EDUCATION . . .
During the last few months of his life the subject of
national education was much upon Dr. Chalmers's mind. Convinced that the Free
Church, or any other Church, was as unlikely by its voluntary efforts to supply
the educational as it was to supply the spiritual wants of the country that
would have been the best system for the Government to adopt was no longer
practicable, and anxious that public aid in some large and effective way should
be extended, he had pondered the problem as to the course which, under existing
circumstances, the Government should pursue. His views, the fruit of much
previous consideration, were stated by him in conversation to Mr. Fox Maule,
and other members of Her Majesty's Government, whom he met in London in May.
Mr. Maule havitig requested that he would embody them in writing, he took
advantage of a day's leisure while living with his sister, Mrs. Morton, in
Gloucestershire, on his way home, to comply with this request. The following
paper, prepared under these circumstances, arid with this object, was written
about a week before his death, and comes to us sealed with the impressive
characteristic of being the last formal expression of his judgment on any great
"It were the best state of things that we had a Parliament sufficiently theological to discriminate between the right and the wrong in religion, and to encourage or endow accordingly. But failing this, it seems to us the next best thing, that in any public measure for helping on the education of the people, Government were to abstain ftom introducing the element of religion at all into their part of the scheme, and this not because they held the matter to be insig,nificant-the contrary might be strongly expressed in the preamble of their act; but on the ground that, in the present divided state of the Christian world, they would take no cognisance of, just because they would attempt no control over, the religion of applicants for- aid-leaving this matter entire to the parties who had to do with the erection and management of the schools which they had been called upon. to assist. A grant by the State upon this footing might be regarded as being appropriately and exclusively the expression of their value for a good secular education.
"The confinement for the time being. of any Government measure for schools to this object we hold to be an imputation, not so much on the present state of our Legislature, as on the present state of the Christian world, now broken up into sects and parties innumerable, and. seemingly incapable of any effort for so healing these wretched divisions as to present the rulers of our country with aught like such a clear and unequivocal majority in favour of what is good and true, as might at. once determine them to fix upon and to espouse it.
"It is this which has encompassed the Government with difficulties, from which we can see no other method of extrication than the one which we have ventured to suggest. And as there seems no reason why, because of these unresclved differences, a public measure for the health of all-for the recreation of all- for the economic advancement, of all-should be held in abeyance, there seems as little reason why, because of these differences, a public measure for raising the general intelligence of all should be held in abeyance. Let the men, therefore, of all churches and all denominations alike hail such a measure, whether as carried into effect by a good education in letters or in any of the sciences-; and, meanwhile, in these very seminaries, let that education in religion which the Legislature abstains from providing for, be provided for - as freely and amply as they will by those who have undertaken the charge of them.
"We should hope, as the result of such a scheme, for a most wholesome rivalship on the part of many in the great aim of rearing on the basis of their respective systems- a moral and Christian population, well taught in the principles and doctrines of the Gospel, along with being well taught in the lessons of ordinary scholarship. Although no attempt should be made to regulate or to enforce the lessons of religion in the inner hall of legislation, this will not prevent, but rather stimulate to a greater earnestness in the contest between truth and falsehood-between light and darkness-in the outer field of society; nor will the result of such a contest in favour of what is right and good be at all the more unlikely, that the families of the land have been raised by the helping hand of the State to a higher platform than before, whether as respects their health, or their physical comfort, or their economic condition, or, last of all, their place in the scale of intelligence and learning.
"Religion would, under such a system, be the immediate product, not of legislation, but of the Christian and philanthropic zeal which obtained throughout society at large. But it is well when what legislation does for the fulfilment of its object tends not to the impediment, but rather, we apprehend, to the furtherance of those greater and higher objects which are in the contemplation of those whose desires are chiefly set on the immortal wellbeing of man.
"On the basis of these general views I have two remarks to offer regarding the Government Scheme, of Education. -
"1. I should not require a certificate of satisfaction with the religious progress of the scholars from the managers of the schools, in order to their receiving the Government aid. Such a certificate from Unitarians or Catholics implies the direct sanction or countenance by Government to their respective creeds, and the responsibility not of allowing, but more than this, of requiring, that these shall be.taught to the children who attend. A bare allowance is but a general toleration; but a requirement involves in it all the mischief and, I.would add, the guilt, of an indiscriminate endowment for truth and error.
"2. I would suffer parents or natural guardians to select what parts of the education they wanted for their children. I would not force arithmetic upon them, if all, they wanted was writing and reading; and as little would I force the Catechism, or any part of the religious instruction that was given in the school, if all they wanted was a secular education. That the managers in the Church of England schools shall have the power to impose their Catechism upon the children of Dissenters, and still more, to compel their attendance on church, I regard as among the worst parts of the scheme. "The above observations, it will be seen, meet any questions which might be put in regard to the applicability of the scheme to Scotland, or in regard to the use of the Douay version in Roman Catholic Schools.
"I cannot conclude without expressing my despair of any great or general good being effected in the way of Christianising our population, but through the medium of a Government themselves Christian, and endowing the true religion, which I hold to be their imperative duty, not because it is the religion of many, but because it is true.
"The scheme on which I have ventured to offer these few observations I should like to be adopted, not because it is absolutely the best, but only the best in existing circumstances.
"The endowment of the Catholic religion by the State I should deprecate as being ruinous to the country in all its interests. Still, I do not look for the general Christianity of the people but through the medium of the Christianity of their rulers. This is a lesson taught historically in Scripture by what we read there of the influences of the character of the Jewish monarchs on the moral and religios state of their subjects - it is taught experimentally by the impotence, now fully established, of the Voluntary principle - and last and most decisive of all, it is taught prophetically in the Book of Revelation, when told that then will the kingdoms of the earth, become the kingdoms of our Lord Jesus Christ; or the Governments of the earth become Christian Governments"
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