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of authority which robs them of their power over the conscience; they are obligatory no further than their reason is perceived; a deduction of proofs is necessary, more or less intricate and uncertain, and even when clearest, it is still but the language of man to man, respectable as sage advice, but wanting the force and authority of law. In a wellattested revelation, it is the Judge speaking from the tribunal, the Supreme Legislator promulgating and interpreting his own laws. With what force and conviction do those apostles and prophets address us whose miraculous powers attest them to be the servants of the Most High, the immediate organs of the Deity! As the morality of the gospel is more pure and comprehensive than was ever inculcated before, so the consideration of its divine origination invests it with an energy of which every system not expressly founded upon it is entirely devoid. We turn at our peril from Him who speaketh to us from heaven.
Of an accountable creature, duty is the concern of every moment, since he is every moment pleasing or displeasing God. It is a universal element mingling with every action, and qualifying every dispo sition and pursuit. The moral quality of conduct, as it serves both to ascertain and to form the character, has consequences in a future world so certain and infallible, that it is represented in Scripture as a seed, no part of which is lost, for whatsoever a man soweth, that also shall he reap. That rectitude which the inspired writers usually denominate holiness is the health and beauty of the soul, capable of bestowing dignity in the absence of every other accomplishment, while the want of it leaves the possessor of the richest intellectual endow. ments a painted sepulchre. Hence results the indispensable necessity, to every description of persons, of sound religious instruction, and of an intimate acquaintance with the Scriptures as its genuine source.
It must be confessed, from melancholy experience, that a speculative acquaintance with the rules of duty is too compatible with the violation of its dictates, and that it is possible for the convictions of conscience to be habitually overpowered by the corrupt suggestions of appetite. To see distinctly the right way, and to pursue it, are not precisely the same thing. Still nothing in the order of means promises so much success as the diligent inculcation of revealed truth. He who is acquainted with the terrors of the Lord cannot live in the neglect of God and religion with present, any more than with future impunity; the path of disobedience is obstructed if not rendered impassable; and wherever he turns his eyes he beholds the sword of divine justice stretched out to intercept his passage. Guilt will be appalled, conscience alarmed, and the fruits of unlawful gratification imbittered to his taste.
It is surely desirable to place as many obstacles as possible in the path of ruin to take care that the image of death shall meet the offender at every turn; that he shall not be able to persist without treading upon briers and scorpions, without forcing his way through obstructions more formidable than he can expect to meet with in a contrary course. If you can enlist the nobler part of his nature under the banners of virtue, set him at war with himself, and subject him to
the necessity, should he persevere, of stifling and overcoming whatever is most characteristic of a reasonable creature, you have done what will probably not be unproductive of advantage. If he be at the same time reminded, by his acquaintance with the word of God, of a better state of mind being attainable, a better destiny reserved, provided they are willing and obedient, for the children of men, there is room to hope that, wearied, to speak in the language of the prophet, in the greatness of his way, he will bethink himself of the true refuge, and implore the spirit of grace to aid his weakness and subdue his corruptions. Sound religious instruction is a perpetual counterpoise to the force of depravity. The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever; the judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.
While we insist on the absolute necessity of an acquaintance with the word of God, we are equally convinced it is but an instrument, which, like every other, requires a hand to wield it; and that, important as it is in the order of means, the spirit of Christ only can make it effectual, which ought therefore to be earnestly and incessantly implored for that purpose. Open mine eyes, saith the Psalmist, and I shall behold wonderful things out of thy law. We trust it will be your care who have the conduct of the school we are recommending to the patronage of this audience to impress on these children a deep conviction of their radical corruption, and of the necessity of the agency of the Spirit to render the knowledge they acquire practical and experimental. In the morning sow your seed, in the evening withhold not your hand; but remember that neither he that soweth, nor he that watereth, is any thing; it is God that giveth the increase. Be not satisfied with making them read a lesson or repeat a prayer. By every thing tender and solemn in religion, by a due admixture of the awful considerations drawn from the prospect of death and judgment, with others of a more pleasing nature, aim to fix serious impressions on their hearts. Aim to produce a religious concern, carefully watch its progress, and endeavour to conduct it to a prosperous issue. Lead them to the footstool of the Saviour; teach them to rely, as guilty creatures, on his merits alone, and to commit their eternal interests entirely into his hands. Let the salvation of these children be the object to which every word of your instructions, every exertion of your authority is directed. Despise the profane clamour which would deter you from attempting to render them serious, from an apprehension of its making them melancholy, not doubting for a moment that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and that the path to true happiness lies through purity, humility, and devotion. Meditate the worth of souls: meditate deeply the lessons the Scriptures afford on their inconceivable value and eternal duration. While the philosopher wearies himself with endless speculations on their physical properties and nature, while the politician only contemplates the social arrangements of mankind and the shifting forms of policy, fix your attention on the individual importance of man as the creature of God and a candidate for
immortality. Let it be your highest ambition to train up these children for an unchanging condition of being. Spare no pains to recover them to the image of God; render familiar to their minds, in all its extent, the various branches of that holiness without which none shall see the Lord. Inculcate the obligation, and endeavour to inspire the love of that rectitude, that eternal rectitude, which was with God before time began, was imbodied in the person of his Son, and in its lower communications will survive every sublunary change, emerge in the dissolution of all things, and be impressed, in refulgent characters, on the new heavens and the new earth, in which dwelleth righteousness. Pray often with them and for them, and remind them of the inconceivable advantages attached to that exercise. Accustom them to a punctual and reverential attendance at the house of God: insist on the sanctification of the Sabbath, by such a disposal of time as is suitable to a day of rest and devotion. Survey them with a vigilant and tender eye, checking every appearance of an evil and depraved disposition the moment it springs up, and encouraging the dawn of piety and virtue. By thus training them up in the way they should go, you may reasonably hope that, when old, they will not depart from it.
We congratulate the nation on the extent of the efforts employed and the means set on foot for the improvement of the lower classes, and especially the children of the poor, in moral and religious knowledge, from which we hope much good will accrue, not only to the parties concerned but to the kingdom at large. These are the likeliest, or rather the only expedients that can be adopted for forming a sound and virtuous populace; and if there be any truth in the figure by which society is compared to a pyramid, it is on them its stability chiefly depends: the elaborate ornament at the top will be a wretched compensation for the want of solidity in the lower parts of the strucThese are not the times in which it is safe for a nation to repose on the lap of ignorance. If there ever were a season when public tranquillity was ensured by the absence of knowledge, that season is past. The convulsed state of the world will not permit unthinking stupidity to sleep without being appalled by phantoms and shaken by terrors to which reason, which defines her objects and limits her apprehensions by the reality of things, is a stranger. Every thing in the condition of mankind announces the approach of some great crisis, for which nothing can prepare us but the diffusion of knowledge, probity, and the fear of the Lord. While the world is impelled with such violence in opposite directions; while a spirit of giddiness and revolt is shed upon the nations, and the seeds of mutation are so thickly sown, the improvement of the mass of the people will be our grand security; in the neglect of which, the politeness, the refinement, and the knowledge accumulated in the higher orders, weak and unprotected, will be exposed to imminent danger, and perish like a garland in the grasp of popular fury. Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation; the fear of the Lord is his treasure.
ON THE DISCOURAGEMENTS AND SUPPORTS OF THE
THE REV. JAMES ROBERTSON,
AT HIS ORDINATION OVER THE INDEPENDENT CHURCH AT STRETTON,
[PUBLISHED IN 1812.]