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IMPORTANCE AND METHOD
EARLY RELIGIOUS EDUCATION.
BY REV. HENRY MONTGOMERY,
PRINTED FOR THE
American Unitarian Association.
GRAY AND BOWEN 141 WASHINGTON STREET.
Price 6 Cents.
This tract is taken from a volume of excellent discourses, written by living Unitarian ministers in Great Britain. The volume bears the title of Sermons designed to be used in families; edited by Rev. J R. Beard.' Some passages in this discourse have been omitted, to reduce it within the limits proper for the series.
PRINTED BY 1. R. BUTTS.... HOSTON,
A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.'-Solomon.
THE advice given by Solomon, to train up a child in the way he should go,' points out to us the only way, in which any considerable advances can be made towards the extension of piety and morality. Those who have attained maturity, or arrived at old age, may indeed sometimes be improved; but, as it is always difficult to overcome prejudices and habits, every man who truly aims at the solid improvement of his species, will direct his efforts to that point, in which they are most likely to be successful. Where prejudices cannot exist — where evil habits cannot have been formed. where worldly maxims and pursuits have not had time to make inroads upon the integrity of the heart—this is the soil (the open, the ingenuous, the uncontaminated bosom of youth,) in which prudence and affection will sow the good seeds of religion and virtue, with the rational and delightful prospect of an abundant increase.
We, my fellow christians, look upon little children, not as the objects of God's wrath, but as the peculiar objects of his paternal affection. We do not, indeed,
consider them to be perfect; they have within them, the. elements of future actions; of propensities and passions, of virtues and vices, which may raise them to honor, or sink them to degradation: but we view their hearts and their minds as subjects of moral culture; as soils, which we may wonderfully improve, and into which we may cast good seed; or, as fields, which we may permit to be overgrown with weeds, or even to be sown with tares by an enemy. In fact, we adopt the admirable
and incontrovertible sentiment of John Locke, and look upon the infant heart and mind, as clean white sheets of paper,' upon which the characters of virtue may be traced by the hand of prudence, or those of vice imprinted by the hand of folly. Considerable difference, no doubt, sometimes exists between one child and another, (as there does in all other animals,) with regard to talents and constitutional temperament; but the wisest of men have maintained, and experience has fully proved, that the difference produced by nature is much less than that which is produced by education. Nature, with a benignant and impartial hand, has bestowed her gifts equally upon the savage and the civilized; yet, when we contemplate a barbarous horde, and turn again to a cultivated and christian community, we can scarcely trace the characters of the same species. And, even in civilized countries, the disparity between. one man and another, between the unlettered peasant, for instance, and the accomplished philosopher, is truly astonishing; yet, the difference is not the work of nature. As to the ground-work and essentials of true greatness, it is very possible, that the clown may be, in reality, the superior man.
In fact, the general history of mankind, and the brief page of our own observation and experience, incontestibly prove, that men are almost entirely the creatures of education. Our knowledge, our tastes, our habits, our manners, our morals, nay, even our very religious opinions, principally depend upon it. There is no being in creation so little what nature formed it as man. If we look to any of the inferior animals, we find the same species almost exactly similar, on every part of the globe; but we never see two tribes or two nations of men alike; nor even two individuals of the very same country and society. Manners and customs, virtues and vices, knowledge and ignorance, principles and habits, are, with but little variation, transmitted from one generation to another; and, if we look for man in a state of nature, he is a being no where to be found. In every country, education and circumstances chiefly form his principles and habits; and these almost invariably remain with him through life; so that he is much more permanently what he has become, than what he was created. The wise men and the fools, the saints and the sinners, the ornaments and the disgraces, the benefactors and the scourges of the world, are not the work of nature, but of man. I do most cordially agree with a sentiment which I have some where seen expressed, that nature never made a villain.' Constitutional temperament and mental powers may render some an easier prey to temptation and circumstances, than others; but I do most firmly believe, that in almost every case, the natural energies and talents, which have carried unfortunate wretches onward to the commission of enormous crimes, would, if they had been 1 *
VOL. IV. NO. II.