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Introductory remarks—the importance of a right commencement.
The manner in which Christianity is represented in Scripture, as restoring the Family to its proper state-illustrated by reference to the ministry of John the Baptist, of Christ and the Apostlesthe conversions to Christianity among the Jews in ancient time; those from among the Heathen in our own day, and the final restoration of the Jews, referred to in confirmation of such ministry and mode of address—the duty of following such examples, imperious.
The manner in which Christianity is represented, as addressing and restoring the family, and so, if possible, or if intended, the nation, where its families are in general debased or corrupted, deserves the most serious consideration. The language of inspiration implies, that the Parents, as such, are to be especially regarded. Next to the precise terms of divine revelation, the order of its language should be observed ; and, in the present case, this has become the more necessary, from so many beginning, I may say, at the wrong end. The commission of our blessed Lord is to be revealed to, and pressed upon, every creature, old and young, Parents and Children, individually, according to his command. The axe is laid at the root of every tree. But in perfect harmony with
this, in applying divine truth to a constitution of his own creation, there may be an order which is agreeable to his will ; one to which he may have given his decided sanction in all ages! and if this should be apparent, it then becomes at once our wisdom and our duty to follow it. Let the order, then, of the following words, as well as that of other passages to be adduced, be studied : “He shall turn the heart of the Fathers unto the Children,
and the heart of the Children to their Fathers." By too many in the present day, and these individuals who possess both benevolent and patriotic intentions, it seems to be received as an incontrovertible and sound maxim, that, in order to the radical cure of a nation sunk in vice, or degenerating in morals, the first, if not the only hope, is to be fixed on the young and rising generation; and they therefore often repeat,—“We must BEGIN with the Children.” “ If the Parents,” they tell us, cannot instruct their Children in anything good, and evidently train them up in nothing but vice; nay, if they will not instruct them at all, and if we cannot impress their minds with a sense of their obligation (though in nine instances out of ten this has not been first and patiently done, in faith of its effect), all that seems left to us is to begin with the Children. Besides, as far as we can see, the best, if not the only way for reaching such Parents, so depraved, or so lost to a sense of their duty and responsibility, is through the hearts of their Children. At all events,
beginning with them, we shall plant wholly a right seed, and the generation following them will reap the benefit, — the body politic being thus effectually restored to a sound and healthy condition.” Even a few eminent individuals have given countenance to this false reasoning, from their having, in a great degree, given up the generation "going away" in despair. To them they seem so thoroughly
rooted and grounded in vice, that, if not altogether hopeless, they are, as a body, likely to grow together unto the harvest !
It is rather remarkable that this strain of reasoning should make such approach to certain ideas entertained by professedly wise men, among the most eminent heathen nations of antiquity. Aristotle, Plutarch, and others, were much impressed with the value and necessity of education, and, in the warmth of their zeal, they cried out loudly against the education of Children being left entirely to the mercy and disposal of Parents. They thought that this would ultimately prove a destructive injury to the state, and urged strongly that the public--the community-should take up the subject. “Why,” it was said, as they thought unanswerably," why rest this wholly on persons who are so often found to be careless, or ignorant, or indiscreet, and by no means fit to govern themselves ?
Here, however, as Christians, let us be considerate. Did education, whether by Parents or the community, include all that God in mercy does for man, through the instrumentality of man, then would there be more force in the question put by Aristotle or Plutarch, and then would there be more plausibility in the reasoning quoted, of modern professors of Christianity or political economists. Put since education, whether domestic or public, whether performed by Parents in person, or attempted to be performed for them, whether purchased by them, or paid for them, is not all; since especially the Messiah's last commission is still binding ; since there stands before us the sovereign appointment of the ministry of the word, for the conversion of men ; then, in these expressions of the heathen philosopher, many in our day will see but the weakness, and hear but the melancholy wailing of a nation at once devoid of Christianity and destitute of
divine revelation; while, in the reasoning of modern times, they may discover only that two things are confounded, which are not only perfectly distinct, but perfectly consistent with each other, viz., the incumbent duty of Christian education, and the positive institution of Heaven for the conversion of men.
In any country where Christianity is in being,—where the Christian ministry exists, and the Christian revelation is possessed, to which appeal can be made, we must attend to the peculiarly important and happy circumstances in which it is placed. These circumstances I call happy, as affording the means which God has ordained, for the promotion of pure and undefiled religion. The impotence of the ministry, as there and then administered, may indeed suggest to well-intentioned individuals the necessity of expedients to aid its impotence, or compensate for its inefficiency; but the impotence of any given ministry is quite distinct from that institution, which, when administered with wisdom, in its appropriate spirit, actually involves both the wisdom and the power of God for salvation.
Wherever, therefore, the intelligent Christian's lot is cast, when the restoration of a family, or the raising of a nation by religious and moral instruction is proposed, the institution which God has been pleased to appoint and sanction for the conversion of men, whether publicly from house to house,* he can never agree
in the moral obligation of man to imbue the infant mind with the first principles of the oracles of God. These are two things so distinct, that they must not be confounded; they are in perfect harmony with each other, and for each there is
provided by God an appropriate sphere of action.
In reference, therefore, to the reasoning already referred to, let it be observed, whether it is not proceeding on the supposition, or upon the confessed or lamented
* Acts xx. 20, 21.
admission, of an impotent or powerless ministry; nay, whether, in the mouths of some, it is not overlooking the appointment of God itself; and whether, under its influence, well-intentioned schemes and plans may not be proposed and adopted, which may ultimately and seriously invade the constitutional energy of the domestic circle.
Let us, however, now revert to facts, and look back to other days.
The land of Judea had frequently to mourn under a degeneracy of morals; nor could it be much more abandoned than it was in the days of Jehoiachin, who still went on doing evil in the sight of the Lord, after the king, his Father, with his servants around him, had, without fear, burnt the roll of Jeremiah the prophet. The state of the nation is even minutely described. The land was overrun with impurity ; because of swearing it mourned. As a nation their course was evil, and their force not right. The great value and merciful intention of divine threatenings were alike despised; and the threatenings called contemptuously, by false prophets and a wicked people, “the burden of the Lord :" in short, both prophet and priest were profane ; “Yea, in my house have I found their wickedness,” said Jehovah. The land of Judea at this period also deserves particular notice, inasmuch as its sad degeneracy is traced up to one guilty
The people, it seems, labored under, not merely an inefficient ministry, but a pernicious one. “I have not sent these prophets, saith the Lord, and yet they ran: I have not spoken unto them, and yet they preached. But if they had continued in my counsel, and caused my people to hear my words, they had turned them from their evil ways and wicked imaginations. Am I then God that seeth but the thing that is nigh at hand, and not that is afar off? saith the Lord. May any man hide himself so that I shall not see him ? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth ? saith the Lord. I have
source or cause.