Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

future opportunity, and it may properly be reserved too; since, if parents could once be prevailed upon to pursue a right plan of education for their offspring, children might be more effectually persuaded to avail themselves of every advantageous opportunity for the attainment of religious knowledge and of virtuous manners. To control successfully the humours, and to form aright the judgments of the young, may be a difficult task; but it is far more difficult to conquer the unfeeling sluggishness, and extirpate the stubborn prejudices of the old; and yet, if the latter be not accomplished, the former will be attempted in vain. In the present discourse therefore, I shall consider the practical observations suggested by the story of my text, for the regulation of your parental conduct.

The early and zealous piety of our Lord inculcates one very interesting lesson, that religion ought to hold its rank among the first employments of our lives. Whatever be the proneness of men to evil, (not from any inherited or innate corruption, but from the proper and limited constitution of our nature-not from any judicial infliction, but from the wise appointment of Him who made us,) the effects of that proneness are easily counteracted by the moral sense and rational faculties with which we are endowed. The readiness of the human understanding, even in childhood, to separate right from wrong, when called forth, as our physical powers, whether of spiritual or corporeal agency must be, by external occasions—the tacit abhorrence it raises towards one, and the generous approbation it excites of the other, all of us, I trust, have in some measure experienced. When the moral sense is strengthened by frequent use, the mind imperceptibly yields itself up to its directions, till single acts of virtue are confirmed into habits, and habits are regulated and perpetuated by principles.

Now to turn this capacity of young men for receiving improvement to the best advantage, and to encourage by exercise that preference which our unbiassed reason and our uncorrupted affections always give to what is good, should be our first and our greatest care. But the only method of giving permanence to any improvements which we may attempt, is to fix them on the surest basis — the sense of a supreme and moral governor, who has ordained all the laws, and directs all the events of the universe. The power, the wisdom, and the goodness of the deity—the punishments he has re served for the wicked—and the rewards which he will bestow on the righteous, are topics, where the attention of young men may be soon captivated, and their curiosity made subservient to their duty. Is it not by occasional addresses to their hopes and their fears—by a judicious dispensation of praise and censure, that the first ideas of right, as the instrument of happiness, are introduced into the mind? And what is religious instruction, but the act of proposing new and greater objects to the same affections, and of quickening their efficacy by the same means

When the advantages of intellectual superiority are holden up to us, we listen with eagerness to a

tale that flatters our vanity, and interests our passions—we forget every attendant difficulty of the task—and we anticipate in imagination the caresses of the great, and the commendations of the learned. The same admiration of moral excellence, and the same solicitude to obtain it might be excited in us, if its intrinsic beauty, its present dignity, and future recompense, were laid open to us. For, surely the respect of all good men, the approving sentence of our own bearts, and the bountiful favour of God, are motives almost irresistible to understandings, in appearance the meanest, and to feelings the dullest, if repeatedly and strongly urged. That they are employed, without effect, upon men more advanced in life, must be imputed to that rigidity, which our sensibilities contract, and that debility, into which our faculties silently decay, by long disuse; but were these truths impressed upon us before our thoughts are totally pre-occupied by different studies, and our opinions warped by vicious associations, the influence of them would be felt in the tenderness of children, in the vigour of youth, in the firmness of manhood, and the seriousness of age. Our Father's business would not only be our constant employment, but our supreme delight. By the contemplation of subjects, which grow more luminous, as they are oftener examined, the weakest of us might be enabled to render some account of the hope that is in him. He would perceive, in no contemptible degree, the evidences of the revelation,

which his best and dearest expectations are founded-the wonderful methods by which it was

on

established, and the glorious ends to which it is instrumental. He would be able from the inherent advantages of his cause, and the almost mechanical quickness of apprehension which habitual reflection always brings with it, to make a spirited and successful defence, when pressed by the scoffs of the libertine, and the cavils of the infidel.

Against these plain and momentous truths, there stands, I know, a host of objections, stated by men who would erect their own visionary systems on the ruins of Christianity, and adopted by those who eagerly press forward to catch the secondary and paltry reputation of admitting novelties, which themselves indeed have neither the ingenuity to invent nor the judgment to investigate. The folly and perverseness of all ages have procured for such romantic projects a reception far too easy; but the wide and rapid diffusion of the most pestilential publications in this age, has given a popularity to errors and a dignity to absurdites, which in times less depraved would have been hunted down by general contempt. Hence every opinion, which is connected with the authority of religion, or the prospects of futurity, has in these later times been stigmatized with the opprobrious name of prejudice.

But the arguments which prove that children ought not to be instructed early in such matters, can be supported only on the supposition that they ought not to be instructed at all. For if religion be an imposture, and futurity a dream, why should we harrass them with the rigours of the one or delude them with the expectation of the other ? But

if the contrary be true, are not parents chargeable with inconsistence as well as cruelty, in admitting them to no share of attention?

When your children are intended for manual arts, or the more liberal professions, you acknowledge the necessity of being expeditious in beginning instruction, and you express solicitude to procure it from the best sources, within your reach. You do not leave, or at least you do not profess to leave, the event to blind accident. You do not repose your whole trust in the natural strength of your children's abilities, in the transient impulses of their inclinations, or in those precarious opportunities which are furnished by external events. You think it frenzy in others to be overruled in their purposes by the supine indifference or froward opposition of their offspring. You pronounce it wisdom in yourselves to proportion, as far as you can, the readiness, the constancy, and intenseness of their application to the immediate difficulty, and the final utility of its object.

However galling and irksome it may be to the views of young men, unenlightened by experience, and impatient of control-however abstruse be the speculations in any science, for which you intend them-and however laborious the

process

of

any art, you do not make a willing sacrifice of your authority, or your judgment. If, then, you act with so much prudence, warranted by so much success in the affairs of this world, what, I beseech you,

is there in the nature of the subjects themselves, or in the capacity of the understanding to manage

« PoprzedniaDalej »