Robert Hall Morrison.

The inaugural address of the Rev. R.H. Morrison: pronounced at his inauguration as president of Davidson College, North Carolina, August 2, 1838 online

. (page 1 of 2)
Online LibraryRobert Hall MorrisonThe inaugural address of the Rev. R.H. Morrison: pronounced at his inauguration as president of Davidson College, North Carolina, August 2, 1838 → online text (page 1 of 2)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

rX ..











\ \



The station which we are called to occupy in your
presence, determines the theme upon which we are to
address you. It is well for civilized society, that the
importance of education depends upon no incidental
causes, and cannot, therefore, be exhausted by frequent
and thorough examination. The more fully its claims
to public attention are considered, the more generally
will they be regarded as just and reasonable. The
more widely its blessings are diffused, the more highly
will their value be appreciated. Possessing, as we do,
intellectual and moral powers capable of the highest
improvement, and susceptible of temporal and eternal
happiness and misery, the work of forming our char-
acters must stand unrivalled in solemn and permanent

No fact is more strikingly confirmed by the history
of different nations, than that the kind of education
given, determines the standard of character aimed at,
and the state of improvement secured. In Egypt, Per-
sia, Greece, and Rome, when you have analyzed the
precepts of their different codes of instruction, you
have found the elements of their moral and pohtical
character as nations.

The stress laid upon particular virtues, and the
strong incentives held out to their cultivation, account
for all their elevation in arms, arts, literature, and re-
finement. The entire neglect of other and nobler
virtues accounts for their destitution of moral purity
and upright principles. When their laws tolerated,
and their worship sanctioned impiety, fraud, lewd-

ness, treachery, and murder, we need not be surprised
at their ultimate degradation and overthrow. When
the temporary ascendency given to the maxims and
principles which led to their prosperity, was borne
down by the tide of luxury and profligacy, against
which the rules of their education and false religion
furnished no inviolable security; the days of their
renown were numbered. When enslaved by their vices
their prosperity was at an end. The advancement of
these nations in some things, and their deep degrada-
tion in others, clearly illustrate the truth, that while
" knowledge is power,'''' it is education which deter-
mines whether this power shall be exerted in the pro-
motion of virtue or vice. The direful effects of im-
proper education have filled the earth with lamenta-
tions, and shrouded the pages of its history in

When Philip wrote to Aristotle giving directions
for the education of his son Alexander, he urged the
philosopher to train him to be a son worthy of such a
father, and a prince worthy of Macedonia. Such a
training he no doubt received. He was taught to re-
gard every thing as subservient to his own elevation.
You know the issue. At the age of twenty years he
commenced his career of usurpation, and the bloody
conquest of the world was the consequence. Had
Alexander been taught to seek for his highest honour
in doing right, and promoting the public good, how
different might have been his life and his death.

When Csesar stood upon the banks of the Rubicon
he seems to have trembled at the responsibility before
him. " If I cross this narrow stream," he exclaimed,
"in what calamities must I involve my country!"
Had he been taught to love that country more, and to

live for its peace and prosperity, what torrents of
blood might have been saved.

Had Mahomet, Saladin, Voltaire, Hume, Byron,
Napoleon, and other such scourges to our race, been
constrained by the truth and Spirit of God to have
surrendered their pride and ambition, and to have
lived for the glory of their Maker and the welfare of
their fellow men, what woes would have been spared
from the catalogue of human wretchedness. Earth-
quakes, volcanoes, and pestilence have often spread
their devastations through groves, villages, cities, and
countries. But their inscriptions of ruin have been
few and trivial, compared with the torments and
desolations which have flowed down upon every land,
from proud and ambitious and unholy minds. One
such mind may give origin to corrupting influences
reaching to the ends of the earth, and rolling on, age
after age. No amount of knowledge which does not
lead to the extermination of evil passions and the cul-
tivation of virtuous habits, but wifl prove a curse to
its possessor, and an infamy to society.

Although vice and misery may thus exist in con-
nexion with mental cultivation, they do not necessa-
rily result from it. It is not because men are learned
that they are wicked, but their depravity is too strong
to be subdued by human attainments. Ignorance is
as frequently and as closely allied with corruption as
knowledge. It constitutes no objection against intel-
lectual improvement, that it is utterly inadequate to
accomplish what God has revealed his word and
Spirit to effect.

Although we must rely upon the doctrines of grace
to make men holy, the important lessons taught by
Creation and Providence ought not to be discarded.


There is no good reason for separating the study of
God's word from the contemplation of his works.
Nature and inspiration reveal the character and en-
force the authority of the same just and holy Sove-
reign. Instead of being inconsistent, these discove-
ries illustrate and confirm each other. Those who
learn most of the Bible will be best prepared to un-
derstand and admire the perfections of Jehovah dis-
played in the works of his hand. Knowledge of the
true laws of nature will justify and confirm our faith
in all the teachings of God's word. There is no in-
consistency or opposition between science and reli-
gion, when both are properly understood. "Truth
can never be opposed to truth." Wherever science
has thrown her light, and unfolded the laws of the
physical world, the same wisdom, goodness, and
power of God meet us to awaken gratitude and in-
spire confidence which shine from his holy word.

The constitution of the material world being adapt-
ed to the nature of man, stored with provisions for
his enjoyment, and fitted in all its laws to minister to
his preparation for immortal happiness in a higher
and nobler state of being ; it is not only foohsh, but
wicked to contemn its proofs of divine goodness.

When those great teachers of science. Bacon,
Boyle, Newton, and Locke, regarded it chiefly as a
hand maid to religion, we need not view its triumphs
with suspicion. " Thy creatures," said Bacon, "have
been my books, but thy Scriptures much more. I
have sought thee in the courts, fields, and gardens, but
I have found thee in thy temples."

" The consideration of God's providence," says
Boyle, " may prove a bridge on which we may pass
from natural to revealed religion." In speaking of

the tendency of God's works to lead us to him, as the
source of all perfection and authority, Newton says:
" he governs all things not as the soul of the world,
but as the Lord of the universe. He is not only God,
but Lord or Governor. We know him by his attri-
butes, by the wise and admirable structure of things
around us, and by their final causes; we admire him
on account of his perfections, we venerate and wor-
ship him on account of his government."

" Nature," says Pascal, " has perfections in order
to show that she is God's image, and defects in order
to show that she is 07ily his image."

Far as human knowledge can reach, the tendency
of all the works of nature is, to minister to the exist-
ence, develope the faculties, and promote the happi-
ness of men. These adaptations of the material world
to the purposes of our existence, not only reveal the
perfections of Jehovah to an unlimited extent, but un-
fold our high destination as rational creatures, formed
and preserved to become wise tmto eternal life. With-
out the cultivation of our minds the wonders of the
eye, and ear, and hand, and heart, and of our whole
frame, would be unknown to us in their highest uses.
Without intellectual improvement the countless and
amazing properties of the earth, air, water, light,
gravitation, sun and planets, to preserve and bless
our existence, would be unknown to us. The know-
ledge and proper use of these provisions of the divine
hand, constitute our true elevation both in character
and condition.

Man's ascendency over other animals does not con-
sist in bodily strength or motion. He holds dominion
over many animals of much more strength and swift-
ness of motion than he possesses. Nor does his ele-


vation consist in the superior adaptation of his body
to the different chmates of the earth or the means of
subsistence — hut in tJie endowments of his mind.

By the powers of reason he can command the
strength of animals and the power of the elements to
work for his support, defence, and improvement. He
can gather and combine the nicest and strongest
fibres of vegetables and animals to clothe himself — ^he
can construct and embellish his habitation — he can
gather his food from every clime — he can convey
his intelligence to any region of the earth, and trans-
mit it to posterity.

He analyzes the properties of water, and lays his
hand upon the power of steam ; and it saws his tim-
ber, grinds his grain, digs his coal, weaves his cloth,
prints his books, and bears his commerce to every
country. He learns the properties of the magnet and
the wind, and rides with confidence upon every sea.
He decomposes coal and illuminates houses and tem-
ples and cities, with brilliancy. He examines vege-
tables and minerals, and procures medicines to arrest
the ravages of disease. He learns the laws of elec-
tricity, and arrests the destructive lightning in its
progress. He places the microscope to his eye, and ad-
mires myriads of animalcules teeming with organized
life, far as his researches can extend. He turns the
telescope towards the heavens, and measures the dis-
tance, and magnitude, and revolutions of the sun and
planets, and numbers the fixed stars, until our system
dwindles by contrast into a mere vestibule to the
mighty works of the Lord God Almighty. And these
conquests of science are not barely to elevate the
few, but to lessen the burdens and amehorate the con-
dition of the many. So long as the acquisition of


food, clothing, and shelter, requires all the time and
labour of men, they will make but little improvement.
But when the inventions of mind render the powers
of nature subservient to their subsistence, they will
find time and the means to learn and to teach.

The discoveries of science soon descend to all the
arts of common life. No delusion can be more im-
founded, than that the benefits of learning will be
monopolized by the intelligent and the rich. In fact
the poor are the chief gainers by the diffusion of
knowledge. Let them remain ignorant and they will
always be pressed down by drudgery. Look at the
condition of the lower classes of society in Europe,
before the reformation, and in every unenlightened
country, at the present time. In vain do you search
for an orderly, industrious, and virtuous peasantry in
any nation where Christian intelligence has not dif-
fused its controlling power. Why are England and
the United States the great Laboratories or work-shops
of the world ? Why do they control the opinions,
regulate the commerce, and sway the jurisprudence
of all other nations ? Their intelligence and virtue
give them this ascendency. And why do the dif-
ferent ranks of their population show so many marks
of prosperity ? Because character has influence,
knowledge finds reward, and principle and worth se-
cure promotion.

Let the means of education be diffused, and all who
have talents and good principles may rise, and be-
come blessings to themselves and their fellow men.

It is unquestionably the duty of every community
to multiply and extend the means of promoting agri-
culture, commerce, and manufactures. But patriotism
still more loudly demands, that the means of educa-



tion should be advanced. Every nation owes it to
her citizens, to secure their children from ignorance
and its fearful train of evils. The science and litera-
ture of a State constitute its richest capital. Every
learned and virtuous man is a pillar in society. Cities
and castles may be torn down. The good principles
of men nothing can destroy. Even, if patriotism
called upon us to look no higher than the promotion
of order, industry, economy, contentment, and integ-
rity among the various classes of society ; to educa-
tion we must resort for the cheapest and most effectual
instrumentality for their production.

Statesmen, Philanthropists, and Christians may
unite all their talents and learning and influence in a
" crusade against ignorance,'''' and no towns and cities
need be hurt, no countries pillaged, and no life

Were the treasures now laid down for purposes of
fraud, oppression, lust, and unholy ambition, conse-
crated to the improvement of the rising generation,
the fetters of ignorance and superstition might soon
be broken. The efforts now made to spread discord,
gratify pride, and pollute society, if directed in the
right channel, would soon spread the rich treasures
of knowledge around every fireside in the land we

But we are permitted to occupy higher ground on
this subject. Education must be defective if it fails
to cultivate all the powers of our nature. We have
not only intellectual faculties to be enlarged, but af-
fections to be engaged and purified.

The cultivation of an enlightened conscience and
a holy heart is the chief end of education.

Intellectual attainments, however rich and splendid,


will do no good, and give no true happiness without
moral principle. JMental cultivation alone cannot
subdue the corruptions of our hearts or restore us to
the favour of God.

Proud and unholy men have often refused to sub-
mit to the teachings of the Bible, and boasted of the
sufficiency of human reason and human learning to
render them wise and safe. But their own bondage
to vice, and their contaminating influence upon every
thing they have touched, have signally refuted their

Christianity alone can enlighten the minds, remove
the fears, repair the losses, heal the diseases, and
purify the affections of sinners. It impairs no pure
enjoyment, interdicts no lawful affection, infringes no
just obligations ; but brings all our moral powers un-
der the transforming inff uences of God's Spirit, and
thus secures excellency of character, and the most
elevated and permanent felicity. In no other way
can we be restored to the ennobling privileges and
high hopes for which we were created.

It will then give neither honour to God, nor safety
to man to neglect the simple, but glorious provisions
of his grace for our salvation.

Religious instruction^ is then not only important,
but indispensable in education. And religious instruc-
tion should be held, where God has placed it, para-
mount to every thifig else. The Bible must be supreme
in seats of learning, if their moral atmosphere be
kept pure. Learning should be imbued with the
spirit of heaven to give it moral power.

" It is virtue," says Locke, " direct virtue which is
the hard and valuable part to be aimed at in educa-
tion. All other considerations should give way and


be postponed to this. This is the sohd, substantial
good which the labour and art of education should
furnish the mind with, and fasten there, until the
young man has placed his strength, and glory and
pleasure in it."

Lord Karnes says : " It appears unaccountable that
our teachers generally^ have directed their instruc-
tions to the head, with very little attention to the
heart. From Aristotle down to Locke, books with-
out number have been compiled for cultivating and
improving the understanding ; few, in proportion, for
cultivating the heart."

Milton says: "The end of learning is, to repair the
ruin of our first parents, by inquiring to know God
aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, as we
may the nearest, by possessing our souls of true vir-
tue, which being united to the heavenly grace of
faith, makes up the highest perfection."

One of the most distinguished Philosophers of
France (Cousin) has said : " Religious and moral edu-
cation is the first want of a people. Without this
every other education is not only without real utility,
but in some respects dangerous. It", on the contrary,
religious education has taken firm root, intellectual
education will have complete success, and ought on
no account, to be withheld from the people, since God
has endowed them with all the faculties of acquiring
it, and since the cultivation of all the powers of man
secures to him the means of reaching perfection, and
through that, supreme happiness."

The minister of public instruction in the same na-
tion, (Guizot) has said : " There is one thing demands
our zeal above all others — I mean moral and relimous




These lofty sentiments, sanctioned as they are, by
the most venerable names, have been confirmed by
the history of every country.

France was never more distinguished for learning,
than when drenched in the blood of her own subjects
through her proscription of religion, until she became
a spectacle of horror to all nations. Learned mate-
rials blew up the flame of destruction, and promiscuous
and astounding devastation was the result.

Remove the restraints and sanctions of religion, and
talents and intellectual attainments cannot stay the
demons of human depravity which rise up for destruc-
tion. Education without moral principle only gives
men intelligence to do evil. Let any system of edu-
cation prevail, which renounces God and disowns the
Bible, and how long would Magistrates be honoured,
parents be obeyed, truth be spoken, property be safe,
or life secure ? Very soon the earth would become a
blighted scene of crimes and of miseries.

Although the primitive and main design of Christi-
anity is, to train men for heaven, yet its indirect and
subordinate influences upon society are worthy of our
highest consideration. Among these, its agency in
fostering and difliising sound learning, ought not to
be overlooked. Wherever it has prevailed exten-
sively, its power has been felt in cultivating the minds
of men and in controlling that cultivation for good.
Under the Jewish dispensation we may trace an inte-
resting connexion between the advancement of truth
and Godliness, and the intellectual and political stand-
ing of those who enjoyed and improved the light of
God's word.

During the first Centuries of the Christian dispen-
sation who Avere the most distinguished champions of


science and literature ? Clemens, Ignatius, Polycarp,
Tertullian, Origen, Justin, Ireneus, Eusebius, Basil,
and Augustine, and such men were able to triumph
over all Grecian and Roman learning in the defence
of Gospel truth. Although the decrees and arms of
bloody Emperors, the sophistry and rage of Pagan
philosophers, and the craft and power of idolatrous
priests were arrayed in bitter hostility against Chris-
tianity, she gained her victories with an unfaltering
march, until paralyzed by the corrupting alliance of
the Roman government. That was a fatal event for
the purity of religion ; but it proves what power it
had exerted upon the temporal interests of the Roman
empire. When true religion went down under that
dark cloud, learning declined with it, and they
remained down together as long as Christianity was
obscured. The records of the dark ages may con-
vince the most incredulous of this unbroken connex-
ion. As the Reformation dawned, we may trace the
revival of letters. The mists of ignorance and super-
stition were rolled away together, and dispersed too
by the same light. Wickliff, Zuingle, Huss, Luther,
Melancthon, Calvin, Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, Hook-
er, Barrow, Howe, Owen, Charnock, Bates, Flavel,
and a host of such master spirits came as closely in
contact with the intellects as the consciences of men.
The slumbers of ages were broken by their power.
The minds of nations were wakened up to reflection
and investigation. Christianity makes no conquests
in the dark ; she gains all her triumphs by imparting

The discerning and eloquent Burke has said, " The
scheme of Christianity is such, that it almost neces-
sitates an attention to many kinds of learning. For


the Scripture is by no means an irrelative system of
moral and divine truth ; but it stands connected with
so many histories, and with the laws, opinions, and
manners of so many various sorts of people, and in
such different times, that it is altogether impossible
to arrive at any tolerable knowledge of it, without
having recourse to much exterior inquiry. For
which reason the progress of this religion has always
been marked by that of letters.''''

It might be interesting, did time permit, to trace
the progress of Christianity as an unfailing source of
intelhgence, morality, and refinement, throughout the
different sections of the earth, and especially in our
own country. No wonder the friends of the Church
feel a deep and growing solicitude, that religion and
education, should blend their influences in advancing
the social and political and spiritual interests of the
rising generation. When united they hallow and
adorn and strengthen each other. Acting as friends
they invade the dominions of darkness, break up the
instruments of cruelty, arrest the scourges of supersti-
tion, silence the groans of despotism, and calm the
surges of unholy passion. Acting in conjunction they
promote order, temperance, justice, benevolence, faith,
humility, and holiness. Thus they prepare men for
all the duties and trials of this life and for the king-
dom of heaven. Array them against each other,
and vice, corruption, misery, barbarism, tyranny, and
usurpation carry on the work of individual and
national degradation and ruin.

In urging these high and holy demands of religion,
we claim for her nothing but the possession of her
own ground and the exertion of her own instrumen-
tality. In every age and country it is a mark of false


systems of religion to blend themselves with civil
matters. In the Roman Empire, the machinery of
government could not be moved without the Priests.
So it was in Greece and Egypt — so it is yet, wher-
ever true religion is not felt. But it has been left for
Christianity to inculcate all the duties of subjects, and
at the same time keep them off from a degraded sub-
serviency to political measures. And always it will
be found to be true, that the farther Christianity is
removed from becoming a tool of human governments,
the more pure she will remain, the more power she
will exert, and the richer the blessings she will bestow.
Every Christian should bless God for the fact, that in
this country the Church and the State are separate
and distinct. The Church of Christ needs not, she
asks not human legislators to expound her doctrines
or to enforce her obligations. She needs no author-
ity but what she brings from Heaven, and no power
but the power of truth and the Spirit of God. Let
the Gospel of peace keep the orbit prescribed for her
by her author. Let her ministry remain pure, and
her dependance on Christ be felt and acknowledged.
Then she will radiate her own light; then she will
wdeld not the energies of earth, but the power and wis-
dom of God. Then she will make men what they
ought to be for time and eternity.

When the peculiar circumstances of a community
demand it, and their benevolence will justify it, the
establishment of a College, having the Bible for its
first charter, and the prosperity of the Church and
our country for its great design, ought to be regarded
as an enterprise of no common grandeur.

In the advancement of such a work we are per-
mitted to meet together to-day and to mingle our


congratulations and our prayers. The want of patri-
otic veneration shown by the legislative councils of
our country for the name of a distinguished General,
who fell on the 1st of February, 1781, six miles
from this place, has permitted the patrons of this Col-
lege to connect his name with its destiny, and to hope
for a more imperishable memorial to his worth, than


Online LibraryRobert Hall MorrisonThe inaugural address of the Rev. R.H. Morrison: pronounced at his inauguration as president of Davidson College, North Carolina, August 2, 1838 → online text (page 1 of 2)