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Their ignorance of language is the principal barrier in the way of their instruction. They are often unable to find words to explain their own ideas, and we have usually as much difficulty in selecting terms suited to give them a proper conception of ours. Yet, it is wonderful, how much knowledge, especially with regard to external objects, they may acquire, under moderately judicious treatment, where affection never loses patience in consequence of their unceasing interrogatories, and where a sound discretion adapts the language of explanation to the extent of their capacities. No more fatal mistake could be made in the treatment of children, than repressing their curiosity by refusing to answer their questions. An inquisitive disposition ought to be particularly encouraged, as it opens the most favorable inlet for knowledge at a very early period of life. The information which a child desires to obtain always affords it pleasure, and usually makes a permanent impression upon its mind; whilst, on the contrary, knowledge which is pressed upon it by others is generally received with indifference, and soon passes away. Many questions put by children may be trifling, many absurd, and many difficult to be answered ; but the very reply of a judicious parent to a frivolous interrogatory may be so framed, as to correct an error of judgment, and the most difficult question should receive an answer, if possible ; or, at the very least, a satisfactory reason should be assigned for refusing a reply. In everything connected with religious principles and impressions, it is peculiarly important that this course should be pursued. If a child inquire, (and what child does not ?) who made the sun, and the moon, and the stars — who formed the mountains, and the rivers, and
the beasts of the field — who created himself, and his parents, and all other human beings — would it not be the utmost fatuity, to omit so favorable an opportunity of inculcating the first and most influential principle of all religion - the existence, the power, and the providence of God? That this great principle may be inculcated, and that an abiding conviction of the constant presence of the Deity may be impressed upon the mind, at a very early period of life, I do aver from experience; and in this sentiment, I am convinced I shall have the concurrence of every judicious parent, and of every man who has attentively considered the tendencies of human nature.
This habitual reverence of the Supreme Being will be materially strengthened in the minds of the young, by conducting them regularly to the public services of religion, and thus associating all their previous sentiments of piety with the hallowed solemnities of the sanctuary, and the deliberate approbation of the wise and good. Parents, who neglect the private and public duties of the Lord's day, who spend it in drowsy indifference, or degrade it into a season of worldly occupation or vain amusement, cannot expect that the love and fear of God should be established in the hearts of their children. These essential principles of piety, these surest foundations of moral respectability, are never to be found in the lukewarm and careless spirit; and what the father possesses not in himself, he cannot communicate to his son. For my own part, I have almost universally observed, that the decay of vital religion, in individuals and families, has exactly kept pace with their neglect of religious institutions. This is peculiarly true with regard to the young, who have no counterpoise for their
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 nory, 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 cal culated 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 directa ed 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 23 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,