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family of children, whose parents have the singular favor of seeing them all live and grow up from infancy to childhood, from childhood to youth, and from youth to years of full maturity and usefulness. But do we not find as many parents whose whole families are cut down, like tender flowers, in the morning of life? We are not, however, to form our estimate of the mortality of children from either of these extraordinary cases. Let us, therefore, attend to what is more common. Parents in general bury some of their children in infancy or childhood. It appears from all the evidence which this subject admits of, that a much larger proportion of mankind die in infancy, childhood and youth, than in any other periods of human life; and that God generally removes some of their children, when their death will pierce their hearts with the most pungent sorrow and distress. This mode of God's conduct appears strange to all, and especially to those who have been called to part with their children just as they began to gain their fondest affections, and raise their most flattering hopes. It seems as though God might answer much more important purposes, and prevent many more evils and calamities among mankind, if he should destine the largest proportion of them to die in old age, and appoint but a very few, if any, to die an early death. But God's conduct constrains us to believe, that more wise and benevolent purposes may be answered by calling millions and millions of the human race into eternity when nothing but their death can be of any apparent service to the world. This leads us to inquire,
II. What purposes God may design to answer by the early death of children. Though there is no reason to doubt whether God has some wise and good purpose to promote by cutting short the lives of so many of mankind; yet it is not to be supposed that we can discover all the reasons which influence the kind Parent of the universe in bereaving fathers and mothers of their young and lovely children. But some of his purposes in such dispensations of providence, which are plain and obvious, I will distinctly mention. And,
1. He may intend, by taking away so many at an early age, to make this appear as a dying world. Though he has told us in his word that it is appointed unto all men once to die, and that dust they are and unto dust they must return, yet these declarations generally fail of making mankind realize their frail and mortal state. The eye affects the heart, and the bare sight of death makes a deeper impression on the minds of the living, than any human or even divine declarations concerning it. The frequency of death seems necessary to keep up a lively sense of it in the minds of dying
A very dying time we know is always very alarming to the living. And by so many deaths of the young, God makes it appear to all, that they live in a dying world and are dying creatures. The frequent instances of mortality, not only from year to year, but from month to month, and from week to week, make it appear that death is continually carrying mankind to their long home, and causing mourners to go about the streets. If it be necessary, then, that the world should appear as a dying world, what wiser course could God take to produce this solemn and instructive appearance, than to cut off such a large proportion of mankind in their earliest days? To cut off the same number of adult persons, who are busily employed in the active scenes of life, would be much more embarrassing to all the great concerns and affairs of the world. Infants and little children can be much better spared, than those in any of the middle stages of life. It seems to be a point of wisdom and goodness in the sovereign Lord of life, that he so often bereaves the world of its youngest inhabitants, to read a solemn lecture to the rest, that they are born to die. The continual stream of mortality is daily wringing the hearts of thousands, and plunging them in the depths of sorrow. Where are the parents, who have not, at one time or another, been clad in mourning for the death of their dear little ones? And where is the family of children, who have not seen one or more of their little brothers or sisters laid in the sable coffin and lonely grave? Thus God is teaching parents and others, by the death of little children, that this is a dying world, and that they are dying creatures. He seals these instructions by scenes and objects which they never can forget.
2. God may design by the great mortality of children, to teach mankind his sovereign right to take away any temporal favors he has bestowed upon them. They are very apt to consider their children as their own property, and their own most precious property. They value them more than all their other earthly enjoyments, and claim a higher right to them. They possess many things which they do not consider as their own. They dwell in houses and cultivate lands which are not their own. They borrow many comforts and conveniences from one another; but their children they hold by a stronger claim, and practically deny human or divine right to take them away. But they ought to consider, that God has given them these desirable objects and precious blessings, and therefore, that he has an original and sovereign right to do what he will with his own. This is a matter of so much importance, that God may, with propriety, take the most effectual method to display his sovereignty. And we can hardly conceive of any
more effectual way to make mankind see, and feel, and acknowledge his sovereignty, than his stripping them of those blessings which they are most apt to claim, most apt to prize, and most reluctant to part with. By going into their families, and tearing from them the objects which lie nearest to their hearts, he gives them the most sensible and affecting evidence, that he has a right to dispose of them and of all they have. The loss of children was the heaviest of Job's afflictions, and most effectually bowed his heart in cordial submission to divine sovereignty. "The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." Children would be the last things in the world that parents could part with, if they could preserve them from death; but these are often the first things that God sees fit to take away after they have come upon the stage of life. And he does this, to make them realize through the remainder of their days, that they and theirs are in his hand, as the clay is in the hand of the potter.
3. God may design by the death of some little children, to take them away from the evil to come, and give them cause to adore his sovereign goodness in early and safely conducting them to his heavenly kingdom. We are told that God sometimes takes away the godly from the evil to come; and why may he not do the same by some who die in infancy and childhood? He may know that some children would live in such places, be educated in such families, and be exposed to such dangers, snares and temptations, as would be their ruin if they lived; and may therefore in mercy to them cut short their days by an early and happy death. Many parents intend, if their children live, to educate them as the British nobleman educated his son, for this world only. They intend to educate them for time and not for eternity. They mean to give them no other ornaments than such as they imagine will recommend them to the world, and make them shine and prosper in the present life. God knows their designs, and delivers the poor little creatures out of their destructive hands, and deals infinitely better with them than their fond but unwise parents would have done. What signal monuments of divine mercy will such little ones be in the kingdom of glory! And how much reason will they have, to praise God for their early death! Such an end is worthy of God to propose in taking away the young and tender offspring of high and low, rich and poor, who do not intend to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
4. God may design, by the death of little children, to moderate the affections of their parents towards them. They are extremely prone to love their children too much. Jacob was
too fond of Joseph and Benjamin. David was too fond of Absalom. Aaron and Eli were too fond of their sons. And parents in general are too fond of their children. And sometimes they are partial in their affections, and dote upon some son or daughter, who has the more promising appearance or talents. Now, God knows the feelings of parents better than they do themselves, and there is reason to think that he often takes away some of their darlings, to teach them to moderate their affections towards them that survive. They never know how much they value their children, until some of them are removed from them by the heavy stroke of death. Then they have an opportunity to know where they have been leaning, and upon what they have been doting. Ar it is not uncommon, perhaps, for parents, after having been bereaved of a darling child, to feel quite differently towards their rising family, and to place much less dependence upon them, than they did before. They see their folly and error, in fixing their hearts and placing their dependence upon such frail and fading flowers. It is certain, however, that the death of little children is directly suited to moderate their undue affections towards their rising families, and dispose them to hold themselves in constant readiness to resign their children into the hands of God, whenever he shall call for them.
5. God may intend by the death of children, to prevent parents from being too much engaged to provide for them in this life. Their great fondness for them often creates a worldly spirit, and an anxiety to lay up for them rich and large possessions. They are ready to think that they cannot do too much for them. They give themselves no rest, but employ their time and exhaust their strength and expose their own lives, for the sake of putting their children into the most easy and flourishing situation. Whether they have larger or smaller families, or only one dear child, they are equally solicitous to amass a large portion of worldly wealth for those whom they expect to leave behind, but who may go before them into eternity. To prevent or restrain parents from indulging this sinful spirit, God often removes the objects which are the occasion of their undue regard and exertions. In how many instances has God treated the rich and the poor in this manner! And in how many instances has such a sore dispensation of providence apparently answered the desirable and designed effect! How many parents, by losing their children, have lost their unhallowed zeal and engagedness in the pursuit of worldly objects! By this means, they have been brought to view the world in a true light, as vain, for themselves and for theirs. The means, in this case, are properly adapted to the end, and the end entirely jus
tifies the means. Those who are teachable under such dispensations, will acknowledge the wisdom and goodness of God in using such painful means, to teach them a lesson which nothing else could teach them.
6. God may bereave parents of some of their children, on purpose to teach them to do their duty to the rest. So long as parents have high expectations of their children's living, they are apt to neglect to prepare them for dying; but when God takes away one or more of their children, by an early death, then they can hardly fail to realize that they are all mortal, and may be called out of time into eternity before they are prepared for the solemn and interesting event; which makes them feel, that it is of more importance to prepare their children for dying than for living. The duty of parents to give their children a pious and religious education is one of the greatest duties that is ever devolved upon them; and yet it is a duty which, above all others, they are in most danger of neglecting. God, therefore, often finds it necessary to teach them this duty by the bereaving and correcting rod of his wrath. He causes them to know by experience, that it is an evil and bitter thing to themselves, as well as to their children, to neglect the duty which he has expressly enjoined upon them, to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. When he calls their children out of time into eternity, where they may be happy or wretched beyond conception, they are constrained to follow them in their thoughts, and with all their tender feelings, where they are gone, and to mourn or rejoice according to their hopes or fears of their eternal state. This is calculated to awaken all their parental feelings, and give them a proper direction towards their spared children; and to excite them to take a proper care of the young and immortal souls confided to their trust. We have reason to believe, therefore, that when God bereaves parents of some of their children, and spares others, that it is one purpose of his, to admonish them of the great duty of devoting their children to and of bringing them for himself. He takes away one to save another.
7. God may bereave pious parents of their young and tender offspring, in order to try and purify their hearts. This seems to have been the primary purpose of God, in taking away for a time the child of the Shunammites. Every circumstance was directly suited to try the hearts of those professed friends of God. They were not fond of the world. They were amiable and exemplary persons, and much engaged in religion, and warmly attached to its friends. But it is probable that they idolized their only child. Accordingly God meant to take away their idol, try their sincerity, and recall