« Prev Lecture XXXIX. Preached Nov. 24, 1694. Next »

LECTURE XXXIX.5555   Preached Nov. 24, 1694.

My design (as you have heard) in choosing the text I have been upon for some time, was not to speak of the corruption of human nature abstractly, and in itself, but to consider it here as it stands in connection with the acknowledged justice and righteousness of God; and so to make that my business, to vindicate God’s justice in reference to this case,—a continual transmission of a corrupt nature, in this world, from age to age, that draws death and misery after it, and which God permits to run on in such a course; though (as hath been told you) if we did consider his omnipotency abstractly, and absolutely, 513it might be supposed easy for him to have hindered it. To this I have spoken at large, and will repeat nothing more, than only to take notice of so much, as the sum of all, that whatsoever is, with the most plausibleness, wont to be alleged against the righteousness of the divine procedure in this matter, doth lie, for the most part, in men’s taking such and such things for granted, as if they were certainly so; which are most uncertain, and whereof (whereas all men do all they can) they must be, in a great measure, ignorant: if such had but the modesty to confess the ignorance which they cannot cure or remedy, the justice of God, in permitting all men to come into the world with sinful natures, would appear in glorious light and lustre before their eyes, darkened with no cloud; nor would these dash in the dark one against another, but be easily conceived in their minds, without the least appearance of repugnancy to one another. As we see lie in the Psalmist’s, who, in almost the same breath confesseth the triumphant justice and righteousness of God, and the corruption of that nature that did descend to him, and doth descend from man to man, and from age to age.

But now, it only remains to make Use of what hath been said upon this very important subject. And herein, considering one of the things considered and asserted, by itself, to wit, the corruption of the nature, which is conveyed and transmitted down from parents to children. The first use that I shall hereupon make will be this—To shew how greatly they are concerned, who are parents, or who may be so, to their utter most to strive against this radical evil that is descending and running down, from age to age, in this world which we inhabit, and whereof we are the sinful inhabitants. This is a thing which, in the notion, we generally acknowledge, that there is such a descent of corruption and sinfulness, from age to age, in this world. But even where this truth is admitted, it is a truth hid and shut up in unrighteousness, while the hearts of very few are in any measure suitably affected and influenced to take that course, pursuant and agreeable to so plain and so confessed a truth as this is. It is that which, where it is understood and acknowledged, and were it understood and acknowledged all the world over, it ought universally to have the same effect, ought to startle the world, to awaken men every where, as if there were an universal plague spread over all towns, cities, countries, and kingdoms, at once. And if that were the case, that any poor creature could not tell whither to go, or where to set his foot, secure and free from the danger of meeting such a shaft or arrow that should immediately 514pierce his very heart, in what a condition were this world, if thus it were with every one? But there is a thousand fold worse mischief to be feared; and they that think of flying from it, carry it about them, and can no more fly from it than they can fly from themselves, or run away from their own nature. It is not considered, that they carry sin, and death, and hell, about them, even from their very original; things complicated with their natures. Who would pretend to believe so horrid a truth, a truth of so horrid and tremendous import, and not be filled with horror about it? Yet, every one goes on unconcerned, as if there were no fear, no danger, no harm, about them, or before them. But, I say,

First. All should understand, hence, that are, or may be, parents, of how unspeakable concernment it is to them, to counterstrive to the uttermost against this great mischief which they are, or are like to be, instruments of; transmitting sin in this world, and conveying it yet further down from this to another generation in it. And this I take to be a head, upon this occasion, fit to be enlarged upon: and therefore, I shall spend this hour upon it. And therein shall shew you—Wherein such as are, or may be, parents, should use their endeavour to counterwork this radical evil: and then—Upon what considerations they should be awakened and engaged effectually hereunto.

1 Wherein they should endeavour against it, who are, or may be, parents. Why,

(1.) By endeavouring, out of hand, to become seriously godly themselves, so that if ever God call them, or order things so in reference to themselves, and that they become pa rents, as a corrupt seed will more or less spring from them, they may be the means, also, of raising up a godly seed in this world. The thing which God hath designed even in the first founding of families upon this earth: that whereas, a corrupt nature, if ever they come to be parents, will descend from them, without their design, they may be also instruments, in the hand of God, of conveying his image, his light, his grace, with their own design, in subordination (as all instruments must be) to the Supreme Agent, that alone can make them capable of being effectual ones to such a blessed end.

That, I say, must be their first care in order hereunto; that is, out of hand, to endeavour to become godly themselves; to do what is possible for them to do in order thereunto: not content themselves that they have an empty, spiritless form of godliness about them, that is never likely to be active 515to such a purpose: but that there he the life and power of godliness, which will be active to the uttermost it is capable of, in pursuance of so high and great a design. As, naturally, men are generally the devil’s instruments, to promote his dark and impure kingdom in this world; so if ever God call me to the state and condition of a parent, I will, through his grace, be his instrument, as much as in me, to promote that holy kingdom, which he hath formed, and is intent to promote and propagate in this world, as a counter-kingdom, against the power of that wicked kingdom.

In order hereunto, under that manifestation. God is pleased to make of himself through Christ in the gospel, they ought to surrender and give up themselves to God in Christ: herein becoming godly, doth first begin when, under the convictive and operative light of influence and grace transmitted in the gospel, persons do make a surrender of themselves to God through Christ. “Yield yourselves unto God.” as the expression is, Rom. vi. 13. It is but a practical answer to God’s claim and challenge—“Yield yourselves to God.” He demands his right; he insists upon his interest in you, as you are his creatures, and the work of his hands. And what! will you not yield, not yield him his own? Will you withhold from him what is his? what he hath so indisputably a title to, and interest in? Or, can you ever have a design of helping to raise up a godly seed in this world, if you will never be godly yourself? but remain a continual fighter against God, and a striver against him, under that gospel of peace and grace, wherein he is continually bespeaking you to be his? And then,

(2.) Let such as may be parents of children, lay the more immediate foundation of such an endeavour, as I have been speaking of. in marrying after a godly sort: in marrying holily, whensoever any are called thereunto; that is, with a design for God. He that is the Author, is to be the End of all things. And whereas, that same state is his institution and appointment, it is a most insolent absurdity, for any to take upon them, as if they were to, please themselves, or to gratify an inclination, or serve an interest of their own, with neglect of God’s great interest. They that enter, or think of entering, into that state, are required to do it in the Lord, as an only thing. 1 Cor. vii. 39. And it is a great deal of pity, that discourses about such matters, and relating to this affair, are so generally confined to a corner only, and that opportunity is not given of speaking to assemblies upon so important a matter as this is; that any undertaking or design, in this kind, is to be 516done in the Lord, and that as an only thing. Marry they may, only in the Lord. But when they neglect this, they leave out the only thing that can make a blessed marriage; which certainly must argue a very profane mind, when men and women dare venture, and rush upon a matter of so great importance as that, and leave out the very only thing that concerns them in it. This doing of such a thing in the Lord must import,

[1.] A doing it for him, with a design for him; to wit, as one’s principal end. And let it be considered, how great an aberration here is from the proper scope, generally, in the world, and even in the Christian world, as to this thing: that the first thing commonly thought of, is some such mean matter as this, in comparison mean, I say in comparison; “I design to change my condition; well, let me think then, how I can please my fancy; let me contrive how I can best satisfy my sensual inclination; and how I can best serve my worldly interest and advantage; where to have a great fortune; and what may set me up into, and promote me in, the most advantageous way of trade, and the like.”

What the evangelist says, in another case, of our Lord’s animadversion upon the scribes and pharisees, that their religion stood in the tithing of mint, anise, and cummin, neglecting the weightier matters of the law,—judgment, mercy, faith, and the love of God; to wit, that those other things they might and ought to have done, but not to have left the other undone: the like may be said in this case. There is no blame in looking after one suitable, in respect of comeliness, or in respect of fortune, or the like. This may well enough be done; but not to leave the great and most weighty matter and importance: that is, Where shall I have a suitable help, to promote religion in the world, and to plant religion in a family, if it shall please God to make us the founders of a family? one that may help to bear a part with me, in maintaining and keeping up the ‘interest of godliness, in opposition to the common corruption of human nature, which is still descending, from age to age, in this world? How little is thought of among us, so as hereby to design the business of marriage for this in the Lord as the principal thing? When that is not made the principal thing, the very act is idolatry. To be the end of all things is appropriate to Deity: and he must be your Supreme End, even in this thing, or you make yourselves so: and if so, you are an idol of jealousy, set up against God; as if this world were made for you, and you were made for yourself; and as if you might take upon yourself to do what 517you please here, without reference to the Supreme Ruler and Lord of all. Therefore, it is without question, that he and his interest, in this affair, must be designed in the first place.

[2.] That in subserviency to it, whosoever designs to enter into that state, they must give themselves up, by solemn covenant, to God in Christ first. That is to do this thing in the Lord, which we are told is the only thing in this matter. And that is a most unaccountable piece of presumption, that people will take upon them, to dispose of themselves, give themselves, to one another, before they have ever given themselves to God through Christ, which is the first and most fundamental relation. You all ought to know you are not your own, you have nothing to do with yourselves, you have not yourselves to dispose of otherwise, but from, and by, and under, God. And therefore, give to him your own persons; give yourself to the Lord, in the first place, before you think of giving yourself to another. You have not power over yourselves, nor can dispose of yourselves. None have so much power over themselves, as that they ought to think of giving him, or her self, away without God; but for God: and therefore, the gift must be made to himself first; and that union with him be made fundamental, to that other subsequent and inferior union, much inferior.

But here it may be said, What then, may only godly persons marry? or those only that are in covenant with God in Christ?

To that I will only say in short, and the business will then be” clear enough. It is a question that will answer itself. You ought to give up yourselves to God through Christ, every one, the first thing you do, out of hand, without a moment’s delay. For till this be done, you are in a state of rebellion against him; he lays his claim to us all upon a natural right, and upon the Redeemer’s acquisition too, who died, and revived, and rose again, that “he might be Lord, Owner, and Ruler, of the living and dead; to wit, of all most absolutely.

Therefore, this is a thing not to be deferred a moment. So as if the question be, Hath a man sinned then, if he hath married while he was yet ungodly? I say, his sin doth not lie in what he hath done, but it lies in what he hath not done. It doth not lie in this, that you have married; but it lies in this, that you have not taken God for your God, and given up yourselves to God through Christ, to be his: here lies the sin. Marrying, abstractly, and alone, is not a sin; nay, it is, in many cases, a duty: but then, there is a prior duty, a superior duty: 518therefore, none sin by marrying, barely, but his sin lies in not giving up himself to God, which he is under continual, momentally obligation to do. So that you are in a rebellion every moment you defer it: you keep from God his own right, his own treasure, that he hath made, and that he should be served by, as his own. And that is the case, which neither deserves, nor needs any further answer. But,

(3.) The design of religion to be, to our uttermost, kept up, from age to age, in this world, is to be served, as much as is possible, by those that have the prospect of being parents in their agreed resolution with themselves, whenever God shall give them posterity, to temper and qualify their complacency herein, with that grief, sorrow, and concern, and fear, which the case itself challengeth, lest there should be a transmitting of corrupt and sinful nature, without a due subsequent endeavour to remedy what they could not prevent. There ought to be, I say, a joint agreement and resolution between such, if ever God give them posterity, to qualify and temper the complacency commonly taken herein, with that just mixture of concern, grief, and fear; that since there is a corrupt nature conveyed, lest it should go alone, or remain alone; and a holy, divine nature not be communicated, too, through any neglect on their part, when God doth give them opportunity of treating and dealing with such, who shall have sprung from them, in order to this end. There ought to be a great and deep concern of mind and spirit to this purpose; that, whereas, commonly, when a child is born, all that is considered in such a case, is, that now such a family is likely to be built up; and they take great complacency in it, that there is art offspring arisen to them: but this complacency is without that mixture and qualification, which the state of the case, as it is in itself, doth challenge. For it ought to be considered, We have been the instruments of bringing into the world a sinful creature, an impure creature, a guilty creature; one that is a child of wrath by nature. The complacency that is taken in having posterity, should not drown or swallow up such just considerations as these are, which, being entertained, may have their due effect, and proper influence, to excite to that subsequent duty which will be incumbent upon such parents. Arid,

(4.) Such parents ought to endeavour a most entire agreement in, and understanding of, a solemn and early dedication and devoting of such, their issue, to God. This ought to be done understandingly, solemnly, and early. And the parents ought to agree to give God his right, in their child; that as it 519is by nature a child of wrath, it may be, by grace, an heir of mercy; they doing what in them is incumbent in order there unto; they taking hold of God’s covenant, which is not a nullity; and it is profane to think it so. And, indeed, nothing doth more betray the interest of God, and Christ, and Godliness, and Christianity, in the world, than the slight and tri fling management of the important affairs of baptism; that it is so little understood; and that men play with it as they do; and as they do also, with that of marriage, as if it were matter of sport, when it is one of the things of the greatest importance in all the world. But it ought to be considered, here is a creature corrupt and impure, it is true, but in which God hath the first and proper right; it belongs to him, and he can make this impure creature a holy creature. And I offer it to him upon his own claim, and challenge, and the engagement of his word, in order thereunto, that he may do so. Herein parents should agree: “We dedicate to thee what thou hast given us, more thine than ours. We have had our contribution to the impurity of it: we can only hope to have it made a pure and holy creature by thy holy, gracious, and vital influences, in thine own way and time imparted, and communicated to it.” And it is upon this account, that parents are sanctified to one another; though but one should be a believer, that what springs from them should be holy; that is, by a federal holiness, related to God, and capable of being devoted to him. 1 Cor. vii. 11. And then,

(5.) Pursuantly to such a devoting of their little ones to God, it ought to be a joint agreement between parents, that their first care should be taken about their minds. “Now, here is a little one to be brought up, to be educated:” this should be said, as a fundamental resolution, by agreement and consent of parents. “Our first care shall be about the mind of this little one, if it live to be a capable subject of our education and instruction; that is it we will first be chiefly concerned about For this is an intelligent and immortal part; this is the seat of God’s holy image, if ever it shall be produced; and it is itself his natural image: for as it is a mind, or hath a mind, so it is a spiritual and intelligent being, and is like God naturally, and his very offspring, upon this account, who is pleased to style himself, the Father of spirits, and the God of the spirits of all flesh;’ of those spirits that dwell so meanly as in flesh. And therefore, that ought to be the agreed and’ resolved first care; that our principal concernment be about the minds of our little ones.” The care that is commonly, most of all, taken, is about the outward man, and 520the external concernments of our posterity: they love to see them fair, comely, beautiful, healthful, strong, vigorous; wish to see them have straight limbs, and the like; but do not care how crooked dispositions they have. This is unaccountable, and detestable, that it should be thus with a reasonable creature; those that are capable of understanding the differences of things; and of how much greater importance one thing is than another. But this, I say, ought to be the first care, and should be the agreement between parents, (with dependence upon the grace of God,) about the minds of our little ones. And,

(6.) In order hereunto, there ought to be a very diligent observation made of them, to see what their natural temper is, or is like to prove, which will discover itself to an observing eye, by early indications, one way or other: that is, whether my child is likely to prove dull or docile; whether it is likely to prove mild and meek, or froward and peevish; whether it is likely to prove tractable or intractable; whether it is likely to prove mean and low spirited, or great and high spirited. These different dispositions will soon and early appear to observing eyes. Such notices should be taken by prudent pa rents, and must be by conscientious ones, who have a design for the good of their families, that they may know how to acquit themselves in aftertimes accordingly. Some children will discover more of a natural timorousness; others will discover more boldness and venturousness, and that very early. And careful observation should be made of the temper as it doth more early prodere se, discover itself, offer itself to view and observation, that there may be suitable measures taken, for prudent applications afterwards, as the case shall require. And then, again,

(7.) Resolution ought to be taken between parents, and especially the mothers, (whose part will be more about the child in its more tender years,) to watch against any sinful inclinations, one way or other, as they shall discover themselves. If there be any appearance of falsehood, of wrathfulness, of envy, or revengefulness; of pride, or haughtiness in children, to animadvert upon these betimes. And especially of immoderate desires after anything; only it ought to be distinguished, whether it be the desire of that which is necessary for it; or a desire only of that which curiosity may prompt to desire. That which is necessary for it must be had; but not upon its first signification of a desire; that it may be made to understand betimes, dependance and subjection. And that the less it hath of understanding of its own, the more it is to be managed by the parent’s understanding; and the having, even of necessary 521things, is not to be the reward of demanding them, or asking for them.

But for unlawful inclinations, they are to be checked, with all the care and industry imaginable, very early; any such as I have instanced in, or whatsoever besides can be instanced in; repress the beginnings of these things, as you would the beginnings of a disease that may prove mortal to your child. And it is this neglect, (especially in mothers,) that ripens such evils as these, thus radicated in the very natures of children, till they are incurable; till they be past cure. And that makes so many bills, as in a desperate case, to be sent in to us. It is a far easier thing to send in a bill to a minister, when a child is spoiled and ruined in its tender years, than it is constantly to watch over them, and repress their ill inclinations betimes, and make them understand government, and subjection, and dependance, in their early days. But where the will of the child is the law of the family, and must govern all, no wonder if plagues and mischiefs, of this kind, are introduced and brought into families by this means.

Divine wisdom hath taught us in such cases how to under stand the matter aright. “He that spares the rod hates his son:” fond parents think it love; but divine wisdom calls it hatred. And therefore, is the advice, in that same book, Proverbs xix. 18. “Let not thy soul spare for his crying.” What! because he cries will you throw him into hell, will you abandon him to destruction? Not that there needs much of frequent severity, where there is a due prudence used in reference to such cases. I have known children brought up to men and women’s estate, that never had a blow in their lives; nor was it needful. It would not be needful, if there were a steady awfulness in the deportment of parents towards them, so that they might, upon any thing that were really a miscarriage, understand a frown, a rebuke, a strange look. If there were that prudence used, that might be used, there would be little need of harshness and severity, unless upon very ill temper indeed; and they must be dealt with accordingly.

But where all the care is to indulge a humour, and please the child; and where there is a disposition in parents, many times, to be proud of the ill dispositions of their children, as they appear in them, how many ill tempers are made worse? And how many good tempers are spoiled by this means? And the guilt and future miseries of the children will cry against their parents, not only in this world, but, perhaps, in the other too. And the truth is, parents would shew a great deal more mercy in that which is commonly reckoned harshness 522and severity: nay, I say, they would not be reckoned so cruel in breaking their childrens’ limbs, in tearing their flesh, in pulling out their eyes, as they commonly are, in indulging their vicious, sinful dispositions and inclinations, in them, without a timely endeavour of cure, wherein the seed of those miseries are sown, and spring up so in this world, and in the other too. Again,

(8.) They ought, in pursuance of the mentioned end, to instill the principles of religion betimes. Teach them betimes who made them, that great Supreme Being who is the Maker and Author of all things; teach them reverence and subjection to him: speak awfully before them, so as never to take that great name in vain; so as that your fear, your own fear, of the great God, whose name you bear, may be exemplary to them: as Jacob sware by the fear of his father, Isaac, when the important solemnity of the occasion called for an oath. Jacob had observed what Isaac’s reverence of God was, and so called him “my father’s fear.” O teach your children to know God as their parents’ fear. And so the other great principles of religion besides, which they are capable of understanding (if there be a due and diligent application), earlier than is thought; earlier than is commonly thought, at least: but the sooner the better: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Labour to season him betimes: so the wickedness of a corrupt nature is to be counterwrought. And then,

(9.) Pray much for them. You that are, or maybe, parents, as you are so, or upon that prospect, let this be a matter of great concern between God and you. Pour out your souls in your closets, upon this account; especially such of you to whom God hath given children. And be sure,

(10.) To set up and keep up family worship, family religion. Let this be an agreed thing between you; that as holy, good Joshua resolved, “I and my house will serve the Lord, whatever others do, we will serve the Lord.” As a corrupt nature comes by birth, and wickedness springs up so, so it is nourished and cherished, in great part, by the ungodliness of parents. In families were there is no calling on the name of the Lord, O how doth it thrive! That wickedness that is natural, how doth it grow and improve in an irreligious family, a profane family! So doth the wickedness of this world grow, the wickedness of England, the wickedness of London. And the misery thereof is growing pari passu, with an equal pace. And if dreadful calamities are coming upon us, coming upon the land, coming upon this city, we have reason to 523apprehend here is the very source of all the mischief, even family profaneness. God is banished out of the families of the most: and what will this come to?

I desire to bless God for it, that the ministers of this city, such as are united, and are wont to meet weekly, about the common concernments of their congregations, are awakened into a sense of this great and growing evil; and they have resolved to use their utmost endeavours to awaken the people of their several charges and congregations, about this very thing. And (God willing) you will have more of it ere it be long; that I believe there will be such a joint, agreed, common cry in London, against the wicked neglect of the worship of God in families, as hath not been for many an age past. I hope there will. And know, it is an agreed thing, that there shall, at some one time and, as near as may be, all about the same time. And so will, I hope, the faithful servants of Christ (at least) deliver their own souls. Yea, I hope God will bless this to be a means of great reformation in this city.

For the evil as is feared (at least it is said to be matter of observation with some, for my part, I know it not, but it is matter of fear with many) is, that a great many professors of religion make no conscience at all of any such thing, as family duty; but prodigally throw away that time otherwise, which should be spent in the solemn worship of God in their families, with those of whom he hath committed the care and charge to them. And if what is designed happen, and do not produce a thorough and general reformation among us, it will produce a vindication of that justice, of that seventy, which we are to expect. For God will not be dallied with always; and I doubt, not much longer. That which hath been a seat of religion eminently in the world, in the eye of the past times, that religion should languish and dwindle in it, as it doth by the neglect of family government, even by persons professing godliness, and who would be counted a godly sort of people, is a very sad consideration.


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