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almost any condition, if a man is resolved to accommodate himself to it and improve it. Even hell itself would lose half its terrors, if the possibility and the inclination for improvement and usefulness could there be found. And it is of little importance to the ultimate happiness of life, at how low a point of depression a man begins to improve his condition ; for even the worst men find it their interest to employ and reward ability and integrity.
But how came Potiphar to promote Joseph ? The history answers : “ He saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand." True piety, religious principle, illustrated by a faithful life, is the best recommendation a youth can offer to one whose confidence he wishes to secure. The youth who enters a city with “ the fear of God before his eyes," and leads a holy life, is, on that account more likely to be prosperous and happy, than he could possibly be without it.
II. We next find Joseph in temptation, exposed to imminent danger of ruin ; not only enticed under circumstances which promised concealment, but aware that if he declined, he might be ruined in his master's esteem by a false accusation. How true it is, that snares and dangers thicken in the path of promotion and prosperity. They appear in new and unexpected forms, and under fair disguises. They lull suspicion to sleep,they elude all guards but One ; and that One stood revealed to Joseph's mind in the hour of his greatest danger, and threw around him that shield of heavenly chastity which averted the shafts of vicious pleasure, and inspired a deep abhorrence of the sin; it was the Holy One, whose voice had called Abraham from his native land; whose blessing was renewed on Isaac; who stood by Jacob's pillow of stones at Bethel, and who now defended Jacob's favorite son from ruin, though he left him to be tried by new suffering in the dungeon of the king's prison.
You see by what power he resisted temptation. The fear of God was before his eyes. “ How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God ?"
He was a pious man. And in the midst of a heathen city, among a vicious and pleasure-loving people, he “ walked with God;" he felt that the Lord was ever about his bed and his path, spying out all his ways, and taking knowledge of the words of his tongue and the thoughts of his heart. This was the power that preserved him. O, how inestimably valuable is this power to a young man, separated from his home, and thrown into the midst of a gay and corrupted city! How manifestly the happiness of a whole family is sometimes suspended on his possessing this holy self-command in the moment of trial! Such was the case of Joseph, though he knew it not at the time. If this heavenly wisdom dwelt in the breast of all the youth among us, how many fathers would be happy who are now broken-hearted, or filled with anxious care.
III. We next find Joseph in prison. What a strange reward for his faithfulness to his master and his piety to his God! But even in the prison he was not broken by dejection. Though in a much worse condition than at the beginning of his slavery, yet he was not in despair, but immediately applied himself to make the best improvement of it. The keeper of a prison is the last man in the world to confide in those around him. Commitment to prison is a bad recommendation to confidence. But Joseph found the way to his keeper's heart, by making himself useful, and showing faithfulness in all things. Having done all he could to deserve friendship and relief, he waited patiently for the Lord. Bad as his condition was, it was better than that of his guilty brethren ; far better than that of his false accuser. The consciousness of suffering wrong, yet suffering patiently, -relying on God for final vindication, is itself the source of more happiness than can ever dwell with a guilty mind in the most favorable circumstances. Years rolled away, and no deliverance came. 6. The chief buller did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” But at last, at the very best time, the Lord interposed in a way which left no doubt of his hand being in the work. He showed that “the king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water, and he turneth it about whithersoever he will.” Joseph stands before Pharaoh the approved interpreter, invested with power to govern the kingdom, and second only to the king whose throne he is to support.
IV. Here we are to observe him in a station more trying to his piety and virtue, than any he had before occupied. He might have taken to himself the honor of the interpretation, but he gave it all to God; and therefore God honored him the more. Them that honor me, I will honor; but they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.” And Pharaoh gave him the significant appellation, —" The man to whom secrets are revealed :" for (said he), “inasmuch as God hath showed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art; thou shalt be over
The hour of complete triumph to a man who has been wrongfully oppressed, is the most dangerous hour of his life. If there is any lurking malice in his heart, that is the time for it to break out and disgrace him. Potiphar and his treacherous wife were now in the power of Joseph ; he could have degraded or destroyed them; but he was too pious, and too happy, and too well employed, to take even the trouble to render them more contemptible than their own feelings must have made them, as often as they saw him. It was now in his power to have avenged himself on his cruel brethren. He could have commissioned, perhaps, the same company of Ishmaelites who brought him into Egypt, to return through Padan-Aram and destroy their flocks, and rob them of their silver and gold, and murder them, or carry them off and sell them for slaves. But he thought too much of the providence of God, and too much of his early dream, and he loved his father's house too well to yield to the suggestions of revenge. And doubtless he had it in his heart to make himself known to his family, whenever he should see his affairs in Egypt in such a state as to render it expedient. But before the seven years of famine were ended, he received notice of his father's approach ; "and he made ready his chariot, and went up to meet Israel his father, at Goshen, and he presented himself unto him; and he fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while.”
In the retirement at Goshen, the patriarch heard from the lips of his beloved son the entire narrative of his adventures, his sufferings, and his promotion. You imagine the old man, at every pause and turn in the narrative, giving vent to his long-smothered feelings of paternal fondness. You hear him praise alternately the fortitude, the forbearance, the magnanimity, the condescension of his heart. You see his embarrassed intercession with Joseph for his guilty brothers—until Joseph stops him by the assurance of their pardon. And you see them united in fervent adoration of the God of Abraham, to whom entirely they ascribe their preservation and their blessings.
It is a natural wish of men to close their lives at the accomplishment of some great and interesting event. “ And Israel said unto Joseph, Now let me die, since I have seen thy face, because thou art yet alive.” So the aged Simeon felt, when he took the infant Jesus in his arms, and blessed God for the sight, " saying, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people ; a light to lighten the gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” And so that Savior himself exclaimed (with Divine satisfaction), “ It is finished, and bowed his head and died.” But the patriarch was spared for many years to see the prosperity of his family. He found, indeed, that “ Joseph his son was yet alive;" and he realized more than he anticicipated when he resolved, “ I will go and see him before I die;" for he lived to bless the sons of Joseph.
Let us now draw from this subject some lessons of practical wisdom. And,
First: In this piece of ancient family history, parents may see the importance to themselves and their families of giving their children pious instruction at the earliest period in which they can receive it.
1. You know not how early, nor by what means any one of your children may be separated from you for a long term of years, or even for life. But if your child goes out imbued with the fear of the Lord, a pious child, he will be sustained in sufferings and temptations ; he will walk safely in the most slippery paths, because the unseen hand of the Lord will conduct him; and all his wanderings will terminate in heaven at last. Yours will be the happiness of having given birth to an heir of eternal glory. Had Jacob died in utter ignorance of the history of his lost son, he would still have met him, after a few years, in a world where the power and glory of a governor of Egypt would be as nothing. Hannah, a poor but pious mother in Israel, did more for her son, than Philip of Macedonia did for his.
2. The pious son who is removed from your family at a tender age, and for a long time has no interest in your affairs, may prove to be the main pillar of your house, when there is no other person to prevent its fall. “ Riches take to themselves wings.” Prospects that seem quite too fair for disappointment, fade and change in a day. And in the strange revolutions of human events, your old age and all the hopes of your house may lean on one, whom you had long relinquished the hope of seeing on earth. The whole family of Jacob, who afterward became a great and happy nation, found a preserver in such a son. But had that son been any thing less than the pious, prudent, energetic, and selfcommanding man he was, he could not have saved his family and nation.
3. It may be, that the piety of one such child shall become in following years the means of reformation and conversion to many others in your family, who had abused pious instructions in their early years, and fallen into ways of vice and wickedness. In the brief narrative of Joseph's intercourse with his guilty brothers, you find him taking a course exactly suited to convince them of their sins; and it had the effect he intended : you then find him treating them generously and kindly through all their remaining years; encouraging them by a view of the providence whieh overruled their wickedness for the good of them all; and after the death of their father, when they feared that he would punish them, and they sent a messenger to tell him how his father had spoken of the same matter in their behalf before his death, he wept ; he was grieved that they should think him capable of such weakness and cruelty, after all the kindness he had shown them. There is reason to suppose that he was a spiritual benefactor to very many of his father's descendants.
4. The consolation you may find in such a son, at the period of old age, will be a rich and appropriate reward of your prayerful diligence in his early religious education. The sympathizing friends of an aged man must become fewer every year, unless he finds them in the family of his own descendants. He is not sure to find them there, unless they are pious. But if he has the honor to be their spiritual father, they are his by a tie, that no change of time or infirmity of age can sever. The picture of pious children sustaining a very infirm, but eminently pious parent, is fit to adorn that mansion where infirmity shall never enter.
In every view of their family's happiness, and their own, then, let parents be
encouraged to pursue without weariness the pious education of their children. “ In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand;" for although they may be prematurely severed from your domestic circle, or yourself removed from the world, while yet the seeds of truth have scarcely sent up one well-defined leaf from their young minds, yet remember the promise," He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless return again with joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”
Secondly: Let the youthful members of this audience learn the great value of genuine piety. Joseph is one of the most perfect characters delineated in the Old Testament. And no doubt the Inspirer of the sacred Scriptures intended to hold up this example to the imitation of countless millions. It is the more happy example, on account of the adversity he sustained, and the prosperity to which he rose, and also because he was immersed in public affairs, which some have imagined incompatible with a holy life.
We have seen in this example, at every step, that his early piety was his preservation. He was thrown into the most dangerous and trying situations that can be conceived; but his wisdom remained with him in them all. He passed through adversity and prosperity, as gold passes through the fire, only to be purified by the trial. He gained the confidence and friendship of all who could be gained by condescension, obedience, industry, and integrity. He rose against a host of obstacles, and his whole course proves that “godliness is profitable for the life that now is."
Enlightened piety is a safeguard against those errors and follies, by which the young (especially in large towns) are very often defeated in their plans of prosperity and happiness. The heart that has been honestly and fervently engaged in religious meditation and prayer in the morning, will be in the fear of the Lord all the day; and the fear of the Lord is a regulator of the passions, and a sure foundation of practical wisdom. Diligence in business will harmonize with a fervent spirit of enlightened piety. Patience and perseverance will not forsake an enlightened candidate for eternal happiness. Extravagant gratifications will not beguile him from the path of strict integrity. But he will grow in favor with men, while he evidently enjoys the favor of God.
The great value of early established piety to our youth may be seen by a little attention to the evils suffered from the want of it, or from its decay in those who once enjoyed it.
It is very painful to know, what we cannot avoid knowing, of the decay of piety in many of the youth of this great metropolis- especially in those youth who were hopeful Christians before they entered the city ; and this pain is in some cases aggravated, when we observe the reasons why they neglect to make themselves known as Christians here. They throw down their armor to amuse themselves with the enemy, just when they are entering the most dangerous conflict, and are liable to be pierced by the first arrow that flies. They mingle with the unshielded company of youth, and all hasten “as a bird to the snare."
None of them intend to be snared and ruined. They all have a laudable plan of enterprise and prosperity. But they know not the strength of their enemies, or their own weakness; they know not the unnumbered ills they are bringing on themselves. A gloomy scene now passes before my recollection. Ah! it is a picture of the youthful suffering and ruin I have witnessed in the last six years, which might have been avoided if the piety of Joseph had preoccupied the hearts of the victims. And oh! what bitter grief and lamentation have they sent