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out of the path of safety; but he who adopts a false principle, not only throws himself into the enemy's country, but burns the ships, breaks the bridge, cuts off every retreat by which he might hope one day to return into his own.
It is remarkable, that in almost all the celebrated characters of whom we have an account in former periods of the English history, we find a serious attention to religion discovering itself at the close of life, however the preceding years might have been misemployed. We meet with striking examples of this kind amongst statesmen, amongst philosophers, amongst men of business, and even amongst men of pleasure. We have on record the dying sentiments of Walsingham, of Smith, of Hatton, the favourites of Queen Elizabeth. We see, in the following reign, Raleigh supporting himself hy religion under the severity of his fate; Bacon seeking comfort in devotion amidst his disgraces; and Wotton, after having been ambassador to almost every court in Europe, taking refuge at last in a pious retirement at Eton college. But to enumerate instances would be endless, when, in fact, we scarcely discover a single instance to the contrary. In those times, it was considered as a matter even of common decency, that advanced age should possess, at least, the exterior. of piety; and we have every reason to believe that an irreligious old man would have been pointed at as a sort of monster.
But is this the case in our day? Do we now commonly perceive in any rank that disposition to close life religiously, which at the period to which I have alluded was so general even in the fashionable world ? I fear it is so far the reverse, that if Pope had been our contemporary, and were now composing his famous Ethical Poem, he could not hazard even that light remark,
That beads and prayer-books are the toys of age, without grossly violating probability.
But to what cause are we to ascribe that superannuated impiety, which seems to distinguish the present from the preceding generations? Is it not chiefly owing to the neglect of early religious instruction, which now for so many years has been gaining ground among us?
In the last age even public schools were places, no less of Christian than of classical institution; and the emission of religious worship, whether public or private, was deemed, at least, as censurable a fault as the neglect of a lesson. Parents had not yet imbibed that maxim of modern refinement, that religious instruction ought to be deferred until the mind be capable of choosing for itself—that is, until it be so pre-occupied as to leave neither room nor relish for the articles of Christian faith, or the rules of Christian obedience. The advice of the wise king of Israel, of “training up a child in the way he should go,” had not then become obsolete ; and the truth of his assertion, in the remaining clause of the passage, was happily realised in the sincere, though late, return of many a wanderer.
Even in the very laws of our nature, there seems to be a gracious provision for promoting the final efficacy of early religious instruction. When the old man has no longer any relish left for his accustomed gratifications, in what way does he endeavour to fill up the void ? Is it not by sending back his thoughts to his early years, and endeavouring to live over again in idea those scenes which, in this distant retrospect,
appear far more delightful than he had found them to be at the actual period of enjoyment ? Disgusted at everything around him, and disappointed in those pursuits to which he had once looked forward with all the ardour of hope—but to which he now feels he has sacrificed, in vain, his quiet, and perhaps his integrity-he takes a pensive pleasure in reviewing the season when his mind was yet cheerful and innocent; and even the very cares and anxieties of that happy period appear to him now in a more captivating form than any pleasures he can yet hope to enjoy. What then is more natural, I had almost said more certain, than that if the principles of religion were inculcated, and the feelings of devotion excited in his mind in that most susceptible season of life, they should now revive, as well as other contemporary impressions, and present themselves in a point of view the more interesting, because, while all other instances of youthful occupation can be only recollected, those may be called up into fresh existence, and be enjoyed even more perfectly than before.
The defects of memory also, which old age induces, will, in this instance, assist rather than obstruct. It almost universally happens, that the more recent transactions are those soonest forgotten, while the events of youth and childhood are remembered with accuracy. If, therefore, pious principles have been implanted, they will, even by the course of nature, be recollected, while those things which most contributed to hinder their growth, are swept from the memory. What a powerful encouragement then does this consideration afford ! or rather, what an indispensable obligation does it lay upon parents, to store the minds of their children with the seeds of piety! And on the other hand, what unnatural barbarity is it, irretrievably to shut
up this last refuge of the wretched, by a neglect of this duty; and to render it impossible for those who had “stood all the day idle,” to be called (at least without a miracle) even at the eleventh hour !
No one, surely, will impute to bigotry or enthusiasm, the lamenting, or even remonstrating against such desperate negligence; nor can it be deemed illiberal to inquire, whether even a still greater evil does not exist ? I mean, whether pernicious principles are not as strenuously inculcated as those of real virtue and happiness are discountenanced? Whether young men are not expressly taught to take custom and fashion as the ultimate and exclusive standard by which to try their principles and to weigh their actions ? Whether some idol of false honour be not consecrated and set up for them to worship? Whether, even among the better sort, reputation be not held out as a motive of sufficient energy to produce virtue, in a world where yet the greatest vices are every day practised openly, without at all obstructing the reception of those who practise them into the best company? Whether resentment be not ennobled ; and pride, and many other passions, erected into honourable virtues_virtues not less repugnant to the genius and spirit of Christianity than obvious and gross vices? Will it be thought impertinent to inquire if the awful doctrines of a perpetually present Deity, and a future righteous judgment, are early impressed and lastingly engraven on the hearts and consciences of our high-born youth?
Perhaps, if there be any one particular in which we fall remarkably below the politer nations of antiquity, it is in that part of education which has a reference to purity of mind, and the discipline of the heart.
The great secret of religious education, which seems banished from the present practice, consists in training young men to an habitual interior restraint, an early government of the affections, and a course of self-control over those tyrannizing inclinations which have so natural a tendency to enslave the human heart. Without this habit of moral restraint, which is one of the fundamental laws of Christian virtue, though men may, from natural temper, often do good, yet it is impossible that they should ever be good. Without the vigorous exercise of this controlling principle, the best dispositions and the most amiable qualities will go but a little way towards establishing a virtuous character. For the best dispositions will be easily overcome by the concurrence of passion and temptation, in a heart where the passions have not been accustomed to this wholesome discipline : and the most amiable qualities will but more easily betray their possessor, unless the heart be fortified by repeated acts and long habits of resistance.
In this, as in various other instances, we may blush at the superiority of pagan institutions.
Were the Roman youth taught to imagine themselves always in the awful presence of Cato, in order to habituate them betimes to suppress base sentiments, and to excite such as were generous and noble ? And should not the Christian youth be continually reminded, that a greater than Cato is here? Should they not be trained to the habit of acting under the constant impression, that He to whom they must one day be accountable for intentions, as well as words and actions, is witness to the one as well as the other? that he not only is “ about their path,” but “understands their very thoughts ?"
Were the disciples of a pagan* leader taught that it was a motive sufficient to compel their obedience to any rule, whether they liked it or not, that it had the authority of their teacher's name? Were the bare words, The master hath said it, sufficient to settle all disputes, and to subdue all reluctance ? And shall the scholars of a more divine teacher, who have a code of laws written by God himself, be contented with a lower rule, or abide by a meaner authority ? And is any argument drawn from human considerations likely to operate more forcibly on a dependent being, than that simple but grand assertion, with which so many of the precepts of our religion are introduced— Because, THUS SAITH THE LORD ?
It is doing but little, in the infusion of first principles, to obtain the bare assent of the understanding to the existence of one Supreme Power, unless the heart and affections go along with the conviction, by our conceiving of that power as intimately connected with ourselves. A feeling temper will be but little affected with the cold idea of a geometrical God, as the excellent Pascal expresses it, who merely adjusts all the parts of matter, and keeps the elements in order. Such a mind will be but little moved, unless he be taught to consider his Maker under the interesting and endearing representation which revealed religion gives of him. That “God is,” will be to him rather an alarming than a consolatory idea ; till he be persuaded of the subsequent proposition, that “he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Nay, if natural religion does even acknowledge one awful attribute, that “ God is just," it will only increase the terror
of a tender conscience, till it be learned from the fountain of truth, that he is “ the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.”
But if the great sanctions of our religion are not deeply engraven on the heart, where shall we look for any other adequate curb to the fiery spirit of youth? For, let the elements be ever so kindly mixed in a human composition, let the natural temper be ever so amiable, still, whenever a man ceases to think himself an accountable being, what motive can he have for resisting a strong temptation to a present good, when he has no dread that he shall thereby forfeit a greater future good ?
It may, perhaps, be objected, that this deep sense of religion would interfere with the general purpose of education, which is designed to qualify men for the business of human life, and not to train up a race of monks and ascetics.
There is, however, so little real solidity in this specious objection, that I am firmly persuaded that if religious principles were more deeply impressed on the heart, even the things of this word would be much better carried on.
For where are we to look for all the qualities which constitute the man of business ; for punctuality, diligence, and application ; for such attention in doing everything in its proper day, (the great hinge on which business turns,) as among men of principle ? Economy of time, truth in observing his word, never daring to deceive or to disappoint- these form the very essence of an active and a useful character; and for these to whom shall we most naturally look ? Who is so little likely to be “ s!othful in business” as he who is “fervent in spirit ?" And will not he be most regular in dealing with men, who is most diligent in “serving the Lord ?”
But, it may be said, allowing that religion does not necessarily spoil a man of business, yet it would effectually defeat those accomplishments, and counteract that fine breeding, which essentially constitute the gentleman.
This, again, is so far from being a natural consequence, that, supposing all the other real advantages of parts, education, and society, to be equally taken into the account, there is no doubt that, in point of true politeness, a real Christian would beat the world at its own weapons, the world itself being judge.
It must be confessed that in the present corrupt state of things, there is scarcely any one contrivance for which we are more obliged to the inventions of mankind than for that of politeness, as there is, perhaps, no screen in the world which hides so many ugly sights; yet, while we allow that there never was so admirable a substitute for real goodness as good breeding, it is certain that the principles of Christianity put into action, would of themselves produce more genuine politeness than any maxims drawn from motives of human .vanity or worldly convenience. If love, peace, joy, long-suffering, gentleness, patience, goodness, and meekness, may be thought instruments to produce sweetness of manners, these, we are expressly told, are “the fruits of the Spirit." If mourning with the afllicted, rejoicing with the happy; if to“esteem others better than ourselves”; if to take “ the lowest room ;” if“ not to seek our own;" if “not to behave ourselves unseemly;" if" not to speak great swelling words of vanity"-if these are amiable, engaging, and polite parts of behaviour, then would the documents of Saint Paul make as true a fine gentleman as the Courtier of Castiglione,
or even the Letters of Lord Chesterfield himself. Then would simulation, and dissimulation, and all the nice shades and delicate gradations of passive and active deceit, be rendered superfluous ; and the affections of every heart be won by a shorter and a surer way than by the elegant obliquities of this late popular preceptor, whose mischiefs have outlived his reputation ; and who, notwithstanding the present just declension of his fame, greatly helped, during its transient meridian, to relax the general nerve of virtue, and has left a taint upon the public morals, of which we are still sensible.
That self-abasement then, which is inseparable from true Christianity, and the external signs of which good breeding knows so well how to assume; and those charities which suggest invariable kindness to others, even in the smallest things; would, if left to their natural workings, produce that gentleness which it is one great object of a polite education to imitate. They would produce it too without effort and without exertion ; for being inherent in the substance, it would naturally discover itself on the surface.
For however useful the institutions of polished society may be found, yet they can never alter the eternal difference between right and wrong, or convert appearances into realities; they cannot transform decency into virtue, nor make politeness pass for principle. And the advocates for fashionable breeding should be humbled to reflect, that every convention of artificial manners was adopted not to cure but to conceal deformity; that, though the superficial civilities of elegant life tend to make this corrupt world a more tolerable place than it would be without them, yet they never will be considered as a substitute for truth, nor a commutation for virtue, by Him who is to pass the definitive sentence on the characters of
Among the many prejudices which the young and the gay entertain against religion, one is, that it is the declared enemy to wit and genius. But, says one of its wittiest champions,* “ Piety enjoins no man to be dull:" and it will be found, on a fair inquiry, that though it cannot be denied that irreligion has had able men for its advocates, yet they have never been the most able. Nor can any learned profession, any department in letters or in science, produce a champion on the side of unbelief, but Christianity has a still greater name to oppose to it, philosophers themselves being judges.
He who studied the book of nature with a scrutiny which has scarcely been permitted to any other mortal eye, was deeply learned in the book of God. And the ablest writer on the intellect of man, has left one of the ablest treatises on the reasonableness of Christianity. This essay of Mr. Locke on the Human Understanding, will stand up to latest ages, as a monument of wisdom ; while Hume's posthumous work, the Essay on Suicide, which had excited such large expectations, has been long since forgotten. I
* Dr. South.
+ Sir Isaac Newton. # The Essay on Suicide was published soon after Mr. Hume's death. It might mortify his liberal mind (if matter and motion were capable of consciousness) to learn, that this his dying legacy, the last concentrated effect of his genius and his principles, sent from the grave as it were, by a man so justly renowned in other branches of literature, produced no sensation on the public mind; and that the precious information that every man had a right to be his own