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acceptable to the world: their talents would be attractive of multitudes to their place of worship; the hearers would be raised in their spirits while the preacher prays with a regular and divine eloquence; and they would receive those sermons with double influence and success, which are attended with such prayers.
VI. The last attempt I shall make to convince christians of the necessity of seeking this gift, shall be merely by representing the ill consequences of the neglect of it. If you take no pains to learn to pray, you will unavoidably fall into one of these three evils Either first, you will drag on heavily in the work of prayer all your days, even in your closets as well as your family, and be liable to so many imperfections in the performance, as will rob your own soul of a great part of the benefit and the delight of this sweet duty, and give neither pleasure nor profit to them that hear you: The ignorant part of your household will sleep under you, while the more knowing are in pain for you. And perhaps you will sometimes think to make amends for the dulness of the devotion, by increasing the length of it: But this is to add one error to another, and lay more burdens upon them that are weary.
Or secondly, If you find that you cannot carry on the constancy of this duty with tolerable satisfaction, you will give yourself up to a morning and evening form, and rest in them from year to year. Now though it may be possible for some persons to use a form without deadness and formality of spirit, yet such as from a mere principle of sloth, neglect to learn to pray, are most likely to fall into formality and slothfulness in the use of forms, and the power of religion will be lost.
Or, in the last place, if you have been bred up with an universal hatred of all forms of psayer, and yet know not how to pray without them, you will grow first inconstant in the discharge of this duty; every little hindrance will put you by; and at last perhaps you will leave it off entirely, and your house and your closet too in time will be without prayer. Christians, which of these three evils will ye chuse? Can ye be satisfied to drudge on to your life's end, among improprieties and indecencies; and thus expose prayer to contempt? Or will your minds beeasy to be confined for ever to a form or two of slothful devotion? Or shall prayer be banished out of your houses, and all appearance of religion be lost among you? Parents, which of these evils do ye chuse for your children? you charge them to pray daily, you tell them the sin and danger of dwelling all upon prayer-books, and yet you scarce ever give them any regular instructions how to perform this duty. How can ye expect they should maintain religion honourably in their families, and avoid the things you forbid? But whatsoever ill consequences
attend them hereafter, consider what share of the guilt will lie at the door of those who never took any pains to shew them to pray.
While I am persuading christians with so much earnestness to seek the gift of prayer, surely none will be so weak as to imagine the grace and spirit of prayer may be neglected. Without some degrees of common influence from the blessed Spirit, the gift is not to be attained. And without the exercise of grace in this duty, the prayer will never reach heaven, nor prevail with God. He is not taken with the brightest forms of worship, if the heart be not there. Be the thoughts never so divine, the expressions never so sprightly and delivered with all the sweet and moving accents of speech, it is all in his esteem but a fair carcase without a soul: It is a mere picture of prayer, a dead picture which cannot charm; a lifeless offering, which the living God will never accept; nor will our great High-priest ever present it to the Father.
But these things do not fall directly under my present design. I would therefore recommend my readers to those treatises that enforce the necessity of spiritual worship, and describe the glory of inward devotion above the best outward performances. Then shall they learn the perfection of beauty in this part of worship, when the gift and grace of prayer are happily joined in the secret pleasure and success of it, and appear before men in its full loveliness, and attractive power. Then shall religion look like itself, divine and heavenly, and shine in all the lustre it is capable of here upon earth.
PARENTS AND GOVERNORS OF FAMILIES
BELONGING TO THE
Congregation which usually Assembles for Worship in BerryStreet, London.
Christian friends, beloved in our Lord,
INCE you make a solemn profession of the religion of Christ, and build your hopes of a happy eternity upon it, I am weil persuaded it is the desire of your souls that your families should be trained up in the practice of the same religion, and become heirs of eternal happiness together with yourselves. For this end you engage their attendance on public worship; but your ministers have little hope of obtaining this end by all their public labours, unless you join to assist them with your private instructions and prayers. Even when we address our discourses to the young, we can do it but in general language; but you have some special advantages with regard to those of your own house: There are many opportunities which you may seize to promote this pious work; many tender moments of address wherein you may apply yourselves in a more particular manner to the understandings and to the consciences of your children, in order to fix the great doctrines and duties of christianity upon their memory and their heart.
I need not inform you, for you are well apprized of this great truth, that the foundation of all religion is laid in knowledge. We must not worship an unknown God, nor pay him service without understanding. I presume therefore that you take due care and pains to instruct your children in their early years in the chief principles of our holy religion, and I would hope that while you make them learn that full and comprehensive form of instruction called the Assembly's Shorter Catechism, you endeavour to inform them of the meaning of every sentence, that they may not learn words by rote without knowing what they mean.
And yet I beg leave to enquire of you, my friends, after all your labours, whether you can find that your children take in the sense of those questions and answers in the years of infancy and childhood, when you impress the words upon their memory? Do they pronounce the answers in such a manner as though they understood the meaning of them? May I be permitted yet further to enquire concerning yourselves when you learned this catechism in your younger years? Did you understand all those sentences and expressions, when perhaps you could readily repeat them by heart? I am persuaded you have made some observations upon your own experience, both in learning and in teaching the things of God: Surely you are convinced it is far better that children should be instructed in the important principles of their duty and happiness, in such a way, as may lead them to understand the words which they learn to pronounce. Have not many of you often wished for some easier and shorter forms of knowledge, whereby your children might have some sense of divine things, and early religion let into their minds in a way more suited to their feeble capacities.
Far be it from me to take out of your hands that valuable catechism of the assembly of divines: I am not going to persuade you to lay aside the use of it in your families; but only to render the work of instructing your children and servants more easy and more successful. I would fain propose
to you a method whereby children who cannot understand the answers of that catechism, may yet have their tender minds furnished and impressed with the things of God and their salvation betimes, and that they may be better prepared for using that catechism with greater advantage when they are farther advanced in age and knowledge, and when their minds are better fitted to receive the deeper sense therein contained. This is what a multitude of private christians have desired, and that not only for the use of their children, but of their servants also, and for the first instruction of any of the more ignorant parts of mankind. This is what many ministers have attempted even since the Assembly's Catechism was written: This is what I have been often solicited to undertake these twenty years by several ministers and private christians: And this, my friends, is the business and design of the little book which I here present you. Though I will not pretend or presume to write catechisms for the world, yet I think I do not extend my studies and cares beyond my proper province, when I take pains to assist you in the instruction of your families. It any other christian families think proper to make use of these plain forms of instruction, I heartily wish they may find all the desired success.
If it should be enquired how I came to set about this work now, after SO long solicitations and delays, I will tell you freely, that while I was writing the Treatise of Education which I promised the world some time ago, found this work of catechising came in necessarily as a part of it: And finding it grow too large for a chapter in that treatise, I separated it from the rest, and have thus prepared it to be published by itself before the other is finished. I believe you will heartily agree to do me so much justice, as not to impute this work to any principle of an:bition, or to suppose that a vaia design of glory amongst men has teinpted me to frame an A B C for children. I well know that some of my particular friends imagine my time is employed in too mean a service while I write for babes: I own my obligations to them for their good opinion of any of my other writings: But I coutent myself with this thought, that nothing is too mean for a servant of Christ to engage in, if he can thereby most effectually promote the kingdom of his blessed Master. If the God whom I serve will bless my labours to sow the seeds of religion in the understandings and bearts of children, I shall hope there wiil arise a fair harvest of the fruits of holiness in the succeeding generation, and some revenue of glory to my Creator and Redeemer.
Perhaps it is not proper for me to say, and the world will hardly believe, what pains have been taken in composing these catechisms, especially the first and second of them; with what care I have endeavoured to select the most easy and necessary parts of religion, in order to propose them to the memory of children according to their ages; what laborious diligence has been used to seek out all the plainest and most familiar forms of speech, that the great things of God and the mysteries of the gospel might be brought down to the capacities of children. It is not for me to say how many hours, and days, and weeks, have been spent in reviewing and examining every word and expression, that, if possible, nothing might be inserted which might give just occasion of offence to pious persons and families, that nothing might be left out which was necessary for children to know in that tender age; and that no word, phrase, or sentiment, if possible, might be admitted which could not be brought in some measure within the reach of a child's maderstanding.
I am well aware that both my younger catechisms will be thought defective, in that I have not therein warned children more particularly of some sins of which they are in continual danger. But I was much afraid to make these early forms of instructions too burthensome and tedious. Besides, whatsoever is wanting either of the mention of duties, or of sins relating to God or man, may be found in the explication of the ten commandments in the Assembly's Catechisto, or in my Preservative from the Sins and Follies
of Childhood and Youth: and I have recommended both these to be read frequently, even while children are learning the foregoing catechisms by heart.
There is another defect, of which some will complain; and that is, there is not enough of the historical part of our religion brought into the two catechisms of the principles of religion which I have written for children; at least the history of Adam and of the Jews, and the history of Christ, should have had a much larger share therein. But I desire my friends to consider, that at the same time while these catechisms are learning, there are catechisms of scripture-history proposed also to be gotten by heart, according to the different ages of children, wherein the narratives relating both to the first and second Adam, and to the Jews, are much larger; and I think this will fully relieve that supposed inconvenience or defect; for there was no need of repeating these historical transactions in both places; and if I had added more of the sacred history to the catechisms of the principles of religion, it would have made them appear too long and tedious. But that you may be more fully acquainted with the reasons of this attempt, and that you may know the method I have observed, and the care I have taken in these composures, I entreat you to read over the following discourse of the excellency and use of catechisms, and of the natural and most useful manner of composing them.
When you have diligently, and without prejudice, perused that short essay, I am persuaded you will agree with me, at least in this general opinion, that something more than hath been done in times past. ought to be attempted, in order to render the momentous concerns of religion more intelligible to children, and that these my labours are not utterly unsuited to that design.
Yet after all, I commit these papers to your candour, as well as to your judgment and your practical use; and while you labour in this most neces sary work, the instructing of your families in the doctrines and duties of christianity, let your daily fervent prayers accompany your private instructions, that the heart may be enriched with every divine grace, while the head is furnished with useful knowledge. And may the Spirit of light and grace descend on all the younger branches of your household, and visit every menial servant there, that your families may be as temples wherein God may dwell, with all the train of blessings which relate to this life and the life to come.
While my want of a strong constitution of body, and my necessary retirements from the city, render me incapable of paying so many visits to your families, and promoting their spiritual welfare so much as I would gladly do, I humbly hope this little book may be attended with the divine blessing, that your children may derive from it abundant benefit; that the principles of piety and goodness heing early instilled into their minds, they may be better secured against the temptations of infidelity, vice and profaneness; that they may stand up in the following age as the supports and ornaments of true religion, and bear up the name of Christ with honour, in a degenerate and sinful world; this is the hearty prayer of
Your devoted and affectionate
Servant in the Gospel,
Theobalds, in Hertfordshire,
Feb. 14. 1729-30.