And he said to them, Set your hearts to all the words which I testify among you this day…
I. 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, it 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 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, 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 discourse, 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 directs its force; to fix the foundations of science; ascertain the degrees of probability, and unveil specious error. With this guide we proceed surely. 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 security, the convenience and pleasure of human life. If from hence we go on to survey mankind: a contemplation of their different states in different ages, and especially of their ancient regulations and laws, the public wisdom of brave and great nations will furnish variety of useful reflections to the mind; often teaching us to improve our own conditions, often to be happy in it. But if education stop here, it hath only given abilities and powers, the direction of which to right or wrong purposes is greatly uncertain still. He that knows not the proper use of his own being; what is man, and whereto serveth he; what is his good, and what is his evil (Ecclus. 18:8), may easily employ his other knowledge so as to be much the worse for it. This inquiry, then, is the important one. And when should the science of life be taught, but in the beginning of life, before evil habits are added to original depravity; whilst the natural regard to truth and right, the only inward restraint of incautious youth, remains comparatively uncorrupt, and the seeds of sin lie yet somewhat loose on the surface of the mind; much harder to be cleared away when once they have taken root, and twisted themselves strongly about the heart. This, therefore, is the favourable opportunity, in which authority and reason must exert at once their joint force. For discipline without instruction is mere tyranny; and instruction without discipline, little better than useless talk. But the most serious part of education is wanting still: the part which leads us, by the esteem of moral excellence, to honour and love that Being in whom the perfection of it dwells; and extends our inward sense of duty, suggested first by the low and short-lived relations between us and our fellow creatures, to the highest possible and eternal object of it, the Creator and Ruler of this universe.
II. ALL PERSONS CONCERNED SHOULD ENDEAVOUR, WITH UNITED CARE, IN THEIR STATIONS, THAT THESE ADVANTAGES MAY BE EFFECTUALLY OBTAINED. To you who are parents, nature itself hath given a tender concern for your children's welfare as your own; and reminds you justly, that as you have brought them into the dangers of life, your business it is to provide that they get well through them. You may be negligent of your son's instruction; but it is on you, as well as himself, that his ignorance and contemptibleness will bring both reproach and inconvenience. You may be regardless of his morals; but you may be the person who will at last the most severely feel his want of them. You may be indifferent about his religion; but remember, dutifulness to you is one great precept of religion; and all the rest promote such habits, as you may bitterly repent, when it is too late, your omission to cultivate in him; and live and die miserable on his account, whom timely care would have made your joy and honour.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.