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RELIGIOUS EDUCATION OF CHILDREN,
PREACHED IN THE
PARISH CHURCH OF ST. SEPULCHRE,
June the 6th, 1723.
THURSDAY IN WHITSUN-WEEK ;
Anniversary Meeting of the Children educated in the
Charity Schools in and about the Cities of London and Westminster.
Prov. xxii. 6.
Train up a child in the way he should go : and when he is
old, he will not depart from it.
THE meaning and design of these words of King Solomon is plain and obvious at first hearing : from whence we may reap this advantage, that the time which upon more difficult texts would be spent in prefatory explications, may here be more agreeably (and perhaps more usefully too) laid out upon the subject. The pertinency of the text to the present occasion will, I doubt not, be as clear and manifest as the meaning and purport of it: so that your thoughts, very probably, will run quicker upon it than any words can do, and will be beforehand with me in the application. My design from it is to offer, or rather to repeat, some of the most obvious and most approved rules and directions for the training up children; and to intimate of how great moment and importance they are to the children themselves, to their parents and others having the charge over them, and to the public at large.
You will not, I presume, expect any new directions from me on this head, (the older they are the better,) nor indeed any so exact and accurate as those which have been more maturely weighed, and after long experience, perfected by the united wisdom and joint counsels of those whom God hath raised up to inspect, promote, and conduct this weighty affair through this great city, and other parts of the kingdom. All I shall endeavour is, to collect and lay before you a few useful hints, out of many you will think on; such as may deserve to be treasured up in our memories, and such as, in regard either to their own weight or to our forgetfulness, may very well bear the repeating and frequent inculcating. And now not to
detain you with any farther preface, I proceed directly to what I intend.
First, To point out some of the principal rules or directions for the religious training up of children.
Secondly, To remind us of some special reasons and motives proper to enforce the use and exercise of them : concluding all with a brief application of the whole to as many as are any way capable of promoting, assisting, or encouraging so good a work.
I. I am, first, to point out some of the principal rules or directions for the religious training up of children. The persons herein chiefly concerned are fathers and mothers, natural and spiritual, masters and mistresses, tutors, guardians, governors, and the like. All the branches of this duty belong not equally to all: many of them are indeed common to parents, masters, guardians, &c. but some are special to parents only, or to them chiefly, and not to the rest. In the enumeration of particulars, I shall think it sufficient if they belong to any, and 'if they be of such importance as may make it necessary to mention, and not to omit them.
1. I shall begin with what comes first in order, and which chiefly belongs to fathers and mothers, godfathers and godmothers, the bringing children to the font, to be publicly baptized according to the rules and orders of the Church of England, formed exactly upon the primitive model; saving only as to the allowing and dispensing with the pouring on of water upon the child, instead of immersion : which allowance has at length, by custom, took place of the rule, and unhappily excluded it, perhaps beyond recovery ; though many good and pious men have hinted their desires, or wishes, for restoring the primitive practice, which had constantly obtained in England, from the first planting of Christianity, till within less than two hundred years ago, and has not been entirely laid aside, above a century and a half at most. But enough of that.
I said publicly baptized. For as to the custom of administering Baptism by reading the office for public Baptism in private houses, it is of very late date, and is neither so decent nor so regular as the public method which our Church prescribes in her Rubrics. It has indeed, with great reluctance, been submitted to, and still is so; and especially in this city more than in any other place of the kingdom. Custom bath here also prevailed against rule ; and many have been, in a manner, forced to comply with it, upon prudential reasons; submitting to it as a tolerable inconvenience, to prevent greater. But it were much to be wished that the more public and solemn way were again restored, and universally practised as formerly. To proceed.
When Baptism is once over, nothing more remains to be done for the infant, in the religious way, for some time; except it be praying for him. The care of supporting and cherishing the growing infants, while unable to speak, or to learn any thing, falls not under the head of religious education: as neither does the method of nursing, or suckling them; though it may not be improper to throw in a word or two of it, because a case of conscience has been thought to be nearly concerned in it. Some Divines of great note have been very particular and pressing upon the duty of mothers, as obliged to nurse and suckle their own children. I cannot stay to examine their reasons for it, which are not all of the same weight, but differing in the degrees of more and less. One thing, however, is certain, that it is no unalterable duty of mothers so to do: in some circumstances they cannot, and in others they need not; there is a latitude left for discretion and prudence in such cases. They are in duty bound to do the best they can for the health of their children, and the right forming their tempers and manners; both which may, in some measure, depend on their first milk, or on the method of nursing. But if both these points may be effectually secured, (as they often may,) as well by a nurse, as by the proper mother, then the thing is indifferent, and either way may be taken without scruple.