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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
. 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 wayt, the way of serious practical religion : The way which God has in his word marked out for us;
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
1 Cor. x, 15.
+ Jer. vi. 16:
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 f.
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 observedll, 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 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 belp them, no more than he lodges in our hands.
Heb. ii, 4.
* Psal. cxi, 10.
+ Psal. xxxiv. 11. Discourse cu Catechism.
Heb. zi. 6.
We should also solemnly remind them, that in a very little while their spirits are to return to Godf; 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 judgments, 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
will readily allow, that till this can be expected, it may
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.
* Job xi. 11.
+ Exod, xxxiv, 6, 7.
1 Eccl. xii, 7.
$ Eccl. xii. 14.
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
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 confidencet to a God who might otherwise appear as a consuming firef. 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, wbile 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. ii. 12.
$ 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, () 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 goodf; 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 Godý. 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 slaughters; 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. ( John xviii. 9.
$ Mark X. 13, 14.
+ 2 Cor. viii. 9.
Isai. lui, 7.
| Acts x. 38.