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to worship every thing from whose influence upon their condition, whether for good or for evil, they had any thing to hope or to fear. This is the early form of idolatry, from the worship of the most glorious of God's creatures -the sun, and the moon, and the stars, to that
, of the vilest objects which have ever received the homage of a degraded superstition. But, in time, the progress of knowledge destroys this kind of idolatry, by explaining the causes of the most wonderful operations of nature, which men had hitherto regarded with ignorant fear or wonder. Images of brass, and wood, and stone,—the sun and all the host of heaven,-are adored no longer: but the sense of human weakness still presses upon us, and, averse as we are to turning to our true Guide and Guardian, we only change the nature of our idolatry, and become idolaters of our fellowmen. Before their influence we bow down as blindly as our fathers did before their images of stone. But it is an influence far more mischievous, because it is a real one: men can express opinions, and enforce them; can encourage the pursuit of some objects, and chill all fondness for others; they can largely affect the happiness of our lives. Of this idol of civilized life its worshippers are apt
to say, “Lo, he liveth, he eateth and drinketh: thou canst not say that he is no living God; therefore worship him.” They would persuade us, indeed, that there is no power in the universe so real; none which may so justly deserve our hopes and our fears.
And we may think so, perhaps truly, if we once forget the Lord our God: for the mass of mankind cannot enter into the high feeling of the old philosophers; and if the divinity of our own minds were one that we might safely in any case worship, yet in too many instances the mind is so feeble, so little possessed of any attribute of divinity, that it were worse than madness to lean on a staff so rotten.
I hold it, therefore, to be certain, that in our days, and for the bulk of mankind, there is a choice of only two things: they must worship God, or one another; they must seek the praise and favour of God above all things, or the praise and favour of man. Being too weak to stand alone, they must lean upon the Rock of Ages, or upon the perishing and treacherous pillar of human opinion. This is the case with men, and this, in an equal or even in a greater degree, is the case with you.
But the evil here is particularly great, because the standard of excellence here
approved of is so exceedingly false and low. It would be curious to gather and to record the several points in a character which boys respect and admire, in order to show what a crooked rule they walk by. In the true scale of excellence, moral perfection is most highly valued, then comes excellence of understanding, and, last of all, strength and activity of body. But at school this is just reversed. A strong and active boy is very much respected; a clever boy is also admired; -- but a good and well-principled boy meets with
little encouragement. Again, natural abilities are admired and valued ; but it is the tendency of many persons to admire them much less when united with sound sense and industry, than when they are to be found in one who does not cultivate them, but abuses them by his indolence, or by converting them to some purpose of wickedness or folly. It is indeed remarkable, that nowhere else is the habitual breach of our duty so countenanced as it is here. A soldier, who was notoriously idle and cowardly, would not only be punished by his superiors, but would be an object of dislike and contempt to his comrades themselves. So it is with workmen: if a man works ill and lazily, it is not the way to gain credit with his companions any more than his employer. And this is but a natural feeling,—that it is disgraceful to do our business ill, let it be of what kind it may; that it is contemptible either to be doing nothing, or to have an employment, and to neglect it. But here, on the contrary, idleness is with many rather a glory, and industry is considered as a reproach. When a boy first comes from home, full of the natural desire of doing his duty, of improving himself, and getting on well, he is presently beset by the ridicule of all the worthless and foolish boys around him, who want to sink him to their own level. How completely true is it, that his foes are they of his own household ;—that is, they who are most immediately about him, those of his own age, and his own place in the school. They become his idol : before their most foolish, most low, and most wicked voices, he gives up his affections, his understanding, and his conscience; from this mass of ignorance, and falsehood, and selfishness, he looks for the guide of his opinions and his conduct. The strong language of scorn, with which the prophet describes the idolatry of old, may well be applied to this no less foolish and no less wicked idolatry of our own days: “ He burneth part thereof in the fire, with part thereof he baketh bread, and the residue he maketh a god, even his graven image. A deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, or say, Is there not a lie in my right hand ?” So it
So it may be said of you, — You know what the idol is that you worship: you know how ignorant, how selfish, how unkind, often how false and how mean, are those boys whose ridicule you fear, and whose applause you covet.
You know that in sickness, or in affliction, they are not the persons to whom you would go for comfort: you know, if you were to commit any offence against their notions of right and wrong, how little allowance they would make for you, how little compassion they would show for your distress. And yet, for the sake of the good opinion of persons such as these, or in order to avoid their ridicule, you would struggle to overcome your own best affections, you would harden your conscience, distress and displease your dearest earthly friends, and grieve the Spirit of God, who calls you to a better mind. You are bound by this fatal chain, “ A deceived heart hath turned you aside, so that you cannot deliver your souls, or say, Is there not a lie