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approach him*. We should describe him, as not only the greatest, but the best of beings. We should teach them to know him by the most encouraging name of the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, and forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sint. We should represent him as the universal, kind, indulgent parent, who loves his creatures, and by all proper methods provides for their happiness. And we should particularly represent his goodness to them; with what more than parental tenderness he watched round their cradles; with what compassion he heard their feeble cries, before their infant thoughts could form themselves into prayer: We should tell them, that they live every moment on God; and that all our affection for them, is no more than he puts into our hearts; and all our power to help them, no more than he lodges in our hands.
We should also solemnly remind them, that in a very little while their spirits are to return to God; that as he is now always with them, and knows every thing they do, or speak, or think, so he will bring every work into judgment§, and make them for ever happy or miserable, as they on the whole are found obedient or rebellious. And here the most lively and pathetic descriptions, which the scripture gives us, of heaven and of hell should be laid before them, and urged on their consideration.
When such a foundation is laid, in the belief of the being and providence of God, and of a future state both of rewards and punishments, children should be instructed in the duty they owe to God, and should be particularly taught to pray to him and to praise him. It would be best of all, if from a deep sense of his perfections, and their own necessities, they could be engaged to breathe out their souls before him in words of their own, were they ever so weak and broken. Yet you will readily allow, that till this can be expected, it may be very proper to teach them some forms of prayer and thanksgiving, consisting of such plain scriptures, or other familiar expressions, as may best suit their circumstances and understandings. If the Lord's prayer be taught them, as a form, I hope you will consider, how comprehensive the expressions are; how fast the ideas rise and vary; and consequently how necessary it is, that it be frequently and largely explained to them; lest the repetition of it degenerate into a mere ceremony, as I fear it does amongst many, who are perhaps most zealous for its use.
But what I have said, on this head, of piety and devotion, must be considered in an inseparable connection with what I am to add under the next.
2. Children must be trained up in the way of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
You know, my friends, and I hope many of you know it to the daily joy of your souls, that Christ is The way, the truth, and the life*; and that it is by him we have boldness and access with confidence to a God who might otherwise appear as a consuming fire. It is therefore of great importance to lead children betimes into the knowledge of Christ, which is no doubt, a considerable part of that nurture and admonition of the Lord which the apostle recommends, and was perhaps what he principally intended by those words.}
We should therefore teach them betimes, that the first parents of the human race most ungratefully rebelled against God, and subjected themselves and all their offspring to his wrath and curse. The awful consequences of this should be opened at large, and we should labour to convince them, that they have made themselves liable to the divine displeasure (that dreadful thing!) by their own personal guilt; and thus by the knowledge of the law should we make way for the gospel, the joyful news of deliverance by Christ.
In unfolding this, great care ought to be taken that we do not fill their minds with an aversion to one sacred person, while we endeavour to attract their regards to another. The Father is not to be represented as severe, and almost inexorable; hardly prevailed upon by the intercession of his compassionate Son to entertain thoughts of mercy and forgiveness. Far from that, we should speak of him as the overflowing fountain of goodness, whose eye pitied us in our helpless distress, whose almighty arm was stretched out for our rescue, whose eternal counsels of wisdom and love formed that important scheme to which we owe all our hopes. I have often had occasion to shew you at large, that this is the scripture-doctrine; our children should be early taught it, and taught what that scheme was, so far as their understandings can receive it, and ours can explain it. We should often repeat it to them, that God is so holy, and yet so gracious, that rather than he would on the one hand destroy man, or on the other leave sin unpunished, he made his own Son a
John xiv. 6.
† Eph. iii. 12.
Heb. xij. 29.
§ Eph. vi. 4
sacrifice for it, appointing him to be humbled, that we might be exalted, to die, that we might live.
We should also represent to them, (with holy wonder and joy,) how readily the Lord Jesus Christ consented to procure our deliverance in so expensive a way. How cheerfully he said, Lo, I come; I delight to do thy will, O my God! To inhance the value of this amazing love, we should endeavour, according to our weak capacities, to teach them who this compassionate Redeemer is; to represent something of his glories as the eternal Son of God, and the great Lord of angels and men. We should instruct them in his amazing condescension in laying aside these glories that he might become a little weak, helpless child, and afterwards an afflicted sorrowful man. We should lead them into the knowledge of those circumstances of the history of Jesus, which may have the greatest tendency to strike their minds, and to impress them with an early sense of gratitude and love to him. We should tell them, how poor he made himself that he might inrich ust; how diligently he went about doing good‡; how willingly he preached the gospel to the lowest of the people. And we should especially tell them how kind he was to little children, and how he chid his disciples when they would have hindered them from being brought to him: It is expressly said, Jesus was much displeased, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of Gods. A tender circumstance! which perhaps was recorded, (in part at least) for this very reason, that children in succeeding ages might be impressed and affected with it.
Through these scenes of his life we should lead them on to his death: We should shew how easily he could have delivered himself, (of which he gave so sensible an evidence in striking down by one word those who came to apprehend him; and yet how patiently he submitted to the most cruel injuries, to be scourged and spit upon, to be crowned with thorns, and to bear his cross. We should shew them, how this innocent, holy, divine Person was Brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and while they were piercing him with nails, instead of loading them with curses, he prayed for them, saying, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do**. And when their little hearts are awed and melted with so strange a story, we should tell them, it was thus he groaned, and bled, and died for us,
*Psal. xl. 7, 8.
† 2 Cor. viii. 9.
Acts x. 38.
Mark x. 13, 14.
and often remind them of their own concern in what was then transacted.
We should lead on their thoughts to the glorious views of Christ's resurrection and ascension; and tell them with what adorable goodness he still remembers his people in the midst of his exaltation; pleading the cause of sinful creatures, and employing his interest in the court of heaven, to procure life and glory for all that believe in him and love him.
We should then go on to instruct them in those particulars of obedience, by which the sincerity of our faith and our love is to be approved; at the same time reminding them of their own weakness, and telling them how God helps us, by sending his holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts, to furnish us for every good word and work. An important lesson, without attending to which our instruction will be vain, and their hearing will likewise be vain!
3. Children should be trained up in the way of obedience to their parents.
This is a command which God recommended from Mount Sinai, by annexing to it a peculiar promise of long life*; a blessing which young persons greatly desire. The apostle therefore observes, that it is 7 he first commandment with promiset; i. e. a command eminently remarkable for the manner in which the promise is adjoined. And it is certainly a wise constitution of providence, that gives so much to parental authority, especially while children are in their younger years, their minds being then incapable of judging and acting for themselves in matters of importance. Children should therefore be early taught and convinced by scripture, that God has committed them into the hands of their parents; and consequently, that reverence and obedience to their parents, is a part of the duty they owe to God, and disobedience to them, is rebellion against him. And parents should by no means indulge their children in a direct and resolute opposition to their will in matters of greater or smaller moment; remembering, that a child left to himself bringeth his parents to shame‡, and himself to ruin; and with regard to subjection, as well as affection, It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth§.
4. Children should be trained up in the way of benevolence and kindness to all.
Exod. xx. 12.
+ Eph. vi, 2.
+ Prov. xxix. 15.
§ Lam, iii. 27.
The great apostle tells us, that Love is the fulfilling of the law*, and that all those branches of it, which relate to our neighbour, are comprehended in that one word, lovet. This love therefore we should endeavour to teach them; and we shall find, that in many instances it will be a law to itself, and guide them right in many particular actions, the obligations to which may depend on principles of equity, which lie far beyond the reach of their feeble understandings.
There is hardly an instruction relating to our duty more happily adapted to the capacity of children, than that golden law, (so important to all of the maturest age) Whatsoever ye would that others should do unto you, do ye so unto them. This rule we should teach them, and by this should examine their actions. From their cradles we should often inculcate it upon them, that a great deal of religion consists in doing good; that The wisdom from above is full of mercy and good fruits§; and that every christian should do good unto all as he has opportunity||.
That such instructions may be welcome to them we should endeavour, by all prudent methods, to soften their hearts to sentiments of humanity and tenderness, and guard against every thing that would have a contrary tendency. We should remove from them, as much as possible, all kinds of cruel and bloody spectacles, and should carefully discourage any thing barbarous in their treatment of brute creatures; by no means allowing them to sport themselves in the death or pain of domestic animals, but rather teaching them to treat the poor creatures kindly, and take care of them; the contrary to which is a most detestable sign of a savage and malignant disposition. The merciful man regardeth the life of his beast.
We should likewise take care to teach them the odiousness and folly of a selfish temper, and encourage them in a willingness to impart to others, what is agreeable and entertaining to themselves; especially we should endeavour to form them to sentiments of compassion for the poor. We should shew them where God has said, Blessed is the man that considereth the poor, the Lord will remember him in the day of trouble**. He that hath pity upon the poor, lendeth to the Lord, and that which he hath given, will he pay him again++. And we should shew them, by our own practice, that we verily believe these promises to be true, and important. It might not be improper sometimes to make our children the messengers, by
Rom. xiii. 19.
+ Gal. v. 14.
Mat. vii. 12.
§ James iü. 17.