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But are not children liable to be biaffed in favour of errors early taught them ?-. Certainly they are. And what then? Muft you forbear to inftruct them at all?-No: but be careful that you give them only wholesome instructions.
If the danger of prejudice be a reason against early inftruction, it is equally a reason against inftruction at any time for if your children ever know any thing about religion, there must be a time when they begin to know. And let them begin ever fo late, there is the fame danger of their being prejudiced in favour of the sentiments first embraced, as if they began in childhood.
Let thofe, who argue in this manner against religious education, fpeak out, and fay, "Religion is a mere chimera: men will do better without it than with it: it is the effect of bad education: if people be not taught it when they are young, they never will believe it, nor concern themfelves about it afterward." To this the argument plainly leads.
If there be fuch a thing as religion, it is undeniably a matter of infinite and univerfal importance. Every one, therefore, fhould rightly understand it, and fully believe it, and faithfully practise it. And every parent should diligently teach it to his children, and guard them against the inftructions which caufe to err.
II. Another observation which arises from our text is, that religion in general is a matter of fuch obvious concern, that every man, on the leaft confideration, muft see himself obliged to be of fome religion or other.
Thefe Affyrians worshipped their several deities, as they had been taught. When they found themfelves infested with wild beafts in their new fettlement, they at once apprehended, they had been
guilty of fome offenfive behaviour toward the God of the land; and they desired to be instructed in the fervice, which beft would please him. They fent for a teacher, and they fo far attended to his inftructions, that "they feared the Lord."
"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament fheweth his handy work. Day unto day uttereth fpeech, and night unto night fheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through the earth, and their words to the end of the world." What a being God is, and how he is to be worshipped, men have been much divided in their notions; for every man will ascribe to his deity the properties which he calls perfections, and will frame for his god a worfhip correfpondent to his fuppofed character. But that there is a God, and that he is to be worshipped, mankind have almoft univerfally agreed. The various kinds of fuperftition and idolatry, which have been practifed in the world, are proofs, that men, in their corrupteft ftate, feel a fenfe of their obligations to religion. False reasonings and vicious practices may gradually weaken this fenfe of a Deity; but it is difficult fo entirely to extinguish it, but that, in times of calamity and danger, it will revive and operate. Thefe idolaters, when they faw the beafts of the wilderness making incurfions, and spreading deftruction among them, immediately turned their thoughts to fome invifible being, who directed the motions of the animal creation; and they wished to be inftructed, how they might fecure his favour and protection.
The general, the almost universal belief of a divine, fuperintending power, is an evidence that this fentiment is as ancient as the human race; for if the first pair had been atheists, tradition from
them would have given atheism fuch a spread a mong their pofterity as it never appears to have obtained. The heathens were idolaters, but not atheifts. The ancient enemies of true religion opposed it, not on the principle, that there was no religion, but on the pretence, that their own religion was better. It is probable, there are more atheifts in Chriftian countries, than in all other parts of the world. And the reason is obvious: the precepts of the gofpel are fo pure, and its fanctions fo folemn, that men of corrupt hearts cannot be reconciled to it; and yet the evidences of its truth are so full and ftrong, that they cannot reject it without rejecting all religion with it ; for if there be any fuch thing as religion, it must be contained in the gospel. Every reasoning man eafily fees and feels the abfurdity of acknowledging religion in general, and denying the gospel-religion. And hence the enemies of the gofpel, that they may preserve a confiftency in difcarding this, renounce religion in the grofs. And it is a circumftance much in favour of the gofpel, that the most subtil reasoners, conscious, that it must stand, while natural religion ftands, have directed their main force against the latter. This is a virtual acknowledgment from the enemies of the gofpel, that, if there be any religion, it must be here.
There are heathens, who will rife in judgment against many in Christian lands. Even idolaters in ages of darkness will condemn infidels who live in an age of light. They who, with all the abfurdity of their fpeculative opinions, were yet awed by the apprehenfion of an invifible power, may put to shame thofe hardy fons of impiety, who caft off fear and restrain prayer; and who, while they pretend to believe there is a God, live in every respect as if there were none.
The folicitude of the idolaters in Samaria, under a threatening calamity, rebukes the stupidity of thousands in times and places of fuperior light.
The Samaritans owned an invisible hand in the depredations of ravenous beafts: but how many overlook this hand in the calamities brought on them by the rapacity of unreasonable and wicked men? Thofe idolaters fuppofed that the wild beasts, which infefted them, were let loofe to punish them for fome omffion of duty to the god of the country; and they were anxious to know wherein they had offended him: but how many, forgetting their own impieties and the juftice of providence, impute all their calamities to the immediate inftruments and visible causes of them? They, in the time of their trouble, sent to Affyria for one of the captive priefts of Ifrael to come and inftruct them in the will of Jehovah : but how many neglect to hear divine inftruction, when it is brought to their doors, and even refufe to obey it when it is founded in their ears? They paid fo much attention to their new teacher, as to reform, in fome measure, their fyftem of religion, and fet up the worship of the God of Ifrael: but how many are wholly unreformed by the corrections of God's hand, and the admonitions of his word, and live unmindful of their obligations to that Almighty Being, whom ftill they acknowledge? Their reformation was indeed but a poor defective business, fince they stopped where they did. But yet they went farther than many go under judg ments more obviously divine, and under inftructions more clear and convincing. In them there was fome amendment; in many there is none at all.
It becomes us to enquire, how far this rebuke falls on us. May not fome confefs, that under VOL. V. Y Y
their fuperior light and diftinguifhed advantages, they never went fo far in religion, as these poor Affyrians did? Bring the enquiry home. See how it is with you. You have been educated under the cleareft light of divine revelation-have been inftructed in the nature and perfections, in the government and will of God-have been taught what is the defign of perfonal afflictions and public judgments, and what is the moral ufe. which you should make of them-have heard your duty, in all its branches, often ftated and inculcated, and the terms of your eternal felicity repeatedly propofed and urged. And what have you done? Have you fhewn as much fenfe of a Deity-as much regard to his governing hand-as much concern to learn his will-as much folicitude to approve yourselves to him, as thofe poor heathens? If you live without prayer-without attendance on the means of religious inftructionwithout felf-examination-without a sense of your dependence—and without regard to God's providence, you are more remote from religion than they were.
The concern in Samaria to obtain the favour of the god of the land, and to be inftructed in his will, feems to have been general. Is there any fuch general concern among us? There are doubtlefs many who believe the truth, and feel the importance of religion. But is this our general character? Is there not rather a prevailing indif. ference and carelessnefs?
As the people in Samaria fent far for a priest of the Lord to inftruct them; fo, we may conclude, they diligently attended on his inftructions when he came. This priest would naturally call them together to hear the law on the fabbath-the day divinely inftituted for the purpose; and certainly