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obedience and respect; servants whose dependent station impresses them, at least, with some sense of deference and humility; and friends who are disposed to imitate our conduct, because they view all our actions with some partiality, if not through the dazzling medium of affection. To many, therefore, who now hear me, the sentiments which I have to offer will fully apply.
First, I exhort you to consider yourselves, in this respect, as filling a station of high responsibility. Whether you wilfully intend it or not, you must be instrumental in reforming, or corrupting, some portion of your fellow-creatures. You are, in the language of the Holy Gospel, as so many "lights unto the world," and your example must shine before men; but little will be lost, either from insignificance or obscurity, that comes from you; the evil, perhaps, unfortunately might be magnified, and the good diminished, as objects that are reflected from the varied surface of a mirror. Let all, therefore, who are exempt from poverty, freed in a great measure from the chain of dependence, and at liberty to employ a large portion of time as they please, consider, that the important duty of exhibiting good examples, and the danger of
communicating bad ones, forms, with them, a chief part in the discipline of life. A talent of inestimable value is entrusted to their care; much has been given, and therefore much will most assuredly be required.
The holy Apostle was so sensible of this, that he directed us, both by precept and his own example, to "abstain from all appearance of evil." And it ought to be a matter of the most serious consideration with every human being, who fills a station in society, which gives him any influence over his fellow-creatures, to reflect, before he commits evil, before he indulges folly, or sacrifices at the shrine of guilty pleasures, that his example may spread, like the stream that rushes from the mountain, and leave monuments of his vices behind, when his body is mouldering into dust, and his soul is gone to give account of the things done in the body, before the judgment-seat of Christ.
Consider yourselves, then, in this respect, as public teachers, responsible for your conduct to God, your neighbour, and yourselves. Your station in life is very different from the poor villager, who lives by daily labor, and mixes but with a few. A large portion of his time is spent, perhaps, in solitary occupations, and a great
part of the remainder is passed in the necessary refreshments of sleep. If virtuous, he does much less good; if vicious, much less harm than you. His virtues, indeed, are scarcely known be yond the cottage which he inhabits, and his ordinary frailties are buried in the bosoms of his few friends but the eye of curiosity will be directed, from various quarters, to almost every part of your conduct and behaviour that busy spirit will "be about your path and bed, and spy out all your ways." What is particularly vexatious, also, and deserves your utmost vigilance is, that trifling improprieties are liable to be magnified into serious evils, by ignorance and envy, by vanity or malice. What you deem, perhaps, appropriate leisure and amusement, might in your humble imitator be confirmed idleness, and habits of licentiousness, or dissipation; the fashionable excesses, in which your fortune might enable you to indulge, will provoke, perhaps, the silly ambition of another, and involve him in misery and ruin.
Greater omissions, and transgressions of duty, will be magnified in proportion. By absenting yourselves from places of public worship, and neglecting the duties of the Sabbath, you only gratify, perhaps, your love of indolence and
ease, or follow some trivial pleasure: you mean no serious injury, or outrage, to the interests of Christianity, by your indifference and irregularity; but you are stabbing her to the vitals, and injuring her authority, as far as your power extends, more than the professed libertine, or the scoffing infidel; and on the obvious principle, that a treacherous friend is more dangerous than an avowed enemy. Your children, in the mean time, find the sacred ties of religion loosened before they are fully felt, or properly understood; your servants will be happy to be freed from restraint, by the sanction of your example, and will follow pleasure and amusement in their own way; while your dependents, instead of submitting to instruction, when reminded of their duty, will ask, like the Jews of old, "How do the dispensers of fashion, how do the Rulers of the people, the modern Pharisees, and men of fortune, spend their Sabbath?" Under every omission, and transgression of duty, they will look up to you, to quiet their consciences; and, in the inconsistency of your conduct, will endeavour to find a sanction for every irregularity and neglect in their own. Let me hope, then, that you will deeply impress your minds with a sense of your importance in
society, and of those appropriate duties which are necessarily connected with it. By importance, I mean the power of doing good or harm; which is the only importance, on the present occasion, that deserves attention. And this, when considered with regard to children, is indeed great. To answer for our own transgressions, and neglect, is sufficiently awful; but to reflect, at the hour of death, that, instead of "going about doing good," like our heavenly Master, we have propagated iniquity, and disseminated vice, or folly ;-to be sensible, that we have tainted by the vices of our own conduct, where we should have instructed both by precept and example ;-to know, that we have taken the human plant from the field of nature, where it would have flourished, perhaps in wild, but luxuriant beauty, and grafted it on corruption;-must hereafter overwhelm the conscience with shame, with terror, and confusion. It is of this last offence, that our blessed Lord speaks with greater energy than almost any other. "Whoso shall offend one of these little ones," or rather, shall be the cause of their offending, "it were better for him," he declares, "that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." But,