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them, which shuts out religious truths from the benefit of a general rule, founded on general experience of its utility? Do you mean that they should continue to the close of life, in a train of conduct for which they are answerable to God, without any instruction concerning his will, or any solicitude for his favour? Then you act a flagitious, but not a contradictory part. Is it your intention to give religion, at some distant period, some scanty share of your regard, in the education of your children? Then by delaying it you defeat your own purposes ; for what you hereafter offer to their consideration will be heard coldly, and may never be wrought up into the firmness and regularity of an opinion; or it must for ever remain prejudice, when the cares or the pleasures of the world are at hand to choke these reflections, which may call up reason to its support.
But in fact, these chimerical designs of parents are counteracted by the unalterable course of human affairs. We cannot be long engaged in lower stages, whether of speculative or of active life, but some notions of a primary creative cause, -of a superintending providence- of a moral governor, by whom good and evil are distinctly known, and will be adequately recompenced, will obtrude themselves on the mind. Upon evidence more or less pertinent, and with greater or less degree of correctness, opinions will be formed, let parents be ever so negligent from what quarters they proceed, or ever so anxious to prevent them from every quarter. And is it not then of the first moment, that they should be
formed rightly, when the effects of mistake must quickly be perceived in their desires, and their sentiments, and their actions ? Here indeed I am bound to confess, that the gross and ridiculous abuses of religious education have chiefly given either spirit to the clamour, or plausibility to the reasonings, or currency to the tenets, of those, who would teach us to defer it till it is too late to undertake it with any probability of lasting success; while therefore I earnestly intreat you to employ your children, as Christ was employed, in the business of their heavenly Father, I, at the same time, most seriously exhort you to consider well in what that business really consists. The conceptions we form of a Deity unquestionably are, and unavoidedly must be, transferred to him from those which his works, and the relation in which we stand to them suggest to us ; and on this, as well as every other topic, our personal observations, our natural dispositions, our trains of thinking, and our habits of acting, will have considerable influence. Thus the colour of our own minds will give a tinge to the character which we ascribe to our Maker-the gloomy will brood with sullen satisfaction over his terrors, and the cheerful expatiate with glowing exultation upon his mercies. But which, it will be asked, is likely to impress upon the mind of a child the firmest conviction, and to produce the most beneficial effects ? I answer without hesitation, the mercies of the Lord.
If the Supreme Being be described as a governor too strong to be resisted, as a judge too rigourous to be satisfied, as an enemy (for the frantic lan
guage of enthusiasm has sometimes 'reproached him with this hateful name) too fierce to be appeased, the mind will shrink with disgust and horror, from the contemplation of such a God; it will sink into abject despair, or from despair will seek a refuge in determined disbelief. But if you interest the better affections of a child while you are employing his better talents—if you silently make him feel his own strength in the gradual discovery of truth, and his own happiness in it when discovered if you teach him to look up to his Maker in a spirit of confidence without presumptuous familiarity, and of reverence without slavish timidity-you have laid a broad and a solid foundation for all that is meritorious in faith, and all that is attainable in holiness. The religion of a child is not to be shut up within the narrow limits, by which parents often suffer their own to be circumscribed. You may teach him to repeat, I know not what unintelligible jargon-toput a high value on fantastic ceremoniesand to set up arrogant and almost exclusive pretensions to the regard of his Maker, from the sect or church in which he is accidentally brought up; but such opinions cherish a restless and despicable vanity, which is always liable to be mortified by opposite pretensions rested upon the opposite mistakes of others. They seldom reach the vital springs of action, or reach them only to oppress, and to enfeeble their tone. On the other hand, tell a child that not a blade shoots upon the earth, or a star spangles in the firmament, without the appointment of God—that the very food he eats, and the air he breathes, are the works of his hands--that not a
sparrow falls to the ground, nor a hero perishes in the battle without his notice that all the evil which can be suffered in this life, and all the good that can be enjoyed, are intended for the best ends—and that, designing men for a better life, God has vouchsafed to send them the purest religion to qualify them for it by its precepts, and the most venerable teacher to animate them by his example — such truths can be perceived more exactly, and will be more exquisitely felt, than all the dark and doubtful doctrines which have been sanctified with the prostituted name of religion-doctrines from which common sense sometimes, and sometimes common humanity recoils, and which are alike shocking to the undebauched simplicity of a child, and the cultivated reason of a man. His admiration will be rapturous but not wild, and his devotion fervent, but not superstitious; every fresh gratification to his curiosity will be attended with fresh conviction to his understanding; and every fresh conviction to his understanding will bring with it fresh improvement to his heart.
Many persons, I am aware, have ostentatiously displayed their talents, and some, I fear, have indirectly vindicated their own secret practices, by intricate and invidious inquiries, whether ignorance or error upon sacred subjects-whether the total forgetfulness of God, or the superstitious fear of him be most pernicious. The propriety of these inquiries I discern not, as we are by no means reduced to either of these most distressing and most alarming alternatives. The utility of them also I am disposed to controvert, because general questions of this kind are seldom capable of such an exact decision as shall be applicable to real instances in common life. I would further observe, that, without attempting to determine which is the least criminal, we may collect from the express testimony of the disputants themselves, that both are very pernicious. But I will go yet more deeply into this question, because great stress is, I know, laid on it, by those, who, overlooking the safe and middle way, would keep the eye of the inquirer upon one extreme, while their own conduct verges towards the other. I wish you then to remember that these very evils, which in speculation are always stated separately, do in practice tend to generate each other.
For reasons already mentioned to you, it is plain, that some loose and roving ideas of a first superintendant cause will steal into the mind; but as there are no congenial principles to regulate and to fix them, and as the time may unexpectedly come, when the intellect, oppressed by their number, and distracted by their confusion, will make some violent effort to unite and arrange them, in such a case the transition from ignorance to error is easy and almost inevitable. Again, error, which implies in itself an immediate ignorance of the truth, is apt in many circumstances to keep but a feeble hold on the understanding, which at first languishes into a state of supreme indifference, and at last loses every trace of those images, which were once confessedly, and perhaps superficially, impressed. In the same manner, if wearied by a painful servi