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that he had "served God from his forefathers with a pure conscience," 2 Tim. i. 3. He speaks to Timothy in the way of commendation, when he says, " that he was persuaded, the same faith dwelt in him, which had first dwelt in his grandmother Lois, and his mother Eunice."
There is an obligation to attend to wise and wholesome instructions, from whomsoever we receive them and to follow the good examples we see in any. But there is a more especial obligation to hearken to, and follow pious. parents. This is supposed in divers pathetic admonitions which we meet with in scripture. So in those solemn words of David: " And thou, Solomon, my son, know thou," own and acknowledge, fear and worship, "the God of thy father," and "serve him with a perfect heart, and with a willing mind.If thou seek him, he will be found of thee: but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever," 1 Chron. xxviii. 9. And says the wise son of king David at the beginning of his book of Proverbs, or collection of wise sayings and observations: " My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother," Prov. i. 8. Again: "My son, keep thy father's commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother. Bind them continually upon thy heart, and tie them about thy neck. When thou goest, it shall lead thee, when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee, and when thou walkest, it shall talk with thee. For the commandment is a lamp, and the law a light, and reproofs of instruction are the way of life," chap. vi. 20-23.
III. They are to be blamed, and their case is to be lamented, who degenerate from the wisdom and piety of their religious ancestors.
For it is a great advantage to have had such good instructions, and to have seen good examples in the early part of life. And it implies some faulty disposition not to follow them. There must be, surely, some want of capacity, not to perceive and admire the beauty of good examples: and some perverseness of temper to act contrary to them.
This is often one article of accusation against the Jews, and assigned as a reason of calamities brought upon them, that they had "forsaken the God of their fathers." When God appeared to Solomon after the dedication of the temple, there were affecting warnings, as well as gracious promises, delivered to him and his people. They are to this purpose: "For now I have chosen and sanctified this house, that my name may be there for ever. And mine eyes and my heart shall be there perpetually.- -But if ye turn away, and for
sake my statutes and my commandments, which I have set before you-then will I pluck them up by the roots out of my land, which I gave them—And this house, which is high, shall be an astonishment to every one that passeth by it. Because they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods, and worshipped and served them," 2 Chron. vii. 16-22.
That is what is frequently meant in the Old Testament by "forsaking the God of their fathers;" namely, leaving and abandoning his worship, and going after other gods, and worshipping idols. But as the guilt of idolatry was more especially aggravated in that people, who had known the true God, and been instructed in his worship: so in like manner is any departure from God aggravated in those who have been instructed in the principles and duties of true religion. And they who have been early taught the way of righteousness, and seen examples of virtue, if they turn from the holy commandment delivered to them: if they forsake the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and are seduced into the ways of sin and iniquity, they are very blame-worthy, and their condition is very pitiable.
IV. Children may, and have a right to exceed and excel their parents and ancestors in those things which are good and praise-worthy.
They are not restrained from this by any rule of reason, or any revealed and written law of God. If their progenitors have been wicked and irreligious, they are not obliged to follow them. They may not do so, upon any considerations whatever. Nor are they who are sincerely but imperfectly good, to be imitated in their faults or defects.
Any truth, that appears clearly revealed, ought to be embraced and professed, whether it had been before entertained by those we respect or not. And the commands of God ought to be obeyed, however others may contradict and gainsay. Paul, when it pleased God to reveal his Son in him, did not consult with any man, whether he should be a disciple of Jesus, or not. It became thenceforward his duty, though not his interest, to preach the gospel as he did.
The truth of this observation appears from the case of Timothy in the text. Lois and Eunice were Jewesses, of the posterity of Jacob. When the gospel revelation was proposed to them, they received it as the mind of God, and professed it. This is the "unfeigned faith that first dwelled in them." And Timothy was to be commended for fol
lowing them therein. He was in the right to receive a doctrine, that appeared excellent, and well supported, as being the fulfilment of ancient prophecies, and confirmed by miracles; though his father, as it seems, did not embrace this faith. For if he had, it is likely that St. Paul would have mentioned him here likewise. Nor does St. Luke in his brief history of these persons in the Acts give any intimation of it. All he says of Timothy's father is, that he was a "Greek, well reported of by the brethren," or christians," that were at Lystra and Iconium," Acts xvi. beg.
Here then we perceive, that Timothy is justified and even commended for choosing the principles of true religion: though he had not the leading or the concurring authority and example of his father. From a child he had known the scriptures of the Old Testament, having been instructed in them by his mother and grandmother of the posterity of Jacob, and by profession of the Jewish religion. And from the beginning he paid a great regard to those scriptures, till at length he also became a disciple of Jesus, and embraced the faith of the gospel.
And it is evident, that persons of mature age are obliged to receive what appears to be truth after serious and sufficient examination, and to do what they are convinced is the will of God, whether their parents consent or not. For there is a superior obligation to truth, and the will of God, to which all are subject.
If there be any defect of knowledge in those to whom any are obliged, they may endeavour to be better informed in the principles of religion, and the grounds of them. There may be occasion for them to be more open and explicit in the profession of religion, than those that went before them. They may aim at the strictest regard to the will of God, and excel in moderation and charity toward others. If they, by whom they have been brought up, appear to them morose and severe, and to stretch their authority_beyond the bounds of reason; nothing hinders, but that they may aim at escaping that mistake, and exceed them in mildness and gentleness. There can be no good reason assigned, why children should not be better than their parents, if they are able; still preserving a humble and dutiful respect to a superior relation, which is a necessary part of true goodness, without which they cannot excel.
V. It is a great and singular happiness, when there is a general agreement and harmony in things of religion among friends and relatives, and the several branches of a family.
This happiness is not universal. It was not the case in this family. Nevertheless, it does not appear, that Timothy's father obstructed those who depended upon him in following their own convictions: nor that he hindered them from embracing any farther discoveries. Nay, it does not appear, that he opposed his son Timothy's undertaking the office of an evangelist, and accompanying the apostle Paul in his journies for promoting the gospel.
However, upon some occasions, there will be not only differences of sentiment, but much animosity in families, on account of the principles of religion. Says our Lord: Suppose ye that I am come to send peace on earth? I tell you, nay; but rather divisions; for from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother," Luke xii. 51-53.
Sometimes children are disobedient, stubborn, and refractory. They forsake the guides of their youth, and are a grief of heart to those who have the most tender affection for them, and show a wise concern for their true interest. They will not submit to authority, nor hearken to reason. They will not be persuaded by the most earnest and affectionate importunity to attend to the things that make for their welfare here or hereafter.
On the other hand, sometimes the progress of virtue is obstructed or discouraged by superiors in age and station; and the serious and well disposed bring upon themselves hardships by being more than ordinarily diligent and inquisitive in things of religion. Their superiors are not duly apprised of the rights of conscience; and the smallest difference of opinion is thought to deserve the keenest resentment. They who are the most sincere in their regard to the general obligations of religion, and most dutiful and respectful to their parents, from a principle of conscience, are nevertheless discouraged, because of difference in opinion upon some speculative points. This is an evil; and it is a trial which the virtue of some meets with.
There are also happy and desirable cases. When children readily receive the great truths and doctrines of religion, and the grounds of them, from their parents or other instructors; when they embrace the commandment, and walk therein, that they may live. This is most agreeable to those who have been concerned for them, and have laboured for their welfare. It must likewise be exceeding
comfortable to those younger persons, or others in a state of dependence, upon whom the principles of religion have made a deep impression, to be encouraged and animated in their religious studies and inquiries by those whom they love, honour, and esteem.
In a word, it is a very agreeable circumstance, contributing as much to the happiness of this state of imperfection, as any thing that can be thought of, when there is agreement between friends and relatives in the great things of religion, with forbearance as to differences about lesser matters; when real holiness and true virtue have the highest regard; and difference of opinion about things of small moment, whether proceeding from want of understanding, or from greater measures of light and knowledge, produce no alienation of affection. For such a situation, every one who enjoys it, ought to be thankful. To be at liberty to do what our conscience dictates, without molestation from others, is a delightful privilege. Such have the persuasion of the divine favour and acceptance, and enjoy also the good will, approbation, and encouragement of earthly friends. This makes duty easy. If it had been otherwise, they could not have drawn back. They would have been obliged, for the sake of Christ and his kingdom, to forsake father and mother, and all worldly possessions. But they have both the favour of God and of men; or at least the favour and good will of those whom they most esteem.
I have mentioned these things as useful hints. Parents usually love those children best that advance themselves in the world. But true virtue and goodness ought to be the greatest recommendation; nor ought any advances therein to be discouraged.
APPLICATION. I hope the words of the text may be applied to you, my friends. I have no reason to doubt, but that the unfeigned faith, which first dwelt in your pious parents, is in you also, according to your years, and upon the ground of a rational evidence and conviction; and such a consideration gives joy and satisfaction.
But there can be no harm in recommending to you to cherish, maintain, and improve the principle of goodness. I apprehend that what has been now said, must have excited in you thanksgivings to God for the advantage you have had of a religious education; and that you have renewed your resolutions to improve it. And it is indeed prudent to be very serious and deliberate in resolving to walk with God, and persevere in the way of his commandments, all