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approach nearer to the glory of the latter day, something new, perhaps, may be expected with regard to the unaccomplished prophecies which respect that happy age.
The author has remarked with extreme concern, that among the many dignified preachers, who have distinguished themselves at our established lectures for the defence of Christianity, few indeed have treated of the new birth, and of the operations of the Holy Spirit. They have displayed their learning in dull and sober argumentation, but have neglected to warm and interest the heart. This is the real cause why their volumes have produced so little effect, and why they have remained in fair bindings for a hundred years. What can be more insipid than a mere system of religious notions, cold and unapplied? If it be really true, in order to avoid enthusiasm, that the understanding alone is to be exercised in religious concerns, how is the depraved heart to be reformed, and man restored to the image of God?
The peculiar bias of this age towards infidelity, renders it necessary for the Christian world to be acquainted at large with the foundation of their faith, and to secure their consecrated offspring against the prevailing corruption. Deism, Socinianism, Materialism, and innumerable casts of skepticism, have gained the ascendancy in our literary productions. Were the contagion confined to novels and plays, complaint would scarcely be made; but it contaminates our Encyclopædias, Reviews, Travels and Sermons. Hence, our
bscription libraries, so well calculated to diffuse
knowledge and improve the mind, are likely to become institutions of ruin to the enlightened part of the nation. It is deeply to be regretted, that the gentry and tradesmen who pay an exterior reverence to Christianity, should be so incautious or lukewarm as to crowd their libraries with books of this description. Secure and unalarmed for themselves, they treasure up with perfect indifference, a source of immoral doctrines for their children and the rising age.
From books, and characters of this description, Christian parents, so circumstanced, cannot wholly secure their children. They abound in all the public intercourse of society, and frequently find their way into the retreats of private life. Every one should therefore be armed at an early period against those licentious principles, which at once would supersede the laws of morality, and rob him of his immortal hope in Jesus Christ.
Young people, especially, should be apprised of the method which infidels take to destroy the faith. They seldom attack Christianity by argument, because they cannot succeed by their boasted powers of reason. They seldom appeal to historic evidence, for Christianity is already established by facts, and many of those facts have been acknowledged by its enemies. But wit is their favorite fort. By this mere appearance of argument, people of weak and dissipated minds are readily prevailed upon to give up a religion so restrictive of their passions, and which they were never instructed to defend. With him who is properly acquainted with the truth of his religion, the
case is otherwise.
He appeals to the glory and ful
ress of the internal evidences of Christianity, as admirably adapted to promote the happiness of society, to afford adequate consolation to sinful men, and to secure the honor of God in our salvation. He takes sanctuary under a cloud of evidence, deduced from the indisputable accomplishment of the scripture prophecies. By these, St. Paul confounded the Jews at Damascus; by these, Porphiry, in fact, confessed himself vanquished, when he said, that Daniel's prophecy of the seventy weeks was written after the events had taken place. He retorts the arguments of infidels on their own absurd and contradictory systems. They shrink for want of ground, while he remains unshaken on the rock.
However, it is not argument alone, but holiness, productive of every virtue, which is the ultimate ob ject of religious education. In this view, it is essentially connected with domestic happiness. Parents, most assuredly, would have their children to be possessed of virtue, and especially of filial virtue. But the moral conduct requires the support of moral principles. The wiser heathens discovered, at an early period of society, that virtue could not be supported unless founded on the belief in a God, a providence, and a future state. No man will properly honor his parents, who does not honor and worship his Maker; and no man will be deterred from the commission of secret crimes unless he believe that he cannot escape the judgments of God. Would we, therefore, prevent the embarrassment and ruin, the seduction and suicide,
which so frequently attend a life of dissipation and infidelity, we should habituate our children to converse with truth, with providence, and with their own hearts. Religious instruction should constitute an essential branch of education in all our public seminaries. A tutor is not qualified for his office, unleɛs he teach his pupils to prefer the sacred scriptures to the classics of Greece and Rome; and those Christian philosophers who have so happily united revelation and literature, to those unprincipled authors who have distinguished themselves in the schools of infidelity.
Children are educated for business, and accomplished for the world, with the utmost attention. Nó cost is spared to procure them the best books, and the ablest teachers. But the Christian philosophy, which alone can set them right as creatures with their Creator, and as sinners with their Saviour, is left to be gleaned from detached sermons, and a few family books, which are perhaps ill chosen, seldom read, and never studied. Hence it is, that they never understand the beauty and perfection of the religion they profess. It has never been exhibited to them in such an entire view, as to gain the judgment, and impress the heart: consequently, they can never embrace it with an enlightened and conscientious regard.
To accomplish these desirable objects, and exhibit the Christian religion in as enlarged a view as corresponds with the brevity of the work, has avowedly been the wish of the author. He has commenced with natural religion, and followed the light of gre
dual revelation, through the Patriarchal, the Jewish, and Christian dispensations; because, being immediately connected, they illustrate each other. He has endeavored to conduct the devout pupil from the outward to the inner courts of the temple; that having leisurely viewed the several parts, he may be able to contemplate the admirable wisdom of God in the combination of the whole. This work being designed for schools and families, is divided into sections, and the arguments are numbered in Roman capitals; the connexion being rendered easy by distinctions, and the lessons proportioned to the time and capacity of the reader, the progress is facilitated. But here, as in the acquisition of science, verbal explications should be given of the terms. And by going two or three times over the book, in this way, the pupil will be initiated into the Christian religion, prepared to read the sacred scriptures with pleasure, and to hear sermons with edification.
May the almighty God give his blessing to these poor labors, and so irradiate the mind of the reader, that he may pay an enlightened homage to his Maker, and repose his soul in the arms of his Redeemer, from a full conviction of the truth and reasonableness of the Christian religion.
LEEDS, May 10, 1808.