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education, commencing with the dawn of intellect, and continued till his character is formed and settled ;-when his wayward propensities are watched and checked in their earliest manifestations ;—when his opening mind is carefully imbued with moral and religious truth ;—when his conscience is exercised to a quick discernment of right and wrong ;-when his heart is made habitually to feel the presence of high and holy motives ;—when the budding of every kindly affection is cherished by the breath of prayer; and when, in fine, virtuous habits of thought, of feeling, and of action, are gradually consolidated into great and abiding moral principles.
If the process is not begun early; if any one thing is neglected; if the parent, or other religious teacher is incompetent, or unfaithful; if the system of religious education is not carried out; if, in religion, any aliment but the sincere milk of the word,' is offered and received : and if the best instructions are counteracted by bad examples in the family, or in the school, then the child is not trained up in the way he should go. He may be taught to read ever so early; he may be put under the tuition of the ablest masters, in every branch of science and literature ; he may outstrip all his fellows in mental discipline and attainments ; he may, , in a popular sense, receive a finished education, and yet not be educated at all in the sense of my text. • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.' Whatever other advantages any child may enjoy, it is only when he is treated as a moral and accountable being; it is only when the truths of the Bible are laid at the foundation of all his attainments; it is only when he is taught to fear God and keep his commandments,' that he is trained up in the way he should go. It is a thorough Christian education alone, which can secure our
children from vice and ruin ; which can guide their feet in the ways of pleasantness and the paths of peace.' But,
II. How is it that such an education fornis a permanently virtuous and pious character ? There is something in the power of habit, over all our faculties, whether bodily, intellectual, or moral, which I do not pretend to comprehend, and which I shall not therefore attempt to explain. The facts in the case are undeniable. Nothing is better settled than that the frequent repetition of any physical art, or mental process, begets an aptitude for the same thing, which it is extremely difficult to overcome. The unconquerable despotism of bad habits is proverbial. Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots ? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil, learn to do well. The same is true of good and virtuous habits, though not in so high a degree. I am far from believing, that there are any blank leaves in the book of human nature, even at the beginning of it. Many a dark and crooked line appears upon the opening of the very first page. .
But still there is room to write the law of God upon it, and by the use of proper means, made effectual by the Spirit, the law of sin may be gradually obliterated. What I mean to say is this. God has so made us, such is the constitution of the human mind, (notwithstanding the terrible blot of innate depravity, which nothing but bis Spirit can ever wipe out,) that, under suitable instruction, a virtuous character may be formed, which will stand the shock, at least of ordinary temptations. This is what I call the natural effect of right training upon the mind; and in this view of the subject, I am borne out by a great many striking analogies. The world is full of them. While the clay is soft, you can mould it into what form you choose. You bend the sapling of
a year's growth with perfect ease; and in becoming a great tree, it most obediently follows the direction which your finger gave it líalf a century ago. Wherever a stream first begins to flow, there it cuts out a channel for itself, and there it is likely to flow forever. And so it is with the infant mind. First impressions are deep and permanent. Every early bias has a prodigious influence upon the future character. When these biases are in a right direction, they grow and ripen into good habits; and the man thenceforth travels on in the path of rectitude and happiness.
But while I lay so much stress upon the natural force of a religious education, I am fully aware, that this can never be our chief reliance. The carnal mind is enmity against God.' It is so in our children at the tenderest age. They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.' The most pious education can never reconcile them to God. It is the Holy Spirit, alone, which can put his law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.' This is the only perfect security. Now, whether every child in the land would be savingly converled, if all were trained up in the right way, I do not certainly know; but I feel quite sure, that nobody can prove the contrary. Is it too much to affirm that the experiment of what, by the blessing of God, might be accomplished in this way, has never yet been tried, even upon a small scale ? How many children in the world, think you, have ever yet received as good a Christian education as it is possible to give? What if your children, or mine, have grown up under our care without being born again? What does this prove, but our own unfaithfulness? Is God slack concerning his promises? Is not the time coming, when all shall know him from the
least to the greatest ? And who can tell, but that during the millennium, every child will be converted, either in its mother's arms, or in the Sabbath School?
But however this may be, no one who believes the word of God, or gives any heed to the testimony of experience and observation, will question the vast importance of early religious instruction. An insatiable and prying curiosity may exhaust itself in trying to explain how it is, that early training produces such mighty results ; and some man'may, if he chooses, declare that he will never believe what he cannot comprehend: but with the text and the facts before us, the path of duty is perfectly plain. We are just as much bound and encouraged to co-operate in promoting the great cause of Christian education, as if we could see every secret step of the process by which virtuous and pious habits are formed. We come now to inquire,
III. How, or by what means, the whole youthful population of our country, may be trained up in the way they should go? Is such a thing practicable? Is it not too much for Christian philanthropy, with all her wealth, and all her influence, and all her faith, and all her holy yearnings, to attempt, or hope for ? Certainly it is not too mueh. All things are possible to him that believeth.' There is obviously one way in which the blessings of religious education might be extended to every family in the United States, without the least difficulty, were the natural guardians of the young qualified for the responsible and endearing relations which they sustain. It undoubtedly devolves upon parents, first and chiefly, to train up their children in the way they should go ; 10 begin the work at early dawn, and to carry it forward with many prayers, till Christ be formed in them the hope
Were fathers and mothers all enlightened and devoted Christians, (as they ought to be,) no child would be neglected. Under the cultivation which this universal piety would ensure, a transforming power would operate silently, but mightily, upon all the young millions of our country's hopes. Even then, helps' might, no doubt, be highly useful. Parents might need assistance in carrying forward to maturity the best systems of religious education. Many certainly would.
But how much more is foreign aid called for, in the existing state of things ? What an awful dearth of piety is there, at the head of more than a million and a half of American families! From this quarter, then, a religious influence upon all who are now coming forward into life, with the destipies of the nation in their hands, is hopeless. Not one third part of them will ever be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, by those who
Must they then be left to grow up in ignorance and sin, and to pull down the pillars of the state upon their devoted heads? You promptly answer, No! Instant, and loud voices, from every quarter of this great and prosperous city, answer, No! All the managers, and auxiliaries, and agents, and depositories, and friends of this heaven-born Union, answer, No! All the Sabbath school libraries in the land, and more than sixty thousand teachers, answer, no! And soon will the whole American Chureh, with a voice like the sound of many waters, answer, NO!
Here, in this blessed Uniou of hearts and hands, of counsels and prayers—in this flowing together of the waters of life froma so many different sanctuaries, I see a pledge that every child in the city and country, on the sea-board and by the great rivers of the west, shall be
gave them life.