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crease a malignant stubbornness. Would they only
4th. The relation of husband and wife, may be considered as a vine, abounding with tender grapes, whose fair prospects the little foxes should not be suffered to blight. What natural tie is so endearing, what union and felicity on earth are so important, and so desirable to be promoted. And how unreasonable and lamentable, that little things should be the means of putting these asunder? If conjugal affection and charity will not exercise forbearance, what in this world will? Notwithstanding mere trifles, the slightest neglects do sometimes cause coldness, reproaches, and violent contentions. There are some whose hearts are knit together in love, and yet they are frequently at variance; simply because they will not learn to bear each other's burdens. If due allowance would only be made for those imperfections which are common to human nature, the most of the difficulties of conjugal life would be prevented. In general, the reason why some families are far more agreeable and happy than others, is not that they have so much better natural dispositions; but because the united head have so much better faculty of taking the little foxes, or the talent of bearing with little things. But if the little foxes be not taken, disputes, private and publick, may ensue, a continued storm arise, and at last even separation take place, though not at first in the least expected.
5th. It is probable, that the church in general, and believers in particular, were more immediately designed to be represented by the words of the text. The church may be considered as the vine; and the
tender grapes may refer to young believers, as Christ himself applies to them the epithet, little ones. Hence says the royal preacher, Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines; for our vines have tender grapes. This is evidently a caution against every thing, however plausible, which tends to hinder the prosperity of the church, and the fruitfulness of believers. That this vine should flourish, and abound with tender clusters more precious than the grapes of Eshcol, the Saviour observed to his followers, Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit. Not only is open, gross immorality in the professors of religion a burden to the vine, but also any pursuit, indulgence, or way, which is inconsistent with vital piety and practical godliness. Whatever may be considered as a waste of our precious time, or whatever engrosses too much of our attention, and tends to the neglect of the means of grace, are of such a nature. Though a certain pursuit be not directly criminal in itself, yet by excessive indulgence it has a tendency to spoil the vine, and mar its tender grapes, like the unsuspected subtlety of the fox. The first risings of sinful thoughts and desires in believers, and the beginning of trifling pursuits, are like the little foxes, which, if not taken seasonably, will spoil the vines. Vain or trifling visits, which waste much time, incur great expense, and put the mind out of a proper frame for devotion, are peculiarly injurious in this respect. Those employments or recreations, that intrude on the hours that should be employed in serious meditation, self-examination, searching the scriptures, and secret prayer, are not only vanity, but chilling frosts to the soul, and mildews, whose acrimony corrodes the most flourishing vines. Even lawful and needful pursuits and recreations, when attended with excess or inexpediency, choke the word and it becometh unfruitful. They who have experienced the blessed change of conversion, ought to obey the call of Christ to arise and
follow him, and to leave the world and sin behind, that they may enjoy much of his love. Thus the fruits of holiness would appear, and the vine be revived. Believers should desire to bring forth plenteously the fruits of righteousness. And those christians who have been careful observers, perceive that the little, despised foxes do much harm to the branches of the living vine. Plausible errours, trivial omissions, compliances, and indulgencies, may be more general hindrances to christian progression and usefulness, than the most distressing temptations. Satan or his emissaries, may do more harm as subtle, unsuspected deceivers, than as furious persecutors. Therefore a watch should be maintained against the very beginning and appearance of evil; and the little foxes should be destroyed, before they become capable of important and extensive mischief. Whether young believers, or the dearest privileges and rich blessings of the gospel, be intended by the term, tender grapes, the example of old professors should not only be free from severe censure and an astonishment to them, but it should be such as to emulate them to good works. And let young professors realize that many eyes are watching them for little sins; and even their imperfections, short-comings, deficiencies, and mis-steps, for want of experience, are considered in them by some,as mountains. The followers of Christ must not only be moral, or shun immorality, but they should manifest the spirit, and endeavour to exhibit the life of Christ, that they may be a light to the world. They should watch with all dirigence, against whatever may injure the vine; and should cherish the tender grapes, that they come to maturity and perfection. For this end, the blessing of heaven must be implored with importunity, for those reviving and fruitful showers, which will water the vine, cause it to be green and fair, its branches to spread, and its leaves to be a pleasant shade for abundance of rich clusters of the choicest grapes.
1st. If little sins, little failings, and little things do sometimes blight the fairest prospect of human happiness, and destroy the fondest hopes of man, and his dearest privileges, then we may see that great effects may result from small or minute causes; or that momentous consequences proceed from little or trivial beginnings. This truth may be illustrated in both a natural and moral point of view. In both the natural and moral world we frequently behold great and important events, connected and dependent on those, that are very minute. Hence we hear the exclamation, Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth. A spark of fire is a little thing; it is extinguished by a drop of water; or, if not enkindled by fuel, dies of itself. Yet we know, that a spark of fire often becomes the instrument of extensive utility or mischief. A spark of fire is communicated to a magazine of powder. In a moment, massy walls of wood and stone, the pride of war, and the labour of years, yield to the dreadful explosion, and scattered in ten thousand fragments, spread terrour and destruction around. A spark of fire is concealed in a closet, or on the roof of a building. Shortly a family start from their slumbers, and see their dwelling with all its contents in a blaze. The flames kindle upon the adjacent buildings; the neighbourhood is involved in the spreading ruin; and, perhaps, a city is laid in ashes. Sparks of fire from the flint or match occasion blood and carnage, and spread the field of battle with the dead. Vast is the extent of the kingdom of providence; and the connection of minute with great events, is a subject not merely of curiosity, but one with which our duty and happiness are deeply concerned. A very limited acquaintance with the connexion of causes and effects, must convince us, that, in the natural and moral government of God, great things do often depend on small. A moment is scarcely noticed, but centuries are made up of moments. The mountain, that rears its stately head to the clouds, is composed of grains of sand. The river, that rolls its majestick tide to the ocean, consists of drops. On its waters, navies float; but followed to its source, it becomes a rivulet, and even a spring, bubbling from a rock of some mountain. Thus the greatest events, which the world has ever witnessed, have resulted from a combination of concurrent causes, each of which might seem unimportant in itself. The tongue is
a little member; yet, on the one hand, it is the spring of social life, the great cement of society; and, on the other hand, it is a world of iniquity, and setteth on fire the course of nature. That little member speaks a word.
What then? Alienation of friends, coldness, then jealousy and enmity ensue. And if they are persons of eminence, other tongues will cause some trivial misunderstanding to rise into consequences of incalculable importance. The same connexion, betwixt small things and great, runs through all the concerns of odr world. The incorrectness of an instructer may cause many to have an incorrect and deficient education. The ignorance of an apothecary or physician may send sickness and death into a family, and spread it through a town. And how often has a pestilential disease from one man, spread its infection to thousands of others. Our first parents sinned; and how have sin and death polluted and swept off their descendants from the earth in consequence of their transgression. A spark of envy in the bosom of Joseph's brethren, grew into settled enmity, and lead them to aim at the destruction of his life. Here commenced a series of events, which became so vast and so extended, as to give complexion to the affairs of two nations through all subsequent periods. Who can read the history of Joseph, and not have his mind deeply impressed with a sense of the connexion of great events with minute causes. What important events resulted from the decree of