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ON THE MANNER OF INSTRUCTING YOUNG PERSONS
IN RELIGION. -GENERAL REMARKS ON THE GENIUS
I would now with great deference address those respectable characters who are really concerned about the best interests of their children; those to whom Christianity is indeed an important consideration, but whose habits of life have hitherto hindered them from giving it its due degree in the scale of education.
Begin, then, with considering that religion is a part, and the most prominent part, in your system of instruction. Do not communicate its principles in a random desultory way; nor scantily stint this business to only such scraps and remnants of time as may be casually picked up from the gleanings of other acquirements. “Will you bring to God for a sacrifice that which costs you nothing ?” Let the best part of the day, which with most people is the earliest part, be steadily and invariably dedicated to this work by your children, before they are tired with their other studies, while the intellect is clear, the spirits light, and the attention sharp and unfatigued.
Confine not your instructions to mere verbal rituals and dry systems; but communicate them in a way which shall interest their feelings, by lively images, and by a warm practical application of what they read to their own hearts and circumstances. If you do not study the great but too much slighted art of fixing, of commanding, of chaining the attention, you may throw away much time and labour, with little other effect than that of disgusting your pupil and wearying yourself. There seems to be no good reason that while every other thing is to be made amusing, religion alone must be dry and uninviting. Do not fancy that a thing is good merely because it is dull. Why should not the most entertaining powers of the human mind be supremely consecrated to that subject which is most worthy of their full exercise ? The misfortune is, that religious learning is too often rather considered as an act of the memory than of the heart and affections; as a dry duty, rather than a lively pleasure. The manner in which it is taught differs as much from their other learning as punishment from recreation. Children are turned over to the dull work of getting by rote as a task that which they should get from example, from animated conversation, from lively discussion, in which the pupil should learn to bear a part, instead of being merely a passive hearer. Teach them rather, as their blessed Saviour taught, by interesting parables, which, while they corrected the heart, left some exercise for the ingenuity in the solution, and for the feelings in their application. Teach, as He taught, by seizing on surrounding objects, passing events, local circumstances, peculiar characters, apt allusions, just analogy, appropriate illustration. Call in all creation, animate and inanimate, to your aid, and accustom your young audience to
“ Find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing."
Even when the nature of your subject makes it necessary for you to be more plain and didactic, do not fail frequently to enliven these less engaging parts of your discourse with some incidental imagery, which will captivate the fancy; with some affecting story with which it shall be associated in the memory. Relieve what would otherwise be too dry and preceptive with some striking exemplification in point, some touching instance to be imitated, some awful warning to be avoided; something which shall illustrate your instruction, which shall realise your position; which shall embody your idea, and give shape and form, and colour and life to your precept. Endeavour unremittingly to connect the reader with the subject, by making her feel that what you teach is neither an abstract truth nor a thing of mere general information, but that it is a business in which she herself is individually and immediately concerned ; in which not only her eternal salvation but her present happiness is involved. Do, according to your measure of ability, what the Holy Spirit which dictated the Scriptures has done; always take the sensibility of the learner into your account of the faculties which are to be worked upon. “For the doctrines of the Bible," as the profound and enlightened Bacon observes, “ are not proposed to us in a naked logical form, but arrayed in the most beautiful and striking colours which creation affords."
By those affecting illustrations used by Him 66 who knew what was in man,” and therefore best knew how to address him, it was that the unlettered audiences of Christ and his apostles were enabled both to comprehend and to relish doctrines, which would not readily have made their way to their understandings, had they not first touched their hearts; and which would have found access to neither the one nor the other, had they been delivered in dry scholastic disquisitions. Now, those audiences not being learned, may be supposed to have been nearly in the state of children, as to their receptive faculties, and to have required nearly the same sort of instruction; that is, they were more capable of being moved with what was simple, and touching, and lively, than what was elaborate, abstruse, and unaffecting. Heaven and earth were made to furnish their contributions, when man was to be taught that science which was to make him wise unto salvation. Something which might enforce or illustrate was borrowed from every element. The appearances of the sky, the storms of the ocean, the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, the fruits of the earth, the seed and the harvest, the labours of the husbandman, the traffic of the merchant, the seasons of the year! - all were laid hold of in turn;
and the most important moral instruction, or religious truth, was deduced from some recent occurrence, some natural appearance, some ordinary fact.
If that be the purest eloquence which most persuades, and which comes home to the heart with the fullest evidence and the most irresistible force, then no eloquence is so powerful as that of Scripture; and an intelligent Christian teacher will be admonished by the mode of Scripture itself, how to communicate its truths with life and spirit; 66 while he is musing, the fire burns:” that fire which will preserve him from an insipid and freezing mode of instruction. He will, moreover, as was said above, always carefully keep up a quick sense of the personal interest the pupil has in every religious instruction which is impressed upon him. He will teach as Paul prayed, “ with the spirit, and with the understanding also ;" and, in imitating this great model, he will necessarily avoid the opposite faults of two different sorts of instructors; for while some of our divines of the higher class have been too apt to preach as if mankind had only intellect, and the lower and more popular sort as if they had only passions, let him borrow what is good from both, and address his pupils as beings compounded of both understanding and affections. *
* The zeal and diligence with which the Bishop of London's weekly lectures have been attended by persons of all ranks and descriptions, but more especially by that class to which this little work is addressed, is a very promising cir