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I will therefore lay before you the feelings of my heart, when I reflect upon the circumstances connected with this meeting, persuaded, that it is the most likely means to increase your resolutions to persevere in so good a work.
I cannot see so many children attend, nor their parents disposed to send them, nor so many of you, year after year, willingly devote yourselves to this employ, without feeling a mixture of surprize, esteem, and gratitude, nor without hope that you will not grow weary in this well doing.
Considering the selfishness of human nature, a degree of surprize must take place in surveying nearly one hundred persons, (closely confined by labour six days in the week,) stedfastly devoting one half of their Sabbaths to instruct children without hire.
Nor is it possible to withhold esteem from them who do so, whilst every pious mind must feel gratitude to God, who inclines your hearts to such employments, especially when we take into the account,-First, the motives which induce you to make such sacrifices, and Secondly, the benefits we have reason to hope will arise from them.-Your motives are not gain, for you receive no pay. They are not, "to be seen of men," for no honour attends it. May I not charitably hope you act from a principle of Christian love? Do I not speak to those, who in the most sacred and pleasing hours of their lives, secretly say to him, who understands the thought afar off, "Thou Lord art my witness that I desire nothing so much as to glorify thy name, and do good to my fellow creatures." "I mourn daily under my unprofitable life, and am willing to be, to do, to suffer any thing, might I only be an instrument in thy hand of promoting these great ends." Is this the language of your hearts?
I will now endeavour to prove that you may in these schools do good, much good, in your day and generation. You have engaged in them under a persuasion that the rising generation might be benefited by them, but probably you have not fully considered the extent of good which may arise from them.
You know that when we speak of "doing good," we are only instruments," the good that is done in the earth the Lord doth it himself."
We therefore only speak of this, (or any other labour,) as designing to bring Glory to God, and good to men."
We will therefore enlarge, in the second place, upon "the benefits we have reason to expect will arise from your labour in these schools."
The chief design of this address is to call your attention to the subject in this point of view. You will allow me to enlarge on the advantages which are likely to arise.-1st. to the children who attend them.-2nd, to the families connected with these children.-3rd, to the town at large.4th, to the church of God.-5th, to yourselves and families. -6th, to future generations.
1. To the children. Look round upon the crouds of ragged and wicked children, who pollute our streets: this I was about to say, but I retract. Our streets are changed. Look back upon the time when these streets were crouded with ragged and wicked children, and say "should no other end be answered, is it not worth your labour to collect them from the streets?"
Your time is not lost, were it employed only to separate them from their corrupting companions, to restrain them from the evils they commit together, and draw them to some regard to order and decency, by the rules of the school.
The difference between one hundred children left to corrupt each other, by mixing in the streets, and the same number brought to observe the habits of a Sunday School, is of no small importance to civil society. But this is the least. Outward decency of behaviour deserves much labour, yet it is only a branch or leaf, which must appear if the tree (the mind) be made good.
We observe, therefore, a second advantage which these children derive is religious instruction.
My friends, I ask you, what are you doing in these schools? What is the chief object you have in view? Nothing less than to teach poor children to read and understand their bible. Let those who do not love their Bibles think lightly of this, but let it be your glory. Never let it be forgotten" that the great design of these schools is to teach poor children to read and understand their Bible," and never forget the greatness of this work. For what is the Bible? It is nothing less than the revealed will of God. He raised up Moses and the prophets, Christ and his Apostles, to spread this book amongst his creatures; he owns it, he sets his seal to it, and uses it as his instrument "to turn sinners from darkness to light."
Are you not then doing, what in you lies, to make poor children acquainted with this wonderous book? This book which God revealed to Moses and the prophets, this book which contains the sayings of the Son of God, this book which the Holy Ghost seals as his own.
But thirdly. Your labours are not confined merely to teach them to read this book, they are intended to inform them of its great design. You want them to understand its meaning; on this account the doctrines of Christianity are taught them with great care; their tender minds are frequently called on to reflect upon "repentance towards God, and faith in Christ," they are catechised and examined upon the law and the Gospel, so that, (at a future period,) it may be said of many of them "they knew the Scriptures from their youth."
Fourthly. These truths are applied to their consciences in the most affectionate manner. It is not only a formal repetition of these subjects in catechising they are used to, but a frequent exercise of their judgment, and affectionate addresses to their consciences.
Is it not a great privilege that you enjoy, in having such opportunities with so many children? Many holy men have thought it one of the most important duties (when they had charge of a parish) to catechise the children, they employed much time and study on this work, and in many instances had only a small number under their care; but God hath put it in your power to instruct hundreds, I may perhaps say, thousands of the rising generation.
Fifthly. Shall we say that these children will derive no higher benefit than instruction? May we not hope for the conversion and salvation of their souls? Is not this word designed to "turn sinners from the power of Satan to God." This Gospel not only informs the mind of those awful and glorious subjects which the heathens were ignorant of, but it is the power of God to salvation. The powerful means he uses to save the children of men. Is it then probable that a multitude of pious Christians, watching over thousands of children, praying with them, catechising and exhorting them, and this from principles of faith and love shall have no fruit in the conversion of souls? You, my friends, have much ground to expect "that God will give you souls for your hire," and in a sense in which a pious parent may use the language, you, (in the great day) may have to say "here am I and the children thou hast given me."
This leads me to notice secondly, some of the advantages which the families, connected with the children, may derive from your labours. Let us allow that three or four hundred of their parents are ignorant and wicked, yet there are few so ignorant that they do not wish their children to be instructed,
nor so wicked that they are unwilling their children should be good. We will suppose that their parents never pray, never read their Bibles, nor attend a place of worship, that their children learn little from their parents but blasphemy, drunkenness, strife, and almost every sort of iniquity, I say, we will suppose that two, three, or four hundred families are in this wretched state.-My friends, what are you doing? do I say too much, when I say you are sending missionaries amongst these Christian savages? Missionaries of the most suitable character, from whom they cannot withhold their attention, whose language will be understood, whilst it must, (if any thing can,) reach every feeling of their hearts. Í will explain what I mean,-these children return from the schools to their families, there their tasks, their lessons, their hymn books, their catechisms, are often before their ungodly parents: they hear their children read, or talk about God and Christ, heaven and hell, sin and holiness, repentance and faith, perhaps the most wicked are the soonest affected, and secretly exclaim "What a wretch am I! these children are mine, and alas, they can teach me things I am ignorant of; shall I teach these children to lie, swear, and be wicked, when people who do not belong to them are teaching them to be good?" Can you, my brethren, conceive the conviction, which must frequently strike the hearts of such parents, whilst their children are repeating the instructions you give them? Is it not probable that one thousand children thus instructed, and mixing with three or four hundred families, will promote a conviction of the excellency of religion?
How many of their parents or relations, who never read their Bibles, will begin to read them? How many who never prayed, will begin to pray? How many who never heard the word, will begin to hear? But this leads me to notice thirdly, the good you are doing to the town you live in. These schools have existed more than thirty years, and I cannot help concluding that their effects have been great. Is it not doing good in the place you reside, if first, you can help to stem the torrent of open profaneness? If second, you can draw the inhabitants to hear the word faithfully preached? If third, you can instruct the ignorant? or fourth, you can be instrumental in the conversion of sinners? Have we not reason to believe all these effects have arisen from these schools? I know there is much wickedness around us; perhaps many who have been taught by us, have turned out wicked; but this does not prove the schools altogether unsuccessful; since they were first es
tablished, many hundreds of the children, who attended them, must have grown up to men and women :-they have families of their own. Is it not likely that amongst the hundreds who were instructed amongst us, many would be disposed to hear the word preached, and attend public worship? We see a great increase of serious hearers, we see a great increase of professors of religion, we see our places of worship too small for those who desire to attend, we see multitudes now paying some regard to the word, the day, the ministers of God, we see religion respected-and can there be a doubt, my brethren, that under God one great cause of this is, those who once were children in those schools, now form a certain class of the inhabitants, they are disposed to hear, they and their families attend, the word is powerful, they hear and live.
But fourthly. Whilst you are thus benefiting the place you are residing in, you are serving the church of Christ, that church he purchased with his own blood. If the prosperity of the church consists in the increase of knowledge, holiness and usefulness of its members; your present lahours, (from the considerations already advanced,) are directly calculated to promote that end; I will not, therefore, dwell upon this further than to remind you that probably when you sleep in the dust of the earth, some of those children, who have received their first principles of religious instruction from you, may rise to be ministers of Christ, be called by him to preach the everlasting Gospel, and from this humble labour luminaries may arise "to chace the gloom of hellish night," and spread amongst their fellow creatures the light of the glorious Gospel.
Fifthly. Whilst you are thus disinterestedly serving others, you are profiting yourselves. The benefits you de rive yourselves from this labour of love, are greater than may appear at first sight,-whatever increases your habits of diligence and order, your freedom from the snares which are common to persons in similar situations in life; whatever capacitates you to discharge your duty to your nearest relations must promote your own interest. Your labour in the Sunday Schools, is calculated to answer all these and greater purposes. First, it obliges you to redeem time, you cannot preserve your stations in them without diligence. Secondly, the system of the school leads you to habits of order. Thirdly, it preserves you from the temptations those are under, who find the Lord's day a day of greater misery and corruption to them than any other part of the week but with you "No moment lingers unemployed