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RELIGIOUS TRUTHS REQUIRE RELIGIOUS AFFECTIONS.
And though I understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and have not charity, I am nothing.
It is to be deeply lamented that the religious affections, though capable of infinite cultivation, are so generally neglected in our schools; while ingenuity is exhausted to urge forward the mental culture. We are naturally religious beings, and education should develope all the human powers in their order and value. The remarks which follow are for parents.
Religious truths are those which immediately respect the characacter of God, and his dealings with mankind. Religious affections are those which gradually rise up in the mind from impressions, or reflections, respecting the character and dealings of God; for instance, gratitude for his goodness, awe of his power, reverence for his greatness and knowledge, fear of his displeasure, desire of his approbation, obedience to his will, confidence in his wisdom and mercy. When religious truths are accompanied with the corresponding religious affections, and thereby influence the conduct, they are called religious principles; and the affections themselves, when they influence the conduct, are also called religious principles. A man cannot be said to have religious principles, merely because he believes there is a God, and has right ideas as to his character and dealings. Religious truth may be possessed, without its influencing the heart and life; and when that is the case, a man cannot truly be said to be a religious man, nor his principles religious. Whatever those opinions and desires are, which influence the dispositions and the conduct, those are our principles; and if they are inconsistent with religion, or at least have nothing to do with religion, we are not religious, and cannot be said to live religiously.
It appears desirable to mention these things, plain as they certainly are, because many, it is to be feared, imagine that they are giving their children religious principles when they are only teaching them religious truths. If these influence the conduct, it must be by their exciting hopes and fears, desire and love: if awe and reverence, love and gratitude, the desire to please, and fear to offend, be not produced in the youthful heart, it is of comparatively little consequence that we teach them to repeat, or even to understand, the most important truths respecting God.
Religious knowledge may exist without religious affections; and it is perhaps because this distinction is not sufficiently observed, that so many unhappily suppose that religious principle is easily acquired, and even that it will come of itself.
Perhaps it may be truly said, that a young person, of a good understanding, and a ready retentive memory, may gain, by a day's instruction, an acquaintance with all the grand leading truths of religion. But will any one affirm, that thus the love and fear of God may be acquired, as habitual affections of the mind; that thus they may be made actuating principles of the conduct? Daily experience must convince us, that it is only by careful and long continued cultivation of those affections, that we can give them sufficient power to enable them to regulate our conduct and dispositions; and this even where they have happily been early and successfully implanted by wise and religious parents and friends.
SUGGESTIONS TO A MOTHER.
She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness. Her children rise up and call her blessed.
THE cultivation of religious affections and principles, must be expected to be a work of time; and it should be our endeavour to proceed in it steadily rather than quickly. The growth of affections and habits cannot be forced; and we may, by too great haste and too little attention to the natural progress of the mind, prevent, rather than promote, the influence of religion in the heart. It must be our aim to choose opportunities for this purpose, when the mind is in a fit state for the reception of religious impressions; to seek for them often, and to make our instructions interesting. This point must not be given up because we do not succeed all at once; if some means fail we must try others, employing the influence of religious fear or love, as we find the dispositions of children require it, but endeavouring, by every means in our power, to give their young minds a permanent bias in favour of religious principle. We must make religion as interesting as we can to them, but never lessen their reverence for it, nor their ideas of the necessity of obeying the divine will.
We must not consider religion as confined to the affections, dispositions, and habits, which directly respect God, but bearing in mind that every right disposition and habit constitutes a part of it, and contributes to increase its influence, and that every wrong disposition and habit is forbidden by it, and contributes to diminish its influence, we must do every thing in our power to cultivate and cherish the one, and to check and repress the other. Nothing destroys religious principles sooner, than the indulgence of sinful dispositions and sinful habits; and he who would have his child religious, must carefully guard against whatever would lead to them. Affectionate parents should labour from the earliest dawnings of understanding and desire, to check the growing obstinacy of the will; curb all sallies of passion; impress the deepest, most amiable, reverential, and awful impressions of God, a future state, and all sacred things; restrain anger, jealousy, selfishness; encourage love, compassion, generosity, forgiveness, gratitude; excite, and even compel to, such industry as the tender age will properly admit of.
As mothers have, in the early periods of education, peculiar influence and opportunity for cultivating the religious affections and principles, we earnestly wish to see them making this a paramount object, cultivating their own affections and knowledge with a view to it, bending their plans of life and their social intercourse as much as possible to it, and regarding nothing short of absolute necessity a sufficient excuse for partial attention to it. And, with the same view, it should be the steady endeavour of all parents to cultivate the understandings and enlarge the minds of their daughters; to teach them more noble accomplishments than those of show and taste; to implant in their minds, and steadily to cherish, religious affections and principles. While they pay due attention to other branches of knowledge, let them not neglect the knowledge of God and duty while they acquire those accomplishments that will grace the social circle, and add attractions to goodness, let them learn to set a higher value on, and more sedulously cultivate, the inward adornings of the mind.
HOW TO OBTAIN AN ENLIGHTENED CONSCIENCE.
I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths.
To enlighten the conscience, is the great work of religious education. The directions for this, are summarily, as follows-We must, throughout, proportion our instructions, as well as our intentional impressions, whether pleasurable or painful, to the strength and refinement of the conscience. The principles we communicate, and the pleasures and pains we employ, should be suited to the general progress of the mind in intellectual culture and refinement of feeling, and to the state of the moral principle in particular.-The feelings of honour and shame must be employed with great care, connected principally with right and wrong conduct and dispositions. In their conversation, parents should express approbation or disapprobation in a proportion suitable to the value of different qualities or actions. It is of singular importance that they should accustom their children to the utmost openness of disposition.-Proper care in the selection of books; and in the regulation of all foreign interference in education, especially during the early periods, is necessary. Early accustom children to think on moral questions, and let their understandings be drawn into free discussion and open disclosures.-Passing occurrences should be made to impress moral truths, and illustrate practical principles.-Biography, that which is most minute, should be studied, as teaching the causes and effects of actions in their connections.-To attend to the suggestions of conscience, is a duty which cannot be acted upon too soon. The sensibility of the mind must be carefully preserved; and therefore it should not be much accustomed to fictitious scenes of criminality or suffering; because feelings become less vivid by repetition, while habitual motives become more powerful by exercise. The feelings should never be excessively excited. A well regulated virtuous sensibility, is not strong excitement.-The cultivation of prompt veracity and unhesitating openness, is of primary value. Deception, in any form, is fatal to a pure conscience. The cultivation of the religious principle is of the utmost moment, to give vigour, stability, purity and correctness to the conscience.
There never has appeared a religion which so illumines human nature as christianity. To fix the belief of this firmly in the mind of a child, is doing a parent's duty. It is a part of the wise ordinations of Providence, that before the understanding can properly exert itself, a lively belief may be formed in truths of importance for the conduct of life; and by producing that belief, we not only do what is necessary for the right direction of childhood and youth, but we in reality give the best preparation for what is emphatically called a rational faith. And this will be easily formed, if we have been careful to communicate truth only. The proofs of the being and attributes of God may be made intelligible even to children. They may early be taught some of the grounds of our belief in the divine authority of Jesus Christ; and at a subsequent period, of our belief in the genuineness of the Scripture. As they advance in life, books may be put into their hands, which will most materially assist in forming a rational conviction; and in this connection we cannot but strongly recommend, as universally unexceptionable, Paley's Evidences of Natural Theology and of Christianity.
We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.--That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.
SUNDAY Schools are taking the place of that stated religious instruction which was formerly given by parents at home but which has of late been much neglected. These schools are of great value; especially in cities, in manufacturing districts, and where primary schools are kept but a few months in the year.
The best mode of instruction is oral. Let the pupils be divided into classes of five each, according to their proficiency. To each class let there be a fixed and proper teacher; and over all, a principal. These teachers and the principal should constitute a committee for the regulation of the school. One hour is as long as a child's mind can be profitably fixed on religious topicks at one time. Let the first quarter of the hour be occupied in reading and explaining an appropriate hymn; which hymn is then to be sung; and after singing, let the principal offer a short prayer.-The second quarter of the hour should be occupied thus-in briefly reviewing the previous sabbath's instructions, in which review the children are to answer the teacher's questions-in hearing some scripture history, parable, &c. narrated and explained by the teacher.-In the third quarter, the teachers are to read, repeat, or invent some story filled with interest and having a striking moral attached to it. The last quarter may be occupied as each teacher may prefer, all the exercises being concluded with a short parting hymn read and explained by the principal, and then sung, as the opening hymn was, by the whole school.
This plan I have tried with full success. It may be varied as differing circumstances require, embracing mutual instruction and recitations. A juvenile library should be attached to every sabbath school, and the pupils should be persuaded to narrate to their class and teacher what they have liked in the books last read. An account should be required of the public services of the sanctuary, and abstracts of the sermons made if possible. No rewards should be admitted, because children should be told, that they must be good for goodness' sake. They can be made to understand, that virtue is its own reward. It may be proposed to a class, to discover the prominent traits in a good scripture character, and detail them on the next sabbath.
Once a month the principal should deliver a lecture to the whole school, occupying from twenty to forty minutes. The subjects should embrace the sciences and arts, natural history, astronomy, &c. so far as they can be rendered illustrative of the being, attributes, providence and glory of God. The connexion of science with religion is most direct, and I regret most deeply that so many have treated religion as though it was separated from the Creator's works, and was confined only to his word. The principal can lecture for example, on the formation and uses of the eye in man, animals, birds, fishes, and on the formation and properties of plants; and how direct and powerful the inference, that all these shew the wisdom, care, kindness and power of God.-The heavens declare God's glory, the firmament sheweth his handy-work; the earth is full of his riches.
DUTIES OF A SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHER.
Take heed unto thyself, and to thy doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this, thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.
I. THE first duties of the sunday school teacher relates to himself. He must be a good man. If he has not purchased the pearl of great price, how can he know or describe its value? He must feel religion to be the one thing needful. His manner must be winning and serious.
II. He should clearly understand what he proposes to teach. Having first secured the affections of his pupils, he should give his instructions as though they were his own experience, and thus fortify his words by his life. He must explain most familiarly, drawing his illustrations from every-day events and circumstances. He must avoid minute distinctions, but never become weary in repeating common facts and principles. All instruction must be conveyed in the words used by children. If, in any sentence, an unintelligible word is used, the whole sentiment is lost, and worse than lost, for the child's mind is bewildered and disappointed. An hour is long enough to continue instruction, for the lessons should be all well prepared.
III. The teacher should ascertain the character and situation of his pupils. He should know from their parents, their temper, taste and habits; and thus he can check, urge, guide and correct, with a clear application to the peculiarities of each one. The lessons should be full of point; and directed to the tender sympathies and eager curiosity of childhood. What does not bear upon their case, should be carefully omitted. If they see that their beloved instructor understands what they say and do at home, they will be doubly anxious to hear the end of a story, which they continually feel has a close reference to their own thoughts and practices. If the mark is to be hit, the aim must be exact. By this applicability, the teacher lends weight to parental instruction and reproof.
IV. He should confine himself to practical truths at first. Those principles which bear upon daily conduct, are the most important. After these may follow, scripture biography and history, oriental customs, and Jewish phrases. Last of all, the doctrines of christianity. The character of Christ is a delightful and fertile theme. V. He should connect himself with other teachers. In the teacher's meetings, young instructors are informed and encouraged; new books are examined; alterations introduced; and above all, friendships formed, sympathies awakened, spirits refreshed, and mutual wants relieved. All should be present, so that the experience of each may help in devising or regulating improved plans.
VI. Punctuality is important, as it indicates at once, interest, pleasure, and regard to duty. If the teacher of five children is ten minutes late, he has lost fifty minutes. If he is occasionally tardy, his pupils will think they may always be so. He must be found at his post when the clock strikes, and then only can he be called punctual.
The other duties of the sunday school teacher naturally grow out of these now enumerated; and they are each valuable qualifications in any individual. Say not, my friend, that they are too many or that they incur too great responsibility. You are benefitting yourself and others. You are laying the first stones in the foundation of that immense edifice, the human character.