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ON THE EDUCATION OF CHILDREN.
PROVERBS XXII. 6.
"Train up a Child in the Way wherein he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."
1. WE must not imagine, that these words are to be understood in an absolute sense, as if no child that had been trained up in the way wherein he should go, had ever departed from it. Matter of fact will by no means agree with this. So far from it, that it has been a common observation, Some of the best parents have the worst children. It is true, this might sometimes be the case, because good men have not always a good understanding. And without this it is hardly to be expected, that they will know how to train up their children. Besides those who are, in other respects, good men, have often too much easiness of temper; so that they go no farther in restraining their children from evil, than old Eli did, when he said gently, Nay, my sons, the report I hear of you is not good." This then is no contradiction to the assertion; for their children are not "trained up in the way wherein they should go." But it must be acknowledged, some have been trained therein with all possible care and diligence: and yet before they were old, yea, in the strength of their years, they did utterly depart from it.
2. The words then must be understood with some limitation, and then they contain an unquestionable truth. It is a general, though not an universal promise, and many have found the happy accomplishment of it. As this is the most probable method of making their children pious, which any parents can take, so it generally, although not always, meets with the desired success. The God of their fathers is with their children: he blesses their endeavours: and they have the satisfaction of leaving their religion, as well as their worldly substance, to those that descend from them.
3. But what is the Way wherein a child should go? And how shall we train him up therein? The ground of this is admirably well laid down by Mr. Law, in his Serious Call to a devout Life. Part of his words are.—
"Had we continued perfect, as God created the first man, perhaps the perfection of our nature had been a sufficient self-instructer for every one. But as sickness and diseases have created the necessity of medicines and physicians, so the disorders of our rational nature have introduced the necessity of education and tutors.
"And as the only end of a physician is, to restore nature to its own state, so the only end of education is, to restore our rational nature to its proper state. Education, therefore, is to be considered, as reason borrowed at secondhand, which is, as far as it can, to supply the loss of original perfection. And as physic may justly be called the art of restoring health, so education should be considered in no other light, than as the art of recovering to man his rational perfection.
"This was the end pursued by the youths that attended upon Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato. Their every day lessons and instructions were so many lectures upon the nature of man, his true end, and the right use of his faculties upon the immortality of the soul, its relation to God; the agreeableness of virtue to the divine nature; upon the necessity of temperance, justice, mercy, and truth, and the folly of indulging our passions.
"Now as Christianity has, as it were, new created the moral and religious world, and set every thing that is reasonable, wise, holy, and desirable, in its true point of light: so one would expect the education of children should be as much mended by Christianity, as the doctrines of religion are.
"As it has introduced a new state of things, and so fully informed us of the nature of man and the end of his creation as it has fixed all our goods and evils, taught us the mean of purifying our souls, of pleasing God, and being happy eternally: one might naturally suppose that every Christian country abounded with schools, not only for teaching a few questions and answers of a catechism, but for the forming, training, and practising children in such a course of life, as the sublimest doctrines of Christianity require.
"An education under Pythagoras or Socrates had no other end but to teach children, to think, and act as Pythagoras and Socrates did.
"And is it not reasonable to suppose that a Christian Education should have no other end but to teach them how to think, and judge, and act according to the strictest rules of Christianity?
"At least one would suppose, that in all Christian schools, the teaching them to begin their lives in the spirit of Christianity, in such abstinence, humility, sobriety, and devotion, as Christianity requires, should not only be more, but a hundred times more regarded than any or all things else.
"For those that educate us should imitate our guardian angels, suggest nothing to our minds, but what is wise and holy; help us to discover every false judgment of our minds, and to subdue every wrong passion in our hearts.
"And it is as reasonable to expect and require all this benefit from a christian education, as to require that physic should strengthen all that is right in our nature, and remove all our diseases."
4. Let it be carefully remembered all this time, That
God, not man, is the Physician of Souls: that it is he and none else, who giveth medicine to heal our natural sickness : that all "the help which is done upon earth, he doth it himself:" that none of all the children of men is able to "bring a clean thing out of an unclean:" and in a word, that "it is God who worketh in us, both to will and to do of his good pleasure." But it is generally his pleasure to work by his creatures: to help man by man. He honours men, to be in this sense," workers together with him." By this mean the reward is ours, while the glory redounds to him.
5. This being premised, in order to see distinctly, What is the way wherein we should train up a child, let us consider, What are the Diseases of his Nature? What are those spiritual Diseases, which every one that is born of a woman, brings with him into the world?
Is not the first of these Atheism? After all that has been so plausibly written concerning "the innate Idea of God:" after all that has been said, of its being common to all men, in all ages and nations: it does not appear, that man has naturally any more idea of God, than any of the beasts of the field: he has no knowledge of God at all: neither is God in all his thoughts. Whatever change may afterwards be wrought, (whether by the grace of God, or by his own reflection, or by education,) he is, by nature, a mere Atheist.
6. Indeed it may be said, that every man is by nature, as it were, his own god. He worships himself. He is, in his own conception, absolute Lord of himself. Dryden's Hero speaks only according to nature, when he says, "Myself am King of me." He seeks himself in all things. He pleases himself. And why not? Who is Lord over him? His own Will is his only law: he does this or that because it is his good pleasure. In the same spirit as the son of the morning said in old time, "I will sit upon the sides of the North," he says, "I will do thus or thus.". And do we not find sensible men on every side, who are of the self-same spirit? who, if asked, "Why did you do this?" will readily answer, "Because I had a mind to it."
7. Another evil disease which every human soul brings into the world with him, is pride; a continual proneness to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. Every man can discern more or less of this disease, in every one,but himself. And, indeed, if he could discern it in himself, it would subsist no longer; for he would then, in consequence, think of himself, just as he ought to think.
8. The next disease, natural to every human soul, born with every man, is love of the world. Every man is, by nature, a lover of the creature, instead of the Creator: a "lover of pleasure," in every kind, "more than a lover of God." He is a slave to foolish and hurtful desires, in one kind or another; either to the " desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, or the pride of life." "The desire of the flesh," is a propensity to seek happiness in what gratifies one or more of the outward senses. "The desire of the eyes" is a propensity to seek happiness in what gratifies the internal sense, the imagination, either by things grand, or new, or beautiful. "The pride of life" seems to mean a propensity to seek happiness in what gratifies the sense of honour. To this head is usually referred, the love of money, one of the basest passions that can have place in the human heart. But it may be doubted, whether this be not an acquired, rather than a natural distemper.
9. Whether this be a natural disease or not, it is certain, anger is. The ancient Philosopher defines it, "A sense of injury received, with a desire of revenge." Now, were there ever any one born of a woman, who did not labour under this? Indeed, like other diseases of the mind, it is far more violent in some than in others. But it is furor brevis, as the Poet speaks: it is a real, though short madness, wherever it is.
10. A deviation from truth is equally natural to all the children of men. One said in his haste, "All men are liars" but we may say, upon cool reflection, All natural men will, upon a close temptation, vary from, or disguise the truth. If they do not offend against veracity, if they do not say what is false, yet they frequently offend against VOL. X.