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CHARITY THE DEBT OF THE RICH TO THE POOR. 109
would vanish. They must then labor for themselves, and do for themselves those menial offices which are now done for them by others. But, happily for us all, there is such a foundation laid in the course of nature and the order of Providence, for that inequality in the conditions of men, which has so excellent an effect in binding us all together, in making our connexion both necessary and mutually advantageous, that no institutions of man can destroy it; though, as we are in duty bound, we may lessen the evils that necessarily arise from it.
!i•i |1 I II I
THE OBJECTS OF EDUCATION.
The general object of education is evidently to qualify men to appear to advantage in future life; which can only be done by communicating to them such knowledge, and leading them to form such habits, as will lead them to be most useful hereafter: and in this the whole of their future being, to which their education can be supposed to bear any relation, is to be considered.
If I knew that my child would die when he had attained to the age of five or six years, and that his existence would then terminate; I should certainly make no provision respecting him for any thing beyond that term, but endeavour to make him as happy as I could during the short period in which he could enjoy any thing. I would, for the same reason, provide for him only such gratifications as his infant nature was capable of.
Again, if I knew that he would attain to the age of manhood, but that then his existence would not be prolonged any farther; I should endeavour, as well as I could, to qualify him for acting such a part as would be useful to himself and others in that period, but should never think of extending my plan so far as to enable him to pass a comfortable old age, a term of life to which I knew he never would arrive.
For the same plain reason, a man who believes that the whole period of his own existence, and that of his offspring, is confined to the present life, would act very absurdly if he should train up his children with a view to a future life, except so far as he should think that such a farther, though a chimerical, object, might be subservient to his proper conduct in the present life.
These are obvious considerations, which ought to have their weight with all rational beings; and according to them, the mere man of the world must allow, that a Christian, — who, as such, believes that himself and his offspring are destined to exist in a future life, and that the principles and habits that we form here have a decisive influence on our happiness hereafter, — would act irrationally, if he did not use his utmost endeavours to give his children such principles and habits, as would secure to them an interest in a future world. Such a regard to the principles of truth, of right, and of virtue, as would lead a man to be a martyr to them, would be absurd in an unbeliever; because he would sacrifice his all for no real advantage; but it would be most wise, and therefore right, in a Christian, who believes that such a glorious sacrifice, and the disposition of mind that leads to it, would secure him an everlasting recompence in a future state. Moreover, since a Christian regards this life, principally, as it is subservient to another, which is of infinitely more value, he must consider the duties of religion as the first thing to be attended to by him, and must be taught to disregard all authority that would enjoin upon him a conduct which would be detrimental to his greatest and ultimate interest; because he will gain more by his steadiness in his regard to a higher authority, than he can lose by opposing an inferior power.
The first thing, therefore, that a Christian will naturally inculcate upon his child, as soon as he is capable of receiving such impressions, is the knowledge of his Maker, and a steady principle of obedience to him; the idea of his living under the constant inspection and government of an invisible Being, who will raise him from the dead to an immortal life, and who will reward and punish him hereafter according to his character and actions here.
On these plain principles I hesitate not to assert, as a Christian, that religion is the first rational object of education. Whatever be the fate of my children in this transitory world, about which I hope I am as solicitous as I ought to be, I would, if possible, secure a happy meeting with them in a future and everlasting life. I can well enough bear their reproaches for not enabling them to attain to worldly honors and distinctions; but to have been in any measure accessary, by my neglect, to their final perdition, would be the occasion of such reproach and blame, as would be absolutely insupportable.
OF INSTRUCTION IN THE PRINCIPLES OF MORALS AND RELIGION.
It has been a maxim hastily adopted, and with great plausibility supported, by some men of genius, that nothing should be inculcated upon children which they cannot perfectly understand and see the reason of. But, in fact, it has not been applied to any subject but that of religion, the doctrines of which are said to be too abstruse for their comprehension. Had the application of the maxim been made universal, the absurdity and impracticability of it could not but have been immediately perceived. In reality, we act upon the very contrary maxim in every thing that respects children, especially very young children; and there is not, in the nature of things, a possibility of doing otherwise. Thus the ear of a child is accustomed to the sounds of all kinds of words long before he can possibly have any idea of their meaning.
It is upon this plan that the great business of education at large is conducted by Divine Providence. Appearances are continually presented to our view long before we are able to decypher them or to collect and apply the instruction which they are adapted to give us; and the gradual decyphering of appearances, which we have long contemplated without understanding, contributes considerably to the pleasure of the discovery, and enhances the value and use of it. It is the same with children when they decypher our language; and they are enabled to do it by the very same process, namely, comparing the different circumstances in which we use the same expression.