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These suggestions are offered, not as necessary to be received in every particular, but simply to show that the scheme of education proposed is not to be identified with another, which assumes the radical goodness of human nature, and according to which, if it be true, Christian education is insignificant. 5. It is implied in all our religious philosophy, that if a child ever does anything in a right spirit, ever loves anything because it is good and right, it involves the dawn of a new life. This we cannot deny or doubt, without bringing in question our whole scheme of doctrine. Is it then incredible that some really good feeling should be called into exercise in a child? In all the discipline of the house, quickened as it should be by the Spirit of God, is it true that he can never once be brought to submit to parental authority lovingly and because it is right? Must we even hold the absurdity of the Scripture counsel— ‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right?” When we speak thus of a love to what is right and good, we must of course discriminate between the mere excitement of a natural sensibility to pleasure in the contemplation of what is good (of which the worst minds are more or less capable), and a practical subordination of the soul to its power, a practical embrace of its law. The child must not only be touched with some gentle emotions towards what is right, but he must love it with a fixed love, love it for the sake of its principle, receive it as a vital and formative power. Nor is there any age, which offers itself to God's truth and love, and to that quickening spirit whence all good proceeds, with so much of ductile feeling and susceptibilities so tender. The child is under parental authority too for the very purpose, it would seem, of having the otherwise abstract principle of all duty impersonated in his parents, and thus brought home to his practical embrace; so that, learning to obey his parents in the Lord, because it is right, he may thus receive, before he can receive it intellectually, the principle of all piety and holy obedience. And when he is brought to exercise a spirit of true and loving submission to the good law of his parents, what will you see, many times, but a look of childish joy and a happy sweetness of manner and a ready delight in authority, as like to all the demonstrations of Christian experience as any thing childish can be to what is mature? 6. Children have been so trained as never to remember the time when they began to be religious. Baxter was at one time greatly troubled concerning himself, because he could recollect no time when there was a gracious change in his character. But he discovered, at length, that ‘education is as properly a means of grace as preaching,' and thus found a sweeter comfort in his love to God, that he learned to love him so early. The European churches, generally, regard Christian piety more as a habit of life, formed under the training of childhood, and less as a marked spiritual change in experience. In Germany, for example, the Church includes all the people, and it is remarkable that, under a scheme so loose, and with so much of pernicious error taught in the pulpit, * is yet so much of deep religious H
feeling, so much of lovely and simple character, and a savour of Christian piety so generally prevalent in the community. So true is this that the German people are every day spoken of as a people religious by nature; no otheriway being observed of accounting for the strong religious bent they manifest. Whereas it is due, beyond any reasonable question, to the fact that children are placed under a form of treatment which expects them to be religious, and are not discouraged by the demand of an experience above their years. Again, the Moravian Brethren, it is agreed by all, give as ripe and graceful an exhibition of piety as any body of Christians living on the earth, and it is the radical distinction of their system that it rests its power on Christian education. They make their churches schools of holy nurture to childhood, and expect their children to grow up there, as plants in the house of the Lord. Accordingly it is affirmed that not one in ten of the members of that church recollects any time when he began to be religious. Is it then incredible that what has been can be 2 Would it not be wiser and more modest, when facts are against us, to admit that there is certainly some bad error, either in our life, or in our doctrine, or in both, which it becomes us to amend? Once more, if we narrowly examine the relation of parent and ehild, we shall not fail to discover something like a law of organic connexion, as regards character, subsisting between them. Such a connexion as makes it easy to believe, and natural to expect, that the faith of the one will be propagated in the other. Perhaps I should rather say, such a connexion as induces the conviction that the character of one is actually included in that of the other, as a seed is formed in the capsule; and being there matured, by a nutriment derived from the stem, is gradually separated from it. It is a singular fact, that many believe substantially the same thing, in regard to evil character, but have no thought of any such possibility in regard to good. . There has been much speculation, of late, as to whether a child is born in depravity, or whether the depraved character is superinduced afterwards. But, like many other great questions, it determines much less than is commonly supposed; for, according to the most proper view of the subject, a child is really not born till he emerges from the infantile state, and never before that time can be said to receive a separate and properly individual nature. The declaration of Scripture, and the laws of physiology, I have already intimated, compel the belief that a child's nature is somehow depravated: by descent from parents who are under the corrupting effects of sin. But this, taken as a question relating to the mere punctum temports, or precise point of birth, is not a question of any so grave import, as is generally supposed; for the child, after birth, is still within the matrix of the parental life, and will be more or less, for many years. And the parental life will be flowing into him all that time, just as naturally, and by a law as truly organic, as when the sap of the trunk flows into a limb. We must not govern our thoughts, in such a matter, by our eyes; and because the physical separation has taken
place, conclude that no organic relation remains. Even the physical being of the child is dependent still for nutrition on organic processes not in itself. Meantime, the mental being and character have scarcely begun to have a proper individual life. Will, in connexion with conscience, is the basis of personality, or individuality, and these exist as yet only in their rudimental type, as when the form of a seed is beginning to be unfolded at the root of a flower. At first, the child is held as a mere passive lump in the arms, and he opens into conscious life under the soul of the parent streaming into his eyes and ears, through the manners and tones of the nursery. The kind and degree of passivity are gradually changed as life advances. A little farther on it is observed that a smile wakens a smile—any kind of sentiment or passion, playing in the face of the parent, wakens a responsive sentiment or passion. Irritation irritates; a frown withers; love expands a look congenial to itself; and why not holy love? Next, the ear is opened to the understanding of words, but what words the child shall hear he cannot choose, and has as little capacity to select the sentiments that are poured into his soul. Farther on, the parents begin to govern him by appeals to will, expressed in commands, and whatever their requirement may be, he can as little withstand it as the violet can cool the scorching sun, or the tattered leaf can tame the hurricane. Next, they appoint his school, choose his books, regulate his company, decide what form of religion and what religious opinions he shall be taught, by taking him to a church of their own selection. In all this, they infringe upon no right of the child; they only fulfil an office which belongs to them. Their will and character are designed to be the matrix of the child's will and character. Meantime he approaches more and more closely, and by a gradual process, to the proper rank and responsibility of an individual creature, during all which process of separation he is having their exercises and ways translated into him. Then, at last, he comes forth to act his part in such colour of evil (and why not of good?) as he has derived from them. The tendency of all our modern speculations is to an extreme individualism, and we carry our doctrine of free will so far as to make little or nothing of organic laws; not observing that character may be, to a great extent, only the free development of exercises previously wrought in us, or extended to us, when other wills had us within their sphere. All the Baptist theories of religion are based in this error. They assume as a first truth, that no such thing is possible as an organic connexion of character, an assumption which is plainly refuted by what we see with our eyes, and, as I shall by and by show, by the declarations of Scripture. We have much to say also, in common with the Baptists, about the beginning of moral agency, and we seem to fancy that there is some definite moment when a child becomes a moral agent, passing out of a condition where he is a moral nullity, and where no moral agency touches his being. Whereas he is rather to be regarded at the first as lying within the moral agency of the parent, and passing out by degrees through a course of mixed agency, to a proper independency and self-possession. The supposition that he becomes, at some certain moment, a complete moral agent, which a moment before he was not, is clumsy, and has no agreement with observation. The separation is gradual. He is never at any moment after birth to be regarded as perfectly beyond the sphere of good and bad exercises; for the parent exercises himself in the child, playing his emotions and sentiments, and working a character in him, by virtue of an organic power. And this is the very idea of Christian education, that it begins with nurture or cultivation. And the intention is, that the Christian life and spirit of the parents shall flow into the mind of the child, to blend with his incipient and half-formed exercises; that they shall thus beget their own good within him, their thoughts, opinions, faith and love, which are to become a little more, and yet a little more, his own separate exercise, but still the same in character. The contrary assumption, that virtue must be the product of separate and absolutely independent choice, is pure assumption. As regards the measure of personal merit and demerit, it is doubtless true that every subject of God is to be responsible only for what is his own. But virtue still is rather a state of being than an act or series of acts; and if we look at the causes which induce or prepare such a state, the will of the person himself may have a part among those causes more or less important, and it works no absurdity to suppose that one may be even prepared to such a state, by causes prior to his own will ; so that, when he sets off to act for himself, his struggle and duty may be rather to sustain and perfect the state begun, than to produce a new one. Certain it is that we are never, at any age, so independent as to be wholly out of the reach of organic laws which affect our character. All society is organic—the church, the state, the school, the family,– and there is a spirit in each of these organisms peculiar to itself, and more or less hostile, more or less favourable to religious character, and to some extent, at least, sovereign over the individual man. A very great share of the power in what is called a revival of religion is organic power; nor is it any the less divine on that account. The child is only more within the power of organic laws than we all are. We possess only a mixed individuality all our life long. A pure, separate, individual man, living wholly within, and from himself, is a mere fiction. No such person ever existed, or ever can. I need not say that this view of an organic connexion of character subsisting between parent and child, lays a basis for notions of Christian education far different from those which now prevail, under the cover of a merely fictitious and mischievous individualism. Perhaps it may be necessary to add, that, in the strong language I have used concerning the organic connexion of character between the parent and the child, it is not designed to assert a power in the parent to renew the child, or that the child can be renewed by any agency of the Spirit less immediate than that which renews the parent himself. When a germ is formed on the stem of any plant the formative instinct of the plant may be said in one view to produce it; but
the same solar heat which quickens the plant, must quicken also the germ and sustain the internal action of growth, by a common presence in both. . So if there be an organic power of character in the parent, such as that of which I have spoken, it is not a complete power in itself, but only such a power as demands the realizing presence of the Spirit of God, both in the parent and the child, to give it effect. As Paul said, ‘I have begotten you through the gospel, so may we say of the parent, who having a living gospel enveloped in his life, brings it into organic connexion with the soul of childhood. But the declaration excludes the necessity of a divine influence, not more in one case than in the other.
Such are some of the considerations that offer themselves, viewing our subject on the human side, or as it appears in the light of human evidence—all concurring to produce the conviction, that it is the only true idea of Christian education, that the child is to grow up in the life of the parent, and be a Christian, in principle, from his earliest years.
“Above the lowly plants it towers,
Yes, it was three years after the date of the reader's first meeting with the Cliffords, and, as we saw in the last chapter, the Angel of the Covenant had been commissioned to bear away to fairer climes all save Helen. Her we left, not hopelessly bowed down, though many and severe had been her trials. If the fennel in her cup of life had sometimes seemed unduly bitter, yet its after effect was such that she could bless the hand which had not withheld it in false kindness. It was as though her eyes had been purged and strengthened at the fountain of truth. There were so many high and glorious things— ‘the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven’—which she did not learn from others, nor slowly reason out for herself, but which she saw. And with a soul thus chastened by manifold experience, and strengthened and elevated, a mind well cultured, and a heart capable of the intensest love, Helen was no every-day girl, or woman, if the reader prefers it, when the elasticity of youth, and the faith of a Christian, and the hope of brighter days, brought back the brightness to her eye and the colour to her cheek, and the old smile sometimes played over her face. --