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CHURCH OF CHRIST, IN NORTHAMPTON,
UNDER MY MINISTERIAL CARE.
MY DEAR FRIENDS!
As I reckon the providence which fixed me with you, in the pastoral
relation, amongst the most singular blessings of my life; I would always retain a sense of those engagements which it brings me under, to labour to the utmost for your spiritual improvement. And through the divine goodness, I find it a delightful work; as your candid and serious temper adds a freedom and pleasure, both to my public ministrations, and private converses with you.
I take this opportunity of renewing the assurances I have often given you, that I could gladly converse with you more frequently at home; did not the other work, in which I am engaged, as a tutor, demand so large a share of my time. I heartily thank you, that you so kindly consider it, and make all the allowances for it I could reasonably desire.
I trust, God is my witness, that it is a sincere concern for his glory, and the interest of a Redeemer in the rising age, that has determined me to undertake the additional labour of such an employment: And as you voluntarily chose to sacrifice something of your private satisfaction, to these great and important views, I hope you will have the pleasure to see them answered, and that you yourselves will not, on the whole, be losers by them. You know, it is my desire, that as my pupils advance in the course of their preparatory studies, they would endeavour by their religious visits, conversation and prayer, to supply in part, that lack of service to you, which my care for them must necessarily occasion; and it is as a farther supply of it, that I now offer you those Sermons on the Religous Education of Children, which you heard from the pulpit some months ago.
The indulgence and thankfulness with which you then received them, is one instance, amongst many others, of your relish for plain and practical preaching. When some of you expressed your desire that they might be made more public, I confess I knew not well how to deny you; and I was the more willing to comply with your request, because it is a subject which cannot be often handled, so largely, in the course of preaching.
That tender concern for you and yours, which led me to treat of educa tion, engaged me also to manage it in such a manner, as I apprehended might be most for your advantage and for theirs; that is, to make it, as far as I could, a warm and serious address to you. I have likewise, for the same reason, retained that form in transcribing them for the press; though I am sensible it might have appeared more fashionable and polite, to have cast them into a different mould, and to have proposed my remarks in a more cool and general way.
It is indeed my deliberate judgment, that there is an important differ ence between popular discourses and philosophical essays. The more I converse with the most celebrated speakers of antiquity, the more I am confirmed in that thought; and I will take the liberty to add, that, for the sake of common christians, I could wish it were more generally considered. But whether in this respect I am in the right or the wrong, I must say with the apostle to the CORINTHIANS, Brethren, it is for your sakes.
I would not willingly disgust persons of elevated genius and refined education; but I must confess, the great labour of my life is to bring down my discourses to common apprehensions, and to impress the consci ences of men by them in subserviency to the momentous design of their eternal salvation. And as I am your shepherd, and you in a peculiar manner the people of my care, whom God has committed to my hand, and of whom he will require an account from me, I would always cherish a peculiar concern for you; and desire that, whenever I appear amongst you, my heart may overflow with a kind of parental tenderness for you. There are, perhaps, some traces of this in these discourses, which a severe critic may censure, and a profane wit may deride; nevertheless I have a cheerful hope, that they will be accepted by God, and approved by you. If divine grace render them useful to others, I would own it as an additional favour; and that they might be so, I have diligently avoided whatever might offend any serious reader: yet they are yours by a peculiar claim. For you I composed them; for you I published them; and to you I now present them; humbly commending them and you to the blessing of God, and entreating your continued prayers, that it may attend all the labours of
Your very affectionate Brother,
Nexington, July 14, 1732.
In our common Lord,
I HOPE the reader will pardon me, that I trouble him with the mention of two things, which, for some obvious reasons, I thought it not proper to omit. The one is, that as my very worthy and condescending friend, Dr: Watts, had promised the world an Essay on Education, I would not have published these papers, without his full approbation of the design, as no way injurious to his; and I have omitted some particulars I might have mentioned, that I might interfere with him as little as possible.
The other is, that when I came to look over Dr. Tillotson's Sermons, and some other treatises on this Subject, I found many of the thoughts I had be fore inserted in my plan. They seemed so obvious to every considerate. person, that I did not think myself obliged to mention them as quotations. What I have expressly taken from others, I have cited as theirs in the mar gin; and if I have been obliged to any for other thoughts or expressions, which is very possible, though I do not particularly remember it, I hope this
THE subject of the following Discourses is of high importance to the
interest of religion, and justly claims a share in our labours, if we would fulfil the ministry we have received in the Lord, and give a good account of it another day. This led the author to insist upon it, in the congregation under his care. What was delivered from the pulpit met with a favourable reception, and many who heard these Sermons, have importunately desired they might be published, for the benefit of others. I have perused them with some attention, and such special satisfaction, that I heartily concur in the same request.
The neglect of the rising generation, which so generally prevails, ought, surely, to awaken our serious concern for it; and I persuade myself, that the present attempt will be welcome to all who are duly impressed with that concern; for so far as I am capable of judging, it is well adapted to answer its intended purposes. The method is natural and easy, the language correct, the reasoning strong, the address pathetic and convincing; and the whole is so agreeably adjusted, that I can with pleasure recommend it as a valuable and useful performance.
The peculiarities of the christian scheme are frequently and pertinently interspersed, through the several parts of this work; which will be acceptable to them, who have tasted that the Lord is gracious. I look upon these as the brightest ornaments of practical discourses; and when they are introduced in this view, it must evidently appear, that the principles of our holy religion, are not merely refined speculations for the entertainment of curious and inquisitive minds, but doctrines according to godliness, and the great support of virtue and goodness in the world. When arguments are drawn from the glorious dispensation of the grace of God, to persuade us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly; such endearing motives represent duty in its most amiable light, and have a most direct tendency to engage our cheerful compliance. It deserves our serious consideration, whether this be not a proper method to prevent the growth of infidelity; if not to reclaim those, whose arguments against the sacred scriptures are mere banter and ridicule, and who are gone so far as to glory in their contempt of the gospel, yet, at least, to prevent the spreading of that dangerous infection.
It has been justly observed by an excellent person*, whose practical writings meet with that general acceptance which they so justly deserve, "That when men have heard the sermons of their ministers, for many years together and find little of Christ in them, they have taken it into their heads,
* Dr. Watts.
that they may go safe to heaven without christianity." And this I apprehend will ever be the consequence, if we so lay the whole stress of our moral obligations, on the reason and fitness of things, as to neglect that Saviour who gave himself for us, to redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. When christian preachers seldom mention redemption and salvation by the Son of God, unless it be to expose an absurd sense, which some have put upon those doctrines; and thereby more artfully slur them, than by a direct and open attack; they cannot expect their hearers should have any great regard for them. Their people will be insensibly led into this conclusion, that they have little concernment with any thing in the New Testament but the morality of it, and that the other parts of the gospel may be neglected, without hazard to their souls. And when they have advanced thus far, the next step will be, to set the inspired writings on a level with heathen authors, whose moral sentiments are admired, though there are many poetical fictions and fabulous stories intermixed with them.
The apostles took a different method, and constantly supported their instructions, by considerations peculiar to the gospel of Christ. And if our schemes in religion will not permit us to follow their example, and we feel a secret unwillingness to form ourselves on their model, lest our discourses should not be polite and rational, we have reason to fear, we are declining from that faith which they once delivered to the saints. But if we copy after these wise master-builders, we may hope the hand of the Lord will be with us; and that we shall see something of that divine success attending our labours, which so remarkably accompanied theirs, when many believed and turned unto the Lord. And they, who have experienced the powerful influences of the gospel, in forming their hearts and lives for God, will be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight and craftiness of men, nor easily prevailed upon to part with it. And I am confirmed in this opinion, by observing that deism makes little progress in those auditories, where the distinguishing doctrines of christianity are frequently and judiciously considered.
For this reason, I would humbly propose the following composures to the imitation of younger ministers. And I cannot but indulge a reasonable expectation, that those who are forming for the service of the sanctuary under the instructions of the learned and worthy author, having so good a pattern daily before then, will appear in our assemblies with a fixed resolution to exalt a Redeemer in all their ministrations; that they will stand as pillars in the temple of our God, and be the ornaments and supports of the christian cause, when their fathers shall sleep in the dust.
As the subject of these sermons is no matter of controversy, but plain and important duty, one would hope, they will not fall under the severe censure of any. At least, I am fully persuaded, that humble and serious christians, whose chief concern is to know, and do their duty, will find agreeable entertainment, and much profitable instruction, in the perusal of them.