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1. Children are to be instructed plainly: In the plainest things and by the plainest words.
They are to be taught the plainest things in religion in the first place. And it is a pleasing reflection on this occasion, that according to the abundant goodness and condescension of the great God, those things which are the most necessary are the plainest. Just as in the world of nature, those kinds of food, which are most wholesome and nourishing, are also the most common. We should shew our grateful sense of the divine goodness in this particular, by our care to imitate it; and should see to it, that when the necessities of our children require bread, we do not give them a stone, or chaff; as we should do, if we were to distract their feeble minds with a variety of human schemes, and doubtful disputations. The more abstruse and mysterious truths of the gospel are gradually to be unfolded as they are exhibited in the oracles of God and to be taught in the language of the spirit; according to the excellent advice of the great Dr. Owen*, "making scripture phraseology our rule and pattern in the declaration of spiritual things," But we must not begin here. We must feed them with milk while they are babes, and reserve the strong meat for a maturer age+. Take the most obvious and vital truths of christianity. Tell them, that they are creatures, and sinful creatures; that by sin they have displeased a holy God; and that they must be pardoned, and sanctified, and accepted in Christ, or must perish. for ever. Shew them the difference between sin, and holiness; between a state of nature, and of grace. Shew them that they are hastening on to death and judgment, and so must enter on heaven or hell, and dwell for ever in the one or the other. Such kind of lessons will probably turn to the best account, both to them and you. I know it is a very easy thing to in.... flame the warm ignorant minds of children with an eager zeal for distinguishing forms, or distinguishing phrases; and to make them violent in the interest of a party, before they know any thing of christianity. But if we thus Sow the wind, we shall probably reap the whirlwind; venting ourselves, and transfusing into them, a wrath of man, which never works, but often greatly obstructs, the righteousness of Gods. Blessed be God, this is not the fault of you, my friends of this congregation. I would mention it with great thankfulness, as both your happiness and mine, that so far as I can judge, it is
* Owen on the Spirit, pref. ad fin.
+ Heb. v. 13, 14. + Hos. viii. 7. § Jam. i. 20.
The sincere milk of the word that you desire*. Let it be your care to draw it out for the nourishment of your children's souls, as their understandings and capacities will permit them to take
And while you are teaching them the plainest things endeavour to do it in the plainest words. It is the gracious method which God uses with us, who speaks to us of heavenly things in language, not fully expressive of the sublimity and grandeur of the subject, but rather suited to our feeble apprehensions. Thus our Lord taught his disciples, As they were able to bear it† ; and used easy and familiar similitudes, taken from the most obvious occurrences in life, to illustrate matters of the highest importance. A most instructive example! Such condescension should we use, in training up those committed to our care, and should examine, whether we take their understandings along with us, as we go on : Otherwise we are speaking in an unknown tongue, and as the apostle expresses it, are barbarians unto them‡ be our language ever so graceful, elegant, or pathetic§.
Give me leave to add, for the conclusion of this head, that though it is to be taken for granted, that children in their earliest infancy are to be engaged to what is good, and to be restrained from evil, chiefly, by a view to rewards and punishments, more immediate or remote, or by some natural workings of a benevolent affection, which are by all means to be cherished and cultivated; yet, as they may grow up to greater ripeness of understanding, something further is to be attempted. It must then be our care, to set before them, in the strongest light, the natural beauties of holiness, and deformities of sin; and likewise to propose, in the easiest and most familiar way the evidences of the truth of christianity, that they may be fortified against those temptations to infidelity, with which the present age does so unhappily abound. The external evidences of it are by no means to be slighted, such as the credibility of the gospel history, the accomplishment of prophecies, the unity of design carried on by so many different persons in distant ages and countries, its amazing and even miraculous propagation in the world; all which, with many other considerations to the same. purpose, are very judiciously handled in a variety of excellent writings of our own age; of which I know not any more suited to your use, than Mr. Bennet's Discourses on the Inspiration of Scripture, which I therefore recommend to your attentive peru
* 1 Pet. ii. 2.
+ Mark iv. 33.
1 Cor. xiv. 11.
* Mercator renders 1377 by juxta mensuram viæ ejus, i. e. pro captu
sal; and with them Dr. Watts's Sermons on the Inward Witness to the Truth of Christianity from its efficacious tendency to promote holiness: This appears to me the noblest evidence of all, and will to those, who have actually experienced it, be an anchor of the soul both sure and stedfast.
2. Children should be instructed in a very serious manner.
There is an unhappy proneness in our degenerate natures to trifle with the things of God; and the giddiness of childhood. is peculiarly subject to it. Great care should therefore be taken, that we do not encourage such a humour, nor teach them, by our levity or indolence in the manner of instruction, to take the awful name of God in vain, while they are speaking of him, or to him. For this purpose we must labour with our own hearts, to work them to a deep and serious sense of the truth and importance of what we say: This will give us an unaffected solemnity in speaking, which will probably command the attention, and impress the hearts of our children. Endeavour to preserve on your own spirit an habitual awe of the great and blessed God, the Lord of heaven and earth; that when you speak of him to those little creatures, they may evidently see the indications of the humblest veneration and reverence, and so may learn to Fear him from their youth*. When you speak of Christ, let your souls be bowing to him as the Son of God, through whom alone you and yours can obtain pardon and life; and let them be overflowing with love to him, for his unutterable and inconceivable grace. And when you remind them of death, judgment and eternity, consider yourselves and them as dying creatures: Think in how few months, or weeks, or days, your lips may be silent in the dust, or they may be for ever removed beyond the reach of your instructions; and plead with them in as earnest and importunate a manner, as if the salvation of their immortal souls depended on the effect of the present address. Again,
3. Children should be instructed in a very tender and affecti
We should take care to let them see, that we do not desire. to terrify and amaze them, to lead them into unnecessary severities, or to deprive them of any innocent pleasures; that what we say is not dictated by an ostentation of our own wisdom and authority; but that it all proceeds from a hearty love to them,
1 Kings xviii. 12.
and an earnest desire of their happiness. Study therefore to address them in the most endearing language, as well as with the softest and sweetest arguments. Endeavour, according to the practice of Solomon, To find out acceptable words*. And if tears should rise while you are speaking, do not suppress them. There is a language in them, which may perhaps affect beyond words. A weeping parent is both an awful, and a melting sight.
Endeavour therefore to look upon your children in such a view, as may be most likely to awaken these tender sentiments. Consider them as creatures whom you (as instruments) have brought into being, tainted with innate corruption, surrounded with snares, and, on the whole, in such apparent danger, that if not snatched as brands out of the burning, they must perish for ever. And that your hearts may be further mollified, and you may be formed to the most gentle and moving manner of address, let me intreat you to study the scripture in this view, and to observe the condescending and endearing forms in which the blessed God speaks to us there. Observe them for yourselves, and point them out to your children. Tell them, how kindly he has demanded, how graciously he has encouraged their services; while he says, Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth+; and elsewhere, I love them that love me, and those that seek me early shall find me‡. Tell them, that the Lord Jesus Christ hath invited them to come to him; for he hath said, Come unto me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest§: Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out||: And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely. Such scriptures as these should be often repeated to them, and should be early inculcated on their memory, with an attempt, as far as possible, to let them into the spirit and force of them..
Nor will it be improper sometimes to set before them, how much you have done, how much you are ready to do for them; how many anxious thoughts you entertain, how many fervent prayers you offer on their account. Thus Lemuel's mother addressed him, What my son? and what, the son of my womb? and what, the son of my vou's** ? As if she had said, "My dear child, for whom I have borne so much, for whom I have prayed so earnestly; in what words shall I address thee, to express what my heart feels on thy account? How shall I speak my
Eccles. xii. 10.
+ Eccles. xii. 1.
Prov. viii. 17.
affectionate overflowing concern for thy happiness both in time and eternity?" So Solomon pleads, My son, if thine heart be wise, my heart shall rejoice, even mine*: As if he should have said, "Think how much is comprehended in that argument, that a parent's happiness is in great measure to be determined by thy character and conduct." And the apostle Paul lays open his heart to the Galatians in those pathetical words, My little children, of whom I travail in birth again, till Christ be formed in yout. Yet these were, comparatively, strangers to him. And should not you, my friends, feel, should not you express, an equal tenderness for those, who are so nearly allied to you in the bonds of nature, for those who are indeed parts of yourselves? But further,
4. Children should also be instructed patiently.
You know, when the husbandman has committed the seed to the ground, he patiently expects the fruit of his labours. So must ministers, when instructing their people: So must parents, when instructing their children. You must not imagine, my friends, that a plentiful harvest will spring up in a day. The growth of nature is slow, and by insensible degrees: Nor are you to wonder, if advances in knowledge and grace be still slower. Be upon your guard therefore against fretfulness and impatience. Your children will forget what you have once taught them; repeat it a second time; and if they forget it the second time, repeat it the third. It is thus that the great God deals with you; and you have daily reason to rejoice that he does. He knows the frailty and weakness of your minds and therefore acts by a rule, which seems to be laid down with a peculiar regard to the very point I am urging: Whom shall he teach knowledge, and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts? for precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, and line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little : As if he should have said, "God has treated you like little children, who must have the same short easy lesson repeated again and again." And is it not indeed thus with regard to you? Does not the patience and condescension of your heavenly Father send to you his ministers sabbath after sabbath, frequently inculcating the same things, that what you have forgot may be brought to mind again? Thus should you do by those committed to your care.
Prov. xxiii. 15.
+ Gal. iv. 19.
Isai. xxviii. 9, 10.