Nothing is more surprising to us at first reading than the history of God’s chosen people; it seems strange that they should have acted as they did age after age, in spite of the miracles which were vouchsafed to them.
I. Hard as it is to believe, miracles certainly do not make men better; the history of Israel proves it. The only mode of escaping this conclusion is to fancy that the Israelites were much worse than other nations, which accordingly has been maintained. But as we see that in every other point they were exactly like other nations, we are obliged to conclude, not that the Israelites were more hard-hearted than other people, but that a miraculous religion is not much more influential than other religions.
II. Why should the sight of a miracle make us better than we are? (1) It may be said that a miracle would startle us, but would not the startling pass away? Could we be startled for ever? (2) It may be urged that perhaps that startling might issue in amendment of life; it might be the beginning of a new life though it passed away itself. This is very true; sudden emotions—fear, hope, gratitude, and the like—all do produce such results sometimes; but why is a miracle necessary to produce such effects? Other things startle us besides miracles; we have a number of accidents sent by God to startle us. If the events of life which happen to us now produce no lasting effect upon us, then it is only too certain that a miracle would produce no lasting effect upon us either.
III. What is the real reason why we do not seek God with all our hearts if the absence of miracles be not the reason, as assuredly it is not? There is. one reason common both to us and the Jews: heartlessness in religious matters, an evil heart of unbelief; both they and we disobey and disbelieve, because we do not love.
IV. In another respect we are really far more favoured than the Israelites. They had outward miracles; we have miracles that are not outward, but inward. Our miracles consist in the Sacraments, and they do just the very thing which the Jewish miracles did not: they really touch the heart, though we so often resist their influence.
V. Let us then put aside vain excuses, and instead of looking for outward events to change our course of life, be sure of this, that if our course of life is to be changed, it must be from within. Let us rouse ourselves and act as reasonable men before it is too late; let us understand, as a first truth in religion, that love of heaven is the only way to heaven.
I. Notice how completely Almighty God recognises the sense of preciousness which all parents with a spark of heart in them attach to their children, and how God turns the faculty and instinct of affection in parents to their children to the parents’ condemnation if they will not use their affection or their responsibility in the direction of securing eternal life for those whom they love.
II. Children, in the providence of God, and according to the rules of God’s government, do, in a certain degree, share their parents’ privileges, suffer their parents’ penalties, nay, even sin with their parents’ sin.
III. The children did not altogether inherit the parents’ punishment. In some degree they were spared the consequences of their parents’ guilt. The parents must not go up to Canaan to possess that pleasant land, but the Lord will bring the children up when their parents are gone.
IV. The great reason why the children of Israel refused to go up to the land of Canaan was a want of faith. So the great reason why so-called Christian parents do not take the trouble to prepare their children for eternity is that their own personal belief about eternity is not as strong as it should be.
The duties of parents towards their children are: (1) to give them careful and continuous instruction concerning the things of God; (2) to teach them by their life and example that these things are true; (3) to pray for their children; (4) to have faith that God will bless their children.