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ON FILIAL PIETY.
GENESIS, xlvii. 12.
And Joseph nourished his father, and his brethren, and all his father's household, with bread, according to their families.
HOEVER reads the Bible at all, has
read the history of Joseph. It has universally attracted attention: and, without doubt, there is not one, but many points in it, which deserve to be noticed. It is a strong and plain example of the circuitous providence of God: that is to say, of his bringing about the ends and purposes of his providence, by seemingly casual and unsuspected means. That is a high doctrine, both of natural and revealed religion; and is clearly exemplified in this history. It is
an useful example, at the same time, of the protection and final reward of virtue, though for a season oppressed and calumniated, or carried through a long series of distresses and misfortunes. I say, it is an useful example, if duly understood, and not urged too far. It shows the protection of Providence to be with virtue under all its difficulties: and this being believed upon good grounds, it is enough; for the virtuous man will be assured, that this protection will keep with him in and through all stages of his existence-living and dying he is in its hands and for the same reason that it accompanies him, like an invisible guardian, through his trials, it will finally recompense him. This is the true application of that doctrine of a directing providence, which is illustrated by the history of Joseph, as it relates to ourselves- I mean as it relates to those, who are looking forward to a future state. If we draw from it an opinion, or an expectation, that, because Joseph was at length rewarded with riches and honours, therefore we shall be the same, we carry the example further than it will bear. It proves that virtue is
under the protection of God, and will ultimately be taken care of and rewarded: but in. what manner, and in what stage of our existence, whether in the present or the future, or in both, is left open by the example: and both may, and must depend, upon reasons, in a great measure, unknown to and incalculable by us.
Again; the history of Joseph is a domestic example. It is an example of the ruinous consequences of partiality in a parent, and of the quarrels and contentions in a family, which naturally spring from such partiality.
Again; it is a lesson to all schemers and confederates in guilt, to teach them this truth, that, when their scheme does not succeed, they are sure to, quarrel amongst themselves, and to go into the utmost bitterness of mutual accusation and reproach; as the brethren of Joseph, you find, did.
Again; it is a natural example of the effect of adversity, in bringing men to
themselves, to reflections upon their own conduct, to a sense and perception of many things, which had gone on, and might have gone on, unthought of and unperceived, if it had not been for some stroke of misfortune, which roused their attention. It was after the brethren of Joseph had been shut up by him in prison, and were alarmed, as they well might be, for their lives, that their consciences, so far as appears, for the first time, smote them; We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear." This is the natural and true effect of judgments in this world, to bring us to a knowledge of ourselves that is to say, of those bad things in our lives, which have deserved the calamities we are made to suffer.
These are all points in the history: but there is another point in Joseph's character, which I make choice of as the subject of my present discourse; and that is, his dutifulness and affection to his father. Never was this virtue more strongly displayed. It runs, like a thread, through the
whole narrative; and whether we regard it as a quality to be admired, or, which would be a great deal better, as a quality to be imitated by us, so far as a great disparity of circumstances will allow of imitation (which in principle it always will do), it deserves to be considered with a separate and distinct attention.
When a surprising course of events had given to Joseph, after a long series of years, a most unexpected opportunity of seeing his brethren in Egypt, the first question which he asked them was, " Is father yet alive?" This appears from the account, which Reuben gave to Jacob, of the conference which they had held with the great man of the country, whilst neither of them, as yet, suspected who he Joseph, you remember, had concealed himself, during their first journey, from the knowledge of his brethren; and it was not consistent with his disguise to be more full and particular, than he was, in his inquiries.
On account of the continuance of the