LITERATURE.—CHRISTIAN OR PAGAN?
What literature is best adapted to train the minds of youth for the ministry? This question was always important to the Christian church: but in the present day it seems peculiarly so. All churches now seem to admit that the ministry should be educated, well educated, literary, very literary and scientific men, thoroughly educated in all branches of literature that may be subservient to the reputable and profitable execution of the high functions of their office. The question then is not, shall they be learned or not; but shall their mental discipline in early life be principally and chiefly in heathen or Christian books? shall the Bible, and books which breathe Bible principles, and scriptural purity, be text books of the schools of literature? or shall the old classical books of the heathen, reeking with blood and dipped in all pollution, be the volumes that our sons shall peruse while prosecuting study for the ministry?
The question needs only to be stated fairly, to secure a correct answer from every unprejudiced mind. The difficulty with Christians is, and perhaps with some ministers, that they conceive that we cannot have our sons educated unless they study Ovid and Virgil and Horace. The time was, too, when the learned world thought it necessary to teach Aristotle, otherwise we could know nothing about the art of thinking. Times have changed. We have a new organon of mental philosophy; why not of Christian literature? Till Bacon, and Locke, and Reid, and Stewart, &c., arose to shear the locks and expose the nakedness of the Stagyrite, he was considered as important to form the mind for reasoning as Virgil and Horace, and Pindar and Sappho are, to give pinions to the imagination, and refinement to the taste.
This question is peculiarly interesting at present to Covenanters, who are employed in erecting two literary institutions for training youth for the ministry. The Presbytery of the Lakes, some time ago, concerted the plan, with great unanimity, for teaching and erecting an initiatory school and college which they call Geneva Hall, within the bounds of Mr. Johnston's congregation, near Belle-Centre. The friends of Biblical and Christian literature have patronized this institution beyond the expectations of its friends, both by contributing to the erection of necessary buildings and by sending pupils to cultivate their minds by study.
The Pittsburgh Presbytery are now in progress towards having a school for the same laudable purpose at Wilkinsburgh. The wish, I suppose, of all the friends of literature and religion would be that both of these institutions might prosper in co-operating for the same ends. As it is, it is natural to suppose that the friends of Christian literature should be partial to Geneva Hall, and the friends of Pagan classics to Wilkinsburgh. An essay on the Latin and Greek classics in the Reformed Presbyterian [Magazine] of September, gave rise to these thoughts. From the circumstance of that essay being published by the intended Principal of that institution, without animadversion, I conclude that the Pagan classics are to be the books of that college. Now it is natural to ask, why do Covenanters incur the cost of erecting a college at very considerable expense, if it is to have the same kind of drill as other institutions in the immediate neighbourhood? There are two institutions—the Western University and Duquesne College in Pittsburgh. Jefferson College, Washington College, Athens, and Richmond are all near by and conducted by very devout principals and professors, endowed and chartered. Why erect in the heart of these a new institution unless for some great moral purpose, that the education of students may participate something of the peculiarity of a Covenanter school and be peculiarly Biblical and Christian? As we advocate, theoretically and practically, Bible psalms, Bible laws and government; thus we should have our standard bearers trained up in Bible and Christian literature.
But it is said Paul and the Reformers were classical scholars, and we must be drilled in the same classical books, or we cannot be like them—cannot be useful and great men. Now let us see whether this be conclusive reasoning or sophistry. Paul, it is true, was learned in the philosophy of the Greeks, had read the Greek classics, Aratus and Epimenides, and quoted from these great men, but the rest of the Apostles had not that education. But it will be said, "He laboured more abundantly than they all." It must be remembered, too, that he had an education under Gamaliel. If because he was acquainted with Grecian literature and trained that way from his youth, which seems to be assumed rather than proved—then surely more plainly should we be trained at the feet of some Jewish Rabbi like Gamaliel. That the training, however, which he received from Rabbinical and Grecian lore helped to form his mind for arguing in synagogues and on Mars hill we do not deny, but that he enforced the same course upon his successors or upon us is not, to our mind, at all proved. No. Neither he nor his divine Master inculcated any thing like the course of study which this essay urges. The Master does not say, Study Homer, search Juvenal, but search the Scriptures: and Paul does not tell Timothy and Titus, You must train your minds in the study of the Latin and Greek classics, but congratulates them, particularly the former, that he had been trained and educated in the scriptures, which are able to make wise to salvation. All his Jewish and Gentile learning he counted loss for Christ, and gave them an example to strive to know nothing save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I do not wish to be understood, nor do any of the advocates of the Christian institution, that any thing of real history or moral principle should be hidden from students. We want them to know all that can be conveniently known of the developments of divine purpose in providence and in the ways of man in society; but we do insist that far more of this can be known by studying scripture and the writings of the Christian Fathers and Reformers than can be known in ten times as long study of the Latin and Greek classics. If human nature be always the same, we do not need a long process to show us its deep depravity, and if it be important that we should study this, let us have classics without any expurgation, and, then, go to drunken bar rooms and filthy brothels! and on the same principle we should make Voltaire and Rousseau, Balzac and George Sand, and Eugene Sue the text books for French in our schools, and for Italian, Alfieri with his impure dramas! Why, surely, my worthy brother, the writer of that essay did not think of the natural inference that would be made from his reasoning, or it would not have come to light. We will see wickedness enough, and so will our sons, without spending thousands of money and years of study to explore it. That the Bible narrates great wickedness is readily admitted, but it is to denounce and rebuke it; whereas the Latin and Greek classics exhibit every thing that is furious and fierce and base, adorned with the fascinations of eloquence and song. One might as well argue that because Mr. Chrystie testifies against profanity and debars debauchery, therefore, we might and ought to go to the haunts of ribaldry and schools of obscenity. "It is a shame to speak of those things that are done of them in secret." [Eph. 5.12.] "Be not deceived; evil communications corrupt good manners." [1 Cor. 15.33.]
And suppose we admit that these books may serve a good purpose in convicting the heathen from their own mouths of the most abominable crimes, is that any reason why we should put them in the hands of youth and set them poring over them for years, drinking in their filthiness? Suppose we grant, that men of mature minds and sanctified hearts may make this use of them, what has that to do with the question as to what is proper for youth? The confirmed Christian may be called to read Paine's Age of Reason, or Rousseau's Confessions, or even to look into the foul pages of the French press, but is that any reason why we should put their books into our schools? We ought to read the best books, keep the best company, and after all, if we have a right sense of ourselves and of the purity of God, and of His law, we will see our great need of the fountain of purification opened in the house of David for sin and uncleanness. [Zech. 13.] We do not need to dabble in the filthy mire of antiquity.
In other respects what a school of morals for our youth are these Pagan classics! Bates in his work on the Divine Attributes gives us the following description of the moral principles and rules of some of the best of them. "The Cynics assert that all natural actions may be done in the face of the sun; that it is worthy of a philosopher to do those things in the presence of all, which would make impudence itself to blush—a maxim contrary to all the rules of decency, and corruptive of good manners; for as the despising of virtue produces the slighting of reputation, so the contempt of reputation causes the neglect of virtue. Yet the Stoics with all their gravity were not far from this advice. Besides, among other unreasonable paradoxes, they assert all sins are equal; that the killing a bird is of the same guilt with murdering a parent—a principle that breaks restraints of fear and shame, and opens a passage to all licentiousness. They commended self-murder in several cases; which unnatural fury is culpable, in many respects, of rebellion against God, injustice to others, and cruelty to one's self. Zeno, the founder of the sect, practiced his own doctrine; for falling to the ground, he interpreted it to be a summons to appear in another world, and strangled himself. Aristotle allows the appetite of revenging injuries to be as natural as the inclination to gratitude, judging according to the common rule, that one contrary is the measure of another. Nay, he condemns the putting up with an injury as degenerating and servile. He makes indignation at the prosperity of unworthy men, a virtue; and to prove it, tells us the Grecians attributed it to their gods, as a passion becoming the excellency of their natures. He also allows pride to be a noble temper that proceeds from a sublime spirit. He represents his hero by this among other characters, that he is displeased with those who mention to him the benefits he hath received, which make him inferior to those that gave them; as if humility and gratitude were qualities contrary to magnanimity. He condemns envy as a vice that would bring down others to our meanness, but commends emulation, which urges to ascend to the height of them that are above us. And Plato himself, though styled divine, yet delivers many things that are destructive of moral honesty. He dissolves the most sacred band of human society, ordaining in his commonwealth a community of wives. He allows an honest man to lie on some occasions; whereas the rule is eternal, We must not do evil that good may come thereby. In short, a considering eye will discover many spots, as well as beauties, in their most admired institutions. They commend those things as virtues which are vices, and leave out those virtues which are necessary for the perfection of our nature; and the virtues they commend, are defective in those qualities that are requisite to make them sincere." Is this the code of morals that we wish our children to learn?
What the intelligent and pious will regret and censure most in the essay is the wresting of holy scripture from its natural and holy purpose to support the object that it has in view. For instance, "To the pure all things are pure." Now, it is true, that this text proves that every scene that may meet the sense of the pious will be sanctified, but, surely, it does not prove that we should voluntarily expose ourselves to the corrupting principles of obscene books, either Jewish or Gentile fables, Latin or Greek classics. Of all such the Apostle charges the Evangelist to "Beware." The Apostle does not say, Ponder over these for years and direct all that are designed for the ministry to make these fables the study of years, but beware of them as dangerous. If the quotation of that passage have any meaning, it is this: The Latin and Greek classics have a great deal of unclean and obscene sentiment, but the students designed for the ministry are so pure that there is little danger of their contamination. But, O! how different is the matter of fact, and how differently the Apostle and our Reformers considered the matter. See the sins forbidden in the 7th commandment in the Larger Catechism, and the Directory in relation to the education of the ministry. In the former lascivious books are forbidden, as well as pictures, &c. In the latter there is not a word said about the Latin and Greek classics, but they are required to be well acquainted with the original languages, i.e. Greek and Hebrew, and with science subservient to the understanding of the word of God. These intelligent and pious men seemed all along to have the Bible in their eye, as the rule and the guide of their lives. The culture of taste was a matter of very inferior importance to the culture of holiness in the heart. They wanted to have the ministry trained to edify the church by demonstration of the Spirit and right dividing of the word of truth, and not to tickle the fancy by classical allusions to heathen mythology and other meretricious ornaments of style, such as the study of Latin and Greek classics was calculated to impart.1
Still the advocates of Christian literature are friendly to the diligent study of not only Latin, but also French and German. The study of language is a useful discipline to the mind, and it affords facilities of learning useful knowledge exhibited in those languages. Still to old and young, the Book of books is the Bible. I cannot but be grieved to contrast the sentiment of the essay with that of the dying Sir Walter Scott, who asked of his friend, Give me a book. The friend inquiring what book, he sharply answered, There is no book but ONE. O, that that sentiment might more and more prevail! O, for the time when the law shall go forth of Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem! May the Father of Lights soon turn to the people a pure language, that all may serve Him with one consent, and particularly, may the watchmen on our Zion's walls see eye to eye and speak with the voice together. Amen and Amen.
We object to the use of heathen text-books in our schools, not merely or chiefly on account of the beastly obscenity of many of them, but because they are pervaded with error—deadly error—throughout. Failing as they do, without exception, to impart any correct knowledge of God, or of duty, they are calculated to instill, by a silent influence, the most pernicious principles; and thus counteract, or even nullify, the effect of Scriptural instruction. What the notions of the heathen were—the best of them—on matters of the very highest moment, is well shown by Bates in his work on the Attributes of God. The following is a summary made up from his pages, omitting his comments and arguments. Read, and then say, whether such teachings are those with which we would choose the minds of our sons to be occupied during their tender years? Is any argument necessary to show that to pore over books imbued with these doctrines must be hurtful, if not ruinous?——ED. COV.
In respect to piety, which is the chiefest duty of the reasonable creature, philosophy is very defective, nay, in many things contrary to it:
First, by delivering unworthy notions and conceptions of the Deity.
Not only the vulgar heathens "changed the truth of God into a lie," when they measured his incomprehensible perfections by the narrow compass of their imaginations, or when looking on him through the appearing disorders of the world, they thought him unjust and cruel; as the most beautiful face seems deformed and monstrous in a disturbed stream: but the most renowned philosophers dishonoured him by their base apprehensions. Some asserted the world to be eternal; others that matter was; and in that denied him to be the first cause of all things. Some limited his being, confining him to one of the poles of heaven; others extended it only to the amplitude of the world. The Epicureans totally denied his governing providence, and made him an idle spectator of things below. They asserted that God was contented with his own majesty and glory; that whatever was without him was neither in his thoughts nor care. Others allowed him to regard the great affairs of kingdoms and nations, to manage crowns and sceptres; but to stoop so low as to regard particular things, they judged as unbecoming the divine nature, as for the sun to descend from heaven to light a candle for a servant in the dark. Seneca himself represents fortune as not discerning the worthy from the unworthy, and scattering its gifts without respect to virtue. Some made him a servant to nature, that he necessarily turned the spheres: others subjected him to an invincible destiny, that he could not do what he desired.
Secondly: Philosophy is very defective as to piety, in not enjoining the love of God. Aristotle, who was so clear-sighted in other things, when he discourses of God, is not only affectedly obscure to conceal his ignorance, as the fish which troubles the water, for fear of being catched; but it is on the occasion of speculative sciences, as in his physics, when he considers him as the first cause of all the motions in the world; or in his metaphysics, as the supreme Being, "the knowledge of whom," he saith, "is most noble in itself, but of no use to men." And in his morals, where he had reason to consider the Deity as an object most worthy of our love, respect, and obedience, in an infinite degree, he totally omits such a representation of him, although the love of God is that alone which gives price to all moral virtues. If in the Platonic philosophy there are some things directing to it, yet they are but frigidly expressed, and so obscurely, that like inscriptions in ancient medals or marbles which are defaced, they are hardly legible.
Thirdly: the best philosophers laid down this servile and pernicious maxim, that a wise man should always conform to the religion of his country. Socrates, who acknowledged one supreme God, yet, according to the counsel of the oracle that directed all to sacrifice according to the law of the city, advised his friends to comply with the common idolatry, without any difference in the outward worship of him and creatures; and those who did otherwise, he branded as superstitious and vain. And his practice was accordingly; for he frequented the temples, assisted at the sacrifices, which he declares before his judges, to purge himself from the crime of which he was accused. Seneca, speaking of the heathen worship, acknowledges it was unreasonable, and only the multitude of fools rendered it excusable; yet he would have a philosopher to conform to those customs, in obedience to the law, not as pleasing to the gods. Thus they made religion a dependence on the state. They performed the rites of heathenish superstition, that were either filthy, fantastical, or cruel, such as the devil, the master of those ceremonies, ordained. They became less than men, by worshipping the most vile and despicable creatures, and sunk themselves, by the most execrable idolatry, beneath the powers of darkness to whom they often sacrificed.
Fourthly: they arrogated to themselves the sole praise of their virtues and happiness. This impiety is most visible in the writings of the Stoics, the Pharisees in philosophy. They were so far from depending on God for light and grace in the conduct of their lives, and from praying to him to make them virtuous, that they opposed nothing with more pride and contempt. They thought that wisdom would lose its value and lustre, that nothing were in it worthy of admiration, if it came from above, and depended upon the grace of another. They acknowledged that the natural life, that riches, honours, and other inferior things, common to the worst, were the gifts of God; but asserted that wisdom and virtue, the special perfections of the human nature, were the effects of their own industry. Impious folly, to believe that we owe the greatest benefits to ourselves, and the lesser only to God! Thus they robbed him of the honour of his most precious gifts. They ascribe to their wise man an absolute empire over all things; they raise him above the clouds, whatever may disquiet or disorder; they exempt him from all passions, and make him ever equal to himself; that he is never surprised with accidents; that it is not in the power of pains or troubles to draw a sigh or tear from him; that he despises all that the world can give or take, and is contented with pure and naked virtue: in short, they put the crown upon his head, by attributing all to the power of his own spirit.
Fifthly: philosophy is very defective in not propounding the glory of God as the end to which all our actions should finally refer. The design of philosophers in their precepts, was either—1, to use virtue as the means to obtain reputation and honour in the world. This was evident in their books and actions. They were sick of self-love, and did many things to satisfy the eye. They led their lives as in a scene, where one person is within, and another is represented without, by an artificial imitation of what is true. They were swelled with presumption, having little merit, and a great deal of vanity. Pride had a principal part in them.—Or, 2, the end of philosophy was to prevent the mischiefs which licentiousness and disorders might bring upon men from without, or to preserve inward peace, by suppressing the turbulent passions arising from lust or rage, that discompose the mind. This was the pretended design of Epicurus, to whom virtue was amiable only as the instrument of pleasure.—Or, 3, the height of philosophy was to propound the beauty of virtue, and its charming aspect, as the most worthy motive to draw the affections.
Philosophy was defective also in its directions about moral duties that respect ourselves or others. Philosophers were not sensible of the first inclinations to sin. They allow the disorder of the sensitive appetite as innocent, till it passes to the supreme power of the soul, and induces it to deliberate or resolve upon moral actions; for they were ignorant of that original and intimate pollution that cleaves to the human nature; and because our faculties are natural, they thought that the first motions to obtain forbidden objects, that are universal in the best as well as worst, to be natural desires, not the irregularities of lust. Accordingly, all their precepts reach no farther than the counsels of the heart; but the desires and motions of the lower faculties, though very culpable, are left by them indifferent.
The Stoics not being able to reconcile the passions with reason, wholly renounced them. The tender and melting affections of nature towards the misery of others, they entirely extinguish as unbecoming perfect virtue. They attribute wisdom to none, but him whom they rob of humanity.
Philosophy is ineffectual by all its rules to form the soul to true patience and contentment under sufferings. The arguments they used for comfort are taken—1. from necessity; that we are born to sufferings; the laws of humanity, which are unchangeable, subject us to them. 2. From reflection upon the miseries that befall others. 3. Others sought for ease under sufferings, by remembering the pleasures that were formerly enjoyed. 4. The Stoics' universal cure of afflictions was, to change their opinion of them, and esteem them not real evils. Thus Posidonius, so much commended by Tully, who for many years was under torturing diseases, and survived a continual death, being visited by Pompey at Rhodes, entertained him with a philosophical discourse; and when his pains were most acute, he said, "Nihil agis, dolor, quanquam sis molestus; nunquam te esse confitebor malum." "In vain dost thou assault me, pain; though thou art troublesome, thou shalt never force me to confess thou art evil." 5. Others composed themselves by considering the benefit of patience.
And as these, so many other arguments they used to fortify the spirit against sufferings, are like a hedge which at a distance seems to he a safe retreat from gun-shot, but those who retire to it find it a weak defence. This appears by the carriage of the best instructed heathens in their calamities; professing themselves to be wise in their speculations, they became fools in practice, and were confounded with all their philosophy, when they should have made use of it. Some killed themselves from the apprehension of sufferings: their death was not the effect of courage, but of cowardice, the remedy of their fear. Others, impatient of disappointment in their great designs, refused to live. I will instance in two of the most eminent among them, Cato and Brutus. They were both philosophers of the manly sect; and virtue never appeared with a brighter lustre among the heathens, than when joined with a stoical resolution. And they were not imperfect proficients, but masters in philosophy. Seneca employs all the ornaments of his eloquence to make Cato's eulogy: he represents him as the consummate exemplar of wisdom, as one that realized the sublime idea of virtue described in their writings.
1. As to the adage, "A nice man is a happy man," it is well to know that its author, Dean Swift, was among the most filthy and obscene of all writers. A fine source for an adage to guide Christians in educating their children.