Page images
PDF
EPUB

adverse to Christianity and to Christian dispositions. They set up, as exalted virtues, that which our own religion never countenanced, if it has not specifically condemned. They censure as faults, dispositions which our own religion enjoins, or dispositions so similar that the young will not discriminate between them. If we enthusiastically admire these works, who will pretend that we shall not admire the moral qualities which they applaud? Who will pretend that the mind of a young person accurately adjusts his admiration to those subjects only which Christianity approves? No: we admire them as a whole; not perhaps every sentence or every sentiment, but we admire their general spirit and character. In a word, we admire that which our own religion teaches us not to imitate. And what makes the effect the more intense is, that we do this at the period of life when we are every day acquiring our moral notions. We mingle them up with our early associations respecting right and wrong-with associations which commonly extend their influence over the remainder of life.* A very able essay,

which obtained the Norrisian medal at Cambridge for 1825, forcibly illustrates these propositions; and the illustration is so much the more valuable because it appears to have been undesigned. The title is, “ No valid argument can be drawn from the incredulity of the heathen philosophers, against the truth of the Christian religion.”+ The object of the work is to show, by a reference to their writings, that the general system of their opinions, feelings, prejudices, principles, and conduct was utterly incongruous with Christianity; and that, in consequence of these principles, &c., they actually did reject the religion. This is shown with great clearness of evidence: it is shown that a class of men who thought and wrote as these philosophers thought and wrote, would be extremely indisposed to adopt the religion and morality which Christ had introduced. Now this appears to me to be conclusive of the question as to the present tendency of their writings. If the principles and prejudices of these persons indisposed them to the acceptance of Christianity, those prejudices and principles will indispose the man who admires and imbibes them in the present day. Not that they will now produce the effect in the same degree. We are now surrounded with many other media by which opinions and principles are induced, and these are frequently influenced by the spirit of Christianity. The study and the admiration of these writings may not therefore be expected to make men absolutely reject Christianity, but to indispose them, in a greater or less degree, for the hearty acceptance of Christian principles as their rules of conduct.

Propositions have been made to supply young persons with selected ancient authors, or perhaps with editions in which exceptionable passages are expunged. I do not think that this will greatly avail. It is not, I think, the broad indecencies of Ovid, nor any other insulated class of sentiments or descriptions that effects the great mischief; it is the pervading spirit and tenor of the whole,-a spirit and tenor from which Christianity is not only excluded, but

. 'All education which inculcates Christian opinions with pagan tastes, awakens conscience but to tamper with it.' Schimmelpenninck: Biblical Fragments.

+ By James Amiraus Jeremie.

which is actually and greatly adverse to Christianity. There is indeed ope considerable benefit that is likely to result from such a selection, and from expunging particular passages. Boys in ordinary schools do not learn enough of the classics to acquire much of their general moral spirit, but they acquire enough to be influenced, and injuriously influenced, by being familiar with licentious language: and at any rate he essentially subserves the interests of morality who diminishes the power of opposing influences, though he cannot wholly destroy it.

Finally, the mode in which intellectual education, generally, is acquired, may be made either an auxiliary of moral education or the contrary. A young person may store his mind with literature and science, and together with the acquisition, either corrupt his principles or amend and invigorate them. The world is so abundantly supplied with the means of knowledge—there are so many paths to the desired temple, that we may choose our own and yet arrive at it. He that thinks he cannot possess sufficient knowledge without plucking the fruit of unhallowed trees, surely does not know how boundless is the variety and number of those which bear wholesome fruit. He cannot indeed know every thing without studying the bad: which, however, is no more to be recommended in literature than in life. A man cannot know all the varieties of human society, without taking up his abode with felons and cannibals.

II. But in reality, the second division of moral education is the more important of the two,—the supply of motives to adhere to what is right. Our great deficiency is not in knowledge, but in obedience. Of the offences which an individual commits against the moral law, the great majority are committed in the consciousness that he is doing wrong. Moral education, therefore, should be directed not so much to informing the young what they ought to do, as to inducing those moral dispositions and principles which will make them adhere to what they know to be right.

The human mind, of itself, is in a state something like that of men in a state of nature, where separate and conflicting desires and

motives are not restrained by any acknowledged head. Govern• ment, as it is necessary to society, is necessary in the individual

mind. To the internal community of the heart the great question is, Who shall be the legislator? who shall regulate and restrain the passions and affections? who shall command and direct the conduct ?—To these questions the breast of every man supplies him with an answer. He knows, because he feels, that there is a rightful legislator in his own heart: he knows, because he feels, that he ought to obey it.

By whatever designation the reader may think it fit to indicate this legislator, whether he calls it the law written in the heart, or moral sense, or moral instinct, or conscience, we arrive at one practical truth at last ; that to the moral legislation which does actually subsist in the human mind, it is right that the individual should conform his conduct.

The great point then is, to induce him to do this,-to induce him, when inclination and this law are at variance, to sacrifice the inclination to the law: and for this purpose it appears proper, first, to impress him with a high, that is with an accurate, estimate of the authority of the law itself. · We have seen that this law embraces an actual expression of the will of God; and we have seen that even although the conscience may not always be adequately enlightened, it nevertheless constitutes, to the individual, an authoritative law. It is to the conscientious internal apprehension of rectitude that we should conform our conduct. Such appears to be the will of God.

It should therefore be especially inculcated, that the dictate of conscience is never to be sacrificed; that whatever may be the consequences of conforming to it, they are to be ventured. Obedience is to be unconditional,--no questions about the utility of the law,no computations of the consequences of obedience, no presuming upon the lenity of the Divine government. It is important so to regulate the understanding and imagination of the young, that they may be prepared to obey, even where they do not see the reasons of the commands of God. We should certainly endeavor, where we can, to show them the reasons of the Divine commands, and this more and more as their understandings gain strength ; but let it be obvious to them that we do ourselves consider it as quite sufficient if God has commanded us to do or to avoid any thing.'*

Obedience to this internal legislator is not, like obedience to civil government, enforced. The law is promulgated, but the passions and inclinations can refuse obedience if they will. Penalties and rewards are indeed annexed, but he who braves the penalty and disregards the reward may continue to violate the law. Obedience therefore must be voluntary, and hence the paramount importance, in moral education, of habitually subjecting the will. "Parents,' says Hartley, should labor from the earliest dawnings of understanding and desire, to check the growing obstinacy of the will, curb all sallies of passion, impress the deepest, most amiable, reverential, and awful impressions of God, a future state, and all sacred things.' Religious persons in all periods, who have possessed the light of revelation, have, in a particular manner, been sensible that the habit of self-control lies at the foundation of moral worth.'t There is nothing mean or mean-spirited in this. It is magnanimous in philosophy, as it is right in morals. It is the subjugation of the lower qualities of our nature to wisdom and to goodness.

The subjugation of the will to the dictates of a higher law must be endeavored, if we would succeed, almost in infancy and in very little things; from the earliest dawnings, as Hartley says, of understanding and desire. Children must first obey their parents and those who have the care of them. The habit of sacrificing the will to another judgment being thus acquired, the mind is prepared to sacrifice the will to the judgment pronounced within itself. Show, in every practicable case, why you cross the inclinations of a child. Let obedience be as little blind as it may be. It is a great failing of some parents that they will not descend from the imperative mood, and that they seem to think it a derogation from their authority to place their orders upon any other foundation than their wills. But if the child sees-and children are wonderfully quick-sighted in such things—if the child sees that the will is that which governs his

* Carpenter: Principles of Education.

Ibid.

parent, how shall he efficiently learn that the will should not govern himself?

The internal law carries with it the voucher of its own reasonableness. A person does not need to be told that it is proper and right to obey that law. The perception of this rectitude and propriety is coincident with the dictates themselves. Let the parent, then, very frequently refer his son and his daughter to their own minds; let him teach them to seek for instruction there. There are dangers on every hand, and dangers even here. The parent must refer them, if it be possible, not merely to conscience, but to enlightened conscience. He must unite the two branches of moral education, and communicate the knowledge while he endeavours to induce the practice of morality. Without this, his children may obey their consciences, and yet be in error and perhaps in fanaticism. With it, he may hope that their conduct will be both conscientious, and pure, and right. Nevertheless, an habitual reference to the internal law is the great, the primary concern; for the great majority of a man's moral perceptions are accordant with truth.

There is one consequence attendant upon this habitual reference to the internal law which is highly beneficial to the moral character. It leads us to fulfil the wise instruction of antiquity, Know thyself. It makes us look within ourselves; it brings us acquainted with the little and busy world that is within us, with its many inhabitants and their dispositions, and with their tendencies to evil or to good. This is valuable knowledge ; and knowledge for want of which, it may be feared, the virtue of many has been wrecked in the hour of tempest. A man's enemies are those of his own household ; and if he does not know their insidiousness and their strength, if he does not know upon what to depend for assistance, nor where is the probable point of attack, it is not likely that he will efficiently resist. Such a man is in the situation of the governor of an unprepared and surprised city. He knows not to whom to apply for effectual help, and finds perhaps that those whom he has loved and trusted are the first to desert or betray him. He feebly resists, soon capitulates, and at last scarcely knows why he did not make a suc. cessful defence.

It is to be regretted that, in the moral education which commonly obtains, whether formal or incidental, there is little that is calculated to produce this acquaintance with our own minds; little that refers us to ourselves, and much, very much, that calls and sends us away. Of many it is not too much to say that they receive almost no moral culture. The plant of virtue is suffered to grow as a tree grows in a forest, and takes its chance of storm or sunshine. This, which is good for oaks and pines, is not good for man. The general atmosphere around him is infected, and the juices of the moral plant are often themselves unhealthy.

In the nursery, formularies and creeds are taught; but this does not refer the child to its own mind. Indeed, unless a wakeful solicitude is maintained by those who teach, the tendency is the reverse. The mind is kept from habits of introversion, even in the offices of religion, by practically directing its attention to the tongue. 'Many, it is to be feared, imagine that they are giving their children religious

Vol. VII.-April, 1836. 24

principles when they are only teaching them religious truths.' You cannot impart moral education as you teach a child to spell.

From the nursery a boy is sent to school. He spends six or eight hours of the day in the school room, and the remainder is employed in the sports of boyhood. Once, or it may be twice, in the day he repeats a form of prayer; and on one day in the week he goes to church. There is very little in all this to make him acquainted with the internal community; and habit, if nothing else, calls his reflections away.

From school or from college the business of life is begun. It can require no argument to show that the ordinary pursuits of life have little tendency to direct a man's meditations to the moral condition of his own mind, or that they have much tendency to employ them upon other and very different things.

Nay, even the offices of public devotion have almost a tendency to keep the mind without itself. What if we say that the self-contemplation which even natural religion is likely to produce, is obstructed by the forms of Christian worship? "The transitions from one office of devotion to another, are contrived like scenes in the drama, to supply the mind with a succession of diversified engagements.** This supply of diversified engagements, whatever may be its value in other respects, has evidently the tendency of which we speak. It is not designed to supply, and it does not supply, the opportunity for calmness of recollection. A man must abstract himself from the external service if he would investigate the character and dispositions of the inmates of his own breast. Even the architecture and decorations of churches come in aid of the general tendency. They make the eye an auxiliary of the ear, and both keep the mind at a distance from those concerns which are peculiarly its own; from contemplating its own weaknesses and wants; and from applying to God for that peculiar help which perhaps itself only needs, and which God only can impart. So little are the course of education and the subsequent engagements of life calculated to foster this great auxiliary of moral character. It is difficult, in the wide world, to foster it as much as is needful. Nothing but wakeful solicitude on the part of the parent can be expected sufficiently to direct the mind within, while the general tendency of our associations and habits is to keep it without. Let him, however, do what he can. The habitual reference to the dictates of conscience may be promoted in the very young mind. This habit, like others, becomes strong by exercise. He that is faithful in little things is entrusted with more; and this is true in respect of knowledge as in respect of other departments of the Christian life. Fidelity of obedience is commonly succeeded by increase of light, and every act of obedience and every addition to knowledge furnishes new and still stronger inducements to persevere in the same course. Acquaintance with ourselves is the inseparable attendant

* Paley, p. 3, b. 5, c. 5.

† The author does not mean to insinuate any disrespect for the offices of public devotion, which he elsewhere commends in strong and vigorous terms, but only to show the necessity of an intense application to the single point of retired self-contemplation, into a neglect of which all external objects of interess have a tendency almost insensibly to betray us.---Eps.

« PreviousContinue »