BEING desirous, according to my duty, to promote the salvation of those souls which the Providence of God hath, in a particular manner, committed to my care; and being sensible, that this great work can be no otherwise effected, than by advancing the interest and power of religion in the hearts and lives of men; give me leave to suggest to you, my fellow-labourers in the Lord, some few methods, which I conceive may be of admirable use to this purpose; which, if we are so happy as to accomplish, will greatly tend to the increase of piety and virtue in my diocese, and enable us all to give up our accounts at the last great day, when we shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, with joy, and not with grief.
The first thing, therefore, that I would recommend to you, and which I do earnestly exhort to you, is, To apply yourselves with great diligence, to establish the practice of Family-Devotion in all the families of your respective parishes. I need not prove to you what is so very manifest, that nothing helpeth more to keep up a sense of religion in the minds of men, than a serious, reverent, and constant performance of this necessary duty; whereby both the glory of God is much advanced, and many blessings do also accrue to those, who, in this manner, daily adore and praise their great Creator, the lover of souls. But in order to this purpose, I must, with some warmth, beseech you to make a particular application to every housekeeper in your several parishes, and to endeavour to convince them, if need be, how much it is their interest, as well as duty, to worship God daily in their families; since it is not only the properest expression of their own piety, but the likeliest method to make their children and servants obedient and faithful: and I would farther advise you to second your exhortations of this kind, with recommending to them some small books, which explain and press this duty, and lay down forms for the performance of it. I am assured, that there are several books of this kind to be purchased at very easy rates; and I could wish, that your own abilities, or the assistance of some charitable and well disposed neighbour, might lodge these gratis, in the families of the poorer sort; though if you procure a sufficient number of such books, it is not to be doubted, but that, when your parishioners think them necessary, they will readily pay for the same, the price being so very inconsiderable.
These your exhortations, and procuring books to that purpose, being backed with your frequent and repeated admonitions, will, I hope, by the assistance of Divine Grace, bring all your parishioners to the constant and serious practice of Family-Prayer; especially if you represent unto them at the same time, the great importance of exercising this duty, not only as it relates to the propagating of true piety and religion in the present age, but also as it tends to the securing of them in all future ages. For the example of parents and masters will, in all probability, make such deep impressions upon the minds of their children and servants, as to excite them to an imitation of their practice, whenever they shall themselves become masters of families: And so then this duty will not only be observed in their families at present, but probably also in all those families that shall descend and issue from them for ever.
And to make this exercise of family devotion still more useful, you must farther exhort them, when they have leisure, as they often have on Winter evenings, especially on Sundays, to introduce their family prayers with reading some portions of holy scripture, and of other pious and religious books, proper to instruct and persuade them to the diligent discharge of all christian virtues.
And since it is matter of great grief and sorrow to all those who unfeignedly labour in the gospel, and are intrusted with the care of precious and immortal souls, to observe in their several parishes the habitual neglect of this duty, upon the constant use whereof, the spiritual welfare of their parishioners doth so much depend; I cannot forbear solemnly charging you to exert yourselves with more than ordinary zeal in this matter; that so this affair, of such great consequence to the good of souls, may in your several parishes be brought to its wished-for and desired perfection.
The second thing I shall recommend and earnestly exhort you to, as of singular use towards promoting religion in a wicked and degenerate age, is, To endeavour the erecting Charity-Schools in your several parishes; wherein the children of the poor may be taught to read and write, and to repeat our excellent church catechism, and to understand the principles of our holy religion, which are so necessary to their eternal salvation; and whereby they may be fitted to receive farther instructions from those discourses you shall from time to time make to them from the pulpit. It is not to be doubted but that a great part of that profaneness and debauchery which prevails among the poorer sort, is very much owing to that gross ignorance of religion which abounds among them: now what remedy so proper to prevent this fatal mischief, as the christian education of poor children under strict discipline? And this ought the rather to be attempted, because I am informed many poor people in this diocese are very desirous that their children should receive the benefit of such an education, though they are not able to be at the charge of procuring it for them.
This I do the more heartily recommend to you, because it hath already been blessed by the gracious Providence of God, with great success in many other parts of the kingdom, especially in and about the cities of London and Westminster; where there are not only great numbers of children instructed gratis, in the principles of the christian religion, but are also placed out to several occupations, and by degrees made useful members of the commonwealth. And indeed I hardly know any charity that is attended with greater advantages to the souls and bodies of poor creatures, than this which I now recommend to you.
In order to this purpose, I beseech you to apply yourselves to such of your parishioners as are willing to contribute towards carrying on this very good work, and who are able by their subscriptions to answer the necessary expence which attends it. Lead them by your own example, and upon this occasion do not fail to throw your mite into the treasury. Neither you nor they, I am satisfied, will ever be able to employ your alms better, nor direct your charity to nobler purposes. As to the methods of erecting and governing these charity-schools, they are laid down with so much judgment and exactness, in the Account of Charity-Schools, that is annually printed at London, and distributed all over the kingdom, that I shall suggest nothing to you upon that head, but desire you to consult that account, and seriously peruse it for your farther direction.
And since I am upon the subject of instructing children, I desire you to signify to all Schoolmasters, within your several parishes, that they take care to use prayers in their schools, morning and evening; and that they not only instruct their scholars in the church catechism, but also teach them short prayers for their private use, obliging them never to omit repeating them morning and evening. And I desire you to enquire frequently, how the Schoolmasters of your several parishes discharge these above-mentioned duties; it being of the greatest consequence to the welfare both of the church and the state, that all children should be religiously and piously educated. And therefore I require you, from time to time, to signify to me the names of such Schoolmasters, as after your repeated admonition shall neglect this duty, as to the aforesaid particulars, that their licenses may be revoked, and that they may be declared for the future incapable of so great a trust.
A third thing that I shall recommend to you, as very useful towards propagating christian knowledge, is, To endeavour to dispose all parents that are of ability, in your several parishes, to supply each of their children, before they marry, or are otherwise settled in the world, with a small library, containing books of practical divinity, to the value or three, four, or five pounds, fixed in a little press with shelves proper for that purpose. This will make any portion, that parents are able to bestow upon their children, a true blessing; and indeed is a very valuable present, since it tends so directly to provide for the welfare of their immortal souls. And, to render this most effectual, they ought to injoin their children, at the same time they make them this present of books, to read them often and seriously, and to keep them with care and safety during their lives, and then to leave them in the same good condition to their posterity; by which means the knowledge of religion may be propagated from age to age in all future generations.
I need not suggest to you the advantages that will arise from your success in this matter; they appear at first sight, and a little consideration will make them familiar to you. And, that the poor may be brought to give their attendance in the house of God, I conceive it may be very proper for you to persuade the gentlemen, and other persons of ability, within your several parishes, who usually, on Sundays, relieve the poor at their own doors, to confine that charity to such as have that day been at church; and, if it may be convenient, even to give their alms at the church doors. This method will, in all probability, excite the poor to diligence, in attending the public worship of God.
I shall conclude this long letter, with praying to God, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift, that he would enable you, by his grace, to perform what I have recommended to you, as tending very much to the honour and service of our great Master; and that he would be pleased to bless your sincere endeavours with success; And, at the same time, I do assure you, that I am,
My dear Brethren,
Your most affectionate Brother,
And humble Servant,
GEORGE ST DAVID'S.