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Besides, the mind may be very usefully impressed, and a foundation may be laid for future instruction, though no determinate ideas be communicated; and if, by accustoming children to the outward forms of religion only, as by making them keep silence, and kneel when others pray, &c. a general notion be gradually impressed upon their minds, that some reverence is due to a power which they do not see, and that there exists an authority to which all mankind, the rich and great, as well as the poor and mean, must equally bow, a good end will be gained. Besides, by this means, a mechanical habit will be formed, which will not be laid aside, till, by degrees, they come to know the reason of it, and to enter into it with understanding and pleasure; whereas they would not have had the same advantage for a rational knowledge and practice without that previous and mechanical habit. Thus a child who is made to bow mechanically upon being introduced into a room, or to persons of certain ranks and characters, before he can be sensible of the full meaning of it, afterwards enters more easily into those sentiments of decency and respect for stations and characters which distinguish the civilized from the uncivilized part of mankind. Thus, also, the custom of making bonfires on the fifth of November, in which children are as active as men, is of use to inspire them, at an earlier period than they would otherwise be capable of it, with an abhorrence of popery and arbitrary power, and makes them enter into those sentiments with much more warmth than they would otherwise have done.
Was the thing itself but of trifling consequence in the conduct of life, children might, without much inconvenience, be suffered to be unacquainted with any principles of religion, till they were capable of a rational inquiry into them, and a regular investigation of them ; but, considering that religion is of unspeakable consequence in the conduct of life, inspiring just sentiments concerning God and our fellow-creatures, just notions of the business and end of life, and enforcing the obligations of conscience, in order to our attaining the proper
dignity and true happiness of our rational nature here, and infinitely superior felicity hereafter ; we ought not, surely, to neglect any part of a process which is naturally adapted to gain so great an end. Indeed, I believe that no person, who had himself a just sense of the importance of religion, ever imagined that there was any sort of impropriety in the religious instruction of his children. It may be said that, in this method, we take an unfair advantage of the imbecility of the rational faculties, and inculcate truth by such a kind of mechanical prejudice as would enforce the belief of anything; and this is readily acknowledged, without any confession of impropriety in the thing. For the whole of our treatment of children is necessarily of a piece with this, prejudicing them in favor of our own opinions and practices; so that there is hardly any thing that a child does not believe before he is acquainted with the proper grounds on which his belief ought to rest. It is sufficient for him that he has the authority of his parent, or tutor, for it; and till he finds that he has been misled by his parent or tutor, he can never entertain any suspicion of them, or see any reason for examining and questioning what they assert. Rational conviction is generally preceded by such doubts and suspicions as a child cannot possibly have entertained. Can there be any reason then why we should avail ourselves of the authority of a parent in other things, and make an exception with respect to religion only 7 Besides, when the thing is rightly understood and considered, it will appear not to be so very difficult a matter to give even a child very useful notions of religion, and such as he shall sufficiently understand; as that there is a being called God, who made him and all things; that this Being, though invisible himself, sees us wherever we are, and that he will make us happy if we be good, and miserable if we be wicked. If it should appear that, for some time, a child conceives of God as of a man who lives above the clouds, and from thence sees every thing that is done upon the earth, there will no material inconvenience attend it; because it is only a sense of the power, the providence, and the government of God that is of principal importance to be inculcated. What else he is, or where he is, signifies very little in this case. A child may also be made to understand that this God gave a commission to a man, called Jesus Christ, to teach mankind his will and to persuade them to practise it; that he was put to death by wicked men who would not hearken to him; but that God raised him from the dead, and will send him again to raise all the dead; when he will take the good with him into heaven, a place of happiness, and send the wicked into hell, a place of punishment. There is nothing in all this but what a child, who has attained to the use of speech, may be made to understand sufficiently; and yet, in fact, this is the substance of all that is most important in religion. When children come to read, they may easily be taught that the Bible contains several books written by good men, which give an account of the creation of the world, of what God has done for mankind, what he enjoins us to do here, and how he will dispose of us hereafter, together with the history of the prophets, of Jesus Christ, of his apostles, and of good men in all ages; and they may be made to read the Scriptures, with the seriousness and respeet that is due to them. No other history was ever written with such plainness and simplicity, no style is so easy as that of the historical books of Scripture; and with a little judgment in selecting, and skill in explaining a few things and expressions, any child that can read may be instructed in the principles of religion from the Bible with peculiar advantage; and his mind will be impressed with greater force by reading the words of God, and of his prophets, than those which proceed from any less authority. Some may object to the scheme of inculcating the principles of virtue from a regard to any mere authority, or even from the consideration of rewards or punishments; thinking it better to have them inculcated at the very beginning, from
the most generous principles only, so as to make children love virtue for its own sake. But such persons do not understand, or do not consider, the true origin of our affections. For the most disinterested of them become so by degrees only, and are far otherwise at their first formation. Except the mere gratification of our corporeal senses, we at first value and pursue every thing for some other end than itself, and afterwards come to value it for its own sake. A child has no love or affection for any person whatever, till he has felt their importance to himself, in the manner described before; and by degrees, dropping that immediate bond of union, he loves others without any regard to himself. This process admits of the easiest illustration from what is known concerning the passion for money, which is acquired so late in life, that the whole process of it may be easily observed. Originally, money is not valued but for its use to procure us the gratification of a desire of something else; but, by the force of habit, misers come to make that an end, which at first was only a means, and are eagerly bent upon the accumulation of wealth as such, without ever thinking whether themselves, or any person for whose welfare they are solicitous, be likely to make any use of it. If, therefore, we should follow nature, we must instruct children by the very same process. To talk to them of doing what is right, for its own sake, cannot have any influence upon them for the present. They must first of all have much easier lessons given them, and make farther advances as they are able. If any good be done by inculcating these refined maxims of conduct upon children, it must be by means of authority only, a child not being capable of comprehending any other reason why he should adopt them; and therefore they are very improperly urged by those, who object to the use of authority in teaching religion. Whatever objection any person may have to the use of authority to inculcate the principles of religion or the maxims of right conduct upon children, all persons find themselves obliged to have recourse to it, because they are not always able to explain to a child, their reasons for his acting as they prescribe; but content themselves with hoping that, when he has, by any means, been accustomed to do what it is his duty, interest, and happiness to do, he will in time be able to see that his duty, interest, and happiness are concerned in it, and therefore will be able to persevere from a regard to those better motives. In like manner, it behoves every wise parent to make use of his own authority, together with that of God, and also of the prospect of rewards and punishments, both here and hereafter, in order to enforce upon his child that course of conduct, which he wishes him to pursue from more ingenuous principles, as soon as he shall be capable of it. Besides, the submission to competent authority is of itself right and our duty; and a habit of ready submission in this case will be of great use in the course of our lives. It ought, therefore, by all means, to be inculcated upon young persons; and this is best done, and the habit most effectually formed, by actually enforcing it, — especially where no other method can be taken to engage them to do their duty from conviction and inclination; and frequent occasions for this interposition of mere authority will occur, after persons are passed the years of infancy. For as reason acquires strength, the passions acquire strength also; insomuch that the aid of authority will be very useful till the full term at which the laws of this country impower a man to act for himself. Many persons, who are now arrived to the age of forty or fifty, may recollect occasions, on which they are thankful or would have been thankful for the control of another, when passion had blinded their own judgment, at, or even after, twenty-one years of age. I will add, as an argument that must more especially enforce the religious instruction of children, that, in fact, a man has no choice, but whether his child shall imbibe the principles of true or false religion, i. e. what he himself shall deem to be so; as it will be absolutely impossible to keep the