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it requires great judgment, and great delicacy, to explain a composition which, being professedly intended for youth, may seem to stand in need of no explanation ; yet I am of opinion that some parts might with good effect be selected by a sensible clergyman, and in the course of their weekly tasks read by these little ones, from the Lectures of Archbishop Secker. Those lectures are plain, but without vulgarity; they are copious, but without prolixity; and they are solemn, but without fanatical jargon.
In your rules I see no directions for keeping the Sabbath, when the children have left church. And to say the truth, Sunday-schools are more particularly useful for such young persons as are destitute of instruction, and let loose from government in the course of the week. I really have doubts on the propriety of the very strict confinement, and very severe tasks, which are allotted to them upon a Sunday. I am no stranger to the grovelling prejudices and gloomy formalities of that age, when the Sabbath was in our own country converted from a day of rest into a day of mortification. I see nothing in the observance of that day by Christ, which warrants some later doctrines ; and sorry I am that the season at which children are directed to look up to their gracious Father, should be saddened with unnecessary and unauthorized severities. In the practice of every virtue there is a nice and delicate medium to be observed, which zealots only overlook, and hypocrites only depreciate.
Upon one point I exhort 'my hearers to bestow
the most serious attention. Let religion, I entreat you, let religion, the most precious gift of a good God to his creatures, be presented to the minds of young persons in a pleasing and a lovely form. Let them be brought up to rejoice in the mercies, rather than shudder at the terrors, of the Lord. Let them not, in the days of their innocence, be annoyed with those fears, which are so necessary to rouse the guilty. Let not our chimerical assumptions, or lying divinations, make the heart of the righteous sad, whom God hath not made sad. Let them not be permitted to view that God as a capricious inaster, whose favour is to be obtained by no regular and steady habits of diligence, sobriety, and honesty—as an inexorable judge, who is “extreme to mark what is done amiss,” in all the little failings, and all the involuntary errors, of the creatures whom he has made—as a vain and haughty superior, who is to be propitiated by noisy importunity, by servile fear, by the bending of the knee, and the adulation of the lips--as a stern and arbitrary tyrant, who not only looks down upon the toils and the triumphs of active virtue without approbation, but even without concern lavishes his rewards on the pageantries and formalities of abject and superstitious homage. No! let them rather be told that his eyes are ever watchful over the poor and needy, and that his ears are open to their prayers—that his hand is stretched over them, to preserve them “ from the arrow that flyeth by night, and the pestilence that walketh by noon day”— that his bounty has provided for their industry some means of defence against the scorching heat and the pelting storm—that his spirit will pour sweet comfort into their souls, when languishing in sickness or wrung with affliction—that his works are laid
open for their admiration, in the moon and the stars which he has spread over the vaulted firmament of heaven-and, above all, that his succour will not be wanting to them in the most trying and awful season,“ in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment.” These gracious truths they can understand, and understanding them they must feel. And of that teacher by whom these truths are seriously and frequently inculcated, splendid is the merit, and sure is the reward.
There is one more part of religious education which, for weighty reasons, I never fail to maintain, and to urge with unfeigned and uncommon earnestness. I mean, that the utmost care should be taken not to irritate the tempers, and bewilder the underderstandings of children upon obscure and controverted points of theology. True religion has no very intimate connection with the decision of such points; and from the mistakes of those who profess to teach what need not be taught, and to explain what cannot be explained, I often have seen, and I always forbode, the very worst consequences in young persons. They confound words with ideas, and assertions with proofs; they are led by degrees to dogmatize on what they cannot examine, to call in conceit to the aid of ignorance, and to mix the fury of zeal with the grossness of error. They view their Maker not as the great impartial judge of all all his creatures, but as the capricious protector of some obscure and narrow sect. They see in their Redeemer not the author of a rational and comprehensive religion, but the teacher of dark and doubtful tenets, the knowledge of which is confined to what they rashly esteem his chosen Israel. If they adhere to these opinions, they are too prone to indulge themselves in presumptuous decisions, and uncharitable censures.
But if, in the progress of life, they should once discover the fallacy of early prejudices, there is great danger to unlettered men in the notions which they afterwards adopt. Escape from error is not always a transition to truth. Where the tares are rooted up the wheat is not always sown.
A coarse and impertinent scepticism rushes into the place of a blind and implicit faith. The understanding, thrown off from the only basis on which it had been accustomed to rest, totters in restless uncertainty, or seeks for refuge in a stubborn unbelief. The heart exchanges gloomy seriousness for profane levity. Religion, when it is no longer revered for its supposed mysteriousness, is hated for its supposed austerity; and after this dreadful revolution, all faith is subverted, all morality is corrupted, all piety is extinguished.
How, then, shall these evils be averted? I answer, by leaving the veil over mysterious subjects undrawn to the minds of children, by reasoning to them chiefly of “righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come:" by setting before them those truths which are intelligible to all capacities, and interesting to all ranks—truths which they may hereafter review without disgust, and retain without difficulty-truths which familiarity will confirm, but not debase-truths which fanaticism cannot deface, which dogmatism cannot distort, and which sophistry cannot overthrow.
Into this train of reflection I have been led, not only by the general incapacity of children to reap any benefit from controversy, but by some untoward symptoms of bigotry and intolerance which I have lately discerned in those, who most arrogantly represent themselves as the only supporters of our Ecclesiastical Establishment, as the favoured depositaries of Christian knowledge, as the very best teachers of the very best truths. Against ignorance, professing, indeed,“ to wield the sword of faith, and to have put on the breast-plate of salvation," but, in reality, entrenched only in obstinacy, and armed with uncharitableness,-against such an usurper, and such a foe, I should disdain to struggle, if I were not anxious to shelter these children from spiritual delusion and spiritual bondage. If, however, my opinion should have little weight with
I trust that you will not lightly spurn the authority of Archbishop Tillotson, whose sentiments on this subject are exactly similar to my own; whose moderation was equalled only by his sagacity and his piety; and whose character many of you must have been accustomed to revere, as that of a steady friend to the laws and government of his country, and one of the brightest luminaries in that constellation of learned and virtuous prelates who have adorned the Established Church.