The following is an abbreviated reprint of "Religious Education Enforced in a Discussion of Different Plans," an address delivered by Professor Charles Hodge to the Presbyterian General Assembly of 1847.
The Presbyterian church at that time was concerned about the education of their covenant children. The local school system--so long a bastion of conservatism--was becoming neutered by the influx of immigrants and sectarian Christians. The local leaders and school districts were beginning to limit the amount and type of religious instruction in the schools to make way for a common denominator. In some cases the Bible was no longer being read; in most cases the unique denominational distinctives--Presbyterian, Congregational, etc.--were no longer being taught.
This alarmed the Presbyterians, those so proud of their history of catechizing and schooling. As a body they decided to create parochial schools. This address was a learned outline of the issues facing the church and her children. It points to interesting historical conditions. In light of today's discussion, it is quite illuminating. Read on:
"Our subject refers to the early, constant, and faithful religious instruction of children by the assiduous inculcation of the truths and duties taught in the Bible.
... If the soul were uncorrupted, if still by nature, as at the creation, it were instinct, with holy desires and aspirations, it would gather knowledge and nourishment from every thing within and without, and grow, by the law of its being, as do the flowers of the field, to be beautiful exceedingly, through the comeliness which God gives to all creatures in fellowship with himself. It is precisely because the mind is by nature dark, that it needs illumination from without; it is because the conscience is callous and perverse, that it needs to be roused and guided; it is because evil propensities are so strong, that they must be counteracted. To leave a fallen human being, therefore, to grow up without religious instruction, is to render its perdition-certain.
The same cause which makes religious instruction necessary at all, requires that it should be assiduous and long continued. It is not enough that the means of knowledge be afforded to the child: it is not enough that he should be once told the truth; such is his indisposition to divine knowledge, such the darkness and feebleness of his mind, that he must be taught little by little, early and assiduously; or as the Lord said to Moses, "when thou sittest in thy house, when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." It is a slow, painful, long continued process to bring a child born in sin, and imbued with evil, to a competent knowledge of God, and truth and duty, and to cultivate in such an ungenial soil the seed of eternal life. This, however, is the process which our apostasy renders necessary, it is that which God has enjoined, it is the one which he has promised to bless, the neglect of which is followed by his severe displeasure, and the all but certain ruin of our children.
This, therefore, is not the point which needs to be argued. It is universally conceded. The great questions are, On whom is this duty incumbent ? How is it to be discharged ? On whom does the Responsibility OF The RELIGIOUS EDUCATION OF THE YOUNG BEST?
In the First instance, on Parents. As to this there .can be no dispute. The relation in which parents stand to their children, implies an obligation not only to support, but to educate them, because they are bound to do all they can to promote the well being of those whom God has committed to their charge. Parents also have facilities for the discharge of this duty, which none others can enjoy; they have at least the competency for the work which strong interest in the welfare of their children can supply; and on them this duty has been laid by the express and repeated command of God. The neglect of this duty is at once one of the greatest injuries a parent can inflict on his children, and one of the greatest offences he can commit against society and against God. But while it is universally conceded that the obligation to provide for the religious instruction of the young, rests primarily on parents, it is almost as generally acknowledged that the responsibility does not rest on them alone. If a parent cannot support a child, it cannot be left to perish; the obligation to provide for its support, must rest somewhere. The ability of the parent failing, there must he some other person or persons on whom the duty devolves. In like manner, if parents are unable to provide for the religious education of their children, those children cannot innocently be allowed to grow up in ignorance of God; the responsibility of their education must find another resting-place. Men do not stand so isolated, that they may say, Are we our brother's keeper? they cannot innocently sit still and see either the bodies or souls of their fellow-men perish, without an effort to save them. This is too evident to be denied. Nor will it be questioned that so large a portion of parents are unable to provide adequately for the religious education of their children, as in all places and at all times, to throw a heavy responsibility as to this duty, on the community to which they belong. The inability in question arises in many, cases from the moral character of the parents; rendering them at once indifferent and incompetent. In other cases from ignorance. They need themselves to be taught what are the first principles of the oracles of God. And in other cases still from poverty, i. e. from the necessity of devoting so much time to secure the mere means of life, and of calling their children so early to share in their labours, that they are unable to attend in any suitable manner to the education of those whom God has committed to their charge.
If therefore, we look over any community, or over the history of the Church at any period, we shall find that a very large and constantly increasing portion of the young are left to grow up without religious instruction, where that duty has been left exclusively to parents. If, therefore, the work must be done; if the best interests of society, the prosperity of the Church, the salvation of souls, demand that the young should be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, others, besides parents, must undertake the work. Accordingly in every age of the Church, among every people calling themselves Christians, provision has been made, beyond the family circle, for the religious education of the young.
[to be continued]