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of good, it really proposes nothing but to have the depravated nature grow, and the plague of sin deepen its bad infection." pp. 73-4.
Closely connected with this false notion respecting conversion, and another hindrance to the true idea of Christian nurture, is the narrow and restricted view which many Christians entertain respecting the grace of God, its freedom and fulness, its diversity of method and operations, and its manifold adaptedness to all human wants, ages, and capacities. What is there, either in the nature of the Divine Spirit, or of the soul of an infant, or in the power and willingness of God, to prevent an approach to that soul, both directly and through the same means and influences which the parent employs to form and unfold its character? When the soul of the child lies open to every look, and word, and tone of the parent, to every external influence, as a flower to the light and air of day, all of which contribute something to its character, what shall hinder the grace of God from inhabiting and operating, through that look, or word, or tone, upon that open soul, to form it unto goodness and piety? What but the absence of a divine element from these demonstrations, through want of faith and vital godliness in the parents themselves? If they live in the Spirit, they will carry the Spirit, and breathe its divine and transforming power, in their very manners and motions, and their children will be converted, not as by some sudden stroke of divine power, like Saul of Tarsus, or those on the day of Pentecost, but by the converting element of the grace they live in.
"Were they really to live so as to make their house an element of grace, the atmosphere of their life an element, to all that breathe it, of unworldly feeling, and all godly aspirations, their mechanical doctrine of conversion would scarcely suffice to keep away the saving mercies of God from their children. Their children would still be converted, even before the permissible time, and burst up through the poor detentions of their bad doctrine, to cover it with blessed confusion. But, alas! it requires but a very little of genuine living godliness in the house, to bring up children for a future conversion!"
“How different the kind of life that is necessary to bring them up in conversion, and beget them anew, in the spirit of a loving obedience to God, at a point even prior to all definite recollection. This is Christian nurture, because it nurtures Christians, and because it makes an element of Christian grace, in the house. It invites, it nourishes hope, it breathes in love, it forms the new life, as a holy.
though beautiful prejudice in the soul, before its opening and full flowering of intelligence arrives. Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not,' translates the very economy of the house, and has in that economy its living verification. And the promise, 'for of such is the kingdom of heaven,' wears no look of violence; for the kingdom of heaven is there. The children grow up in it, as being configured to it. The family prayers have a sound of gladness, and they sing the family hymns with glad voices. The worldliness of the glittering, bad world without is set off and made fascinating, by no doom of repression within. A firm administration is loved, because, like God's, it is felt to be the defense of liberty. Truth, purity, firmness, love to Jesus, all that belongs to a formal conversion, and more, is centralized thus in the soul, as a kind of ingrown habit. The children are all converted, by the converting element of grace they live in. And so it is proved that there is a conversion for children, proper and possible to their age. They are not excluded, walled away from Christ, by a mechanical enforcement of modes, proper only and possible to adults. The house itself is a converting ordinance."
Such are some of the more obvious and prevalent objections against the idea of Christian nurture, as defined by Dr. Bushnell, which are potent obstacles in the way of its practical realization. We have not reviewed all, but only the chief; and the influence of these notions, to say nothing of radical defects of character and wisdom in the training of children, must run through and fatally impair the whole system of religious education. So that the question, why, if this idea be true, is it so seldom realized, is sufficiently answered.
Turning now to the more positive arguments in support of this idea, the first is that drawn from the known character and dispositions of God, as revealed in the Bible. Since goodness, or the production of goodness, is the supreme end of God, we know, on first principles, that He desires on his part, that children should grow up in piety, as earnestly and even more so, than the parent can desire it. That "he desires, moreover, to bestow whatsoever spiritual grace is necessary to the moral renovation of childhood, and will do it, unless some collateral reasons in his plan, involving the extension of holy virtue, require him to withhold."
"Thus if nothing were hung upon parental faithfulness and example, if the child were not used, in some degree or way, as an argument to hold the parent to a life of Christian diligence, then the good principle in the parent might lack the necessary stimulus to bring it to maturity. Or, if all children alike, in spite of
the evil and unchristian example of the house, were to be started into life as spiritually renewed, one of the strongest motives to holy living would be taken away from parents, in the fact that their children are safe, as regards a good beginning, without any carefulness in them, or prayerfulness in their life, and their own virtue might so overgrow itself with weeds, as never to attain a sound maturity."
In other words, God desires, and will infallibly secure, the early conversion of children, unless the want of faith and fidelity on the part of the parents prevent it; just as he desires that all men should repent and be saved, and will secure this result, except as they resist and defeat the drawings of his grace. The words of the Saviour are explicit on this point, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of heaven," implying that they already belong, by affinity, to the kingdom of heaven, and will infallibly enter it, or come to Christ, unless they are withheld or forbidden by those who are responsible for their character and destiny. And in this view, we may see a merciful provision in that mystery of Providence, which withdraws so large a proportion of infants from the false training of parents, which would so often prove a hindrance to their salvation, that they may come more directly into his gracious and heavenly nurture.
Another argument which fills a large and important place in our author's doctrine, is that law of organic connection between the parent and child, by virtue of which the character of the parent is or may be transmitted to the child, by a kind of natural inheritance. This law is recognized and palpable enough, as respects the transmission of depravity; and what shall hinder it from being so taken possession of and sanctified by the Spirit of God, as to ensure the transmission of a good or regenerate character? There is no need here of confounding physical with moral laws, or of supposing that piety, or a gracious character, can be literally propagated or transmitted, physically, in the blood. Moral depravity is not thus transmitted; but a depraved or corrupted nature (itself produced by sinful habits, originating in the will) is transmitted to the child, which furnishes the stock, with its innate evil tendencies, or dispositions," the flesh," of Saint Paul, "with its
affections and lusts,"-out of which the evil character grows, or is induced, by the reaction of the same law which produced the corrupt nature in the first instance, aided in its development by all the corrupting moral influences of example, &c., operating on him from without.
It is useless to deny the power which body, or physical nature, has over the spiritual. If the moral character does not inhere in the nature which one inherits, but in the will, which is above nature, it is yet, to a great degree, determined and shaped by this nature, so that a depraved nature infallibly produces, or rather induces, a depraved will; and the natural character of a person can be almost infallibly known from his physical temperament, and the blood which he inherits. Thus the natural depravity of the race is transmitted from generation to generation, by a strictly organic law. If we understand Dr. Bushnell, all that he means to assert, is, that this same law, which is so potent for the propagation of depravity, and the growing up of the child in sin, may be so far rectified, or restored to its original design, as to be not simply a law of sin and death, but of goodness as well, favoring the development of a holy character, as it now favors or induces a sinful one; or, at least, holding a qualified and subordinate power of evil in the subject, with the law of the Spirit of Life. In other words, the nature that is transmitted, becoming less and less of a corrupted nature, as the race becomes sanctified, the new being is started into life, with less of damage and predisposi tion to evil, and more pliant to good, though still needing regeneration, or the ingrafting of a divine life; so that the seeds of piety falling into this good soil, from the very first, through a preventive Christian nurture surrounding and brooding over it, as an atmosphere of grace, may get the advantage of the weeds of sin, and quicken into godliness, as it were, spontaneously, without any need of conversion, in the ordinary sense of the term. The child, in this case, is not the less born of the Spirit, though the spiritual birth be simultaneous with the natural, and grows up in the Spirit shed upon him, through the enfolding nurture and Christian atmosphere he lives in, which is thus most truly a nurture of the Lord.
How this may be, and how the propagation of piety, in this sense, is consistent with the highest supernaturalism, may be seen in the following passages in the discourse, entitled “The Outpopulating Power of the Christian Stock."
"Consider a very important fact in human physiology, viz: that qualities of education, habit, feeling, and character, have a tendency to grow in, by long continuance, and become thoroughly inbred in the stock. We meet humble analogies of this in the domestic animals. The same thing is observable on a large scale, in the families of mankind. A savage race is a race bred into low living, and a faithless, bloody character. And so it is in part, that civilization descends from one generation to another. It is not merely that laws, social modes and instrumentalities of education descend, and that so the new sprung generations are fashioned after birth, by the forms and principles and causes into which they have been set, but it is that the very type of the inborn quality is a civilized type. The civilization is, in great part, an inbred civility. There is something functional in them, which is itself configured to the state of art, order, law and property." pp. 202-3.
"Now if it be true that what gets power in any race, by a habit or a process of culture, tends by a fixed law of nature to become a propagated quality, and pass by descent as a property inbred in the stock; if in this way whole races of men are cultivated into properties that are peculiar-off into a savage character, down into a servile or a mercenary, up into civilization or a high social state-what to be the effect of thoroughly Christian fatherhood and motherhood, continued for a long time in the successive generations of a family? What can it be but a general mitigation of the bad points of the stock and a more and more completely inbred piety. The children of such a stock are born not of the flesh only, or the mere natural life of their parentage, but they are born, in a sense most emphatic of the Spirit also; for this parentage is differed, as we are supposing, age by age, from its own mere nature in Adam, by the inhabiting grace of a supernatural salvation. Physiologically speaking, they are tempered by this grace, and it is all the while tending to become, in some sense, an inbred quality. Hence the very frequent remark-'How great a privilege and order of nobility to be descended of a pious ancestry!' It is the blessing that is to descend to the thous andth generation of them that love God and keep his commandments.
"In this view it is to be expected, as the life of Christian piety becomes more extended on earth, and the Spirit of God obtains a living power, in the successive generations, more and more complete, that finally the race itself will be so thoroughly regenerated as to have a genuine and populating power in faith and godliness. By a kind of ante-natal and post-natal nurture combined, the new-born generations will be started into Christian piety, and the world itself over-populated and taken possession of by a truly sanctified stock. This I conceive to be the expectation of Christianity. Not that the bad heritage of depravity will cease, but that the second Adam will get into power with the first, and be entered seminally into the same great process of propagated life. And this fulfills that primal desire of the world's Creator and Father, of which the prophet speaks-'that he might have a godly seed! And let no one be offended by this, as if it supposed a possible