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To the young Persons belonging to the Dissenting Congregations at Hinckley, Harborough, and Kibworth in Leicestershire, and at Ashley, and Northampton.
MY DEAR BRETHREN AND FRIENDS,
At length, after a long and unexpected delay, I offer to your perusal a few sermons which I promised the public some years ago; all which some or other of you heard, and in which you are all concerned.
It is not material to tell you, on what account I have laid by some, which I had transcribed for your service, and which you probably expected to have seen with these. I have substituted in their room such, as I thought might, by the divine blessing, be most useful to you.
I hope you will peruse them with candor; and the rather, considering they were prepared for the press chiefly in some broken moments, while I was on journies, or in some fragments of time at home, often taken from my sleep; as the stated duties of my calling require an attendance, which will not allow of any long interruption. You would readily excuse what defects you may discover in them, if you knew that tender concern for your present and future happiness, by which every sermon, and every page has been dictated. They have often been mingled with prayers and with tears; and my heart is so full of affection to you, that it is with great difficulty that I forbear enlarging, more than the proper limits of such an address will admit.
As for you, my Leicestershire friends, amongst whom my ministry was opened, and the first years of it were delightfully spent, I cannot forget, and I hope you have not forgotten, that intimate and pleasing friendship, with which we were once almost daily conversing; the sweet counsel we have often taken together in private, as well as the pleasure with which we have gone to the house of God in company. All these sermons, but the second and fifth of them, were first drawn up for your service, and preached to you; and much of that tenderness for you, which gave birth to them, has been rising afresh in my mind, while I have been taking this review of them. I hope they were not then like water unprofitably spilt on the ground, and that the perusal of them may revive impressions made by the first hearing. Intermediate years have introduced new scenes; and some of us, who were then in the morning of life, are now risen up to the meridian of it. Providence has conducted many of you into new relations; and it is my pleasure to observe, in how honourable and how useful a manner several of you are filling them up with their proper duties.
While you are yourselves instances of the happy consequences which attend a religious education, I hope you will be singularly careful, that your descendants may share in the like advantages; and I shall heartily rejoice, if these sermons, or those I have formerly published, may be of any assistance to you in those pious cares. God has put an early period to the lives of some, who, when I was amongst you, were the growing hopes of the respective congregations to which they belonged. Several of them have died while these sermons were transcribing. May the thought quicken you in the improvement of so uncertain a life; and may divine grace render some things, peculiarly intended for the use of those who are now beyond the reach of such an address, serviceable to others, into whose hands they may fall!
I greatly rejoice in the goodness of God to you, in setting over you such able and faithful shepherds, as those worthy ministers of Christ, under whose care you now are; and I heartily pray, that you and they may long be spared, as comforts to
each other, and as blessings to the church. Though I am providentially separated from you, may I still hear that you walk worthy of the Lord; and may every advancing year, and revolving day of life, ripen us more for that happiness, which we hope ere long to share with each other, in the house of our heavenly Father!
If any of you, who were once my care and my hope, have now forsaken the ways and the God of your fathers, and turned aside to the paths of licentiousness and folly, I now repeat the admonitions which I have formerly given you, that these things will, to you above all others, be bitterness in the end. And I intreat you, that if you have any little regard still remaining, for one, to whom some of you have professed not a little, you would at least attentively peruse the sixth of these discourses, as containing reflections, which must, sooner or later, pierce your hearts, with penitential remorse, or everlasting despair. Oh, that divine grace might concur with it to prevent your ruin, and might give me to see you as wise, as religious, and as happy, as those excellent parents once wished you, whose eyes are now closed in the dust; whose precepts and examples, charges and tears, you seem long since to have forgot!
As for you, my dear friends here at home, I have the pleasure of conversing so often with you, that it is the less necessary now to address you at large. Yet it is but justice to you thus publicly to declare, that, amidst all that goodness and mercy, which has followed me all my days, there is no providence, which I more gratefully own, than that which brought me hither; nor does any thing contribute more to make my ministry here comfortable, than the spirit of seriousness which discovers itself in many young persons amongst us. Oh, that it were as universal as in some it is amiable and exemplary! Permit me to remind you, that, as your remarkable importunity was the consideration, which turned the scales for my coming hither, after they had long hovered in uncertainty, so you are under some peculiar obligations to study the ease and comfort of my life, which you can never so effectually secure, as by the holy regularity of your own. Our aged friends are dropping away apace; nay, the graves have swallowed up many, very many of your own age, who, but a few months ago, promised long and extensive usefulness here. It is you that are to comfort me under these sorrows. I can solemnly say, that I had much rather be numbered amongst them, than live to see the glory of practical religion lost in this society, while it is under my care. Remember, that, under God, you are its support; and remember, that the high hopes you have given me, would make a disappointment sit so much the heavier upon my heart.
But I will not conclude with any thing so uncomfortable, as the mention of a disappointment from you; but rather with recommending you, and those to whom I have formerly stood in the like relation, to the care of Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and to the influence of that gracious Spirit, who can cause you to grow in know. ledge and piety like the grass, and like willows by the water-courses. A generous friend is intending some of you a present of that course of sermons, which I am now preaching on the Power and Grace of Christ, and the evidences of his glorious gospel; and it much sweetens the labour of preparing them for the press, to reflect, that they are in part intended for your service. I hope you will not forget to pray for all that appear concerned for your spiritual edification and eternal happiness, and more especially for
Your most affectionate
Northampton, Dec. 30, 1734.
and faithful friend and servant,
*William Coward, Esq.
TO YOUNG PERSONS.
The Importance of the rising Generation.
Psalm xxii. 30, 31.-A Seed shall serve hum, it shall be accounted to the Lord for a Generation: They shall come, and shall declare his Righteousness unto a People that shall be born, that he hath done this.
Ir is a very beautiful saying of an ancient jewish writer*,
which has its parallel amongst some of the finest of the heathen poetst, that " as of the green leaves on a thick tree, some fall, and others grow; so of the generations of flesh and blood, one cometh to an end, and another is born." In this respect the resemblance is obvious; but there is another, in which it will not always so evidently hold. We perceive not any remarkable difference between the leaves of one year, and of another: They which open at the return of the spring, are commonly as large and fair, as those which the preceding winter had destroyed. But it has been matter of long lamentation, that the children of men are continually sinking into deeper and deeper degeneracy. Solomont denies not that the former days were better than the present, when he cautions against too curious an enquiry into the reasons why such an alteration was permitted: And those who know little else of the most celebrated writers of antiquity, can quote their complaints on this melancholy occasion. They can tell you, that Homer observes, "that children are seldom better, but frequently worse, than their parents;" and they often repeat that
Ecclus. xiv. 18.
+ Homer. Iliad. (ver. 146–149. ver. 463–467.—Mus. apud Clem. Alex.
Strom. Lib. VI.
Eccles. vii. 10.
§ Παυροι γαρ τοι παιδες ομοιοι πατρι πέλονται,
Οι πλέονες κακιους, παυροι δε τε πατρος αρειους.
Homer, Odys. B. 276, 277.
lively and comprehensive acknowledgment of Horace*: "Our fathers who fell short of the virtues of their ancestors, have produced us a generation worse than themselves; and our children will be yet more degenerate than we."
These complaints and forebodings have been borrowed by every age since they were published, and are to this day borrowed by us, as what we imagine more applicable to ourselves, than to those who wrote them, or to any who have already cited them. I will not say, there is universal cause for such an application; but I am sure, the face of affairs in many families, and may I not add, in many churches too, is abun dantly sufficient not only to excuse, but to vindicate it.
In the midst of this mournful survey, the heart of every pious Israelite will tremble for the ark of the Lord, and he will be ready to say, perhaps with an excess of solicitude and of anguish, What will be the end of these things+? Surely God will utterly abandon those who so basely desert him, in contempt of the clearest revelation of his gospel, and the most engaging or awakening calls of his providence. The very memory of religion will at length be lost; and When the Son of man cometh, he will not find faith on the earth."
Now there seems to be something in the very sound of the text, which may relieve our minds under these gloomy apprehensions. A seed shall serve him, it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation: They shall come, and declare his name to a third succession; a people who shall be born of them. Here is an evident promise or prediction, that the knowledge and the fear of God should be propagated from one age and generation to another: And this must be an agreeable assurance, whatever the particular occasion were on which it was introduced. Were this psalm to be considered only as relating to the calamities of David, and the wonderful deliverance which God wrought out for him, the words before us might be improved for our own consolation on the justest principles of analogy; for if a temporal salvation granted to him were to make so deep and so lasting an impression on distant nations and on future ages, how reasonably might the like effects be expected from that infinitely more important and extensive salvation, which is exhibited to us in the everlasting gospel?
Atas Parentum pejor Avis tulit
+ Dan. xii. 8.
Horat. Lib. III. Od. VI. v. 46, &c.
But after all, the application of this passage of scripture, to the purposes for which I have alledged it, does not depend on so long a train of consequences; for if we attentively peruse this psalm, and diligently survey the distress and the glory which are described in the several parts of it, we must be obliged to confess, that a greater than David is here. It contains a most lively and sublime prophecy of the sufferings of the Messiah, and the exaltation with which they were to be rewarded*; and particularly mentions the calling of the gentiles into his church, and the propagation of his religion to future agest. All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord; and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee: All they who are fat upon the earth, i. e. by an usual Hebraism, Persons of eminent rank and in plentiful circumstances, shall eat and worship, i. e. they shall pay their public homage to him, and enter themselves solemnly into his covenant, as the jewish votaries did by eating of the sacrifices which were offered to him: And, on the other hand, those that go down to the dust, i. e. who are in the most indigent circumstances, shall bow before thems, even he that cannot keep alive his own soul, who is so poor that he wants the necessaries of life: As if it had been said, there shall be an universal submission to him, in which the greatest and meanest shall concur. And the text assures us, that his triumphs shall be as lasting, as extensive: A future seed shall serve him; they shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation; i. e. being brought to the knowledge and the profession of the true religion, they shall be owned by God as his people: And it shall be their pious care, to declare this glorious display of his
* See particularly, ver. 7, 14, 16, 18, 27, & seq.
See Psal. Ixxviii. 31. Isa. x. 16. Psal. xvii. 10. and compare Psal. xlv. 12. lxxii. 10, 11. Isa. Ix. 3, 5, 10, 13. Rev. xxi. 24. All which texts speak of the submission of princes and great men to Christ.
Compare Isa. xxvi. 19. Neh. iii. 18. 1 Sam. ii. 8.
So the French translate this clause, "Mêmes celui qui ne peut garentir sa vie :" And so several famous commentators explain it, particularly Rivetus; "Famelici, qui non habent quo vitam sustineant." Thus also Buchanan paraphrases on the words,
Flectet illi poplitem
Pauper sepulchri in limine,
Qui membra fessis artubus languentia
It is certain the phrase here translated, “keep alive the soul," is often used for preservation of the animal life; Gen. xix. 19. 1 Kings xx. 21. Ezek. xiii. 19. And the meat, which was purchased at so expensive a rate at the siege of Jerusalem, is said to relieve or restore the soul, Lam, i. 11.