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act of transgression, but into a evil course of life, the presumption no doubt is more against him ; yet even here it is far from decisive. Men in fact allow themselves a course of unlawful practices in some particular point, who retain a regard to duty in other points. We may perhaps argue that they deceive, even fatally deceive their own hearts; but we cannot argue that they reject the grounds of moral and religious obligation. I mention this case in particular, because vicious men are exceedingly apt to lay great stress upon it. It is a kind of ease to their minds to find out a hypocrite. If they can but point out in the neighbourhood a man of outward sanctity and apparent religious behaviour, who has been detected in some secret bad practices, or who, after years of sober and regular conversation, has fallen off from his character, and given himself up to licentious or dishonest courses, they draw a great comfort from it to themselves; they are fond of repeating such instances; they are willing to believe, and would have others believe, that all men at the bottom are very like themselves; that the difference between good and bad men is more in the appearance than the reality ; that the opinion of the world, which reprobates and cries out against them, is unreasonable ; for it is not, that they are in fact worse than others, but that they do not cover and mask their vices so well. Now I say, that this way of talking and thinking is very irrational, on two accounts; first because it presurnes that every man who allows himself in some bad practice, or who falls off from his former character, is, and all the while has been, secretly, a disbeliever and contemner of religion ; which presumption is by no means true; it is neither generally true, nor absolutely true. It is a conduct which arises from inconsistency much oftener than from insincerity. And secondly, were it true, the inference they draw from it to the encouragement of their own vices is to the last degree fallacious Because there are hypocrites in the world, does it follow that there are no solid grounds of virtue ? True it is, that some who make a profession of religion, in their hearts reject it. Does it follow that religion has no foundation to stand on? It is only the judgment of these partial persons after all, that is shown; and what is most material, it is that judgment corrupted and influenced by a bad life; because theirs is always, by the very supposition, a case of concealed or newly commenced wickedness.
Another species of deceptious argument from example is this ; when we see, or rather imagine that we see, other persons perform any act of religion from selfish or unprincipled motives,
we avoid their example by not performing the act of religion at all ; which is the most perverse turn to give to the matter that can be. The true reflection from such an example is this; the duty does not cease to be such, the act of religion is not therefore less an obligation, because certain persons of our acquaintance perform it with very improper views and motives; if they comply with it from bad reasons, we ought to comply with it from better, instead of not complying with it at all, in order to show our dislike of their example. Thus because we think some persons come to church or the sacrament, to be thought religious; others because it has been their custom ; others because they are obliged to it by their situation, calling, or the authority of their parents and masters; others because they have nothing else to do, therefore we will not go to church or the sacrament at all. This example shows what shifts and pretences men are driven to in excuse of their neglect of duty. Good and wise men would be very unwilling and scarcely able to believe, that any persons performed religious acts from any other than religious motives; but they immediately reflect that if the case be not so, it is nothing to them; it is no extenuation of their guilt, should they neglect what is their duty, if others debase their performance of it by unworthy motives ; nor, on the other hand, can it ever detract from the worthiness and acceptability of those services which proceed from a sincere wish to please God.
In like manner, because it sometimes happens that men who are remarkable for their attendance upon religious ordinances, are not equally remarkable for their honesty and virtue, and good conduct in other respects, therefore we take up a mean opinion of religion and religious ordinances. This is a very loose consequence that we draw. Religious ordinances never pretended to possess such a check and irresistible efficacy in them as to make men good universally or necessarily. Great allowances must be made for the difference of men's engagements, and the temper of their minds with respect to them, and some for the difference of men's apprehension of the importance of particular offices; and after these allowances, I believe it will turn out that the soundest virtue, the truest morality, is found in conjunction with a pious veneration for the offices of religion.
The sum of my discourse amounts principally to this; If unfortunately there be any in our religious congregations who are found out to have carried on concealed practices of wickedness along with outward sanctity and devotion ; who, after
having led for a long tiine a life of regularity and religion, fall off from these characteristics, we are not entitled to conclude, as we are very apt to do, that they are, and have been, disbelievers on the whole. Experience of human nature authorizes no such conclusion; the probability is, that they are not so much consequences as inconsistences; these men are borne down by the force and strength of the temptation. But, chiefly and industriously, ought we to beware of drawing such inferences from the examples, as to make them either a reason for the less respectability of religion itself ; or for thinking that such may in any way, or by any construction, either in the judgment of mankind, or in the final judgment of God, be an excuse or cover for ou own evil courses.
THE DUTY OF PARENTS TOWARDS THEIR
EPHESIANS VI. 4.
Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the
nurture and admonition of the Lord.
The duty of parents towards their children is a duty which concerns so many, and is of such importance to all those whom it does concern, that it deserves every consideration which we can give it ; for though it be a duty generally acknowledged, it is not in some parts of it either so well understood, or so properly practised as it ought to be. I shall divide the duty, for method's sake, into three parts.
First; the maintenance of children, and a reasonable provision for their happiness, in point of circumstances and situation in the world.
The obligation upon parents to maintain their children is the first and pleasantest part of their duty; and it is founded upon this reason; the helpless condition of infancy renders it absolutely necessary that one or other take the charge of its maintenance. And it is manifest that the parents have no right, by their act and deed, to burden others with the charge. Nothing, therefore, is left but for the parents to undertake it themselves; so that the maintaining of our offspring is matter of strict debt to the rest of mankind, and this, independent of the affection of parents to their children ; which, if it be instinctive, is an instinct implanted, for the express purpose of promoting the interests of their children, and so demonstrative of God Almighty's will and intention about it.
This part of a parent's duty, though so plain and natural, and though the impulse to it be commonly so strong, is not always discharged. They are the lowest, indeed, as well as the vilest of the human species, who neglect or break through it; yet there are some such in every neighbourhood. There are those who run away from their families and leave them to perish, by the want of what they should do for them. There are others who stay at home only to consume in drunkenness and idle sports, what should be bread for their families; and perhaps what their families earn. There are those who are fallen into so slothful and idle a course of life, that they had rather cast their children upon the public than labor for them. And there are those, lastly, who, after having ruined the mother, and been the means of bringing innocent sufferers into the world, abandon both to shame and misery, nor concern themselves as being any farther connected with them, or being under any obligation to provide for the maintenance of either; which is just as abandoned and wicked a line of conduct as any of the others; for, if you remember the reason why parents are bound to maintain their children, that reason holds equally for natural children, as for any other. There is no difference in the obligation, so far as it extends to maintenance, but what custom holds, which is no difference at all.
But there is something beyond mere subsistence, which a child is entitled to receive at the hands of its parents, because there is something necessary for it, and which the child cannot procure for itself; and that is, a reasonable provision for the happiness of the child in its circumstances and situation of life. Those, who, to make short work of the subject, say that a parent is bound to do all he can for his children, say too much ; because at that rate, every thing a person spends which might have been saved, and every profit omitted which might have been made, would be criminal, as it would be a breach of that rule. Besides, such very general rules, which have no limtis,
would be of no sort of use. But a reasonable care of the circumstances and situation of children is certainly a parent's duty; that is, to put them in such a situation, and leave them, if in our power, in such circumstances, as that they may have a fair chance, and a probable expectation of being happy and useful. Happy and useful are the two words to be remembered; that is what I mean by a reasonable provision.
Now I do not say a child has this chance or expectation, unless he be well placed in a situation suitable to his habits and reasonable expectations, and furnished likewise with a competent provision for the demands of that situation. But here it becomes a very material question, how we are to calculate the demands and expenses of the situation, or what may be deemed a person's reasonable expectations.
For these exigences depend much upon the young man himself, and they can call or think what they please so many exigences; and thus making the expectations of the child in some degree the measure of the parent's duty, we are laying the parent open to unbounded demands. I answer, that the exigences of any situation, and the reasonable expectations of children, are so far regulated by custom, that as much indulgence in expense, appearance, and manner of living, and the like, as is customarily allowed to and practised by people of such professions, or in similar situations of life, is to be accounted the exigences of that situation. Not that custom, in its own proper force, can alter or determine what is wrong in any case ; but in the present case you cannot suppose that a young person who is denied that which all, or almost all, about him are allowed, or, which is the same thing, is not supplied with the means of procuring it, and exposed on that account to continual mortification, and what he reckons disgrace; you cannot, I say, suppose that he will be tolerably easy or happy under such circumstances, at least you will not find him so; and a fair chance for his ease and happiness he has a right to look for. You will understand that all vicious and licentious indulgences are to be excepted out of this rule, which a parent is not to encourage or supply, or even permit, if he can help it, however common they may be in the situation and class of life in which his child is placed; nor would it alter the case if such practices were universal.
What we have said of custom regulating the exigences, and situation, is equally true as to the expectation of the child, and the choice of situation. In reality, and in the eyes of reason, all situations which are equally innocent and useful are