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They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the
throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
DELIVERED BY THE RIGHT REVEREND THE LORD BISHOP OF LONDON,
AT MARTLEBONE CHURCH, JANUARY 17, 1830.
Luke, xviii. 16.—" Suffer Utile children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such it the kingdom of heaven."
Those persons who had witnessed the wonderful works which Jesus wrought, who had seen the elements controlled by a word, inveterate diseases healed by a touch, evil spirits expelled, and soundness restored both to body and mind, at the bidding of the great Teacher, were necessarily led to believe, that the same divine influence which had cured diseases, might be imparted before hand for their prevention. Accordingly, "they brought unto him infants that he should touch them. But when his disciples saw it they rebuked them:"—perhaps, partly, for troubling their Master needlessly; and partly, for presenting to his notice objects whom they regard as being too young to comprehend his doctrine, or to need his help. "But Jesus called them to him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." And another Evangelist adds, "He took them in his arms, and blessed them."
Upon this beautiful and affecting narrative, our church, in her Baptismal office, makes the following comment: —" Beloved, ye hear in this Gospel the words of our Saviour Christ, that he commanded the children to be brought unto him; how he blamed those that would have kept them from him; how he exhorteth all men to follow their innocency. Ye perceive how, by his outward gesture and deed, he declared his good will toward them; for he embraced them in his arms, he laid his hands upon them, and blessed 'iem. Doubt ye not, therefore, but
earnestly believe, that he will favorably receive these Infants; that he will embrace them with the arms of his mercy; that he will give unto them the blessing of eternal life, and make them partakers of his everlasting kingdom."
With such a lesson from the great Teacher and example of godliness— with such an enforcement of it from the church of which we are members, I hold it to be needless to employ many arguments to prove, that to bring children to Christ is a duty incumbent upon Christians. If any point suggest itself relating to this subject which requires demonstration, it is this—that children are to be brought to Christ through the medium of instruction. But since, if they are to be brought to him at all, now that the church is deprived of his bodily presence, it must be spiritually, the question seems determined; and the only doubt is, at what period the instruction shall commence. It may be profitable to take a somewhat wider range of argument, and to consider our duty to the children of Christian parents as beings destined to be heirs of the same immortality as ourselves, and to be brought effectually and savingly unto Christ. I shall endeavour, therefore, to prove that in so doing we obey, in the first place, the law of nature, that is, the will of God as intimated to us by the moral constitution of our nature; and, in the second place, that we shall thereby discharge a duty imposed on us by the relation in which we stand to God through Christ.
First, then, an affectionate regard and concern for the welfare of children is a feeling implanted in the breast of mankind by their Creator for the purpose of preserving the species. I allude not merely to the instinctive love which parents bear towards their offspring; but to that ready tenderness towards the helpless age of childhood, that sympathy for its wants and weaknesses, which is too universal, and too delightful, not to proceed from an inborn principle of our nature. There can scarcely be a plainer indication of a hard heart, than cruelty or unkindness toward children; while, on the contrary, it is an almost infallible mark of a tender and good disposition, to be interested in the little joys and sorrows of that age. The utmost extremity of heathen cruelty, the most disgusting abomination of ancient idolatory, was the sacrificing of children by causing them to pass through the fire to Moloch: and it has ever been held one of the triumphs of Christianity, that it has made to cease that unnatural custom practised by the most enlightened among the heathen—the exposure of their offspring. One of the most beneficial results of the diffusion of gospel truth among the Southern Islanders has been the abolition of Infanticide, and the revival of parental affection—or, rather, its return into those natural channels, which had been choked by the artifices of the great spirit of evil. And it is an evidence of its inborn composition, that there is scarcely any incident recorded in the gospel history, which goes more home to the heart than the record in the text: and it leaves a most pleasing impression of the lovely disposition of the blessed Jesus.
But the Almighty Creator has indicated his tender concern for the age of childhood, not only by disposing the hearts of all men to regard it with affection, but by exercising a special providence for its preservation. For it is impossible to consider the accidents to which that age is exposed, and the wonderful manner in which it escapes, without recognizing the hand of goodness specially interposed to rescue and preserve it. It is not undeserving of notice, also, in further illustration of this argument, that even those animals, which are by nature fierce and mischievous, will rarely attack young
children, but have been known to caress them, and to protect them from injury. But I need not further to enforce, by reasoning, so obvious a provision which has been made for childhood in the natural sympathies of the human heart. Almost all persons are sufficiently disposed to admit this truth, and up to a certain extent, to act in conformity with the divine will. But what I have to enforce is, the nature and extent of that kindness which we owe to children—to point out the evils which follow from mistaken notions of our duty, and the modes by which they are to be avoided.
Perhaps there is no department of Christian charity more misunderstood, or more neglected, than this. There is no class of beings in the world to whom greater injustice is done than children. For the most part, they are regarded in their earliest years, at least they are treated, as objects incapable of moral discipline, as creatures who will, one day or other, be old enough to be put in the right way. In the mean time, it is generally considered, that to treat them kindly is to let them do as they please, and to teach them either nothing at all, or the most trifling and unprofitable lessons; leaving the correction of their temper, and the guidance of their thoughts, to the future study and judgment of the instructors to whom they may be entrusted. If this be not a faithful picture of those in the higher walks of life, unquestionably it is too correct a portraiture of the plan pursued by the generality of poor persons. I impute no blame to them, because it rarely happens that they have been taught any better: but it is the Christian duty of those who are more enlightened, to teach them better things; and the only effectual method of doing so is, by exhibiting to them, in the persons of their own children, examples of the good which is to be accomplished by early discipline and instruction.
Were I to ask you, whether you desire that all the children of your poor neighbours should be Christians, you would answer me. To be sure I would —God forbid that it should be otherwise—we desire their souls to be saved, and they can be saved only as Christians. Then I would ask. What do. you mean by making them Christians —by bringing them to Christ? Is it merely the initiating them into his Church by Baptism? Does the work of charity end there I Will they, after having been baptized and placed in a state which makes them capable of salvation, grow up Christians as a matter of course, and abide in Christ as certainly as they have been once brought to him? Surely not—you will say—that is only the first step. If, then, much remains to be done for them, in order to continue their proximity to Christ, when are we to begin the work? At what age are we to regard them as capable of receding from him, or of being brought near to him. At what period will you fix the commencement of their training for the race set before them? Different persons will assign different ages. I assign, without the least hesitation, the very earliest age at which the infant mind can perceive that it is a different thing to obey, and not to obey. From that moment it becomes susceptible of moral discipline, if not of intellectual cultivation. Nay, it demands it, it deserves it: for the inborn principle of evil is from that moment at work, and the struggle between the flesh and the spirit is even then commenced; and it may depend on the treatment of these early symptoms, whether it shall wax fiercer and fiercer, and at last shatter the soul; or, whether it shall, by a comparatively easy trial of its moral strength, terminate in spiritual salvation. We ought, therefore, to contemplate as Christians, with deep interest, the first manifestations of a proud rebellious spirit in the infant mind, as the first efforts of the great seducer to prepare for himself a soul which the Redeemer desires to make his own—as the earliest symptoms of an hereditary disease working in the soul, to be kept under only by constant care and watchfulness, and to be subdued alone by grace. What we are accustomed to call fancy and waywardness in children, are the first germinations and developement of that evil which, if neglected, will grow with their growth, and be the source of constant trouble and vexation to their parents, to their teachers, and to themselves. This correction of the
temper refers to the very earliest age at which any indications of temper are to be perceived; before an infant is capable of instruction, as the word is commonly understood.
But there is also a principle of our nature which manifests itself almost as early as temper—I mean, the principle of imitation ; on which we ought to lay hold, and to improve to beneficial ends, from the very first. Good example, which is so important to all, is particularly important to young children, who will accurately copy many lessons in practice, long before they are able to learn from word of mouth. We know from observation, that children imitate those of their own age, or those but a little older than themselves, more readily than those of mature years. From these two positions it seems to follow, in the first place, that it is in the highest degree important, that children should be removed from the contagion of evil example; and in the second place, that they should have the opportunity of setting good examples to one another: for one exemplary child will do much more good to a number of children, than the best lessons of an older teacher.
I come now to consider the process of instruction, which can only be commenced at an age somewhat more advanced than that which is susceptible merely of moral culture and improvement. As soon as an infant is capable of learning any thing, it ought to learn that which is good. From that moment are applicable all those maxims of wisdom, those sayings of inspired sages, which enforce the necessity of early discipline. "Train up a child in the way he should go." "Bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." "" These words thou shalt teach diligently to thy children."
(To be continued.)
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Even were we disposed to grant— which I am by no means disposed to admit—that young children are not capable of imbibing religious knowledge; still, as it is certain that they most learn something, it is desirable to teach that which, as soon as they are able to understand, is of unspeakable importance to them. And who will undertake to assign the exact period, and appointed age, at which a child shall be capable of forming such a notionof God, as may qualify him to pay religious service to his Maker? We are told by some, it is absurd, and useless, to teach young children to pray, when they know not what to ask for, nor of whom to ask. If they are taught to believe they are doing right when they pray, the habit of itself will be profitable on that account; and when they are old enough to comprehend their relation to God, it will be of great advantage to have the habit early formed. But how many points are there in education which have an exclusive reference to future periods, which we teach them, not because they are then of importance, but because they are then most easily learned.
There is surely much greater danger of our commencing the work, both of religious instruction and moral discipline, too late, than too early. The good seed ought to be sown while the soil is easily to be worked, and before it is overrun with the rank luxuriance of noxious weeds. For it is not simply a question, Shall they be taught, or shall they not be taught? They must, and will, be taught something. The real question is, Shall we, or shall we not, take care that they shall be taught that which is good? Some knowledge will be acquired, some habits will be formed by chil
dren, whether we instruct them or not. The mind, and the reason, and the instructive principle of imitation, will not lay dormant during the morning of life. And, unhappily, evil is so much more abundant in the world than good, that it is always the first to engage the affections of the young, care not being taken to give a right impulse to their first pursuits. A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame. Whatever doubts may be entertained as to the degree to which they will be initiated, there can be none as to the mischief which evil will inflict upon them.
These, then, are the general principles upon which I would enforce the importance of a very early attention, both to the moral discipline, and the intellectual culture of children; whom it is our duty first to bring to Christ, and afterwards to preserve, by every method in our power, in that humble simplicity of heart which our Saviour had in view, when he said, "of such is the kingdom of heaven."
The religious education of poor children is a duty which we owe to him who is the God of the souls of all. It is the first means of grace he affords to the children of his servants. It is an experiment which cannot altogether fail: it has not failed as far as it has been tried. By far the greater number of those unhappy persons who have incurred the extreme penalty of the law, have never enjoyed the advantage of a religious education. The proportion of criminals who have been instructed in a right system, is known to be exceedingly small. It will be smaller and smaller still, if that instruction be commenced at an earlier period of their lives; while if evil principles are suffered to spring up, it will be difficult B
to eradicate them; and to separate the tares from among the wheat will become painful, if not impracticable.
On the strength of these arguments, I confidently submit to your notice and support the system of infant instruction. Not merely, however, on the strength of these arguments, but on the testimony and proof of experience. All the good has been found to result from Infant Schools which was anticipated by their friends; and little, if any, of the evil which was predicted by their opponents. Those evils were of two kinds. First, it was said, by withdrawing from parents, especially mothers, the children whom Providence had committed to their particular care and instruction, we should remove a powerful moral restraint on their conduct, and weaken the tie of natural affection which it ought rather to draw more closely. Certainly, if all parents were good, and faithful, and intelligent Christians, constantly mindful of the duty they owe to their children, and of their eternal interest, and fully aware of the necessity both of instilling right principles, and of setting a good example in their own persons, the objection would have some weight: it would be unnecessary, and unkind, to withdraw their children from such parents. But how far is this from being the case. How lamentably deficient are the labouring classes, if not. in religious principle altogether, yet in that constant and conscientious exemplification of it, which alone would qualify them to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Are not the minds of children more likely to be injured by the method in which they are treated at-home, by the habits they witness, by the language they hear, than by their absence, the greater part of the day, from their parents, who have no leisure, perhaps, if they have the desire, to attend to their childrens' improvement?
Then, as to the restraint which chil dren are on their parents—I fear the argument is drawn rather from what ought to be the case, than from what it really is. I imagine that those parents who have not piety enough to abstain from evil habits, from profane language, and from violent passions, will not be led to abstain by the pre
sence of their children; whereas few things are more likely to make a salutary impression on their hearts, than the sight of their offspring growing up very differently from themselves—quiet, orderly, well-spoken, and devout— made infinitely better than they themselves could make them.
As to the children themselves, it is truly delightful to observe the happy effects produced on their temper, even by a few weeks' subjection to the gentle and systematic discipline of these schools. Never capriciously chastised, never needlessly rebuked—nevertreated with partiality and favor on the one hand, nor with unkindness and neglect on the other—encouraged to befriend one another, and made to feel, in many ways, the benefit of mutual kindness— their little hearts are harmonized to a contented cheerfulness, their tempers attuned to gentleness and love, and their minds swayed to prompt and ready obedience. And in many cases, as I can testify, this change has been perceptible, not only in the behaviour, but in the countenances of the children, which have been gradually expanded from a complaining expression to one of cheerfulness and innocence. The contagion of happiness spreads rapidly among those of tender age. Tempers which would have been soured by severity, yield rapidly to kindness and good example.
Is it possible to doubt whether, in promoting such a system, we are fulfilling that gracious precept of the Redeemer, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not." Are we not initiating them into his own simplicity and benevolence of heart? Are we nottrainingthem in that straight and pleasant path of righteousness which leads to him, and through him to peace and life eternal? Is it of no importance to make religion an object of interest to their tender minds—to enlist their earliest affections in the cause of God, to inspire them with a hatred of sin, and to bring them into habits of piety and religion. Is it impracticable to impress the infant mind with the idea of one above who made them and who watches over them, and preserves them—of one who died to make them holy and happy— of one who sends good thoughts and kind affections into their . souls, and