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ACTS, VIII. PART OF VERSES 30, 31.
And Philip said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me?
As it has pleased God's good providence, from a variety of particular events, to render my situation far more favourable for the discharge of my duty towards you, than it has been formerly, I would, through the divine assistance, show my grateful sense of this blessing, by my future diligent, though humble endeavours to render it instrumental to your benefit and the promotion of God's glory: I would gladly mark this my actual * residence among you by some exertion of professional industry, that I might become a faithful steward and servant of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and at the same time discover the purest regard to your eternal interests.
* Very peculiar circumstances of a domestic nature having obliged the Author to commit the care of his parish to a Curate for some time,
Upon full consideration of the most likely means to render this intention serviceable to you, I have been able to fix on nothing that can contribute more powerfully to your solid, rational, and effectual improvement, than to endeavour to store you with sound knowledge in the principles of the religion you profess; or, in other words, to make you fully acquainted with the design and doctrines of that excellent form of public instruction, which our Church orders to be taught as the groundwork of our faith and practice, viz. the CHURCH CATECHISM. It shall be my business to discourse to you now on the value of this useful study, as an introduction to a continued course of Lectures upon this subject.
In regard to the propriety of my purposed undertaking, I shall in its due place afford you abundant testimony thereof, from the opinion of several of the highest characters of our church. And as to the necessity of a clear understanding in all religious matters, especially the first principles of Christian knowledge, that is not only very fully signified in the words of the text, but the answer which follows confirms the use of this kind of information, which peculiarly belongs to the office of a pastor, and whence it is chiefly expected, or likely, to be performed in any useful degree. And he said, How can I understand, unless some man should guide
me? It is this guidance I shall humbly attempt in an easy and full explanation of the Catechism, by satisfying your utmost inquiries concerning what is absolutely necessary for you to know and do, to obtain eternal life: and in this work I engage, from a conviction of the great use, and of the necessity, both to you and myself, of attending to the Apostle's admonition of doing good while we have time.
But before I enter upon what more immediately concerns my plan, it will be no way foreign to the main subject of this Discourse, to take notice of a very remarkable particular contained in this passage of Scripture concerning the persons appointed to the work of the ministry. Two things are very worthy notice in the case of the great man in the text.
First-that though, from a holy disposition, he was inclined to search the fountain of all truth for knowledge to direct him, he had been hitherto left to the light of his own understanding to discover the way therein; and that though, from situation, he was deprived of a fuller interpretation of the prophetic word, yet was he favoured with no extraordinary help, but reserved for the benefit of the more ordinary means of receiving the knowledge of God's gracious designs towards him and all mankind in Jesus Christ.
Secondly, the circumstance of his instruc
tion strengthens the positive institution of ORDINATION, and greatly confirms the authority of a regular ministry: for, the person appointed to instruct him in the mysteries of his faith, and to satisfy his further religious inquiries, was one of the first of that order that received apostolical license, ordination, or appointment, after our blessed Lord had ascended up on high, and given all power and authority to his immediate successors for the propagation of the Gospel, in an orderly and regular manner. He was of that rank which is retained in the church to this day, founded on the original institution of Christ and his Apostles; he was a deacon, duly called, and sent forth, who is here so eminently employed in the grand work of converting this nobleman to Christianity. The divine Spirit openly interferes to confer this honour upon his qualified servant Philip; as if he was intended to stamp a perpetual sanction on the order he belonged to, and hand down a becoming respect to the positive institution of the sacred office, by this extraordinary dispensation in the exercise of it.
But to the more immediate purport of my Discourse. It requires no enlarged capacity, and but a small share of religious inclination, to be convinced at first sight that a mere repetition of principles and precepts, however frequently and perfectly rehearsed, will avail little to the
advancement of godly knowledge, if the meaning and end of what is then got by rote is not thoroughly understood; nay, even that slight degree of children's learning, if only attended to during one short portion of the year, would most likely be quite forgotten before the return of the season. This, in truth, is now happily remedied in many places by the pious and provident institution of Sunday schools, and for which reason I revived the primitive custom of our church of a weekly attention to this useful study; and doubtless from God's blessing, which we may securely promise upon every upright endeavour, the effect will prove valuable in due time, provided you are diligent to assist my good wishes towards your children, by enforcing your parental or relative authority over them.
Many are most weakly apt to affirm, that their children are afraid to attend this public mode of learning their duty to God and their fellow-creatures, from an apprehension of too close an investigation of their attainments. We well know that most children are naturally backward in complying with the business of instruction in any shape; but were we to yield to their thoughtless inclinations, universal ignorance must follow. Some children may discover a constitutional modesty and diffidence for public examination. Where this is really of native growth, it is no unfavourable symptom, and by reasoning and encouragement may be