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SERMONS FOR CHILDREN,
"He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."—Matt. xi. 15.
You have, probably, my dear young friends, this day been at church. If so, let me beg of you to ask yourselves whether, while you were there, you gave your attention to the religious duty in which you were engaged. Perhaps you did not, any of you, think seriously of that duty: perhaps you only thought that you attended divine service because it is the custom to do so, or merely out of form. Or perhaps you thought yourselves too young to take any part in the service itself; and that, as long as you conducted yourselves quietly, and knelt,
and stood, and sat, as others did, nothing more was required of you, and that, though you were in church, you might suffer your minds to wander amongst your own frivolous thoughts. This is, indeed, thinking like a child. But there is a time to leave off childish things. You all know that the intention with which you ought to go to church is to show your reverence to your Almighty Father, who has commanded us to fall down and worship him, to intreat him to pardon our past faults, to implore his aid to protect us from sin for the future, and to pray for his mercies and blessings. We have all of us need to pray for all these things; and we may almost say that the helplessness and inexperience of childen make them more especially dependent on God's care. You must all of you endeavour to make yourselves worthy of his care; and, to do this, you must have a real desire to do your duty. You must also pray earnestly and humbly to him for help to improve your understandings, and to give you teachable hearts, that you may learn his will and obey it.
As a first step to this great end, let me exhort you to pay a diligent attention to the service of the church, that service which you have this day been joining in.
You may think, perhaps, that a great deal of it, and particularly the sermon, is beyond your comprehensions, and intended for older heads than yours. And so, perhaps, some portion of it may be. But this is no reason why you should set your thoughts at liberty, and let them freely range upon other subjects than those before you. There is no part of the service, there will probably be no part of the sermon, of which the youngest and most uninformed amongst you may not understand, if not all, yet much, if you do but give your attention to it. The sense of what at first appears difficult, will, with a little effort, become easy; and the more attention you give, the more will both your understandings and your hearts be improved. Besides this, also, the habit of inattention will, if you indulge it, be apt to grow upon you, till you lose even the power itself of attending to anything which is not silly or trifling. This ill habit, when
once acquired, proves a great misfortune, is a fault which it is very hard to cure, and is often the cause of bitter regrets in after-life. Must it not therefore be very wrong to suffer it once to gain the mastery over you, and particularly, since, by a little exertion of mind, you may always check it in its beginning?
I will confess that it is often difficult, even for grown up persons, to keep their attention steadily fixed during the whole time of being in church. The best and most earnest Christian will sometimes find the cares of this life share but too much of that time in which he ought to be thinking of the life to come. And even if there be no particular care which presses heavily on him, still some slight interruption, some unbidden recollection, some trifling fancy, will rush into his mind, and turn the current of his thoughts from the solemn duty in which he is employed to worldly subjects. Whenever we are sensible of this wandering of our thoughts, our best course is to call them back in all haste, and to apply our minds earnestly to whatever part
of the service may be going on at the time. If we attempt to turn them to recollect where it was that they began to stray, we shall increase the hazard of their wandering again. And this advice is not mine, but that of the wise and excellent Archbishop Secker in a sermon on the subject of inattention at church.
I have already allowed that there may be some parts of the service, which it is hard for a child fully to understand. But of the prayers, in particular, this cannot be said. There is hardly a single prayer in which you are called on to join, in which the understanding of even young children may not accompany the minister, and which they may not apply expressly to themselves.
I will endeavour in my next sermon to point out to you some of those particular passages of the morning service of the church, which you may apply to yourselves most easily and most wisely, and to furnish to you some short explanations respecting it. If I can so speak to your understandings as I wish, and hope to do, on this subject, I trust,