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how much comparative security is here contained in these preserving recollections, and how directly a sound early education comes in support of Christian stedfastness, precisely in a young man’s day of need ?
And here it is to be remarked, as upon other subjects, that people probably can see and feel the truth and reason of the case clearly enough, when it is set before them. It is not likely, that any should be found to own so evil a delusion, as could alone ensnare them to deny the general benefit of early care and sound discipline. Parents will, one and all, acknowledge the right way in words ; and doubtless, if they ever commune with themselves at all, to their own consciences. And yet, what numbers still go on, neglectful or irresolute, consenting that their “sons make them" selves vile, and restraining them not "!" Proof upon proof is thrown away with them; experience avails them nothing. Parents we may see by thousands, and in every station, leaving their children to run on in all the ways of their own hearts, (with nothing better, at the most, in way of check than an intemperate and passionate upbraiding now and then, of character more likely to confirm evil, than to enforce good) and
* Cf. 1 Sam. iii. 13.
yet vainly hoping that all will be well with them at the last, or cheating their deceived hearts by some such vain imagination ; when they might know that-speaking upon grounds of sober faith, and reason, and experience-such an event is scarcely possible.
Possible, no doubt, it is, by miracle of the divine mercy : but on what other ground can we expect, in reason, that these neglected little ones, grown up to man's estate with all their disobedience strong and settled, and now past the power of control, are then to be recovered from the snares into which they may have fallen?
I would we might be more aware of the consequences that hang on this great question! To mention only one, which all who know the feelings and the ways of humbler life must readily acknowledge to be real—it is a blindness and distraction following from the neglect of early opportunities, that leads so many persons, by and by, when they perceive all human means of reformation gone, and know not what to do to help themselves, into that hopeless state of mind which, in effect, “ charges God foolishly,” as though the evil under which they suffer came from Him; a state of mind, which is at once a check to all improvement, and even to all hope of improvement. Will it not be understood what here is meant by this, if we redect how frequently we must have heard such language used, upon the sobject of some individual's wretchedness, as that “ so it was to be! or, that this misery, or that, was surely “ a person's fortune ;" and the like ignorant impieties with these ;) when all the while the evil spoken of is some result of wilful disobedience, or of downright wickedness, which might and would have been avoided by right Christian care. Or which same state of darkened apprehension will lead others to deceive themselves, and to “ strengthen the hands of the “ wicked," by saying loosely of some wild and lawless profligate, who had not known correction from his youth, nor ever done a deed nor thought a thought of grace, that “ he would grow wiser in “ the course of time ;” adding perhaps, “when his " mad frolics were over"—or some unwarranted expression bad as that!
I ask, how are such people to grow wiser, except by some direct and special interference of Divine mercy? And is this (let me ask again) a thing which we are now entitled, under God's existing dispensation, to expect? Let us not deceive ourselves. Be merciful exceptions ever so
* Cf. Ezek. xiii. 22.
many, what only we are justified in looking to is, the ordinary way in which the Lord now deals with his people. We know that he is pleased to work among ourselves by regular courses ; by quiet, gentle means of providence. He offers us abundant helps both to will and to do what he requires of us; but, offering us these, he surely claims of us that we should “ work out our own " salvation with fear and trembling.” And to neglect these our familiar means and act at random, presuming still to reckon on a like end as if the means had all the while been carefully employed, is certainly to tempt God's providence, and is a course which surely points toward the broad way of destruction.
If, then, at any time we have vain confidence expressed to the effect just mentioned, let usI entreat you, Christian brethren-recal to mind the truths which we profess to believe of our own nature and condition. Do we not believe " we are by nature born in sin ?” How can it then fare well with such natures, if they be not renewed, and led into the way of grace betimes Y ? Ask of the little ones, that will be ready to tell a lie almost as soon as they can
» Cf. Sermons II. and III.
speak, or to blaspheme before they can give utterance to the words of the third commandment;—these could tell us, (if they could only reason as early and as easily as they commit sin !) that this corruption under which we are born must, of necessity, make lamentable difference, where all the means of grace are unemployed, and the restraints of wisdom neglected. Reflect upon the common portion of ungoverned children, and then pronounce how such are to pass safely through the world—being the world it is! The grace of God is not maintained and cherished in their hearts; truly, they are strangers to it. There was a vow made for them in their baptism ; but who hath kept it? They have not learnt to be obedient; whom then shall they serve faithfully ? They have been left in idleness, and love not industry; how then shall they labour diligently to eat their own bread? Therefore do some fall a prey to sloth, and others to dishonesty ; and poverty and discontent succeed in course to be the portion of the slothful; and punishment and shame, to be the recompence of the dishonest. The hopes of all perish; and all their full-grown life is overcast with clouds of wretchedness, as surely as their youth was lawless, ignorant, and uncorrected.