網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

140

THE EDUCATION OF CONSCIENCE.

more.

it is armed as potently for evil as for good. The case of Saul of Tarsus shows that when badly educated, there is no act of wrong or violence to which it may not prompt.

It becomes a practical question, therefore, of the highest concernment, how the conscience should be educated, and how early the process ought to be commenced. It should begin just as early as the child becomes capable of distinguishing between right and wrong. It may be a few months earlier in one than another, but if parents were more watchful and conscientious themselves, I think they would discern the nascent developments of conscience in their children much sooner than they commonly do. It is impossible to estimate how much is lost by delay. In the majority of cases, the moral educational process might be far advanced before it is even begun. The child might be made to see and feel that this action or emotion to which it is prompted is right, and the opposite wrong, when scarcely beginning to prattle in its mother's arms. I need not add that the earliest moral and religious impressions are the deepest and most abiding.

How, then, or by what process, is the conscience to be most successfully educated ? To simplify the answer as much as possible, let us take a child in the very first stage of moral susceptibility, and begin. The first element of conscience, as I have shown, is purely an intellectual state, commonly called judgment. The second is an emotion or feeling which spontaneously springs up in accordance with that judgment. The first thing, therefore, is to pour in the light of truth upon the child's mind. Right and wrong are so diametrically opposite in their natures, that he can be made to see the difference almost as soon as he can see anything. He has snatched a toy from the hand of his little playmate, intending to appropriate it to himself. This is wrong, and with suitable pains he can be made to feel it. This feeling, the moment it springs up, is an exercise of conscience, and this is the first lesson in its education. Again : the child has yielded to temptation, and told a lie. This, even in a child, is a grievous sin, and he must be convinced of it. He can be convinced of it. God has so made him that he can see the wrong, and as soon as he sees it his heart will condemn him; he cannot help it. This self-condemnation is an exercise of conscience, prompted by the second educational lesson.

Again : the same child, playing with wicked

boys in the street, catches some profane expression from their lips, and brings it home with him into the nursery. His mother hears it with grief and astonishment, and at once sets before hi great sin of taking God's holy name in vain. Besides, he went out when she had forbidden him. Here is another sin, which she knows how to make stare him in the face ; and having done this, she enlarges upon the danger of associating with such wicked companions. He sees the wrong in each of these particulars, and the emotion or feeling of blameworthiness instantly follows. His conscience condemns him, and he resolves to do so no

This is the effect of another lesson in the educational process.

Thus his pious parents watch over him through every stage of his childish and youthful progress. This keeps his conscience enlightened and tender. Having been accustomed from his earliest remembrance to consult and obey its dictates, or in other words, to be governed by the consciousness of right and wrong, it becomes a habit with him as well as a principle, and shields him from a thousand dangers.

In this all-important process of moral education, (for I am supposing what ought to be,) the parents are aided by teachers in every stage of their son's literary education, from the common and Sabbath school, up to the college and professional seminary. No pains are spared to keep his conscience enlightened, to keep it quick, to keep it pure. Thus armed, thus habituated to consult and obey its dictates, he enters upon the stage of life, he gains the confidence of all who know him, and under every vicissitude of this changing world, enjoys that inward tranquillity which nothing short of a good and well-educated conscience can give.

Now what is true in the case of one individual thus educated from early childhood, if such an one can be found, would be true in all other cases, with those rare exceptions to which every general rule is liable, if parents and teachers would do their whole duty in this branch of education. “ Just as the twig is bent the tree's inclined ;" or to cite an infinitely higher authority, “ Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

I do not forget those disturbing forces and strong counteracting biases which lie in the way. I do not forget that any one, however religiously educated,

if he pleases, violate

can,

WK

[blocks in formation]

cipline. All the training in the world by parents and teachers, without this moril self-culture, would be unavailing. As God is the only Lord of conscience, so the individual himself, and he alone, can keep it always awake and in healthy s action.

Yes, reader, you must put your own conscience to school, and the earlier the better. Keep it enlightened; keep it tender; encourage it to speak out boldly when its promptings are most crossing to your inclinations, and always obey its dictates. In this way, and in this way alone, you will form that habit of moral control which is so essential to true peace of mind, and to the highest standing in the opinion of all good

men.

the dictates of his conscience, nor that no human power can make a child love that which is right and good, however clearly he may be made to see it. I know, alas! that the heart may rebel against the best educated conscience, and that it often does, with fatal success; but I know, too, that there is a power which can bring the moral affections into harmony with the dictates of conscience, and that parents and teachers have the greatest encouragement from the word of God to hope and expect that, relying upon the divine blessing, their faithfulness will be crowned with success. Let them, therefore, spare no pains, looking up all the while to Heaven for aid in educating the consciences of those whom Providence may put under their care. It will infinitely more than repay all the labor and watchfulness that it costs.

But let no one who is old enough to look at the subject suppose that he himself has little or nothing to do in the education of his conscience. There is a sense in which every person is self-educated who is educated at all. Teachers may guide and help him, but after all they can do, he has the hardest of the work to do himself. This is true in every branch of education, physical, intellectual, and moral. It is no less so with regard to the conscience than any other faculty. Each individual must determine that he will maintain a conscience void of offence, both towards God and towards man, by keeping it enlightened and invariably following its dictates. This, if the heart were only right, would be easy; but how hard it is uniformly to act up to the standard of the golden rule and the convictions of duty where present advantage and depraved inclinations stand in the way, those best know who have long subjected themselves to the severest moral dis

Let me not, however, be misunderstood. I do not say that any enlightenment, any education, any discipline of conscience, can be substituted for holiness of heart, or is certain 10 turn the heart from the love of sin to the love of God. Ilis spirit alone can produce such a change. The best educated conscience can only tell you what is right, and urge you to its performance. It cannot compel you contrary to your governing inclinations. It cannot make you love that which you hate, nor hate that which

you love. But though a well-educated conscience is not that "holiness without which no man can see the Lord," nor a substitute for it, it is pleasing to God, in itself considered, and brings its possessor nearer to the kingdom of heaven than any other mere moral discipline can. Nothing is so much to be dreaded as a neglected, badly educated, or seared conscience. Nothing puts one in so great peril. He is like a ship without compass or rudder, drifting before a hurricane upon a lee shore. Nothing short of a miracle of grace can save him froin being lost for time and eternity.

[ocr errors]

BEAUTY IS BORN.

LIGHT-BEARING summer rides

Fresh o'er the plain; Brightly the billow glides

Up from the main ; Gaily the wakened bird

Warbles at morn; Nature's full song is heard

Beauty is born.

Green are the maple bowers :

Each waving leaf
Smiles to the scented flowers,

Waking from grief;
Flora's rich gifts of bloom

Deck e'en the shorn.
Speak not of winter's gloom-

Beauty is born. E. F. ADAMS.

THE CORNER-STONE.

BY KATE CLEVELAND.

[ocr errors]

ear.

A QUIET little nook was that country village, with its winding road striped with lines of grass, seldom if ever disturbed by the passing of any other vehicle than the simple wagon of the farmer as he journeyed to or from the nearest market town. And calm and quiet were the low-roofed cottages that seemed to have fallen asleep upon the grassy sward, around which scarce a sound but the monotonous hum of the bee broke upon the stillness of the summer air. It was June—bright, glorious June, with its wealth of roses, and its soft, silvery nights ; when the last spring beauties glow with a rich, warm hue, ere yet the more gaudy colors of summer have usurped their place, and the southern breeze comes laden with the perfume of a tropical clime.

A group were gathered in a field not far from the pretty parsonage.

Old men were there, whose hair was silvered over with the frosts of many winters, and whose tottering steps seemed fast leaning to the grave. There were bright

eyed matrons with bowed heads, and low, whisį pering voices; and the sunny curls of child

hood, with its round, glowing cheek laid lovingly against the wrinkled face of age, and its dimpled hands wandering amid the thin gray locks. The little flock of Woodside were gathered around their minister to lay the cornerstone of the first church that arose in that humble village. Hitherto their meetings had been held at the parsonage, or in the room of some willing member. They had changed about from place to place, for the people of Woodside were poor ; they had never heard of churches with glowing crimson cushions, and pillars covered with gilding, where the light comes soft and subdued through richly-stained windows, and sermons, never meant for the poor, fall soothingly on the hearts of those who can afford to pay for them. They were a plain and stern people; perhaps mingling with their religion too much of puritanical harshnesstoo little disposed to seek enjoyment in the humble events of their quiet life, or the glorious

teachings of the wood and stream, the sunset's golden halo, or the pale, still beauty of even. But theirs was the right path, though they stopped not to cull the flowers that bloomed beside it.

Long self-denial, and frequent addings to their little hoard, had increased it so that now they were able to erect a house of worship. With glad hearts they clustered around their pastor, who had borne with them through many weary seasons, even as a father bears with his children—who had toiled unwearied through the numerous hardships that attended their first efforts. No murmur or word of complaint had passed his lips; ever ready to soothe and comfort others, while scarcely a soothing or encouraging word fell upon his own

There is something inexpressibly solemn in the laying of a corner-stone ; to reflect that while the yet unfinished edifice resounds with the steps of breathing life, and the voices of another generation, we shall be sleeping that sleep which knows no awakening save in another world ; that when from its crumbling foundations are raised the names of those who witnessed the laying of the firmly imbedded stone, the hands that traced them will be mouldering in the dust.

The minister spoke of these things, and a solemn awe crept into the hearts of his hear

“We may indeed," said he, “ first lay the hand to this good work, but we know not the end. We cannot gaze forward into the shadowy future, and read what is there inscribed. Many,” he continued, with faltering voice, “many may have passed from this earthly life, when the first anthem of praise shall swell upward from the temple we are now erecting.” Here every eye was turned on old Mary Elton, who had long passed ihe allotted age of man; and as she heard the words she bowed her trembling head, and cast those aged eyes on the foundation of that building which she never expected to behold. With saddened hearts the little congregatoin passed slowly to their homes,

)

ers.

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

and the family circle was a quiet and a solemn him once more, to feel his hand upon my brow { one, as they mused on the trembling voice of as in times of old, for he was my father ! Not

their pastor, and called to mind the paleness of withstanding all his harshness I loved him; his brow, and the sharpened features-sharp- and when I ain gone, you must go to him, ened by toil and care.

Anna, and he will love you and the

ones He too mused, but it was of the past.

as he loved me. Ile will not refuse" Slowly and distinctly rose up those many There was a low, convulsive sob of agony, and images; they were shadows that hung about the dying man started as the sound fell upon his path and darkened ever bis clouded way. bis ear: “My poor, poor Anna!” They showed him a boy with clustering locks Footsteps were coming up the little gravelled and happy, careless face, whose laugh burst walk in front of the house. Slowly and revforth in clear, ringing tones, as an ambitious erently the two elders shut the small wicketfather told him of future greatness and count- gate, for a solemn quiet was round the house of less honors--of talents that would shine splen- death. Sabbath after Sabbath had their gray didly forth upon the great world, and wealth heads bowed in prayer, while their hearts echthat should all be his. Then they showed him oed to the words that fell from lips soon to be a youth who set out upon a journey to pursue closed in death. The world was passing from a delusive phantom, and lo! in the deceitful them, and little had they thought that he would chase he found a priceless pearl which he go before them ; for the hair that shaded his placed within his bosom. But there were those brow was not yet streaked with silver, although whose eyes were blinded; who, instead of a care and suffering had stolen from it the lustre precious stone, saw only a common pebble, and of early yonth. Solemnly they entered the they laughed and jeered at him for treasuring chamber of sickness, and stood by his bedside. the worthless thing. Then he held it up to the Tomorrow would be the Sabbath-and the light, and it was pure and faultless, and he little church was visible from the half-closed flung it not aside. Then came the father--he windows. Not yet had its empty walls been too saw it with blinded eyes, and commanded consecrated by the voice of worship; and while the wayward youth to give up his foolish others, like worthless weeds, remained, he, their pebble, and pursue the glorious journey. But prop and dependence, was passing from them. a voice was in his pearl, and it whispered : What would become of the little flock when he “Thou shalt give up father and inotlier for my was gone? Who would so piously, faithfully sake;" and he was a wanderer from his father's fulfil his charge as he had done? We cannot house.

see the full reality of a thing that blots, as it

were, the sunshine of our existence, until its PART II.

fearful presence leaves no room for doubt; and

still the people of Woodside hoped on, deluding * Put back the curtains, Anna, that I may themselves from day to day. gaze upon the sunset once more. How glo- But the elders saw that an icy hand was laid rious are its purple clouds fading to the soft upon his brow; they saw the life-blood pale as rose-tint, and anon glowing with those floods of it coursed through the shrunken veins, and liquid gold! Pure and lovingly gleams forth beheld the dim and fading eye. He bade them that haven of rest to which my weary soul is come closer-still closer, for he saw them not; hastening.” Pressing resolutely back to their and when with stifled voice they said, “ We are source the scalding tears that trembled in her here," he answered, “It is well." There was eyes, the fair and noble-minded wife rose from a solemn pause-Do sound arose in the little the bedside where she had sat for hours with chamber, and the sick man lay with closed her hand locked in his, listening to that low eyes, while awe-stricken, they gazed at each and fluttering breath, and drew aside the snowy other, fearful that the spirit had passed from curtains, and calmly put back the clustering earth. roses that twined about the casement. She But the end was not yet ; rousing himself shed no tears, but her heart was breaking. with a strong effort, he said : “My friends, She arranged the pillows around the dying when the corner-stone of that church was laid, man, and then bent down low, very low, to I told you that some then present might never catch his faltering words: “I had hoped to see see the finished pile. There were those whose

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

I am

'Tis a

weight of years seemed bearing them to the grave; and I believed that many of them would not be spared till now. But they are here--all here, while I am bastening from you. ready for the journey--it has no fears for me, but I looked not for so speedy a summons. Who among you will stand in my place ?" The elders were silent; they dared not take upon themselves so great a responsibility. They felt that they were unfit to assume the place of the dying man, who through sickness and agony had preserved a high and noble feeling, losing all thoughts of self in his care for others. But placing a hand upon the head of each, he continued in a solemn and impressive voice : “Unto you I bequeath the flock over whom I have so long watched and prayed. holy trust. Oh! may you guard it well !" When the elders left the bedside of their pastor there was a light within their hearts—the light of high and purifying thought; and passing into the lonely forest where the golden sunset was fast fading into even, they communed together upon their solemn trust.

It was the Sabbath morn, and all was quiet around the little parsonage. There is a hushed and holy beauty in the Sabbath morn of summer, while the dew still sparkles on the bended flowers, and trembles like thrcaded pearls upon the blades of grass--when the notes of the forest songsters, or the hum of distant worshippers, is the only sound that breaks the stillness. The voices of the assembled congregation fell upon the sufferer's ear, blending together in a solemn strain. He listened to the well-known tones till they died away in silence, and then he knew they were at prayer. lle covered his face with his hands to join with them for the last time; and as the words died upon his lips he fell into a sweet and refreshing slumber. The old clock moved quickly on--bis hour of life was waning; but still by the bedside sat that faithful watcher.

When he awoke there was a sound of sobbing in the little room--not low and stifled like suppressed grief, but the voice of a strong

He r«cognized the hanghty brow on which Time had furrowed many a

deep line; and his last wish was granted—he once more laid his head on his father's breast. The proud man had returned to his desolate home with his heart full of anger against the disobedient son who forsook him, and chose a life of poverty and toil for the sake of his foolish whim. But as time wore on the haughty spirit was subdued, and he resolved to seek the jewel he had once despised. He sought earnestly and found it; and to the eye of faith it looked pure and bright. But he had lost his son--banished him by his own harshness and cruelty; he set out on the second journey with a chastened spirit, and again clasped the wan. derer to his bosom. But the dying pastor forgot not the companion of his clouded life; placing her hand in that of his father, he gazed tenderly upon them both--and soon after was at peace. He slept at last; how beautiful was the high, pale brow, which even Death could not mar, and the face on which a bright smile rested! They came, a sad and weeping group, to gaze upon him once more. Again and again was the white cloth lifted to take a last look at those pale, calm features, that seemed so cold and quiet, with the hands folded on the bosom, and the eyes closed forever. Old Mary Elton was there; and as she gazed upon the lifeless body she asked herself why he had been taken while she was still left; he, whose life was valuable to all, while none would mourn her loss. Slowly the little party of mourners wound along by the glancing stream with the body of him whom they had loved. There was a gray-haired man, who, pushing aside those that crowded around, stood alone by the solitary grave. He gazed with a tearless eye as the first shovel-full of earth fell upon the coffin, and seemed striving with some painful emotion. Long after the others had departed stood the solitary watcher, till the first pale star gleamed out amid the twilight. He returned to his cheerless home with the widow and her orphans. Together they would speak of the dead as of a sweet vision that had glanced upon their path ; and the memory of his virtues dwelt ever within their hearts.

man's agony.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
« 上一頁繼續 »