently that such promises as these are to be taken in their utmost extent. In his days shall the righteous flourish, and abundance of peace, so long as the moon endureth. His name shall endure for ever; his name shall be continued as long as the sun; and men shall be blessed in him.
Upon the whole then, it appears, that the words of the text are a prophecy, that the kingdom of Christ shall be perpetual, and extend itself to the latest generations, as well as the remotest climates: And, through the divine goodness, we must acknowledge, that this day is this scripture in part fulfilled among us. We dwell in a country, which, with regard to Judea, lay at the ends of the earth, and which was long over-run with barbarity and idolatry: Yet we are now instructed in the knowledge of the God of Israel, and are this day assembled for his worship; so that at the distance of more than two thousand years from the publication of this prediction, we are the living witnesses of its truth; being ourselves A seed who profess to serve the Lord, and accounted to him for a generation.
I hope it is the concern of many of us, that the concluding words may be fulfilled in those who come after us; that his gospel righteousness may so be declared to them, that they likewise might be engaged to serve the Lord, not only in the external forms of the true religion, but with the affections of the heart, and the obedience of the life.
That this concern may be more deep, more active, and more universal, it will be the business of my present discourse, to represent to you at large the importance of the rising generation. And here I would aim, not merely at the demonstration of a speculative truth, which may leave your minds as cold and as irregular as it found them; but I would labour, by the divine assistance, to possess you with such a sense of the case, as may have a powerful influence on your temper and behaviour; that so your meditations on this excellent promise may, through the concurrence of God, be the means of its more complete accomplishment.
I am now particularly concerned, that you my younger
Compare Rom. iii. 25, 26.
Psal. Ixxii. 7, 17.
brethren may be impressed with what I say: I shall therefore address myself directly to you, and endeavour to shew how important and desirable it is, that you be early tinctured with a sense of religion, and heartily engaged in the service of God.
May the spirit of God, in the mean time, so speak to your hearts, as that life and energy might be added to those convictions, which I am confident your reason will not be able to oppose!
Now I would intreat you, on this occasion, seriously to consider the importance of your character and behaviour, with regard both to yourselves, and others.
I. Nothing can be of greater importance, with regard to yourselves, than your being early engaged in the service of God.
It is a consideration which equally concerns you, and others of a more advanced age, that religion is, generally speaking, the surest way we can take to be happy in this world, and through the merits and righteousness of a Redeemer, the only way to glory in another: So that, as the apostle expresses it, godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come*.
Its tendency to promote our present comfort and happiness, will abundantly appear from the influence which it has on our external circumstances, and on the temper of our minds. As to the former of these, I might enlarge on its beneficial effects, with regard to health and reputation, estate and friendship: And as to the latter, nothing is more obvious than that it tends to secure the tranquillity, and the pleasure of the soul, as it either suppresses, or moderates, those turbulent passions. which throw it into anguish and confusion, while it gives abundant exercise to those which are most sweet and delightful. Such is the immediate blessedness of the man who feareth the Lord, and delighteth greatly in his commandmentst. And whosoever reflects on the evidence with which each of these particulars is attended, must acknowledge, that The ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
To complete the argument, it is to be considered, that these pleasant and peaceful paths lead up to the paradise of God: For invariable truth and goodness has engaged, that To them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, honour, and immortality, he will render eternal lifeş.
* 1 Tim. iv. 8. + Psal. cxii. 1.
Prov. iii. 17.
§ Rom. ii. 7.
will quickly learn you were not born for yourselves. The mercies of God, and the example of a Redeemer, will teach you to exert yourselves to the utmost for the service of mankind, and To do good to all as you have opportunity*. And in how many instances may your pious and charitable cares be effectual for the benefit of your fellow-creatures! In the series of life, how many in the depths of poverty may be relieved by your liberality! How many in perplexed and intricate circumstances may be guided aright by your prudent counsel! How many weeping eyes may be dried, and how many mourning hearts revived, by your tender sympathy and friendly condolence! And if there be already in your natural temper a tendency towards such expressions of humanity, how happily may it be directed and enlivened, when divine and evangelical motives are brought in to its assistance!
But farther, your christian charity will teach you to be above all things solicitous for the spiritual and eternal happiness of those about you. And who can say, how much you may promote it! How many more aged christians may be excited to shake off their indolence, and quicken their pace when they observe your ardency and zeal; and how happily might your piety tend to awaken and reclaim those, who are going on in the paths of the destroyer: How amiable would the graces of christianity appear, as exemplified in you, amidst all the insnaring allurements of childhood and youth! and how affecting might it be to other young people, to hear religion recommended to them, not only by their parents and ministers, but by their brethren and companions!
Thus useful might you be in your earliest years; and as you were advancing in age and experience, your usefulness might be daily increasing; and if God should spare you to the decline of life, you might bring forth much nobler fruits in old age, than you could have done, if your entrance on a religious life had been deferred to that unseasonable time.
Thus may the whole period of your life be filled with eminent service: And I will add, that your beneficial influence may extend far beyond the circle of your personal converse. You may be blessings to your country, indeed to the whole world, by drawing down the favour of God upon it, in part as a crown of your piety, and an answer to your prayers. But,
On the contrary, if you neglect religion, you will deprive the world of all those benefits, which it may otherwise expect
Gal. vi. 10.
from you. If you are naturally covetous, you will probably indulge that unworthy temper, so as to withhold relief from those to whom it is most justly due: Or if you be of a liberal disposition, your generosity will degenerate into prodigality; or perhaps you will squander away so much of your estates in vanity and debauchery, as to throw yourselves out of a capacity of assisting those, whom you most sincerely pity, and would gladly relieve: And as to the eternal happiness of others, it is not to be imagined that you will have any regard to it while you are negligent of your own.
Nor is this the worst; for, as hardly any are mere cyphers in life, it is much to be feared, that instead of blessings, you may prove mischiefs to the world. The licentiousness, to which corrupt nature will prompt you, may lead you by unthought-of consequences, to injure and defraud, as well as to grieve and torment others. And where your behaviour is most friendly, it may be most pernicious. Instead of restoring and reclaiming the souls of your companions, you may pervert and destroy them by sinful discourses and impious examples. Thus you may draw down the vengeance of God on the places where you live, and provoke him to send some public calamity, as a punishment for that universal degeneracy which you have abetted. So that, to close the melancholy scene, at the bar of God, and in the seats of torment, you may meet with multitudes of unhappy creatures, who will cry out on you, as the fatal cause of their ruin in this world, and their condemnation in that.
By such a variety of arguments does it appear, that the happiness of those you converse with will be considerably influenced by your temper and conduct. And are you so utterly lost to all sentiments of honour and goodness, as to be unconcerned at such a consideration as this? Again,
2. The comfort and happiness of your religious parents, in a great measure, depend on your seriousness and piety.
What I have just been saying on the former heads, will evidently prove the truth of this observation. Your pious parents have a generous concern for the happiness of others, and this will engage them earnestly to wish, that you may be blessings, and not curses, to the world about you: And their peculiar affection for you must tenderly interest them in a case, on which your happiness, both in time and eternity, depends. If they see you under the influences of early piety, unknown pleasure will arise in their minds: They will rejoice in it, not merely as it will be a security to them of a respectful and
grateful treatment from you; but as it will, through grace, secure to you, their dear offspring, the entertainments of a religious life, and the prospects of a glorious immortality.
These reflections will give them inexpressible pleasure in a variety of circumstances. Their daily converse with you will be more agreeable to them, than it could otherwise be, when they discern the lively impressions of religion upon your spirits, and perceive that you have a relish for those truths and promises of the gospel, which are their joy and Song in the house of their pilgrimage*. It will sometimes add a sweetness to the social exercises of devotion, to think that your souls are engaged with theirs, and regaled with the same sublime and transporting entertainments. And when they have reason to apprehend that you are retired for the duties of the closet, it will cheer their hearts to think, "Now is my child with his heavenly Father. Now has he separated himself from those vain amusements, which most of the same age pursue, that he may converse with God and his own soul, and be prepared for the business and the pleasures of heaven. And I hope, God is smiling upon him, and teaching him, by happy experience, that those pious labours are not in vain."
With such consolations will their hearts be supported in all the occurrences, which providence may allot, either to you, or them. If they meet with prosperity in their worldly affairs, and have a prospect of leaving you in plentiful circumstances, it will be a satisfaction to them to think, that they shall not consign their estates to those, who will meanly hoard up the income of them, or throw it away in foolish and hurtful lusts; but to persons who will consider themselves as the stewards of God, and will endeavour to use what he has given to them for the honour of their Lord, and the good of mankind. Or if they can give you but little, this thought will relieve them, that they commend you to the care of a guardian and a father, who is able abundantly to supply your necessities, and who has engaged, by the promises of his covenant, that Those who fear him shall want no good thing. They will have the pleasure to think, that, how low soever your outward condition may be, you will be rich in grace, and in the entertainments of religion now, and in the glories of the heavenly inheritance at last. When they are themselves sinking under the decays of nature, their vigour and cheerfulness will be renewed in yours: Or should yours be impaired by an afflictive providence, they will