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At a period like the present, when so many excellent literary works are daily offered to the public; when the world abounds with various publications in almost every species of composition, flowing from the pens of the most celebrated authors, it may, perhaps, be considered unnecessary to increase the number by any additional publication. Divinity is a subject which has peculiarly attracted the attention, and engaged the talents of numerous deeply learned men; and the study of the Divine attributes, as set forth in the inspired Word of the Creator, has occupied the pens, and roused the exertions of numberless authors, laymen as well as clergymen. Hence those deep and elaborate productions which the Spirit of God directed should be composed, to silence the malice of the scoffer, and remove the doubts of the sceptic. Hence those various works on experimental religion, which, by teaching mankind the nature of vital Christianity, and by pointing out to them its excellence, are admirably calculated, aided by the influence of the Holy Spirit upon our hearts, (without which, it must be confessed, all our reading can tend to no spiritual profit,) to incline mankind to view Religion in a new light, and to see and feel “that her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.”
It is not one of the least important characteristics of the present age, that the works published on various subjects, but more particularly on Divinity, have lost that disheartening obscurity and that scholastic gloom which almost universally pervaded the compositions of former ages. A new æra has dawned on the literary world, and the press is now continually sending forth publications divested of all technical phraseology, and the more eagerly sought after by mankind, because they are more easily understood.The books on various subjects, which are now put into the hands of children, whose tender minds are so susceptible of either good or bad impressions, but by nature so fatally inclined to the latter, bear ample and convincing testimony to the truth of these observations ; and we may well congratulate the present generation upon the important change which has taken place in the education of youth, when, instead of feeding the infant imagination with foolish and absurd stories, or any other useless legendary fictions, moral and improving histories are put into their hands, from which they may derive important instruction, and thus be directed in their future walk through life. A vein of religion runs through the generality of those modern books, which is admirably calculated to impress upon the tender mind the necessity, that all its actions should flow from a principle of love and gratitude to the munificent Creator and Redeemer of the universe.
Such are the works from which children in the present day derive their first instructions ; nor can we be surprised
if the rising generation, with such advantages, should surpass their predecessors, both in the doctrinal and practical duties of religion. The truly Christian exertions of numerous Societies for the diffusion of the Holy Scriptures increase this thirst for divine nourishment, and fan the flame of pure religion, which at present (blessed be God) is making a rapid progress through the entire kingdom. The increased exertions of the Clergy in the various duties of their profession, but more particularly in their attention to the instruction of their parochial children, promise the most beneficial results, and the catechising of the children is not now confined to a mere cold and uninteresting explanation of the Church Catechism, but takes a more comprehensive range, and presents to their view the interesting history of God's creation and government of the world, and the life and doctrines of the Saviour of mankind. The child's attention is fully occupied ; he reads with delight of the wonders of his Maker's power; he reads with animation of the moving testimonies of his love contained in the Scriptures ; he reads with awakened interest of the rewards promised to the righteous, and of the punishments denounced against the guilty. These instructions come more forcibly to the hearts, both of young and old, when we hear them proceeding from the lips of a Saviour; one, who, we are taught from his Holy Word to know, “wills not the death of any of his sinful creatures ;" but, in the advice which he has given us is solely actuated for our good. It is to forward these increased exertions to promote Christian instruction, that this little work on the Gospels is submitted to those who cannot have recourse to large and learned commentaries on the Bible. The plan of question and answer has been adopted in preference to any other, in consequence of those scriptural examinations which are now every where held, and particularly since the interrogatory method of instruction is at present so universally used, and has been found to comprehend every possible advantage which the other systems possess, and at the same time enables the pupil to learn with greater facility. Being employed in a cure of souls, in which about 150 children were to be catechised, I soon discovered that some explanation on the subject was absolutely necessary to assist the laudable exertions of the anxious, though perhaps uninstructed parents, in preparing their children for the catechetical examination in church; and with this intention I determined to publish the following pages, which had been originally designed solely for my own private use. Being unable to discover any work between those elementary questions on the Gospel, which are merely calculated for very young children, and those large and voluminous commentaries on the Bible, which are too abstruse, and too learned for common use, and more especially for promoting the instruction of children, I was taught to believe that a work of this description, raised above the trifling questions contained in some small publications which I have met with, and, at the same time, beneath those learned commentaries, and more suited to the capacities of the generality of Readers, was still a desideratum ; and I am confident that such a work, judiciously arranged in questions and answers, would be attended with the most beneficial effects.