« PreviousContinue »
That foft and effeminate method of education, which too many delight in, they defpifed as having a natural tendency to enervate at once both the body and the mind. They gave a fevere check to all inflammatory converfations, and fuffered no bad examples to be fet before them, left being habituated to fuch fights, they fhould lofe their abhorrence of vice, and contract ill habits before experience could evince the danger that attended them. They took great pains to fubdue their paffions betimes, and made every thing fubfervient to the promotion of virtue. Inftead of light and trivial fentences, none were offered for their imitation, but fuch as contained fome moral precept; and the fayings of the wifeft men were. taught them by way of amusement; and this method was the rather obferved, because the memory easily retains fuch leffons of inftruction, and the good effects of them often extend even to old age. They were likewise fhewn in their infancy not only the benefit and pleasure of abstinence; but the noblest families were folicitous to have their children betimes inured to hardships and fatigues. They were industrious to inftil into them an early veneration for truth:a lie was accounted infamous, and a fraud, however dextrously managed, looked upon as a black and enormous crime. Their averfion to all kinds of intemperance was no lefs remarkable; they expofed their flaves when disguised by drinking to the derifion of their youth, in order to implant in them an early deteftation of that vice. The food allowed to their children, and young men, was fimplenamely, bread, creffes and water, to accustom them to abftinence and fobriety they confidered, that a plain frugal diet would invigorate the body, and cause them to be sprightly and healthful. Boys. were not only inftructed whilft at fchool, in the arts and fciences, but in the principles of juftice and virtue ;-even there they learned to reverence the Gods; to be obedient to their parents, affable to their equals, and courteous to their inferiors. Moreover no crime was fo feverely punished among them as ingratitude. It would be:
endless to enumerate the various methods the heathens took to form fuch a number of brave foldiers, worthy citizens and venerable philofophers.
Notwithstanding these eulogies have fo fpecious an appearance, we might be thought too partial were we to omit obferving, that when we come to fet their views in an impartial light, we shall find, that their virtues were the mere refult of ambition, not of genuine goodness; and that they looked chiefly for pre-eminence in this world. These things they did that they might have glory of men. If then fuch narrow motives had such glorious consequences; if fobriety, temperance, chastity, generofity, prudence and humility were fo diligently cultivated, even by thofe, who had little expectation from another life; if they profited fo largely under their philofophers and teachers, whose very knowledge was dark and confused what ought not to be expected from us, who have the most perfect morality; the moft divine precepts, and the ever glorious example of our blessed Lord ?—What fruits ought we to produce, who expect so glorious an harvest in another world, as is promised in the facred fcrptures; and moreover have our knowledge enlightened by the inexpreffible brightness of the Gofpel? Who, that hears what advantages we have over them, would not readily conclude, we must affuredly greatly excel those admired heathens in the purity of our lives and converfations? Who, that fees our daily practices, would not readily allow they would be a scandal to the darkest of idolatry and ignorance?
FROM what has been faid, in the foregoing Section, it very naturally follows, that we return to the subject we set out with; namely, the fource of this ill behaviour amongst men, who profefs, and call themselves Chriftians.
Not to diffemble the matter therefore, the ftrange neglect of parents is the first if not the only cause of these evils. How common
is it for them to indulge their children in every kind of pleafure; to talk without referve, and perhaps wickedly too, before them on any subject; to fhew a fort of contempt for religious mysteries; to to accept of any perfons how ill qualified foever for their tutors; and if by chance a man of worth engages in fuch an office, how frequently is he treated with the most bitter and heart wounding indignities, and that too in the hearing and presence of his pupil?— If all this doth not happen, how few take the neceffary precautions to instil into their minds betimes the principles of virtue and religion? How many, on the contrary, take unaccountable pains to cherish in their children the feeds of vice and folly? Evils of this kind are fo common, that we may leave it to every man's confcience to tell him how blame-worthy he has been in all, or at least in fome of these particulars; and haften to fhew the fatal confequences of fuch unaccountable proceedings. Can we wonder, if children, who have been inured to hear, not only religion itself, but its votaries, and their places of divine worship treated with indifference, and perhaps with contempt, should be attached to all fenfual enjoyments? Can we be surprised, if they become luxurious and prophane, when they have always had bad examples before their eyes? On the contrary, would it not be a matter of wonder, fhould they prove otherwife? Can we expect a plentiful harvest, when we have neglected to cultivate our grounds? Have we any reason to hope for delicious fruits, where we have only fown thorns and briars?-Should we not think him a fool or a madman that should attempt to raise a noble and fpacious edifice on a rotten and fandy foundation? And is it lefs abfurd, to expect a youth to be virtuous, who has been early inftituted in the paths of vice? Is it any longer therefore a matter of aftonishment that men fhould be Practical Atheists, who never have been taught to think feriously on that awful Being who made heaven and earth? Why fhould we think it ftrange, that they should call themselves Chriftians though their
daily practices most notoriously contradict fuch profeffion; fince their fathers bore that denomination, and yet led as abandoned lives as themselves: or fay they did not; yet they taught them but little more of their religion, than formally to fay,-we are believers. They have been accustomed moreover to fee their neighbours practise the fame easy religion; and it is poffible, they would be ashamed to be even thought lefs daring, or more religious, than their indolent elders.-What fhall we fay?-When men are thus grown up, and confirmed in this unhappy fecurity, and their understandings perhaps upon a level with their education, can it be a matter of wonder, if any arguments how weak foever, should have weight enough to perfuade them, that God will not call them to account for common tranfgreffions? But should their course of life, as is too often the case, be extremely wicked and unjust, they will then be inclined to hope, that there is no God.-And furely that man must be wretched indeed, and his state truly deplorable who has lived to fear there is a God; to dread that there may be torments, and to hope that those inexpreffibly joys, which the Gospel promises, are only political delufions.
That few give themselves any real concern about their immortal fouls, is a very melancholy, but inconteftible truth. Vice, indeed, has at all times had her votaries; but now the almoft feems to difpute the government of the world with virtue. I appeal to thofe, who have made any obfervation of these things, and more especially to the elderly part of my congregation.-Among the WEALTHY was ever luxury carried to such an amazing height as it is at prefent? Are not men's minds enervated with a love of ease and pleafure? Did ever men fo openly and audaciously practise wickedness and immorality? Were there ever known fuch numbers of profeffed unbelievers? If then vice feems at these times fo formidable, what a profpect do the times to come afford?-Among the POOR,-what demons of darkness do those promise to be, who now are children,
feeing that in their infant years they are trained to acts of brutal violence? The astonishing number of executions within the last seven years will give too melancholy proof of the truth of this affertion. You all must have known, or at least have heard that children of fourteen or fifteen years of age have been found too wicked to be fuffered to live with fafety to fociety. In our memory one or two inftances of early villainy was apt to alarm every fober family; but now we hear these things, and through their frequency, with almoft indifference. Every town, every street, and almost every house is witness of their blafpheming the name of God, and invoking the powers of hell in curfes upon themselves and their companions. You all know this to be truth, you cannot chufe but hear them before your doors, in your markets, and even in your very churches. -Ye parents!-Ye mafters !-it is your neglect that is the fatal cause of all these evils; evils, which children, yet unborn, will have reason to lament. If therefore you have any defire of praise, any hope of contentment here, or happiness hereafter; if you have any regard for the honour of your native country, or the leaft bowels of compaffion for your yet innocent children; think on these things: take the utmost care to train them up to virtue; to cherish every generous sentiment, and raise in them an ardent zeal for the glory of God, and our most holy religion. As none are without, let me entreat you induftriously to conceal your own failings, left children alio fall; for this, if it can be called one, is a commendable and praise-worthy deceit: the more virtuous they believe you to be, the more refpect and tenderness you will experience from them. As a further motive for your being active in the reformation of the youth entrusted to your care; it may be worth your while to confider, that you are laying up for yourfelves joy and comfort even in this world, and procuring for pofterity invaluable advantages. For furely no blefling can be greater to private perfons,