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There is yet one more character that we shall mention, whose conduct indeed is less extensively destructive, but not less injurious to those within his sphere, we mean, the scoffer. He brings no disgrace upon religion, because he makes no profession of it. Nor can he greatly impede its progress in the world, because he is not invested with authority or influence. But perhaps there is some relation, some friend, whom he can discourage by sneers and ridicule, if not also by menaces and actual unkindness. Suppose then that, in one single instance, he succeed in breaking the bruised reed and quenching the smoking flax; who shall appreciate the good he has destroyed? to ruin one for whom Christ died; and who, but for such an obstacle, would have got safe to heaven! If the whole world be of no value in comparison of a soul, then, in that single act, the scoffer has done more harm than the whole world can recompense.]
1. Let us guard against receiving evil from others
[It was a heathen poet that said, "Evil communications corrupt good manners;" and from him the Apostle quotes it, for the edification of the Church of Christ". Behold then what reason itself, as well as Scripture, teaches us in reference to the subject before us. One person infected with the plague may do us more injury than a hundred healthy persons can do us good. I would earnestly entreat all, therefore, and young persons especially, not to admit to their friendship so much as one" associate, whose ways are evil. For who can tell to what an extent the principles and conduct of such a man may prevail, to efface the good impressions that have been made upon his mind, and to induce habits that may prove fatal to his soul? If I regarded nothing but your temporal prosperity, I should give this advice: but when I take eternity into the account, I cannot but urge it upon every one here present, and say with the Apostle, "Come out from amongst such persons altogether, and be separate from them, and do not so much as touch the unclean thing" or person that may contaminate your soul.
2. Let us to the utmost of our power repair the evil which we ourselves have done
[Suppose us ever so free from the more flagrant instances that have been mentioned, there is not one amongst us who has not done much evil by means of his example. We have all lived, like the world around us, in a neglect of God and of our own souls: and, in so doing, have countenanced the same
z 1 Cor. xv. 33. It is an Iambic verse from Menander.
conduct in others. Thus, whether we intended it or not, we have confirmed many in their ungodly ways, and have contributed to their eternal ruin. Let us go now, and undo what we have done: alas! we cannot find one half of them: many are not known by us: many are gone to distant parts: many are already in the eternal world: and, if we should attempt to convert those to whom we can get access, they would laugh at us as fools, or despise us as hypocrites. Besides, all of them in their respective spheres have diffused the contagion which they received from us: and thus have put it beyond the reach of man to trace, or even to conceive, the evil we have done. And does not all this call for penitence? Yes; if our "head were a fountain of tears to run down incessantly" to the latest hour of our lives, it would be no more than the occasion calls for. But with our penitence we must unite our utmost efforts to repair the evil we have done.
To repair it with respect to God, is the work of Christ only. He alone can render satisfaction for our sins; his blood alone can cleanse us from the guilt we have contracted by them. But with respect to man we may do something, though we cannot do all that we could wish. Let us begin with our example: this speaks the most forcibly, and the most extensively. Let us, by giving up ourselves to God, shew others what they ought to do: and let our light so shine before men, that they may be constrained to glorify God, and to take shame to themselves. Next, let us use our influence: be it small or great, let us not neglect to exert it, that by every means in our power we may counteract our past evils, and stir up others to flee from the wrath to come. Finally, let us be fervent in our intercessions at the throne of grace, that God may take to him his great power, and establish his kingdom upon earth. Let us particularly pray for those, whom, in any respect, we may have allured from the path of duty. Thus, like the great Apostle, we shall make some compensation to the world for all the injuries it has sustained by our means, and shew, that, if one sinner can destroy much good, one saint can effect much which shall be a ground of joy and gratitude to all eternity.]
Eccl. xi. 1. Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
WHILST, in the purity of its precepts, the inspired volume exceeds all other books upon the face of the earth, it excels all other compositions in the variety
and richness of the images under which it exhibits our duty and urges the performance of it. The image under which liberality is here inculcated is well understood in countries where the heat of the climate, uniting with periodical inundations, enables the husbandman to proceed in a mode of agriculture unknown to us in the colder regions of the globe. In Egypt, for instance, where the Nile overflows the country periodically to a vast extent, it is common for men to cast their seed, their rice especially, upon the waters, whilst yet they are at a considerable depth. This might seem to be folly in the extreme: but experience proves, that, instead of losing their seed, they find it again, after many days, rising into an abundant crop. Such shall be the return which we also shall find to our efforts, if we exert ourselves, I. For the relief of men's bodily wants
Liberality to the poor is strongly insisted on in the Holy Scriptures. It is inculcated,
1. In a way of precept
[Exceedingly clear and strong were the injunctions which God gave on this subject to his people of olda ——— So, under the New Testament dispensation, we are enjoined to "labour with our own hands ;" and to "lay by us weekly, in proportion as God has prospered us," for the purpose of relieving others — — Nay, so obvious is this duty, that the man who lives not in the practice of it must be an utter stranger to the love of God in his soul: for "if he love not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?"]
2. In a way of example—
[The good Samaritan shews us how we ought to exercise generosity, even towards those who, by reason of particular differences and distinctions, may appear to be most remote from us. The widow, in giving her mite, which was all that she possessed, might be thought to have acted a very wild and extravagant part, especially when she gave it for a purpose to which it could bear no proportion, namely, the repairing of the temple: yet is that commended to us, by our Lord himself,
a See Deut. xv. 7—11. and cite the whole.
d 1 John iv. 20.
c 1 John iii. 17.
e Luke x. 33-37.
as an example highly to be admired, and universally to be followedf. As for the Macedonians, who were proposed as an example to the Corinthians, their generosity exceeded all belief: for when in great affliction, and in a state of deep poverty, they abounded unto the riches of liberality, and of their own selves, without any solicitation on the part of the Apostle, besought him with much entreaty to take upon him the distribution of their alms. Nothing can give us a higher idea of the excellence of charity than this.]
3. In a way of encouragement
[God assures us, that "whatever we give to the poor, we lend unto the Lord; and that he will, in one way or another, repay us again." He will repay us, even in a way of temporal prosperity for the giving of" the first-fruits of all our increase to the poor is the way, not to empty our barns, but to fill them with plenty, and to make our presses burst out with new wine." Still more will he repay us in a way of spiritual prosperity; since, "if we draw out our soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul, he will satisfy our souls in drought, and make fat our bones, and make us like a watered garden, or like a spring of water, whose waters fail not." Even with eternal rewards will he repay us, "recompensing, at the resurrection of the just," the smallest services we have rendered his people', and not suffering "even a cup of cold water to be left without its appropriate rewardm."
I say then, with assured confidence in reference to this matter, 66 Cast your seed upon the waters; and you shall find it after many days."]
But we may understand our text as encouraging our exertions also,
II. For the advancement of men's mental improve
To this the same image is applied by the prophet Isaiah; who gives us this additional information, that persons, previous to their casting of their seed upon the waters, send forth their oxen and their asses to tread the ground with their feet, in order the better to prepare the earth for its reception : "Blessed are ye who sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass"." Now this refers to the publication of the Gospel in every place, however
f Mark xii. 42, 43. i Prov. iii. 9, 10.
m Matt. x. 42.
g 2 Cor. viii. 1-4.
h Prov. xix. 17. 1 Luke xiv. 14.
untoward the circumstances, or hopeless the appearance. And we can bear witness to the truth of the prophet's observation: for in many places, and on many hearts, where there has been as little prospect of success as could well be conceived, God has given efficacy to the word of his grace; and the handful of corn sown upon the top of the mountains has sprung up, so that the fruit thereof has shaken like the woods of Lebanon; and those of the city where it has been cast have flourished like the piles of grass upon the earth"."
To Infant Schools, for the promotion of which I now more immediately address you, the text is peculiarly applicable; since nothing can be supposed more hopeless than any attempt to benefit the rising generation, from the ages of two to five or six. But I must say, that, if you cast your seed upon these waters, you shall find it again, in very abundant benefits conferred on all the poorer classes of society
[What a relief is it to the mother to have her infants duly attended to through the day; whilst she, instead of having her hands tied by the care of them, is enabled to earn bread for their support! What a benefit, too, is it to her elder daughter; who would otherwise have her time occupied in attending upon her younger brothers and sisters, and be thereby deprived of education for herself, whilst she was discharging that important office! This is of immense importance, because it secures to all the children of the poor the same advantages; the elder and the younger being alike partakers of the benefits thus freely
accorded to them.
But to the children themselves the benefits are incalculably great. We cannot but have seen, times without number, what depraved habits are contracted by the children of the poor when playing about the streets or lanes of a town without control. At home, for the most part, they see nothing but evil; and abroad, they practise it in every way with sad proficiency, lying, swearing, quarrelling, the very pests of the neighbourhood wherein they dwell. As for any thing good, they learn it not; having no good principles instilled into them, and no good examples set before them. But by being brought into a school at the early age of two or three years, they are
• Ps. lxxii. 16. If this be a subject for Missions, this idea must be enlarged, and all that follows it be omitted.