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fidence has been abused by mere words, that were dictated by vanity, and forgotten from selfishness, we feel disgust instead of satisfaction; and may in future, perhaps, be taught to apprehend a species of falsehood and insincerity, where we wished to offer the tribute of heartfelt gratitude and esteem.
Having briefly considered the imperfections of character, which the conduct of one son in the Parable exhibits, let us proceed to examine what we may collect from that of the other— from him who hastily answered his father, "I will not, but afterward repented and went."
We all know from experience, perhaps, that perverseness, obstinacy, or pride, may in some evil moment lead us to depart from the obvious duties of our station, and refuse to do what others have a natural and reasonable right to command. This is represented to us in the Parable, under the striking image of a father, and his two sons. Here, therefore, we learn, as in many other places of holy Scripture, that all proper allowances should be made for the infirmities of our nature, and that nothing is required of us but a conviction of error, and a return to duty, in order to regain a father's affection and forgive
Such also is the relation in which, by
divine Grace, we are permitted to stand, with regard to our heavenly Father. Though we are told go and fulfil all righteousness;"-though at our initiation into the church of Christ, we promise obedience, and obey not; yet if we sincerely repent, and return before it is too late into the paths of duty, God has held out to us the means of reconciliation, and forgiveness of sins, through the merciful intercession and atonement of his only-begotten Son.
Farther, let the ingenuous conduct of the young man in the text, who at first said, 66 I will not, but afterward repented and went," afford us a lesson against obstinate perseverance in error. The mind of man has a natural predilection for its own offspring. Whatever thoughts are engendered in the brain,-whatever opinions are formed by vanity, or self-love, -whatever wishes involuntarily rise in the heart, and whatever resolutions originate there, —all are in a manner deemed sacred; and it is seldom that we can patiently permit them to be questioned, or disturbed. But, from this overweening fondness of ourselves, much folly and delusion, much ignorance and depravity, and many losses and vexations oftentimes arise. It is, besides, the greatest check to moral and in
tellectual improvement. It nurses obstinacy, and encourages pride. It leaves us without the power of examining into the grounds of duty, or the elements of justice and of truth; and gives us up as the blind, but froward children, of prejudice and error. It effectually precludes that calmness and moderation, which should prevail in every well-regulated mind; and leaves the deficiences of reason and experience, to be supplied by the violence of the passions. Accordingly, if we look abroad in the world, and view men, in common, discussing the important topics that may arise in the boundless fields of politics and religion, we shall almost invariably find, that their warmth and vehemence, their obstinacy and bigotry, are in direct proportion to their narrow-minded selfishness, and their want of information.
Some are so perverse as to persist in error, because it is an error of their own; or because, like the grievous error of the Jews, it is of long continuance. If called to reflection, they find themselves entangled, perhaps, but, instead of concession, they will strive to palliate, to reconcile, to evade, in short to do any thing rather than amend, withheld by vanity, that must not be mortified, and a foolish pride, that cannot
submit to be instructed, or to unlearn what has been learnt amiss. If, therefore, in a moment of passion, or from inconsiderate neglect, they should refuse to obey a father's just commands, even though they might be sorry for it afterward; yet they are ashamed to imitate the virtuous youth in the text; who, though he said, "I will not, afterward repented and went."
In order to avoid this combination of ignorance and vice, let us never be ashamed of growing wiser and better, by every means, which the divine Goodness has afforded us for that purpose. Let us chearfully obey the voice of instruction, whether we hear it from a friend, or an enemy;-whether it proceeds from the expe rience of others, or is whispered by conscience within our own bosoms;-whether it calls to us in the enjoyment of happiness and prosperity, or speaks to the heart in the midst of sorrow, suffering, and adversity.
To evince the reasonableness of this moral discipline, let me advise you to take a retrospective view of the past. If you have husbanded your time and talent well, many are the errors, and many are the faults, both of temper and of conduct, which you have been enabled, by God's blessing, to discover and correct. Some foolish
prejudices also may have died away, or lost their violence ;-many a headstrong passion, no doubt, has been subdued to reason, or hushed to peace ;— and, with advancing years, you are, it is to be hoped, become more wise, more temperate, and more humble: But do you think that the long labor of intellectual improvement is over? Is there no further need of discipline and culture? Is "the good ground," admitting it to be naturally so, cleared of every noxious plant, that is apt to spring and flourish in a rich, luxuriant soil? Are there no thorns, or brambles still left, of later growth, perhaps, to choke the rising seed, and no unkindly spot that wants a little more cultivation? Be assured there is. To think there is not, is to indulge the most extravagant pride, or folly, and to contradict the experience of ages. Yes, all may grow wiser and better but because we might have lived long enough to be easy under the commission of evil, and contented under the indulgence of error ;because length of time might, in some measure, have sanctified every imperfection, or because the delusions of self-love might have kept them from the mind; let us not consider this as any unéquivocal proof of virtue, or of " a wise and understanding heart." Let nothing preclude the