And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart:…
I. WHAT NEED THERE IS OF THE EARLIEST INSTRUCTIONS, WITH THE MOST CONSTANT CARE AFTERWARDS TO REINFORCE THEM, IN ORDER TO MAKE AND KEEP MEN WISE, VIRTUOUS, AND RELIGIOUS. To express this to us by similitudes both just and beautiful, some philosophers compare a human soul to an empty cabinet of inexpressible value for the matter and workmanship, and particularly for the wonderful contrivance of it, as having all imaginable conveniences within for treasuring up jewels and curiosities of every kind. But, then, we ourselves must collect and sort them, and we shall ill deserve such a present from the Maker if we keep it empty or fill it with trifles; nay, if we do not, as we have opportunity, furnish and enrich it with whatsoever is of use or worth in art or nature. This ought indeed to he the main business of our lives. Others, with equal truth and justice, have likened the minds of children to a rasa tabula, or white paper, whereon we may imprint or write what characters we please, which will prove so lasting as not to be effaced without injuring or destroying the beauty of the whole; even as experience shows, and the son of Sirach advises, "My son, gather instruction from thy youth up" so shalt thou find wisdom till thine old age" (Ecclus. 6:18). These first characters therefore ought to be deeply and beautifully struck, and the learning they express should be of great price. And this, if timely care be taken, may be done with ease, because the mind is then soft and tender, and because truth and right are by the nature of things as pleasant to the soul as light and proportion to the eye or as sweet as honey to the taste (Proverbs 11:10; Proverbs 24:13, 14).
II. WHAT ADVANTAGES ARE LIKELY TO FOLLOW FROM SUCH INSTRUCTIONS AND SUCH CARE, AS WELL TO THE PERSONS WHO ARE OBJECTS OF THEM AS TO THE COMMUNITIES WHEREIN THEY LIVE.
1. As to persons themselves. Without a good education the best natural parts would profit little, and could never exert and show themselves to advantage. Men would be raised thereby no higher than savages in knowledge or virtue, and might degenerate into that ignorance and brutality which travellers relate of Hottentots. Good natural parts are indeed like jewels, which in their natural state show little of their worth and few of their inherent beauties, till the skill and labour of the artist have taken off their roughness, decked them with light, discovered their different waters and colours, and spread through every part an amazing brightness and glory. Education, after like manner, if it have its perfect work upon a human soul, will throw out to view and give a lustre to every latent virtue and perfection which otherwise might never have made an appearance, much less a figure, in the world. Thus, likewise, to speak in vegetable metaphors, the choicest seeds will prove of no value if we sow or plant them in bad ground where they will decay or die; and if they fall into good, they will be overrun and choked with weeds, which are ever most rank in the richest soils, unless constant care be taken to root them out. They certainly can never grow and flourish in any soil so as to bring their natural fruit to perfection, without cultivating, manuring, watering, pruning, and all the other arts of skilful management that the best of gardeners or husbandmen can exercise.
2. Without having any view to the good and happiness of private persons, a religious and wise education of children is of so great concern to the communities wherein they live, that in all the best ordered governments of old time, public care was taken of it; and in some of them it was thought right and necessary to take them wholly out of the hands of bad, ill judging, or over-fond parents, and to place them in public schools and seminaries. And though the natural claim of parents may, all things considered, be the best, yet we shall see great reason for the other practice if we consider too that religion and virtue is the only true cement of all society; that the principles of both must be conveyed by education; and that (as private vices spread their poison through the whole community) most of the disorders, mischiefs, and confusions which disturb and harass any state, or the members of it, may be justly charged upon the want of it.
(John Donne, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: