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SERMON LXXIV. .
PARENTAL ANTICIPATIONS AND DUTIES ON THE BIRTH OF
Luke i. 66.
What manner of child shall this be?
THESE words were originally uttered on observing the miracles connected with the birth of John the Baptist, the illustrious forerunner of our Redeemer. The high hopes of his future eminence that these miracles excited, were accomplished. He was indeed “a burning and a shining light.” His career was short, but important and glorious.
It is not my intention, however, to confine myself to the history of the Baptist. Language similar to that in the text is used on the birth of The parents anxiously desire to lift the veil which covers futurity, and would wish to have the prophetic vision of Zechariah, that they might discern the future character of their child.
This desire is natural, and even laudable, when it proceeds from proper motives and feelings, and incites to proper actions. But it frequently springs
from a vain curiosity, or a wordly temper. Parents ask, “What manner of child shall this be?" not with solicitude that it may adorn the doctrine of the Redeemer, but only with an anxious wish that it may
be encompassed by all that the world idolizes.
If we would render the question beneficial to us, we must ask it,
I. With a submissive temper.
II. With a sense of the importance of the future character of the child.
III. With a recollection of the awful charge it imposes upon us, and,
IV. With a persuasion of our dependence upon the blessing of God, to render it holy and happy.
This question should be asked,
I. With a spirit of unfeigned submission to God: submission exercised both as to the bounds he prescribes to our knowledge of the future, and as to his righteous government and disposal of the child.
1. Many are desirous to know more of the future than God has thought fit to reveal, and they are disposed to murmur that the events that shall befall their children are hidden from them. But while with the natural solicitude of parents you make the inquiry in the text, repine not at the narrow limits of your knowledge. A perfect acquaintedness with the future conditions of your offspring would not tend to your real good; it would serve only for curiosity, and not for use. Nay, it would be disadvantageous to you.
You would be prevented from performing present duty, and diverted from your daily work, by the continual and unprofitable ranges of your mind to and fro in that futurity, which would then lie open, and present so vast a prospect to you.
Your aflictions would be inconceivably multiplied. Every sorrow of your whole life that shall result from your children would be felt in every day. If the bare possibility of their misery sometimes severely afflicts you, how keenly would you feel the certainty of this misery, without the ability to avert it! Could you at once perceive all the tears that this child shall shed, all the woes that he shall endure, all the agonies that shall wring his heart, what a melancholy gloom would settle on your soul! How speedily would that joy, with which you now caress your infant, and form the dearest hopes concerning him, be withered, were the veil of futurity suddenly withdrawn, and he presented to you perhaps an early corpse, perhaps a profligate sinner, perhaps the victim of poverty, affliction, or reproach!
The sweetness of mercies would be diminished by this clear knowledge of the future.
All the delight which results from the unexpectedness of blessings would be wrested from you. If the future presented you a dark and gloomy prospect respecting your child, you would raise no tribute of gratitude for present blessings. Did you, on the contrary, see before you brighter joys, an anxiety to possess them would make you indifferent to the pleasures which now encompass you.
With a clear view of the future, the Christian graces would be impaired or entirely prevented from exercise. Then there could be no trust in God under the most frowning aspect of his providence; no faith in the midst of gloom and perplexity; no hope, since, as the apostle remarks,“ hope that is seen, is not hope;" no energetic and fervent prayer for deliverance and support, no exercises suited to the situation of those who are to “ walk by faith, and not by sight.” While
then, nature prompts you to cry, “What manner of child shall this be?” submit without murmuring to the disposals of the Ruler of the universe, who has hidden the future from you; and in this, as in all the dispensations of his providence, admire his wisdom and his mercy.
2. This submission must be shown also by a contentedness of heart to leave the government of your offspring, and the regulation of their lot in the hands of the All-Wise and AU-Good God. Christian parents, the language of your hearts should be, “ Though from those principles which nature has implanted, and grace has strengthened, we cannot but be solicitous what manner of children these shall be,” yet we are comforted when we remember that we have committed them to Him, who is at once the God of our fathers, our God, and the God of our children. Should he have resolved that these, like so many infants, should only glance upon the coasts of life, and after only a few weeks, or months, or years, fall victims to death, yet still we will remember that God has removed them; will submit to his rod, and show that these children, though tenderly loved, were not idolized, were not regarded as our chief good, and that our supreme felicity was not attached to their lives. Should they, by the guardian providence of God, be safely conducted through the dangers of infancy and youth, though we desire and supplicate for them temporal felicity, yet, should it please the Most Merciful to visit them with affliction, we will submit; knowing that all which God does is wisest and best. To him we have devoted ourselves and ours; we wish not that the regulation of our own lot, or that of our children, should be in any other hands than those of our Father. Only let them be the children of
God, the followers of the Redeemer, the heirs of glory, and we will be happy, whether they be rich or poor, honoured or contemned by men, surrounded by earthly enjoyments, or destitute of them. If we pass before them unto the eternal world, we will leave them with confidence, to the protection of that God whom they have chosen as their portion; or if they precede us in the descent to the tomb, we will resign them to that Redeemer who has washed them in his blood, and “ sorrow for them, not as those without hope.” “ What manner of child shall this be?” This is a question which should be asked, not only with a submissive temper, but also,
II. With a deep and solemn sense of the importance of the future character of every child.
The feeblest infant is not born like, inferior animals, merely to eat and drink, to walk up and down upon the earth, and enjoy the light of the sun for a few years, and then to lie down for ever in the dust. . It is not born merely to engage in the occupations of earth, although even the temporal events that may mark its life, render it an object of importance. Helpless and ignorant as it now is, knowing not its parents nor itself, nor its wants, nor the world of which it has become an inhabitant, it may hereafter be enrolled, either with those blessings or curses, of mankind, who once lay thus feeble. But it especially swells into consequence when we consider the sublimity of the future destination of man.
Yes, parents; solemnly ask, 6 What manner of children shall these be ?” when you remember that they are embryo angels, or infant fiends, that through eternity they will either continually rise higher in glory and felicity, or sink deeper and deeper in the gulfs of despair. There is an immortal