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PREACHED BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD, ON
ACT-SUNDAY, IN THE AFTERNOON, JULY'S, 1733.
DEUT. xxxii. 46, 47.
And he said unto them, Set your hearts unto all the
words, which I testify among you this day; which ye shall command your children to observe to do, all
the words of this law. For it is not a vain thing for you : because it is your
life; and through this thing ye shall prolong your days in the land whither ye go over Jordan to pos
THESE words contain the last exhortation which Moses, the great founder of the Jewish state, gave his countrymen, on the very day wherein he had notice of his approaching death. He had freed them, with infinite danger to himself, from Egyptian tyranny, and the worse bondage of idolatry and superstition : he had received for them, from God's own mouth, such laws of life, as in their circumstances were most conducive to virtue and happiness : these he had delivered to his people, established on the surest foundation of regard; affectionate reverence to the object of aļl duty, and the author of all good; he had laboured, with infinite patience, through a long course of years, to cultivate in them this important principle of religious obedience: and now, drawing near to the close of a life spent in their service, he
recommends it again; first, with the force of a most persuasive eloquence; and afterwards by every charm, that poetry itself could add ; setting happiness and misery before them, in an ode of divine sublimity and spirit, which they are commanded by Heaven to learn themselves, and teach their posterity. This therefore he communicates in a solemn manner to the whole congregation, as the conclusion of all his cares for them; and then takes his final leave in the exhortation of the text, confirming once more at his death the importance of those precepts, which he had been giving them through his whole life. Şet your hearts, 8c.
Their own observance of God's law was securing the felicity of one generation only: but educating their children in religion and virtue, this was perpetuating blessings to each part of the society and to the whole: lasting prosperity and peace, in the good land they were going to possess; and in that better country*, of which it was an emblem, life for evermore t.
The words afford then a just occasion for speaking, I. Of the advantages of right education; and,
II. The duty of endeavouring, that these advantages may be obtained.
1. The advantages, and indeed necessity, of right education.
Other creatures arrive, without their own care, at the small perfection, of which they are capable, and there stop: but the whole of man's existence, that appears, is a state of discipline and progression, Youth is his preparation for maturer years ; this whole life, for another to come. Nature gives the abilities to improve; but the actual improvement,
+ Ps. cxxxii. 4.
# Heb. xi. 16.
we are to have the pleasure and the reward of giving ourselves and one another. Some minds indeed, as some soils, may be fruitful without cultivation; others, barren with it; but the general necessity is the same in both cases ; and in both, the richest, and most capable of producing good fruit, will be overrun, if neglected, with the rankest and worst weeds.
Now the only universal precaution, that can be in this respect, Christianity hath furnished, by introducing a stated method of instruction, unknown before; which, joined with the parent's private care, is, to the generality of mankind, sufficient for the purposes of intellectual and moral improvement. But to persons of more extensive influence, a more particular and appropriated institution is necessary; for the world's sake as well as their own. This, with regard to the teachers of religion, men almost without exception acknowledge: but too commonly forget it in another case, of no less importance; theirs, I mean, whose authority is to inforce the laws of conduct, and whose example to lead the way in life. Here sometimes a wrong care, often an imperfect one, is taken by the fondest parents. The outward accomplishments and decencies of behaviour they teach them with exactness, and do well: but then, without the least further provision, send them abroad into the school of the world, there to learn what they
The consequence is, what must naturally be expected: trifles and follies, ever readiest at hand, and best suited to the unjudging mind, get first into possession ; and, in many, leave place for nothing else to enter. Such, unqualified for the valuable employments of life, must lose their days in the low amusements of a false and effeminate politeness; hoping for no higher a character, than a set of creatures, equally contemptible, can give one another by mutual admiration; and happy after all, if they chance to preserve an innocent worthlessness.
But suppose room left for some attention to knowledge; not even the forms of decent carriage, though obvious things, are fully learnt without regular application : what sort of acquaintance then with science must that be, which is picked up occasionally and by accident? A thorough one indeed we must judge it, were the first appearance to determine us; that air of sufficiency, with which a person thus educated for the most part delivers his sentiments. But if we examine, as the world will, what is under this appearance to support it; then a mind is discovered, thoughtlessly persuaded of its own knowledge, where it is very ignorant; and affecting knowledge, even though it is conscious of having none: first making hastily whatever determination is fashionable, about questions half understood, and not at all considered, be their importance what it will; and then going on immediately to act upon this determination, without the least diffidence, or the least thought what the laws of human actions are: unmoved by reason, and scorning it; but changing frequently on mere fancy, and fluctuating through life without rule or guide, from the forward extravagances of a profligate youth, to the end of an early and despicable old age.
The benefits of conversation greatly depend on the previous attainments, both of those, who are supposed to communicate knowledge, and to receive it. If therefore instruction be neglected, conversation will grow trifling; if perverted, dangerous. Still acquaintance with the world, however corrupted, may be an useful part of education ; but then it must be the last. It gives a beautiful polish : but of this the best prepared mind will be the most susceptible. It teaches many things: but good or bad, according as the learner is qualified to distinguish. He, whom improved good sense hath enabled to observe upon common practice, will extract wisdom and virtue from the vices and follies of mankind. But such as are ignorant, and capable only of imitating, will of course admire the worst of what they see; and be the more effectually ruined, the more they aim to be accomplished. It is therefore a merciless thing, to throw out poor creatures, unprincipled in what is right, to shift for themselves where so much wrong is to be learnt.
Regular cultivation of the understanding then is what good education begins with. The earliest branch of this, acquaintance with useful languages, unlocks the treasures of ancient learning, and makes the improvements of every age and climate our own. Then the politer parts of literature most agreeably open the faculties, and form the taste of young persons; adorn our disccourse and endear our company, in riper years ; give a grace to wisdom and virtue; relieve the fatigue of our busy hours, and elegantly fill up the leisure of our vacant ones.
At the same time the art of just reasoning opportunely comes in, to curb the licence of imagination, and direct its force; to fix the foundations of science; ascertain the degrees of probability, and unveil specious error. With this guide we proceed securely. Knowledge of nature opens the universe to our view ; enables us to judge worthily of the constitution of things; secures us from the weakness of vulgar superstitions; and contributes, in many ways, to the health and