Page images
PDF
EPUB

own, to which he had respect; it was their motive, their affection, which he viewed. Even the bringing of children to baptism, beside the nature of the ordinance as an instituted rite for the initiation of the infants themselves, is an act of worship, an expression of homage and devotion on the part of the parents. This, I take it, is a just and scriptural way of considering the subject, and we hope it will be so accepted. Upon the same principle, the bringing of children to church, beside the use of it to themselves, is an office of piety in those who do it. It is an office which springs from piety as its motive; which hath God, his pleasure, his worship, his honor in view. There neither is, nor ever was, a parent touched with the love of God, or with any serious apprehensions upon religious subjects, who was content with attending public worship himself, without endeavouring to bring along with him his household and his children. No doubt, it is primarily and properly the duty of parents to undertake this charge ; but so it is, that many parents want the attention, the thought, the care, the inclination necessary to this work; want, perhaps, a sense and knowledge of its importance, and of their own duty with relation to it; want sobriety, seriousness, and regularity of behaviour too much themselves, to inculcate these qualities, or any thing which belongs to these qualities, into the minds of their children ; and some, we are ready to allow, want opportunities. To make provision for these cases, and that children under such circumstances may stand before the Lord, as the language of the Old Testament so often and well expresses it, the benevolence of others must be exerted; and in whatever degree it is the duty of the parents, when they have in all respects the power and the opportunity to bring their children to church, in the same degree it is an act of rational and acceptable piety to supply the power and the opportunity where they are not, as well as to furnish inducement and encouragement where there is want of will.

I contend therefore, and I conceive that I am authorized by scripture to contend, that the bringing of children to the public worship of God is an act of public worship in us, and such a one as we have good reason to believe will be well pleasing to him. This is a distinct and original reason for the beneficence we now solicit; but no doubt, one great consideration upon the subject is the advantage to the children themselves.

Were man a purely rational creature, that is, was he directed in all things by unprejudiced reason alone, or could any plan or system of management make him so, it might be argued very forcibly, that in religious and moral subjects he ought to be left to the free and unbiassed opinion which he might form when he came of sufficient age; and that no influence whatever should be exerted upon the tender and unripe understandings of youth. But neither this proposal, nor any proposal which proceeds upon the supposition of mankind being guided solely by their reason, accords with the actual condition of human life. Man is made up of habits and prejudices; it is the constitution of his nature; and being so, the only choice which is left us is, whether we will have good prejudices or bad ones; salutary habits, or habits which are pernicious; for the one or the other will infallibly gain possession of the character.

To which must be added another powerful consideration ; that the tendency, not of human nature, but of human nature placed in the midst of vicious and corrupt examples, is almost always to the worse. Instances are but too numerous, where well educated children as they grow up fall off, decline as they come into the world from their early principles, grievously disappoint the hopes that have been entertained of them ; but the cases are very rare in which the man or woman turns out good where the child was bad; where uncurbed, neglected, impious youth ends in any thing better than profligate life. Therefore, to give to men even the chance of becoming virtuous, and by being virtuous happy, all endeavours are requisite to impress good habits, as the only possible means of excluding bad ones.

To apply these general considerations to the particular subject of Sunday Schools ; without entering into any question which is by no means necessary here, concerning the degree of strictness with which the sabbath ought to be kept, it is confessed by all who bear or wish to bear the name of Christians, that it ought to be a day of rest, yet of quietness, order, and sobriety; of some exercise, at least, of religious worship, and at least of some attention to religious concerns. How will it be believed, or can it be expected, that youth, who spend their Sundays in a total contempt of these things, and in the company of those who contemn them ; in rude play, in stupid sloth, in riotous and barbarous sports; in noisy and profane society, hearers, though they themselves do not share in them, of almost every species of bad discourse ; is it, I say, likely that children who have been accustomed to spend their Sundays in this manner, when they become men, will spend them as they ought to do? And perhaps there are few situations to which these remarks are more applicable than those of frequented seaports. In the tranquillity of a country village, children who are not at church may be harmlessly engaged; but where dangerous ex

[ocr errors]

amples, where loose conversation, and bad companions, the means, the opportunities, the incentives to vice, abound so much as they do in crowded places and in places connected with a seafaring life, it is greatly to be feared that if children and young persons be not engaged in what is good, they will be engaged in wickedness; that they are not merely absent from the duty and the place where they ought to be, but they are present at scenes which must go near to destroy all the seeds and elements of virtue within them. It may be true, that of those who by their parents or the public, are brought to church in their youth, some show very little proofs of being affected or benefited by it. But this is nothing more than what may be said of every plan of education. The best oftentimes fails. As concerning education, therefore, the proper question is, Do those who have no education succeed ? and not, Does every one that has it make a right use of it? So in this article of bringing children to church; the first inquiry is, whether those who never come to church in their youth, will do so when they are grown up; and whether this might not have been the case with multitudes, if they had not been beholden to these institutions.

Then as to another objection, that children, just perhaps rising out of infancy, are incapable of understanding much of what is going on at church ; the objection, in the first place, does not belong to the children who are brought to church by this institution, more than it did to the little ones, and the children, whom Jehoshaphat assembled in the congregation of Judah, or to the children who were presented to Christ, and we know that in neither of these two cases did the reason hinder its being an accepted service, in their view who brought them. In the next place, the objection is alleged without a sufficient knowledge of human life. It is not only possible, but it is in the ordinary course of things, that men retain from reason and principle what they at first acquired by habit, and under the influence of authority ; which yet, if it had not been so acquired, this reason might never have attended to, nor their principles have been excited towards it. Every art and science is at first learnt by rote. Children do not at first know the reason of the rules of grammar or arithmetic; nor is it probable they would ever become grammarians or arithmeticians, if they put off learning the practice till they comprehend the proofs. It is afterwards, when they come to employ their own thoughts and their own reflections; when they come to work themselves upon the materials which have previously been laid in by rote, that men of science and learning are formed. A good deal of this observation is true of religion. The principles of christian knowledge and rules of christian duty, like all first rules and principles, must be learnt by example and authority. And this is necessary, in order that when men begin to reflect, they may be provided with something to reflect upon; and we trust and believe, that the principles of Christianity are so well founded, that the more men's reason opens and operates, the more they will be inclined to hold fast by their own judgment, what they at first received from the instruction of others. Whereas if a man knew nothing of divine worship in his youth, it would be such a strangeness to him afterwards, that if he should happen to enter a church, it would be with a stupid gaze and wonder at what was passing, rather than with any disposition or any capacity to join in it. This would be a defect not to be overcome by reason; because it is not probable that men's reasoning faculties would be exerted upon a subject from which they were absolutely estranged; it probably therefore would not be overcome at all during the course of the man's life.

I recur to an observation which hath already been stated, that all we can do for the honor of God, the utmost return we can any of us make to him for his unceasing, ill deserved, and unspeakable mercies, is poor and inadequate to the obligation; yet we are not to sink under the sense of our unworthiness, of the feebleness of our endeavours, of their frequent want of efficacy and success; but on the contrary, just in proportion as they are such, we are to use and exert them to the extent of our power; we are to do our all and our utmost. One mode of testifying our piety toward God, is by bringing young persons and children to his worship. It is a mode founded in rational considerations as it respects the children ; and as it respects God, it is what we have authority from his word to say, he himself is pleased to accept and to approve.

I am given to understand that the liberality of the neighbourhood, together with the prudent and praiseworthy attention of those who conduct this charity, afford a prospect of extending its usefulness to some other objects, particularly the establishment of a Day School. I shall only say, that it must be an additional motive to the contributors to know that nothing will be lost ; that what can be spared from one good purpose will be applied to another; that if they cast, as the scripture expresses it, their bread upon the waters, they will, by one channel or another, though after many days, find it again ; find it in its effect upon the good and happiness of some one; find it in its reward to themselves.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell

among thieves ? And he said, He that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

The parable of the good Samaritan was calculated to ascertain who are the proper objects of our love and kindness ; for in the conversation which precedes, it seems to have been agreed between our Lord and the person with whom he conversed, who is called by St Luke a lawyer, but which name amongst the Jews rather signified a divine, that the great rules of the law were, to love the Lord thy God, and thy neighbour as thyself.' But then a doubt is suddenly started, “Who was that neighbour?' who was to be accounted a neigbour within the sense and construction of the precept? To this doubt our Saviour applies this excellent parable. And the whole frame and texture of the parable is contrived to set forth this lesson; that the persons best entitled to our help and kindness are those who stand in the most urgent need of it; that we are to help those who are most helpless; that our healing, friendly hand is to be held out to all who are cast in our way in circumstances of misery and distress, let their relation to us in other respects be ever so remote, or even ever so adverse, and be the case which hath brought them under our observation, and within the reach of our assistance, what it will. This is the lesson to be gathered from this beautiful and affecting piece of scripture; and almost every circumstance introduced into it has a reference and application to that moral. It forms the very point of the narrative. The wounded traveller was a stranger to the man who relieved him. He was more ; he was a national enemy. And the very force of the parable turns upon this circumstance. Do you think it was without design that our blessed Saviour made choice of a Samaritan and a Jew as the persons of his story? It was far otherwise. It was with a setiled intention of inculcating this benevolent truth; that no dilference, no opposition of political, national, or even religious sentiments, ought to check the offices of humanity, where situations of calamity and misfortune called for them ; and no two

« PreviousContinue »