« AnteriorContinuar »
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
OF INSTRUCTION IN THE PRINCIPLES OF MORALS
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.
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. ageneral 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 any thing; 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 ma