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But let it be seriously considered as it deserves, and its great importance will appear to all, who love God, and thirst for the happiness of the human race.
VIEW MAN AS AN IMMORTAL BEING. First, confine your attention to the individual. Here is an immortal creature growing up in ignorance and vice, the slave of appetite and passion yet destitute of principles to form the character and direct the conduct. Let him be taught the truths of God's word. Through the divine blessing, they change his heart, and make him wise unto salvation. He advances from childhood to youth, and from youth to riper years, under the influence of the principles of the Gospel. He denies himself, takes up his cross, follows Christ, and tastes" that felicity in religion, which the world cannot give, and which the world cannot take away. When the varied scenes of life draw to a close, he commits his departing soul into the hands of Jesus, and enters at death into the joy of his Lord. Contrast this with the ungodly life, the cheerless death, and the miserable eternity of the untutored boy or girl, who spends childhood and youth in vanity, and riper years in guilt.
Did the effects of instructions rest here, the importance would be acknowledged by all: but they do not. They are felt by his family. Having himself experienced the pleasures arising from religion, and knowing the necessity and value of it to others, and the peculiar obligations he is under to those of his own house, he is at pains to instruct them in the things, which he himself was taught, and he gives his instructions all the weight, they can receive from an exemplary life. What happy effects as to their eternal salvation may not, through the divine blessing, be hoped for from the constant use of these means of grace!
Nor does the benefit stop even here it will be felt by the neighbourhood, in which he lives. We do not estimate highly enough the influence of one man's conduct upon those, who are within the sphere of his observation. The impure behaviour of an individual has a tendency to pollute all around. It is like the putrid carcase, which emits its fetid effluvia on every side. On the other hand, the influence of a holy life is far greater than we commonly imagine. It may well be compared to a field of roses, which
diffuses its fragrance in every direction. One good man puts vice to the blush in his neighbourhood, encourages feeble virtue, animates the timid to follow him, and is an eminent blessing to the place where he resides.
But this conduct has a still wider range of influence. He is a blessing to the community of which he is a member. He stands up like a champion for God. He is deeply concerned for the cause of Religion. His prayers are daily offered up for the welfare of the land and the happiness of the people; and it is his constant aim to promote knowledge, virtue, and piety, among his countrymen, as their richest and best inheritance.
Why should we not say, he becomes a blessing to the world? Every good man, in whatever country he lives, is an accession to the "holy catholic church," and gives it additional strength. Here is one example of piety in the world more ; one instructor more; one intercessor more; and one more, ready by his deeds of benevolence to enforce plans formed for the advancement of religion in the most distant lands. Such, indeed, is the connexion between man and man, that it is impossible for a nation to be eminently pious, without communicating some influence to neighboring nations, and without directing its efforts of active, christian zeal to the remotest parts of the globe.
These are the Christian's most exalted hopes; these are the objects of his highest esteem, and most earnest pursuit. The subject may be viewed in reference to its influence on civil society and the temporal benefit of man. The present world is the grand theatre of the divine government, in which God displays the glory of his character; where good men testify their subjection and their love to him; and which is the place of preparation for an immortal state. Whatever, therefore, tends to promote the divine honour, and to advance the cause of virtue and happiness, is answering one of the grand ends of man's existence.
Religion is the only solid basis of true social virtue in all its parts when, therefore, a youth, in consequence of instruction, becomes a good man, his individual excellence gives beauty and strength to society. One virtuous character is an acquisition of no small moment and at a time like the present, when the number is so small, is the more important. The strength of religious principle, operating
on every part of his conduct, forms a pillar for the support of the social fabric. Whatever regulations are devised for the welfare of society, there must be virtue in those who constitute it, or they will prove in a great degree inefficient. The sentiments of one of the first magistrates of England, do, with peculiar energy, illustrate and confirm this reasoning. On a trial for adultery, Lord Kenyon observed from the Bench "that the happiness of every society depended on the virtue of the members who composed that society, and that every individual was deeply concerned, so far as he could, to advance the good of the society, and to imitate the example of the patriarch of old, who said, 'As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.''
When such a person becomes the head of a family, his constant aim is to make them pious and virtuous. This is the first shoot from the stock; for if an individual is of importance in society, much more is a family. Here is a display of the domestic virtues, of love, harmony, peace, integrity, benevolence, and compassion, in the different relations of husband and wife, of parent and child, of master and servant. A country full of such families, how tranquil and happy would it be !
But he moves in a wider sphere while pursuing his worldly business, and is connected with a number of persons in very different stations in life. By these his virtue is seen. In his dealings he is upright; in his intercourse with mankind soctable and kind; and he always acts as in the sight of God. He overawes the bad; he animates the good; and his whole deportment has a tendency to add considerably to the portion of virtue in society, and consequently to its happiness.
Nor is it to be concluded, that where the instruction of youth in the principles of religion does not prove the means of their salvation, all its influence is lost. Scarcely one divine truth falls upon the youthful mind altogether in vain. If the knowledge of divine things does not save the soul, it enlightens the conscience; it renders the person a decent and honest member of society, and ashamed and afraid of outward vices. Where it has not so much influence, but is overborne by the tide of passion, it checks him in his career of iniquity; it restrains his furious lusts; it tears his heart with remorse and places his conscience, at least, on the
side of virtue and religion. The value even of these effects to society, in the present state of things, is not small. These, however, are but the lowest instances of benefit; in numberless cases there is reason, through the divine favour, to hope for those higher blessings which have been already enumerated.
As the instruction of children in the principles of religion is so very important to the happiness of mankind, both in the present and in the future state; it will naturally be asked, What attention has been paid to it in New England? It would afford great pleasure to be able to give a favourable report, and to look back with exultation on the general diffusion of religious knowledge among the children of all ranks in the community. Let us examine. Has it been considered by ministers as the second in importance of the various parts of their function? Has it been pursued with that ardour, assiduity, and perseverance to which it has so just a claim? That multitudes of children have learned the words of a catechism by rote, will be readily allowed; but that pains have been taken by public teachers of religion in general to instruct children in the Gospel, with the care employed in teaching other branches of knowledge, will, it is to be feared, not admit of convincing proof. Parents and guardians, on whom the duty equally devolves, have too often imitated their neglect, and from this inattention, a vast portion of the rising generation, for more than half a century past, has grown up in ignorance of Christianity. The melancholy consequence is, that multitudes have perished for lack of knowledge. Ignorance has filled them with prejudices against the truth; or has made them satisfied with a form of religion without the power; or has Julled them asleep in the ways of the world; or plunged them into profaneness, and open iniquity. So general has this ignorance been, that those, who do not converse much with men in different situations, can form no idea of the lack of knowledge, which, alas! still prevails: and the wickedness flowing from it, is also immense! In eternity alone can the misery it creates be seen and known.
When the pious and the benevolent heart surveys mournful scene, an earnest inquiry will be made, Is there any necessity that things should continue thus? Can nothing be done to remedy the evil? What are the most
likely means to banish this criminal ignorance, and to spread instruction every where; that, if possible, there may not be a youth in New England destitute of religious knowledge? Point out the way to remove the evil, and it shall have all the aid that I can give, and that my influence can
The subject certainly merits very serious consideration; and when maturely weighed, admits of a satisfactory answer, and presents full scope to the most vigorous exertions of christian zeal.
If inquiry be made, who are to be taught ?—the answer is at hand; certainly all, if possible, who stand in need of instruction. Man is born like the wild ass's colt; and whatever may be his rank or station in society, if his parents or guardians do not teach him the principles of religion, he needs the help of others. The labouring part of the community is the most numerous, and its moral state of the last importance to the well-being of society.
The children of many of the rich stand as much in need of religious instruction as the children of the poor. Ask them, Do you understand the character and perfections of God; the person and offices of Christ; the state of man by nature, as represented in the word of truth; the way of acceptance with God through faith in the righteousness and atonement of the Saviour; the nature of regeneration and the office of the Holy Spirit in the work of man's salvation? The answer of too many will demonstrate that they also though skilled in languages and sciences, need to be taught what are the first principles of the oracles of God. Here then is another class needing religious instruction.
The next object of inquiry will naturally be, What are these young persons to be taught? It requires very little ingenuity to answer, Doubtless the great and leading truths of the Gospel, which include the principles both of natural and revealed religion. The bare outlines will not suffice; a meagre skeleton, without blood, and flesh, and muscles, is not a man fit for labour and enjoyment. The instructions should enter particularly into various branches of christian doctrine and practice; so that the person may form just ideas of God and the Redeemer; of what relates to his state as a sinner; of the method of reconciliation with God; of the duties and privileges of the Christian's