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And of the best Manner of composing them.

SECTION I.-The Duty of instructing Children in Religion. CHILDREN have souls as well as men: They soon discover their capacity of reasoning, and make it appear they can learn the things of God and religion. The great God therefore expects that little children should be taught to know and love, and worship him for he hath not bestowed their early powers in vain. Their souls also in their own nature are immortal; and thousands of them are summoned away from this world by death. The righteous Judge of the world will call the small as well as the great to his bar of account. All those whom he shall esteem capable of duty and sinning must be answerable for their own personal conduct and how early he will begin to require this account, he only knows. Parents therefore cannot well begin too soon to let children know that they have souls that must live when their bodies are dead; they should instruct them there is a future judgment, and an account to be given of their behaviour in this life, as soon as they have well learned there is a God, and what duties he requires of them.

I am by no means of their opinion who let children grow up almost to the age of manhood before their minds are informed of the principles of religion. Their pretence is, that the choice of religion ought to be perfectly free, and not biassed and influenced by the authority of parents, or the power of education. But surely the great God who framed the soul of man hath made it capable of learning religion and the knowledge of God, by the instruction of others in the years of childhood, long before it is capable of tracing out the knowledge of God and religion by its own reasoning powers; and why should not parents follow the order of God and nature; why should they not instruct children in the knowledge and love and fear of God, as soon as they are capable of these divine lessons, and not leave them to grow up to their full bulk and size, like the offspring of brute animals, without God and without knowledge?

Besides, doth not the very light of nature teach us that parents are entrusted with the care of their children in younger year, to furnish their minds with the seeds of virtue and happi

ness, as well as to provide for their bodies food and raiment ?Are parents bound to take care of the flesh that perishes, and yet left at a loose, and unconcerned to take any care of immortal spirits? Must they be afraid to teach their children the best way they know to everlasting life, for fear lest they should believe and practise it before their reason is ripe enough to chuse a religion for themselves? Will they let them trifle away their childhood and youth without the knowledge and love of God, for fear they should learn it too soon, or lest they should build their faith and practice too much upon the superior age, character and authority of their parents ?

But let us enquire a little, What was this superior age and knowledge, this superior character and authority of parents designed for, if not for the care, instruction, and government of their tender and ignorant offspring? And can we imagine this paternal authority, instruction and goverment should reach to every other part of the child's conduct, and exclude his religion? Must the parent give him the best instructions he can in the affairs of this perishing life, and refuse or neglect it in the things of everlasting moment and divine importance? Is it not infinitely better that children should know and serve God, because their parents teach them to do it, than that they should be utterly ignorant of God, and live in a stupid neglect of him and his service? Can a religious parent satisfy himself with this philosophical pretence of not biassing the judgment of his children, and let them go on, and die before they arrive at manhood, in a state of shameful ignorance and rebellion against their Maker? Are children entrusted to the affection and care of parents by the God of nature, for so deplorable an end as this? And will the life, and soul of the child never be required at the parent's hand?

There may be many hours and seasons of life, when parents may give notice to their children as they grow up to maturity, that religion ought to be a matter of their rational choice. They may be taught to examine the principles they received from their education, and to settle their faith and practice upon solid grounds: But in the mean time children ought to have some notices of the great God who made them instilled into their minds from their very infancy. They ought to be led into that religion in which their parents hope to obtain acceptance with God, and happiness in the world to come. This is the universal voice of nature, and it reclaims aloud against those humorous, slothful or cruel parents, who bring their children into a dangerous world, and into a state of existence which has no end; and yet take no care to inform them how to escape the dangers of this world, nor how to seek the happiness of their endless


This is the solemn appointment of heaven by express reve

lation. The command of Moses the divine lawgiver, the proverbs of Solomon, the wisest of men, and the sacred epistles of St. Paul, the greatest of the apostles, all concur, and repeat this advice, To teach the words of God to children diligently, to train up children in the way they should go, and to educate them in the nurture and admonition of the true religion. See Deut. vi. 6, 7. Prov. xxii. 6. Eph. vi. 4. And surely, if parents had but that just share of tenderness and affection for their young sons and their daughters, that nature requires, or that scripture enjoins, if they did but look upon their as little parts of theselves, they could not forbear to acquaint them with the things that belong to their everlasting welfare. I might add this also as a final consideration, That if parents take no care to inform their children of the duty they owe to God, they will quickly find that children will pay very little duty to their parents; and they will read their own crime of shameful negligence toward God, in the rebellion of their offspring against themselves.

SECT. II. Of instructing Children, partly by Reason, and partly by the Authority of the Parent.

But I would suppose parents are convinced of their duty to their children in this respect, though some doubts may remain whether they should begin this work of instruction from their very infancy. Now I know no reason why this blessing should be withheld from children when they are first capable of receiving it. As soon as the young creatures begin to make it appear that they have understandings, and have learned the use of words, they may lay out the early exercises of reason in the things of religion. Children of ordinary capacity, at three years old, or a little more, may be taught to know that the heavens and the earth, and the birds, and the beasts, and the trees, and men and women, did not make themselves; but that there is some Almighty Being that made them all, though they cannot see him with their eyes: And they may be instructed in a way of easy reasoning in some of the most evident and most necessary duties which they owe to the great God, whom they see not, almost as soon as they are taught the duties of love and obedience to their parents whom they see daily. By little and little they may be informed and made to see that they are sinful creatures, that they have offended the great God that made them, that they cannot save themselves from his anger; and thus they may be led to some acquaintance with Jesus Christ the only Saviour.

It is certain that we ought to teach children and ignorant persons the knowledge of religion in a rational way, as far as they are capable of receiving it; though I confess it is not an

easy matter to make them understand the grounds and reasons of every part of that religion which they may be taught to believe and practise. There are some things therefore that in these younger years of life a child must take entirely upon the credit and authority of the parent, or master, such as the immortality of the soul, the future state of rewards and punishments, and the truth of the christian religion. The bible is the sacred book which contains the religion of christians; but it is impossible to lead young children into those arguments whereby we prove the authority of the bible. This therefore must be taken upon trust, and the child's faith of it must be built upon the testimony of his parents and teachers till he is capable of examining these things for himself.

SECT. III.-Short Summaries of Religion are necessary for the Ignorant.

Nor yet is it enough to teach children to read, and then to put the bible in their hands, and to tell them, Here lies your religion, and you must find it out as well as you can. The great God has ordained the holy scriptures to be the perfect rule of our faith and practice, and sufficient of itself without the help of human traditions, hath also appointed that in all the successive ages of mankind there should be some teachers and instructors of others, to point out to them what use is to be made of these sacred volumes. Parents by the laws of nature and scripture are vested with this office: They must teach children how to draw their religion out of the bible, and render the knowledge of divine things more easy, by shewing them how to distinguish the most useful parts of scripture from the rest, and which are the most necessary doctrines and duties of religion, as they are derived from the word of God. Without such helps as these the more ignorant and illiterate part of mankind might turn over the leaves of their bible a long time before they could collect for themselves any tolerable scheme of their duty to God or their fellow-creatures. I knew a person, who falling under sensible convictions of her want of religion and piety toward God, and having been told that the bible was the book whence she was to learn her duty, reasoned thus with herself, Where shall I find the beginning of my duty to God, but in the beginning of this book? And so she betook herself to read several of the first chapters of Genesis. She laboured and wearied herself in that search with very small advantage, till by the information of other christians and attendance on the ministry of the word, she was led into the knowledge of the chief principles of the christian religion, which are scattered up and down in several parts of the word of God.

We must consider that the bible is a large book, and it contains the history of mankind, and particularly of the church of

God from the beginning of the world. Herein are recorded the several discoveries of the mind and will of God in every age, according to the necessities and occasions of men. Some of these rules of duty, which were given to the church of God in ancient ages, are now antiquated and abolished; such are the sacrifices and ceremonies of the patriarchal religion from Adam to Moses, and the more numerous rites of the levitical law. Many of the doctrines and duties of piety are also intermingled so much with the historical and prophetical writings, that an unlearned and ignorant person needs some kind hand to point out those places where these important truths and duties lie; and such a friendly hand would still give greater assistance to the ignorant enquirer, by gathering together in one view, and in proper order, the more considerable and necessary articles of faith and practice, as they lie promiscuously scattered abroad in this large volume of the scriptures.

This is the great design of the bodies of divinity and systems which have been drawn up in larger or lesser forms by learned men in several ages; nor is it any derogation from the honour of scripture, when we propose these systems for the instruction of those who are ignorant; for we own all their authority to be derived from the word of God. I know not how to set this matter in a more agreeable light than the late Rev. Mr. Matthew Henry has done in a sermon of his, preached almost twenty years ago. "Bear us witness, saith he, we set up no other rule of faith and practice, no other oracle, no other touchstone or test of orthodoxy, but the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament; these only are the fountains whence we fetch our knowledge; these only the foundations on which we build our faith and hope; these the dernier resort of all our enquiries and appeals in the things of God, for they only are given by divine inspiration. Every other help we have for our souls, we make use of in subordination and subserviency to the scripture, and among the rest our catechisms and confessions of faith. Give me leave, saith he, to illustrate this by an appeal to the gentlemen of the long robe; they know very well that the common law of England lies in the year-book, and books of reports, in the records of immemorial customs, and in cases occasionally adjudged, which are not an artificial system drawn up by the rules of method, but rather historical collections of what was solemnly discussed and judiciously delivered in several reigns, pro re nata, and always taken for law, and according to which the practice has always been. Now such are the books of the scripture, histories of the several ages of the church, as those of the several reigns of the kings, and of the discoveries of God's mind and will in every age, as there was occasion; and these too are built upon ancient principles, received and submitted to before these divine annals began to be written.

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