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Preached in the Parish Church of Christ Church,
London, on Thursday, May 9, 1745; being the time of the Yearly Meeting of the Children educated in the Charity Schools in and about the cities of London and Westminster. By Joseph BUTLER, LL.D., Lord Bishop of Durham.
PROVERBS xxii, 6. Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he
will not depart from it.
Human creatures, from the constitution of their nature, and the circumstances in which they are placed, cannot but acquire habits during their childhood, by the impressions which are given them and their own customary actions; and long before they arrive at mature age these habits form a general settled character. And the observation of the text, that the most early habits are generally the most lasting, is likewise every one's observation. Now, whenever chiidren are left to themselves, and to the guides and companions which they choose or by hazard light upon, we find by experience that the first impressions which they take, and course of action they get into, are very bad; and so consequently must be their habits, and character, and future behaviour. Thus, if they are not trained up in the way they should go, they will certainly be trained up in the way they should not go; and in all probability will persevere in it, and become miserable themselves and mischievous to society: which, in event, is worse, upon account of both, than if they had been exposed to perish in their infancy. On the other hand, the ingenuous docility of children before they have been deceived, their distrust of themselves, and natural deference to grown people, whom they find here settled in a world where they themselves are strangers, and to whom they have recourse for advice as readily as for protection, -which deference is still greater towards those who are placed over them,these things give the justest grounds to expect that they may receive such impressions, and be influenced by such a course of behaviour, as will produce lasting good habits; and, together with the dangers before-mentioned, are as truly a natural demand upon us to “ train them up in the way they should go," as their bodily wants are a demand to provide them bodily nourishment. Brute creatures are appointed to do no more than this for their offspring, nature forming them by instincts to the particular manner of life appointed them, from which they never deviate. But this is so far from being the case of men, that, on the contrary, considering communities collectively, every successive generation is left, in the ordinary course of Providence, to be formed by the preceding one; and becomes good or bad, though not without its own merit or demerit, as this trust is discharged or violated, chiefly in the management of youth.
We ought doubtless to instruct and admonish grown persons, to restrain them from what is evil, and encourage them in what is good, as we are able ; but this care of youth, abstracted from all consideration of the parental affection, I say
this care of youth, which is the general
notion of education, becomes a distinct subject and a distinct duty, from the particular danger of their ruin, is left to themselves, and the particular reason we have to expect they will do well, if due care be taken of them. And from hence it follows that children have as much right to some proper education as to have their lives preserved ; and that, when this is not given them by their parents, the care of it devolves upon all persons ; it becomes the duty of all who are capable of contributing to it, and whose help is wanted.
These trite but most important things, implied indeed in the text, being thus premised as briefly as I could express thein, I proceed to consider distinctly the general manner in which the duty of education is there laid before us ; which will further show its extent, and further obviate the idle objections w.hich have been made against it. And all this together will naturally lead us to consider the occasion and necessity of schools for the education of poor children, and in what light the objections against them are to be regarded.
Solomon might probably intend the text for a particular admonition to educate children in a manner suitable to their respective ranks and future employments; but certainly he intended it for a general admonition to educate them in virtue and religion, and good conduct of themselves in their temporal concerns. And all this together in which they are to be educated, he calls " the way they should go," i. e. he mentions it not as a matter of speculation, but of practice. And conformably to this description of the things in which children are to be educated he describes education itself; for he calls it training them up," which is a very different thing from merely teaching them some truths necessary to be known or believed. It is endeavouring to form such truths into practical principles in the mind, so as to render them of habitual good influence upon the temper and actions, in all the various occurrences of life. And this is not done by bare instruction ; but hy that, together with admonishing them frequently as occasion offers; restraining them from what is evil, and exercising them in what is good. Thus, the precept of the apostle concerning this matter is, to " bring up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. vi. 4); as it were by way of distinction from acquainting them merely with the principles of Christianity, as you would with any common theory. Though education were nothing more than informing children of some truths of importance to them, relating to religion and common life, yet there would be great reason for it, notwithstanding the frivolous objections concerning the danger of giving them prejudices. But when we consider that such information itself is really the least part of it, and that it consists in endeavouring to put them into right dispositions of mind, and right habits of living, in every relation and every capacity,- this consideration shows such objections to be quite absurd; since it shows them to be objections against doing a thing of the utmost importance at the natural opportunity of our doing it, childhood and youth ; and which is indeed, properly speaking, our only one: for when they are grown up to maturity, they are out of our hands, and must be left to themselves. The natural authority on one side ceases, and the deference on the other. God forbid that it should be impossible for men to recollect themselves, and reform at an advanced age; but it is in no sort in the power of others to gain upon them to turn them away from what is wrong, and enforce upon them what is right, at that season of their lives, in the manner we might have done in their childhood.
Doubtless religion requires instruction, for it is founded in knowledge and belief of some truths ; and so is common prudence in the management of our temporal affairs: yet neither of them consist in the knowledge or belief even of these fundamental truths; but in our being brought, by such knowledge and belief, to a correspondent temper and behaviour. Religion, as it stood under the Old Testament, is perpetually styled “ the fear of God;" under the new, “ faith in Christ.” But as that fear of God does not signify literally being afraid of him, but having a good heart, and leading a good life, in consequence of such fear; so this faith in Christ does not signify literally believing in him, in the sense that word is used in common language, but be. coming his real disciples in consequence of such belief.
Our religion being thus practical, consisting in a frame of mind and course of behaviour suitable to the dispensation we are under, and which will bring us to our final good, children ought by education to be habituated to this course of behaviour, and formed into this frame of mind. And it must ever be remembered, that if no pains be taken to do it, they will grow up in a direct contrary behaviour, and be hardened in direct contrary habits; they will more and more corrupt themselves, and spoil their proper nature; they will alienate themselves farther from God; and not only neglect, but “ trample under foot " the means which he, in his infinite mercy, has appointed for our recovery. And, upon the whole, the same reasons which show that