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thoughtlessness and folly, save what is to be found in the habitual reverence of God. Christian parents, therefore who omit to lead their children to the sanctuary, neglect to furnish them with the most powerful defence against all the trials and all the temptations of the world.
The reading of the holy scriptures is another most effectual means of promoting a religious and moral education. They contain the charter of our salvation, the grounds of our duty, the objects of our faith, and the anchor of our hopes. They are a treasure of inestimable value to all, but especially to the young, who most require the instruction of divine wisdom. Without a knowledge of the sacred records all education must be defective. But, whilst all scripture, given by inspiration of God, is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness,' the moral law, the prophecies, and the devotional parts of the Old Testament, with the whole of the christian revelation, are peculiarly adapted for the edification of the young. I do not say, that every part of the divine word is not calculated to afford salutary instruction to minds which are prepared to receive it; but, in the ceremonial law and the historical books of the Old Testament there are several things which appear to me but little suited to the capacities and feelings of youth. These I would leave for the consideration of riper years, and direct the mind principally to the dispensation of the glorious gospel of the grace of God.' Nor would I impose even this as an irksome task and fatiguing drudgery. I would not insist upon children's committing large portions of the New Testament to memory, lest I should create disgust and aversion, where I only desire to promote admiration and respect.
The injudicious system of enforcing a literal repetition of scripture, as a regular school-task, and sometimes as a penalty for idleness or misconduct, is pre-eminently calculated to destroy the very rudiments of piety in the human heart. This mischievous error has arisen from a misconception of the true nature of religion; from making it a concern merely of words and ideas, whereas in reality it is especially an affair of the affections; for 'it is the heart which God requires.' I would not thus attempt to instruct the young in a knowledge of the sacred volume; but, when they had previously considered and read a certain portion, I would question them with regard to its contents, and thus move onward in regular succession, with frequent reference to previous information, until the substance of the gospel should be engraven on their minds, and the spirit of the gospel infused into their hearts. Knowledge and feelings thus acquired would not vanish, like mere impressions of the memory, but would permanently remain as the guides and consolations of life, associated in the mind with pleasurable recollections. Besides, young persons educated on such a system would generally be steady in their religious principles. Having once drunk 'the waters of life' from the pure fountain of the divine word, they could scarcely turn to the polluted streams of human invention in after years.
As the chief corner stone' of a religious education, the minds of the young should be very frequently directed towards our blessed Saviour. They may not be able to appreciate all his labors of love, to understand all his divine instructions, to comprehend all the gracious purposes of his death, and resurrection, and mediation; but I know that, at a very early age, they may become truly
interested in his character and sufferings. I have seen the cheeks of an intelligent child suffused with tears, whilst reading the indignities of the judgment-hall, and the awful sufferings of Calvary. And, when the heart is thus impressed, every word from the lips of the gracious Being, who has become such an object of affectionate interest, is received with reverence and respect.
In the important work of early religious instruction parents must necessarily be the principal agents; but their labors acquire an additional efficacy, when they are aided by the ministers of the gospel. In the estimation of the young, there is always a sacredness attached to the ministerial character, which gives weight and energy to instruction; and I am fully persuaded that the faithful servant of Christ does not occupy so high a station of usefulness, even whilst he is delivering the holiest truths from the pulpit, as when he is engaged in the humble task of impressing lessons of wisdom and virtue upon the youthful mind. By such unostentatious labors he conciliates affection, prepares the soil for the good seed which he is afterwards to sow, and, independently of all higher considerations, secures an abundant harvest of respect and honor for his coming years. He may devote his mind to study, he may acquire the reputation of learning, or piety, or eloquence, and he may become an eminent preacher of righteousness; but, at the close of his mortal career, he will assuredly look back upon the peaceful hours, which he dedicated to the familiar instruction of the young, as by far the most profitable of his whole existence. A minister of the gospel who neglects this sacred duty, though he possessed the eloquence and the knowledge of a Paul, is still but as sounding brass,
or a tinkling cymbal.' He leaves the parents without encouragement or assistance, the children without knowledge, or motives to acquire it; and even his religious opinions, of which he boasts as having the peculiar sanction of truth, depend entirely for their extension upon the operations of chance, or the formal harangues of the pulpit. The work of the Lord cannot prosper in such hands; the canker-worm of indifference must gradually consume the very vitals of religion; and those, who commence the career of life without religious principles, will almost invariably continue it without moral practice. The ministers of the gospel, therefore, are peculiarly bound, by the most sacred and awful responsibility, to watch over the education of the rising generation; to aid and encourage parents in the diligent discharge of their arduous duties; and to diffuse around them the invaluable blessings of an early piety.
Religious sentiments, however, ought never to be inculcated as mere abstract principles. They should be constantly associated in the mind with moral feelings, and the active discharge of moral duties. Wanting this connexion, they are as a tree without fruit. The guardians of the young, therefore, should constantly labor to associate the filial fear of God with a reverence for his commandments, and the love of the Saviour with goodwill towards mankind. The important relative duties of integrity and truth, of generosity and kindness, of forgiveness and charity, ought to be enforced as the very end and essence of true religion. Above all things, the prevalent and degrading vice of falsehood should be carefully repressed, as offensive to God, destructive to the peace of society, and disgraceful to themselves. No
exertion, no vigilance, on the part of parents, can be too great to secure an inward love and habitual observance of truth. Where this great virtue is wanting, all other honorable principles must be deficient; and wherever it is to be found, we may confidently look for its natural attendants, integrity and benevolence. Kind and considerate treatment is always the most likely to secure the interests of truth; for I am persuaded that all falsehood has its origin in fear the fear of punishment, or disapprobation. I would, therefore, pardon almost any folly or offence, not involving gross impiety or moral turpitude, in order to secure a habit of candor and veracity.
Next to the social virtues, those of a more immediately personal character may be very early inculcated; and upon these a large portion of human happiness necessarily depends. No period of life, above mere infancy, is too early for teaching self-denial and patience of control. Thousands of the hot and ungovernable spirits, that have brought sorrow upon themselves, and inflicted miseries upon others, owe their misfortunes and their crimes to uncorrected passions, and unsubdued peevishness of temper, in the very earliest stages of existence. The same wisdom of experience, which prevents a child from thrusting its hand a second time into a flame, would, under proper management, prevent it from indulging in violent bursts of passion. And I am persuaded, (for I have witnessed the fact,) that children might be almost as easily taught to refrain from tasting forbidden sweets by a salutary fear of incurring displeasure, as to avoid the repetition of actions accompanied by personal suffering.