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IN RELIGIOUS IMPROVEMENT.
portions of Scripture, too long to admit of anything like sufficient explanation, even if the portions were chosen with any reference to the age and powers of comprehension of the child;* perhaps these portions are the psalms and lessons for the day, which must often convey no clearer idea to his mind than the same words written in Greek or Hebrew characters; and to which, if he be not too weary to attach any meaning at all, he will almost inevitably attach a wrong one. Prayers are taught and repeated in the same mechanical manner; the child does not pray, but " says his prayers," to the mother or governess, who listens as to any other lesson. In this manner the ear and memory are familiarized with the words of Scripture, and the mother flatters herself that though their meaning is lost upon the child for the present, in after years the verbal knowledge so acquired will recur, and produce on the ripened mind the fruits of piety and holiness. The real result, however, is sadly different. Religion is inevitably associated in the mind of a child so taught, with the dulness and weariness of this solemn repetition of incomprehensible words; no feeling having been awakened by the process, none will be recalled again when memory recurs to it. The unfortunate association will alone remain strong and vivid in his mind, and it is doubtful whether words made so familiar and yet so uninteresting, will ever, even after the lapse of years and the full growth of intellect, have for him the same freshness and force and living beauty as for another. The best that can be hoped from such training, as regards boys, is that they may carry away from it some vague and superstitious notion of future reward and punishment, which shall act in some degree as a moral restraint when passion is not too strong to be kept within bounds; and which in later years, when worldly pleasures have palled, and the temptations of youth are no longer felt, and the thoughts of death cannot be evaded, shall produce a formal habit of church-going and Bible-reading, to prove the man's decorous Christianity to himself and to the world. We believe that many religious mothers do more by this erroneous teaching to blunt their sons' natural sense of religion, and to prepare the way for indifference or aversion to it, than could be effected by all the scoffing and boyish impiety of school or college. With girls the result is less manifestly evil, partly owing to the stronger religious feeling belonging to their sex, and partly because irreligion being looked upon as disgraceful in a woman, they are saved from the temptations to it, which their brothers are inevitably exposed to. But the
* We ourselves have seen, in Infant Schools, supposed to be very well conducted, children of five and six, reading the most difficult passages of St. Paul's Epistles, as the portion of Scripture for the day.
mischief, though less flagrant, is not less real, and the daughters inherit their mothers' narrow and superstitious piety to transmit it in their turn to another generation.
Much of this evil springs from the supposition that religious feeling is quite different from any other feeling; that it is independent of human means, and will come at God's appointed time, whether we prepare the way for it or not. Experience, however, teaches us the contrary. There is an inherent tendency in man to look up to a higher power than his own, and according as this tendency is cultivated or neglected, the result is irreligion, or superstition, or true and enlightened piety. The tendency shows itself in some form of worship even in the rudest and most barbarous nations. In the child, its first manifestation is reverence for the parent, who to him is the visible representative of that higher power his infant faculties cannot yet conceive. On this feeling a wise mother will lay the foundation of religious training. She will lead her child's mind from the visible parent on earth to the invisible Father in heaven. She will ground the duty of obedience to her, on the duty of obedience to Him who has appointed her as his representative; she will gently but steadily train up the feelings of love and gratitude and reverence which, under her influence, will arise spontaneously in her child's heart to the Source of all goodness and wisdom. She will take care that when the Bible is opened, it shall not be a lesson-book; nor the words she hopes to stamp on that plastic mind as the indelible law of conscience, be learnt by rote as a cabalistic charm, but she will herself impress them carefully and reverently, "line upon line, precept upon precept," so as to convey a distinct idea to the mind, and to awaken the feeling which shall give them power over the heart. Her own soul-felt piety will be breathed into her child by her manner, by her few and simple words, expressing the depth and earnestness of her conviction, and far more by the consistency of her life with her teaching. The mother who has so trained her son may safely trust him even among the temptations of a public school, or the worse temptations of the world. He will not, indeed, escape doubt or error, but the doubt will not harden into indifference to truth, the error will not sink into habitual vice. The indelible associations of childhood will ever bind the thoughts of religion and virtue with all that endeared his childhood's home with his earliest and purest feelings, and with the holiest love man is capable of feeling, the love of a son for his mother.
Would that we had the tongue of men and of angels to impress these things on the hearts of women, to waken them from their long dream of vain or solemn frivolity to a sense of the full power
INFLUENCE ON CHARACTER.
and importance of their influence on social improvement or decay! Would that we could convince them that Providence, by excluding them from the strife and struggle of public life, from the active competition for earthly rewards, has appointed them a nobler office, the guardianship of every purer feeling which tends to a goal beyond this earth,—the training of that in the human soul which is immortal!
But ere we can train this spiritual life in another, we must have trained it in ourselves. We must have made the principle of obedience to the whole of God's will, through love to Him, as the source of goodness, beauty, and truth, the governing idea of our system of life, the crowning aim of our self-education. We need not enter into any detail of the means which Christianity supplies for the training and fostering of this principle of spiritual life. The Gospel, with its high and unchanging standard, is in every hand, and the conscience which is deaf to its clear and simple precepts, the heart that wants any impulse stronger than its words of divine love and mercy, the soul that cannot be stirred by its glorious hopes,-can gain nothing from human aid. We would rather dwell upon the influence of such a principle upon our daily life and character.
That it is the fountain-head of every virtue, is too obvious to need mentioning; but there are some virtues which are its more immediate and especial results, and by our progress in which, we may best test the strength of religious principle in our own hearts. The deep humility, which is the natural attitude of the mind, habitually looking up to the type of Divine perfection; the wide and tender charity which reflects in human character and actions the benevolence of the Deity; the resignation which accepts every event as the result of His laws, whose will is perfect goodness and perfect wisdom; the serene cheerfulness which springs from the peace of a heart whose treasure is garnered up there, "where moth and rust doth not corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal;"-these are the attributes by which the Christian should be known,-but if we apply the test, how many shall dare to call themselves Christians? We might almost say, that these are the features most generally absent from the character of those who claim for themselves, in our day, the exclusive right to be deemed religious ;-or, at least, that the opposite defects of presumption, intolerance, irritability, and moroseness, too often give the tone to writing and speaking on religious subjects. It has been truly said, that "to be good and disagreeable is high treason against virtue," and the saying applies with double force to religion. Judged by this standard, how many of us are traitors to their own faith! Some people seem to think, that when they have obeyed the positive moral precepts of the
Gospel, they have done all it was their duty to do. They care not how many hearts they repel, how many minds they disgust, by the unattractiveness of their piety; and seem to think that they best obey the precept of loving not the world, by giving the world every cause to hate them. Unfortunately, the dislike they so justly inspire is transferred from them to the faith they profess, and the noblest, the most benign, and the most comprehensive of religions, is contemned as harsh, and low, and narrow, because harsh, and low, and narrow minds have adopted it for their own.* The verdict is a natural one; men judge of the tree by its fruits, and conclude that to be a bramble on which they find thorns instead of figs. If, then, we really love our religion, and wish to see its influence extended, we shall strive to make it beautiful and winning, no less than estimable. Had this been ever the aim of Christians,—had religion been ever inseparably connected, by the lives of its professors, with everything that is noble in human aspirations, everything tender and holy in human affections, everything beautiful and refined which appeals to the taste and imagination of man,we might still, indeed, hear the doubt of the sceptic, but it would be that scepticism only which doubts of virtue because incapable of believing in anything but vice. We should be spared the deep pain of seeing good and high-minded men turning away from a religion dishonoured and desecrated in their eyes by the character of its professors.
BENEFITS OF RELIGION.
We have no words to express the inestimable value of religion to our own minds, wholly independent of the influence we exercise upon others. It is truly the "pearl of great price," the "one thing needful," because it includes all others. Under its influence life is at once harmonized and ennobled. It strengthens the obligation of every duty by making it an act of obedience to God; it sanctions the exercise of every affection, the development of every faculty, the enjoyment of every innocent pleasure, by teaching us to regard our improvement and happiness as the express design of a benevolent Creator; it softens every sorrow, by faith in the fatherly love of Him who sends us the trial; it smooths the jarring discrepancies between our earthly cares and our heavenward meditations, and blends all the different and apparently discordant notes of life's long scale into one noble melody of homage to God. Above all, it exalts and animates the mind with the lofty hope of a future and immortal existence, in which every noble faculty shall be developed, every highest aspiration realized, and the truth, goodness, and beauty, we have sincerely, though imperfectly, loved and sought on earth, shall be fully revealed to us in the ineffable presence of God.
See Foster's Essays. Essay on the Aversion of Men of Taste to Evangelical Religion.
THE deriders of female education are accustomed to say, that common sense is a su cient guide for women in their narrow sphere of life, and that deeper intellectual attainments would only lead them astray from that simple and straightforward guide. We have ourselves offered some remarks on the nature and value of common sense, as opposed to a cultivated understanding (chap. v., § 11), but we cannot resist quoting here a passage from Archbishop Whately, which places the subject in a forcible light. "By common sense," he remarks, "is meant, I apprehend (when the term is used with any distinct meaning), an exercise of the judgment, unaided by any art or system of rules; such an exercise as we must necessarily employ in numberless cases of daily occurrence, in which, having no established principles to guide us,-no line of procedure, as it were, distinctly chalked out,- -we must needs act on the best extemporaneous conjectures we can form. He who is eminently skilful in doing this is said to possess a superior degree of common sense. But that common sense is only our second best guide--that the rules of art, if judiciously framed, are always desirable when they can be had, is an assertion, for the truth of which I may appeal to the testimony of mankind in general, which is so much the more valuable, inasmuch as it may be accounted the testimony of adversaries. For the generality have a strong predilection in favour of common sense, except in those points in which they respectively possess the knowledge of a system of rules; but in these points they deride any one who trusts to unaided common sense. A sailor, e. g., will, perhaps, despise the pretensions of medical men, and prefer treating a disease by common sense; but he would ridicule the proposal of navigating a ship by common sense, without regard to the maxims of nautical art. A physician, again, will perhaps contemn systems of political economy, of logic, or metaphysics, and insist on the superior wisdom of trusting to common sense in such matters; but he would never approve of trusting to common sense in the treatment of diseases. Neither, again, would the architect recommend