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It was, when Job confessed that he had endeavoured to justify himself in vain, and that he now abhorred himself, and repented in dust and ashes, that the answer of God was given, that he had spoken the thing that was right, and that his latter end should be blessed more than his beginning. But I fear, that, , to most of you, the best proof that the mercies of your redemption are not the fittest subject on which to address you, is contained in the fact, that you are so little interested in hearing of them: “ The law then must be your master to bring you unto Christ;" that is, we must try if, by any means, declaring to you the pure and perfect law of God, and contrasting it with your own principles and practice, we can succeed in making you feel your sin and your danger, and so, ready and eager to fly to Christ for deliverance.
What the aspect of public schools is, when viewed with a Christian's eye,-and what are the feelings with which men, who do really turn to God in after life, look back
their years passed at school,—I cannot express better than in the words of one* who had himself been at a public school, who did afterwards become a most exemplary Christian, and who, in what I am going to quote, seems to describe his own experience : “ Public schools,” he says, “ are the very seats and nurseries of vice. It may be unavoidable, or it may not; but the fact is indisputable. None can pass through a large school without being pretty intimately acquainted with vice; and few, alas! very few, without tasting too largely of that poisoned bowl. The hour of grace and repentance at length arrives, and they are astonished at their former fatuity. The young convert looks back with inexpressible regret to those hours which have been wasted in folly, or worse than folly: and the more lively his sense of the newly discovered mercies, the more piercing his anguish for past indulgences.” Now, although too many of us may not be able to join in the last part of this description, yet we must all, I think, be able to bear witness to the truth of the first part. We may not all share in the after repentance, but we must know that our school life has given ample cause for repentance.
* The late Mr. John Bowdler.See his“ Remains," Vol. II. p. 153. Third edition.
“ Public schools are the very seats and nurseries of vice. It may be unavoidable, or it may not ; but the fact is indisputable.” These are the words of the sensible and excellent man whom I have just alluded to: and with what feelings ought we all to read them, and to listen to them. I am afraid the fact is, indeed, indisputable—“ Public schools are the very seats and nurseries of vice.” But he goes on to say, “ It may be unavoidable, or it may not :” and these words seem to me as though they ought to fill us with the deepest shame of all. For what a notion does it give, that we should have been so long and so constantly bad, that it may be doubted whether our badness be not unavoidable — whether we are not evil hopelessly and incurably. And this to be true of places which were intended to be seats of Christian education; and in all of which, I believe, the same words are used in the daily prayers which we use regularly here! God is thanked for those founders and benefactors, “by whose benefits the whole school is brought up to godliness and good learning!” Brought up to godliness and good learning, in places that are the very seats and nurseries of vice! But the doubt, whether our viciousness be or be not unavoidable, is something too horrible to be listened to. Surely we cannot regard ourselves as so utterly reprobate, as thoroughly accursed of God.
and is nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, though we thus speak;” or else, indeed, our labour would be utterly vain. But then our hope that this viciousness is not unavoidable, depends upon you, whether or no you choose to make it so. Outward order, regularity, nay, even advancement in learning, may be, up to a certain point, enforced; but no man can force another to be good, or hinder him from being evil. It must be
your own choice and act, whether, indeed, you wish this place to be “unavoidably a seat and nursery of vice,” or whether you wish to verify the words of our daily thanksgiving, that, by the benefit of our founder,
you are here brought up to godliness and good learning.”
But, it may be asked, what is meant when public schools are called “the seats and nurseries of vice ?” It is not difficult to find out in what sense a Christian writer must have used the expression. That is properly a nursery of vice, where a boy unlearns the pure and honest principles which he may have received at home, and gets, in their stead, others which are utterly low, and base, and mischievous,— where he loses his modesty, his respect for truth, and his affectionate
ness, and becomes coarse, and false, and unfeeling. That, too, is a nursery of vice, and most fearfully so, where vice is bold, and forward, and presuming; and goodness is timid and shy, and existing as if by sufferance,where the good, instead of setting the tone of society, and branding with disgrace those who disregard it, are themselves exposed to reproach for their goodness, and shrink before the open avowal of evil principles, which the bad are striving to make the law of the community. That is a nursery of vice, where the restraints laid upon evil are considered as so much taken from liberty, and where, generally speaking, evil is more willingly screened and concealed, than detected and punished. What society would be, if men regarded the laws of God and man as a grievance, and thought liberty consisted in following to the full their proud, and selfish, and low inclinations,-that schools to a great extent are: and, therefore, they may be well called “the seats and nurseries of vice.”
Now, then, to what is this owing ? Public schools are made up of the very same persons whom we have known, a few years earlier, to be pure-minded and obedient children,—whom we know, á few years later, to be at least