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But I remark again, that supposing this piety should produce none of these glorious results, still God has a right to it.
The soul that is capable of sinning, it has been remarked, is capable of all those exercises necessary to salvation. No sinner, therefore, is doomed to a single hour's impenitence; and if God ever has a right to the affections of the heart, he has a right to the first affections, to the earliest exercises of love ; to the budding and blossoming of life, as well as to its ripened fruit.
I have now attempted to show, that there is no naturul impossibility, arising from mental incapacity, to prevent the commencement of piety in the years of infancy: that this is the most favorable, the best time for it to commence, from the fact, that until it does commence, their sins are not only increasing in number, but also deepening in guilt, just in proportion to the enlargement of the capacity of the agents, for comprehending truth, and for weighing the nature and obligations to penitence and piety; so that, although while in infancy their powers for the perception of truth are feeble, and their views limited, their guilt is also comparatively small; and that they can understand the simple truths of the Bible as early as they can understand any other truth. I have endeavored to show, too, that what appeared thus practicable, has actually taken place,—that the instances of early piety left on sacred record, and the still greater number that have existed in later ages, exhibit clearly, not only what has been, but what, through the instrumentality of pious, praying parents, may be in any nation and in any age; that this piety is needed to hasten on the millennial glory of the church ; and that God has a right to the earliest affections of the heart.
I close with two or three practical remarks :
1. The subject must make a solemn appeal to the hearts and consciences of parents. Beloved friends, have you properly estimated the importance of the charge committed to your trust, and the responsibility that rests upon you? When your children entered upon existence, it was an existence that will never end. Not that they will continue here for ever; this is but the embryo of their being ; the morning—the young dawn of their existence. The body may sicken and die at any moment, however unexpected or unwelcome; but there is an immortal part that will never sicken, that will never die; that will survive the frail tenement in which it is lodged, and live to sing, or weep for ever. And this is committed to your care. Under your eye, and your guardianship, the mind first opens upon a world, not only of natural, but moral objects. From you it is to receive its first impressions, that may give a mold to its character that will last through eternity, and be instrumental in preparing it for heaven or for hell.
But this is not all. The influence which you exert will be a continued influence, so that the first impression will be deepened with every revolving month and day; and if this impression be wrong, there is a fixedness of character forming during this unseen, this silent operation, which nothing but the almighty power of God can change. What parent, then, would not wish to have this influence thrown on the side of piety and heaven?
But do you ask what you can do for these little ones around you, in the first Fears of life, towards their becoming Christians ? I answer, that, under God
you may do much. You may bring the simple truths of the Bible to bear upon their hearts, with a force that might surprise any one whose attention had not been given to the subject. You will not find them capable of taking that grasp of subjects which you take. This not expected; it is not necessary. While you cannot make them understand an abstruse mathematical proposition, you can learn them to understand how many two and two will make. And there are truths in religion as simple, and as easily apprehended by infant minds. Let these be presented in their native simplicity, and they will make an impression that would be lost on minds long accustomed to sin. The infant will remember that God sees all things, while the father forgets it ;, that God does not die, if earthly friends do ; and will often bring truth home to the hearts and consciences of those, who have resisted its influence when addressed to them by the ambassadors of Christ.
Let children, then, be taught the character of God, and their relation and accountability to Him, with that fidelity that has its eye fixed upon the value of the soul, and that urgency that apprehends its danger, and the shortness of the time in which it must be fitted for heaven or lost for ever; and childhood-yes, my hearers, infancy will be made to feel.
But, parents, there is one thing more; precept is not enough ; you must lend the influence of your example to confirm the truth of your instructions ; and for this purpose you must live that religion which you teach your children, or there will be a strange anomaly which they will not understand, but the ruinous effects of which they will not fail to exhibit. O how must that parent feel, who instructs his children to pray, while he lives a prayerless life; or to remember the Sabbath-day and keep it holy, while he profanes it; or to attend public worship, while he neglects it; or that there is a heaven to obtain, and a hell to shun, while he manifests no solicitude about either? How must the parent feel, when imparting religious instruction under such circumstances, when there is such a monstrous incongruity between the precept and the example? And how must the child feel, who cannot fail to make the comparison, and put his own construction upon it? Ah, my hearers, he must regard the subject of religion as all a fiction—a mere farce, designed to produce an effect for the moment, without a shadow of reality in the truths inculcated, or of importance in the duties enjoined! And here unbelief is generated and nurtured up, which shields the heart against the influence of truth in after-life, and which, it is to be feared, will damn the soul. It begins in the nursery,-I had almost said in the cradle. Teach that little one that has just learned to tell who made the sun, and moon, and stars, and trees, as much of God, and religion, as it may be able to comprehend, and you will see it turn to those who gave it neing, with all the confidence which the young heart can feel, and ask, Pa, is it so ? Ma, is it so? and words are not necessary in framing a reply. Example need only answer, No, and it is seized, and relied on. Some such parents have felt the inutility of giving their children religious instruction, on this very account, (because they knew their example to be inconsistent), and have therefore neglected it. But this incredulity operates against the influence of truth, from every other source, as well as from the parent.
He may flatter himself that he will do nothing to counteract the influence of the religious instruction of the Sanctuary and the Sabbath school upon the mind of his children ; but he is doing it every day. His own example, constantly before their eyes, is telling them, in stronger language than words can do, that there is no danger in living regardless of God, and in the neglect of a preparation for eternity! In this very way, the last avenue to the soul may be closed up for ever. Parent, will you do this for your children? If you are resolved on risking the consequences of impenitence yourself, shall the hearts of your little ones be steeled against the influence of truth, by your example, and shut out of heaven? O how many parents, who are now drawing their children after them in the downward way, may, when the day of grace is ended, lift up their eyes in the prison of despair, and say, with an awful emphasis, HERE, LORD, ARE WE, AND THE CHILDREN THOU HAST GIVEN US!
But if parents would instruct their children in religion, or have them instructed, with any reasonable hope of lasting benefit, their own example must say, that there is a reality, an awful importance attached to the truths of the Bible: in fine, religion must be imbodied in the life-must be suffered to exert its legitimate controlling influence upon the external deportment; and this would preach to the conscience of the child with more force than all the arguments that could be addressed without it.
But precept and example are not all that is necessary, The whole must be accompanied by earnest, believing prayer to God. And here, I apprehend, is as great a mistake as in any other part of the subject. Not that Christians do not pray for the conversion of their children, and sometimes pray earnestly. But what is the amount of your prayer, my Christian friend? You have taught them the truths of the Bible, and stored their memories with its sacred eontents, that they may benefit them by-and-by. And when you have prayed for them, has not the same feeling entered into your prayers, that by-and-by, when they have grown up, they may be converted to God? And is not this putting off their conversion, in your very prayers ? As if their propensity to defer a preparation for death and eternity, to a more convenient season, were not enough to cause trembl in view of their future pros ects; you by your very prayers, Christians, render their present conversion to God more hopeless. They may become the subjects of grace in youth, or manhood, should they live, I admit ; but are they not running an awful risk? Who has assured
that those little ones around you, will see the period even of youth? And if they should not, and have sinned, and not complied with the terms of the Gospel, with what feelings of solicitude must you contemplate their future prospects? They suppose they have nothing to do with religion at present ; and you have felt that the present is not as favorable as some future time might be, and thus both have consented that the subject should be deferred. You have not intended to pray that they might not become Christians at present; but after all, does it amount to any thing short of this ? If Felix, when pressed upon the subject of religion by the Apostle, in resolving to take up the subject at a future convenient season, did virtually resolve to dismiss it until that time arrived, it is obvious that the prayer of parents, that their children may become the subjects of grace at a future period, is a prayer that they may not repent now. And is this what you owe your children? Were they sleeping upon the brink of a precipice, from which the least motion might precipitate them into the abyss below, would there be the same readiness to delay their rescue ?-to hope, that a future time might be more convenient to effect it than the present? How then ought you to feel, when the immortal interests of their souls are in jeopardy every hour? Will you help them in your very prayers, to put off a preparation for eternity, for the present, when you know not what a day or an hour may bring forth ? You must meet them at the bar of your Judge ; and if you would do it with joy, and not with grief, ponder this subject upon your knees, in your closet, and ask, whether the influence which you have been exerting, and the prayers you have offered, have been such, as you can at last review with the approbation of conscience and of God.
2. The subject addresses itself to those who are engaged in Sabbath school instruction. Yours is an employment of no ordinary importance. Precious and immortal souls are committed to your care, to be trained for heaven. This is the great object for which you are to labor; and much, under God, will depend upon your faithfulness, whether your labors are successful. You have seen that piety in infancy is practicable; that it is the best time for it to commence, not only because the continuance of life is altogether uncertain, but because, while their capacities are enlarging as they grow in years, their guilt is also deepening, and their prospects for eternity darkening. You have seen, too, what is necessary to be done before this piety can be expected. They need the simple truths of the Bible, presented in the same style of simplicity that you would use upon any other subject, and pressed home upon the heart and conscience with that urgency that is demanded by the importance of the subject, accompanied by earnest believing prayer to God that they may produce effect,--not after you are in your graves, and they, perhaps, have gone to the judgment! No, dear friends, you are not required thus to put off their conversion. Labor, as though you wished for immediate effect; as though you expected it; and then pray to God, as though you believed in his faithfulness to his promises, and you will not plead in vain.
3. In conclusion, I cannot forget the youth before me. You have been often warned and entreated to improve the precious season you now enjoy for making your peace with God, and preparing for heaven. You may have been looking forward to this, as the most favorable season to commence a life of piety, and others may have encouraged this supposition; but let me tell
it is a mistake. In the light of this subject you may learn that the best time, the most favorable period, IS GONE FOR EVER !
What then, let me ask, are your prospects for eternity ? Every day's, every hour's impenitence deepens your guilt; lessens the brief period in which a“ pardoning God may be found,” and increases the fearful probability that heaven will be lost, and life and hope be extinguished together! Can you put off the subject? Can you rest where you are? You may not have a moment to parley! Then
* Seise the kind promise while it waits, And march to Zion's heavenly gates ; Believe, and take the promised rest : Obey, and be for ever blcst.",
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