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great end. Their helpless state calls for the habitual care and watchfulness, the uniform kindness and control, of their parents. Their minds, unoccupied by falsehood, are easily susceptible of truth, and fitted to receive and retain every useful impression. If the best impressions are not made, the worst will be ; and parents are the only friends, from whom may rationally be expected the communication of good, or the prevention of evil. If this duty be not early done; they may die before it is done, and their souls be lost. If they live; we waste the golden season of doing them eternal good.
Who, that is not dead to conscience, to humanity, and even to instinct, can thus act the ostrich; and leave his little ones to be crushed by every foot ? Think of the awful account, to be given, of wrapping this talent in a napkin, and burying it in the earth. Think of the infinite difference between ascending with them to Heaven, and accompanying them down to the regions of perdition. Think of the reflections, which must arise in their minds, and ours, throughout eternity, when their ruin shall be seen to have sprung from our neglect.
Nor is this duty incumbent on parents only. Every Instructer is bound indispensably to second their endeavours, where they are faithful, and to supply, as far as may be, the defect, where they are not. Education ought every where to be Religious Education. The master is as truly bound to educate his apprentice, or his servant, in religion, and the schoolmaster his pupil
, as the parent his child. In the degree of obligation, and of sin in violating it, there may perhaps be a difference. In the nature of it, there is none. The command is, Train up a child in the way he should go; direct- . ing all, who are entrusted with the care of children, to educate them in this manner.
At the same time, parents are further bound to employ no Instructers, who will not educate their children religiously. To commit our children to the care of irreligious persons, is to commit lambs to the superintendency of wolves. No sober man can lay his hand on his breast, when he has placed his child under the guidance of an irreligious teacher, and say, that he has done his duty; or feel himself innocent of the blood of his child.
No man will be able, without confusion of face, to recount this part of his conduct before the bar of the final Judge.
THE ORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE.-THE MANNER IN WHICH AE
LIGIOUS EDUCATION IS TO BE CONDUCTED. MOTIVES TO THIS DUTY.
PROVERBS xxii. 6.-Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old,
he will not depart from it.
IN the last discourse, I considered the Duty of educating children religiously. In this, I propose,
II. To point out the manner, in which Religious Education should be conducted; and,
III. To exhibit some of the Motives to the performance of this duty, suggested by the promise in the text.
The terms, in which the command in the text is communicated, teach us, as I have heretofore observed, that Children, in their Education, are to be drawn from one action, and attainment, to another, by persuasion, promises, and other efforts, continually repeated. Under the general meaning of this phraseology, may be easily included; whatever I shall think it necessary to observe concerning this subject at the present time.
Some of the observations, formerly made concerning the general education of children, will be applied, here, to their Religious Education. So important a subject deserves to be presented in a full light. No interesting, useful adjunct, ought to be forgotten by the mind, while employed in the consideration of a duty, which holds so high a rank. So far as the narrow limits, necessarily as. signed to it in such a system of discourses, will allow, I shall endeavour to omit nothing, which is of peculiar weight.
1. Religious Education should be begun in the dawn of Child; hood.
The earliest days, after intelligence is fairly formed in the mind, are incomparably the best for this purpose. The child should be taught, as soon as he is capable of understanding the Instructions, which are to be communicated. Nothing should be suffered to pre-occupy the place, which is destined to truth. If the intellect is not filled with sound instruction, as fast as it is ca. pable of receiving it, the enemy, who never neglects to sow tares when parents are asleep, will imperceptibly fill it with a dangerous and noxious growth. "The great and plain doctrines of religion should be taught so early, that the mind should never remember when it began to learn, or when it was without this knowledge. Whenever it turns a retrospective view upon the preceding periods of its existence, these truths should seem always to have been in Vol. IV.
its possession ; to have the character of innate principles ; to have been inwoven in its nature; and to constitute a part of all its current of thinking.
In this manner, the best security, which is in the power of man, , will be furnished against the introduction, and admission, of dangerous errors. The principles of Infidelity have little support in argument or evidence; but they easily take deep root in the inclinations of the mind; and hold, but too frequently, a secure possession of its faith by the aid of passion and prejudice. No human method of preventing this evil is so effectual, as engrossing the assent to evangelical truth, when the mind is absolutely clear from every prepossession. A faith, thus established, all the power of sophistry will be unable to shake. In the same manner ought its religious Impressions to be begun. No period should be within the future reach of the memory, when they had not begun. Every child easily imbibes, at this period, a strong and solemn reverence for his Creator ; easily realizes his universal presence, and the inspection of his all-seeing eye; admits without difficulty, and without reluctance, that he is an awful and unchangeable enemy of sin; and feels, that he himself is accountable to this great Being for all his conduct. The conscience, also, is at this period exceedingly tender and susceptible ; readily alarmed by the apprehension of guilt; and prepared to contend, or to fly, at the approach of a known temptation. All the affections, also, are easily moved; and fitted to retain permanently, and often indelibly, whatever impressions are made. The heart is soft, gentle, and easily won; strongly attached by kindness, peculiarly to the parents themselves, and generally to all others, with whom it is connected. To every amiable, every good, thing, it is drawn comparatively without trouble or resistance; and united by bands, which no future art, nor force, can dissolve. Against every odious and bad thing its opposition is with equal ease excited, and rendered permanent. Its sensibility to praise, for laudable actions, is exquisite; and no less exquisite its dread of blame, for conduct which is unworthy. Its hope also of future enjoyment, and its fear of future suffering, are awakened in a moment, without labour, by obvious considerations, and with a strength, which renders them powerful springs of action.
This susceptibility, this tenderness of heart, and of conscience, constitute a most interesting, desirable, and useful preparation of the mind to receive evangelical truths, and religious impressions ; and invest it with all the beauty and fertility of spring. Almost every thing which the eye discerns, is then fair, 'delightful, and promising. Let no person, to whom God has committed the useful, honourable, and happy employment of cultivating minds, be idle at this auspicious season. On faithful, wise, and well-directed labours, busily employed at this period of the human year, the mildest winds of Heaven breathe ; its most fertilizing showers de
scend; and its softest and most propitious sunshine sheds its happy influence. He, who loses this golden season, will, when the autumn arrives, find nothing in his fields, but barrenness and death.
Nor is this period less happily fitted for the establishment of useful moral habits. Habits, as has been heretofore observed, are the result of custom, or repetition ; and may in this manner be formed at any age. But in early childhood the susceptibility is so great, and the feelings so tender, that a few repetitions will generate habitual feeling. Every impression at this period is deep. When these, therefore, are made through a moderate succession, the combined effect can rarely be effaced. Thus good habits are soon, and durably, established; and all that course of trouble prevented, of which parents so justly and bitterly complain, when this work is to be done at future seasons of life.
But habits constitute the man. Good habits form a good man, and evil habits an evil man. Subtract these from the character; and it will be difficult to conceive what will be left. ' It is plain, therefore, that habits are of supreme importance to the wellbeing of the child, his character, his all. Of course, the establishment of those, which are good, is the first object of parental duty.
2. Religious Education should be continued with Steadiness, and Uniformity.
In the whole employment of educating a child, Steadiness of character in the parent is indispensable to success.
The parent, as was formerly observed, should be decisively seen always to approve, and love, the same things; and always to disapprove, and hate such as are opposed to them. A settled purpose should be continually discovered in the conduct of the parent, with regard to this great concern: a purpose to fix in the mind of the child just views, and principles, of religion, and dispositions really and evangelically virtuous. From this purpose, nothing should appear to divert his attention, or withdraw his efforts. The religious education of his child should evidently appear to be a commanding business of his life; not a casual, or occasional, employment. A changing, vibratory character in the parent will prove bim to be either unstable, or not in earnest. No attribute, which is not obviously vicious, is, perhaps, more unhappily found in the parental character.
The parent, who exhibits a steady, firm, unalterable disposition, will naturally be believed by his children to love religion as he ought; to make it the chief business of his life; to be deeply engaged in rendering them religious; and in all his instructions to mean whatever he says. The whole weight of his character will, therefore, accompany his precepts; and enforce them in the most efficacious manner upon the minds of his children.
To convince the child of this character in the parent, Uniformity is of the last moment. Whatever is pursued at times only, and in a desultory manner, children will never believe to be a serious object in the view of the parent. Whatever is sometimes exhibited in the light of importance, and at others in that of unconcern, will only awaken doubt, and ultimately produce indifference. Important objects, it is well known, always wear this character in the view of him, who regards them as important; and are therefore felt, and exhibited, in one, and that a serious, manner. So plainly, and so entirely, is this the fact, that children as easily as men, discover at once the true place, which any thing holds in the estima. tion of those around them, by the uniformity, or the inconstancy, with which they attend to it; and by the seriousness, or levity, with which it is accompanied in their communications. That, and that only, which is taught every day, or on every proper occasion, and which is always taught seriously and earnestly, is ever believed by the pupil to hold a place of high importance in the mind of the instructer. On the contrary, whatever is taught occasionally only, with levity, or with indifference; or laught in a manner, now grave, now light, sometimes earnestly, and sometimes with negligence, regularly at one period, and with long intermissions at another; can scarcely be supposed to be of any great siguificance in the view of the teacher. This language of nature can be misunderstood by none. The earliest, and the weakest, mind perceives it in a moment, as well as the oldest, and the wisest. If, then, parents wish to make deep and solemn impressions on their children ; let them remember, that Uniformity in their instructions is indispensable to this end.
Besides, Uniformity in teaching is absolutely necessary to the establishment of habit, both in thinking and feeling.
If Instructions succeed each other after considerable intervals, or are given with a diversity of feelings on the part of the instructer, one truth, and one impression will, in a degree, be worn out, before another is introduced. In the mean time, others of a different, and often of a contrary, nature will be imbibed. Thus the work, like the web of Penelope, will be woven at one period, only to be destroyed at another. In this way the parent will find his task always discouraging, and often fruitless.
It ought to be remembered, that Uniformity should extend to every thing, which concerns this subject. The instructions, the spirit with which they are enforced, nay, the very deportment of the instructer, as well as the control, example, and life, should always wear one consistent appearance of solemnity, earnestness, and entire conviction.
3. In a Religious Education the Scriptures, only, should be laught.
The youngest mind, which can perceive moral truth at all, clearly discerns, that no doctrines can be invested with an importance, comparable to that of the doctrines taught by God. The character of this great and awful Being is seen by the humblest intelligent