George Blagden preached this sermon in 1835 in Boston. Blagden used Psalm 111:10 as the basis for his sermon.
center>The Influence of the Gospel upon the intellectual Powers.
IN THE CENTRAL CHURCH, PHILADELPHIA,
MAY 25, 1835.
BY REV. GEORGE W. BLAGDEN,
OF BOSTON, MASS.
THE SIXTH OF A SERIES OF ANNUAL SERMONS PREACHED AND PUBLISHED AT THE REQUEST OF THE BOARD OF MANAGERS OF THE AMERICAN SUNDAY-SCHOOL UNION.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”—Ps. exi. 10
The subject to which I ask your attention, and which will be found in the sequel to flow legitimately from the words just read, is the importance of cultivating the heart or moral feelings of a people, more than their intellect; and the argument, thence arising, for the encouragement and support of Sabbath-schools.
There can be no doubt that the mere intellect of man can do much for his temporal happiness and usefulness, although his moral feelings may be left, in a great degree, to run to waste, like the weeds of a sluggard’s garden. It is questionable, however, whether this could do much for his permanent good, without some indirect influence of a moral kind, to preserve and invigorate it. Certain it is, that it has accomplished very little in his behalf, except in circumstances where you can clearly trace the operation of moral causes, scattering some rays of the light of truth on his otherwise bewildering path. In Egypt, Greece, and Rome, those great and polished nations of antiquity, the influence of moral principles derived indirectly from the Bible, has been clearly traced; and it was only while such principles exerted a degree of power that their learning existed; while, in modern times, it is only where the religion of Christ has produced some of its legitimate effects that the mind of man is enlightened and enlarged. Wherever this is not the case, it is darkened and contracted.
Nevertheless, men have been so prone to overlook this truth, that they have attributed the most of their achievements to the power of intellect alone; and even in Christian lands, hitherto, there has been a marked and wonderful tendency to give to its cultivation an undue and dangerous prominency over the education of the heart.
Anticipating this dangerous tendency, the Scriptures, in a very remarkable manner, warn us against its influence; declaring, at one time, that he who increases merely intellectual knowledge, increases sorrow; at another, they warn the wise man not to glory in his wisdom, but rather to glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth the Lord. Solomon, after surveying all the things that are done under the sun, arrives at the conclusion, that all is vanity and vexation of spirit where there is not piety; and that to fear God and keep his commandments, is the whole duty of man. And, in the text, David affirms that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: A good understanding have all they that do his commandments.”
By the fear of the Lord, here mentioned, I understand not a slavish dread, but a holy reverence for Jehovah; producing in all who exercise it, proportionable sorrow for sin, and a heartfelt desire and endeavour to return to his favour by repentance, and works meet for repentance, in any way of restoration it may please him, in mercy, to provide. Of course, therefore, this fear is experienced in its true nature, however weak in degree, in the first act of heartfelt sorrow for sin, and repentance and faith exercised by the true Christian. So that the comparatively ignorant, as well as the learned man, can enjoy its blessings, because it is principally a matter of moral feeling; only requiring in the subject of it, conscience and reason to be convicted of sin against law, and realize the necessity of pardon.
The wisdom, of which this fear is declared to be the commencement, may be defined to be the application of the best means for the accomplishment of the best ends, whether in intellectual or moral concerns. But, as such an appropriate use of means can be manifested only where there is knowledge adequate to their selection and employment, I consider the fact, hat the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, to involve the truth that it is also essential to useful knowledge. That this was the meaning of the writer of the text, would seem to be evident from what he immediately adds, as explanatory of its sense:--“A good understanding have all they that do his commandments.”
The subject, then, presented to your consideration this evening, as that on which the importance of cultivating the heart, more than the intellect of a people, will be grounded, is,--the intrinsic adaptation of the fear of the Lord, or the religion of Christ in the heart, to enlighten, invigorate, and preserve the human intellect.
Its adaptation to do this, in respect to moral truth, would be a profitable and interesting theme, founded, as it would be, on the words of Christ,--“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine.” But, in what is now to be said, reference will be had, principally, to its influence on the mind in relation to intellectual truth; this being more directly appropriate to the occasion on which I speak.
The fear of the Lord in the heart of man makes the improvement of the intellect a matter of moral principle. It causes him to love the acquisition of knowledge in loving God: since the more he knows, the better is he able to appreciate and enjoy and serve this perfect object of his affections. Accordingly, it is one of its most marked effects in the minds of the comparatively ignorant and degraded of our race, to awaken the desire of knowing more; at least, of knowing enough to read that word which is able to make them wise unto salvation. You may notice this to be true, alike in the history of the Greenlander and the Hottentot, the South-sea islander and the Hindoo, the Indian of our own borders and the slave of our Southern states. There is, indeed, something in the essential nature and government of the God of the Bible directly calculated to elevate and expand the human mind. It is the infinitely perfect and spiritual Jehovah, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders that now arrests the attention. The soul of man, naturally prone to receive impressions from the objects it contemplates, is peculiarly affected by such a Being and such a government as these. Considered even as mere theological theories, irrespective of their eternal truth, there is that in them highly calculated to exalt. The ingenuity of man never invented such a religious system. It is spiritual; it is eternal in duration; it is infinite in comprehensive extent; it is pure. While some of the wisest of Grecian and Roman philosophers, and the most celebrated Roman poets, distrusted, and, in some instances, ridiculed the mythology of their country; this places its believer above all other religious systems, so that he looks down on them as unsatisfactory and insignificant. It leaves the mind unfettered to examine all other systems, that it may learn their folly, without being in danger of yielding to their influence. Especially does it thus elevate, when the God and Saviour it reveals is sincerely loved and served. The meanest objects of attention, associated with such a Being, and studied as matters of duty to him, derive an interest and importance they would not otherwise possess; and not only the profound investigations of the moral or natural philosopher, but the humblest employment of the most common tradesman or labourer become immediately invested with something of the brightness of heaven, because attended to for the glory of God.
Moreover:--the religion of Christ cultivates all those habits of mind and life that enable the intellect to act with the greatest power. It cherishes a humility that is willing to feel and confess its ignorance,--the first step in the acquisition of knowledge. We have already seen that it inspires a love of truth, which is one of the most powerful stimulants in laboring for its attainment; while the habit of devotion, an invariable concomitant of piety, by calming the passions, and preserving the whole mind cool and composed in the most trying and exciting circumstances, is eminently calculated to promote the clearness and force of the human intellect. Martyn, relates of himself, that during an examination for one of the most honourable and important rewards bestowed by the University of Cambridge, in England, it was the influence of deep devotional feeling that so preserved the clearness and calmness of his mind, as to render him triumphant over his well-trained competitors. The benevolence of the gospel is also highly calculated to produce a similar effect. Cherishing as it does a firm determination to glorify God in doing good to men, it imbues its possessor with a fearlessness in embracing and expressing his conclusions on all useful subjects, that rises superior alike to the sneers or the threats of man; and mainly anxious to advance the truth, manifests a noble freedom and energy in discovering and making it known. Historical facts, probably familiar to the minds of all of you, might be adduced as evidences of the correctness of this sentiment. It has been principally under the influence of such benevolence that martyrs, as well in science as in religion, have, through all ages, declared and vindicated truth.
The influence of the fear of the Lord on the body also is greatly favourable to the development and increase of intellectual power. By cultivating habits of the strictest temperance, and delivering from slavish subjection to all those appetites included in the scriptural designation of “lusts of the flesh,” it produces that sound mind in a sound body, commended by the Roman poet, and to the necessity of which, modern and Christian physiologists bear such ample testimony.
The contentment produced by the influence of religion is, likewise, highly favourable to intellectual acquisitions. A slight degree of attention will assure us that many are withheld from the willing, efficient, and successful employment of their powers, by the discontented contemplation of the real or imaginary difficulties by which they are surrounded. Like the undecided man mentioned by Foster, they are continually wondering why all the obstacles in the world happen to fall directly in their own way. Regretting that they are not in some higher station of life, or that they have not been blessed with the leisure or advantages for improvement enjoyed by others, they waste the time, and the blessings, and the talents they might improve, in fruitless complaining over what is not, and perhaps cannot be theirs; and which, even if possessed, might not add, in reality, either to heir happiness or success. In this way, too many lose the advantages they possess for obtaining wisdom, in fruitless regret for those they may not enjoy; instead of seeking and obtaining success. In this way, too many lose the advantages they possess for obtaining wisdom, in fruitless regret for those they may not enjoy; instead of seeking and obtaining success, by catching with a vigilant eye and seizing with a vigorous arm, all the possibilities of their actual situation. The religion of Christ in the heart of man delivers from this danger. Rendering him content with such things as he has; teaching him, if favoured with one talent, cheerfully to place it at interest, that he may gain more; telling him that he who is faithful in little will be faithful also in much; it forms in him the habit of faithfully performing his own duty in his appropriate sphere, and thus lays the best and surest foundation for his present improvement, and future ultimate success.
The effect of the fear of the Lord on hope and imagination is also clearly advantageous to intellectual improvement. It is difficult to separate these two powers of mind, in their relations to this subject, without entering into a tedious and unnecessary analysis. I shall therefore speak of their combined operation. As many are deterred from the right and efficient use of their mental faculties by murmurs over past and present circumstances, so the talents of others are enervated and misemployed by false imaginings and anticipations relative to the future. Many, while indulging ideas of what they may or shall be, pay no proper regard to what they now are, and ought to be. They suppose the time will come when they shall effect something; although now they are performing comparatively nothing. Thus present advantages are permitted to pass away unimproved, and they perhaps die the victims of a procrastination that deterred them from doing any thing, by the continually deceptive imagination and hope of some future more convenient season. In opposition to such a state of mind, the religion of Christ in the heart humbles man to the rigid common-sense performance of present duty. While it affords the utmost and most sublime scope for the imagination, in the anticipation of what shall be; it only allows the picture of the future to be bright, by the reflected light that present obedience flashes on its surface; teaching him that any other prospect of happiness or success, however flattering, must prove eventually delusive, and “like the mirage in the desert, only tantalize him by a delusion that distance creates, and that contiguity destroys.” True piety, therefore, does not permit man to enervate his intellectual powers by reveling in the false though gay hopes and imaginations of what is to come. It tells him to do with his might what his hand findeth to do, how. It warns him not to waste the immortal faculties and emotions God has bestowed, by employing them in relation to fictitious scenes, but to use them in respect to sober realities. The effect of piety on the student of any art or science, whether professional, mercantile, mechanical, or agricultural, is, to render him soberly industrious at the present time and under existing circumstances; prompting him in things temporal, as truly as in things spiritual, to work while the day lasts, recollecting that “the night cometh, when no man can work.” It may be confidently asked, if this is not the ordinary effect of religion on every mind. It may be confidently asked, if those whom any of you may know and have reason to believe are truly pious, do not manifest a constant and increasing desire to lay aside what is fictitious, and attend to what is real; whether in literature, or in the sciences and arts? I think that you must answer in the affirmative. Some minds, indeed, may have more, far more to struggle against, in this respect, than others, being naturally more imaginative and more sanguine; still it will prove to be true, that the gradual influence of the fear of the Lord tends to control and regulate even their hopes and imaginations, vagrant as they are, and to bind them to duty by the ligaments of truth.
There is also a powerful influence exerted by the religion of Christ in restraining the imagination, and keeping it in its appropriate sphere, amid the other faculties of the mind. While piety adds to its native power, by rearing it in the midst of the most beautiful and sublime objects; a love for truth is at the same time excited, superior to all other mental enjoyments; and the imagination is made the handmaid, and not the mistress, of the more noble mental powers. Thought, in such minds, leads; imagination follows, beautifying the conceptions, principles, and results of its leader, by its own resplendency. The former is the substance,--the clear, solid, unadulterated crystal; the latter is like the prismatic colors which the light of truth sheds forth from the substance it illumines. Every reflecting man knows the difference between an imagination that outruns, impedes, and weakens the intellect, and even affects morbidly the moral powers themselves; and one, which subjected to the restraints of reason, sheds its bright light on the weighty matter, that has been brought up out of the mines of knowledge. The one is but an ignis fatuus of the brain, alluring only to deceive,--it may be to destroy; the other is the less glaring, but pure light, that like the cynosure of the north, cheers and guides the wanderer on his way.
Scarcely anything is more dangerous in excited states of the public mind, on great moral or political questions, than one of those highly charged, powerful imaginations, not bound down to truth by clear knowledge, nor directed in the use of that knowledge by reason regulated by the fear of God,--the only right reason. Such a power can, and sometimes has, set a whole nation in a blaze, by the irrepressible heat of its own mad workings! In our own land, where there is such freedom of speech and writing on all subjects, such an imagination on questions of difficulty is highly dangerous. It can rouse the whole mass of popular mind into commotion, and produce revolution itself, before a Christian wisdom has had time to restrain its impetuosity, or discover, analyze, and throw out the weighty and far-reaching principles that alone can guide and save. I confess that I feel this single point to be of the utmost importance to the welfare of our country at the present time. When so many topics in politics and morals are before the public mind, agitating and exciting it in a most wonderful degree, every imagination in the land needs to be invigorated, yet chastened, guarded, and controlled by reason under the influence of piety in the heart; by that fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom. Otherwise fanaticism may ruin us!
Hitherto, the adaptation of religion to the intellect has been considered, as it arises from its influence in cultivating certain habits of mind, principally, in individuals. It will be still more appropriate to notice its influence on communities. I remark therefore, further,--that while piety makes it a matter of moral principle in man to acquire knowledge, it also prompts him to the duty of imparting it, so far as possible, to others. Knowledge, like every other possession and attribute of man, is under the control of selfishness, until sanctified by the religion of Jesus. Accordingly, to however great a degree it may have existed in ancient Egypt, or Greece, or Rome, it never went out from the initiated to bless and exalt the people, but was confined to a favoured few, who laughed at the absurdities and degradation of what the Romans were sometimes wont to term “profanum vulgus,” the profane vulgar. Even when you notice any system of professed Christianity, which is nevertheless not imbued with the full spirit of the gospel, you will soon be called to remark in it a tendency to keep the blessings of knowledge from the great mass of the people. The Roman church proverbially does this. And, if I mistake not, it will be found on examination to be true, that other systems of religious error, just in proportion to the degree of their departure from the true principles of Christ, will be seen to retard the spread of knowledge among the people. They will do this, either by representing the Bible itself as requiring such great learning to comprehend even its plainest doctrines as to discourage its study, and shake the public faith in its announcements; or, by gradually neglecting to take appropriate pains to instruct the ignorant throughout the land, and by gradually forming a self-indulgent and haughty aristocracy in literature, who, in praising each other, and contributing to one another’s selfish delight, shall neglect, or, it may be, despise the multitudes perishing for the want even of intellectual knowledge. If, therefore, you would produce the spirit that will communicate, you must also cherish the fear of the Lord in the heart, and baptize learning itself in the benevolence of the gospel. The fact that many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased, is represented by the prophet as a characteristic of the triumphs of the gospel; indicating, beyond reasonable doubt, that the design of spreading truth abroad will be one great motive for the constant changing of place that is there designated.
While the benevolence of the Gospel thus scatters knowledge among the people, it also inspires them with correct habits of thought and feeling in secular things, particularly in those of a political nature. The great principles of the moral government of God are, in one sense, so interwoven with human nature, that men, even when enemies to that government, tacitly acknowledge its great truths in their conduct towards each other. Jehovah has thus caused the very wrath of man to praise him, while the remainder thereof he has wonderfully restrained. All men, for example, recognize in their conduct the necessity of some law to govern them, and that this law ought to be productive of public good; they acknowledge the necessity of enforcing its observance by rewards and punishments, and of doing something to maintain its influence over the minds of the governed, if ever penitent transgressors of it are forgiven, that the lawgiver may be seen to be just, while he justifies the guilty. Even anarchy itself will soon fight its way back to some kind of law, through clouds of dust and seas of blood; so strongly are the principles of moral government adapted to the nature of man as a free agent, and so indelibly is the work of the law written on his heart.
This being the case, is it not most reasonable to suppose, that they, whose hearts have embraced, and whose wills have yielded to the perfect, spiritual government of God, would be most likely to feel, think, and act correctly in relation to the government of men? Is it not reasonable to conclude that such persons would be the most firmly resolved in opposing all institutions that might not promote the public good, by maintaining the great principles of law; and for the same reason would be the most obedient and zealous supporters of just legislation? The principles of the government of God being in their hearts, and influencing their lives in relation to eternity, is it not probable that these also would govern their passions and regulate their conduct in respect to the governments under which they lived in time?—particularly as these great and fundamental principles are necessarily, to a greater or less extent, recognized in all political institutions? This clear conclusion of reason, we find to be corroborated by fact. It is admitted by historians virulently opposed to the religion of Christ, that the men most deeply imbued with its principles have been the zealous, enlightened, and firm advocates of free government and public liberty. This is recorded by Hume himself of the Puritans; and is verified by existing people, at the present day. It is in Protestant England,--“with all her faults,”—and to Scotland, and America, that you must go for the people, who, as a mass, manifest the most enlarged and enlightened views of political government;--for the people who think, feel and act harmoniously with just law, while they are the strenuous friends and asserters of liberty. In these nations, a moral as well as intellectual education has taught the citizens to obey the law of the Lord; and they, therefore, understand best and value most highly and obey most implicitly, the just laws administered by man over man; while they are, correspondingly, the haters of all oppression.
It ought also to be observed here, that the fear of the Lord causes the deductions of intellect, on legal, political, and moral subjects, to harmonize with facts. As in natural science there are certain fixed principles derived from long established facts, which, if not acknowledged in theory and practice, will lead to the grossest mistakes, because the proceedings of him who thus neglects them will be at variance with the most common phenomena; so there are certain fixed principles in morals, which, if not admitted and acted on, will cause similar errors. The religion of Christ is, of course, founded on these principles; and the man who acknowledges them in theory only, much more he who feels their experimental influence in his own heart, will reason far more conclusively and powerfully, on all subjects connected with law, politics, and morals, than he who overlooks or rejects them.
The politician who admits the first great principle of the gospel,--the morally lost state of man, arising from his carnal opposition to the true character and righteous government of God,--will reason and write far more powerfully and correctly on any subject connected with the wise government of a country, than he who leaves this great fact out of sight. Indeed, one of the strongest corroborative evidences of the truth of the Bible arises from the tacit admission, knowingly or ignorantly, of the great leading principles it reveals, made by political or moral writers whose works have lived, or seem destined to live, long. It is principally this that gives to such writings as those of Cicero and Juvenal so strong a hold upon thoughtful minds in all ages. The very enemies of the great leading truths of the gospel will frequently be found, in the strongest parts of what they write or speak, tacitly admitting those great facts which the voice of nature speaks, trumpet-tongued, from her inmost recesses, throughout all time. There is a key to all subjects relative to the government of free agents found in the leading doctrines of the cross of Christ, of which if any one avails himself, only as a matter of human policy, he will find great advantage in analyzing any subject connected with the characters and duties of men. On these principles, I believe that the kind of doctrinal preaching heard by the people of a country has a great though silent effect on their intellectual characters, and their treatment of all subjects. Like the air they breathe, it diffuses an unseen yet most powerful good or pernicious influence throughout their whole mental system.
As the fear of the Lord promotes, both in individuals and communities, those positive habits of mind favourable to intellectual advancement, so it delivers from the influence of such as are detrimental. It prevents the intellectual faculties of man have not been regulated and modified by correct moral feelings, they have invariably yielded, sooner or later, to the animal appetites and passions. Whenever these faculties of man have not been regulated and modified by correct moral feelings, they have invariably yielded, sooner or later, to the animal appetites of his nature, and knowledge has deteriorated. How often are we called to notice melancholy illustrations of this in the case of distinguished individuals. For a period in their careers they have run well. Before obtaining that fame after which they panted as a supreme good, they have been faithful to their idol, and have taxed their powers to the uttermost for its acquisition; when, having obtained their end, they have become the slaves of fleshly lusts, until their sun has gone down in darkness, and the lustre of their literary reputation has been obscured by the blackness of gross moral delinquency. Even if the original acquirer of the fame may have barely escaped gross moral stains on his reputation, the animal indulgencies with which he regaled himself have, through him, often affected his posterity; and they have been left inefficient, comparatively unlearned, if not vicious and the very pests of society.
The fact, thus frequently exhibited in the history of individuals, is equally corroborated by that of nations. The great kingdoms of antiquity have gone through precisely this process. Moral feelings being neglected, the intellectual in man has been overcome by the animal. Wars and fightings, the children of evil lusts, have succeeded; their constant companions,--crime, intemperance, and cruelty, have triumphed over reason; and the glories of those nations have departed, to live only in name. So constant has been the recurrence of this process in the history of mankind, that distinguished writers, and among them the author of a late ingenious article in the North American Review, have maintained the theory,--a theory for which, alas! they have had hitherto the sanction of too many facts,--that all nations, however distinguished and elevated, must eventually conform to the general analogy of things in the natural world, and like the plants of the garden, and the trees of the forest, have their regular periods of rise, growth, maturity, and decay. It is difficult to find any valid objection to this theory, except on the principles of the gospel, which, lifting mind above the slavery of matter, and teaching it that it is immortal, destroys all reasonings of analogy between its noble powers and the phenomena of nature; and, by causing it to live for eternity, tends effectually to eradicate those downward propensities that have hitherto enervated and destroyed its energies. Gazing, therefore, on these downward tendencies in our own beloved country, already in many places too alarmingly developed, the only hope of the Christian philanthropist must be in the members of the church of Christ. Turning to these, he must exclaim,--“Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?” If you spread not abroad the moral instructions of the Bible, we must sink into the corruption of other lands!
Finally:--The religion of Christ in the heart can alone prevent the acquisition of knowledge from being an occasion of sorrow, both to individuals and nations. It is written in the word of eternal truth,--“He that increaseth knowledge, increaseth sorrow.” I understand this passage to speak of merely intellectual, in opposition to moral knowledge; and to allude rather to the ultimate, future effects of such acquisitions, than to their present influence on the happiness of men. For, although by a refined analysis it might be shown that intellectual attainments, unregulated by moral principles, or even in some degree under its influence, do in many ways produce sorrow in their possessors, by rendering them sensible to evils they cannot avoid, or fanning in their breasts the flames of selfish passions,--still, there is certainly a high degree of pleasure ordinarily connected with the attainment and possession of learning, utterly precluding the propriety of generally connecting with it associations of sorrow. On the contrary, we far more commonly connect with it thoughts of delight. And, certainly, its acquirer and possessor will tell you, that in gaining and using it, he is the subject of a very high degree of pleasure, richly counterbalancing all accompanying or succeeding pain. It is in relation to its ultimate moral effects on the soul that the inspired writer makes his declaration concerning this sorrow of knowledge; and considered in this light, the declaration will be found to be strictly true. The individual who adds to his intellectual stores, without yielding his heart to the requirements of Jehovah, increases the amount of his responsibility to God without presenting any corresponding return. He uses those acquisitions which the faculties imparted to him by Jehovah enable him to make, only to promote his own selfish and worldly ends, without any practical reference to his great duty of advancing the glory of God in doing good to man. The result is, he not only sins against Jehovah by neglecting to love him with a supreme affection, but by becoming as a God unto himself, he at the same time indulges a state of mind unfitting him, by the selfish passions it involves, for the benevolent and blessed delights and enjoyments of heaven hereafter; so that in the end he shall find, to his aggravated sorrow, that in all the splendor of his acquisitions, he has but been walking in a vain show, perverting the price put in his hands to gain wisdom, and has taken the talents bestowed for his spiritual and eternal well-being, and ungratefully and wickedly covered them as in a napkin, and hidden them in the bowels of the earth. His attainments have been all earthly; leading him in all their variety and greatness to neglect duty to God, and in his devotion to things temporal, utterly to neglect things eternal; and let heaven and glory go, as subjects unworthy of his serious attention. Surely, this must add bitter ingredients to his cup of wo hereafter, and increase his sorrow. There are few more melancholy sights to a true Christian, than a mortal man, blessed with superior talents, and adorned with various literary and scientific acquisitions, living and dying, without ever acknowledging his responsibility to God, or performing his duties in relation to eternity. What a contrast is presented between the powers of his mind and the comparative littleness of the objects to which they have been devoted, and the contractedness of the sphere in respect to which they have been exerted!
The illustration of this truth in reference to communities is still more striking than that presented in individuals. The sorrow connected with individual acquisitions is seen, principally, in the future effects it is to produce in another world; that associated with nations may be traced at the present time, in the present state of existence. Individuals die: there is a sense in which nations never die, until the world is dissolved. Before a whole people is taken away, another generation treads closely on the footsteps of the departing fathers, and the national character is preserved as a kind of permanent thing, untouched and unchanged by time and by death. Thus the sorrow following the attainment of merely intellectual knowledge by nations, may be seen in the history of their own existence in the present world, and is at this moment written in letters of blood and mourning. In the records of nations, knowledge unsanctified by moral influence is eminently exhibited as an instrument of destruction in the hands of a madman. Ambition, using it as a means to accomplish its ends, has perverted it amid scenes of intrigue and slaughter; or vice, using it to gratify its unhallowed propensities, has ruined its power in indulging raging lusts; and merged the intellectual in the animal, until men have become as beasts, and spilled each other’s blood, and left ruin and devastation behind, wherever they have turned their footsteps. Thus Babylon, and Sparta, and Athens, and Rome have successively passed away. Intellect could not save them: it was perverted by wicked hearts, until it became the very instrument of its own destruction. As the scorpion, surrounded by flames, is said to thrust its sting into its own vitals; so mind, in the fire of unregulated passions, has ever destroyed itself. In France,--a moral lesson almost losing its power to affect us, because so often contemplated,--in France, where the goddess of reason was personified and exalted in the temple of God, and men trusted to knowledge alone to guide and bless, what sorrow ensued! It has been well said of her revolution, that it was like the destroying angel passing through the dwellings of the Egyptians, leaving not a house in which there was not one dead! Let it then be repeated,--intellect alone can neither bless or save nations; but, unless regulated by moral principle, overcome by wicked passions, will eventually destroy them. This sentiment ought to be written on the heart of every American, never to be obscured or erased. Unless the mighty waves of human and party passion, at this moment rising, and every year increasing throughout the land, shall be duly restrained, repressed, and guided by the power of religious principle, binding them as the power of gravitation holds the surges of the mighty deep,--they will rise higher, and wax mightier, until, bending intellect itself to their purpose, they shall drive it onward in their own course, and eventually break over, and dash into pieces as a potter’s vessel, the noblest of our political institutions!
I have thus spoken of the adaptation of the religion of Christ in the heart of man to invigorate and preserve his intellect. I have illustrated this adaptation by the tendency of the love of God—that great duty of religion—to make mental improvement a matter of moral principle, and give a real importance to the comparatively meanest object of contemplation. I have attempted to show that it promotes all those habits of mind and life that enable the intellect to act with the greatest power,--cherishing humility, love of study, prayerfulness, benevolence, temperance, contentment, rightly regulating hope and imagination; prompting the desire of communicating knowledge to others, and teaching the people to feel and think correctly in relation to secular things. Finally, it has been my endeavour to show, that the fear of the Lord preserves from those practices, which tend to destroy the intellect; delivering from the tendency to merge the intellectual in the animal part of our nature, and preventing knowledge itself from becoming the occasion of ultimate sorrow to individuals and nations.
In what way does this adaptation of religion to the intellect form an argument for the support and encouragement of Sabbath-schools?
I answer,--by producing the inevitable and clear conclusion, that it is of far greater comparative importance to cultivate the heart than the intellect of the people, it exhibits the Sabbath-school system as one of the most efficient means for promoting this great end. The grand fundamental principle of this system is, that religion should be the foundation of education,--that the heart should be cultivated first, the intellect afterwards, and as a sure consequence. The very day on which these schools are held,--the Sabbath of the Lord; the instructors who conduct them,--generally the professed disciples of Christ; the institutions that most patronize them,--the churches of the Redeemer; the great text-book used in them,--the Bible,--“that choicest of earth’s blessings, that best of heaven’s gifts,”—all these stamp on Sabbath-schools the marked characteristic of piety as the guide to true learning,--the important truth that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Moreover, the incidental influence of these institutions on other systems of education has been, extensively and efficiently to produce and fasten this conclusion in the public mind. I think it could be shown, by a fair detail of facts, that since these efforts for imparting instruction on the Sabbath have been made, the religion of Christ, as the foundation of all correct education, has been far more definitely and practically acknowledged in our common schools, academies, and colleges; so much so, that in several instances, the Bible has been introduced as a book to be studied, in some of our highest literary institutions.
Permit me, in corroboration of this remark, and as a passing tribute to departed worth, to cite the words of one, whose memory we have all much reason to love and venerate; of one, who was among the most enlightened, and firm, and influential friends of Sabbath-schools; of one, who has been taken from you since your last anniversary, in the midst of his life, and usefulness, and honour; but who has left, in an extensive and well-earned reputation, the impression of one of the most noble, yet humble, and benevolent of mankind. I allude to Thomas S. Grimke, of South Carolina. In an eloquent address in behalf of this system, he once said,--“Sunday-schools are, in my judgment, the primary schools, not only of religious and moral, but of intellectual education. The early development of the thinking and reasoning faculties of children, in connexion with the duties and affections, I regard as the great desideratum of all our schemes of youthful instruction. The Sunday-school has already done much in this department, not only within its own narrow limits, but by leading the way for improvements in the lower branches of ordinary education, by enabling its own pupils to derive more profit from common schools, and by suggesting the composition of a great number of valuable books for the instruction of children. Sabbath-schools are among the most interesting and remarkable signs of the times. In them we behold a beautiful example of the parable of the fig-tree,--‘When its branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves.’ They have demonstrated the union that exists in the nature of man (never to be wisely or advantageously severed) between the cultivation of the understanding and the cultivation of our duties and affections. They are preparing the way for a better order of things, throughout the whole system of education; for their influence will be more and more sensibly felt, the more they are multiplied and improved.” Such was the language already corroborated by what has occurred, and to be yet more clearly fulfilled as time rolls on.
It would seem also that this system is the only one calculated to meet, in any good degree, the present urgent wants of the nation for instruction, particularly in our newly settled states. I am credibly informed that thousands in almost every county in those states are utterly without adequate education. Even when teachers of daily schools are to be found, they are, in many, if not most instances entirely unfitted to sustain the responsibilities and perform the duties of good preceptors of youth. In many cases, they are mere mercenaries, taking up the profession of teaching,--which should ever be esteemed one of the most honourable,--as a speculation, assisting them for a short time in the accumulation of gain, to be devoted ultimately to other purposes more desired than the interests of education. Look now at the widely spread wants of our country, and how shall you meet them without some such system as is presented by Sabbath-schools? By means of these, if strenuously and extensively encouraged and increased, the whole effective religious population of the land can be brought to labour in the instruction of the ignorant once in seven days. This will also have the indirect and blessed effect of causing the Sabbath to be honoured, in our destitute places, both by Christians and the people of the world; and thus ensure the perpetuity of one of the most efficient means of promoting the fear of the Lord in the hearts of the people. It can be shown, that there is the most alarming desecration of this holy day in places where the “church-going bell” is not heard, and no regular worship of God is maintained, owing principally to the want of the stated ministrations of the gospel. Now there is nothing so suited to produce respect to the Sabbath, even in the most favoured circumstances, as employment in doing good. This is indeed the only philosophical, as well as only scriptural mode of ensuring its correct observance. To abstain from doing evil on that sacred season, it is necessary that the people of God should be engaged in doing good; and it is entirely contrary to the nature of the human mind to expect that abstinence from engagements of every kind is a possible thing. The mind must be engaged in something positive. No doubt meditation, prayer, and the consultation of the Scriptures should form a great part of the duties of this holy time; but mingled with these, it would seem to be very desirable, if not absolutely necessary to its entire consecration, that the people of God, feeling that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath-day,” should be engaged in some active exertions. The Sabbath-school affords such employment, and educates the public mind, when otherwise it would receive no instruction whatever. There are probably a few Christians or Christian families in almost every desolate region of our land. Let such be roused, by every lawful motive, to embark in the duty of instructing the ignorant in the most needful of all kinds of knowledge, every Sabbath. Unless some vigorous measures of this kind be adopted, I confess I see not what can be done to meet the pressing necessities of the times, and save the liberties of our country from being highly endangered, if not entirely lost, by an ignorant and wicked population. Behold, then, our beloved land! Mark the mighty mass of mind that is, on the one hand, perverted; and on the other, is becoming lost in vice and animalism. In Sabbath-schools is to be found one of the most effectual remedies. Wherefore, urge them onward!—as patriots, as Christians, I beseech you, urge them onward!
A strong motive for this is derived from the truth with which I commenced these observations, and with which they shall now be closed. It is the fact that this fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom, is, in its intrinsic nature, principally an exercise of the conscience and heart. Enough of reason to comprehend law, with conscience to acquit or condemn as it is obeyed or broken, and a will to choose or to refuse in contemplation of its sanctions, form all the pre-requisites for its exercise. These are the prerogatives of every free agent under the government of God; and may be exerted alike by the learned and the ignorant, the rich and the poor, the old and the young. It would seem indeed that God, in mercy to man, has ordered that the heart and conscience in childhood should be comparatively far beyond the intellect, in order that this spring-time of existence should be sedulously improved for holy instruction,--so that knowledge might not be perverted by an unholy heart in mature years, and be the occasion of future sorrow to the immortal soul. There is great benevolence and wisdom in this adaptation of the gospel primarily to the heart and conscience. It renders the way of salvation plain to the poor, and makes the law of the Lord, which it magnifies and makes honourable, what an eminent living statesman desired to make the statutes of England,--“not a sealed book, but an open letter; not barely the patrimony of the rich, but likewise the security of the poor; not a two-edged sword in the hands of the powerful, but a staff for the protection of the people.” Spread then the knowledge of this gospel abroad, throughout the length and the breadth of the land!—Spread it, by the ministrations of the sanctuary; spread it, by the circulation of the Scriptures;--more than all,--excepting by the voice of the living preacher,--spread it, by the instrumentality of Sabbath-schools!—until, from Maine to Louisiana, from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean, the combined lispings of infancy, ascending from earth to heaven, like the voice of many waters, shall proclaim, that out of the mouths of babes and of sucklings, God is perfecting praise. Amen.