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SERMON CXLVII.

THE ORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE.—THE DUTY OP EDUCATING

CHILDREN RELIGIOUSLY.-OBJECTIONS.

PROVERBS xxii. 6.--Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old,

he will not depart from it.

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THE next subject of inquiry, in the order proposed, is
The Religious Education of Children.

In a former discourse, I observed, that the word train originally denotes to draw along by a regular and steady course of exertions ; and is, hence, very naturally used to signify drawing from one action to another by persuasions, promises, and other efforts, continually repeated. The way, in which a child should go,

as was also ob, served in that discourse, is, undoubtedly, the way, in which it is best for him to go; particularly, with respect to his eternal well-being. With this explanation, the text will be seen,

I. To enjoin upon parents the Religious Education of their Children.

II. To teach the Manner, in which this duty should be performed.

III. To promise a Blessing to such, as faithfully discharge this duty; and thus to present powerful Motives to the performance.

These I shall examine in the order proposed.

The duty, enjoined in the text, has by multitudes of mankind been strenuously denied. “Children, religiously educated,” say these persons, “will, regularly, be biassed to one side of the case, and equally prejudiced against the other. Should they, then, believe in the divine revelation of the Scriptures, and adopt any one of those numerous systems of doctrines and precepts, which have existed in the Christian world; their belief would spring from prejudice only, and not from candour, investigation, or evidence. Consequently, it will be destitute alike of solid support and useful efficacy. Children would, therefore, be incomparably better situated, were they permitted to grow up without any extraneous impulse with respect to religion; and, being thus unprejudiced, would select for themselves, with much more probability, whatever is true, and right.”

To oppose this scheme will be the design of the following discourse: and in the progress of the opposition, all the proofs of the propriety of performing this duty may be advantageously alleged. As the scheme is addressed to Christians ; the arguments against it must be also addressed to Christians. I observe, then,

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1. That the mind, when uneducated, is a mere blank with respect to all useful knowledge; and, with respect to the knowledge of moral subjects, as truly, as any other.

Both Infidels and others, (for unhappily there are others, who adopt this scheme) will acknowledge the truth of the proposition, here asserted. It will, therefore, need no proof. What, then, will be the consequence of the omission contended for? The uneducated child will grow up without any knowledge of moral subjects, until the season, allotted by God for instruction, and the only useful season, is past : all future instructions will find his attachments, and his memory, pre-occupied; and will make, and leave, feeble impressions, little regarded, and soon forgotten. His passions and appetites, having, from the beginning, increased their strength by the mere course of nature, and the want of seasonable control, will effectually resist every attempt to communicate, and impress, such doctrines, as oppose their favourite dictates. The authority and influence of the parent also, which are indispensably necessary to infix all important lessons in the mind of the child, will in a great measure have ceased. Of course, the instruction, thus given, will slide over the understanding, and leave no trace of their existence upon the heart.

Besides, the child will naturally believe, that things, so long untaught, cannot, in the parent's own view, be of any serious consequence. Instinctively will he say, “ If these things are true, and of such importance; why have I, hitherto, been kept a stranger to them? I might have died in my childhood, or in my youth. Had this been the case; where should I have been now? Did parental tenderness disregard the eternal well-being of my soul, and leave me to become an outcast of Heaven; merely because I had not arrived at adult years? Is, then, the eternal life of the soul, at twelve, or fifteen, of no value; and, at twenty-five, of infinite ime portance ? Can it be, that I am destined to endless happiness, or misery; and yet that my father, and still more my mother, should have felt this vast subject, and loved me, so little, as to let me lie, to the present hour, in profound ignorance of this amazing destination? Had I died before this time, I had died for lack of vision. The things themselves are, therefore, not true. At least, they have never been seriously believed by those, from whom i derived my being.” To these remonstrances, it is hardly necessary to observe, there could be no satisfactory answer.

Át the period proposed, therefore, the instructions in question would be useless. The mind, already grown up with those views only, which a savage entertains of moral subjects ; few, gross, false, and fatal; would now be incapable of imbibing better; and in the chief concern of man, would continue, notwithstanding all the light, and all the blessings, of the Gospel, a savage for ever.

2. If children are not educated to jusi moral principles ; they will, of course, imbibe those which are false.

The mind is by nature prone to wrong. By this I intend, that it is prone to forget God; to exercise towards him neither love, rev. erence, gratitude, nor submission; to be governed by selfish, and not benevolent, affections towards mankind; and to indulge pride, envy, wrath, sloth, lewdness, intemperance, and lightness of mind. In a word, it is prone to be impious, unkind, insincere, unjust, and dissolute. These and the like things, notwithstanding the ingenious discoveries of Infidel Philosophy, I call wrong ; because they are, beyond a doubt, dishonourable and displeasing to God, injurious to our fellow-men, and debasing to ourselves. They do no good ; and produce all the evil which exists. That the human race are naturally prone to these things, is certain; because children evince their propensity to them as soon as they commence moral action. Every man, who sees at all, sees some or other of these character. istics in every one except himself.

There are but two methods, in which these propensities may be either removed, or checked: the Grace and providence of God, and the labour of man: I mean the labour of man, especially, when in the best manner exerted, in the beginning of life, to educate children in virtue. That God may be expected to remove, or even to check, them, will hardly be admitted by most of the men, against whom I am contending. But they will universally acknowledge, that the labours of man are important to this end; and that they coincide in their efficacy, if he acts at all, with the agency of God. So far then, as these evils can be exterminated, or restrained, the labours of man are not only useful, but indispensable.

Childhood is the seed-time of life; the season, in which every thing, sown in the mind, springs up readily, grows with peculiar vigour, and produces an abundant harvest. In this happy season, the garden is fitted by the Author of our being for the best cultivation. If good seeds are then sown ; valuable productions may be confidently expected: if not; weeds of every rank and poisonous kind will spring up of themselves, of which no future industry will be able to cleanse the soil.

What is implanted in childhood takes deep root, also; and can never be eradicated in future life. The principles, established in this golden period, are regarded with more veneration and attachment, are retained longer, and are more powerfully operative, than any other. They reappear, after having been for a great length of time invisible; and renew their energy, after having been supposed hopelessly extinct. Such, then, being, confessedly, the importance and strength of early instructions; how interesting must it be in the view of every sober man to prevent, while they can be prevented, the immense evils of wrong principles; and to secure, while they can be secured, the inestimable benefits of those which are right.

The child who is not religiously educated in the dawn of life, must, even with the happiest future advantages, be ignorant of many interesting moral doctrines, during all that season

in which doctrines are capable of high and happy influence. In the mean time, he will also imbibe many others, which are false and malignant. No man is better, than his principles will make him. Virtue is nothing, but voluntary obedience to truth. Vice is nothing, but voluntary obedience to falsehood. The doctrines, which he obeys, will form his whole character. If they are false; they will form him to sin, to odiousness, and to ruin ; and that they will be false, at least chiefly, if he is left to choose for himself, needs no proof. Thus the child, left, according to this scheme, without a religious education, will become a savage in his morals; not from disposition only, but from ignorance also. In his mind there will be no good principles to counteract the bad ; nothing to enlighten, or direct, him in the path of virtue ; nothing to suggest the necessily, the wisdom, or the duty, of resisting sin, and avoiding temptation. Such a child will, of course, become a mere beast of prey : and he who sends him out into society, is more hostile to its peace, than he who unchains a wolf, and turns him loose into the

a

street.

3. The Abettors of this scheme, contradict it in their own conduct,

Many of these men assiduously teach their children industry, economy, justice, veracity, and kindness to their fellow-men. Why do they educate their children in this manner? They will answer, Because they think these things useful to their children; and childhood the time in which they can be most effectually taught. Let us examine their conduct by their own rules.

All these things are by a part, and not a small part, of mankind, denied to be useful. They are, of course, in dispute. I return them, therefore, their own reasoning; and say, “You ought not to teach your children Industry, until they are grown to adult years ; lest they should practise industry through prejudice, and not from candour and conviction. Multitudes think sloth preferable to industry. Why do you forestall the judgment of your children ; and give them by education a bias to the other side of this question?"

“Why do you teach them Economy? Great numbers of mankind, and among them many persons of superior talents, have thought profusion preferable to economy; and have proved the sincerity of their opinion by their own prodigality. The question is, hitherto, undecided. You ought not to prejudice the minds of your children; but leave them to examine for themselves."

“Why do you teach them justice ? Fraud has a numerous train of advocates, who will strenuously urge the error of your judgment. Ought not your children to find the field of decision unoccupied ?" Vol. IV.

24

[SER. CXLVU.

ach them Truth? David said in his haste, that and universal experience proves that the numse who think truth of little value. Preclude To the chance of judging candidly on this im

sedulously teach them Kindness? Mark the se, who prove by their conduct, that they s arque a weak and contemptible characteristic of man. are, prejudicing your children concerning a subject When a 20 pan beng settled, and of pre-eminent importance to I NON world. All these things are as strenuously An isocted, in the world, as piety, faith, repentance, or **ng>###_mnis. There is, therefore, no justification of your erratie nr this ground.”

• Car wou pretend, that Piety is not as rational, and as imporzan te man, as either of the things which you enjoin upon your Pier i love and reverence to God are not important, nothing A good comes from God. When He gives, we enjoy : whor. Sie witboids, we are destitute. But he cannot be expected those, who, finally, neither If he is not believed, nor

the certainly will not give; to uvit not reverence his character. rused; he cannot be reverenced, nor loved. Without faith, therefore, piety cannot exist. If sin be not hated, regretted, nor zenounced; or, in other words, repented of; piety will in like mannee be impossible."

-Besides, you teach your children, as you teach others, both with dingence, and ardour, to disbelieve, despise, and hate the Scriptures. The Scriptures, you know, profess themselves to be a Revelation from God. To the question, whether they are such a Revelation, Christians believe the positive, and you the negative, answer. You will not deny, that they have the same right to adopt their belief, and their consequent obedience, which you have to adopt your disbelief, and your consequent disobedience. Neither can you doubt, that he, who believes with the best evidence, is the wisest man. Their arguments you have utterly failed to answer. Your objections they claim to have refuted; and can plead this strong proof of the justice of their claim, furnished by yourselves, that for many years you have quitted the field of discussion. On good grounds, therefore, they regard you as vanquished. In this respect, at least, you must acknowledge, that they have an advantage over you, which is infinite. Should the Scriptures prove to be false, they will lose nothing by believing them. Should they prove to be true, you will gain nothing, and lose your all."

"The case of yourselves, and Christian parents, is the case of your children and theirs. By teaching your children to disbelieve the Scriptures, you expose them to infinite loss. Christians, by teaching their children to believe the Scriptures, do what is in their

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