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HOW SOON SHALL WE BEGIN?
BY REV. 8. I. PRIME.
The question is often asked, how early we may begin to inculcate religious truth on the minds of children. I have just been reading an article in a foreign review, the design of which is to discourage early religious instruction, lest the brain of the child should be unduly excited, and “ cerebral disease” produced. The writer argues his case with the zeal of a skeptical physician, who would guard the life of the body at the risk of the soul. Better philosophy would teach that religious truth, imparted with ge
gentleness, will develop the mind in harmony, and exert that soothing and restraining power on the faculties which is the best security against mental disease.
I do not doubt that parents often err in the mode of communicating religious truth to children. Their anxiety about the future
dition of their offspring leads them to seek early to awaken in their children the same anxiety for themselves. A párent, believing in the future and eternal misery of the finally impenitent, is necessarily solicitous that his precious children may be saved from the evil to come. He is distressed at the thought that his child may dwell in everlasting burnings, and he earnestly desires to secure him from such fearful danger. A fond mother is filled with anguish, at the thought that her dear child may lie down in devouring fire, and she would cheerfully give her own life a ransom for the soul of one she loves so tenderly. . And when to this is added the more important and impressive consideration of the essential wickedness of sin, and its infinite odiousness in the sight of God, how anxious the maternal heart must be that the child may not be left to be an ever-living enemy of the Holy One !
When these reflections have their appropriate weight with parents, they are led to serious effort for their children's early conversion; and the considerations here mentioned are those which often give the type to the instructions which these parents impart.
Children are easily frightened. When alarmed they show their feelings readily. Indiscreet parents sometimes think they have made a great advancement in their children's improvement, when they have roused them by a fear of death and hell. Perhaps they have, but perhaps they have not. There are motives which may be addressed with great propriety to the stout-hearted, hardened sinner, that should never be urged, without great caution, upon the minds of tender children. Our Lord and Saviour would say to the proud and malicious men around him, “Ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell ?" But when he would win the little ones to himself, he would say, "Of such is the
" kingdom.” This is the example that suggests the mode of instruction I would inculcate. It is not well to alarm the youngthe very young. It is well to begin with the dawn of intelligence to impart religious knowledge to the mind. There are precious truths which ought to come with the most gentle and persuasive power to the heart, and these are capable of being comprehended by the child of four.
And much discrimination is required in reference to the peculiar temperament of children. Some will be easily affected by considerations that may be powerless on others. I have seen some children in paroxysms of weeping when others of equal age and equal thoughtfulness, but less nervous, have been unmoved. Exciting children to tears is not always doing them any good. Sometimes it may be doing them an injury. Those who are thus easily affected, especially when they are made restless in the night, by religious teaching, should be tenderly dealt with. The foundation of physical and mental disease, of long years of intense suffering, or perhaps of nervous derangement, fitful melancholy, and even of premature death, may be laid in the indiscreet attempts to bring such children under the dominion of divine truth. The design is good, and the result may be reached without the fearful risk of destroying body, mind, and soul.
The subject is one of great delicacy, and needs to be treated with caution, but I am satisfied there must be attention paid to it. The Christian life is often determined by the direction it takes at the outset. It ought to be a calm, consistent, cheerful life. It
will not be, if the Christian is not well balanced. The character depends much on early influences, moral and physical. And when these are brought to bear on the child, they should be exerted with judgment. What will answer for one, will not answer for another.
If these thoughts are correct, and the principles here taught are kept in view, we cannot begin too early to teach our children the way of life. They should receive religious impressions with the
. very first that reach the mind. So far from receiving injury therefrom, they will be benefited even in childhood. They will comprehend divine and saving truth much earlier than the most of parents suppose. Facts are multitudinous in proof of the early sanctification of children. How early, no one can say. Of such, as infants are, is the kingdom of heaven.
Extracted from the Bible History of Prayer.
THE FIRST PRAYER RECORDED IN THE BIBLE.
BY REV. CHARLES A. GOODRICH.
The first prayer in form, recorded in the Bible, was that of a father in behalf of a child.
Was there design in this ? Did God intend to show to parents in all future time, by giving the example of Abraham so early and prominent a place in the Inspired Volume, how parents should feel, and how they should pray for their children? Many parents put forth unwearied effort for the worldly prosperity and advancement of their children, but they seldom or never pray for them. If they could do but one-better, far better, to pray ; but both may be consistently combined ; yet prayer should have the pre-eminence. This first
prayer asked more than God had offered to bestow. The patriarch did not ask for a reversal of the divine decision. Although he had long cherished the belief that Ishmael was the promised heir, and that the covenant was to descend to him, when informed that Isaac, and not Ishmael, was the divine choice, he
at once cheerfully acquiesces. It is not our prerogative to prescribe to God ; nor, when his will is revealed, should we wish it altered. But our Heavenly Father allows his children to plead with Him for other and larger blessings, than at any time he has promised. This Abraham did. God had made no distinct and special promises to Ishmael, but great and incomprehensible blessings to Isaac. Grateful for these in prospect, Abraham ventures to intercede for blessings for Ishmael. The bestowment of great blessings should lead us humbly to seek for still greater. Blessings bestowed upon one child should not deter parents from soliciting favors for another.
In this connection, it may be observed, that parents, especially those who have large families, are often guilty of a singular and surprising wrong to the grace of God. They seem to apprehend, that if several of their children are converted, it is all they may expect. But why not all? Where is the intimation that some of any family must necessarily perish? Alas! while some, perhaps, of almost every large family do perish, may it not be imputed to this most unwarrantable and mischievous assumption to which we have adverted? The apprehension is indulged, in the first instance, that the grace of God must be limited; and hence, after the conversion of some, prayer and effort are, in a most cruel degree, suspended in relation to the others. This was not the reasoning or the practice of Abraham. He considers the divine liberality, in respect to Isaac, no obstacle to the solicitation of blessings for Ishmael. Let parents who have converted children be indeed grateful ; but let them remember that, notwithstanding this, they may pray for those out of the covenant, as earnestly and importunately, as if none were converted ; nay, they may urge blessings bestowed, as a good argument, why others should follow. This first prayer was immediately answered. “0, that Ish
, mael may live before thee," was the humble supplication of the believing patriarch ; and the prompt reply of a gracious and prayer-hearing God was, As for Ishmael, I have heard thee."
Parents ! do you wish for a higher warrant to pray for your children—for all your children, than is here presented ? The first
prayer recorded in the Bible is that of a parent in behalf of a child : that prayer asked for more blessings than had been promised ; and, finally, that prayer was immediately answered.
The example of Abraham is a beacon-light, which may well guide parents to a God, who hears prayer for children!
(See the Engraving.)
BETHLEHEM is one of those places in sacred history which cannot be mentioned without exciting emotions of intense interest. Here David was born, and spent his early years as a faithful shepherd, until he finally arose to be king over Israel. Here also, Ruth is supposed to have lived, and furnished us the foundation of that beautiful and thrilling narrative recorded in the Bible. But that which gives it its pre-eminence over all other places, is the fact of its being the birth-place of our Saviour. " And thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me, that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been of old, from everlasting.”
Bethlehem has been visited by many modern travelers, who describe its first view as imposing. The following description, by Dr. E. D. Clarke, will be read with interest. “ After traveling about an hour after we left Jerusalem, we came in view of Bethlehem, and halted to enjoy the interesting sight. The town appeared, covering the ridge of a hill, on the southern side of a deep and extensive valley, and reaching from east to west ; the most conspicuous object being the monastery, erected over the cave of the nativity, in the suburbs, and upon the eastern side. The battlements and walls of this building seemed like those of a vast fortress. The Dead Sea below, upon our left, appeared so near to us that we thought we could have rode thither in a very short space of time. Still nearer, stood a mountain upon its west