« AnteriorContinuar »
minds of his children free from all impressions of this kind, unless they converse with nobody but himself, and a few select friends, who may be apprized of his scheme, and concur with him in it. Nay, if children go to any school, or be allowed to converse with the servants or dependants of his parent which cannot be entirely prevented, he must lose no time, and be very attentive and assiduous, or his good impressions will come too late to efface the bad ones, to which they will have been exposed. Things being thus circumstanced, no person, who considers the irreparable injury that may be done to the mind by enthusiastic and superstitious notions of religion, can hesitate about what he has to do in this case.
THE IMPORTANCE OF EARLY RELIGIOUS
THE great importance of an early religious education may appear from this consideration, that the impression which ideas make upon the mind does not depend upon the definitions of them, but upon sensations, and a great variety of ideas, that have been associated with them; and these associations require time to be formed and cemented. The idea of God may be defined, and explained to a man of the world, who has hardly ever heard, and seldom thought of him; but the impression that is made upon his mind when the name of God is, at any time, mentioned to him, cannot be the same with that which will be felt by a person who has been accustomed to hear and think of God from his infancy, who has been much conversant in the Scriptures, and has lived in a general habit of devotion. In the mind of such a person the idea of God must have acquired a thousand associations, which, though they are infinitely complex, will be felt as one sensation; but, from the nature of the thing, it is impossible that it should be ever fully explained, or communicated to another. The analysis of such an idea is far too difficult a problem for any human sagacity; or if the thing were possible, the doing of it would not enable a person to communicate the sensations that entered into it; because the same events in life would be necessary to it; and without these the same resulting ideas and impressions cannot be obtained.
For this reason no two persons can have precisely the same idea of any thing about which they are much conversant; for
the minute associations which enter into it will be different, though they may have a great resemblance; and perhaps there is no object of our thoughts from the impression of which men feel more differently, than the idea of God; though the impression made by it on the minds of persons educated in a similar manner will be nearly the same, so that by using the same words they may communicate what may, with sufficient propriety, be called the same feelings to each other.
This observation, which appears to me of considerable importance, I shall endeavour to illustrate by a case that very much resembles it. All persons know what is meant by the term father, and if they are asked, would define it in the same manner; but the man who has never known a father of his own, or, which is nearly the same thing, has had little connection with him, no dependence upon him, or particular obligation to him, will by no means have the same feelings when the word is pronounced to him, with the man who was brought up in a constant uninterrupted intercourse with a father, and has been the object of innumerable endearments and kind offices, and who has likewise frequently felt the effects of paternal correction. Every instance of this nature has an effect, and therefore leaves an impression upon the mind, which is not wholly lost. For though it soon becomes separately indiscernable, it makes part of an infinitely complex sensation, and is one of the elements of what is called filial affection, or that mixture of love and reverence which is the necessary result of paternal care properly conducted. Now the most transient idea suggested by the word father will excite in the mind of such a son a secondary idea, which, though it does not affect the definition of the term, is, however, inseparable from it; and if dwelt upon, it will unfold itself into a most exquisite and incommunicable feeling. To have this feeling a man must have lived a whole life in a particular manner.
In like manner, besides those ideas annexed to such words as God, religion, future life, &c. which can be communicated to others by their definitions, there are what are sometimes called secondary ideas, or feelings, which are aggregate sensations, consisting of numberless other sensations and ideas, which have been associated with them, and which it is absolutely impossible for one person to communicate to another; because the same education, the same course of instruction, the same early discipline, the same or similar circumstances in life, and the same reflections upon those circumstances, must have concurred in the formation of them. They are, however, these infinitely complex and indescribable feelings that often give those ideas the greatest force, and their influence upon the mind and conduct; because dispositions to love, fear, and obey God have a thousand times followed those complex feelings, and pious and worthy resolutions have been connected with them.
On this account, persons whose education has been much neglected, but who begin to hear of religion and apply themselves to it late in life, can never acquire the devotional feelings of those who have had a religious education; nor can it be expected that they will be uniformly influenced by them. They may use the same language, but their feelings will, notwithstanding, be very different.
The difference is, however, nothing more than is observed in other similar cases. A man, who has from his infancy been conversant with any thing, will have ideas of it very dif. ferently modified from those of the person who has acquired them by the information of others, or later in life. A person who has been bred in a camp will have very different ideas of every thing relating to war from those who have only heard or read of such things, or who have seen something of war later in life; and the ideas of the former cannot, in the nature of things, be communicated with precision to others; because the component parts of those ideas, or rather the feelings,
were acquired by passing through a variety of scenes which made a deep impression upon the mind, and therefore left traces proportionably deep. I shall conclude with observing, that the influence of general states of mind, turns of thought, and fixed babits, which are the consequence of them, is so great, that too much attention cannot be given to education, and the conduct of early life. Supposing the present laws of our minds to continue (and there is no more reason to expect a change in them than in any other of the laws of nature), our happiness to endless ages must depend upon it. It is a necessary consequence of the principle of association, that the mind grows more callous to new impressions continually; it being already occupied with ideas and sensations which render it indisposed to receive others, especially of a heterogeneous nature. We, in fact, seldom see any considerable change in a person's temper and habits after he has grown to man's estate. Nothing short of an entire revolution in his circumstances and mode of life can effect it. This analogy will lead us to consider the state of our minds at the commencement of ` another life (being produced by the whole of our passage through this) as still more fixed, and indisposed to any change for the better or worse. Consequently, our happiness or misery for the whole of our existence depends, in a great measure, on the manner in which we begin our progress through it. The effects of religious impressions made upon the mind in early life may be overpowered for a time by impressions of an opposite nature, but there will always be a possibility of their reviving in favorable circumstances; i. e. in circumstances in which ideas formerly connected with religious impressions will necessarily be presented to the mind, and detained there. Let a man be ever so profligate, his friends may always have hopes of his being reclaimed, if he had a religious education, and his religious impressions were not effaced very early. But if no foundation of religion has been