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On the Way in which they should be trained up.
Prov. xxii. 6.- -Train up a Child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
T is a most amiable and instructive part of the character which Isaiah draws of The great Shepherd of the church, that he should gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom*: A representation abundantly answered by the tender care which our Redeemer expressed for the weakest of his disciples; and beautifully illustrated by the endearing condescension, with which he embraced and blessed little infants. Nor is it foreign to the present purpose to observe, that when he recommends to Peter the care of his flock, as the most important and acceptable evidence of his sincere affection to his person, he varies the phrase; in one place saying, feed my sheep, and in the other, feed my lambs†. Perhaps it might be in part intended to intimate, that the care of a gospel-minister, who would in the most agreeable manner approve his love to his master, should extend itself to the rising generation, as well as those of a maturer age, and more considerable standing in the church. It is in obedience to his authority, and from a regard to his interest, that I am now entering on the work of catechising, which I shall introduce with some practical discourses on the education of children, the subject which is now before us.
I persuade myself, that you, my friends, will not be displeased to hear, that I intend to handle it at large, and to make it the employment of more than a single Sabbath. A little reflection may convince you, that I could hardly offer any thing to your consideration of greater importance; and that, humanly speaking, there is nothing in which the comfort of families, the prosperity of nations, the salvation of souls, the interest of a Redeemer, and the glory of God, is more apparently and intimately concerned.
I very readily allow, that no human endeavours, either of ministers or parents, can ever be effectual to bring one soul to the saving knowledge of God in Christ, without the co-operating and transforming influences of the blessed Spirit: Yet you well know, and I hope you seriously consider, that this does not in the least weaken our obligation to the most diligent use of proper means. The great God hath stated rules of operation in the world of grace, as well as of nature; and though he is not limited to them, it is arrogant, and may be destructive, to expect that he should deviate from them in favour of us or ours,
We live not by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God; and were he determined to continue your lives, or the lives of your children, he could no doubt feed or support you by miracle: Yet you think yourselves obliged to a prudent care for your daily bread, and justly conclude, that were you to neglect to administer it to your infant offspring, you would be chargeable with their murder before God and man; nor could you think of pleading it as any excuse, that you referred them to a miraculous divine care, whilst you left them destitute of any human supplies. Such a plea would only add impiety to cruelty, and greatly aggravate the crime it attempted to palliate. As absurd would it be for us to flatter ourselves with a hope that our children should be Taught of God, and regenerated and sanctified by the influences of his grace, if we neglect that prudent and religious care in their education, which it is my business this day to describe and recommend, and which Solomon urges in the words of my text: Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
I need not offer you many critical remarks on so plain and intelligible a passage. You will easily observe, that it consists of an important advice, addressed to the parents and governors of children, Train up a child in the way he should go; and also of a weighty reason by which it is inforced; and when he is old he will not depart from it. The general sense is undoubtedly retained in our translation, as it commonly is; but here, as in many other places, something of the original energy and beauty is lost.
The Hebrew wordt, which we render train up, does some
Mat. iv. 4.
timbuere, prima rudimenta dare, erudire, docere, dedicare. Pagn. initiare. Cocc. The LXX. render it, with an exactness which our language will not admit, by Eyxana. It is used also of those attendants of Abraham, who in the
times signify, in the general, to initiate into some science or discipline; and, very frequently, to apply any new thing to the use for which it was intended. It is especially used of sacred things, which were solemnly dedicated, or set apart to the service of God+: And perhaps it may here be intended to intimate that due care is to be taken in the education of children, from a principle of religion, as well as of prudence and humanity; and that our instructions should lead them to the knowledge of God, and be adapted to form them for his service, as well as to engage them to personal and social virtue.
It is added, that a child should be Trained up in the way in which he should got; which seems to be more exactly rendered by others, at the entrance or from the beginning of his way, to express the early care which ought to be taken to prevent the prevalency of irregular habits, by endeavouring from the first dawning of reason to direct it aright, and to infuse into the tender unpractised mind, the important maxims of wisdom and goodness.
To encourage us to this care, the wise man assures us, that we may reasonably expect the most happy consequence from it: That if the young traveller be thus directed to set out well in the journey of life, there is a fair prospect that he will go on to its most distant stages, with increasing honour and happiness. Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
I shall endeavour to illustrate and enforce this important advice in the following method, which appears to me the most natural, and for that reason the most eligible:
I. I shall more particularly mark out the way in which children are to be trained up.
II. Offer some plain and serious considerations to awaken you to this pious and necessary care.
i. e. probably, formed to military discipline, though religious instruction is not to be excluded. Gen. xviii, 19.—7, a word derived from the same root, in the rabbinical writings signifies a catechism; and therefore the margin of our text reads catechise a child, &c.
* Thus it is applied to any new built house, Deut. xx. 5. to that of David, Psal. xxx. tit. and to the wall of Jerusalem, Neh. xii. 27.
+Thus it is applied to the dedication of the altar, Numb. vii. 10, 11, 84, 88. 2 Chron. vii. 9. and to that of the temple, 1 Kings viii. 63. 2 Chron. vii. 5.
1977 by, which the French version renders "a l' Entree de son train:” Yet I am sensible when used with y is sometimes an expletive, as Gen. xliii .7. Numb. xxvi. 56. and the learned Glassius, as well as our translators, thought the text another instance of it. Glass. Phil. Sac. p. 482.
III. Direct to the manner in which the attempt is to be made, and the precautions which are to be used in order to render it effectual. And then,
IV. I will conclude the whole with a more particular application, suited to your different characters, relations, and circumstances of life.
I am very sensible, that it is a very delicate as well as important subject, which is now before me; I have therefore thought myself obliged more attentively to weigh what has occurred to my own meditations, more diligently to consult the sentiments of others, and above all, more earnestly to seek those divine influences, without which, I know, I am unequal to the easiest task; but in dependence on which, I cheerfully attempt one of the most difficult. The result of the whole I humbly offer to your candid examination; not pretending at any time to dictate in an authoritative manner, and least of all on such an occasion as this; but rather speaking as to wise men, who are themselves to judge what I say* May the divine assistance and blessing attend us in all!
First, I am to describe the way in which children are to be trained up.
Our translation, as I have told you, though not very literal, is agreeable to the sense of the original, The way in which the child should go. And undoubtedly this is no other than the good old way, the way of serious practical religion: The way which God has in his word marked out for us; the way which all the children of God have trodden in every succeeding age; the way, the only way, in which we and ours can Find rest to our souls.
But it is not proper to leave the matter thus generally explained. I would therefore more particularly observe,that it is the way of piety towards God,-and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ;-the way of obedience to parents, and of benevolence to all;-the way of diligence,—and of integrity:the way of humility,-and of self-denial. I am persuaded, that each of these particulars will deserve your serious attention and regard.
1. Children should undoubtedly be trained up in the way of piety and devotion towards God.
This, as you well know, is the sum, and the foundation of every thing truly good. The fear of the Lord is the beginning
of wisdom* The Psalmist therefore invites children to him, with the promise of instructing them in it; Come, ye children, hearken unto me, and I will teach you the fear of the Lordt. And it is certain, some right notions of the supreme Being must be implanted in the minds of children, before there can be a reasonable foundation for teaching them those doctrines which peculiarly relate to Christ under the character of the Mediator; for He that comes unto God (by him) must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him‡.
The proof of the Being of God, and some of those attributes of the divine nature in which we are most concerned, depends on such easy principles, that I cannot but think, the weakest mind might enter into it. A child will easily apprehend, that as Every house is builded by some man, and there can be no work without an author; so he that built all things is Gods. And from this obvious idea of God, as the maker of all, we may naturally represent him as very great and very good, that they may be taught at once to reverence and love him.
It is of great importance, that children early imbibe an awe of God, and an humble veneration for his perfections and glories. He ought therefore to be represented to them as the great Lord of all; and when we take occasion to mention to them other invisible agents, whether angels or devils, we should, as Dr. Watts has most judiciously observed, always represent them as entirely under the government and controul of God, that no sentiments of admiration of good spirits, or terror of the bad, may distract their tender minds, or infringe on those regards which are the incommunicable prerogative of the great Supreme.
There should be a peculiar caution, that when we teach these infant tongues to pronounce that great and terrible name, The Lord our God, they may not learn to take it in vain; but may use it with a becoming solemnity, as remembering that we and they are But dust and ashes before him¶. When I hear the little creatures speaking of "the great God, the blessed God, the glorious God," as I sometimes do, it gives me a sensible pleasure, and I consider it as a probable proof of great wisdom and piety, in those who have the charge of their education.
Yet great care should be taken not to confine our discourses to these awful views, lest the dread of God should so fall upon them, as that His excellencies should make them afraid to
Psal. cxi. 10.
Psal. xxxiv. 11.
Heb. xi. 6.
Heb. iii. 4.
Gen. xviii. 27.