CHESHIRE, November 21, 1863.
REV. E. E. BEARDSLEY, D. D.,
In behalf of the Pupils of the Episcopal Academy, I would express to you their thanks for your excellent Discourse, delivered in the Chapel last evening and request a copy for publication.
Your recent visit was a source of great satisfaction to myself as well as them, and doubtless it must have been pleasant to you to revive associations connected with the scene of your former labors. I feel assured from the interest you take in the success of the Academy, that you will not refuse to permit us to place in print the wise counsels, (so kindly given,)—the result of your experience while in charge of this Institution of the Church.
S. J. HORTON,
NEW HAVEN, CONN., November 25, 1863.
MY DEAR SIR:—
The Discourse was not prepared with a view to publication, but if its lessons are desired in a permanent form, I cheerfully place the manuscript at your disposal.
I congratulate you on the present prosperity of the Academy, and on the additions which have been made to the capacity, the comfort and the convenience of the entire establishment. With fifty boarding, and half as many day scholars, your responsibilities must be great, and the instilling into the minds of the lads the wholesome lessons of Heavenly wisdom, along with the principles of secular education, is as much a duty as it should be a pleasure.
Very Truly Yours,
E. E. BEARDSLEY.
REV. S. J. HORTON,
Principal Episcopal Academy of Connecticut.
WE are not always pleased with the changes which result from the progress of time, and which remove from our sight familiar objects. One loves, in revisiting the place of his nativity, after an absence of many years, to find it as it was in his boyhood, with all its old landmarks and cherished associations. On this account Washington Irving blessed God that he was born on the banks of the Hudson River, and many, like him, with strong local attachments, have considered it a fortunate circumstance that their childhood was passed in the neighborhood of some enduring mountain or equally conspicuous object in nature.
But there are other changes attending the spirit of improvement, which we may all welcome; and such are the recent changes made in the apartments of this venerable Academy. I am here this evening, my young friends, by the invitation of your Principal, to assist in inaugurating with Divine Service the fitting up of this room, which is henceforth to be [5/6] used as a Chapel. Let me, therefore, have your attention while I proceed to discourse to you for a brief half hour, taking for the thread of my thoughts,
"WHEN WISDOM ENTERETH INTO THINE HEART, AND KNOWLEDGE IS PLEASANT UNTO THY SOUL, DISCRETION SHALL PRESERVE THEE, UNDERSTANDING SHALL KEEP THEE."—PROV. II., 10, 11.
It is recorded in the First Book of Kings, that Solomon, the son of David, "spake three thousand proverbs," and that "his songs were a thousand and five." The eminence of his station was not superior to the eminence of his wisdom, and his varied experience made him a skillful discerner and judge of the perils and perversities of human life. Though he succeeded to the throne of his father when it was surrounded with the splendors of extended conquest, yet it was among his earliest efforts to prove to the world that peace has greater triumphs and richer glories than war. The useful and the elegant arts found in him at once a pattern and a patron. He summoned into being the mighty power of commerce, and vast wealth flowed into his dominions as they "extended from sea to sea and from the river unto the ends of the earth." He built palaces of new and noble architecture—but his greatest work was the erection of the temple—"a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord and for the footstool of our God "the pattern of which, in all its parts, he received from David. That monarch, in his prosperity, "had made [6/7] ready for the building," but was denied the privilege of completing it because he "had been a man of war and had shed blood." Mindful of the many pious instructions and commands which he had received from his aged parent, Solomon began his reign with such a serious attention to religion and to the sacred ordinances as to warrant the inference that he was truly devoted to the service of God. He collected the floating wisdom of his country, and after he had intermingled it with his own, he gave to it shape and compactness.
But the morning of his life, which was indeed a morning without clouds, and the meridian of his reign, which was no less memorable for all that tended to promote admiration of the monarch and to secure happiness among the people, were both obscured towards the end of his days. A shade fell upon him, and proved how dangerous is even prosperity of the most exalted kind when men are left to themselves. At the season when there ought to have been the full maturity of an honorable old age consecrated to God, we find his heart lifted up, and through the corrupt and fascinating influence of sensuality and idolatry, he brought disgrace on his name and distress on his country, and the thing which he did displeased the Lord. The mournful record is faithfully given to us in Scripture, but what he wrote under the dictation of the Divine mind stands untarnished, and if any of his lessons were penned, after he had recovered from his [7/8] fall—as some commentators will believe—they are all the more valuable and forcible for this very circumstance. No one ever had a better right to point his words with emphasis than Solomon, in saying, as he does in the text, "When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul, discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee."
The praise and personification of Wisdom run through all the Book of Proverbs—a book especially addressed to the young, and containing maxims for their instruction, their guidance, their comfort, and their security. To no class can the preacher, in these days, speak with more affectionate concern than to those whom the wise man had immediately before his mind, when he collected his warnings and delivered his exhortations. It is in the season of youth, above all other seasons, that "wisdom" must "enter into the heart" and "knowledge be pleasant unto the soul." What we see about us is convincing proof that the waste of early opportunities is a waste not to be restored in after life. Time misspent is seldom recovered, and few regrets are more frequent and sincere than those which manhood utters over the waywardness, the follies, and the neglects of youth. The wise son of David speaks in the parental character of a father addressing his children, and displays great earnestness and solicitude in pressing his advice. There is a feeling, an urgency in his language at times, [8/9] which, if employed on a less momentous subject, would be deemed pertinacious. He recurs again and again, in simple and forcible terms, to his favorite topic, and hurls arrow after arrow at the same mark, that the shafts may not be sped in vain or launched into the air at a venture. "For I give you good doctrine," says he, "forsake not my law. For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments and live. Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting, get understanding."
"Wisdom," now and always, my young friends, "is the principal thing," and with the getting of it there follow knowledge and discretion and understanding. Yes, "wisdom is the principal thing "that wisdom which instructs us how to conduct properly the affairs of this life, as well as that higher wisdom which involves the knowledge of our religious duties and the salvation of our immortal souls. The seminary of Christian learning is a place for the acquisition of wisdom—a place for laying the foundation of those sterling virtues and attainments which are to be of conspicuous service to the man in the future scenes and turmoils of life. I know there is a [9/10] kind of public opinion ip most schools not favorable to continuous and diligent study and to moral and religious thought. Many boys appear to take it for granted that they are sent from home for any other purpose than that of education, and so they contrive in various ways to keep their teachers watchful and busy without adding much to their stock of knowledge, though they add largely to their stock of mischief. The escape from censure or punishment emboldens them to proceed to more flagrant acts of insubordination, and they become in time leaders and heroes with that class among whom a low tone of moral principle prevails. No Head-master of an Academic institution can be expected, conscientiously, to allow long the retention of those who are clearly incapable of deriving advantage from his system, or whose influence on others is decidedly and extensively pernicious. He receives the young under his care not to attempt the cure of incorrigibly bad habits—not to cage and tame them as wild animals are tamed—but to guide them with a gentle and friendly hand to the right and true sources of moral life—to give attention to their intellectual and physical education—to nurture their noble hopes and generous aspirations—in a word, as far as it depends upon his own efforts, to see in the case of each pupil that it may be truly said of him, "wisdom entereth into his heart and knowledge is pleasant unto his soul."
Many years have elapsed since there passed under [10/11] my care here, during the brief period I was charged with the oversight of this Institution, some three hundred and fifty different youths. Their names are all entered in a private register which I keep, and now and then I recur to it and note, as they are brought to my knowledge, certain events of their lives and certain developments in their characters. It is wonderful to observe, in these instances, how generally the old adage has been verified, "the boy is father to the man;" in other words, it is wonderful to observe how rarely the studious, industrious, and virtuous youth has failed to impress these characteristics upon his manhood, and to carry into his profession or his employment those elements and that energy which, with the blessing of Divine Providence, invariably command success. If there be one thing on earth which is truly admirable, it is to behold the fruits of early and virtuous education thus springing freshly along the paths of life and adorning the man, the patriot, the Christian. The best use should be made of all your powers and privileges, and no lazy predictions, that those, who fail in the preliminary course of instruction, may redouble their diligence in after years and turn out well, should ever be allowed to set aside the sure standard of intellectual and moral progress.
You are looking forward with pleasurable emotions, I doubt not, to the close of the Term, when most of you will return to your respective homes and [11/12] spend the Christmas vacation among your immediate friends. It will be a fit inquiry for them to entertain, whether you will come back to the parental roof with signs of improvement, with some degree of self-respect and some desire for the respect and love of others; and it is a proper subject for you to consider how far, in this matter, they shall be gratified—how far you will profit by the advantages which you possess, and move steadily on in the orbit of duty and diligence. I will suppose that the day of your departure has actually arrived. Your books are collected and laid aside for a season. Your trunks are packed, locked, strapped, and labeled, and as you all stand watching for the tardy coach or the lingering train, "feeling like a horse pawing the ground, impatient to be off," let the question be asked—let each one ask the question of himself—has " wisdom entered into my heart and knowledge been pleasant unto my soul?" Have I improved my time and my advantages, and depended as thoroughly upon myself as upon my teachers for progress and proficiency? Am I going back to my home as virtuous and noble-minded as I came to this place? Have I braced my character to greater beauty and firmness amid the scenes through which I have passed, and have I remembered always to heed that caution, as true morally as scripturally, "Evil communications corrupt good manners?"
"Of all the painful things connected with my [12/13] employment," said Dr. Arnold, Head-master at Rugby, "nothing is equal to the grief of seeing a boy come to school innocent and promising, and of tracing the corruption of his character from the influence of the temptations around him, in the very place, which ought to have strengthened and improved it. But in most cases those who come with a character of positive good are benefited; it is the neutral and indecisive characters which are apt to be decided for evil by schools, as they would be in fact by any other temptations." Experience and observation both tell us, my young friends, that the elements of the same corrupt nature are in us all, and he that has gone farthest from his God went one step at a time. The very lowest degradation of the worst man living is but the result of the same wayward tendencies, and the way to check them in the outset is to penetrate the heart with the lessons of wisdom—to cultivate a right conscience, and resolve to be always guided by its monitions.
No large Institution, like this, can be successfully conducted without employing several subordinate Teachers, and it is not supposable that such Teachers will attempt to educate and direct the minds and consciences of others, unless they have consciences of their own. It would indicate a great degree of turpitude—to say nothing about the utter lack of religious feeling—if one should accept the post of an usher in an Academic institution, be assigned to his [13/14] department of duty, and receive wages for his work, and yet not be found at the same time thoroughly upholding the order and discipline of the establishment, and doing what he could to secure the moral and mental training of those who are brought under his instruction or his supervision. It would be like a subordinate officer on board of the ship failing to do his duty with the Marines, and, therefore, you are to consider these Teachers, if ever they appear too exacting and rigid in the enforcement of the rules of the school, as acting from a conscientious regard to the directions of their Principal, and from a sincere desire to fulfill the whole responsibilities of their position.
"When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul, discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee."
The profit of wisdom is especially manifested in the second verse of the text. When it has dominion over us—when it not only possesses the mind with its heavenly sanctions, but enters into the heart and has a commanding power and influence there—when it gives law to the affections and passions, and stands like a sentinel in all our paths—"crying without and uttering her voice in the streets,"—then surely we shall find its profit, for we shall be kept from wicked courses and "from the man that speaketh froward things." We shall have no wish for association side by side with those who, whatever their [14/15] intellectual tastes and attainments, never can or never do say of wisdom, "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." It is to be feared that religion, in our day, has a frail hold upon the home life, and that many sons, when sent out into the world, bring distress upon their parents and disgrace upon themselves, because they have not first learned to put on the armor in which they might resist temptation and battle triumphantly with their spiritual foes. There is a beautiful expression of antiquity, "that the young among the people are like the spring amid the seasons," but then the expression is all the more beautiful if the young be those whom "discretion shall preserve and understanding shall keep"—"shall preserve" from moral evil, and "keep" from besetting sins. There is nothing manly—there is nothing noble—never believe there is—in scorning the lessons of heavenly wisdom and making light of those who sincerely and steadily tread the walks of piety. We all love to see the upward growth in goodness, and no Christian parent is without much solicitude for the welfare of his child when he commits him tenderly to the guidance of new teachers, and prays, like Jabez, "more honorable than his brethren," that God "would bless him * * "and keep him from evil." "That is properly a nursery of vice where a boy unlearns the pure and honest principles which he may have received at home, and gets in their stead others which are utterly low and base [15/16] and mischievous—where he loses his modesty, his respect for truth, and his affectionateness, and becomes coarse and false and unfeeling. That, too, is a nursery of vice, and most fearfully so, where vice is bold and forward and persevering; and goodness is timid and shy, and existing as by sufferance—where the good, instead of setting the tone of society, and branding with disgrace those who disregard it, are themselves exposed to reproach for their goodness, and shrink before the open avowal of evil principles which the bad are striving to make the law of the community. That is a nursery of vice, where the restraints laid upon evil are considered as so much taken from liberty, and where, generally speaking, evil is more willingly screened and concealed than detected and punished. What society would be, if men regarded the laws of God and man as a grievance, and thought liberty consisted in following to the full their proud and selfish and low inclinations," [Rugby School Sermons.] we cannot imagine, but certainly it would bear no meet resemblance to that happy state which the Gospel portrays as the portion and possession of the righteous. It is a wrong committed against God, against humanity, against the soul, to shut wisdom from the mind and take downward courses to moral evil. Even if we escape from its worst consequences by repentance before death comes to close our [16/17] probation, it is a wrong in itself, which discretion and a better understanding must teach us to avoid. Illustrious men—not in the Church alone, but in the national councils—have dignified and adorned their names by accepting and cherishing the truths and consolations of the Christian religion. The great DANIEL WEBSTER, born in a humble cottage of New Hampshire, on what was then the outskirts of civilization, with no inheritance but poverty and an honored name, and subjected, in early life, to many disadvantages of education, worked his way up through the difficult and toilsome paths of youth and manhood to an eminence where it was acknowledged by his competitors that he stood alone—primus inter clarissimos—first among the noblest. A deeply religious parent had probably imbued the son with his own spirit, and whatever his errors and failings in after life—and to his praise be it spoken, he never sought their apology—and however practically he fell below his conception of a disciple of Jesus, it must be admitted that he was a Christian. When swaying courts and senates and enchaining multitudes by the power of his arguments and the splendor of his eloquence, he was a Christian, and no public man of our country has more frequently and more reverently recognized in his pleadings and addresses and speeches the great truths of a wise and superintending Providence, and the great hopes and principles of redemption. The distinguished LORD LYNDHURST, born in our own New [17/18] England, and the tidings of whose death have just been wafted to us across the broad Atlantic, was for nearly half a century the most eloquent man in the British Parliament, if not in the world, and "held listening senates captive at his will." [He was born in Boston, Mass., May 21st, 1772, and three years afterwards was taken by his mother to England to join her husband. The father, born also in Boston, was u self-taught and eminent portrait painter, who devoted himself to his profession in London. The son had the best advantages for education, and distinguished himself in Trinity College, Cambridge, by winning many prizes. His name—before he was created Lord Lyndhurst—was John Singleton Copley, and he died October 12th, 1863, in his ninety-second year. Some of his finest speeches in the House of Lords are said to have been made when he was beyond the age of eighty.] Crowned heads and noble lords and illustrious jurists—cultivated civilians and princely merchants and wealthy manufacturers bent in admiration before the fullness of his mind and the depth and wisdom of his counsels. Public life, we know, has its grievous and manifold temptations, and the time of statesmen is so much absorbed in national subjects and the weightiest of human affairs, that, for the most part, they take too little thought of religious truth and duty. But great as this nobleman was, he bowed before the greatness of the Supreme Ruler of the universe. He applied all the power of his marvelous and accomplished intellect and all his quickness of apprehension to the study and attainment of piety, and it gilded the evening of his days that nothing so called forth his perpetual gratitude to God as that he had enabled him, [18/19] by extending his life far beyond the allotted period, to "redeem the time" and expand his Christian character.
My young friends, let me entreat you to remember that the highest issue of all your attainments is the issue of everlasting blessedness. Wisdom and the pursuits of knowledge properly lead both to honor and happiness. "Length of days is in her right hand, and in her left band riches and honor." No youth can bring the vigor of his resolution and the warmth and earnestness of his affections to the service of God without finding himself advantaged. He cannot forsake his sins, surrender the idle and criminal amusements of the world, and follow with a steady judgment and large faith the path of Christian holiness except wisdom be given to his purposes and glory crown his actions. Not that he is to become an ascetic and utterly relinquish the world. Humanity requires society, society requires that many of its pleasures and gratifications should be enjoyed, and religion, ever merciful, does not prohibit their enjoyment. They are the fragrant flowers, the very roses which God has strewn on this path of perplexity and care, and it would be ingratitude to trample them under our feet. Love and friendship, health and fortune, the vicissitudes of the seasons, the fruits of the earth, the very air and light of Heaven—these are blessings for our enjoyment, and blessings to which religion lends her beauty and communicates a soul. [19/20] Oh! know God and render Him the service which He claims. It is His love that gives us all which we enjoy and shields us from numberless perils. It clothes the earth with verdure and crowns the hills with plenty. It feeds the gale of morning with incense and with health. It invests the beams of noon with splendor. It robes the parting day in mellowed glories, and gives to night her shades and her quiet—her safety and her repose.
May the benedictions of Him who called the young unto Him and blessed them, descend upon all your heads. And may you now so weigh the importance of the great journey which stretches before you—the journey of human life—that you may find peace in its pursuit, and in the end honor and glory and blessedness and immortality!