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TO YOUNG PERSONS.
The Orphan's Hope.
Psalm xxvii. 10.-When my Father and my Mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up*.
HERE are few precepts of the gospel which will appear more easy to a humane, and a generous mind, than that in which we are required to Weep with them that weept. And surely there are few circumstances of private life, which will more readily command our mournful sympathy, than those of that afflicted family, to the poor remains of which you will naturally, on the first hearing of these words, direct your thoughts, and perhaps, your eyes too: The circumstances of a family, which God Hath broken with breach upon breach‡; of those distressed children, whose father and mother have forsaken them almost at once; and who have since been visited with another stroke, which, if alone, had been very grievous, and when added to such a weight of former sorrows, is I fear, almost insupportable.
I believe all of you, who are acquainted with the case sincerely pity them, and wish their relief; but I am under some peculiar obligations to desire and attempt it; not only on account of my public character, but as I know the heart of an orphan, having myself been deprived of both my parents, at an age, in which it might reasonably be supposed a child should be most sensible of such a loss. I cannot recollect any scripture, which was then more comfortable, as I think none could have been more suitable to me, than this which is now before us; and I the rather chuse to insist upon it, as it will naturally lead me into some reflections, which I hope, by the divine blessing, may be of general use: When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.
* N. B. This Sermon was preached at Ashley, in Northamptonshire, March 6, 1725, to some young persons, whose father, mother, and sister, had all died of the small-pox a few days before.
As for the psalm from whence these words are taken, we are told in the title, that it was composed by David, but are left to conjecture the particular occasion of it. Dr. Patrick refers it to the latter end of his time, and to the combat that he had with the Philistines in his declining age; when we are told, that David waxed faint, and was in great danger of being killed by a giant, if Abishai, the brother of Joab, had not seasonably rescued him; upon which it is added, that his subjects sware, he should No more go out to battle, lest he should quench the light of Israel. To these words David is supposed to allude, when he says, The Lord is my light, and my salvation, whom shall I fear?-Mine enemies came upon me to eat up my flesh; and I had fainted, unless I had believed+. But I am rather inclined to conjecture, that this psalm was composed by him in his younger years, when he was under persecution by Saul. There is not a line in it, which doth not agree to this supposition; and there are several verses, which cannot so well be accommodated to the other; especially the 12th, in which he represents his dangers as arising from false witnesses. Now it is not easy to imagine what mischief they could have done him amongst the philistines, who opposed him in a national, rather than a personal quarrel; but he expressly declares elsewhere, that the lying words of some treacherous persons had exasperated Saul against him; and complains of false tongues, in those psalms, which are, by their title, fixed to this period of his history§. I might add, that the words of the text seem to favour this supposition; for David doth not here say, that his father and mother had already forsaken him, but only speaks of it as what might happen. Now, as we are elsewhere told, that when David was but a lad, His father was an old man, it is very improbable, that both Jesse and his wife should have been living at the time of this philistine war, when David himself was grown old and feeble.
If this argument be of weight to fix the general occasion of the psalm, it is probable that this verse may lead us to the particular time of its composure. We are told, that when David had taken shelter at Adullam, from the violence of Saul, and had raised a band of men for his defence, he conveyed His father and mother to the king of Moab, desiring that, till
* 2 Sam. xxi. 15-17.
† Psal. xxvii. 1, 2, 13.
§ Psal. lii. 2, 3, 4. lvii. 4. and lix. 12. || 1 Sam. xvii. 12.
1 Sam. xxiv. 9.
1 Sam. xxii, 3.
providence had brought his affairs to a determination, that prince would shelter them from the fury of Saul, which might otherwise have proved fatal to them, as it had just before done to the priests of the Lord. Perhaps this was the pious reflection of David, about the time his parents were to remove; When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up: As if he should have said, "Though an host of my enemies be encamping against me, and the nation be rising in arms to oppose me; and though I be forced to dismiss my aged parents, at a time when I have the greatest occasion for their prudent advice, and their tender consolations; yet this is my comfort, that God is with me: He will supply what I lose in them; he will take me up, and nourish me as his own child, when their parental tenderness can afford me no farther support.
The words will naturally afford us these two plain remarks, which, with the improvement of them, will be the foundation of the present discourse.
I. The dearest of our relatives, and the most valuable of our friends, may possibly forsake us.
II. When good men are abandoned by their dearest friends, they may find more in God, than they have lost in them. When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.
I. The dearest of our relatives, and the most valuable of our friends, may possibly forsake us.
You see David speaks of it, as at least a supposable case, with regard to 'himself, that not only his followers, his companions and his brethren, but even his father and his mother might forsake him. All the intimacy of relation, all the endearment of affection, could not secure him from being deserted by them. And this may be our own case-our friends may abandon us through their own unkindness,—or God may remove them by the stroke of his providence.
1. Our dearest friends may abandon us through their own unkindness.
It is the remarkable saying of one, who had made many serious reflections on this head; "If you put so much confidence in any friend, as not to consider, that it is possible he may become your enemy, you know man but little, and perhaps may be taught to know him better to your cost." Change of cir
cumstances, contrariety of interest, our own mistakes, the misrepresentations of others, and sometimes mere caprice, and inconstancy of temper, render those indifferent, and perhaps averse to each other, who were once united in the bonds of the most endearing friendship: Nay, it is certain, that sometimes an immoderate and ungoverned fondness on both sides, may not only justly provoke God to disappoint our hopes from each other; but may prove, in its natural consequences, an occasion of mutual disgust, and perhaps of separation. For, when the mind labours under this disorder, it contracts a kind of sickly peevishness, which turns every trifling neglect into an offence, and every offence into a crime; so that men find the extremes of love and hatred more nearly connected, than they could once have believed. Sudden fear will drive away some friends when we are in danger; and a much meaner principle will lead others, who, in better days, have called themselves our friends, to abandon, and, perhaps to censure us, when, we are reduced to low circumstances, and so have the greatest need of their assistance.
Such is the vanity of human friendship: And I will add, that neither, on the one hand, the sincerity of our affection, nor the worth of our character, nor the urgency of our affairs; nor, on the other hand, the former appearance of goodness in them, nor the highest obligations of gratitude; nor yet the nearest ties of blood or alliance, can secure us from disappointment in this tender article. David and Job, under the Old Testament, and Paul, and even his blessed Master, under the New, though all such excellent persons, were forsaken, and in several respects injured, by their friends; nay, I may say as to most of them, by pious friends too. Such treatment therefore may we meet with from ours, even from those to whom we are related in the bonds of nature as well as affection.-What union can be more strict and endearing, than that of marriage? Yet you know, Job complains while he was in circumstances which might have drawn tears from the eyes of a stranger, that his wife seemed to have forgot, not only the tenderness of her sex, and the intimacy of her relation, but even all sense of common humanity towards him: My breath, says he, is strange to my wife, though I intreated her for the children's sake of mine own body*.-From whom could we expect greater tenderness, than from parents to their children, especially from mothers to their infant offspring? Yet God expressly declares, what has indeed been seen in some amazing
*Job xix. 17.
instances, that this may fail. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the child of her womb? The little tender creature, that she has borne in her body, that she has been used to lay in her bosom; the poor innocent that never offended her, that has all his dependence upon her; whom nature would therefore prompt her most resolutely to defend, most tenderly to cherish; can she forget it? Yea, they may forget, saith the Lord*: This strange case may happen; it may happen in repeated instances.-Thus may our dearest friends, and even our parents themselves, abandon us through their own unkindness. But be they ever so constant and affectionate, it is certain,
2. They may be taken away from us by the stroke of divine providence.
Whilst we are in the most delightful manner conversing with our friends, God may bring us into such circumstances, that we shall see ourselves obliged in duty to quit the dearest of them, possibly even contrary to their judgment and advice, as well as their importunate intreaties; or they may see themselves obliged, on the same principles, to quit us; so that we may seldom have the opportunity of seeing each other, and enjoying the pleasure of mutual converse.
But the severest trial is, when God sees fit to remove them by death. When that awful messenger gives the summons, we must part, though ever so desirous of continuing together. None can by any means deliver his brother from going down to the grave, nor give to God a ransom for him, though he should offer his own life under that view. Our Fathers, where are they? And, I may add, where are many of our brethren of the same age, and once in the same stations of life with ourselves? What multitudes of them are already removed by death! Perhaps more than are left behind. We have followed them to the grave, we have left them in the dust, and Their places that knew them, know them no more§: And if we are not quickly taken away ourselves, we must expect, that our breaches, will soon be mul tiplied upon us; and that nothing will remain of those dear creatures, whom we now behold with tenderness, and with transport, but a mournful remembrance that we once enjoyed them, and a despair of recovering them again, till we meet in the eternal world.