« AnteriorContinuar »
It has been the fashion of our late innovators in philosophy, who have written some of the most brilliant and popular treatises on education, to decry the practice of early instilling religious knowledge into the minds of children. In vindication of this opinion it has been alleged, that it is of the utmost importance to the cause of truth, that the mind of man should be kept free from prepossessions; and, in particular, that every one should be left to form such judgment on religious subjects as may seem best to his own reason in maturer years.
This sentiment has received some countenance from those better characters who have wished, on the fairest principle, to encourage free enquiry in religion; but it has been pushed to the blamable excess here censured, chiefly by the new philosophers; who, while they profess only an ingenuous zeal for truth, are, in fact, slily endeavouring to destroy Christianity itself, by discountenancing, under the plausible pretence of free enquiry, all attention whatever to the religious education of our youth.
It is undoubtedly our duty, while we are instil
ling principles into the tender mind, to take peculiar care that those principles be sound and just; that the religion we teach be the religion of the Bible, and not the inventions of human error or superstition ; that the principles we infuse into others be such as we ourselves have well scrutinised, and not the result of our credulity or bigotry; nor the mere hereditary, unexamined prejudices of our own undiscerning childhood. It may also be granted, that it is the duty of every parent to inform the youth, that, when his faculties shall have so unfolded themselves as to enable him to examine for himself those principles which the parent now is instilling, it will be his duty so to examine them.
But, after making these concessions, I would most seriously insist that there are certain leading and fundamental truths; that there are certain sentiments on the side of Christianity, as well as of virtue and benevolence, in favour of which every child ought to be prepossessed ; and may it not be also added, that to expect to keep the mind void of all prepossession, even upon any subject, appears to be altogether a vain and impracticable attempt? an attempt, the very suggestion of which argues much ignorance of human nature.
Let it be observed here, that we are not combating the infidel; that we are not producing evidences and arguments in favour of the truth of Christianity, or trying to win over the assent of the reader to that which he disputes; but that we are taking it for granted, not only that Christianity is true, but that we are addressing those who believe
it to be true;-an assumption which has been made throughout this work. Assuming, therefore, that there are religious principles which are true, and which ought to be communicated in the most effectual manner, the next question which arises seems to be, at what age and in what manner these ought to be inculcated ? That it ought to be at an early period we have the command of Christ, who encouragingly said, in answer to those who would have repelled their approach, “Suffer little children to come unto me."
But here conceding, for the sake of argument, what yet cannot be conceded, that some good reasons may be brought in favour of delay; allowing that such impressions as are communicated early may not be very deep; allowing them even to become totally effaced by the subsequent corruptions of the heart and of the world; still I would illustrate the importance of early infusing religious knowledge, by an allusion drawn from the power of early habit in human learning. Put the case, for instance, of a person who was betimes initiated in the rudiments of classical studies. Suppose him, after quitting school, to have fallen, either by a course of idleness or of vulgar pursuits, into a total neglect of study. Should this person, at any future period, happen to be called to some profession, which should oblige him, as we say, to rub up his Greek and Latin, his memory still retaining the unobliterated though faint traces of his early pursuits, he will be able to recover his neglected learning with less difficulty than he could now begin to learn; for he is not again obliged to set out with studying the simple elements; they come back on being pursued; they are found on being searched for; the decayed images assume shape, and strength, and colour ; he has in his mind first principles to which to recur; the rules of grammar which he has allowed himself to violate, he has not, however, forgotten; he will recall neglected ideas, he will resume slighted habits far more easily than he could now begin to acquire new ones. I appeal to clergymen who are called to attend the dying beds of such as have been bred in gross and stupid ignorance of religion, for the justness of this comparison. Do they not find that these unhappy people have no ideas in common with them ? that they therefore possess no intelligible medium by which to make themselves understood ? that the persons to whom they are addressing themselves have no first principles to which they can be referred ? that they are ignorant not only of the science but the language of Christianity ?
But at worst, whatever be the event of a pious education to the child, though in general we are encouraged from the tenor of Scripture and the course of experience, to hope that the event will be favourable, and that " when he is old he will not depart from it,” is it nothing for the parent to have acquitted himself of this prime duty ? Is it nothing to him that he has obeyed the plain command of “ training his child in the way he should go?” And will not the parent who so acquits himself, with better reason and more lively hope, supplicate the Father of mercies for the reclaiming of a prodigal, who has wandered out of that right path in which he has set him forward, than for the conversion of a neglected creature, to whose feet the Gospel had never been offered as a light? And how different will be the dying reflections even of that parent whose earnest endeavours have been unhappily defeated by the subsequent and voluntary perversion of his child, from his who will reasonably aggravate his pangs, by transferring the sins of his neglected child to the number of his own transgressions ?
And to such well-intentioned but ill-judging parents as really wish their children to be hereafter pious, but erroneously withhold instruction till the more advanced period prescribed by the great master of splendid paradoxes * shall arrive; who can assure them, that while they are withholding the good seed, the great and ever vigilant enemy, who assiduously seizes hold on every opportunity which we slight, and cultivates every advantage which we neglect, may not be stocking the fallow ground with tares? Nay, who in this fluctuating scene of things can be assured, even if this were not certainly to be the case, that to them the promised period ever shall arrive at all ? Who shall ascertain to them that their now neglected child shall certainly live to receive the delayed instruction ? Who can assure them that they themselves will live to communicate it ? It is almost needless to observe that parents