Letter XXXIV. May 12, 1819
My dear Greaves,
Before I conclude I wish to say a few words more - but on a subject of the most vital importance. (A few words) will suffice for those with whom we can sympathize, and others have seldom, if ever, been brought to agree by the most elaborate discussion. I wish that no Christian mother may lay down this volume, without asking herself seriously, "Is the course, and are the measures recommended in these letters, in union with principles truly Christian? Are they calculated merely to promote intellectual attainments, or to produce an appearance of self-made and self-styled morality, or, are they such to deserve the names of the first and preparatory steps to (Christian Education?)" Let her answer this question to herself, to the best of her knowledge and her feelings, and upon the result let it depend whether she will adopt them, with such modifications as experience or circumstances will suggest, in the education of her children. If her answer be in the negative; if her heart should give her warning, and matured reflection confirm it, that these principles are (not Christian), then let them be rejected, and be mentioned no more.
In the mean time allow me to subjoin a few remarks on the leading principles of Christianity, on that distinguishing characteristic which rendered it "unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness;" but to all those who believe, "a power of God unto salvation," and which will eventually make it to "cover the earth as the waters cover the deep." They are the remarks of an attentive observer, but of one who would fain let his heart speak, when his intellect might fail of guiding him safely, or his acquired knowledge of bearing him out. I hope that they shall satisfy, among all denominations of Christians, those who hold the Scriptures higher than any human comment; the word of God higher than any human authority; and who would rather have its (spirit) live in the heart, and be visibly manifested in all the actions of outward life, than see the (letter) of any particular tenets maintained with severity, and inculcated with violence.
The highest aim of the nations of the ancient world was national power and greatness; their religions could not give them an higher principle than one of selfishness, more or less refined. There was, however, one exception, which formed the most striking contrast to it - the Mosaic dispensation. This religion urged strongly the weakness of the creature, and the infinite power of the Almighty; the strictness of the law, and the incapability of man to fulfil it; the trespassing of the guilty, and the sanctity of the judge. Though it may appear at first a religion only of the law, and of terror, and of outward expiations, yet it was a religion also of faith. There were those "of whom the world was not worthy," whose eyes were opened; who were inspired by the Spirit that "searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God," who saw deeper than "the type and shadows of the ceremonial law," - whose faith was strong enough to offer up, with the patriarch, the sum of their earthly hopes, to the divine will, and to speak with the Psalmist, "Lord, though thou slay me, yet will I trust in thee." In the Christian dispensation, this principle of faith was preserved, as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." But it was intimately united with the active principle of love.
The Christian doctrine, distant alike from encouraging the selfsufficiency of the Heathen world, and from holding out the terrors of the Mosaic law, taught man to look up to his Maker, not as to his Judge only, but also as to his Redeemer. The dreams of supreme power, by which one nation courted the absolute sway of the world, had vanished away; the monuments of their splendour fell into ruins together with the altars of their Gods; the high purposes, too, for which Providence had singled out from among the rest the humbler tribes of one country, were accomplished, and Sion was no more the dwelling of the Most High, nor the point of union of all the faithful; and Christianity was hailed by all those whose love was warm, and whose faith was strong enough to trust and to delight in its ultimate destination, as the religion of mankind. As such, Christianity has destroyed those barriers by which man had presumed to shut out his brother from the access to truth; it has invited all, the high and the low, to meet on one ground, a ground infinitely above the distinctions of rank, or wealth, or knowledge; and their meeting on that ground was not so much to be considered as a concession on the one side, or as a vindication of right on the other, but rather as the unanimous desire to embrace the free gift of God proffered to all. In this spirit, without disturbing their foundations, Christianity has raised the character of the social institutions; has animated individuals to stand forward, and, with the boldness of truth, but with the meekness of love, to plead the cause of their brothers; has urged some to bear her light, to unfold her standard in distant regions, and others to proclaim among those invested with power her unequivocal claims, and thus to propose that great work, in the accomplishment of which subsequent ages may rejoice, and see
"At the voice of the Gospel of Peace,
The sorrows of Africa cease;
And the Slave and his Master devoutly unite
To walk in HER freedom and dwell in HER light."
For the ultimate destination of Christianity, suchas it is revealed in the sacred volume, and manifested in the page of history, I cannot find a more appropriate expression, than to say, that its object is, to accomplish the education of mankind. Destined to elevate all, it would soothe the sorrows of each; and however different the abilities, and the circumstances, all are to partake of "that one and the selfsame spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will."
If we look upon Christianity, as we are indeed fully justified in doing, as the scheme adopted by Infinite Wisdom to consummate the great end of the education of mankind, we may, front the contemplation of the means employed, deduce an unerring standard for all efforts of our own. We may, at the same time, be confirmed in the conviction, that Christianity is not a privilege confined to those only who, by any peculiar talents, or knowledge, or exertions, might appear better qualified to receive it than others, but that it is a gift freely tendered to all, though deserved by none; - adapted not to one condition of life, but to the fallen state of human nature - to that struggle of the flesh against the spirit - that strange mixture of contradictions - of conceited knowledge and of aversion to light when man presumes, in puny strength, to work out his own salvation; when with his eye intent, and his heart entranced by the charm of perishable things, he yet imagines to fathom the depths of truth, and to climb the bright summit of happiness, or when, in more gloomy vision, his affections centered all in self, he is led to proclaim truth a phantom, and love an empty sound - when, by turns, he flies from the turmoil of life to a world of dreams, and from the endless maze of solitary speculation, to the dissipations of life - when "he says, peace peace- where there is no peace!"
Among the passages of the sacred volume, which throw most light on the state of mind which is best fitted for the reception of Christian truth, I have always considered, as one of the most illustrative, these words of the Saviour - "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of god as a little child, shall in no wise enter therein." What can there be in "a little child," deserving to be compared with a state of readiness for the Christian faith? It cannot be an effort of morality, or an attempt at high perrection; for the infant is incapable of any. It cannot be any degree of knowledge, or intellectual refinement; for the infant is a stranger to both. What, then, can it be, except that feeling of love and confidence, of which the mother is for a time the first and only object? That feeling is analogous in its nature and agency to the state of mind described by the name of faith. It does not rest on a conviction of the understanding but it is more convincing than any syllogism could have been. Not being founded on it, it cannot be injured by reasoning; it has to do with the heart only. It is prior to the development of all other faculties: - if we ask for its origin, we can only say, that it is instinctive; - or if we mean to resolve an unmeaning expression into the truth, it is a gift of Him who has called into life all the hosts of the creation - in whom "we live and move, and have our being.', Analogous to that emotion, like it imparted by the Giver of all that is good, is the state of mind of those who "believe to the saving of the soul." Though infinitely elevated above it, it yet partakes in like manner of the nature of a feeling, as well as a conviction; arising from both, it is invested with that energy, which brings forth fruits of love; it proves that true faith is kindred in its nature to active love, and that "he that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love."
That emotion in the infant mind, that adumbration of faith, and of love, can be dearer to none than to a Christian Mother. Let her be convinced that there is only one way for her to manifest her maternal affection - and that way is, to watch over the gift of God to her child - to be thankful to the Giver and hoping that from Him may come the increase, to do all in her power to unfold the germ; to be mild and firm, and persevering in the task; to look to her own heart for a motive, and to heaven for the blessing.
Happy the mother who thus leads her children to faith, and from faith to love, and from love to happiness. And thrice happy she, who has before her eyes, in her task, the recollection of one who, in genuine and unassuming piety, watched over the dream of her infant years - an example that, stronger than any precept, strong as the voice of maternal love in her own breast, calls upon her "to remember; - to resemble; - to persevere!" (PSW 26, p.137-142)