Medicine for the Mind

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Sometimes one book by one man can have a disproportionate influence upon those who are influential. A Serious Call by William Law (1686 – 1761) profoundly impacted John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Henry Venn, and William Wilberforce, who described reading it as a turning point in their lives. In the following extract from this book, Law discusses education in the light of human deficiencies following the fall. In contrast with contemporary educational ideals that focus on self discovery and vocational training, he argues that education is like medicine for the mind, for it is concerned with correcting mental maladies.

Had we continued perfect, as God created the first man, perhaps the perfection of our nature had been a sufficient self-instruction for every one. But as sickness and diseases have created the necessity of medicines and physicians, so the change and disorder of our rational nature have introduced the necessity of education and tutors.

And as the only end of the physician is to restore nature to its own state, so the only end of education is to restore our rational nature to its proper state…And as physic [medicine] may justly be called the art of restoring health, so education should be considered in no other light, than as the art of recovering to man the use of his reason.

Now as the instruction of every art or science is founded upon the discoveries, the wisdom, experience, and maxims, of the several great men that have laboured in it; so human wisdom, or right use of our reason, which young people should be called to by their education, is nothing else but the best experience, and finest reasonings, of men that have devoted themselves to the study of wisdom, and the improvement of human nature.

All, therefore, that great saints, and dying men, when the fullest of light and conviction, and after the highest improvement of their reason, all that they have said of the necessity of piety, of the excellency of virtue, of their duty to God, of the emptiness of riches, of the vanity of the world; all the sentences, judgments, reasonings, and maxims, of the wisest of philosophers, when in their highest state of wisdom, should constitute the common lessons of instruction for youthful minds.

This is the only way to make the young and ignorant part of the world the better for the wisdom and knowledge of the wise and ancient.

An education which is not wholly intent upon this, is as much beside the point, as an art of physic [medicine] that had little or no regard to the restoration of health.1

Footnotes:

1 William Law, “A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life,” Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/law/serious_call.xix.html (accessed July 9, 2013).

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