« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
ARTICLE X.-DR. BUSHNELL'S "CHRISTIAN NURTURE.”
Christian Nurture. By HORACE BUSHNELL. New York:
Charles Scribner. 1861. 12mo. pp. 407.
ABOUT fourteen years ago Dr. Bushnell published two discourses under the title of Christian Nurture, which, like some other productions of this original and gifted writer, awakened considerable thought and theological discussion. These were afterwards republished, with other articles on subjects "adjacent thereto," in a volume under the same title. This book met a want in the Christian mind, especially of this country, deeper and wider, and more practical, than almost any other since the days of Edwards; a want of which the church itself was but indistinctly conscious until this awakening word was spoken. Few persons trained in the New England theology, and partaking the current religious notions of the times, were aware of the intense individualism into which they had been imperceptibly drawn by the prevalence of these notions. The divine idea of the Family, as an institution ordained of God not merely for the propagation of children, but mainly for the propagation and conservation of piety in the world, having an organic life and unity, which may as truly become the channel and inhabitation of grace, as of depravity, transmitting religion or godliness in the line of natural descent-this idea was well nigh lost out of the Christian consciousness; and the family was regarded as little more than a collection of individual and independent wills, each poised on its own center of responsibility, and forming its own character, which character was totally and hopelessly evil, until the sovereign grace of God renewed it by some sudden stroke of conversion coming to it from without. That a child might grow up in piety from its earliest years, or that there could be any converting grace in the unconscious influences and atmosphere of a Christian home-that the Spirit of God might so inform and sanctify
these influences as to make them regenerating and sanctifying powers around the soul of the child from the first dawn of consciousness, was a conception too remote from the prevalent theories and practices of the church, to be easily entertained. Hence the main reliance and hope, as regards the increase of the church, was in revivals of religion, whose accepted theory was that they had no regular or systematic place in the divine economy, or none whose laws could be ascertained, but were abnormal developments or restorations of spiritual power which ought never to have been lost; and the effect of which, as thus depended on, was to place the extraordinary above the ordinary means of grace, and in the same degree to discourage all efforts and expectations on the plane of domestic every-day duty and ordinary Christian living. In a word, the idea of parental responsibility for the conversion and Christian character of their children, and their duty to train them up as Christians, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, was almost ignored under the all prevailing individualism of the day.
It was not strange, therefore, that a book aiming to restore this idea, and to hold up this duty in all its bearings and connections, should awaken a profound interest and even opposition in certain quarters.
We do not propose to revive a discussion which has had its day. Whatever prejudices or misapprehensions were awakened by the original discourses on Christian Nurture have long since passed away. The Christian mind has begun to recover from the extreme individualism into which it had been led or driven, and is in a condition more favorable for the apprehension and candid weighing of the truths and arguments contained in the book before us.
The present work is not a republication of the former, as its title might lead many to suppose, but a substantially new treatise, of nearly twice the size, and containing the author's more mature and complete views on the subject. Its relation to the first may be seen in a few words from the author's preface. "In preparing it," he says, "I could not easily consent to lay aside, or pass into oblivion, the two discourses above
referred to, for under the fortune that befel them they had become a little historical. In this fuller treatment of the subject, therefore, I have allowed them to stand, requiring the additions made to take their shape or type. Thirteen new essays, in the form of discourses, though never used as such, but written simply for the discussion's sake, are thus added; and the volume which virtually covers the ground of a treatise, takes the form of successive topical discussions, or essays, on so many themes included in the general subject. I need offer no apology for retaining the old title, in a volume that is virtually new; or for reasserting with more emphasis and deliberation, after an interval of years, what the years have only established, and made firm in my Christian convictions."
The work is divided into two parts; the first of which treats of the Doctrine, the second of the Mode. In the first part the author discusses what Christian Nurture is, or unfolds the true idea of Christian Nurture in distinction from that which is not Christian, eliminating the many false and crude and even barbarous notions that have prevailed in the church under the name of religious education. As fundamentally connected with this idea, he proceeds to treat of the Organic Unity of the Family; Infant Baptism, its first development and its apostolic authority; the Church Membership of children; and the outpopulating power of the Christian Stock.
Among the topics discussed, in the second part, is the question, When and where the Nurture begins; Parental Qualifications; Physical Nurture as a means of grace; Family Government; Plays and Pastimes; The Christian Teaching of Children; Family Prayers, &c.
From this outline of topics discussed, it will be seen how large and important is the sphere embraced in the book. But this mere surface view will suggest little, especially to those unacquainted with the genius of the author, of the wealth of thought and wisdom that makes up its substance. It is the most instructive book, we venture to say, that can be put into the hands of a parent, touching the twofold sacred relation
ship he sustains to God and his children, and his duties towards both to the one for the sake of the other. No Christian parent, especially, can read this book as it should be read, without rising from its perusal a wiser and a better man; without a deeper and more trembling sense of responsibility for those young immortals whose character and destiny he holds in his hand.
If there is anything glorious, yet fearful, to contemplate, it is the soul of a child, as it comes fresh from the hand of its Creator, to receive and unfold a character in this world. What that character shall be; what capacities lie folded within it, or may descend upon it? What destinies of good or evil, of blessedness or woe, wait before that frail and innocent being?are questions that may well thrill the soul of a parent as he looks on his infant child. And when the thought rises upon him, calmly and solemnly, growing into a full-orbed conviction, that he is to be the parent of that future character as truly as he is of the child itself; that to him, under God, it is given, consciously or unconsciously, to mold and fix the character, and shape the destiny of his child forever,-what words can measure the power of the motives here brought to bear upon him, so to live and so to be, as such a momentous consequence requires? In this view the book before us is one of the most eloquent and powerful arguments for Christian living that has ever been furnished. If Dr. Bushnell had made no other contribution to Christian literature than this, the church might well thank him in the name of all her children; and future generations, we are sure, will rise up and call him blessed.
Our limits do not permit any extended or elaborate review; the most we shall attempt at present is to lay before our readers such an idea of the book and its contents as will enlighten, if not increase, their desire to peruse it for themselves.
In the first two discourses-which are really but one discourse in two parts, and may be regarded as the seed or germ from which the entire book has grown-the author discusses the question, what Christian Nurture is; or unfolds what he
conceives to be the true idea of Christian Education. This he defines as follows:
"That the child is to grow up a Christian, and never know himself as being otherwise. In other words, the aim, effort and expectation should be, not as is commonly assumed, that the child is to grow up in sin, to be converted after he comes to a mature age; but that he is to open on the world as one that is spiritually renewed, not remembering the time when he went through a technical experience, but seeming rather to have loved what is good from his earliest years.”
It is not strange, at first view, that an idea so high above the current notions and ordinary experience of the church, should be questioned a little before being admitted to a place among recognized and established truths. And yet, in another view, it is strange that an idea so inspiring, and so beautifully consistent with all that is revealed in the Bible concerning the method of God's grace to man, and with the manifest design and constitution of the family, should ever be questioned. The more we look at it, and into it, and through it, to the results at which it aims, and the Christian fidelity it supposes and requires on the part of parents in order to its realization, the more convinced we are that it is a true and divinely inspired thought. If there be any such thing as Christian nurture in distinction from that which is not Christian, this is it. We most sincerely thank Dr. Bushnell for depositing in, or rather restoring to, the Christian consciousness of this age an idea so inspiring to faith and fidelity, and which had so nearly perished out of it. With its full, practical restoration, we look to see restored not only the primitive piety of the Apostolic age, but a piety as much deeper and more stable and mature in its character, as it is more thoroughly inbred in the Christian stock.
As this idea of Christian nurture is fundamental to the whole book, upon which all its arguments and illustrations rest, or out of which they grow, we shall be pardoned for dwelling a little on the elucidation and vindication of it against the objections which may be felt by some on its first presentation. We shall not confine ourselves strictly to the thoughts or method of the author, though the arguments are substantially his.