I know not to what cause I am indebted for the kind request, which brings me as a lecturer before the American Institute of Instruction. Certain, indeed, it is, that during thirty years of a busy and checkered life, I have been engaged, more or less actively, in the work of education. And I may venture to add, that few men can be found who have thought more anxiously of its importance and its difficulties. But I have taken no prominent part in its popular forms. I have held no office amongst its influential promoters. I have offered no valuable contribution to its literature. I have gained no name on the list of its benefactors. My toils and labors have been chiefly confined to the home department; and the schools which I have attempted to establish--[1/2] to my own most serious loss--were only designed to carry out the principles of parental responsibility, as they appeared to be inculcated in the word of God. To the public I made no appeal. Nor had I any reason to suppose that my opinions on the subject could ever be drawn into sufficient accordance with the spirit of the age to bear the stamp of popularity.
Of the peculiar merits or defects of popular systems of education, therefore, my personal experience would qualify me to say but little. And hence, although I have accepted the invitation of your Secretary, lest I might appear unfriendly or indifferent to the high and patriotic objects of your Association, yet I have done so under a lively apprehension, that the position of a hearer would become me far better than that of a speaker, in an assembly like this.
With these impressions on my own mind, I can hardly hope to make any offering of importance to your treasury of knowledge. All that I propose to myself is to set before you some thoughts on the most serious defect which seems to characterize the work of instruction in our age and country, although I frankly confess that I am not prepared to say whether it is of a kind which is likely to admit of any effectual remedy.
The true definition of education is conveyed to us with equal exactness and simplicity, in the inspired precept of Solomon: "Train up the child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." But what way is this? The answer is obvious, when we consider the two-fold character of our existence, mortal and immortal. As mortal [2/3] beings, designed to live and labor for a short course of years on earth, the knowledge of language, art and science, to a certain extent, is necessary. And this indicates the ordinary range of intellectual and physical culture, which is commonly called education. As immortal beings, however, destined to another and an endless life beyond the grave, for which the present world is only intended to be a preparation, the knowledge of religious truth, and of morals as founded on religion, is yet more necessary, because the object of such knowledge transcends the objects of all other learning, to an extent beyond comparison. Who can pleasure the difference between earth and heaven? Who can estimate the degrees between time and eternity?
I stand not here this day to discuss points of theology. I am fully aware that there are some who consider the future life as a state of assured happiness to all men, so that there will be no final distinction between the righteous and the wicked--between him that serveth God, and him that serveth him not. But this is the opinion of a very small minority amongst professed Christians. The vast mass of those who take the bible for their guide, believe that the felicity of the world to come is only promised to the faithful followers of the Redeemer. And I am authorized to suppose, that the Institute which I have the honor to address, accord in sentiment with the language of the only unerring Teacher, when he saith that "Wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat. For straight is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth [3/4] unto life, and few there be that find it." I need not remind this intelligent auditory, that the same divine Instructor expressly sets forth a judgment after death, when every soul must appear before His tribunal--when the true and consistent disciples of his gospel shall be appointed to eternal joy, and all the rest shall be sentenced to everlasting ruin.
To train up the child in the way he should go, therefore, includes, of necessity, the duty of teaching him the knowledge and the habits which belong to the Christian religion. And the question at once arises: Can the work of education be properly conducted which omits or runs counter to this paramount science of eternal life? Can the intellect be cultivated successfully without the heart? Can morality be rightly inculcated, without the supreme motives to morality? Can the usefulness and the success, the permanent dignity and honor of the individual be secured, by raising a superstructure of mental acquirement and ability, without attending to the foundation of religious principle on which it should be based? A more serious and practical inquiry can hardly be suggested to a reflecting mind. How shall it be answered to the satisfaction of the professional teacher? What bearing should it have upon the modern system of instruction?
In the arrangement of Providence, the training of the child is committed, as a general rule, to the father. The relation of parent and child is the peculiar work of God, and to him we must answer for our fulfilment of its obligations. But in the arrangements of social life, parents, for the most part, act upon the [4/5] assumed theory of a division of labor. They think that they transfer their religious responsibility, by sending their children to the Sabbath school. They think that they transfer their intellectual responsibility, by sending them to the district school and the academy. They pay a certain tax for both these imaginary substitutes, and in that payment they suppose that they have discharged their duty. And yet, while they fancy that they have transferred their accountability, they never transfer that without which the obligation cannot be fulfilled. They retain, in their own hands, the whole of their parental authority. They expect the pastor and the teacher to do their work, without the power which the work requires. And if their children be not educated to their mind, they blame their supposed substitutes, when they ought, in strict justice, to blame themselves.
There would be no objection to these arrangements, if parents regarded the pastor and the teacher as their assistants, to do a certain portion of the training of the child, instead of their substitutes, to do the whole. Neither would there be any objection to their retaining all their parental authority, if they did not fall into the serious error of neglecting to exercise it, in the discharge of their own appropriate duty. For they cannot get rid of their responsibility. It is to the father himself that the inspired sage addresses the precept: "Train up the child in the way he should go." It is to the work of the father himself that the result is promised: "And when he is old, he will not depart from it." It is to the father himself that the Almighty saith: "Thou shalt teach these things to [5/6] thy children, when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way; when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." And to arm the parents with the authority necessary for success, the omnipotent Lawgiver speaks to every child, saying "Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." He commits to the parent's hand the rod of correction, and he denounces against the disobedient and rebellious son, the sharpest chastisements of divine justice. Now can it be believed that the father is at liberty to hold such powers, while he neither uses them himself, nor commits their exercise to any other? If the pastor and the teacher be engaged to assist in the imparting of instruction to the child, is the father not bound to see that their instructions are effectual? Must he not take care that the teaching of the Sabbath is practised at home throughout the week? That the teaching of the school is faithfully improved in the hours of leisure? That the child is really advancing in the way that he should go, under the pure motives of religious and filial duty? And shall the father escape from this solemn responsibility to God, because he pays a miserable pittance in the shape of a school tax and a church subscription? Will the Almighty accept a commutation of ten or twenty dollars a year, as an equivalent for obedience to those laws, which are the only sure safeguard to the best interests of man, both in time and in eternity?
But the error under consideration is open to rebuke, on the further ground of injustice. Parents have no [6/7] right to expect, from ministers and teachers, what neither minister nor teacher ever promises to perform, except in the case of orphan children, or those who are sometimes under peculiar circumstances, committed to their entire and exclusive care. The preacher of the gospel is not the substitute of the father, but the servant of Christ; and the church is the school of religion to the old as much as to the young, so long as this life continues. The same doctrine of immortality is announced to all alike, on the same authority of heaven; and although a different mode of teaching may be adopted towards the children in the Sunday school, on account of their incapacity to understand the ordinary language of sermons, yet, in the substantial meaning of the truths conveyed, there is, and there can be, no conceivable distinction. The powers of the minister, properly considered, are not of man, but of God: and parents as well as children are bound to hear and follow his instructions at their own peril, provided they be in accordance with the Scriptures. By what right, then, can a father look upon the minister as his substitute, in the teaching of his child, when he himself is placed equally in the same school, and under the same instructor? By what right does he presume to imagine that he has transferred his obligations to the preacher, when the whole work of the preacher is already allotted to him by his divine Master, and all the world are unable to enlarge or diminish, in one iota, the terms of his commission? By what right does the parent suppose that he can cast any portion of his responsibility on the minister, when [7/8] the same bible which commands the duty of the minister, commands the duty of the father too?
And as a general rule, the teacher of the school or the academy is equally free from the responsibility of parental obligation. He undertakes no such duty, he is paid for no such duty, and it is a manifest injustice to expect it of him. He merely promises to give all requisite instruction in certain branches of human knowledge, and to preserve the necessary order during those hours when his pupils are committed to his care. He assumes neither the father's name, nor the father's powers, nor the father's office. All these remain where the God of nature and of grace has placed them, and what right has man to divert them from their proper channel?
In addition to the impiety and injustice of this error, so common in our day, I would next observe its absurdity. The training of the child in the way he should go, demands the principle of authority. First, the authority of God, as supreme, to which all others must be strictly subordinate. Secondly, the authority of the father and the mother, who stand next after God, in their relations to the child. Thirdly, the authority of the minister, which is a peculiar and special agency under the commission of Christ. And fourthly, the authority of the teacher, who is employed to assist the parents in a certain specified circle of regular instruction. The success of the work of education can be expected only by the harmonious combination of the whole four. On the just and true recognition of them all, according to their due proportions, and on nothing else, have we the assurance of an effectual [8/9] blessing. Can there be any miscalculation, then, more grossly absurd, than the confidence placed in the last alone, without the authority of God, of the parent, or of the minister? Can any thing be more preposterous than to apply the term education to the mere acquirement of certain respectable branches of human knowledge, without the slightest practical connection with the motives or the principles of the conscience or the soul? Can any error be more indefensible than to form the intellect, without guiding the affections? to cultivate sedulously the mortal, to the sacrifice of the immortal? to labor solely for the selfish competitions of this feverish life, in wealth, in learning or in eloquence, while the duties from which we can alone hope for solid peace here, or for happiness hereafter, are thrown out of the account, as if they needed no attention? As if reverence and devotion, piety and holiness, truth and love, justice and temperance, were the spontaneous products of our nature, and would grow up of themselves, at the proper time, in the soil of worldly expediency!
But the error of parents, in seeking to cast their responsibilities on others, and neglecting to employ for the benefit of their children the authority which God has expressly conferred, is not a solitary error, confined to the circle of domestic life, or to the period of education. On the contrary, it seems, in my humble judgment, to be only a part of the cardinal and universal error of the age, which stands in bold relief upon every institution of our land, and in every relation of society. Many are the changes which we have witnessed, since the opening of this eventful [9/10] nineteenth century. And some of them are confessedly of vast importance, and prove--if they prove no more--the wonderful advancement of the human mind in philosophical, medical and mechanical discovery. But no change has been so great--none so prolific of consequences--as the change which has come over the principle of authority. The word has lost its force upon mankind. In the days of our fathers, it was a word of power. Christians bowed down before the authority of the bible, and paid a true respect to the office of the ministers of God. Wives thought it their duty to reverence the authority of their husbands. Children reverenced the authority of their parents. Scholars reverenced the authority of their teachers. The people reverenced the authority of the laws. Citizens reverenced the authority of their rulers. There was authority in the church, authority in the family, authority in the school, authority in every thing. How is it now? It is avoided, disliked, unpopular. We seem to have arrived at the last days, when the apostle predicted that "perilous times should come," when men should be "lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof "--"ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." Influence is all, and authority is nothing. The wisdom of antiquity is a jest, and mankind laugh at the claims of prescription. The son leads the father, the daughter leads the mother, and he is [10/11] accounted the best husband and the best parent, whose family do precisely as they please. Discipline has thrown away the rod, and gives up her right in despair, to the claims of moral suasion. No school can succeed unless it be popular with the scholars, for boys and girls have learned to judge their teachers, and the pupils must be satisfied, or the parents cannot be content. The majesty of law bends before the private notions of jurors, and there is no certainty that the greatest criminals may not escape, because it suits some one or two individual minds to fancy themselves wiser than the legislature. Socialism and Fourierism openly denounce all the established relations of society, and the rights of property and the bonds of wedlock are accused as so many modes of usurpation. All the old systems of thought and action are assailed in the thirst for novelty. The science of government, the art of medicine, the forms of jurisprudence, the style of history, nay, the settled rules of orthography, are attacked by new and imposing theories of improvement; and the argument of established usage, once regarded as an evidence of truth, seems now to be despised, as if it were rather an indication of error. Such is the spirit of the age, so actively at work throughout the civilized world. No wonder that the social duties, the maxims of domestic order and peace, the laws of parental and filial obligation, the course and instrumentalities of schools, and even the high and solemn realities of religion, should feel its power. The object is progress. The effect is change. And so seducing is the movement, so gratifying the stimulus, that the whole machinery of life is thought to [11/12] depend upon the charm of reconstruction; and every thing falls into the sleep of apathy, or the weariness of disgust, when it ceases to be urged forward by the hand of innovation.
Far be it from me, however, to insinuate that this wide-sweeping impulse, which has now extended almost over the whole globe, has done no good. Doubtless there were many old abuses to rectify, many time-honored errors to expose, many absurd customs to abolish. In no department had such perfection been attained, that improvement should be discouraged as impossible. But some truths there are, which should be regarded as sacred, because they are not the result of human discovery. Some laws there are, which should be venerated, because they are proclaimed on the authority of God, the supreme Legislator. All else I am ready to abandon to the popular current, but these should rest unmoved, as the heritage of that church which is built upon the rock of ages. In all else, I am willing to allow that man may improve what man has established; but the doctrines of religious faith, the maxims of parental and filial duty, and the principles of education which are to qualify our race for the higher ends of their being--these should be respected as the revelation from heaven. They have their source in the wisdom of eternity. Their object is to fit us for eternity. And woe be to that spirit which refuses to reverence their claims, and rushes on in the thoughtless appetite for change, without pausing to reflect upon the difference between the unerring dictates of God, and the weak and fallible judgments of mortality.
 But it is one thing to declare the evil, and quite another to suggest the cure. For myself, I am bound to confess that I have small hope of any return to the old and scriptural rules of filial duty and parental authority. The children of the rising generation might easily be taught to obey, but the fathers cannot be taught to govern; and the few exceptions which here and there remain, are far more likely to be censured for their singularity, than to be followed as examples. Power once abandoned, can hardly ever be resumed without the struggles of a revolution. And a revolution in the domestic looseness of our age is no more to be expected, than the flowing back of the stream to its fountain. Yet society continues. Mankind increase and multiply. Education goes on without its former main-springs--the authority of the parent, and the willing obedience of the child. The object of that education should be still the same--the training of the young for time and for eternity. How shall it be accomplished? How shall the instrumentalities within our reach be so employed, that the great result may be secured, notwithstanding the fearful loss of the intended agency?
Here, precisely, is the point, at which your Institute appears to me to assume its vast importance and magnitude. The teachers of our day are forced into a new and most unfair responsibility, by the very defect of parental government; and that defect must either be supplied in some degree by them, or else their work must be performed without the aid of its highest and holiest principles. Although, of right, they should only be expected to assist the father to a [13/14] limited extent, and ought not to be regarded as his substitutes, since they have neither his name nor his authority, yet, so long as they are the only resource on which reliance can be placed, is it too much to ask that they will regard their task with a view to the existing deficiency, and labor to fulfil it, so that their pupils may still be trained in the way they should go,--the way of successful candidates for the happiest lot, not only in this life, but in the life to come? In other words, is it too much to ask that the teachers of our land shall submit to the necessity imposed upon them by the prevailing spirit of our day, and earnestly endeavor,--since authority is lost--to use their best influence in favor of religion?
I am well aware that many objections may be raised against this proposition. It may be said that religious instruction belongs not to the office of the secular teacher,--that his school must usually consist of many diversities of sentiment--that he could not undertake to enlighten one, without offending another--that his own creed might differ seriously from that of the majority, and possibly from the whole--that he ought not to lay himself open to the charge of invading the office of the pastor or the minister, to whom religious instruction of right belongs; and therefore that it is necessary, for peace' sake, and for the full success of his proper vocation, that he should have nothing to say to his scholars upon the subject, but should confine himself strictly to his expected limits, and attempt no more than he has formally undertaken. Let me bespeak the indulgence of my respected auditory, while I endeavor to prove, that [14/15] the course which I recommend is not fairly liable to any of these difficulties, but, on the contrary, is perfectly consistent, and even necessarily connected with the highest duties of the profession itself, and with the best interests of the rising generation.
It is true, doubtless, that religious instruction belongs officially to the ministry of Christ, but it is not true that it belongs to them exclusively. So far from it, that every man is bound to give it all the aid he can, according to his opportunities, by the whole tone of his life and conversation. To the pastor is indeed committed the public work of expounding, doctrinally as well as practically, the word of God. To his official care and oversight, the entire congregation, young and old, male and female, is delivered. But surely this does not forbid the husband and the wife to help the piety of each other, nor to teach their children the way that they should go, in the private family circle. It does not forbid them to lead their domestics to the kingdom of heaven, by good advice, by a religious example, and by prayer. It does not forbid the kindly and affectionate counsel of friend to friend, nor the words of spiritual consolation in their visits to the sick and the afflicted. On the contrary, the gospel demands all this of every believer, as the fruits of his faith, and no man can be a practical and consistent Christian without thus causing his light to shine before the community where Providence has placed him. How then shall the teacher be exempt, on Christian principles, from a kindred influence for good, amongst those scholars, which are entrusted for [15/16] so large a portion of their lives, to his especial oversight?
It is true, likewise, that every school may be expected to exhibit many varieties of religious sentiment, and hence, the instructor could not be asked to meddle with topics of controversy, lest that which might be acceptable to one, might be offensive to the rest. But this is neither necessary nor advisable, under any ordinary circumstances. Happily for the interests of religion, Christians, after all their disputes, may find far more points of agreement than of difference, if they will but try to look for them. They all agree that the bible contains the written word of God--that they have but one Mediator and Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ--that the moral precepts of the gospel are of the highest obligation--that the Almighty is the searcher of the heart--that in His sight, the true character of every word and act is determined by the secret motive--that we are entirely dependent, for all our success and happiness, upon His providential care and blessing--that we are bound to seek that blessing, through Christ, by a faithful devotion to His will--that this world is allotted to us as a preparation for the world to come--that it is a scene of discipline, labor and toil, mingled with a large share of suffering and sorrow--that perfect happiness and enjoyment are only to be reached beyond the grave, but that he is the happiest, even in this life, whose principles and affections are most truly submitted to the authority of God--that all, young and old, without exception, are indebted to His goodness for every privilege, whether it be of [16/17] talents or opportunities, friends or relatives, wealth or station, influence or power; and that for the use they make of their advantages, the Lord will hold them strictly accountable--that the highest and only pure motives of action are love to God and love to man--that religion is the best gift of the Almighty to our sinful race, and must be cultivated, from childhood to the hour of death, by a diligent attendance upon the appointed means of grace, by keeping holy the Sabbath day, by the faithful use of the sacrament ordained by Christ, by frequent and diligent examination into the state of the heart, by the habit of constant watchfulness over our motives and our conduct, by earnest prayer for the aid of the Holy Spirit, and by the active temper of kindness and benevolence--that the life of the Redeemer himself is our only faultless example, and that therefore we should constantly endeavor to imitate this divine model, forgiving our enemies, avoiding pride, envy, malice, revenge and selfish emulation, keeping our animal appetites and passions in subjection to the rules of Christian temperance, abhorring falsehood and deceit, and making it our first care and duty to improve in that best of all knowledge, which shall fit us, through His mercy, for the kingdom of heaven; since, if we fail in this, all the learning, the ability, the riches and the honors of the world, even if it were possible to obtain them, would profit us nothing.
Now here is a slight sketch, which might be greatly enlarged, of those points in which all Christians are completely agreed; and therefore, in a judicious and constant reference to them, no teacher would run the [17/18] risk of invading the province of the ministry, of giving offence to the spirit of sectarianism, or of provoking the slightest reproach or censure from any right-minded man. I do not mean, however, that even on these, the instructor should be asked to deliver any set or formal lectures. His work will be done much more effectually by a wise and affectionate infusion of those ideas into all his other teaching, thus imperceptibly and gradually leading the thoughts and feelings of his youthful flock into the right channel, especially endeavoring to exhibit religion in its loveliest and most attractive aspect, and always remembering his own accountability to God, for the ultimate results of his most important instrumentality.
For, after all, in the present constitution and habits of our world, what instrumentality is so important as that of the teacher? The influence of home--alas! that it should be so--can no longer be assumed, in these days, according to its scriptural authority, as the primary element of power in training the child in the way he should go. The influence of the church is frittered down to a few hours on the Lord's day, and too often neutralized by the folly and pleasure-loving habits of the community. But the teacher has possession of all the week. Nearly six hours out of every twenty-four, are passed under his immediate superintendence, and with many peculiar advantages, which are calculated to give him, at least, a larger sway over the minds and feelings of his pupils, than can be exercised by almost any other individual, if they are but skilfully and judiciously improved. For to him, the scholars look up with admiration of his [18/19] superior knowledge, and with undoubting confidence in his capacity to instruct them in all which they are expected to learn. To him, their peculiar disposition and character are more fully open than to their own family connexions. From his lips, the language of rebuke or encouragement--the words of severity or kindness--are clothed with especial power. And if they become convinced that he regards them with deep and affectionate interest, they are ready, for the most part, to repay it with warm attachment, and to allow him, with cheerful acquiescence, to mould them to his will.
I have said already, that the secular teacher cannot be justly charged with the solemn responsibilities of the parent. The father has no right to consider him his substitute. His contract does not extend so far. His stipulated duty and the money which he receives for his services, refer to no such obligation. And therefore, if he confines himself strictly to the limits of his formal undertaking, and attempts no more than the instruction which certain branches of earthly knowledge require, and imparts that instruction correctly, neither the parents, nor the scholars, nor the world, can have any just reason to complain.
But may I not most truly assert that there is another party to the agreement? God, who has conferred upon the teacher his faculties and talents for this most honorable and important work--that glorious and almighty Being before whom the account of this high stewardship must one day be given in--the great and supreme Teacher of mankind, whose providence has committed the pupils to the [19/20] instructor's care, at that early and impressible age, when their hearts are not yet callous, nor their understandings utterly blinded by the deceitfulness of sin--He who is the Creator, the Redeemer and the Judge both of the teachers and the taught, takes a direct interest in the discharge of this most serious and noble calling. To Him the efforts of instructors must be directed--by Him their spirit must be guided,--if they would expect His approbation of their labors, and His favor for their reward. Who should understand the true definition of education, like those whose very vocation it is to teach the youth of a professedly Christian country? Who should feel more deeply the value of the immortal soul, than those who undertake to explain the phenomena of mental philosophy, and to prepare the child for the work of a life, connected in its inevitable results, with an endless destiny? And if, unhappily, it be true, that the other agencies in this all-important task have lost so much of their proper power, and it be still possible for the great body of our teachers to supply the mournful deficiency, O, should not that fact stimulate their diligence and animate their zeal, that their influence may yield a salutary check to the progress of impiety, and their labors become, by the divine blessing, the bulwark of a failing world!
The cardinal error, then, in our modern systems of education, is the want of the element of religious authority; mainly flowing from the sad neglect of family devotion, and the consequent lack of all family government and discipline. So far as the rising generation are concerned, our schools and teachers afford [20/21] the best, if not the only instrumentality to rectify the spreading evil. But whether the great body of our instructors can be aroused to the effort which it demands, is a question, the resolution of which requires far more knowledge than I possess of their prevailing disposition. May not this topic present a useful subject of deliberation for the influential and important body which I have the honor to address? Various and admirable is the range of subjects which others, far better qualified, have set before you, and it may be that my present theme has been much more ably and eloquently enforced among them. But be this as it may, I am thoroughly convinced that the growing apathy towards piety, and the rapid acceleration of disorder and confusion throughout the world, urgently demand among Christian men, a deep and earnest feeling of solicitude, to guard our rising youth from the dangers of contamination, and to train them up in the way they should go, not only as scholars, citizens and patriots, but as the heirs of immortality and the subjects of God. For even the interests of earth cannot be secured independently of heaven. The mind cannot be truly educated without the soul. The foundations of our republic were laid in the faith of the gospel. And the superstructure of our national greatness itself cannot long remain, if those foundations be suffered to fail. The diffusion of intelligence throughout the masses, by our common schools, the multiplication of academies and colleges, the improvement of the buildings, the books and the apparatus of instruction, the Lyceums, the lectures, the cabinets of natural history--all are good--all are useful. But a [21/22] higher spiritual principle must preside over our intellectual advancement, the interests of eternity must be kept in their true connection with the present life, our youth must be taught the importance of their religious duties, and the infinite value of their religious privileges, or all our boasted illumination will fail to guide them, and the glory of our land, like that of ancient Israel, will go down into darkness, corruption and decay.
I am perfectly aware that the strain of such an argument is far from being acceptable to the ordinary mind, in our age and country. We live at a time of unprecedented and morbid activity. The discoveries and changes of the last few years have been so brilliant and surprising, that the general judgment is carried away; and, by a very easy and natural transition, mankind look down upon all old knowledge, with a self-complacent mixture of pity and contempt, because, in some departments, our modern achievements have gone so far beyond it. They stop not to consider that the true dignity, peace and happiness of our race depend upon the elevation of the moral and spiritual life, according to the laws of God, the Supreme Disposer. They pause not to reflect upon the solemn truth, that no possible combination of external circumstances can secure the purity, the virtue and the stability of principle and conduct, on which alone the safety of individuals or of nations must depend. And yet they know full well that the applications of steam, electricity and mechanism, however admirable in their way, have no power to reach our higher nature. They behold with admiration the rail-roads, [22/23] the ocean-propellers, the magnetic telegraphs, the mines of gold, and silver, and precious stones, the new territories, the new channels of commercial enterprise, the new weapons for slaughtering mankind, the new anodynes to pain and suffering, the new arts, new instruments, new luxuries. And they know full well that all these, however useful to our bodily interests, touch not the soul, and yield no aid to the cultivation of the virtues--truth, justice, temperance, love, moral courage, relative duty and kindly affection, which form the only firm bonds of human society. But they forget that while the progress of our age may be onward in the first class of characteristics, it may be downward in the second. They forget that although the outward, the physical, and even to a certain extent, the intellectual, may go on for a while, with extraordinary splendor, under the government of Mammon, yet the inward, the spiritual and the moral, can only prosper under the government of God. And they like not to be reminded of the mournful lesson which all history teaches,--that when the government of God is cast aside in the work of education, by the general consent of nations, the government of Mammon, with all its pride of confident pretension, only serves to precipitate their ruin.
But while the majority forget all this, or, rather, pass the subject by without attention, through their headlong devotion to politics, to pleasure and to gain, there are still left, amongst the thoughtful and reflecting, a large number of influential minds, capable of seeing the rapid tendency of our age to moral deterioration, and of understanding that the only element [23/24] able to check its growth must be found in the strength of the religious principle. It is this to which the conscience must appeal. On this, under the form of an oath, rest the faithful discharge of official powers, and the public administration of justice. In this abide the purity of domestic life, and the safety of the conjugal relation. The political union of church and state, in the shape of an establishment, is indeed inconsistent with our national government. But the state is none the less dependent on religious principle for its life and preservation, since that alone is the basis on which we rely for law and order. Take religion away--deliver the hearts and souls of men from the anticipation of a final judgment--educate them in a practical irreverence towards the gospel of Christ, and you may adorn their atheism with all the earthly knowledge in the world, while yet, in the end, you do but qualify them for a more skilful indulgence of their appetites and passions--you do but give a freer rein to lust and ambition, to fraud and deceit, to envy and malice, to licentiousness and excess, to robbery and pillage, to violence and blood. The higher the civilization of the world, the worse for the peace of mankind, if the restraining and ennobling influence of religion be absent. And the lawless anarchy which must speedily invade all communities, if the fear of God be lost, would not only sink them into a condition worse than the lowest barbarism of savage life, but would again call down upon the race, in the severity of divine mercy itself, the sentence of irretrievable destruction.
Our only hope, then, whether we look to the [24/25] temporal or the spiritual future, lies in the religious element of education. For all experience proves that the religious principle rarely takes a true hold of any heart, unless it be implanted early, and therefore the schools, where childhood and youth receive their most abiding impulses for good or evil, are the resource on which we must depend, under God, if our land is to be saved from the withering blight of infidelity. I speak not of our universities and colleges, for this very reason because it is well known, that, with few exceptions, the moral and spiritual character of those who enter our superior seats of learning, is fixed before they go there; and seldom does it happen that the atmosphere around them works any higher change, than the improvement and development of the intellectual man. In order that they may send forth good results, it is necessary that our preparatory schools should furnish them with good materials; and nothing can be more unjust and absurd than to charge them with blame, merely because they cannot produce grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles.
The great and usually the decisive impressions must therefore be effected, for the mass, in our common schools and our academies. The main body of our teachers must come up to the work of religious instruction, at least so far as a reverence for the word of God, and the influence of Christian motives and principles can extend, without involving controversy. And then we shall have some reliable resource, in the defect of parental authority. Then the school of the week will become, not as it is now, too often, [25/26] an obstacle, but a firm auxiliary to the school of the Sabbath, and the efforts of the ministry. Happy for our country and for the world will be the day, when such shall be the prevailing aim of our instructors, that the formation of character is understood to be the first object of their care, and the improvement of the soul goes hand in hand with the improvement of the intellect. May the labors of the American Institute of Instruction be crowned with this result, and thus they will be entitled to the name of benefactors to our race, in that highest sense, which unites the best interests of time, to the abiding happiness of eternity.