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of Childhood and Youth: and I have recommended both these to be read frequently, even while children are learning the foregoing catechisms by heart.
There is another defect, of which some will complain; and that is, there is not enough of the historical part of our religion brought into the two catechisms of the principles of religion which I have written for children; at least the history of Adam and of the Jews, and the history of Christ, should have had a much larger share therein. But I desire my friends to consider, that at the same time while these catechisms are learning, there are catechisms of scripture-history proposed also to be gotten by heart, according to the different ages of children, wherein the narratives relating both to the first and second Adam, and to the Jews, are much larger; and I think this will fully relieve that supposed inconvenience or defect; for there was no need of repeating these historical transactions in both places; and if I had added more of the sacred history to the catechisms of the principles of religion, it would have made them appear too long and tedious. But that you may be more fully acquainted with the reasons of this attempt, and that you may know the method I have observed, and the care I have taken in these composures, I entreat you to read over the following discourse of the excellency and use of catechisms, and of the natural and most useful manner of composing them.
When you have diligently, and without prejudice, perused that short essay, I am persuaded you will agree with me, at least in this general opinion, that something more than hath been done in times past. ought to be attempted, in order to render the momentous concerns of religion more intelligible to children, and that these my labours are not utterly unsuited to that design.
Yet after all, I commit these papers to your candour, as well as to your judgment and your practical use; and while you labour in this most neces⚫ sary work, the instructing of your families in the doctrines and duties of christianity, let your daily fervent prayers accompany your private instructions, that the heart may be enriched with every divine grace, while the head is furnished with useful knowledge. And may the Spirit of light and grace descend on all the younger branches of your household, and visit every menial servant there, that your families may be as temples wherein God may dwell, with all the train of blessings which relate to this life and the life to come.
While my want of a strong constitution of body, and my necessary retirements from the city, render me incapable of paying so many visits to your families, and promoting their spiritual welfare so much as I would gladly do, I humbly hope this little book may be attended with the divine blessing, that your children may derive from it abundant benefit; that the principles of piety and goodness being early instilled into their minds, they may be better secured against the temptations of infidelity, vice and profaneness; that they may stand up in the following age as the supports and ornaments of true religion, and bear up the name of Christ with honour, in a degenerate and sinful world; this is the hearty prayer of
Your devoted and affectionate
Theobalds, in Hertfordshire,
Servant in the Gospel,
ON THE WAY OF INSTRUCTION BY CATECHISMS,
And of the best Manner of composing them.
SECTION I.-The Duty of instructing Children in Religion. CHILDREN have souls as well as men: They soon discover their capacity of reasoning, and make it appear they can learn the things of God and religion. The great God therefore expects that little children should be taught to know and love, and worship him for he hath not bestowed their early powers in vain. Their souls also in their own nature are immortal; and thousands of them are summoned away from this world by death. The righteous Judge of the world will call the small as well as the great to his bar of account. All those whom he shall esteem capable of duty and sinning must be answerable for their own personal conduct and how early he will begin to require this account, he only knows. Parents therefore cannot well begin too soon to let children know that they have souls that must live when their bodies are dead; they should instruct them there is a future judgment, and an account to be given of their behaviour in this life, as soon as they have well learned there is a God, and what duties he requires of them.
I am by no means of their opinion who let children grow up almost to the age of manhood before their minds are informed of the principles of religion. Their pretence is, that the choice of religion ought to be perfectly free, and not biassed and influenced by the authority of parents, or the power of education. But surely the great God who framed the soul of man hath made it capable of learning religion and the knowledge of God, by the instruction of others in the years of childhood, long before it is capable of tracing out the knowledge of God and religion by its own reasoning powers; and why should not parents follow the order of God and nature; why should they not instruct children in the knowledge and love and fear of God, as soon as they are capable of these divine. lessons, and not leave them to grow up to their full bulk and size, like the offspring of brute animals, without God and without knowledge?
Besides, doth not the very light of nature teach us that parents are entrusted with the care of their children in younger year, to furnish their minds with the seeds of virtue and happi
ness, as well as to provide for their bodies food and raiment ? Are parents bound to take care of the flesh that perishes, and yet left at a loose, and unconcerned to take any care of immortal spirits? Must they be afraid to teach their children the best way they know to everlasting life, for fear lest they should believe and practise it before their reason is ripe enough to chuse a religion for themselves? Will they let them trifle away their childhood and youth without the knowledge and love of God, for fear they should learn it too soon, or lest they should build their faith and practice too much upon the superior age, character and authority of their parents?
But let us enquire a little, What was this superior age and knowledge, this superior character and authority of parents designed for, if not for the care, instruction, and government of their tender and ignorant offspring? And can we imagine this paternal authority, instruction and government should reach to every other part of the child's conduct, and exclude his religion? Must the parent give him the best instructions he can in the affairs of this perishing life, and refuse or neglect it in the things of everlasting moment and divine importance? Is it not infinitely better that children should know and serve God, because their parents teach them to do it, than that they should be utterly ignorant of God, and live in a stupid neglect of him and his service? Can a religious parent satisfy himself with this philosophical pretence of not biassing the judgment of his children, and let them go on, and die before they arrive at manhood, in a state of shameful ignorance and rebellion against their Maker? Are children entrusted to the affection and care of parents by the God of nature, for so deplorable an end as this? And will the life and soul of the child never be required at the parent's hand?
There may be many hours and seasons of life, when parents may give notice to their children as they grow up to maturity, that religion ought to be a matter of their rational choice. They may be taught to examine the principles they received from their education, and to settle their faith and practice upon solid grounds: But in the mean time children ought to have some notices of the great God who made them instilled into their minds from their very infancy. They ought to be led into that religion in which their parents hope to obtain acceptance with God, and happiness in the world to come. This is the universal voice of nature, and it reclaims aloud against those humorous, slothful or cruel parents, who bring their children into a dangerous world, and into a state of existence which has no end; and yet take no care to inform them how to escape the dangers of this world, nor how to seck the happiness of their endless existence.
This is the solemn appointment of heaven by express reve
lation. The command of Moses the divine lawgiver, the proverbs of Solomon, the wisest of men, and the sacred epistles of St. Paul, the greatest of the apostles, all concur, and repeat this advice, To teach the words of God to children diligently, to train up children in the way they should go, and to educate them in the nurture and admonition of the true religion. See Deut. vi. 6, 7. Prov. xxii. 6. Eph. vi. 4. And surely, if parents had but that just share of tenderness and affection for their young sons and their daughters, that nature requires, or that scripture enjoins, if they did but look upon them as little parts of theraselves, they could not forbear to acquaint them with the things that belong to their everlasting welfare. I might add this also as a final consideration, That if parents take no care to inform their children of the duty they owe to God, they will quickly find that children will pay very little duty to their parents; and they will read their own crime of shameful negligence toward God, in the rebellion of their offspring against themselves.
SECT. II. Of instructing Children, partly by Reason, and partly by the Authority of the Parent.
But I would suppose parents are convinced of their duty to their children in this respect, though some doubts may remain whether they should begin this work of instruction from their very intancy. Now now no reason why this blessing should be withheld from children when they are first capable of receiving it. As soon as the young creatures begin to make it appear that they have understandings, and have learned the use of words, they may lay out the early exercises of reason in the things of religion. Children of ordinary capacity, at three years old, or a little more, may be taught to know that the heavens and the earth, and the birds, and the beasts, and the trees, and men and women, did not make themselves; but that there is some Almighty Being that made them all, though they cannot see him with their eyes: And they may be instructed in a way of easy reasoning in some of the most evident and most necessary duties which they owe to the great God, whom they see not, almost as soon as they are taught the duties of love and obedience to their parents whom they see daily. By little and little they may be informed and made to see that they are sinful creatures, that they have offended the great God that made them, that they cannot save themselves from his anger; and thus they may be led to some acquaintance with Jesus Christ the only Saviour.
It is certain that we ought to teach children and ignorant persons the knowledge of religion in a rational way, as far as they are capable of receiving it; though I confess it is not an
easy matter to make them understand the grounds and reasons of every part of that religion which they may be taught to believe and practise. There are some things therefore that in these younger years of life a child must take entirely upon the credit and authority of the parent, or master, such as the immortality of the soul, the future state of rewards and punishments, and the truth of the christian religion. The bible is the sacred book which contains the religion of christians; but it is impossible to lead young children into those arguments whereby we prove the authority of the bible. This therefore must be taken upon trust, and the child's faith of it must be built upon the testimony of his parents and teachers till he is capable of examining these things for himself.
SECT. III.-Short Summaries of Religion are necessary for the Ignorant.
Nor yet is it enough to teach children to read, and then to put the bible in their hands, and to tell them, Here lies your religion, and you must find it out as well as you can. The great God has ordained the holy scriptures to be the perfect rule of our faith and practice, and sufficient of itself without the help of human traditions, hath also appointed that in all the successive ages of mankind there should be some teachers and instructors of others, to point out to them what use is to be made of these sacred volumes. Parents by the laws of nature and scripture are vested with this office: They must teach children how to draw their religion out of the bible, and render the knowledge of divine things more easy, by shewing them how to distinguish the most useful parts of scripture from the rest, and which are the most necessary doctrines and duties of religion, as they are derived from the word of God. Without such helps as these the more ignorant and illiterate part of mankind might turn over the leaves of their bible a long time before they could collect for themselves any tolerable scheme of their duty to God or their fellow-creatures. I knew a person, who falling under sensible convictions of her want of religion and piety toward God, and having been told that the bible was the book whence she was to learn her duty, reasoned thus with herself, Where shall I find the beginning of my duty to God, but in the beginning of this book? And so she betook herself to read several of the first chapters of Genesis. She laboured and wearied herself in that search with very small advantage, till by the information of other christians and attendance on the ministry of the word, she was led into the knowledge of the chief principles of the christian religion, which are scattered up and down in several parts of the word of God.
We must consider that the bible is a large book, and it contains the history of mankind, and particularly of the church of