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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 blameworthy, 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 " This is the "unfeigned faith that first dwelled in them." And Timothy was to be commended for following 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 binders, 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 shew 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 commandments, 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. 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 the days of our life. You should continue in the use of all the means of your establishment: and should carefully decline the snares that are dangerous to your virtue. If unawares you meet with them, and sinners entice you to evil, resolutely withhold your consent, and withstand their enticements and solicitations.
You need not to be told, that children of such parents, of so many prayers, of such hopes and expectations, cannot sin at so easy a rate as others. In every step you should take, in the way of folly and sin, you would meet with checks and rebukes. And if you should break through, and harden yourselves against all the remonstrances of your enlightened conscience and understanding, the issue would be unutterable remorse and anguish.
But this, I trust, shall not be your case. Your goodness, I hope, shall not be like a "morning cloud, or the early dew, that soon passeth away," Hos. vi. 4, but rather be as the dawning light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day," Prov. iv. 18.
May you then willingly admit and entertain the wholesome instructions of those who wish you well: and may you in the way of virtue ever have countenance and encouragement. But if you should meet with obstacles, may you surmount them, and be faithful to God. And having experienced some good portion of peace in the way of God's commandments on earth, may you and yours partake with all the people of God in the full rewards and everlasting joys of religion and virtue, which are sure, and are reserved for the world to come.
THE VIRTUE AND BENEFIT OF EARLY PIETY, OR FEARING THE LORD FROM THE YOUTH.
-But I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth.-1 Kings xviii. 12.
THOUGH this character be here given by the person himself, we are not immediately to admit the suspicion of pride and vanity. What he says is only for the sake of self-preservation. If we never commend ourselves for a less weighty reason, we shall not incur the just censure of boasting and vain-glory.
The person is Obadiah, whose history we have in the former part of this chapter. He is now speaking to the prophet Elijah: and the thing happened in the time of the long dearth in the reign of Ahab king of Israel.
At the beginning of the chapter it is said: "And it came to pass after many days, that the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year, saying: Go, shew thyself unto Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth. And Elijah went to shew himself unto Ahab: and there was a sore famine in Samaria. And Ahab called Obadiah, which was the governor of his house."
Some have put the question, whether this be the same as Obadiah the prophet. But it does not appear that this person had at all the prophetical character. And Obadiah, whose short book of prophecies we have among the lesser prophets near the end of the Old Testament, seems to have lived a good deal later than the reign of Ahab.
It follows in verse third and fourth: "Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly. For it was so, when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, that Obadiah took an hundred prophets, and hid them by fifty in a cave, and gave them bread and water."
By prophets, as is generally supposed, we are not here to understand inspired persons, with a special commission from God: but men educated in the schools of the prophets. These Jezebel looked upon as her enemies, because they opposed her idolatrous worship, and taught the people the true religion. And, possibly, she suspected them of favouring the interests of the kingdom of Judah, where was the appointed place of worship for all the tribes of Israel.
It was therefore an act of great piety, and much resolution, in Obadiah, in a time of such danger, to protect those prophets. "He hid them by fifty in a cave, and gave them bread and water:" that is, all needful provisions, sending them meat and drink privately every day.
Ver. 5, 6. "And Ahab said unto Obadiah: Go into the land, unto all fountains of water, and unto all brooks. Peradventure we may find grass to save the horses and mules alive, that we lose not all the beasts. So they divided the land between them, to pass through it. Ahab went one way by himself, and Obadiah went another way by himself."
Obadiah was the only person in the service of Ahab whom he could confide in upon this occasion. It is a proof of the great regard which even this wicked prince had for him. And it affords good reason for us to suppose, that Obadiah had been wont to behave with singular fidelity, and uncommon discretion, in all affairs in which he was employed.
Ver. 7-12." And as Obadiah was in the way, behold, Elijah met him. And he knew him, and fell on his face and said: Art thou my lord Elijah ?" He was not a little surprised to meet Elijah, who for some time had lived very privately out of the reach of Ahab. "And he answered him: I am. Go tell thy lord: Behold Elijah is here. And he said: What have I sinned, that thou wouldst deliver thy servant into the hand of Ahab to slay me? As the Lord thy God liveth, there is no nation or kingdom, whither my lord has not sent to seek thee. And when they said, he is not here, he took an oath of the kingdom and nation, that they found thee not. And thou sayest: Go, tell thy lord, behold, Elijah is here. And it shall come to pass, as soon as I am gone from thee, that the Spirit of the Lord shall carry thee whither I know not. And so when I come, and tell Ahab, and he cannot find thee, he shall slay me."
The message, with which Elijah sent Obadiah, would be very grateful to king Ahab, who had earnestly sought for him. But Obadiah, supposing that the prophet could not appear before Ahab with safety, feared, lest by divine direction, he should, when he was gone away, remove to some other place. He excuseth himself therefore from delivering this message. And he pleads with the prophet, that he should not expose him to so imminent danger of death, by provoking the displeasure of Ahab. Thus he speaks in the text, and the words following: ver. 12-16. "But, I thy servant, fear the Lord from my youth. Was it not told my lord what I did, when Jezebel slew the prophets of the Lord, how I hid an hundred men of the Lord's prophets, by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water? And now thou sayest, Go tell thy lord: behold, Elijah is here: and he shall slay me. And Elijah said: As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand," or whom I serve, "I will shew myself to him this day. So Obadiah went to meet Ahab, and told him. And Ahab went to meet Elijah."
"But I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth." Or, "But thy servant feareth the Lord from his youth." Which is a more literal translation: for the word I is not in the original.
I. I now propose first to explain the words, and shew what is implied "in fearing the Lord from the youth."
II. Secondly to shew the virtue of so doing.
III. And thirdly the benefit of it.
I. I would shew, what is implied in "fearing the Lord from the youth.
It may include these four things, believing in God: worshipping him, and making an open profession of religion: observing the precepts of true religion, or making the will of God, so far as we are acquainted with it, the rule of our conduct: and doing this constantly from early age.
1. Fearing the Lord implies believing God: or, that Jehovah, the Lord, is the one living and true God. "He that cometh to God," says the apostle to the Hebrews, "must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him," Heb. xi. 6. So much Obadiah intends here to say of himself: that he always had a persuasion in his mind, that there is a God, and one God: which one God he believed to be the God of the patriarchs, the God who protected them, and whom they owned and served; the God that brought Israel out of Egypt, and delivered his laws and statutes to them by the hand of Moses.
He believed God to be the creator of the heavens and the earth, the sea and all things that are therein. His own reason led him to conceive of God in this manner. The books of Moses, that great prophet of the people of Israel, and most eminent servant of the true God, confirmed the beli of this truth. The creation of the world is related at the beginning of the writings of that lawgiver. And this notion of God is inserted distinctly in one of the ten commandments, the fourth in order, delivered with so great solemnity. He therefore, who in the preface to to those commandments says: "I am the Lord thy God, that brought thee out of the land of Egypt," is the creator of the whole world, and consequently the rightful Lord and disposer of all things therein.
This one consideration of God, as creator, would lead the thoughtful and pious person, here spoken of, to distinct apprehensions of every attribute and perfection, every notion and character of the Deity, that renders him the proper object of worship, obedience, trust and confidence.
He was persuaded, that to God belongs power, and that he is able to do whatever he pleaseth in heaven and on earth. He knew what David inculcated upon his son Solomon, that God "searcheth all hearts, that if men seek him, he will be found of them, and that if they forsake him, he will cast them off for ever," 1 Chron. xxviii. 9; or, as the apostle in the words before cited, "that God is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."
2. In fearing God the Lord, is implied worshipping him, or making an open profession of true religion. Obadiah so feared the Lord, as to worship him, and no other. It was known to Ahab, and to all his people in general, especially those who were in the chief city, and at court, that he feared the Lord.
He worshipped and served God according to the rules of reason, and the directions of the law of Moses, the revelation that had been made to the people of Israel. It was the first of the principal commandments of that law. "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." The next commandment is: "Thou shalt not make unto thyself a graven image, the likeness of any thing. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, and serve them." And according to those laws, given to the people of Israel by Jehovah, as their king and governor, he who worshipped any other God was to be cut off from his people. This person respected those laws, and the sanctions by which they were enforced: and though many did not regard them, he did. He was persuaded, that God was able to reward the obedient and punish transgressors.
In the following chapter Elijah, lamenting his case, says, he "only was left," 1 Kings xix. 14. But God assures him, that "he had left to him seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that had not bowed unto Baal," ver. 18. Obadiah was one of these, but more known as a worshipper and servant of the true God, than many of that number.
3. Fearing the Lord implies observing the precepts of true religion, or making the will of God, so far as we are acquainted with it, the rule of our conduct.
This is an ordinary meaning of the fear of the Lord in scripture. It includes all religion in general. At least obedience is represented as so connected with fearing God, as to be a necessary. concomitant, or immediate effect of it. For it is said, that "the fear of the Lord is to depart from evil," Prov. viii. 13. Again, "By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil," ch. xvi. 6. And "Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty," or concern "of man," Ecc. xii. 13.
So Moses instructed the people under his care: "Now these are the commandments, and statutes, and judgments, which the Lord your God commanded to teach you: that thou mightest fear the Lord thy God, to keep all his statutes and commandments, which I command thee,” Deut. vi. 1, 2.
! For certain, religion, or the fear of God, is not a speculative science. It lies not barely in admiring thoughts and sublime conceptions of the Deity. God is not only a being of great power and understanding, but he is also a righteous, holy being; true, gracious, merciful. And a true worshipper of God is led to an imitation of him in those perfections. All hopes of his favour depend upon a conformity to him therein. And truth, righteousness, and goodness, are the great things in those laws which have been delivered by his authority.
Such an one the person in the text evidently was. There was no one besides, in whom Ahab could so safely confide for an upright and conscientious discharge of any office and commission in which the welfare of his kingdom was concerned.
4. It is here also said of Obadiah, that he feared the Lord from his youth; that is, from very early age to that time. As soon as he was arrived to a full exercise of his reason, and came to be sensible of moral obligations, he had by his own voluntary and sedate judgment and choice signified his approbation of the great truths, and principles, and precepts of religion. From the beginning he had been persuaded, that the Lord Jehovah is God alone; and all his days he had worshipped and served him as the one true God, and loved him with all his heart and soul: .esteeming his service the most honourable, the most delightful, and the most profitable service which any creature can be engaged in. He had likewise in the whole course of his life had a strict and conscientious respect to the great rules of right and wrong. Such had been his early resolution and practice: and the rest of his life to that time was of the same tenour.
I presume I do not put too much into the description of this property, fearing the Lord; or the character of the person here spoken of. I have studiously avoided so doing. We are not obliged to conceive of Obadia, as perfect, or without sin: but he was upright, he truly feared.