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THE following Sermon was preached at an annual meeting, to a society of youths, which may apologize for its length; and which the candid will consider as an excuse for whatever may appear exotic: what would have been impertinent to others, may be allowed (we presume) not improper to the young and inexperienced. It is printed now, be cause, “ the best service we can do our country is “ to form the manners of youth, especially in these “ times of lucury, in which all manner of helps “ are necessary to bridle and restrain their impe“ tuosity.” That this weak effort may serve that purpose is the earnest prayer of
- Cambridge, Jan. 17th, 1772.
Ye shall command your children to observe to do all the
words of this law; for it is not a vain thing for you: it is your life.
Deut. xxxii. Quod enim munus reipublicæ afferre majus meliusve possu
mus, quam si deceamus atque erudiamus JUVENTUTEM ; his præsertim moribus atque temporibus, quibus ita prolapsa est, ut omnium opibus refrænanda atque coercenda sit?
Cic. de Div. Lib. ii. 4.
THE NATURE AND NECESSITY OF EARLY PIETY,
[Preached to a Society of young people, at Willingham,
Cambridgeshire, 'on the first day of the year 1772.)
Psalm cxliv. 11, 12. Rid me, and deliver me from strange children,
whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood : that our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth : that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace.
VE you never observed, my christian brethren, the wisdom and severity of that punishment which the law of Moses inflicted on a disobedient son? If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them, then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and. unto the gate of his place; and they shall say unto the elders of his city, this our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice ; he is a glutton and a drunkardi and all the men of his city shall stone him with stones that he die.
So shalt thou put away evil from among you : and all Israel shall hear and fear. This is a very severe law ; it seems at first alike to violate the light of nature and the law of love. Every parent recoils at the thought of correction: a religious parent is particularly averse to it, for he knows the infirmities of human nature, and makes the proper allowances. If a father could execute so severe an office, is it not an excess of severity to require a mother's concurrence ? all tenderness as she is, must she have no compassion on the son of her womb? must she become cruel like the ostrich in the wilderness? Was it only a private correction, or known only to domestics, it would be painful ; but here the parents must expose the criminal, and publish the crime, as well to the censorious populace as to the inflexible magistrates of the place: yea, the doleful history must be told, and re-told through all the tribes of Israel, that all may hear and fear. Had the law stopped here, it would have been extremely mortifying; but it proceeded to a shocking death, not by the hand of an executioner rendered dreadfully skilful by practice, but any man, every man, all the men of his city shall stone him with stones that he die.
Severe as this law was of itself, it might become much more so by circumstances. What if this rebellious son was handsome, his features regular, his mien genteel, his address easy and affable; (and sometimes all these qualities are blended with immorality,) would it not distress one to see so much beauty overwhelmed with so much in
famy? What if the natural abilities of his mind were great ? if greatness of capacity, fruitfulness of invention ; if all that forms a superior .genius was united in this lovely youth with disobedience; (and this you know is sometimes the case) would it not render the execution still more distressing ? What if a liberal education had cultivated his natural abilities! If he had been learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, a linguist, an astronomer, a philosopher, a first rate scholar; (alas my brethren, some of the finest scholars have been gluttons and drunkards !) would not his death have been more horrid still ? Suppose him the son of a noble family, whose ancestors had held the first rank in the state, or the highest offices in the church. Suppose him an only son, on whom, as on an axis, all the hopes of the family rolled. Suppose him ...... but we need not proceed ; enough has been said to convince you that severity marks this law, and that Moses when he received it had reason to exclaim, I exceedingly fear and quake!
Yet, this law, with all its severity, was full of wisdom. The more interests involved in the punishment, the stronger the motives to avoid it. The Mosaic economy was calculated for the temporal prosperity, as well as for the eternal felicity of the Jews : now nothing is more closely connected with both, than the religious education of children; and to secure that was the design of this institution. None of these public punishments were to be inflicted till private corrections had been repeatedly tried: if all means used to instil virtue, or to re
form vice proved ineffectual, then, but never till then, was this sacrifice to be made for the public good : then the unhappy youth was to terrify by his death, those whom he had refused to edify by his life. What parent, foreseeing the consequences, could refuse to watch over his son night and day? Who but would avail himself of all the softness and docility of childhood, of every method of insinuation and instruction, of all the power of a good example? in a word, who but would attempt every thing to rescue a child from this calamity ? lest, great as the affliction might be of itself, it should be still increased by reflecting that the negligence of the father was the murder of the son. In such a case, citizens around and conscience within, like thunder claps redoubled, would reproach a parent : his ears and his heart would tingle with destruction upon destruction. Thy way and thy doings have procured these things unto thee. This is thy wickedness. It is bitter, it reacheth unto thine heart.
Not only was this law intended to interest parents in the education of their children in general, but it was also particularly pointed at that part of parental conduct, which, of all others, is the most fatal to youth, I mean, a foolish fondness. If severity hath slain its thousands, indulgence hath slain its ten thousands. Human nature seems even in its infancy conscious of its dignity, that it was formed to govern, not to truckle. Very early therefore it assumes authority. Parents should direct this noble natural dictate to its proper ob