Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times"
London: J. G. F. and J. Rivington, 1839.
JEREMIAH xiii. 20.
"Where is the flock that was given thee
Thy beautiful flock?"
THE holy season of Lent, as it was intended from the first to give occasion and encouragement to all persons who had any spark of seriousness still alive in their hearts, to cherish generally thoughts of their real condition, of their need of deeper repentance and more energetic faith, so may it with reason also suggest to all reflecting minds particular recollections of the solemn responsibilities pressing on them, and of the degree (greater or less) in which we have neglected them, alas! must I not say, even the best of us.
To the authorized minister of CHRIST'S Church in this country, at this time, when looking back on the irremediable past, and forward on the dim future, the thought must naturally arise,How much have we to answer for, and what answer shall we make? How did we promise at our Ordination, that we should never cease our labour, our care and diligence to bring all such as should be committed to our charge to that agreement in the faith and knowledge of GOD, and to that ripeness and perfectness of age in CHRIST, that there be no place left amongst us for error in religion, or for viciousness of life! And then, whatever our labour, care, and diligence may have been,too scanty, alas! and too mean at the most and best,how humiliating is the view of the Christian Church among us at this moment, how distracted with error in religion, how stained with viciousness of life! Again, how did we pledge ourselves to seek for CHRIST'S sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for His chosen that are in the midst of this evil world, that they may be saved through CHRIST for ever! And after all these pledges and promises, "Where is the flock that was given us, the beautiful flock?"
These, I say, are painful humiliating thoughts; yet salutary and even necessary to be cherished, if we would not delude ourselves with false confidences, and "see visions of peace for Jerusalem, when there is no peace, saith the Lord GOD."
But what I would now especially call your attention to, let all seriously-minded Christians consider how great our responsibility isthe responsibility of us all, with respect to children and young persons, that they be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord JESUS CHRISTtaught as well by the example as the precept of their elders, to know the GOD of their fathers, and to serve HIM with a perfect heart and a willing mind, that so they may walk worthy of their heavenly vocation, and adorn the doctrine of GOD their SAVIOUR in all things.
It is matter for fearful reflection, to call to mind the case of parents and elder persons, too frequently, alas! to be met with in this Christian land, who, as they live on themselves from day to day, "having to hope, and without GOD in the world," so they are content to see their children and other young persons around them pursuing the same ruinous and fatal course. The case is nothing rare, as all persons well know, for parents to set their children very evil examplesswearing, drunkenness, falsehood, and every kind and degree of profligacy and irreligion; these things are no matters of strange occurrence, nor limited to the thoughtlessness of youth, as people sometimes talk, but are openly practised, and even avowed by those of elder years, and even to the old age and the bed of death.
Now, to set aside other considerations, how tremendous must be the account which parents and other elder persons must render on the last judgment day, for thus taking part with Satan, as one may say, against Almighty GOD, to bring their own children to everlasting torment!
Every one knows that example is more forcible than precept, and especially evil example than good precept. When grown-up persons then, whether parents or others, use themselves to violent and intemperate language, swearing, e.g. or indecent expressions, or slander, it is as if they took pains to instruct children in the language of lost spirits; it is, I say, to all intents and purposes, taking pains to teach children to blaspheme their Father and Redeemer, to pollute their tongues, formed especially for His glories, with what most of all dishonours and provokes HIMto curse others or themselves, with those youthful lips which might so easily have been taught the language of prayer, gratitude, and divine charity.
Or, to glance at another case not less common, nor perhaps in the sight of GOD less cruel and unfeeling, though in man's opinion less gross and startling; many parents there are and elderly persons, who, while they preserve a decent exterior of conduct, yet leave their children, or other young persons for whom they are in any manner responsible, to shift for themselves; I mean in religious matters, take no personal care or trouble to give them an education substantially Christian.
Thus one sometimes hears persons called "religious," expressing themselves to this effect,that they entertain such and such opinions themselves, but do not pretend to bias their children in such matters, but leave them to form their own judgments as they grow up.
The evil consequences of this miserable, unfeeling mode of proceeding are evident in all ranks of society. Among persons of higher station it often produces a sceptical, unsettled state of mind, often amounting to practical infidelity. And in other cases we see its effects exemplified in the disunion of families on that the point of all others where union and harmony are sought and cherished; and then the father perhaps goes to one place of worship, and the mother to another; one child to one Sunday school, and one to another, and perhaps one still to another.
All this is considered of no consequence, a mere matter of indifference, and to represent it otherwise is accounted bigotry.
But I ask, is there not one rule for all? Is not that which is true and good for the parent, true and good for the child? Must not fathers and mothers be answerable for the bringing up of their little flock, the children whom GOD has given them, in the nurture and admonition of the LORD?
And can this be true Christian nurture and admonition, to habituate them to those unfixed and (strictly speaking) unprincipled notions and ways in the great matter of divine worship, and communion with CHRIST'S Church here militant, but in Heaven triumphant? If these things are mere matter of fancy and opinion, invented for men's amusement or recreation, then something might be said for the customs now alluded to; but if there be any reality at all in Church communion,if it be not, as I said, a mere name and fancy, then they are no slight matters, but symptoms of extreme levity and want of serious reflection.
Far greater is the Christian wisdom and compassion of those, whether parents or others, who consider themselves distinctly responsible for the spiritual and eternal welfare of the children and young persons over whom they have influence. I mean, who consider that the inquiry will be made of them by the Great Judge and Father of all, "Where is the flock that was given thee?" Didst thou by precept much, and example more, endeavour to lead on those whom I entrusted to thee in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth?
This responsibility lies on us allall grown-up personsall have an influence either for good or evil on the younger; and happy, I say, will they be, who shall be found to have exerted this influence to the honour of our Almighty LORD and Master, and the edification of that flock which HE purchased with His own blood. Such persons, if it has pleased GOD that they should be parents, have made it a principal matter of their thoughts an cares that their children should be also GOD'S children. They brought them in their earliest infancy to the baptismal font, they selected for them sponsors whom, in case of their own decease or negligence, might be to them really, and not in name only, fathers and mothers in GOD; they taught them, as soon as they could speak, the language of prayer and praise: in short, they laboured that their dwelling-house should be, as it were, a little Church, a consecrated habitation where GOD should be daily honoured, and the wicked world shut out.
Or, to take the case of other sincere Christians whom GOD has made not parents or heads of families, or possibly has deprived them of their children by death or separation, they too call to mind that the lambs of CHRIST'S flock are in a manner committed to them, not merely generally, but particularly, because on them especially lies the responsibility of being godfathers and godmothers to the children of friends and relations;and this office they undertake readily and cheerfully for the Great Shepherd's sake, and to fulfil one of the purest acts of Christian charity: and as they promised at first, so afterwards they bear in mind, that it is their part and duty to see that the children, for whom they answered at the holy font, shall be instructed, as soon as they are able to learn, what a solemn vow, promise, and profession they then and there made; and chiefly they provide that they shall be well-grounded in that admirable summary of Christian principles called the Church Catechism, and so conducting them to the Bishop to receive his apostolical blessing in Confirmation, and thence to the Communion Feast of our Redeemer's body and blood, they feel that, as far as human frailty will permit, they have discharged the duties of a Christian sponsor.
If these things were more attended to by parents and friends, and a holy example in unison with good instruction set before young persons by their parents and other their elders, the Christian world would not be in the state in which we now see it, the LORD'S flock would not be as now it is, "carried away captive."
Let then all grown up Christians, especially parents, guardians, and other friends of children and young persons, put it seriously to their heart and conscience, what a heavy responsibility lies on us in this respect, how the lambs of the LORD'S flock are, as it were, committed to our care and charge.
Can you imagine, e.g. that it is sufficient to send children to school, even the best of schools, unless you set them an example of consistent piety at home? Can you think it right to take no personal pains in the great work of Christian education, directly or indirectly? And can you suppose it possible, that you will not be called to account for thus neglecting the LORD'S flock given into your care and charge; and whose eternal interests, for any thing you can tell, depend on the advice you impress on them, and the example you set them?
These things, I repeat, are serious considerations, highly deserving the regards of all faithful Christians.
And this the more, because we are not sufficiently aware of our responsibility herein. I mean, that every grown-up person in any parish or place is to a certain degree answerable for the right instruction of every child; at least so far as this, that every one has it in his power to set a good example. But as to grown-up and elderly people, whose lives belie their professions, to them may be applied most emphatically the awful words of our LORD, "It is impossible but that offences will come, but woe to him through whom they come. It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend, (that is, mislead by false doctrine or evil example,) one of these little ones."
In no words is it possible more forcibly to express the awfulness of our responsibility, the responsibility of each generation in behalf of that which succeeds it, of grown-up persons in behalf of the younger. Especially, there is here set before the world, by the omniscient Judge Himself, the wickedness and cruelty of misleading children by bad example, or even neglect.
May HE, the Great Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, pardon our past sinfulness in these respects, and by the aid of His blessed SPIRIT, so lead us for the time to come into the paths of righteousness and true holiness, that we may not have the blood of the sols of the poor innocents on our hands; but rather seek more earnestly and consistently than we have ever yet done, to preserve in CHRIST'S fold those lambs which are yet within its holy pale, and by all gentle and compassionate ways to bring back those which are gone astray.
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