William Ellery Channing.

The complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction online

. (page 78 of 169)
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and stout-hearted in the main, could be so
tame and flexible in matters of religion under
Henry the Eighth. Edward the Sixth. Mary.
and Elizabeth. They seem to have received,
almost as unresistingly as the coin, the
image and superscripuon of the king. The
causes of this jrieldingness are to be found in
the averseness to civil broils to which the
nation had txen brought by the recent bloody
and exhausting wars of the Roses ; in the
formidable power of the Tudor sovereigns;
in the insular position of EUigland, and her
distancr from Rome, which checked the
domination of the papacy ; in the ignorance
of the people ; in the ravenousness of the
nobles tor the property of the Church in the
first instance, and afterwards in their greedi-
ness for court favour. This strange pliancy
\% a stain on the annals of the country. It
was in the Puritans that the old national
sturdiness revived, that England became her-
self again. These men were rude in aspect,
and forbidding in manners; but, with all
their sternness, narrowness, frowning theo-
logy, and high religious pretensions, they
were the master spirits of their times. To
tbdr descendants it is delightful to think of
the service tbey rendered to the civil and
religioas liberties of England and the world,
and to recall their deep, vital piety, a gem
most rudely set, but too precious to be over-
vahied.

Since the preceding discourse has been
printed, the following extract from an article
m the Edinburgh EtvUw for July, 1841,
entiiJed "The Port-Royalists, has been
deemed so strikingly coincident that it is
beiewiih appended :—

^* But for every labour under the sun, sajrs
Ikt Wve Man, there b a time. There is a
tine lor bothng testimony against the errors
q£ Rome ; why not also a time for testifying
to the sublime virtues with which those errors
lurre been so often associated ? Are we for
ever to admit and never to practise the duties
of V i> 4f tr ** nnd mutual forbearance ? Does
QhciitiaBity consist in a vivid perception of
Cbe ftuUs, and an obtuse blindness to the
■MfiU of those who differ from us ? Is
dinrity a virtue only when we ourselves are
d^ ot^ects of it ? Is there not a church as



pure and more catholic than that of Oxford
or Rome, — a church comprehending within
its limits every human being who, according
to the measure of the knowledge placed
within his reach, strives habitually to be con-
formed to the will of the common Father of
us all ? To indulge hope beyond the pale of
some narrow commimion has, by each Chris-
tian society in its turn, been denounced as a
daring presumption. Yet hope has come to
all ; and with her, faith and charity, her in-
separable companions. Amidst the shock of
contending creeds and the uproar of anathe-
mas, they who have ears to hear and hearts to
understsmd have listened to gentler and more
kindly sounds. Good men may debate as
polemics, but they will feel as Christians. On
the universal mind of Christendom is indelibly
engraven one image, towards which the eyes
of all are more or less earnestly directed.
Whoever has himself caught any resemblance,
however faint and imp^ect, to that divine
and benignant Original, has, in his measure,
learned to recognize a brother wherever he can
discern the same resemblance.

"There is an essential unity in that king-
dom which is not of this world. But within
the provinces of that mighty state there is
room for endless varieties of administration,
and for local laws and customs widely differing
from each other. The unity consists in the
one object of worship, the one obiect of
affiance, the one source of virtue, the one
cementing principle of mutual love which
pervades and animates the whole. The di-
versities are, and must be, as numerous and
intractable as are the essential distinctions
which nature, habit, and circumstances have
created amongst men. Uniformity of creeds,
of discipline, of ritual, and of ceremonies,
in such a world as ours ! a world where no
two men are not as distinguishable in their
mental as in their physical aspect ; where
every petty community has its separate system
of avfl government ; where all that meets the
eye. and all that arrests the ear. has the stamp
of boundless and infinite variety ! What are
the harmonies of tone, of colour, and of
form, but the result of contrasts ; of contrasts
held in subordination to one pervading princi-
ple, which reconciles without confounding the
component elements of the music, the painting,
or the structure? In the physical works of
God. beauty could have no existence without
endless diversities. Why assume that in re-
ligious society— a work not less surely to be
ascribed to the supreme Authoc of all things
—this law is absolutely reversed? Were it
possible to subdue that innate tendency of the
human mind which compels men to differ in
religious opinions and observances, at least as
widely as on all other subjects, what would be
the results of such a triumph ? Where would



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THE CHURCH.



then be the free comparison and the continual
enlargement of thought : where the self-dis-
trusts which are the springs of humility, or
the mutual dqjendencies which are th« bonds
of love? He who made us with this infinite
variety in our intellectual and physical consti-
tution must have foreseen, and, foreseeing,
must have intended, a corresponding dis-
similarity in the opinions of his creatures on
all questions submitted to their judgment and

f)roposed for their acceptance. For truth is
lis law ; and if all will profess to think alike,
all must live in the habitual violation of it.

"Zeal for uniformity attests the latent dis-
trusts, not the firm convictions of the zealot.
In proportion to the strength of oiu* self-
reliance is our indifference to the multiplica-
tion of suffrages in favour of our own judg-
ment. Our minds are steeped in imagery ;
and where the visible form is not, the impal-
pable spirit escapes the notice of the unreflect-
ing multitude. In common hands analysis
stops at the species or the genus, and cannot
rise to the order or the class. To distinguish
birds from fishes, b^sts from insects, limits
the efforts of the vulgar observer of the face
of nature. But Cuvier could trace the sublime
unity, the universal t>'pe, thefontal Ideaexisting
in the creative Intelligence, which connects as
one the mammoth and the snail. So, common



observers can distingui^ from each otha- the
different varieties of religious society, and
can rise po highier. Where one assembly
worships with harmonies of music, fumes <«
incense, ancient liturgies, and a gorgeous
ceremonial, and another listens to the nnaided
voice of a single pastor, they can perceive
and record the differences ; but the hidden
ties which unite them both escape such obser-
vation. All appears as contrast, and all minis-
ters to antipathy and discord. It is our
belief that these things may be rigluly viewed
in a different aspect, and jret with the niost
severe conformity to the Divine will, whether
as intimated by natural religion, or as revealed
in Holy Scripture. We believe that, in the
judgment of an enlightened charity, niany
Christian societies who are accustomed to
denoimce each other's errors will at length
come to be regarded a^ members in common
of the one great and comprehensive church,
in which diversities of forms are harmonized
by an all-pervading unity of spirit. For our-
selves, at least, we should deeply regret to
conclude that we are aliens from that great
Christian commonwealth of which the nuns
dnd recluses of the valley of Port-Royal were
members, and members assuredQr of no
common excellence."



THE SUNDAY-SCHOOL:

Discourse pronounced before the Snnday'Sclwol Society.



Matthkw jiix. sx, 14 : •• Then were there brought onto
liira little children, that he thotUU put his h«nds on them,
and pray : and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said,
SofTer Iitde children, and forbid them n<>L to come unto
me ; for of such is the kinir<lom of heaven.''

The subject of this discourse is indicated by
the name of the society at whose request I
appear in this place. The Sunday-School,
this is now to engage our attention. I be-
lie \e I can best aid it by expounding the
principles on which it should rest, and by
which it should be guided. I am not anxious
to pronounce an eulogy on this and similar
institutions. They do much good, but they
are destined to do greater. They are in their
infancy, and only giving promise of the
l>enftfits they are to confer. Tliey already
enjoy patronage, and tliis will increase cer-
tainly, necessarily, in proportion as they shall
grow in efficiency and usefulness. I wish to
say something of the great principles which
should preside over them, and of the modes
of operation by which they can best accom-
plish their end. This discourse, though
especially designed for Sunday-schools, is, in
truth, equally applicable to domestic instruc-



tion. Parents who are anxious to train op
their children in the paths of Christian virtue.
Will find in every principle and rule, noifr to
be laid down, a guide for. their own steps.
How to reach, influenccj enlighten, elevate
the'youthful mind, this is the gmnd t<^ic ;
and who ought not to be interested in it?
for who has not an interest in the young ?
* I propose to set before you my views under
the following heads. I shall consider, fiist.
the principle on which such schools should
be founded ; next, their end or great obicct;
in the third place, what they should teach ;
and, lastly, how they should teach, tliese
divisions, if there were time ta fill th^ npi
would exhaust the subject I shall satisfy
myself with offering you what seem to me
the most important views under each.

I. I am, first, to consider the prind^de on
which the Sunday-school should be founded.
It must be founded and carried on in iaiitft.
You must not establish it from imitatSon. W*
set it in motion because other seets Im^
adopted a lilce machinery. The SattAjQ^^
school must be founded on and sustained by



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359



a strong feith hi its usefulness, its worth, its
importance. Faith is the spring of all ener-
^tic action. Men throw their souls into
objects only because they believe them to
be atf.ninable and worth pursuit. You must
have faith in your school ; and for this end
you must have faith in God ; in the child
whom you teach ; and in the Scriptures
which are to be taught.

You must have faith in God ; and by this I
do not mean a general belief of his existence
and pc^rfection, but a faith in Him as the
father and friend of the children whom you
instruct, as desiring their progress more than
all human friends, and as most ready to aid
you in your efforts for their good. You must
not feel yourselves alone. You must not
think when you enter the place of teaching,
that only you and your pupils are present,
and that you have nothing but your power
and wisdom to rely on for success. Yoii
must feel a higher presence. You must feel
that the Father of these children is Hear you,
and that He loves them with a boundless love.
Do not think of God as interested only in
higher orders of beings, or only in great and
distinguished men. The little child is as dear
to Him as the hero, as the philosopher, as the
angel ; for in that child are the germs of an
angel's powers, and God has called him into
bemg that he may become an angci. On
this faith every Sunday-school should be
built, and on such a foundation it will Stand
firm and gather strength.

Again, you must have faith in the child
whom you instruct. Believe in the greatness
of its nature and in its capacity of Tmpfove-
ment Do not measure its mind by its frail,
slender form. In a very few years, in ten
^ears perhaps, that child is to come forWard
into life, to take on him the duties of an
arduous vocation, to assume serious responsi-
bili^^ and soon after he may be the head of a
family ^pd have a voice in the government of
his country. All the powers which he is to
put forth in llf<?, all the powers which are to
be unfolded in his endless being, are now
va^p^^ up within him. That mind, not
fOKX. nor I, uor an angel, can comprehend.
F«l that your scholar, young as he is, is
.Midirthy of your inlensest interest. Have faith
\A,1SS& nature, especially as fitted for religion.
Do fifiX, aS some do, look on the child as born
under the curse of God, as naturally hostile
tQaIl^()odne3S and truth. What! the child
totaHy depraved I Can it be that such ^
Iboufht ever entered the mind of a human
boDg? ^specially of a parent ! What ! in
the beauty of childhood and youth, in that
l^ien brow, that cheerful smile, do you see the
fasuid of total corruption ? Is it a Uttle fiend
who sleeps so sweetly on his mother's breast ?
Wa$ it an infant demon which lesus took in



his arms and said, *• Of such is the Wngdoin
of heaven ? " Is the child, who, as you relate
to him a story of suffering or generosity,
listens with a tearful or kindling eye and a
throbbin? heart, is ^ a child of bell?. As
soon could I look on the sun, and think it the
source of darkness, as on the coimtenance of
childhood or of youth, and see total depnuvity
written there. My friends, wc should believe
any doctrine sooner than this, for it tempts
us to curse the day of our birth ; to loathe
our existence ; and, by making our Creator
our worst foe and our fellow-creatures hateful;
it tends to rupture all the tics which bind
us to God and our race. My friends, have
faith in the child ; not that it is virtuous and
holy at birth ; for virtue or holiness is not,
cannot be bom with us, but is a free voluntary
effort of a being who knows the distinction
of right and wrong, and who, if tempted,
adheres to the right; but have faith in the
child as capable of knowing and loving the
good and the true, ad having a conscience to
take the side of duty, as open to ingenuous
motives for well-doing, as created for know-
ledge, wisdom, piety, and disinterested love.
Once more, you must have faith in Chris-
tianity, as adapted to the mind of the child,
as the very truth fitted to enh'ghten, interest,
and improve the human being in the first
years of his life. It is the property of our
religion, that, whilst it stretches beyond the
grasp of the mightiest intellect, it contracts
itself, so to speak, within 'the limits of the
narrowest ; that, whilst it furnishes matter of
inexhaustible speculadon to such men as
Locke and Newton, it condescends to the
ignorant and becomes the teacher of bat)es.
Christianity at once speaks with authority in
the schools of the learned, and enters the
nursery to instil with gentle voice celestial
wisdom into the ears of infancy. And this
wonderful property of our religion is to be
explained by its being founded on, and
answering to, the primitive and most uni-
versal principles of human nature. It reveals
God as a parent ; and the first sentltneht which
dawns on the child is love to its parents. It
enjoins not arbitrary commands, but teaches
the everlasting principles of dutv; and the
sense of duty begins to unfold itself in the
eariiest stages of our being. It speaks of a
future world and its inhabitants ; and child-
hood welcomes the idea of- angels, of spirits,
of the vast, the wonderful, the unseen. Above
all, Christianity is set forth in the life, the
history, the character of Jesus; and his cha-
racter, though so sublime, is still so real, so
genuine, so remarkable for simplicity, and so
naturally unfolded amidst the common scenes
of life, that it is seized in its principal features
by the child as no other greatness otcn be.
One of the excellences of Qiristianity is, that



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THE SUNDAY-SCHOOL,



It Is not an abstruse theory, not wrapped up
in abstract phrased; but taught us in facts, in
narmtives. It laves, nraves, speaks, and acts
before our eyes. Christian love is not taught
us in cold precepts. It spealu from the cross.
So, immortality is not a vague promise. It
breaks forth like the morning from the tomb
near Calvary. It becomes a glorious reality
in the person of the rising Savioiu-; and his
ascension opens to our view the heaven into
whidi he enters. It is this historical form of
our religion which peculiarly adapts it to
childhood, to the imagination and heart,
which open first in childhood. In this sense,
the kingdom of heaven, the rdigion of Christ,
belongs to children. Tl^is you must feel.
Believe in the fitness of our religion for those
you teach. Feel that you have the very
mstrument for acting on the young mind, that
you have the life-giving word.

II. Having considered the faith in which
the Sunday-school should be founded, I pro-
ceed now to consider the end, the great
object, which should be proposed and kept
steadily in view by its friends. To work
efficiently and usefully, we must understand
what we are to work for. In proportion as an
end is seen dimly and unsteadily, our action
wiU be vague, uncertain, and our energy
wasted. What, then, is the end of the Sun-
day-school ? The great end is, to awaken the
soul of the pupil, to bring his understanding,
conscience, and heart into earnest, vigorous
action on religious and moral truth, to excite
and cherish in him Spiritual Life. Inward
life, force, activity, this it must be our aim to
call forth and build up in all our teachings of
the young, especially in religious teaching.
You must never forget, my niends, whether
parents or Sunday-school instructors, what
kmd of a being you are acting upon. Never
forget that the child is a rational, moral, free
being, and that the great end of education is
to awaken rational and moral energy within
him, and to lead him to the free choice of the
right, to the free determination of himself to
truth and duty. The child is not a piece of
wax to be moulded at another's pleasure, not
a stone to be hewn passively into any shape
which the caprice and interest of others may
dictate; but a Uving, thinking being, made
to act from principles in his own heart, to
distinguish for himself between good and evil,
between truth and falsehood, to forn^ himself,
to be in an important sense the author of his
own character, the determiner of his own
future being. This most important view of
the child should never forsake the teacher.
He is a free moral agent, and our end should
be to develop such a being. He roust not
be treated as if he were unthinking matter.
You can make a house, a ship, a statue,
without its own consents You determine the



machines which you form wholly by ytmr
own will. The diild has a will as wdl as
yourselves. The great design of his being is,
that he should zci/rom himself and om him-
self. He can understand the pofection of his
nature, and is created that he may accomplish
it from free choice, from a sense of duty, from
his own deliberate purpose.

The great end iu religious instructicm,
whether in the Sunday-school or family, is.
not to stamp &mr minds irresistibly on the
young, but to stir up their own ; not to make
them see with our eyes.* but to kwkinqiiir-
ingly and steadily with their own ; not to give
them a definite amount of knowledge, bat to
inspire a fervent love of truth ; not to form
an outward regularity, but to touch inward
springs ; not to burden the memory, but to
quicken and strengthen the power of thought;
not to bind them by ineradicable prejudices
to our particular sect or peculiar notions, Init
to prepare them for impartial, conscientious
judging of whatever subjects may, in (he
ooiuse of Providence, t>e offered to their
dedsion ; not to impose reUgion upon them
in the form of arbitrary rules, which rest oo
no foundation but our own word and will, but
to awaken the conscience, the moral discern-
ment, so that they may discern and approve
for themselves what is everlastingly right and
good ; not to tell them that God is good, bat
to help them to see and feel his love in all that
He does within and around them ; not to teU
them of the dignity of Christ, but to open
their inward eye to the beauty and grealiieai
of his character, and to enkindle aspiratkms
after a kindred virtue. In a word, the great ob*
ject of all schools is to awaken intellectual and
moral life in the child. Life is the great thing
to be sought in a human being. Hitherto,
most religions and governments have beeo
very much contrivances for extinguishing Hfe
in the human soul. Thanks to God, we live
to see the dawning of a better day.

By these remarks, I do not mean that we
are never to give our children a command
without assigning our reasons, or an optnioB
without stating our proofs. They muse fdy
on us in the first instance for much that tfacy
cannot comprehend ; but I mean that ow
great aim in controlling them must be to
train^ them to control themselves, and oar
great aim in giving them instruction must be
to aid them in the acquisition of truth $at
themselves. As far as possible. tidigSoB
should be adapted to their minds and heaorts.
We should teach religion as we do nature.
We do not shut up our children framoutwant
nature, and require them to believe m die
great laws of the Creator, in the powecs td
light, heat, steam, gravity, on ourv^3Rlalon^
We put them in the presence of natufei. WW
delight to verify what "vf^ teach them of Hlfr



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THE SUNDAY-SCHOOL.



361



miiiera], animal, and vegetable worlds, by
facts placed under their own eyes. \yp en-
courage them to observe for themselves, and
to submit to experiment what they hear.
Now, all the great principles of morals and
religioa may be illustrated and confirmed,
like the great laws of nature, by what falls
under the child's own consciousness and ex-
perience. Indeed, great moral and religious
truths are nearer to him th^ the principles of
natural science. The germs of them are in
the souL AU the elementary ideas of God
and duty and love and happiness come to him
from his own spiritual powers and affections.
Moral good and evil, virtue and vice, are re-
vealed to him in bis own motives of action,
and in the motives of those around him.
Faith in God and virtue does not depend on
assertion alone. Religion carries its own evi-
dence with it more than history or science.
It should rest more on the soul's own con-
sciousness, experience, and observation. To
wake up the soul to a clear, afiectionate per-
ception of the reality and truth and greatness
of religion, is the great end of teaching.

The great danger of Sunday-schools is, that
they wttl fall into a course of mechanical
teaching, that they will give religion as a
lifeless tradition, and not as a quickening
reality. It is not enough to use words con-
v^n^ truth. I'ruth must be so given that
the mind will lay hold on, will recognize it as
truth, and will incorporate it with itself. The
most important truth may lie like a dead
weight on the mind, just as the most whole-
some food, for want of action in the digestive
oigaDS, becomes an oppressive load. I do not
tl&k that so much harm is done by giving
error ton child, as by giving truth in a lifeless
Ibim. What is the misery of the multitudes
in Christian countries? Not that they dis-
bdieve Christjanity ; not that they hold great
errors ; but that truth lies dead within them.
They use the most sacred words without
meaning. They hear of spiritual realities,
awinl enough to raise the dead, with utter
unconcern; and one reason of this insensi-
bility is, that teaching in earlv life was so
OMschanical, that religion was lodged in the
memory and the unthinking belief, whilst the
veasoo was not awakened, nor the conscience
oor the heart moved. According to the com-
moa modes of instruction, the minds of the
yoonST become worn to great truths. By
nading the Scriptures without thought or
fiRfinff, their minds are dulled to its most
«^?irhTrg and sublime passages; and, when
onoe a passage lies dead in the mind, its
mmicc tion to life and power is a most difii-
cott work. Here lies the great danger of
SiBa<fai,3r-sdiooU. Let us never forget that their
cad is to awaken life in the minds and hearts
otf the young.



III. I now proceed to consider what is to
be taught in the Sunday-schools to accom-
plish the great end of which I have spoken ; *
and this may seem soon settled. Should I
ask you what is to be taught in the Sunday-
school, the answer would be, "The Christian
religion. The institution is a Christian one,
and has for its end the communication of



Online LibraryWilliam Ellery ChanningThe complete works of W.E. Channing: with an introduction → online text (page 78 of 169)