Page images

be a slander on the Christian religion, an impeachment of the Holy Ghost, to say, that Divine truth and regenerating grace are not competent to produce the same character in men at the present age, which they actually produced eighteen hundred years ago. Nor is it sufficient to account for the difference by a change of circumstances; nor by subtracting that amount of character from the apostles, which was superadded by miraculous endowment. Indeed, I am not disposed to believe, that the addition to the inherent efficiency of apostolic character, conferred by the power of working miracles, was any thing considerable. In strictness, it was a mere co-operation on the part of God, an exertion of divine power in concert with their will. Miracles were cotemporary events, but strictly formed no part of the character of the apostles. Every thing that they were, therefore, as men; every thing that they exhibited to the world, in their true and proper character, as Christian ministers, may fairly be regarded, as altogether independent of the accident of miracles. Their purity, their dis. interested devotion, their missionary labours, their toils and perils, and their mighty achievements, such as were effected by the joint influence of their personal character, and of the truths which they preached, these are attributes that may be exhibited, and objects that may be accomplished, in any age, and by any set of men, who are possessed of equal natural endowments.

These are premises, which I shall take the liberty to assume, with no other argument at present, than what is involved in these prefatory observations. And they are to me exceedingly dear and precious. I would maintain them, as a citadel of truth; as one of the impregnable ramparts of Christianity, from which, well sustained, shall yet pour forth an artillery of moral influence,

to shake the foundations, and pillars, and entire superstructure of society, till the whole mass be transformed into that blessed unity, which is to characterize the kingdom, and reign of Messiah.

Such, then, being the premises, the question returns: What are the reasons, that the Christian ministry of the present age, and of our own country, is so far below the apostolic character.

I will not say, that the obstacle which I at present contemplate, is the only one; nor that it is one of two, or three. There may be, doubtless there are, many. But 1 greatly err if it is not one of the chief, and itself chief. Remove this, and if you have not removed every other, yet that same courage, which has prostrated this, will make all others bend before it. I mean, the defects of academical education, as they apply to the existence and growth of piety in students.

I assume it, as a leading principle, that the character of the present age, the objects of Christianity, and the conversion of the world, demand a well educated ministry. Their education should be long protracted, and thorough, and of the highest order. But the grand question is, how shall it be conducted, on what principles, under what superintendence.

I assume, also, as another first principle, and itself the first of all, that a strong and decided character of piety should be made an indispensible qualification in a candidate for the ministry, in the very outset of his education. I say strong and decided. For there is no earthly vocation, in which the absence of vigour and decision of character, would be a greater misfortune.

It being admitted, that the candidate is possessed of a decided character, that he loves his Saviour, and feels that he loves him; that he prefers his service to every other

pursuit, and is ready to sacrifice any thing and every thing to its objects, even life itself; that he is filled with a holy ardour, and urged on by a burning enthusiasm for the glory of Christ, in the emancipation of souls from sin ;-on this foundation, from this starting point, the supreme and unerring object of education should be to keep alive this first love, to cherish and nurture this original enthusiasm, to reduce it to order, direct its energies, and render its aims infallibly certain of accomplishing its objects. Not only should those first feelings of love to Christ, which are strong and ardent, not be permitted to decline, but they should be invigorated. Their growth into maturity, into the highest perfection of character, should be an incessant aim. For, the preservation and maturity of this character should be counted so dear and so important, that if this is lost, all is lost. Whatever else is sacrificed, in the progress of education, this must never be sacrificed. In other words, moral culture, and that on the principles of Christianity, should ever take precedence of intellectual.

It is the inversion of this order, an order which God has established, and which can never be violated with impunity, which constitutes the grand misfortune of the prevailing methods of education.

I shall first attempt to establish the fact of such inversion of the proper and natural order of education, as characterizes all our academical institutions. The charge I bring, is this: (which I confess is of no trivial character,) viz. That intellectual culture uniformly takes precedence of moral culture; and that moral culture is rarely, if ever undertaken systematically, on the principles of Christianity.

take not, is exclusively intellectual excellence, as attained and developed in the prescribed course of study. It is admitted, that the candidate for academical honours, must refrain from outrage on the customs of society; that he must preserve a devout exterior, and support what is commonly called a good moral character. But he may be an infidel, a Mahommedan, or a pagan. He may have no small luxuriance of vice about him, only that it has not made its appearance in great prominence before the world. If he is not absolutely degraded by such considerations, in the estimation of the world, low as may be its standard of character, he may stand on the very summit of the temple of Science, and flourish in his ribboned livery; while he who has sought the approbation of his God, rather than the honours which come from men, who has cultivated his heart on the principles of Christianity, without neglecting his understanding;-while he, I say, is scarcely permitted to enter the vestibule below.

The first proposition in this charge may be settled by a single appeal, and that is, to the condition of academical honours. Which, if I mis

That such are the conditions of academical honours, none, acquainted with the subject, will pretend to deny. A man, for instance, is a great mathematician, but ignorant of every other science, and of all the departments of literature. He has any thing but common sense. So perfectly absorbed is he in his favourite study, that he can hardly walk the streets, without describing in his track almost every description of geometrical lines and angles. He lives and dies without knowing what is meant by the social and benevolent affections of the heart. And yet he is honoured; while the name of him, who, in the same walks, has endeavoured to qualify himself for the noblest objects of man's existence here below, doing good to his fellow-creatures, is excluded from the registries of academic fame.

Respecting the degree of attention, which moral culture, on evangelical principles, is accustomed to receive, at the common places of education, I am not aware, that it is ever undertaken systematically, except so far as the exhibitions of the pulpit may be of this character. But if moral culture be carried no farther than the pulpit, it can never, against all the disadvantages of a college life, preserve the character of the most ardently pious from relapse. And I maintain it as a principle, that a relapsed Christian can never fulfil the destiny of a minister of the gospel. The principles of Christianity, in my view, and in their application to human nature, demand, that the hearts of pious students, destined for the ministry, in the whole course of their education, should be constantly attended to,-constantly and principally cultivated, and that by the offices of the most skilful, experienced, and zealous men of God, that can be found in all the church. A loss, or suspension of a lesson in mathematics, or any of the sciences, should be regarded as of no importance, compared with a steady advance in holiness, a growing maturity of the best and purest affections, a constant increase of that character, which is so indispensible a preparation for the high office contemplated. This object being secured, and uniformly secured, all scientific and literary accomplish ments will be attained with far greater facility and delight.

I anticipate it will be said, in reply to the charge of making intellectual culture a supreme object in academical education, 'That such is the very essence of the system, and such the professed object of academic laurels, to secure and crown intellectual excellence. We have no objection, it will be said, to moral culture. We approve of virtue and religion, in their purest aspirations, and highest attainments.

But the special charge of the heart, falls not within the limits of our profession. It is our duty to guard the interests of literature and science!'

This is honest, and probably not far from the truth. And I now proceed to show the effects of such education on the existence and growth of piety in students.

And, however bold it may seem, I do not hesitate to say, that such a course is unfavourable to the very existence of piety. Piety may exist; but it struggles along, and maintains its existence under great disadvantages and conflicts.

Even a revival of religion may occur in a college. And there are officers and students in some of our colleges, who constantly desire and pray for it. But such a work labours under the greatest disadvantages, on account of the inflexible, unyielding round of college business. It would seem as if a single recitation in human science might not be suspended, for the conversion of a soul; nor the least change allowed in the general system, for the continuance, or extension of so blessed a work. Hence the sudden arrests of revivals of religion, the instantaneous disappearance of all symptons of divine influence, before such intellectual occupancy and absorption.

The pious student, in the ordinary state of a college, looks around for that communion and fellowship, which he instinctively desires, and which is so essential to keep alive the wasting embers of grace, and to kindle up its ardour. But he soon discovers, that the academic groves are not the place for such communion. There may be other kindred spirits in the same walks, but how shall he find them, since every one of this character is diffident and suspicious in such a place, and all is bustle and strife after science and intellectual culture? And if he does find them, such are the inces

sant occupations of intellect, common to all, that the feelings of none are prepared to respond to the pure and heavenly sympathy of Christian fellowship.

The pious student looks up for patronage. He sees those in authority, who profess religion, and who are probably good men. He hears religion from the pulpit, and from that place it would seem to speak well. But all this is so distant, and maintains such distance, it is nothing to him. He realizes no protection, it brings to him no encouragement.

As a necessary consequence of such a state and course of things, though piety exist, it cannot grow and flourish; it must unavoidably decline. And such, we observe, is uniformly the fact. If a student enters college with all the ardour and enthusiasm of a young convert, or if by the grace of God he is possessed of this character during his collegiate course, it is morally impossible that he should retain it long. There are too many influences against him. The distant reserve of professors of religion, who have themselves been chilled by the necessity of their circumstances, begins to exercise its chilling influence on him by the same necessity. The unbending and unaccommodating character of college duties, which forces all minds, however dissimilar in their intellectual structure and moral tastes, to do the same things at the same time, under penalty of disgrace; and thus requiring a physical impossibility under a penal sanction; this circumstance not unfrequently operates to the great prejudice of piety. The leading and governing principle is: Do the things required, whatever may become of your religion.' And religion can never struggle with success against such domination, in such circumstances. It might maintain its ground for a day or two. But it

cannot do it for weeks, for months, and for years. There is no youthful mind sufficiently firm to brave such a contest. The trial is unequal.

This trial, I believe, is sometimes conscientiously undertaken The state of the religious affections is found to interfere with college exercises. Certain studies demanded are not congenial, or they are inopportune. The pious student prefers conscientiously to sacrifice a degree of reputation, as a scholar, that he may attend to his heart, as a Christian. And this he might endure, and come off triumphant, if it were to continue but a day. But when it drags along for months, and years, he becomes embarrassed, perplexed, and oppressed in the conflict. And ultimately he forfeits much of his character, as a scholar, and loses his object, as a Christian; when, under a proper moral regimen, he might and would have been the first in the registry of academic honours, and Christian attainments. And finally he is compelled by the misfortune and necessity of his circumstances, to leave the place of his education, with a Christian character reduced to the common level. The original enthusiasm of his espousals to Christ, has been literally worn and beat out of him, notwithstanding all his endeavours to retain it. And he, perhaps, has adopted the opinion, that this is the best that any Christian can do, and will never strive to rise again.

And such are the materials, honest to be sure, but miserably weak and inefficient, of which the Christian ininistry is to be composed. And so low is this character, that dishonest and unregenerate men may enter the ministry, by supporting a devout exterior, and be equal in respectability and influence to those, who have better hearts, but no burning zeal.

Such is the unfortunate influence of the present system of academic

education on religion:-it discour ages the scholar, if pious, and tends to disqualify him for that high course of zealous and energetic action, which is demanded and so much needed in the Christian ministry. And this effect leads to the erroneous conclusion, that religion and science are opposed to each other. Whereas, the best and surest way of promoting the interests of science, is to promote religion on evangelical principles. Make a youth happy in religion, and keep him happy by maintaining his religious enthusiasm, and he is never so well prepared to profit in those branches of science and literature, to which he is naturally most inclined. Yes, make religion, or moral culture, the supreme object in education; raise and preserve the religious affections at the highest and holiest condition, and there will be vastly more science in the same number of students, and higher accomplishments in the wide range of the republic of letters. And this doctrine is founded on the fact, that religious sensibility, in its best and highest culture, imparts the greatest possible ardour of feeling. And the more intense the feeling, the greater the force of intellect, the more free and powerful the mind in all its movements, and the more vivid the imagination in all its conceptions. But, to attempt intellectual culture first and principally, as is the common character of academical education, to the neglect of the moral and religious affections, is, as before remarked, an inversion of the order of nature. And such a system of education can never prosper in its career, nor be happy in its results.

But, I will not quarrel with the men of this world. If they are satisfied with intellectual culture alone for their sons, they have a right, though it is a subject of the deepest regret. But it is a pity, it is cruel, it is unreasonable, it is a


spectacle over which heaven itself should weep,-that the sons of the church, who are to be the ministers of the church, should be dragged reluctant victims, through a long course, and their principal course of education, every grade of which is infallibly certain to detract from the force of their religious character, and so far to unfit them for that great work, to which they are destined. For, I assume as a first principle, and I pray God I may never abandon this ground while I breathe,-that, unless the original enthusiasm of first love to Christ can be retained in all its primitive ardour, and invigorated by habitual culture, the true and proper character of the Christian ministry is forever lost. Without this, the world can never be converted, nor one inch of ground ac, quired on the territories of sin. With this, nothing is impossible. This character is absolutely irresistible. Nothing in the heart of man can stand before it.

Give this character to the entire Christian ministry of our land this day, and the sun in his annual course shall not have come to his present place in the heavens again, before the whole community of these United States will be a Christian community. Give this character to the entire Christian ministry throughout the world, and let all those coming into this office be possessed of the same spirit, and it shall not be half a generation, before the whole world will be reduced in willing subjection to the King of zion.

And is it indeed true, that the present candidates for the ministry, are in a course of education, that is sure to strip them of this character, so far as they possess it; and that so effectually that there is little hope it will ever be recovered? And is there no remedy? Yes, there is a remedy. And there is a load and solemn demand for the

« PreviousContinue »