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ragement to the minister to take pains with them, when they are such as can understand what he saith to them, and will continue under his care and conduct till they are settled and grounded in the faith, and have their senses exercised to discern between good and evil; and so shall be every way qualified to serve God, and do their duty to him in that state of life, to which he shall be pleased afterwards to call them, upon earth, and then to go to heaven.
If this could once be brought about throughout the kingdom, that all children that are born and bred up in it, were thus fully instructed in the knowledge of Christ, and of that religion which he hath revealed to the world, till they are fit for the holy communion, and ready to engage in the affairs of the world, the next generation would be much better than this, and Christianity would then begin to flourish again, and appear in its native beauty and lustre. And verily, whatsoever some may think, such especially as were never catechised themselves, this is as great and necessary a duty as any that is required in all the Bible. For God himself, by his apostle, expressly commands all parents to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; that is, as I have shewed, to catechise or instruct them in the principles of the doctrine of our Lord Christ. And therefore they who do it not, live in the breach of a known law, yea, of many laws. There being many places in God's holy word, where the same thing is commanded in other terms by Almighty God himself, saying, These words which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently thy children, Deut. vi. 7. And again, Therefore shall ye lay up these words in your heart, and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes, and ye shall teach them your children, chap. xi. 18, 19. So also, chap. iv. 10. This is that which he commands also by the wise man, Train up a child in the way he
should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it, Prov. xxii. 6. The word in the original which we translate, train up, signifies also to dedicate or devote a child to the service of God, by instructing him how to do it, and exercising him continually in it; and therefore in the margin of our Bibles it is translated, catechise a child: so that we have here both the necessity and usefulness of this duty: the necessity, in that it is commanded to train up, or catechise, a child in the ways of God; and the usefulness, in that what a child is thus taught, will remain with him all his life long.
Seeing therefore that God hath laid so strict a command upon all parents, to bring up their children in the knowledge of himself, and of their duty to him, they can expect no other, but that he should take particular notice whether they do it or not; and reward or punish them accordingly. As we see in Abraham, what a special kindness had God for him upon this account? Shall I hide from him, said the Lord, that thing which I do? Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations upon earth shall be blessed in him. But why had he such an extraordinary favour for Abraham above all other men? God himself gives us the reason of it, saying, For I know that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, Gen. xviii. 19. This was the reason that Abraham was so much in favour, that he was called the friend of God, James ii. 23.
And how much God is displeased with parents neglecting to bring up their children in his true faith and fear, and suffering them to grow up and go on in a course of vice and profaneness, appears sufficiently from that severe judgment which he inflicted upon Eli and his whole house for it, saying to Samuel, For I have told him, even Eli, that I will judge his house for ever, for the iniquity which he knoweth, because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.
And therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever, 1 Sam. iii. 13, 14. The execution of which dreadful judgment is left upon record in the holy Scriptures, as a standing monument and caution to all parents, to take heed how they educate their children.
Be sure the saints of God in all ages have taken as much care to bring up their children well, as to live well themselves; making as much conscience of this, as of any duty whatsoever which they owe to God. That the children which he hath given them may answer his end in giving them; that they may not be insignificant ciphers in the world, or as fruitless trees, that serve only to cumber the ground, but that they may serve and glorify God whilst they are upon earth, so as to be meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.
And verily all parents would make this their continual care and study, if they minded either their own or their children's good. Many complain, not without cause, that their children are disobedient and undutiful to them; but the cause is chiefly in themselves. When they have neglected their duty to their children, how can they expect their children should perform their duty to them? They were never taught it, how then can they do it? If therefore they prove stubborn and obstinate, if they give themselves up to all manner of vice and wickedness; if instead of a comfort they be a grief and trouble to their parents; their parents must blame, themselves for it: and when they come to reflect upon it, their sin in neglecting their duty to God and their children in their education, will be a greater trouble to them than any their children can give them. Whereas when parents bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, if their children notwithstanding happen to miscarry afterwards, they have this to comfort them, that they did their duty, and have nothing to answer for upon that account.
But what a mighty advantage would it be to the children themselves, to be thus continually put in mind of their baptismal vow, the articles of their faith, the duties of religion, and what else is contained in the Catechism, from their childhood all along till they come to be men or women! Their minds would be then filled with such divine truths, and with so great a sense of their duty, that there would be no room left for heresy or sin to enter, at least not so as to get possession, and exercise any dominion there. The first impressions that are made upon us are not soon worn out, but usually remain as long as we live. As the wise man observes, Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it, Prov. xxii. 6. When one hath been all along from his childhood brought up in the knowledge of God and his holy will, it will stick by him so as to be a constant check upon him, to keep him within the compass of his duty in all ordinary cases; and if any thing extraordinary happen to draw him aside, it will make him restless and uneasy, till he hath recovered himself, and got into the right way again; and so it will either keep him innocent, or make him penitent. In short, by the blessing of God attending, as it usually doth, this great duty, when it is conscientiously performed, is the best means that parents can use, whereby to breed up their children for heaven, to make them fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, both in this world, and for ever.
Wherefore, if we have any regard either to our own, or to our children's eternal welfare, let us set upon this duty in good earnest; let us bring up our children so long in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, till they fully know him, and all that he would have them believe and do, that they may be saved: but we must be sure to teach them by our example as well as instructions; we must not tell them one thing, and do another ourselves; but shew them how to keep the faith and
Thoughts upon Christian Education.
laws of God, by keeping them ourselves before their eyes, all the while we live together upon earth; that when we are all got, one after another, out of this troublesome and naughty world, we and our children may at last meet together in heaven, and there praise and glorify Almighty God, we for them, and they for us, and all for his grace and truth in Jesus Christ our Lord.
After this general instruction in the principles of our holy religion, it will be necessary, as soon as our young Christian is capable of it, to inform him more particularly in the nature of God, and the great mystery of the Trinity, into which we are all baptized; which therefore shall be my next subject.