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most amiable children, will in a great measure be suppressed; religion will grow familiar and pleasant, under the smiling aspect it will appear to wear; and the bible, which our little disciple will early have been taught to read, will soon become a most delightful book. The entertaining stories, the fine examples, the beautiful poems, the wise precepts so gravely and yet so kindly given, which it will every where meet with, must give it abundance of pleasure; and it will be eager to read those things, the general contents of which it has learnt, long before it could read, from the daily discourse of its parents, who while they are recounting these glorious things, will be teaching themselves as well as their children, and by more familiar and attentive views of them, confirming their own faith, and animating their own piety. And as for the leading facts which the child meets with in scripture, strange as some of them may appear, it will readily believe them, on this general foundation; that its good parents who know much better than himself, and never deceive him, assure him that every thing, which this excellent book contains, is true. And this, Sir, is all the satisfaction, which a child of the most extraordinary genius can have in the first stages of life; and if it die before it arrive to greater maturity, it will be happy in the practical influence, which the gospel, thus implicitly believed, had upon its temper and conduct; as it could be under no necessity of entering into its rational evidence, before those faculties opened by which that evidence was to be received, any more than a blind man can be obliged to read, or the dumb to sing God's praises.
At length, as the minds of children open, they will gradually be led into some farther reflections on the certainty of those things in which they have been instructed. And here they will soon perceive some degree of difference in the evidence of them, immediately appearing. As for the existence of a Supreme Being, I really think, that the noblest and most satisfactory arguments, of which the mind of man is capable, are those which are obvious even to the understanding of a child; I mean, those taken from the works of creation and providence. Common sense will surely tell these little creatures, as soon as they can understand the words, that if every house, even the poorest cottage, must have some builder, there must be one who built all things; who made heaven and earth, with all their bright, noble furniture. And as they see, clearly as they see the sun," that he who made, and upholds all these things, is powerful and wise; which every flower, and every fly, when considered as his work, may shew them: so they may naturally conclude,
such a great and wise Being is good; and it will be easy to shew them, that every agreeable object about them is a sensible proof of his goodness; every pleasant fruit, for instance, a gift of God, which all the men in the world could not have made, or provided for them, without him.
By such familiar views of things they may be brought, not only to believe, but to know, that there is a great, powerful, wise, and kind Father of the world always near them. Nor will it be difficult to give them some rational view and conviction of his moral attributes, as inferred from his natural. I suppose they have in those early lessons of sacred history, which have been their entertainment from their infancy, been led to reflect on the characters of persons mentioned; to see the amiableness of some affections and actions, and the deformity of others, which in many instances are as obvious, as that one face, or dress, makes a pleasanter appearance to the eye than another. Discerning this visible difference in moral characters, long before they know what the words morality or character signify, they will naturally, and I think very reasonably conclude, that it is just to ascribe every excellence and glory to him, in whom they see so many and by consequence, that he must be pleased with what is good, and displeased with what is evil. They see it in their wise and pious parents, (for wise and pious we here sup pose them to be ;) and they will much more conclude, it must be in him, whom they have learnt to address as our Father who is in heaven. I take the liberty, Sir, to tell you, that I have examined many scores of children on these heads, not as to what they have learnt, but what they themselves think of the matter; and have put the questions in various forms, to suggest an affirmative or negative answer; and I always find, if they understand the terms of it, they answer right upon a very short pause.
Agreeably to those obvious principles, they naturally apprehend, that the regard of God to his creatures follows them beyond death; and that he rewards, or punishes them, suitably to their temper and behaviour. They cannot think, that God would have suffered such persons, as Abel, or the seven sons of that good woman in the Maccabees, to have been slain in that cruel manner, if he had not intended to take them to himself, and make them happier than they were: that, Sir, is a learned prejudice, the laboured error of a man, of a minute philosopher; the simplicity of a virtuous child is not able to attain it.
A prudent parent will easily foresee, that the child will
find greater difficulties in coming at the evidence of the truth of those things, which depend merely upon the authority of scripture: he will therefore early be laying in materials for its seeing the force of that noble part of it, which you so strangely leave untouched; I mean, that which is internal, and arises from the contents and design of the book itself. A child trained up as we here suppose, will, probably, of itself make a great many reflections, what an excellent book it is; especially as to some parts of it, with which I have known little children so struck, that they have, of their own accord, read the same passage, though neither history nor parable, over and over, till they have almost learned it by heart: the religious parent or friend will watch, encourage, and illustrate these remarks; and at length, when he finds the young mind strong enough to receive it, he will lead it to reflect, what excellent men they must be who wrote such things: and when that reflection is familiar, and has been daily renewed, perhaps for weeks and months, another easily follows, that the bible is undoubtedly true and divine; for good men would never have invented lies, and have presumed to teach them in the name of God himself; and wicked men would not, and could not, have written what is so excellently good, and tends to make others so. This Sir, my pious friends taught me when I was a child; and I think it, to this very day, an argument of unanswerable weight, and I cannot but apprehend, that the more a man advances in real goodand the more intimately he converses with scripture, the more he will be impressed with it. Here is an argument depending on no other fact than this, that there is such a book as the bible in the world, of which our children are as sure, as that there is a sun and providence has wisely ordered it so, that they may understand the force of it, before they can enter into objections against it; and so far as I can judge, those objections must be stronger than any I have ever met with, which can be sufficient to balance the force of it. Yet this is far from being the only foundation of our faith, or the only argument in its favour, which a young christian may be able, with proper assistance, to understand.
The external evidence does not indeed lie within so little room, nor can it perhaps be made equally obvious by every pions parent; yet, with the assistance which able ministers, and proper books, may give, I apprehend, a child of fourteen or fifteen years old may have some competent view of it. It will be a most easy thing to shew him, by uncontroverted testimonies, collected by a variety of writers,that christianity
was an ancient religion,-for the sake of which its professors, in its earliest ages, endured great extremities;-that there was about 1700 years ago, such a person as Jesus Christ, the great founder of it;-that the first preachers of his religion wrote books, which were called by the name of those that make up the most important part of the New Testament;-that these books are, in the main, transmitted to us uncorrupted;and that our translation of them may, in the general, be depended upon as right. These are the grand preliminaries; and as the foundation may be laid without much difficulty, so the superstructure may be raised upon it, with yet much more ease. From the New Testament, thus proved to be genuine, a person of very moderate capacity and learning will presently be able to shew, that the writers of it certainly knew whether the facts they recorded were true or false;—that their character, so far as we can judge by their manner of writing, was so excellently good, that there is no reason to suspect them of falsehood;-nay, that the probability of their fidelity is so great, that it would be astonishing, if the strongest temptation could prevail upon them to violate it ;-at least in so criminal a manner, as they must have done if they were impostors:the temptations must have been exceeding strong, to justify the least degree of suspicion:-but they had no temptation at all to forge such a story, and to attempt to impose upon the world by it:-however, that if they had made the attempt they could not have succeeded in gaining credit ;-nevertheless, it is plain, they did gain credit among vast multitudes, who were strongly prejudiced against the religion they taught :— from all which things compared, it appears, that their story, and the religion founded upon it, i. e. christianity, is true; a conclusion which may be greatly illustrated by shewing them farther, what wonderful things have since happened for the confirmation of it; considering, on the one hand, what God has done to establish it; and, on the other, what methods its enemies have taken to destroy it.
It is not my business, Sir, to state and vindicate these arguments at large; I have done it already in my three Sermons on the Evidences of Christianity, which were published several years ago; and I shall be very ready to canvas the strength of them, as there represented, with any who shall think fit to bring them into dispute. I the rather mention those sermons here, because they are calculated for popular use, and may assist those who are not so well versed in the arguments, to propose them to their children, or catechumens, in what I apprehend the
easiest and plainest light. By talking over these heads in a free and familiar manner, and then giving the young person the book to read two or three times alone, till he has fixed the leading thoughts in his understanding and memory, I doubt not but such a foundation might be laid in a few days, as all the succeeding years of life would not be able to shake. Nor must it ever be forgotten, how much it would be cemented and established, by that true taste of moral beauty and excellence, which we suppose already formed in the mind of our young student. He would find so much to charm him in the sentiments, character, and conduct of the apostles, as would engage him to lay a very great stress on that important branch of the argument which turns on that point. It would appear to him, in theory, utterly improbable, that men of their heroic goodness should engage in so impious, and mischievous a fraud, as they must have engaged in, if their testimony was false; as*, on the other hand, the good sense which may easily be discovered in their writings and behaviour, will make it appear equally absurd to imagine, they should so madly run on sufferings and ruin, as they must have done, if they had not been conscious of a divine support, of miraculous powers, and of immense future rewards.
A religious youth, grown up to years of maturity, with a mind thus furnished, and thus disposed, will not easily be perverted to infidelity: so precious a freight would be too weighty, to be overset by every wind of doctrine, or every breath of ridicule. Yet it might conduce farther to its security, if a prudent parent or minister should give him, before the scene of temptation opens, some short hints of the chief topics from whence objections against christianity are drawn, and of the plainest and most obvious answers to them, which, so far as I can judge, are generally the most solid. If a person be not intended for some learned profession, or distinguished circumstance in life, it is by no means necessary to be large in this part of the scheme; but something of this kind may easily and profitably be done, and there will be no reason to be in any panic, lest every hint of an objection should overturn his faith. Answers will be suggested, with those objections; and he will soon be weary of hearing such poor unsatisfactory things as most of the cavils of infidelity are. And here, again, the good habits, and
How impious and mischievous the fraud must have been, if it were a fraud, is illustrated more fully than I have elsewhere seen it, in the sermons I mentioned above; (see p. 259, and seq. 2d edit.) and the thought appears to me of vast importance.