Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 15
God, the Ruler of all of us, has personally appointed parents as His immediate deputies. Not only are they required to fulfill His duties towards the children, but they have to represent Him. To a little child, his parents rule over him like gods. And, even more seriously, in a little child's eyes, God is like his parents. He's not capable of conceiving a greater and more wonderful personality than that of his own parents. Thus, his first approach to the infinite God is through them. They are his standard for the best and highest. If the standard by which he measures God is as small as weak as his own small self, how will he ever have the reverent attitude that he needs to grow spiritually?
Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 41
Parents in general probably feel the weight of the responsibility of their prophetic job more than ever before. Their role as revealers of God to their children is where parents are most severely limited, yet their success in this is what fulfills God's Divine intention in giving children to them to bring up--in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 45-49
There's another way that we can try to provide children with the stability of mind that comes from knowing about themselves. They should understand the laws of thought that direct their own minds while they're still young enough that it seems like they've always known it. Let them realize that, once an idea takes possession of them, it will pursue its own course. It will establish its own path in the physical tissue of the brain and draw its own chain of ideas behind it. One of the most common reasons that young people abandon what they've been taught is because thoughtful youths are shocked when they come to notice their own thoughts. They read a book or listen to a lecture, and experience what they think is 'free thought.' With fearful joy, they discover their own thoughts taking off independently from what they've heard or read, and going on and on to arrive at startling new conclusions along the same lines. All of this mental stir inspires a wonderful sense of power as well as a sense of inevitableness and certainty. After all, it isn't as if they had any intention of trying to think of this or that. The conclusion came all by itself. They believe that their own Reason has acted independently of them, and they can't help assuming that the conclusion that came to them all by itself with such an air of absolute certainty must be correct.
But what if they had been warned since early childhood, 'Take care of your thoughts, and the rest will take care of itself. If you let a thought in, it will stay. It will come back tomorrow and the next day. It will make a place for itself in your brain, and it will bring many other similar thoughts with it. It's up to you to inspect thoughts as they come to keep wrong thoughts out and let right thoughts in. Make sure that you don't enter into temptation.' This kind of teaching is easier to understand than the grammar rules of the English nominative case, but it's infinitely more profitable for managing a life. It's great protection to recognize that our Reason is capable of proving any theory that we allow ourselves to entertain.
In this section, we've only mentioned the negative aspect of the parental role of Inspirer. For almost all parents, the innocence of a baby in its mother's arms makes a strong, irresistible appeal. 'Open the gates of righteousness to me so I can go in,' seems to be what the pure, unworldly child is saying. With every kiss from his mother, and every light from his father's eyes, he expresses a desire to be kept unstained from the world. But we're so quick to conclude that children can't understand spiritual things. We don't fully grasp the things of the Spirit ourselves, so how can the feeble intelligence of a child apprehend the highest mysteries of our existence? But we're wrong about this. As we age, we adults become more materialistic. But children live in the light of their young life. The spirit-world doesn't seem so mysterious to them. In fact, the spiritual fairy-world of parables and stories where anything is possible is their favorite place. Fairy tales are so treasured by children because their tender spirits clash with the hard, narrow limitations of reality--time, place and substance. They can't breathe freely in the material world. Imagine what the vision of God must be like for a child who's peering wistfully through the bars of the prison of reality. They don't envision a far-off God who's cold and abstract. For them, God is a warm, breathing, spiritual Presence Who watches his comings and his goings and stays with him as he sleeps. In God's presence, he recognizes protection and tenderness in darkness and danger, and he rushes towards God in the same way that a frightened child hides his face in his mother's skirt.
A friend of mine told me a story about something that happened when she was a girl. She had extra lessons and had to stay at school until it was dark every evening in the winter. She was a fearful child, but had too much childish reserve to mention her fear of a vague 'something' to her parents. The walk home took her along a solitary path beside a river bank with trees overhead--big trees with masses of dark shadows. Within those black shadows, any vague terror might be lurking. The swsh-sh, swsh-sh of the river sounded like the rustling of someone's clothing, and that sound filled her with relentless terror night after night. She fled along that river path with a fast-beating heart. But, as quick as her running steps and beating heart, these words kept repeating over and over in her mind the whole way, evening after evening, winter after winter: 'You are my hiding place, You shall preserve me from trouble, You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.' Years later, as an adult who might have outgrown childish fears, she found herself again walking alone in the darkness of early evening one winter under different trees with the swsh-sh of another river. Her old terror returned, but with it came back the old familiar words, keeping time with her hasty steps the entire way. A safe refuge to hide in should be the way every child thinks of God.
Children's acute sensitivity to spiritual influences isn't due to their ignorance. It's not them who are mistaken, it's us. Modern biological thought tends to confirm what the Bible teaches. The ideas that quicken come from heaven. The mind of a little child is like an open field, like the 'good ground' where the sower sows his seed every morning, and the seed is God's Word. Everything we teach to children should be conveyed reverently, with the humble recognition that God has invited us to co-operate with His Holy Spirit in this area. Our teaching should also be given dutifully and diligently, sensing the responsibility that our co-operation seems to be a condition of God's divine action. Jesus, the Savior of the World, pleads with us to 'let the little children come to Me,' as if it was within our ability to hinder them. And, as a matter of fact, we know that we can hinder them.
This thought of Jesus, the Savior of the world, implies another concept that we sometimes forget when we deal with children. Young faces aren't always cheerful and lovely. Even the happiest children in the most fortunate situations can sometimes have clouded hearts. We attribute their dark little moods to not feeling well, or the weather, and that's often the case. But those are only secondary causes revealing a deep-seated discontent. Children have a sense of their own sin, to a greater or lesser degree, depending on their own sensitivity. We put too much trust in a rose-water treatment of children. We don't take them seriously enough. When we find ourselves face to face with a child, we discover that he's a very real person. But our educational theories define him as 'something in between a wax doll and an angel.' The truth is, he sins. He can be guilty of greed, lying, hatred, cruelty, or a hundred other faults that would be repulsive in an adult. We tend to excuse children and assume that they'll grow out of it and know better eventually. But they'll never know better than they do right now. Children are painfully aware of their own odiousness. How many of us, if we were truthful, would say about ourselves as children, 'I was a horrid little thing!' And that's not just because we look back on our faults through the mature eyes of adulthood. We remember that that's the way we thought of ourselves even then. Many bright, cheerful children think of themselves as hateful, and the assurance of 'peace, peace, when there is no peace' from loving parents and friends doesn't bring comfort. It's good for us to 'ask for the old paths, and find out where the good way is.' But it's no help at all if, in the name of old paths, we lead our children into blind alleys. It's no better to let them follow new paths into bewildering mazes.
Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 51-59
The tools that this great work is done with are the ideas that can be introduced into children's minds. Parents who recognize this will be very concerned about which ideas of God are the most appropriate for children, and how to best convey those ideas. Let's take a look at one current idea that's causing some stir in people's thoughts.
'We read some of the Old Testament as 'the history of the Jews,' and we read Job, Isaiah and Psalms as poetry. I'm happy to say that he likes them very much. We read some parts of the Gospels in Greek, enjoying them as the life and character of a hero. It's a huge mistake to impose the authority and divinity of these stories on children all at once. It makes them lose interest. Instead, we should work up slowly through the human side.' (from Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton, Messrs Kegan Paul and Co.)
This theory sounds good to a lot of people because it's 'so reasonable.' But it assumes that we're ruled by Reason, and that our Reason is infallible and certain. If we just leave it alone to do its work, it will bring us to fair and just conclusions. The fact is, that function of the mind that we call reasoning--we shouldn't call it The Reason--actually does bring us to inevitable conclusions. The process is definite, and the result is convincing. But whether that conclusion is right or not depends totally on the initial idea. When we want to discredit this initial idea, we call it a prejudice. When we want to exalt it, we call it an intuition, or even an inspiration. It would be a waste of time to try to illustrate this. The whole history of Error is full of logical outcomes of what we like to call misconceptions. The history of Persecution is the tale of how inevitable conclusions arrived at through reasoning are mistaken for truth. Christ's death on Calvary wasn't due to an impulsive, mad outburst of mob sentiment. It was a triumph of reasoning. It was the inevitable result of a series of logical sequences. If what's reasonable is what's right, then the Crucifixion wasn't a crime, but something to applaud. And that's why the hearts of religious Jews were so hardened and why their understanding was so darkened. They were sincerely doing what seemed right in their own eyes. It's exhilarating to observe the thoughts inside us compelling us towards an inevitable conclusion, even against our will. If the final conclusion forms itself even in spite of ourselves, how can it not be right?
Let's put ourselves in the place of a logical and conscientious Jew just for a minute: 'The name of 'Jehovah' is a name of awe, unapproachable in thought or action except in ways that God Himself has specified. To approach His name unlawfully is blasphemy. Because Jehovah is so infinitely great, any presumptuous offense is infinitely heinous. It's criminal. It's the final sin that can be committed against God Who is First. The blasphemer deserves to die for making himself equal with God, Who is unapproachable. A blasphemer is as arrogant as Beelzebub. He's doubly worthy of death. God's honored Name is entrusted to us Jews, and it's our job to get rid of the blasphemer. Therefore, the man must die.' And that's why their poisonous hatred hounded every step that Jesus took during His blameless Life. These men were following what their reasoning told them. They were sure that they knew they were doing the right thing. And that became an invincible ignorance that even the Light of the world couldn't illuminate. Therefore, He
'Who knows us as we are,
Yet loves us better than He knows,'
offered their true excuse: 'They know not what they're doing.' Once an argument is set in motion, its steps are absolutely incontestable. The fatal flaw is in the initial idea--a concept of Jehovah that made even the possibility of Christ impossible and inadmissible.
That's the way the Jews whose religion was their first priority reasoned. But patriotic Jews, who put their hopes for their nation even ahead of their religion, came to a totally different inevitable conclusion following a sequence of arguments just as incontestable: 'The Jews are God's chosen people. A Jew's first obligation is to his nation. These are critical times. A great hope is before us, but we're in the power of Rome. The Romans might crush out our national life before our hope is realized. We need to make sure that we don't do anything to make them suspicious. What about this Man, Jesus? He seems to be harmless, he might even be righteous. But he stirs up the people. They say that he's even called the King of the Jews. He must not be allowed to ruin the hope of the Jews. He needs to die. It's better for one man to die for the rest of the people so that the entire nation doesn't perish.' And, thus, the most criminal act that was ever committed on the earth was probably done without any consciousness of doing anything wrong. In fact, the psuedo-moral sense that approves of all reasonable actions was totally acquitted. The Crucifixion was the logical and necessary result of ideas that the persecuting Jews had absorbed since their infancy. That's the way it is with all persecution. It never originates because of a specific occasion, but comes from habits that were formed over an entire lifetime.
The first impulses to habits of thought that children receive come from their parents. Since the way a person thinks and acts towards God is
'The very heartbeat of what he is,'
the introduction of the kind of earliest ideas that will draw the child's soul to God is the most important and highest duty that parents have. If a man is guilty of any kind of sin of unbelief, are his parents totally blameless?
Let's look at what's commonly done with most children in this area. As soon as the child can lisp out his first words, he's taught to kneel in his mother's lap and say, 'God bless . . .' and ask God's blessings for a list of all those who are near and dear to him, and then, 'God bless me and make me a good boy for Jesus' sake. Amen.' It's touching and beautiful. One time I peeked in an open door of a cottage in a village in the moors and I saw a little child in his pajamas kneeling in his mother's lap and saying his evening prayer. That spot has remained like a kind of shrine in my mind. There's nothing more touching and tender to see. Later, when a child can say the words,
'Gentle Jesus, meek and mild'
is added to his prayer, and still later, 'Our Father.' There's nothing more appropriate and more beautiful than these morning and evening visits with God as the little ones are brought to Him by their mothers. Most of us can think back to the sanctifying influence of those early prayer experiences. But couldn't more be done? How many times in the course of a day does a mother lift her heart to God as she goes about her daily routine with her children, and they never know? One mother of a boy and girl aged four and five said, 'Today I talked with them about Rebekah at the well. They were both very interested, especially the part about Eliezer praying in his heart and the answer coming immediately. They asked, 'how did he pray?' and I said, 'I often pray in my heart when you don't know it. Sometimes I see you begin to show a naughty spirit, so I pray for you in my heart, and almost immediately, I find that the good spirit comes. Your faces show that my prayer was answered.' My daughter stroked my hand and said, 'Dear Mama, I'll try to think about that.' My son looked thoughtful, but he didn't say anything. Later, when they were in bed, I knelt down to pray for them before leaving the room. When I got up, my son said, 'Mama, God filled my heart with goodness while you prayed for us, and, Mama, I will try tomorrow.'
Might it be possible for the mother, when she's alone with her children, to sometimes pray out loud so that her children will grow up with a sense of God's presence? It would probably be difficult for some mothers to break down the reserve of their spiritual relationship with God even with their own children. But, if it could be done, wouldn't it lead to joyful, natural living in the presence of God because His presence would be recognized?
One mother remembered how much she had loved an inexpensive bottle of perfume when she was young. So she brought home three little bottles of perfume for her own three little girls. She presented them at breakfast the next morning and the girls enjoyed them during the whole meal. Before breakfast was over, the mother was called away. Little M-- was sitting with her bottle and what was left of her breakfast, lost in her thoughts. Out of the pure wellspring of heart, she murmured, to nobody in particular, 'Dear Mother, you are too good!' Imagine the joy of a mother who should overhear her little child murmur upon seeing the first primrose of the season, 'Dear God, you are too good!' Children are little mimics. If they hear their parents continually expressing their joys, concerns, thanks and wishes, then they'll also have many things to say themselves.
Another point related to this--little German children hear and speak of der liebe Gott [the dear God] many times during the day. They address God with the familiar form of 'du,' but 'du' is part of their everyday speech. All those who are dear to them in their intimate circle are addressed with 'du.' It's the same with French children. Their thoughts and words are of le bon Dieu [the good God]. They also address God with the familiar form of 'tu,' but that's how they always speak to those who are most near and dear to them.
But that's not the case for little English children. They're alienated with an archaic form of address that sounds reverent to us older people, but must seem forbidding to a little child. Imagine what a benefit it would be if the Lord's Prayer could be translated into reverent but modern language! [perhaps Charlotte Mason would have approved of the Lord's Prayer, Matt 6:9-13, in the New Century Version?] To those of us who have learned to analyze it, the KJV is dear, almost sacred. But we should never forget that, after all, it's only a translation, and is probably the most archaic bit of English still in use. The phrase 'which art' [or 'who art' to Catholics] sounds like 'chart,' which is meaningless to a child. 'Hallowed' sounds like a foreign language to him; even to us it sounds odd. 'Trespasses' is mostly a legal term that he never hears in his regular daily speech. And no amount of explaining can make 'Thy' have the same kind of meaning as 'your.' Making a child express his prayers in a strange language puts a barrier between him and his 'Almighty Lover.' Can't we try to teach our children to say, 'Dear God'? Surely no one knows better than a parent that an austere, reverent style of speech can never be as sweet in God's ears as the appeal to 'dear God' that flows naturally from a child who's 'used to God' when he wants to include his heavenly Father in his joy and plead for help in trouble. If children are allowed to grow up in the awareness of the constant, immediate, joy-giving, joy-taking Presence in the midst of them, then there won't be any need to worry about attempts to draw the child away from God. The threat of infidelity is foolishness to anyone who knows God in the same way he knows father, mother, wife or child--or even better.
Children should also grow up with the shout of a King in their midst. Within our faulty human nature are fountains of loyalty, worship, passionate devotion, and cheerful service that unfortunately need to be unsealed from within the dirt-filled hearts of us adults, but only need a reason to flow from a child's heart. There's nothing more secure and more gratifying than being under orders--than being possessed, controlled and continually in the service of One Who is a joy to obey.
In our modern society, we've lost sight of the fact that a king or leader implies warfare with an enemy, and victory--or possible defeat and disgrace. It's never too soon for children to learn this concept of life.
'I've thought it over carefully and I've decided that the best I can do is to give you my perspective of what an average boy carried away from our Rugby School fifty years ago that was the most beneficial, the most valuable, later in life . . . I haven't been sure what to put first and I'm not sure my team mates who are still living would agree with me. But, speaking for myself, I think that the thing that most distinguished us was the sense that in school and on the field, we were training for a big fight that would last all our lives. In fact, we were already involved in it. This fight would test all of our powers to the utmost--all of our physical, intellectual, and moral powers. I don't need to say that this fight was the age-old battle of good against evil, light and truth against darkness and sin, Christ against the devil.'
That's what the author of Tom Brown's School Days [Thomas Hughes] said when he addressed Rugby School on a recent Quinquagesima Sunday. He's right--education is only really education when it teaches this lesson, and this is a lesson that should be learned at home before the child begins any other life lessons. It's an insult to children to say that they're too young to understand this, which is the reason we're sent into the world.
A five year old little boy, the great-grandson of Dr. Arnold, was sitting at the piano with his mother choosing his Sunday hymn. He picked 'Thy Will Be Done,' and, more specifically, his favorite verse which begins 'Renew my will from day to day.' His mother was puzzled at his choice of this song and verse until she got a further glimpse into his child-thoughts when he explained by saying wistfully, 'It's so hard to do God's work!' He still didn't understand the difference between doing and bearing, but the battle and struggle and strain of life had already made an impression on the spirit of this 'careless, happy child,' as we so often think of children. The fact that an evil spiritual personality can get at their thoughts and tempt them to be naughty is something they learn all too soon, and understand perhaps even better than we do. Sometimes they're grouchy, naughty, separate, sinful. They need to be healed as much as the most hardened sinner, and they're much more aware of it because their soul is like an infant's tender skin and chafes with any spiritual soreness. 'It's so good of God to forgive me so often. I've been naughty so many times today,' said one sad little six-year-old sinner, and not because someone had been after her pointing out her naughtiness. Even 'Pet Marjorie's' [Marjorie Fleming] cheerfulness didn't shield her from this sad sense of falling short:
'Yesterday I was so bad in God's holy church. I wouldn't pay attention, and I wouldn't let Isabella pay attention. . . and it was the same Devil tempting me that tempted Job, I'm sure. But he resisted Satan even though he had boils and all kinds of other misfortunes that I've escaped.' And she wrote this at six!
We can't help smiling at these little 'crimes,' but we shouldn't smile too much and let children be depressed about their naughtiness. Instead, they should live in the instant healing forgiveness, and in the dear Name of the Savior of the World.
Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 92-106
In education, 'English history has been reduced to nothing more than a card game. The problems of mathematics have been reduced to nothing more than puzzles and riddles. We're just one step away from teaching the Apostolic Creed and the Ten Commandments in the same way. There won't be any more need for the serious face, deliberate tone of reciting, and devout attention that used to be required of our children.' --Waverly
Parents turning their children's religious education over to Sunday Schools is as inexcusable as sending them out to eat at public soup kitchens. Those of us in England aren't guilty of this particular item. Here, our Sunday Schools are only used by parents who are so over-worked and uneducated that they're willing to let more educated classes of people teach their children religion. In other words, Sunday School is a necessary evil of our day in response to parents who are too over-committed and burdened to take care of their first priority. And this should be the purpose of Sunday Schools: those parents who can should teach their children at home on Sundays, and substitutes should step in on behalf of those children whose parents can't teach them.
With this purpose in view, Rev. E. Jackson, originally from Sydney, has gone to work in Antipodes. It never seems to occur to him that children from the upper and middle classes shouldn't have definite and regular instruction in religion from their earliest days. He simply says that they should be taught at home by their parents, not at Sunday School. The main objective of his church-related Parents' Union is to assist parents in teaching their own children. Here are some of the rules:
1. The Union's purpose is to unite, strengthen and help parents train their own children.
2. By joining, members commit to supervising the education of their children, and to encouraging other parents to take responsibility for the training of their own children.
3. Lesson outlines will be provided every month to each family in the Parents' Union.
4. Members must bring their children to the monthly religious class and sit with them.
The lesson outlines are probably just to make sure that lessons are taking place at home on Sundays, like they had previously been done at Sunday School with teachers.
It seems to be assumed that if parents from every social class will take on their appropriate duties of teaching religion, Sunday School can be dropped. Instead of teaching Sunday School classes, church workers can make sure that the specific work is being done at home every month by leading question/answer catechism classes.
This plan seems promising. Nothing strengthens family bonds more than children learning about religion from their own parents, and growing up in a church that watches over your progress from infancy until beyond confirmation, and into adulthood, will provide the right atmosphere for the church community.
It's true that there are individual churches and even entire denominations that take hold of children from infancy to adulthood, using pastors, teachers and class leaders to teach them. Some parents appreciate having their children learn the most serious part of their religious teaching at the hands of outsiders. What seems worth imitating in this Australian movement is that the parents themselves are recognized as suitable to teach their children the best things, and they're encouraged to acknowledge some responsibility to the Church as to what they teach.
Are we so good at these things that we can't learn some tips from those around us? Some of us may still remember that in May, 1889, a Committee of Laymen in Canterbury was appointed to analyze the religious education of the upper and middle classes. [See 'Report of the Committee of the House of Laymen for the Province of Canterbury on the Duty of the church with regard to the Religious Education of the Upper and Middle Classes.'--Nat. Soc. Depository, Westminster.] The Committee thought that they might get a good perspective by looking at how much religious knowledge boys had when they first started school. They sent a questionnaire to 62 head teachers, and most of them responded. From their replies, the Committee concluded that, 'for the most part, the education that boys get before school is below what we expected, and even the current low standard is declining. The main cause for this deterioration is a lack of religious teaching at home.'
This is a serious matter for all of us. Although the investigation was done by Churchmen, it naturally examined boys of various denominations in secular boarding schools and public schools. Religious schools were examined with a separate inquiry. There were undoubtedly some beautiful exceptions from children brought up in quiet homes in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But if it's true, as many of us fear, that middle and upper class parents tend to let their children's religious education take care of itself, then it's worth our while to ask Why? and What's the remedy? Many reasons have been suggested: social commitments, the restless nature of our children, their lack of patience for religious teaching, and many other reasons. But these reasons aren't the whole story. Generally, parents are very eager to fulfill their parenting responsibilities. There's probably never been a generation more sincere and conscientious than today's young parents. Yet, these thoughtful parents are neglecting to teach their children the one thing that should come before everything else.
The fact is, our religious life has already suffered, and sooner or later, the character of our country will suffer, because hostile critics are trying to discredit the Bible. We correctly regard the Bible as the entirety of our sacred texts. The only thing we have to teach is what's in the Bible. But we don't go to the Bible with the same confidence anymore. Our religion is fading into an emotional sentiment that's not easy to pass on to the next generation. So we wait until our children are old enough to feel those sentiments for themselves. In the meantime, we give them enough aesthetic culture to develop a need in their soul that will lead them to worship. The whole foundation of liberal religious thought is miserably shaky. No wonder so many of us hesitate to expose it to the challenge of a definite, searching young mind. We're comfortable in the flimsy house of faith we've built. It vaguely resembles the strong old home that our souls used to live in, and we cling to it with a fond attachment that the younger generation might not understand.
So then, if our house of faith is flimsy, are we homeless? In one area we are. We're exposed and unsheltered in the area of the assumption that a brilliant novelist has stated very blatantly: 'Miracles don't happen.' The educated mind is more essentially logical than we think. If you remove the cornerstone of miracles, the whole arch of Christianity crumbles around our heads. The showy respect for the Person of Jesus, when separated from the miracles that have been deemed as mythical, turns out to be nothing more than a false sentiment for a concept made up in our own minds. Once miracles are eliminated, the whole fabric of Christianity unravels. Not only that, but what do we do with the old revelation of God as 'the Lord, a God full of compassion and gracious'? Do we say, No, we'll keep this; it's no miracle? Do we keep Christ's excellent Sermon on the Mount and allow it to claim our allegiance for Christ? No, we don't. Within that one Sermon, we learn to pray, to consider the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, and to remember that the very hairs of our head are numbered. This embodies the doctrine of personal dealing, God's specific providence, which is the very essence of miracles. If 'miracles don't happen,' then it's foolish and presumptuous to pray and expect some faint disturbance of the course of events that are fixed in place by natural law. An educated mind is severely logical, although a deliberate effort can prevent us from following our conclusions to the bitter end. Without miracles, what's left? A God who can't possibly have personal dealings with you or me. After all, such dealings would be a miracle. What's left is a world of events so determined and certain that prayer becomes blasphemous. How can we dare approach the Highest with requests that would be impossible for Him to grant, if the nature of the world is so fixed?
In a world without miracles, prayer is useless, and trust is meaningless. But maybe we still have a use for God. We can still admire, adore and worship in uttermost humility. But how? And what are we going to adore? We can only know God through His attributes. He is a God of love and a God of justice; full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. But these attributes are only manifested and recognized by action, when God acts towards us. How can God be gracious and merciful unless He's bestowing grace and mercy on someone who needs it? If you admit that grace and mercy are capable of modifying even the slightest circumstance in a person's life, spiritual or physical, then you've just admitted the existence of miracles. You've just admitted that it's possible for God to act in ways outside the limits of the inevitable laws that we recognize. If you refuse to allow for miracles, then you remove the possibility that the Good Shepherd can be present in our midst, and we're left alone, like orphans in a world that's falling apart.
That's where the question of 'miracles' leads. We fail to recognize how serious the issue really is. Yet we're fond of toying with the question casually, with a smile and a shrug of our shoulders as if it was no big deal, even sneering at the tale of the swine who ran violently off a cliff because we know how dim-witted animals are--we can see with our own eyes how different they are from us. But if we admit that miracles might be possible, that a Personal God might be capable of acting voluntarily, how can we put limits on what can or can't happen?
How long will we waver between two opinions, between law and testimony? Let's be bold enough to entertain David Hume's proposal, even if we consider it with some reserve. What if it's true that 'no testimony is enough to prove a miracle, unless it's more amazing that the testimony might be false than that the miracle happened that it's claiming to prove.' Which is easier--to accept that Jesus rose from death on the third day and went back to heaven, or to accept the even more incredible theory that God doesn't exist, or that He isn't the personal God who reveals His loving Personality to us? It's one or the other, we can't have it both ways. Natural law, as we know it, has nothing to do with these issues. I don't mean that God disregards His own laws. I mean that our understanding of God's natural laws is so finite and limited and shallow that we can't possibly be capable of distinguishing whether an event that's different from what we normally experience is an unusual exception, or a common occurrence of a law we know nothing about. (Carlyle wrote, 'How well do we really understand the laws of nature? How do we know that rising from the dead isn't a violation of the laws of nature, but a confirmation of an even deeper law, and the power of its spiritual reality has forced its influence on the material world?')
We shouldn't brush aside the real discoveries we've gained from Biblical criticism, even when they appear to cast doubt on Scripture. It can be an added benefit to our spiritual life to recognize that a miracle is confirmed, not only by the Biblical record, but by the way it fits with God's character. To put this divine truth in terms of the physical world, we might say of a friend, 'He would never do such a thing!' or, 'Isn't that just like him!' When we test miracles against God's character in this way, we see how unpretentious, simple, humble and practical Jesus' miracles are. It's incredibly divine for Him--
'To have all power, and yet be as though He had none!'
A mind that's filled with the the raesonableness of the Gospel story in the New Testament and which has absorbed the more confusing, broken rays of light that the Old Testament sheds on the Light of the World, will be less tempted to entertain 'honest doubts.' Such doubting is actually disloyal to the most intimate and sacred of all relationships, even though it must be admitted that noble minds are more likely to be plagued with such doubt. If we believe that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, and that people are established in the Christian faith depending on how they were taught in childhood, then our question is, how can we make sure that children are well-grounded in Scripture by their parents, and how can we make sure that they pursue the study of religion with diligence, reverence, and joy?
Correctly understood, education is the science of living. Every attempt to develop a system for this science should be anticipated with interest, and appreciated with gratitude, depending on how successful it is. Thinking minds everywhere are busy contributing their share to this great project in one aspect or another, whether it's physical, social or religious. It's easy to see the importance of every attempt to solve scientific or social problems, or problems of faith because each gain helps us to understand the 'laws of nature' and 'ways of men.' Love for these and a dutiful attitude towards them, or a desire for them, is the only practical result of education, according to Mr. Huxley. Let's consider three great books in this regard: The Moral Instruction of Children by Felix Adler, Education from a National Standpoint by Alfred Fouillée, and Faith: Eleven Sermons with a Preface by Rev. H.C. Beeching. One of the books deals with the problems of 'secular' morality from an American perspective. One book deals with the whole issue of national education from a scientific French perspective. And the third book doesn't claim to be an educational book. It deals with the 'ways of men,' but only as they relate to God's will and ways. In other words, it deals with the deep wellsprings that the questions of life come from. True educationalists start from within and work out, so they'll probably be greatly helped by an author whose worldview rests on faith.
In The Moral Instruction of Children, Felix Adler takes on the challenge of nondenominational moral education. He has some unusual qualities that make him qualified for this: a broad perspective, training in philosophy, and a wide love of literature and knowledge of books that's essential for anyone teaching morals. All educated parents should own a copy of his book--not to be swallowed whole as a 'complete guide,' but to study with careful attention, sifting out what's worth implementing, and rejecting what doesn't fit the parent's educational method of choice. Adler has a few handicaps. He writes for American public schools, so anything he suggests for moral training has to be nonsectarian. In his attempt to avoid any denominational leaning, he excludes any religious influence whatsoever. It's as if the child had no standard or foundation beyond whatever is in his own heart. For example, Adler writes, 'In teaching morals at school, the teacher's job is to deliver the subject matter, but not to deal with the authority behind it. He tells the student, 'Don't lie,' and assumes that the student feels the force of the rule and recognizes that he should yield to it. As far as I'm concerned, any child who challenges me with, 'Why shouldn't I lie?' is probably being argumentative and has suspicious motives. To this kind of child, I would hold up the concept of ought in all of its intimidating majesty. The child has no right to debate these kinds of issues until he's reached a certain level of maturity.'
Where does the concept of ought get its intimidating sense of majesty? It's not true that humans have some inborn sense of ought. In fact, the notion that they do is responsible for a lot of evil. It's a common belief today that it's okay to do whatever a person thinks is right. People say that all a person can do is what he believes is right within his own heart. But even the slightest familiarity with history shows that every persecution, and most outrages, from the Spanish Inquisition to the Thugee cult [they believed their religion required them to befriend strangers in order to rob and kill them; the word 'thug' originated with them] have resulted from the kind of ought that comes from within, from a person or individual's own voice. Trying to deal with morals without regarding the authority of morality is working backwards, like walking around the perimeter and never reaching the center, instead of starting from the center and working out.
'All I ever hear about is Moses, Moses and more Moses!' says one German teacher from the modern way of thinking. She writes with passionate criticism against the traditional school system where 10-12 hours per week, or even 15-16 hours in some German States, are spent learning Bible. Both England and America are rebelling against using the Bible as a school textbook. Educationalists say that there's so much else to learn, and studying sacred literature for so long is a tragic waste of time that could be used for other things. Meanwhile, even some religious people say that it's not good to use the Bible as if it were a common textbook.
It's surprising that so few educationalists realize that the Bible isn't one single book. It's a collection of classic literature with lots of beauty and fascination. Even apart from its Divine authority and religious lessons, apart from everything we understand as 'revelation,' the Bible is as educationally useful as the classics of ancient Greece and Rome. It has poetry with rhythm that can soothe even a disillusioned mind so that it can't enjoy any other kind of poetry. It has general, straightforward history and includes instances of God dealing slowly and surely with nations completely fairly, and illustrations of national sins and national repentance. Students recognize the brotherhood of man and solidarity of the race from Biblical history in a way they don't from any other history. And they recognize what we might call the individual character of nations. Of all the philosophies that have been presented, the philosophy in the Bible is the only one that's adequate for interpreting the meaning of life. We haven't even mentioned the Bible's main purpose: teaching religion and revealing God to man. I'll make one more point. All the combined literature of the world totally fails to give us a system of ethics, using precepts, examples, motives and authority, as complete as the Bible, which is our common inheritance.
For about 1700 years, the Bible has been the school textbook of modern Europe. Its teaching, whether conveyed directly or indirectly, has been the foundation for religious, ethical, and even, to some extent, literary superstructure. But now, using the Bible as a school book is considered taboo. Educationalists are expected to produce some kind of a text to replace it--something to take its place as the origin of ideas and tool for forming character. This is the mission that Felix Adler is trying to accomplish. The fact that he's even a little bit successful is obviously due to the influence of the Bible and its sacred law on his own mind. But he doesn't feel at liberty to share that resource with his students. Yet his bias makes his work helpful and worth considerating for parents who want to make the Bible the foundation and authority for their moral teaching and supplement it with other resources.
I'd like to make the following recommendation to parents.
'Parents and teachers should try to answer questions like these: When are the first stirrings of a moral sense evident in the child? What are their signs? What emotional and intellectual abilities does the child have at different ages, and how does this relate to his morality? When does conscience come into play? What actions or omissions does the child label as right or wrong? If research were done to carefully observe and record these things, educational science would have a lot of data from which to draw valuable generalizations. Mothers especially should keep a diary to record progressive phases in their children's physical, mental and moral growth, paying special attention to the moral aspect. Then they'd be able to anticipate their children's character, and encourage every seed of good, while being able to promptly suppress or restrain the bad.'
Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 108-116
Here's where we start to disagree with Adler. We shouldn't present Bible stories as if they had equal moral authority with ancient Greek mythology, and we shouldn't wait to introduce children to them only after they've gone through moral lessons from fairy tales and fables. Children should never be able to remember back to a time before sweet Biblical stories filled their imaginations. They should grow up hearing 'the voice of God in the garden in the cool of the evening,' and being awed at the vision of angels going up and down to heaven while Jacob's head rested on a stone pillow. They should have felt like they were with Jesus picking grain on the Sabbath, and sat amongst the hungry crowds. These visions should be so far back in their memories that these and other sacred scenes form an unconscious backdrop for their thoughts. To a child, anything seems possible. Their faith can embrace anything, and they don't have the kind of difficulties that adults do with Divine interventions in our world, difficult issues, and poetic passages. I don't in any way mean that every Bible story is suitable for every child because it's Scripture. On the other hand, we shouldn't over-scrutinize or draw arbitrary lines between historical fact and the kind of spiritual truth hidden in parables.
Children aren't analytical Bible scholars. They're more concerned with moral teaching, spiritual revelations, and the Bible's beautiful imagery. They can't have too much of those things. As Felix Adler says, 'Biblical text is full of moral spirit. The moral issues are clearly seen everywhere in the Bible. Duty, guilt, the punishment of guilt, the struggle between conscience and inclination, are leading themes throughout Scripture. The Hebrew people seem to have been gifted with what we might call a moral genius, and what they emphasized the most were obedience and paternal duty--the very things that we need to impress on young children.'
How does Adler suggest using Biblical text? We only have space to quote a sentence or two as an example: 'Once upon a time, there were two children. Their names were Adam and Eve. Adam was a fine, noble-looking boy.' 'The weather was so warm that the children never needed to go in the house.' 'And the snake kept whispering, Go on, just take a bite; it's okay, nobody can see you.' 'Adam, you must learn to work, and Eve, you must learn to be patient and deny yourself in order to serve others,' etc.
I'll let you decide whether rewording improves the text, and whether this is the kind of thing that will grip a child's imagination.
John Ruskin says that his unique writing style is totally due to his early familiarity with the classic stories of the Bible. It's a mistake to translate Bible stories into careless English, even if the text keeps the facts close to the original. The rhythm and cadence of the original phrasing is as charming to children as it is to adults--maybe even more so. Read the Bible story to the child bit by bit. Then have him tell you what was read in his own words, but keeping as close as he can to the words used in the text. If you want, you can talk about it after that, but not much. Most importantly, don't try to imitate a 'practical commentary on every verse in Genesis,' like the title of a recently published book. There are two points I'd like to emphasize.
Is it a good idea to tell children Bible stories of miracles in this day, when the existence of miracles is so passionately debated? First of all, the only real argument that the most advanced scientists have against miracles is that they haven't personally witnessed such phenomena. But they're the first to admit that nothing is impossible, and no experience is final. Secondly, when it comes to moral and spiritual teaching, it really doesn't matter whether the details in the story are historical fact, or whether it's more like one of the parables that Jesus taught with. It's the essential truth that matters to the child, not the historical truth of the story. When it comes to historical truth, children are bold critics. They're ahead of even the latest scientific research that thinks it knows, 'This might have happened, but that can't possibly have happened the way the Bible says.'
The second thing we need to consider about Bible teaching is, Should the Bible be provided complete and undivided, or should we be selective about giving children only the parts they can handle? There are some accounts in the Bible that we would never allow our children to read if they were in another book. It's a good idea to seriously question whether we're justified in thinking that our children will be protected from evil suggestions that we deliberately put in front of them when we put the entire Bible in their hands. Is there some Divine Law that requires that the whole Bible be given to a young, curious child as soon as he learns how to read? The Bible is really a collection of legal, literary, historical, poetical, philosophical, ethical, and analytic writings of one nation. We shouldn't let a superstitious reverence for the outward form of the Bible prevent us from dividing it up into its 66 separate books in the same way that all other literature is divided. And, at least for children, passages that aren't appropriate should be 'expunged.' Perhaps even the driest parts, like long genealogies, could be left out. What a joy it would be if, every birthday, a child received a new book of the Bible, beautifully bound and illustrated, and printed in a clear, easy-to-read type on good paper. Each year the child could have a more difficult book to correspond with progressive maturity. Imagine a Christian child collecting his own private library of sacred books with great joy and excitement, and eagerly committing to spend the coming year studying it diligently. The next best thing might be to read the Old Testament aloud little by little, as beautifully as possible, and then require the child to tell back the story, using words as close to the original text as possible.
Getting back to Felix Adler, here's a good suggestion from him: 'Children should learn to observe moral pictures before they try to deduce moral principles. But they should be given simple rules when they're still very young. They need these rules to guide them. In the rules from Moses, there are quite a few that are appropriate for children. A collection of these could be listed to use in schools, such as Don't lie, do not deceive each other, don't take bribes, don't gossip about your friends,' and he goes on to list a total of sixteen rules as an example.
Later in his book, he writes, 'The story of David's life is full of dramatic interest. It can be arranged as a series of pictures. The first picture would be David and Goliath, showing skill battling against brute strength, or a bully getting his well-deserved punishment.' Imagine how empty, commonplace, self-satisfying and smug a person would be who learned morals on this kind of level!
Felix Adler talks about Homer's stories with more grace and fondness and less ruthless offense than he does about stories in the Bible. It's another area where we see the weakness of 'secular morality.' The 'Odyssey' and the 'Iliad' are nothing less than religious poems. Their whole motive is religious. Every incident in them is directed by supernatural beings. It loses its heroic inspiration if we forget that the characters do things and suffer with extreme courage and endurance only because they resolved their will to perform and endure whatever the gods willed for them. Their resolve to submit to whatever they could discern of the will of the gods, even faintly, is what makes Homer's characters so inspiring. This is one of the weaknesses of 'secular' ethics, along with teaching morals that are derived from the Bible.
The third section of Adler's book is about Lessons on Duty. This section has more excellent advice and wonderful examples. 'The teacher should always take it for granted that morals aren't to be questioned. For example, he should never lead his students to believe that they're going to analyze whether hitting is right or wrong. He should work from the assumption that lying is commanded against, and start by acknowledging that we have an obligation to obey that command.' We agree with this wholeheartedly, and we especially like his use of the word 'command.' It concedes the whole issue--that the concept of duty is relative, and depends on a supreme and intimate Authority which embraces the thoughts of the heart and the issues of the life.
The charming story of Hillel that illustrates the duty to learn is very interesting to psychologists because it shows that humans are born with a natural desire for knowledge. But the motives often listed as reasons to learn are poor and inadequate. Succeeding in life, gaining esteem, self-fulfillment, and maybe even helping others, aren't motives that will compel the soul. If a child is encouraged to learn because learning is the duty that God gave him for this time of his life and this situation that God has put him in, then he'll have the strongest motive of all. He's doing what is required of him by the Highest Authority.
There's one weak tone that runs through the whole way Adler treats this subject. According to him, a drowning man is supposed to advise himself to 'be brave, because human beings are better than the forces of nature, because Nature has no power over the moral power within you, because what happens to you in your private character is not important; but it is important that you assert dignity of humanity to your dying breath.' This may sound good, but an even better attitude is a person who struggles bravely to save the life that God gave him.
Adler's chapter about the influence of moral training is worth considering. The last sentence says, 'It's heartening and encouraging to know that the technical labor that is responsible for our increase in material goods, can also be a way of increasing the honor of our youth, sharpening their intellect, and strengthening their character, when it's included in their education.'
I've spent so much time going over Mr. Adler's book because it's one of the most serious and effective attempts I know of for teaching progressively graduated ethics lessons that are suitable for children of all ages. Although I don't agree with him on the important issue of moral authority, I recommend that parents look over his book. Christian parents will fill in the missing gap by presenting the concept that Law is connected to a Law-Giver. They'll supplement Adler's many valuable suggestions with their own strong conviction that our sense of 'ought' is from the Lord.
But even Christian children can suffer from careless moral teaching. When good people fail, it saddens and surprises moralists as well as Christian souls who try hard but often fail. It's a fact that temptation and sin can't be separated from our present condition, but how can earnest, sincere Christians habitually be prejudiced, dishonest, unfair to the character and opinions of others, unkind in their rebuke, and even spiteful in their criticism? That might not be totally the failure of human nature, but the fault of defective education.
The concept of ethics in these vulnerable areas has never been fairly and fully presented to the mind. An adult who is incapable of honestly giving consideration to other people's opinions probably never learned the duty of impartiality as a child. It's almost certain that careful, systematic teaching of ethics with lots of examples and, not least of all, inspiration by the thought that this is God's will, would help to elevate the character of the entire nation if this kind of teaching was provided to all children. That's why we're so grateful for a contribution in practical ethics for children at home and school like Mr. Adler's book about the moral education of children.
Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 154-155
The miracles that are recorded in the Bible are like pegs on which to hang further discussion. The most essential miracle is the immediate and utterly complete renovation of a human being. The salvation of the whole world hangs on this one possibility. Yet this one possibility is the one thing that many people can't accept. It isn't that they're stubborn and corrupt--but it goes against every natural law that they know. Yes, there are proofs and individual cases. In fact, the whole history of the Christian church is evidence. But church history is inconsistent and marred with cases of corruption. As far as individual cases, we accept the details we hear--but nobody knows the whole story. Some previous undisclosed arrangement or a private motive might alter the facts of the case.
This is pretty much the position of the honest skeptic. If he could, he would believe wholeheartedly in Booth's plan, and, in fact, the possibility that the whole human race might be converted. Improving physical conditions for people, even millions of people, is a mere matter of a big enough plan and wise administration. That's not difficult to conceive. But it seems impossible to change human nature itself, and transform man's depraved nature. It seems unlikely that a leopard might change his spots.
Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 160-161
And now, finally, the miracle of conversion is made clear to our dull mind. We suddenly realize that conversion, no matter how suddenly it happens, isn't really a miracle if we define miracles as being outside of natural laws. On the contrary, we discover that every person carries within his physical self the gospel of perpetual (or perpetually possible) renovation. We realize that, from the beginning, Nature was already prepared with a ready response to Grace's demand. We ask, Is conversion possible? and the answer is, that we have the provision for it waiting within our physical body, and all it needs is to be called forth by the spark of a powerful idea. It's true that God's Commandment is exceedingly broad [Ps. 119:96]. In fact, it grows broader every day as Science discovers and reveals more.
Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 241-242
It could be that every failure of conduct, whether it's the actions of individuals or of countries, is the result of confusion between what the reason finds logical, and what external law says is morally right.
Does the Bible recognize a distinction between the two?
Yes, very clearly. In the Bible, the transgressors are always those people who do what seems right in their own eyes--in other words, what their reason justifies. But in our day, we feel that it's perfectly acceptable for people do what seems right in their own eyes, although now we call it 'acting according to the knowledge they have' or 'obeying the dictates of their own reason.'
A while ago, a mother whose cruelty caused the death of her child was let off in court because she had acted 'from a mistaken sense of duty.'
But don't you think it's possible for someone to do something wrong out of a mistaken sense of duty?
Yes, it's not only possible, it's inevitable when a person makes his own reason his lawgiver and judge. Consider the most unparalleled crime that was ever committed in the history of the world--the crucifixion. It was clear that the people responsible for the death of Jesus were acting under a misguided sense of duty. The patriotic leaders of the Jewish nation said, most reasonably, 'It's more practical for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to perish.' They relentlessly hunted down the Man whose influence over the common people and rumored claims to kingship were seen as a threat to the Jewish people, until He was killed. And Jesus, Who is Truth, said, 'They don't know what they're doing.'
Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 25-247
Do you mean that the ideas that sustain our spiritual lives are derived from human beings, either directly or indirectly?
No, and this is the great fact that educators need to recognize. God Himself, the Holy Spirit, is the supreme Teacher of people.
He opens people's ears every morning so they can hear as much of the best truth as they're able to receive.
Are the ideas that come from the Holy Spirit limited to religious life?
No. When Coleridge wrote about Columbus and the discovery of America, he credited the origin of all great ideas and inventions to the fact that 'certain secular ideas are presented to minds that have been prepared to receive them by a power that's even higher than Nature herself.'
Is there any teaching in the Bible to support this view?
Yes, there's quite a bit of teaching in the Bible. Isaiah, for example, says that the plowman knows how to do the various aspects of farming because 'his God instructs and teaches him.'
Are spiritually-originated ideas all good?
Unfortunately, no. Sadly, mankind has experienced evil ideas that were also communicated spiritually.
What is man's responsibility?
To choose the good ideas, and to reject the evil ones.
Does this concept that ideas are the spiritual food that sustain physical life shed any light on Christian doctrines?
Yes. It means that the Bread of Life, the Water of Life, the Word by which we live, the 'food to eat that you know nothing about,' and much more, are more than figurative expressions, but we have to use the same words to describe man's physical and spiritual sustenance. We understand that ideas that emanate from Jesus and are of His essence, are the spiritual food and drink of His people who believe Him. It's no longer difficult or confusing to understand that we need to sustain our spiritual selves upon Him in the same way that our bodies live on bread.
Does this understanding of ideas have any practical consequence for the teacher?
Yes, now the teacher knows that his job is to put the daily nourishment of ideas in front of the child. He can provide the correct initial idea in every subject, and the ideas that respect the relationships and duties of life. Most importantly, he recognizes that he has divine co-operation as he directs, teaches and trains the child.
Volume 2, Parents and Children, pg 285
By its very nature, Christianity is objective. It offers a Divine Person Who is the Desire of the World for us to worship, reverence, serve, adore and delight in. Simplicity, happiness and a broadened heart result from a heart being outpoured onto something that is completely worthy. But we mistake what we really need, we're preoccupied with our own falls and our own repentance, and our many states of consciousness. We seem to think that our religion is more subjective than objective. But it's the opposite. Our religion is objective first, and if we still have any time or care to think about ourselves, it's partly subjective after that.
Volume 3, School Education, pg 83-86
Every life is shaped by the ideal it sets for itself. We hear discussion about lost ideals, but maybe they're not really lost, just changed. When the ideal we focus on for ourselves and our children becomes prosperity and comfort, we may get it, but that's all we get, and nothing more.
Current psychology has had an odd effect on our sense of duty. If humans are nothing but 'states of consciousness,' then they can hardly be expected to live up to moral responsibilities, except the ones that sound appealing at the moment. Duty that's imposed from a higher authority or due to our fellow man out of brotherly love, has no place in current psychology. It would be interesting to see how many ten year olds could recite the Ten Commandments, and if they knew what the 'duty to God and my neighbor' means. Or, if they're not members of the Church of England, if they knew how their own denomination interprets the duty of man. Children used to get a pretty thorough Biblically-based ethics education using the Ten Commandments as a foundation. They knew St. Paul's commands to 'love your brother,' 'Fear God,' 'Honor the king,' 'Honor all men.' 'Seek to live a quiet life.' They understood that having thoughts of hatred and contempt were related to murder. They knew what King Solomon said about virtuous women, sluggards and fools. They didn't just know the precepts. They could show examples of spiritual laws from both Biblical and secular history. We English may not have the treasure of moral teaching carved in wood and stone, like some countries are proud of. But, up until this generation, our moral teaching has still been systematic and thorough enough.
Look at common experience to see if this is true. We reject all stories with morals for our children (and usually for good reason). We want their books to be entertaining, and that's about all we ask. We prefer that they be literary and maybe somewhat educational. But we don't look for a moral stimulus 'fitly given.' It's not that we totally neglect teaching ethics, but our teaching is hit or miss. If we happen to stumble onto a story that's heroic or displays self-denial, we're happy to point that out to our children. But they rarely learn that there's a specific ethical system that rests on the foundation of the universal brotherhood of mankind. We're impressed if a child can merely parrot the words, 'My duty towards my neighbor is to love him as myself, and to do unto him what I'd want him to do unto me.' A lot of wonderful things are written these days about the brotherhood of man and the solidarity of the race, but nothing that gets to the heart of the matter like the simple Biblical command.
If we accept that the priority of education should be establishing relationships, then the relationships between our fellow human beings should be the most important ones to establish. Any relationships that aren't founded on the duty to our neighbor--such as relationships founded on common likes in art or literature--are likely to degenerate into sentimental attachments. And, oddly enough, the ability to think independently seems to vanish when moral insight disappears. You might wonder, 'how are we supposed to get a systematic plan to teach our children ethics?' I really don't know how to do it if we choose to forego the Ten Commandments and old-fashioned expositional teaching illustrated with examples. There are thousands of supplementary ways to teach ethics, but they need to rest on a solid foundation of awareness of the duty God placed on us and our responsibility to others, whether we accept it or not. Without that foundation, supplementary teaching will probably be casual and not very binding. The moral responsibility of one person to another is the foundation of all other relationships. We have an obligation to past generations to make use of what they discovered, and to advance mankind from where they left off. We owe it to those who will come after us to prepare the next generation to be better than we are. And we owe it to the present generation to live full lives, to enlarge our hearts and broaden our souls. We all need to come out of ourselves and reach out to all the relationships we're meant to have.
We're responsible for bringing knowledge to the ignorant, comfort to people who are distressed, healing to those who are sick, and reverence, courtesy and kindness to everyone, especially the people who we're connected with because they're in our family or neighborhood. This sense of duty doesn't come naturally. All of us know shallow young men and women who don't care about any of these things. But do we wonder why that's the case? And do we ask ourselves how many children today are growing up in decent homes, yet just as untrained about their moral obligations concerning relationships as those shallow youths that we revile and blame? Yet maybe they don't deserve all the blame, because they were neglected children in their upbringing.
Volume 3, School Education, pg 89-90
I've tried to show that human beings don't come into the world to develop their faculties or to acquire knowledge or even to earn a living. They're here to establish relationships, and these relationships provide immeasurable broadening of the human experience and fullness of life. We've already discussed two kinds of these relationships--the physical universe, and mankind. To complete his education, one more relationship needs to be considered--the relationship with Almighty God. How many children today learn as toddlers from their mother to say in all the fullness of its meaning, every day and every hour, 'My duty towards God is to believe in Him, to fear Him, and to love Him with all my heart, all my mind, all my soul and all my strength; to worship Him, to thank Him, to fully trust Him, to call upon Him, to honor His holy name and His word, and to serve Him all the days of my life'? The exact wording that children learn about their duty to God isn't what's important. But most of us will agree that the wording I quoted doesn't ask any more of us than yielding to our duty. Unfortunately, many children never even learn this minimum requirement. The concept of duty isn't woven into the very fiber of their beings as it should be, and their duty to God, which ought to be the very foundation of their lives, is the most neglected of all. Children are growing up with religious sentiments and religious feelings, and they say quaint and surprising things, which shows that they have an insight of their own into their spiritual life.
But duty and sentiment are two different things. Sentiment is optional. Young people grow up thinking that belief in God, fear of God and love for God is an option. They don't learn that these are things that must be done. There's no free choice about loving and serving God, that's their duty. Loving God with their whole heart, mind, soul and strength is what they owe to God, but that's rarely taught or understood properly these days. Even if we have tender religious sentiments, our doctrines are often vague and lax. Children even of kind, religious parents grow up without having an intimate, always open, always friendly, continual communicative relationship with Almighty God. That relationship is the very fulfillment of life. Whoever has it, has eternal life. Whoever doesn't have that relationship is ice-cold and dead in their heart, like Coleridge's 'lovely Lady Geraldine,' no matter how much they strive for success in all their other relationships.
'I want, I'm made for, I must have a God
Before I can be anything or do anything.
I don't want merely a Name.
I want the real thing, and everything that proves it.
In other words, I want a relationship between that Thing and me,
Touching everything from my head to my toes,
And when I feel this Touch,
I gain everything else--I gain life itself!'
[loosely paraphrased from Browning]
Volume 3, School Education, pg 94-95
All the members of a family look to the head. This sense of being dependent fosters the proper attitude for receiving the most precious thing for mankind--which is the religious feeling. If the home atmosphere is permeated with a noble reverence, then a sincere faith can take root in the hearts of the children. A child's faithful devotion to guiding parents in his youth grows into faithful devotion to God who controls human destinies. Herbart expressed this idea beautifully: 'A child should see his family as the symbol of order in the world. His parents should provide him with the ideals of God's divine characteristics.'
We have always strived to present education as something that springs from and rests on our relationship to God. We are firmly committed to this idea. We don't seek to provide a 'religious education' as an alternative to some other kind of education, like secular education. We believe that all education is divine. Every good gift of knowledge and insight comes from God. God the Spirit is, ultimately, the One who educates mankind. The culmination of all education (which is approachable even for a little child) is personal knowledge of God, and an intimate relationship with Him. In that relationship, our being finds its fullest perfection. In fact, we agree with the great concept of education that the Medieval Church held. It's illustrated on the walls of the Spanish chapel in Florence. It shows the Holy Spirit coming down on the twelve apostles. Directly under them, fully covered by the illuminating rays of the Spirit, are seven noble figures representing the seven liberal arts: grammar, rhetoric, logic, music, astronomy, geometry and arithmetic. Under these are pictured the seven men who received and expressed the original concept
Volume 3, School Education, pg 126-147
First let's consider the principle of authority, which is the foundation of moral teaching as well as religious teaching. The word 'ought' comes from the verb 'to owe.' We owe a personal debt to a Lawgiver or Ruler, or whatever people want to call the final authority. Even if some choose to use the name of Buddha or Secular Humanism, they can't escape from the sense that there's a moral authority. They recognize that what they ought to do is the same as what they owe--it's a debt to some higher power or person outside of themselves. God has created us in such a way that, no matter how much we're in the dark about God's name, we can't for a minute escape from our sense of 'ought,' which is the law. The farther we are from the light of revealed truth, the more flesh-torturing and spirit-quenching the awareness of 'ought' will be. The concept of authority holds no vague anxiety for those of us who know the name of God and have the revelation of Scripture. We know what's required of us. We understand that the requirements are never dogmatic or frivolous. They're an essential part of the way things are, necessary for the moral government of the world, and necessary to satisfy the unquenchable desire that every soul has of rising to a higher kind of existence. Parents are great in the eyes of their children, and that's as it should be, but that fact should make them more careful not to forget that their authority is derived from Someone else.
'God doesn't allow' us to do this or that shouldn't be said all the time, but it should be consciously in the minds of parents. Parents should study the nature of divine authority in the place where it's revealed most fully: in the Gospels. There, they can see that authority works by principles, not by rules. Since they're the deputy authorities assigned to manage their household, they should consider the methods that the Divine government uses. They should discern the signs of the times, too. We tend to think that people can only act according to how much information and wisdom they have within themselves, therefore, it's right for them to do whatever seems to be right in their own eyes. In other words, every man is his own final authority about what's right and wrong. It's urgent that parents keep this tendency in mind so that they can counteract it if they need to.
On the other hand, it's good for them to understand that authority has its limitations. They must not force unwilling compliance. Even the Divine authority doesn't compel. It shows the way and protects the misguided traveler and strengthens and guides people's ability to compel themselves. It allows a person to make a choice about whether to obey or not, rather than forcing him whether he wants to or not. When we're trying to teach morals, arbitrary actions almost always make children rebel. Parents think they're succeeding if they only rule their household, but they don't always consider the nature of their authority, the principles behind it, and its limitations.
An American who wrote about teaching children morals said, 'The school teacher's job in teaching morals to children is to present the subject matter to them. It isn't their job to confirm the validity of it.' This has been disputed for at least two thousand years. Socrates opposed this concept in his own day, although then it was expressed as, 'Man is the measure of all things,' 'However something appears to a person, that's the way it is for him,' or 'Truth is relative.' These days we say that a person can only live by his lights. In other words, there is no authority or truth or law beyond what every person has within himself. The logical conclusion of this kind of teaching is that God is unknowable. If there is a God, he doesn't exist for us personally because we can't have any kind of relationship with him. It's when they're little and still at home that children need to learn that duty can only exist in the sense that it's something we owe to God. God's law is enormously extensive. It encompasses us like the air that we breathe, only even more so because God's law even reaches to our most secret thoughts. This isn't a truth that's difficult to live with. It's a joy. Mothers love their children and want to make them happy all day long--this is part of God's law. Children are happy when they're being good, and unhappy when they're being naughty--this is also part of God's law. If Thomas drops his spoon, it falls to the floor--this is God's law, too, although it's a different kind of law. Mothers and teachers can't give children a better gift than a constant sense of being ruled and surrounded by law. And that law is just another name for God's will.
Every child is born with a conscience--a sense that he ought to choose right and reject wrong. But children aren't born with the ability to tell good from evil. An educated conscience is rarer than we think. Every once in a while, we're all shocked when our neighbors, who we've always considered conscientious, commit some improprieties in areas we consider obviously wrong. To be fair, our own moral inconsistencies are probably just as shocking to our friends. It's the fault of our inadequate moral education that resulted in us hardly even being aware when we're confronted with some erroneous thinking or insincere speech. We seem to think that, although Latin and Greek require determined teaching, morals come naturally. A certain makeshift kind of morality that varies according to our conditions does come by heredity and environment. But that beautiful, delicate human gift of an educated conscience only comes by teaching with authority, and supplementing by example.
It's odd how educated people can be silent about the moral status of children. A while ago I was listening to an interesting discussion among members of an educational club about children and lying. It was interesting that the group, which was made up of capable, intelligent people, was equally divided into those who thought that children were born pure, and those who thought that children were born corrupt.
It didn't seem to occur to anybody to think back to his own childhood or to even reflect on his own human condition at the current moment. The issue was whether children are born moral or immoral. Nobody recognized that every person comes into the world with unlimited possibilities to do good, and, sadly, just as unlimited potential to do evil. They may have inherited negative tendencies, but proper training can cure that. Or they may have inherited good tendencies that a lack of training can cancel out.
We don't need to go any farther than the Ten Commandments and Jesus' instruction about the moral law to find suggestions to help correct the erratic, impulsive efforts at teaching what we think it is to 'be good.' The best place to find a clear, practical commentary about the moral law is in the Church Catechism. Bishop Ken, the venerable Father of the Church, used to recite the 'duty towards God' and 'duty towards my neighbor' every single day. It's not a bad habit to imitate, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to let children of all denominations learn these short summaries about the 'whole duty of man.'
The poets give us some wonderful help in this kind of teaching. Look at this, for example, from Wordsworth's Ode to Duty:
'You seem so stern, but yet you are
A truly blessed grace.
There isn't anything more fine
Than your kind smiling face.
The flowers even wait for you
With perfume for your feet,
You keep the stars from going wrong
So heaven's fresh and sweet.'
Or Matthew Arnold's lines about Rugby Chapel:
'Servants of God! Or maybe
I should call you sons because
You knew, not as mere servants,
Your Father's innermost thoughts,
He who unwillingly witnesses
One of His little ones lost
It's you who are to be credited if Mankind
Hasn't yet, in its weary journey,
Fainted and fallen and died!'
Or this from Tennyson:
'More than once in our fair island story
The way of Duty would have led to glory.
The person who always follows Duty's commands
Through toil of heart, or knees, or hands,
Through the long tunnel to the far light has won
An upward path and has prevailed.
The tops of the Duty's peaks that he has scaled
Are very close to those shining lands,
Where God Himself is the shining sun.'
Or Matthew Arnold's Morality:
'Tasks that are determined in moments of insight
Can be fulfilled through long gloomy hours.'
There might not be any better way to inspire children than by leading them to reflect on some excellent poetic teachings, adding love to law, and adding devotion to duty. Then children will know for themselves, both by duty and prayer, that they are
'Bound by gold chains around God's feet.'
The medieval Church kept to classical traditions. It tried to answer Socrates' question: 'What should we do, and what do we mean by the words 'should' and 'do'?' And it answered the question as far as it could by using object lessons--visible objects to symbolize spiritual truths. In the Arena Chapel in Padua in Italy, there are pictures by Giotto that depict Faith and Unfaithfulness, Generosity and Envy, Love and Hostility, Justice and Injustice, Moderation and Excess, Hope and Despair. They're illustrated very plainly so that even uneducated and non-reading people can understand what they're supposed to be. In the gothic Amiens Cathedral that John Ruskin called 'The Bible of Amiens,' we can study the same theme a little differently. [The stone carvings are incredibly detailed and beautiful!] It includes Pride and Humility, Moderation and Excess, Purity and Lust, Love and Hatred, Hope and Despair, Faith and Idolatry, Perserverance and Disbelief, Harmony and Conflict, Obedience and Rebellion, Courage and Cowardice, Patience and Anger, Gentleness and Sarcasm. They're paired in groups of four, one pair above the other, each group under the feet of one of the Apostles [possibly this?]. Each Apostle represents a specific virtue. But we don't have anything to teach us which are cardinal virtues and which are deadly sins.
We don't have any 'official' teaching by any authority in the area of virtue. As a culture, we haven't sculpted any organized teaching in marble, we haven't painted a program of virtue lessons on our walls, and nothing about which evil vices should be avoided. Yes, our poets speak out for us, but their moral sayings that sparkle like precious jewels on the finger of time are scattered here and there. It's casually left as a matter of chance that our children might happen to glimpse the lines that will inspire them with the impulse to live virtuous lives. Perhaps we neglect all supplemental ethical lessons because we have the Bible. But how much and how often we use that? The Bible is the most perfect system of ethics. It's the most inspiring and captivating collection of ethics lessons that the world has ever seen. But I think we fail to spark our children's hearts with the concept that they are required to be perfect, 'even as your Father in heaven is perfect.'
It's time for us to start seriously working on the moral education that needs to be taught. The most important thing to do is to expose children to high ideals. 'Lives of great men remind us that we, too, can make our lives something excellent.' Studying the lives of great people, and reading about great defining moments in the lives of lesser people, is very inspiring for children, especially when they realize what strenuous childhoods some of these great people had. As we grow older, we understand more and more that the fully matured person evolves from the child so that 'the child is like the father to the man.' We're amazed when we see so many people we know personally whose lives are the result of fulfilled dreams they had since childhood and early youth, and who consistently lived one day after the next virtuously.
The Bible is a treasure-house of inspiring biographies. But it would be good if we could plan our teaching so that we brought out in each Bible character the master-thought of his thinking. Queen Victoria did this very tactfully and powerfully in the Albert Memorial Chapel. The prophets and patriarchs are presented there showing the special virtue of act of faith that seemed to be the keynote of his character. It's a nice attempt to revive the kind of teaching they did in the medieval era that I mentioned earlier. We see the same thing again in the Song School at St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in Edinburgh. Phoebe Anna Traquair painted frescoes on the walls to illustrate the Benedicte Omina Opera. 'Holy and humble men of heart,' for example, is pictured as three men of our own time from three different schools of thought. The only one I remember is Cardinal Newman. The power that this kind of master-idea can have, and the unity it can bring to a life, might be exemplified by our beloved Victoria's prophetic childhood statement, 'I will be good.' Few children in Britain haven't felt thrilled at that phrase. Maybe one day Queen Victoria will know how much good was done because that simple child's promise was fulfilled so well, and it inspired the whole Empire to have a similar moral impulse.
After biographies, the most effective way to inspire children is with the burning words of our poets, such as Ode to the Iron Duke by Tennyson. Rudyard Kipling may be the poet who has done the most to stir the flame of patriotism. His words, 'Our wistful mothers teach us to consider old England our home,' open a flood of patriotic feelings. The complete poems The Native-born and The Flag of England both fan our love for our country:
'No island is so small,
No sea is so alone
That over its clouds and palm trees
The English flag hasn't flown.'
This poem of Kipling's inspires our hearts with patriotic feelings:
'Buy my English flowers
From Surrey and from Kent
Violets damp with water
From the English Channel sent.
'Cowslips grown in Devon
Brambles colored bright;
Buy my English flowers
And you'll buy my heart's delight.'
When reading the Bible, or poetry, or the best prose, it's fun and productive to collect mottoes, especially if they're kept in a book. Headings may or may not be used. It would be a nice idea for children to make a new book every year with a motto they find every day from their own reading. It would be so encouraging to read a motto that you selected yourself first thing in the morning instead of having someone else's voice command, 'Follow the rules! Be quick to obey!' Mottoes could be collected under countless subject headings, such as lives with a keynote, Bible heroes, Greek heroes, morally inspiring poems, patriotic poems, poems about responsibility or any other virtue, ethics object lessons, where to find mottoes, etc.
Moral habits--that's a subject that's on many of our minds: how to form them, and the responsibility of every parent to send their children into the world with a good collection of them. I don't need to go into that any more here. Once the moral inspiration has been planted using some of the inspiring ideas I've mentioned, the parent or teacher's next job is to keep that moral impulse at the front of the child's mind. This should be done with tact and delicacy, never with insistence. And casual opportunities should be provided to try to put those moral impulses into action. Children need to be constantly aware that it's the kind of thoughts they think that count. When a child is young enough that the parent can tell what they're thinking by looking at their face, the parent should work to give the child the habit of thinking pleasant thoughts. Every time the child's face betrays a selfish thought, or resentful or unkind thought beginning, his thoughts must be changed before he's aware of it.
One more thing: parents should make it a point to have a clear idea of what kind of virtues they want their children to have. Impartiality, backbone, moderation, patience, humility, courage, generosity--in fact, the whole range of virtues would be an interesting subject for thinking about, teaching and finding illustrative examples. But I'd like to offer a word of caution. A child's whole concept of religion is 'being good.' He needs to know that 'being good' isn't his whole responsibility towards God, although it is a big part of it. A love relationship with God and being of service are also his duty. He owes that to God as a child owes love and service to his father, and as a subject owes it to his King. That's more than just 'being good,' although 'being good' also makes God pleased with His children.
Before I begin, I'd like to clarify that what I'm going to say about religious education is in no way exhaustive. My aim in discussing this topic is to give some practical methods, and I hope my readers won't find that I've left things out or said things that I shouldn't have said.
First, let's consider how the principle of Authority relates to teaching religion. The sense of duty, whether it's been taught or whether the person is ignorant of it, always relates to the person in authority, the one whose place is to say what the rules are. Most of us realize that we who are in authority are representing a higher authority, and ultimately, the Supreme Authority. A child can't have a true, lasting sense of duty until he's brought into contact with that Supreme Authority. He is the source of the law, and pleasing Him turns duty into joy. In our progressive times, perhaps no aspect of religious teaching is more important than the immediate presence and continuous going forth of God.
'You're everywhere I walk, and around my bed, and You see everything I do,' should be a thought that brings comfort, not dread, to every child. This constant awareness of the presence of God's authority will inspire the dual response of submission and reverence towards God. Some people say that the children of our time are distinguished by their defiance, and by a certain flippant attitude and lack of reverence. If this is true, and in proportion to how much it's the case, it's because children are brought up without the conscious realization of their relationship to God, who should be as a Father to them. His divine title of Father reminds us that authority is wrapped up in the One who created us, and He is kind, compassionate, foreknowing, strong enough to care for us, and wise enough to rule. These qualities are reflected only very weakly even in the best human fathers.
But there are questions on everyone's minds about the authenticity of Scripture and things like that. We're all pretty much at the mercy of words. So-called 'higher criticism' finds a lot to criticize and question about the verbal accuracy of Scripture passages, which gives us a vague idea that God's authority itself is in doubt. Part of the PNEU's work is to encourage and strengthen parents by comforting them with a sense that God's authority is behind theirs, always supporting them in their role as authority over their families. Another notion people are talking about is against the principle of authority itself, favoring greater respect for individual personality and the right of each individual to develop and evolve according to his own unique character. But the truth is, authority isn't adverse to individual development unless it's a morally wrong kind of development.
God's Supreme Authority and all other deputies in roles of authority work in the exact same way that fair, good governments do who make it their job to defend the liberties of their people in every way, even if they have to limit, repress and punish the license of those who interfere with the rights of others and with the real freedom of the criminal. The law, which is the stated form of authority, is for the punishment of evil-doers and for the approval of those who do what's right. When we associate harshness, punishment, force and arbitrary rules with the concept of authority, even divine authority, we exhibit the confusion of thought that most of our faulty actions can be traced to. The truth is, it isn't authority that punishes. The penalties that plague us throughout our lives [of which those in the family are a faint foretaste] are the inevitable natural consequences of laws that are broken, whether those laws are spiritual/moral or physical. Authority, strong and good, is there to save us by preventing us from breaking laws, and, when needed, to use lesser penalties in order to teach us.
I think that reading and teaching about some of the following subjects might help us to get our focus on the vitally important aspect of our relationship to God's authority. It's not a relationship we choose to enter into. It's as inevitable as the family relationships we're born into. The subjects include the obligation to loyalty and the disgrace of unfaithfulness; the duty of being reverent; the responsibility to submit to God's will; incidences in the Bible where God is revealed as the ruler of men such as telling Abraham, 'Go, and he goes,' or to Cyrus, 'Do this, and he does it;' historical revelations that show that God is the ruler of nations and the kind ruler of people and He makes His servants' ways prosper; how a sense of God's authority can be instilled at home; how reverence for holy things can be imparted; and direct Bible teaching about the principle of authority. This whole subject has a lot of aspects to consider, and suggests rabbit trails that are very important in these days.
The next thing we need to consider is laying down the habits that distinguish a religious life. We don't need to go over the physical evidence for the power that habits have. My purpose right now is to look at how much we can use this power to help develop the religious life of our children. Let's consider how religious habits relate to thought, attitude, life, and words. Those are all actually the same thing because everything we do and say starts in our thoughts, even though we may not be consciously aware of what we're thinking.
The Bible says that the wicked 'don't have God in all their thoughts.' But it might be said that children have God in all of their thoughts: their restful thoughts, their dutiful thoughts, their thoughts of loving and giving and serving, and the abundance of beautiful thoughts that overflow from their hearts. We tend to think that children are a little bit morbid and unusually advanced when they ask questions about God and imagine spiritual things, so we try to distract them and get them to think about something else. What children need is to be guided into thinking true, happy thoughts. Every day should bring them 'new thoughts about God and new hopes about heaven.' They understand spiritual things better than we do because they haven't had to conform their ideas to conventional dogma, and thoughts about God seem to them like a way to escape to the infinite realm, away from the limitations that make them anxious, and from their perception that some of their bitter experiences can seem like prison bars. We must keep children in the habit of always having God in their thoughts so that losing it, even for a little while, will be like returning home to find that their mother has gone out. This is a very delicate part of a parent's work.
We tend to overlook the importance of reverent attitudes these days. We're extremely sincere and that makes us hesitant to insist on 'mere formality.' We feel that it's best to leave children free to express their own heartfelt emotions naturally. But we might be wrong about this. It's as true that formality can inspire feelings as it is that feelings can result in form. Children should be taught to take the time to be reverent while saying grace before meals, during family prayers, as they pray on their own, and in church when they're old enough to sit through the service. Maybe some of us remember standing beside our mother every day with an attitude of reverence while reciting the Apostles' Creed, and the memory of that childhood reverence set the tone for our attitude towards God all our lives. 'Because the angels will see' should be a thought that keeps children from misbehaving. We're wrong when we assume that forms of reverence are always boring to children. They love little ceremonies. If they were taught to kneel properly while saying their little prayers, it would help to instill a feeling of reverence in their later lives. We can't expect reverent feeling and formalities from children in church if we take them when they're too young, or make them sit through services that are too long, or expect them to pay attention for the whole time. If children are taken to long services, they should be allowed to have a Sunday picture book, and they should be told that the songs and memorized rituals, such as the Lord's Prayer, are parts of the service that children can participate in.
It's important to develop the habit of regularity in devotional time. A mother may not always be with her children, but I've seen children who are more determined about doing their devotions on time when they're away from their mother because they know that's what she would want, than they are when she's with them. One four-year-old friend of mine said, 'Mommy, I always worship idols.' 'You do, Megan? When?' 'When I say my prayers to the chair.' It's wonderful for all of us to get into the habit of 'saying our prayers' at a specific time and in a specific place. Wherever that may be, it will become like a holy place for us. Whether it's a chair, the side of the bed, a little prayer table, or, best of all, the mother's knee, that place will play a major part in guiding the child's soul to develop a habit of devotion. While I'm on the subject, it's worth mentioning that children's prayers, even for school aged children, shouldn't be left until they're so tired that they nod off before they're finished. After evening tea [or dessert?] is a good regular time for prayers if it can be managed.
The habit of reading the Bible should be established when the child is young enough that his Bible readings need to be read aloud to him. This presents a challenge because the Bible is actually an entire library, and some of its books and passages aren't suitable for children. Many parents get around this by using little compilations of devotional Scriptures. But I'm not sure this is such a good idea. I think that a narrative teaching of the Scriptures is a lot more helpful for children than the isolated texts chosen to stimulate morals and spiritual devotion. The Bible Society publishes [at least, they did in 1904 when this was written] inexpensive copies of individual books of the Bible. Those are a nice resource for parents. A child who's old enough to enjoy reading for himself would probably love reading through the whole book of the Gospel of Mark or another book of the Bible little by little as part of the morning devotion, using a nice copy of the book.
But, while emphasizing the importance of developing the habits of prayer and devotional reading, we need to remember that children are little formalists by nature. They shouldn't be encouraged to read long passages or pray long prayers with the erroneous idea that there's some inherent benefit in those things [i.e., praying longer prayers doesn't make them a better person].
We probably don't place a high enough priority on the habit of praise in our children's devotions. Praise and thankfulness flow freely from the young hearts of children. It's natural and good to be glad, and music is fun. Singing hymns at home and singing worship songs at church should be something to enjoy. The habit of singing soft, reverent songs and offering our very best when we praise should be deliberately formed. The best hymns for children are probably the ones that tell a story, such as 'A Little Ship Was on the Sea,' 'I Think When I Read That Sweet Story of Old,' and 'Hushed Was the Evening Hymn.' Children should be trained to pay attention and have an attitude of sincere devotion during short services, or during parts of the service. Instructing children to find their places in the prayer book and Bible during the service helps them to pay attention to what's going on during the service, but it might be better to have children even as old as 10 and 11 occupy themselves during the prayer or sermon by going over the hymns they know silently in their minds.
The habit of keeping Sunday observances that are special and reverent without being severe or dull is very important. Special Sunday stories, Sunday songs, Sunday walks, Sunday conversations, Sunday painting, Sunday knitting, even Sunday card games, should all be suitable for the Sabbath--quiet, enjoyable, peaceful. The people who want to make Sunday like any other day don't realize how healing the change of pace of a weekly rest can bring to a weary soul. One of the most precious inheritances we can hand down is the traditional English Sunday, especially if we can hand it down without its strictness but still retain its quiet joy and communion with Nature and God. But I can't pursue this subject any further. The topic of religious habits provides lots of subjects that will be beneficial to teach and reflect on. For example, there's the habit of thinking about God as a family, the habit of having reverent thoughts, attitudes, actions, and words, the habit of praying about certain things at a certain time and in the same way or the same place, the habit of praise and thanksgiving, the habit of an attentive and devotional attitude during church services, things that can help devotional habits, and the habit of devotional reading.
Now we come to the most important aspect of our subject--the inspiring ideas we'd like to give children about the things in a life devoted to God. We sometimes tend to leave this to chance. But when we consider how vitalizing an idea can be, and how one single idea can change the course of a whole life, we realize how important it is to carefully consider which ideas of spiritual things are the most suitable for children, and how they can best be presented to seem inviting. It's sad that so many children's first concept of God as toddlers is of a Being who's always watching for them to be naughty so He can punish them. We may never know how much this kind of concept can alienate children's hearts. Another danger is that spiritual things can be made too familiar and worn out until the name of God is used without reverence. Or, children might get the notion that God's blessed name exists to serve them and what they can get from God, instead of them existing to serve God.
Perhaps the best concept to introduce children to first is that God is a kind Father and they live and move and exist within His divine loving arms. If children are allowed to grow up with this joyful assurance, then being unfaithful to this, the closest of all relationships, would be as shameful to them as it was to the Church during the medieval era.
The next concept, the kingship of Christ, will inspire them to do the right thing and will rouse children's eager loyalty, since we all know that children naturally bestow heroic devotion on anyone they find who's heroic. Perhaps we don't take advantage of this human tendency of hero-worship as much as we could in teaching religion. We tend to make our religious goals subjective [focused on what it will do for me] instead of objective [focused on God]. We're tempted to think of Christianity as a 'plan of salvation' designed and carried out for our individual benefit. But the very essence of Christianity is passionate devotion to a Person who's worthy of adoration.
Even when we recognize this, we can still fall into the trap of adopting a rose-water kind of treatment with children. Unfortunately for us, very few adults have as keen a sense of sin as a child of six or seven who has done something wrong. Many naughty, angry, sulky and hardened young offenders are that way simply because they don't have a personal understanding that there's a Savior of this world who has immediate forgiveness and ready love for them. But even in this respect, children's thoughts need to be focused outside of themselves, on Jesus the Savior, rather than their own personal feelings about the Savior.
I have space to mention one more obvious Christian truth. Most Christian parents teach their children to recognize the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. They elaborate on the concept expressed in this poem:
'Enable with Your constant light
The dullness of our blinded sight.'
'Anoint and cheer our dirty face
With the abundance of Your grace.'
It would be good if we could prevent our children from having the concept that there's some kind of a separation between sacred things and so-called secular things. We should help them to recognize that all 'sound learning,' even if it isn't designated as 'religious instruction,' comes under the jurisdiction of God, the Holy Sprit, who is the supreme teacher of all mankind.
Parents and teachers will be able to think of lots of other inspiring ideas that are more valuable than any I could suggest--for instance, teaching, reading and meditating on any of the sections of the Lord's Prayer or the Apostles' Creed, or any of the Duties Towards God in the [Anglican] Catechism. Anyone who accepts the Old and New Testaments should find that worthwhile.
I haven't mentioned everything that's necessary to bring up children 'in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,' but I've discussed a few of the principles that seem essential to me, although I've done it very inadequately.
Volume 3, School Education, pg 175-77
Although summaries of its moral teachings can be valuable, it's the Bible itself that we need, because it's the great storehouse of moral examples. Here' a quote from De Quincey about this:
'Among all of the vast collection of books in our room when I was little, there was a Bible, illustrated with lots of pictures. During long, dark evenings, my three sisters and I would sit by the fire, and this was the book we would request most often. It had a power to move us that was as mysterious as music. We all loved our young governess. Sometimes she would try to explain the parts that confused us, although she was no expert. We children would be touched with a pensive moodiness. The restless gloom and sudden radiance of the room caused by the flickering fire perfectly matched our evening feelings. They also suited the divine relations of God's power and mysterious beauty that awed us so much. Most of all, the story of Jesus, the just man who was man and yet not man, but more real than anything else, and yet more shadowy and obscure than anything else, who suffered an intense death in Palestine, brooded over our minds like a morning mist broods over a pond. Our governess understood and explained the main differences in the climate to the east. As it happens, all of the differences express themselves in varying relation to the great wonders and powers of summer. The cloudless sunlights in Syria seemed to indicate that it was summertime. The disciples picking corn must also have been in the summer. The very name Palm Sunday, which is a festival in the English Church, troubled me like an anthem.'
I can't resist from quoting De Quincy again as he beautifully describes the effect that our liturgy had on him when he was a child. 'On Sunday mornings, I went to church with the rest of family. The church was modelled after the ancient churches in England. It had aisles, galleries, an organ, all old, sacred things, and everything had majestic proportions. The congregation would kneel during the long liturgical prayer. When we came to the passage where God is asked to help on behalf of 'all sick people and young children,' which is just one of many prayers that are loved for their beauty, I would weep secretly. Then I would raise my tear-filled eyes and look at the upper windows of the gallery. On sunny days, I'd see a beautiful sight that was as inspiring as anything that the prophets ever saw. The sides of the windows were ornamented with lots of stained glass. The sun would shine through deep purples and reds so that the heavenly light from the sun would be mingled with the gorgeous earthly colors of man-made glass art, illuminating what's the best in mankind. The windows had pictures of the apostles who had once walked on the earth, serving others because of God's love for mankind. And there were martyrs who had stood firm for truth even through flames, pain, and the disapproval of many hostile, insulting enemies. There were saints who had withstood temptations and glorified God by humbly submitting to His will.' 'God speaks to children, too. Sometimes He speaks to them in dreams and in messages that come in the darkness. But, most of all, He speaks in solitude, when His voice can be heard because the heart is meditative enough to hear Him in the truths and services of a public church. God holds 'undisturbed communication' with children. Solitude can be as silent as light. But it is also as mighty as light because solitude is necessary to people. Everyone comes into this world alone, and everyone leaves it alone.'
Volume 3, School Education, pg 212-213
Neither The Prelude nor Praeterita has much to say about the study of the highest relationship of all--the most profound intimacy that man's soul can have. I think the best way I can close is with a quote from a little book called The Practice of the Presence of God which tells about the spiritual life of Brother Lawrence, a barefooted Carmelite lay Brother in 1600's Paris.
'The first time I saw Brother Lawrence was on Aug. 3, 1666. He told me that God had done him a personal favor when he was converted at age eighteen. It was winter, and he saw a tree that didn't have any leaves. He reflected on the thought that, in just a little while, the tree would have leaves, and then it would have flowers and fruit. This gave him a higher perspective of God's power and providence, and that impression never left him. This thought set him free from the world and kindled such a love for God inside him, that he couldn't even tell whether his love for God had grown in the forty years that he'd been a Christian. He said that he had been a footman working for the treasurer M. Fieubert, but that he was clumsy and kept breaking things. He wanted to be allowed to go into a monastery because he thought that, there, he would be punished for his clumsiness and other faults. In that way, he'd be able to sacrifice his life and all its pleasures to God. But God disappointed him. He had been perfectly content in that situation . . . He said that, for him, scheduled times of prayer were no different from other times. He retired to a secluded place to pray as his superior dictated, but he didn't really need to do that because even his most important duties didn't take his mind off God . . . He said that the greatest pains and the greatest pleasures that this world has are nothing compared with what he'd experienced of spiritual pain and pleasure, so he didn't worry about anything and he feared nothing. The only thing he wanted of God was to not offend him . . . He said that he had experienced God's help so often on various occasions that, any time he had business to do, he never thought about it beforehand. When it was time to do it, he found all that he needed to do in God, just like in a clear mirror. Lately he had acted like this, not worrying about his affaiirs, but before, he had often been anxious in his duties. When some outward business distracted him a bit from thinking of God, a fresh remembrance from God would come into his soul, and he'd be so inspired and transported that it would be difficult for him to contain himself. He was more united with God in his outward business than he was when he separated himself for devotion in a retired place.'
'I want, I'm made for, I must have a God
Before I can be anything, do anything. It isn't just a Name
That I need, but the True Thing, with what proves that it's true.
In other words, I need a connection from that Thing to myself.
I need it to touch me from head to toe. When I feel this touch,
Then I'll take the rest with it, this Life of Ours!'
-- adapted from Browning
Volume 3, School Education, pg 234-235
Regarding curriculum, I'd like to emphasize what I said in an earlier chapter. Perhaps the main part of a child's education should be concerned with the great human relationships--history, literature, art, ancient and modern languages, travel. All of these are the records or expressions of people. Science is, too, when it's the history of discoveries or an account of someone's observations that can be read in books. But, for the most part, science is under the category of Education by Things. Science is actually too broad a subject to deal with here. But what's more important than all of these is Religion, which includes our relationships of love, loyalty, love and service to God. Maybe next in importance is the intimate, individual relationship with ourselves that's implied when we talk about things like self-knowledge and self-control. We owe children these kinds of knowledge because it seems to be the case that the limit of human intelligence directly corresponds to how limited a person's interests are. In other words, a normal person with deficient, narrow intelligence is that way because he was never exposed to the interests that were proper for him. A curriculum that provides what children have a right to can be divided into six to eight groups: religion, perhaps philosophy, history, languages, math, science, art, physical exercise, and handicrafts.
In teaching Religion, the Bible is without question what we need to rely on because it's the great storehouse of spiritual truth and moral impressions. In fact, a child could receive a pretty generous education from reading nothing but the Bible because the Bible contains such great literature within itself.
At one time, the 'National Schools' educated their students on the Bible, which is one of the three great collections of ancient classical literature. Ever since miscellaneous 'Readers' have replaced the Bible, there's been some decline in both character and intelligence in our nation. It's not possible or even desirable to revert back to what they used to do, but we should make sure that children get as much intellectual, moral and religious nourishment from their books as they did when their lessons were constructed entirely from the story of Joseph in Genesis to the letters of St. Paul.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 64-65
How can a man's soul be satisfied? Kings have sacrificed their crowns because they want something greater than kingdoms. Profound scholars are frustrated by the limits that confine them to only dip their toe into the deep ocean of knowledge. No great love is satisfied with only loving. There is only one thing that can satisfy the soul of man. The things around him are finite, measurable and incomplete and his soul can reach farther than it can grasp. He has a desperate, relentless, unquenchable thirst for something infinite.' [from Volume 4, Ourselves] 'I want, I am made for, and I must have a God.' We need God, not the mere outer form of religion. Inside all of us we have an infinite capacity for love, loyalty and service, and we can't expend these on anything but God.
How do we plan education to prepare children to seek the God they need, the Savior who is all the help they'll ever need, the King who gives them all the joy they can hold, and who is worthy of their complete adoration and loyalty? Any words or thoughts we might have will be poor and insufficient. But we have a resource--a treasury of divine words that children can read and know with satisfying pleasure, and that they can tell about with beauty and relevance: The Bible.
One ten year old who read many books said, 'The Bible is the most interesting book I know of.' Little by little, children get what they need to know about God in order to fulfill St. Chrysostom's prayer, which is a part of the Episcopalian liturgy: 'Let us know Your truth while we're in this world.' Everything else that children learn gathers around the truth of the Bible and illuminates it.
Here's an example of how this kind of knowledge grows. I listened to a class of thirteen year old girls read an essay about George Herbert. The essay included three or four of his poems. None of the girls had ever read the essay or any of the poems before. They narrated what they had read, and, while narrating, gave a complete paraphrase of The Pulley, The Elixir and one or two of his other poems. They remembered every point that the poet had made, and they used his original words pretty freely. The teacher commented about one or two unusual words, but that was all. If she had tried to explain or enforce (in a way that wasn't reverently sympathetic and showed that she cared) then it would have been meddling. Interestingly, hundreds of students the same age in classrooms and home correspondence schools read and narrated the same essay and paraphrased the poems easily. I felt humbled by these children. I knew I could never immediately and quickly understand so many pages of a new book, especially if it included poems that were obscure and vague. This is how the minds of great thinkers enlighten children and help them grow in knowledge, especially the knowledge of God.
And yet this most important part of education is often drowned in a flood of words, or tedious repetitions, or chiding and reprimanding--all kinds of ways that result in the mind becoming bored, and the affections deadened.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 73
In order to guarantee proper submission to authority, two things are required. If these two requirements are met, there is seldom a conflict of wills between adult and child. The conditions are (1) The adult can't be rigidly arbitrary, but must give the impression of being so much under authority himself, that the children sense it and understand that he, too, has things he has to comply with. In other words, they need to see that the rules weren't made for the adult's convenience. (I'm assuming that everyone who is entrusted with the teaching of children recognizes that we are all under God's authority. Without that recognition, I don't see how it's possible to establish a healthy relationship between teacher and child.)
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 127
The ideas taught in school will become relevant to the real world. If, as Plato said, knowledge is virtue, and that knowledge is enhanced with religious teaching, then we shall see in our own lifetime how righteousness can exalt a nation.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 148-150A premise is idle and frivolous when it rests on a foundation of nothing and leads nowhere. And a premise is profane and blasphemous sin when it's irreverent and flippant towards God. We all know, without anyone telling us, that God is terrifying, wonderful, loving, just and good, as surely as we know that the sun shines or the wind blows. Children should be brought up understanding that a miracle is no less miraculous because it happens so continually and regularly that we call it a law of nature. For instance, sap rising in a tree, a boy born with his uncle's eyes, an answer we can identify comes to us while we pray in earnest. These things aren't any less amazing because they happen frequently, or even all the time, so that we take them for granted and cease to wonder about them anymore. That's the way it was for the people of Jerusalem when Jesus did so many miracles in their streets.
The guiding principle that should control people and countries is, 'My Father never stops working, so why should I?' [John 5:17, NLT] 'My Spirit will not put up with humans for such a long time' is a dire warning to every individual and every nation. God and Jesus work every day to hinder people and nations from doing the wrong thing and encourage them to do good. To the child who understands this, miracles won't be so unusual because all of life will seem like something full of wonder and adoration.
If we want our children not to get confused by all the trends and thoughts about religion, then we need to help them understand exactly what religion is. In What Religion Is, Bernard Bosanquet wrote:
'Will religion guarantee me happiness? Generally, we have to say, no. If we become a Christian just to attain personal happiness then we definitely won't find happiness.'
Here is a final and clear answer to the psuedo-Christianity that's offered so often to hesitating souls. It promises physical comfort, no more sorrow or anxiety, replacement of what's been lost, even going so far as to offer reuniting with loved ones who have died. We might call on mediums, go to séances, visit faith healers and put our faith in some man who only wants to manipulate us. We don't worry about sin or feel remorse for our past. We might live detestable lives, yet be satisfied and content with ourselves, totally oblivious to the anxiety and struggle of those around us. We think that we can will away sin, sorrow, worry and suffering through faith. In other words, we think that Christianity will guarantee us personal happiness. We use religion to make ourselves immune to every distress and misery of life, and we believe that this wonderful immunity is within the power of our own will. 'The only person who matters in my Christianity is me, and the only purpose for religion is to keep me from any physical or mental discomfort and keep me floating in some cloud of undisturbed Nirvana.' Is that what Christianity is? We must agree with Professor Bosanquet: absolutely NOT! Real Christianity isn't about me, and any religion that does these things is idolatry, self-worship, concerned with nobody but myself.
To continue our quote:
'If religion doesn't guarantee my happiness, then what does it do? We value religion as being good and great, but if it doesn't do anything for me, then why should it be anything to me? But the answer changes if you word the question just a bit differently and ask, 'does it make my life more worth living?' And the answer to this is, 'It's the only thing that makes life worth living at all!'
In other words, 'I want, am made for and must have a God.'
Since children have a sweet faith and pure love, they have immediate access to God. Is there anything better than that? What more could a person desire? Children have complete trust that gentle Jesus is always with them, wherever they go, even while they sleep. Angels care for them and they enjoy all the immunities of the Kingdom. They have as much Reason as anyone else. A hundred years ago, there was a simple, straightforward way to give children a foundation for their faith. All the tenets of Christianity were outlined in a little catechism of 'Scripture Proofs.' That method had its good points. But today, if we use Scripture as our authority, we first have to prove that Scripture itself can be trusted. We also have to change tactics. We need to make it clear to children that the most important things of life can't be proved with conclusive evidence. We can't even prove without a doubt that we're living! So we must cling to what we know is true and doesn't need proof.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 157
Each student is a child of God, and his supreme desire and glory is to know about and have a relationship with God.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 158-159
Children need three kinds of knowledge: the knowledge of God, the knowledge of man, and the knowledge of the world around him. Of those, the knowledge of God is the most important, the most necessary and the one that has the potential to bring him happiness. Mothers do a better job of teaching children about God than teachers. They know their children better and don't underestimate their minds as much, so they tend not to talk down to them. But, to read educational publications, one would think that the art of education is dumbing down concepts for the 'little' minds of children! If we give up that preconception that assumes the superiority of adults, we'll be surprised at how much and how profoundly children are able to understand. We'll realize that a relationship with God is an inborn attraction and it's up to us to help our children attain that relationship. Mothers know how to talk about God in the same way they would talk about a beloved but absent father, drawing attention to his love and care for her and the children. She knows how to make her child feel a thrill of joy and gratefulness as he looks at a meadow full of flowers, or a huge tree, or flowing river by making him understand that God made all of it. Children aren't too simple to understand that, 'the mountains, valleys and glittering rivers belong to the one who knows their Creator and whose eyes brim with tears of holy joy.' [freely adapted from the poem The Freeman, by William Cowper] We remember how Arthur Pendennis [from Pendennis, by Thackeray] walked in the cool of the evening with his mother, reciting passages from Milton, and both of their eyes would fill 'with tears of holy joy,' and he was only eight! A teacher can never have the same kind of opportunities with an entire class, but if she makes an effort to get a true estimate of what a child's mind can comprehend, she'll be surprised with how much can be done.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 160-169
The most important part of education is religious training, and our mission is to give children the knowledge of God. We won't go into the area of intuitive knowledge, we'll stick to the knowledge that is attainable because it's what God expressed for us. That knowledge comes from the Bible. The worst indignity we can commit on children is giving them our own rendering of scripture or a well-intentioned re-telling of the clear, beautiful language and poetic phrasing of the Bible itself.
The best literature is always direct and simple. A normal six-year-old will enjoy hearing stories from both the Old and New Testaments, passage by passage. He can narrate it, too, adding his own personal charm. There are two aspects to religion. There's the attitude of our will towards God, which is what we think of as Christianity. And there's the perception of God that comes over time as we see the way God deals with mankind. In the first regard, Goethe couldn't have been considered religious. Yet, the second aspect, the perception of God, became like a peaceful backdrop in his otherwise restless, uneasy life. It's worth our time to explore how he came to such a beneficial understanding of God. He tells his full story in Aus Meinem Leben (From My Life?) and what he shares about education is well worth our study. He says,
'People might go where they please and do what they want, but in the end, they have to return to that road that Dante wrote about. That's what happened to me. My efforts at learning Hebrew when I was ten by reading the scriptures made me imagine vividly the things I was reading about - the beautiful land that inspired songs, and the countries around it, and the people and events that have happened there for thousands of years. You may wonder why I'm talking about this in so much detail when everyone already knows about Israel's history. But it's the best way to show how, even with the stress of my life and my unorthodox education, I focused my mind and feelings on that part of my life. It's the only way I can account for the peace that surrounded me even when my life was disturbed and I was going through troubles. My over-active imagination may have led me here and there, and I've been obsessed with fables, histories, and myths, but I could always think about those holy lands and be at peace. I would lose myself in the first five books of the Bible and, there among those Hebrew shepherds, I would find peace and comfort.'
How did Goethe come to possess this kind of peaceful rest for his soul and fresh background for his thoughts? It seems that this inner place of sanctuary was with him his whole life, in spite of all the mistakes he made in his rebellious life. It has been said that his eyes had a peaceful tranquility, and this is the secret of that peace. In Goethe's words, we also see a principle for education that we should consider: teaching the New Testament without the grounding and accompaniment of the Old Testament won't result in that kind of thinking about God.
The wide, all-encompassing, completely permeating presence of God is found in David's Psalms, which are in the Old Testament. We need to have the faith and courage to give children such a complete and gradual picture of Old Testament history, that they unconsciously think of the history of mankind as being like the panorama of the history of the Jewish nation as told in the Bible. If our children are little skeptics, like Goethe, who delighted in stumping his teachers with Bible inconsistencies, then we should follow the example of wise old Dr. Albrecht. We shouldn't rush to explain away the difficulties. We shouldn't belittle or avoid their questions, or give final answers as if we were the authority. Instead, do what Albrecht did. Introduce them to a thoughtful commentator who takes care in researching and explaining difficult questions. By doing this, we won't allow difficult questions to detract from the gradual unfolding of God's design to teach the world His plan. For children aged six to twelve, the best commentator I know of is Canon Paterson Smyth, who wrote The Bible for the Young. He is one of the few writers who knows how children think and can help them with difficulties. He knows how to inspire their thoughts and guide their actions.
Between the ages of six and twelve, children [using Paterson's book] cover the narrative stories of Old Testament Biblical history, and the Prophets as they correspond to the lives of the kings. The teacher begins the lesson by reading the passage from Paterson's book that illustrates the scripture reading. For example,
'This story takes place on the battle field in the Elah Valley. The camp of the Israelites is on one side of the slope, the big tents of the Philistines are on the other slope. The Israelites aren't huge men, but they're agile and clever. The Philistines are huge brutes, stupid thick-headed giants. Samson used to play tricks on them and make fun of them long ago. Both sides are agitated,' etc.
There might be some discussion after reading this passage. Then the teacher will read the Scripture text and the children will narrate. The commentary merely serves as a background for their thoughts. Their narrations are usually very interesting. They don't miss even one point, and they add colorful touches of their own. Before the end of the lesson, the teacher brings out any new concepts about God or points of behavior that may have been included in the reading. She emphasizes the moral or religious lesson in a reverent, sympathetic way, and doesn't attempt to tell them how to apply it personally.
Twelve to fifteen year olds read Rev. H. Costley-White's Old Testament History to themselves. He has made some wise omissions that make students more able to deal with Jewish history in King James English than they would if they just used the actual Bible. Each period, such as Psalms or the various prophets, uses references from contemporary literature to illustrate. Brief historical explanations and notes of general commentary are included in the proper places. For example, as an introduction to the Gen 3 story of Cain and Abel, it says,
'The original purpose of this story was to show how sin spread throughout mankind, and where homicide started. In this case, it was actual cold-blooded murder. There are some difficult questions that we don't have enough information to answer. For instance, 'Why didn't God accept Cain's offering?' 'How did God show that He didn't accept it?' 'What was the sign put on Cain?' 'Where did Cain find a wife?' The best way to answer such questions is - to admit that we don't know! But we should add that these early stories are just selected fragments about what happened, not the whole story. The story of Cain and Abel is an obvious example of a story that's been cut down and edited.
'The lessons taught in the story of Cain and Abel include: 1. God judges motives, not actions. 2. It isn't the sin of murder itself that's condemned so much, but the reasons behind it, such as jealousy and hatred. Jesus talked about this in the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 6:22. 3. The doctrine that all men are brothers. Each person is responsible to those around him, and he is obligated to be concerned about the conditions they live in. 4. Sin always brings its own consequences. 5. God always tries to reason with man before sin reaches a climax.'
Commentary is done with concise, to-the-point footnotes.
This gives students detailed, extensive knowledge of the Old Testament from scripture text itself. It trains them to accept Bible difficulties comfortably, rather than feeling like such difficulties invalidate the Bible as God's oracle and our only original source of knowledge about God and how He deals with people. This will prepare them to study religion further from the Bible.
We like Dummelow's One Volume Bible Commentary for high school students. It's designed to provide in one convenient book:
'A brief explanation of the meaning of the Scriptures. There are introductions for the books of the Bible, and notes to explain major textual, moral or doctrinal difficulties. The beginning of the book has a prefix of articles about the larger questions that the Bible as a whole may suggest. We hope that this commentary will inspire students to read some of the books of the Bible that have literary charm and help with spiritual growth, but are often overlooked and unread. In recent years, more information has become available to answer questions about authorship of the Bible and interpretations. We have tried to incorporate the most recent scholarly information while avoiding extreme bias or speculative opinions. Sometimes this means that this commentary will offer views that aren't traditional. In those cases, we hope and believe that the authority and spiritual worth of the Scriptures is enhanced and not diminished by the change.'
The editor of the commentary has done such a good job explaining its aims that I'll only add that we find it to be of great practical value. The students read the general articles, and the introductions to the books of the Bible. They read the Prophets and poetic books along with the notes. So they leave school with a pretty sophisticated knowledge of the Old Testament books, and of the information that modern scholarship has added to their interpretation. We hope they also leave with more reverence for God and delight in the ways God deals with people.
The New Testament has its own category. The same commentaries are used, and we use the same methods, reverent reading of the text followed by narration, which is often curiously word perfect even after a single reading. This is even more surprising because we all know how hard it is to repeat a passage we've heard a thousand times. A single reading with concentrated focus takes care of this difficulty, and we're able to take assurance in knowing that children's minds are stocked with perfect word pictures of every fond, beautiful scene from the Gospels. Students are also able to reproduce the straightforward, sweet teaching from the object lessons of each of the miracles. Little by little, the personality of Our Lord as revealed in His words and works become real and dear to them, not through emotional appeals but through impressions left by accurate, detailed knowledge of the Savior who went around doing good. Doctrine is inferred as a side effect of Biblical text. Loyalty to their Divine Master is more likely to become a guiding principle in their lives.
I can't emphasize enough how important it is to give a poetic presentation of the life and teachings of Jesus. In their Bible lessons, students should experience a wonderfully fascinating sense of the coordinated development and how each incident progressively reveals more of Jesus' teachings. Narration actually encourages students to pick up on this. Each incident they narrate becomes a complete event in their minds, the teachings will unfold as they talk about it, arguments will be more convincing when they articulate them, and the characters in the Bible will seem as real as people they know in real life. It won't be helpful to pressure students with practical application. It will probably just bore them, and it may cause students to form their own counter-opinions or even opposite convictions, even while they look innocently complacent. For the most part, we should let Scripture speak for itself and point to the moral.
'Right now, Christians (and those who claim to be) are at a place in thought where a contrived, unnatural study of the life and teaching of Jesus is useless. We've analyzed and broken down scripture until our minds are weary from the fragments. We've heard so many criticisms that there's no material left for the critics. But if we could just get a fresh concept of Christ's life among people, and the philosophic method of His teaching, then His own words would be fulfilled. The Son of Man would be lifted up and would draw all men to Himself. Poetic verse provides a fresh way to present the themes of scripture. Poetry is less personal, more concise and can be treated more reverently than prose. What Wordsworth called 'authentic comment' can be included more subtly. The Gospels vividly show us scenes of many people in their moment of coming face to face with Christ, and poetry allows a more dramatic yet restrained portrayal of those moments than prose.
'Shakespeare gave us a couple of lines from Scripture's great epic, a taste of what poetic presentation might be like:
'Those holy fields
Over whose acres walked those blessed feet
Which fourteen hundred years ago were nailed
For our advantage to the bitter cross.'
-- from King Henry IV
If only Shakespeare had written poetry about the whole Bible! Every line he wrote dealing with Christ from the unique perspective and personality of his pen is a treasure. Trench wrote the beautiful lines,
'Of Jesus sitting by a Samarian well
Or teaching some poor fishers on the shore.'
And Keble wrote,
'Meanwhile He paces through the adoring crowd
Calm as the march of some majestic cloud.'
-- John Keble, 'Advent Sunday']
'In His meek power He climbs the mountain's brow.'
-- John Keble, 'Fourth Sunday After Epiphany'
Every line of this kind of poetry is precious, but there aren't very many, probably because the subject is so overwhelmingly immense. So we'll have to wait for a great poet to wrote an epic work. In the meantime, I tried to write something to use in the interim.' [from the preface to Charlotte Mason's six-volume poetic work, 'The Saviour of the World'.]
A 13-year-old girl in Form IV answered this question in her Easter exam: 'The people sat in darkness . . . I am the Light of the World. Show as far as you can the meaning of these statements.' She wasn't asked to wrote her answer in verse, yet her own instinct recognized that the quotes she was writing about were essentially poetry, and could best be expressed in poetry:
"The people sat in darkness--all was dim,
No light had yet come unto them from Him,
No hope as yet of Heaven after life,
A peaceful haven far from war and strife.
Some warriors to Valhalla's halls might go
And fight all day, and die. At evening, lo!
"They'd wake again, and drink in the great hall.
Some men would sleep for ever at their fall;
Or with their fickle Gods for ever be:
So all was dark and dim. Poor heathens, see!
The Light ahead, the clouds that roll away,
The golden, glorious, dawning of the Day;
And in the birds, the flowers, the sunshine, see
The might of Him who calls, Come unto Me."
A 17 year old girl in Form V responded to the request to Write an essay or poem about the Bread of Life with the following lines:
"'How Came He here,' ev'n so the people cried,
Who found Him in the Temple: He had wrought
A miracle, and fed the multitude,
On five small loaves and fish: so now they'd have
Him king; should not they then have ev'ry good,
Food that they toiled not for and clothes and care,
And all the comfort that they could require?--
So thinking sought the king.
Our Savior cried:
'Labor ye not for meat that perished,
But rather for the everlasting bread,
Which I will give'--Where is this bread, they cry,
They know not 'tis a heavenly bread He gives
But seek for earthly food 'I am the Bread of Life
And all who come to Me I feed with Bread.
Receive ye then the Bread. Your fathers eat
Of manna in the wilderness--and died--
But whoso eats this Bread shall have his part
In everlasting life: I am the Bread,
That cometh down from Heaven; unless ye eat
Of me ye die, but otherwise ye live.'
So Jesus taught, in Galilee, long since.
"The people murmured when they heard His Word,
How can it be? How can He be our Bread?
They hardened then their hearts against His Word,
They would not hear. and could not understand,
And so they turned back to easier ways,
And many of them walked with Him no more.
May He grant now that we may hear the Word
And harden not our hearts against the Truth
That Jesus came to teach: so that in vain
He may not cry to hearts that will not hear,
'I am the Bread of Life, for all that come,
I have this gift, an everlasting life,
And room within my Heavenly Father's House."
The higher forms [high school] in the PUS [Parents Union School] read The Saviour of the World volume by volume, along with the Scripture text arranged in chronological order. The lower forms [grades 1-6?] read the first three Gospels one at a time, which provide a synopsis of Christ's life. Form IV [8th and 9th grade] reads the Gospel of John and Acts, supplemented with Bishop Walsham How's wonderful commentaries, available from the S.P.C.K. [Anglican Church's Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge] The Epistles and Revelation are saved until Forms V and VI [grades 10-12]. The Catechism, Prayer-book, and Church History are taught in a similar manner, using appropriate texts. They provide an opportunity to sum up the church's doctrine, which is covered by preparing for Confirmation and Sunday services at the student's church.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 272-273
The knowledge of God is the most important thing to know. Any Bible teaching that doesn't work towards that purpose is of no religious value. To that end, students read a passage of scripture that covers an incident or specific teaching. If they're too young to be able to read, the teacher reads it to them. If students need to know the geography of the place that comes up in the episode, or a local custom, the teacher goes over that and briefly but reverently emphasizes any spiritual or moral truth before the reading. After the reading, the students narrate. They're able to narrate with striking accuracy, adding their own originality, yet conveying the truth that the teacher indicated. This isn't a case of rote memory. It's the result of assimilating the passage so well that it's become a part of them. If you try this method yourself, perhaps by reading and then narrating the story of Nicodemus, or Jesus' talk with the woman at the well, you'll see how clear each incident becomes to you, and how every phrase has a fullness of meaning as a result of your own personal effort. This method works especially well with the gospels, but those of us who read the Bible during WWI couldn't help but notice that the books of Moses and the prophets still show us what God is like. We must not regard the Old Testament as too outdated to use as a guide in our lives.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 281
We've already discussed what kind of intellectual food the mind needs. First of all, a good education should make children rich towards God, and not like the fool Jesus talked about in Luke 12 who was not rich towards God. A good education should also make children rich towards society, and rich towards themselves. I won't belabor the point by observing that moral bankruptcy has co-existed
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 287
. . . a broad education that makes knowledge of God its first priority results in worthy character, right actions, higher intelligence and more initiative.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 289
This kind of view of education naturally includes religion. It isn't just because 'his God instructs him and teaches him,' but because all knowledge falls under three types. First is knowledge of God, which is gotten first-hand from the Bible.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 336
We may be pathetic beings, but we're ready to break into songs of praise if we could ever find a full life of passionate devotion. If we only knew it, all of our heartfelt needs and burning desires can be met by the words in the Bible, and by the manifestation of Christ. What the world is waiting for is a Christianity unlike any it's seen before.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 337-338
It's arrogant to denounce the Bible when all you've read is enough to fill a page or two of Jesus' greatest sayings. That limits Divine teaching to the Sermon on the Mount, which we can rattle off in a few sentences. That's ridiculous and unacceptable. We should be working as hard at understanding the teachings of Jesus as Plato's disciples did at comprehending his words of wisdom. Let's take up our notebooks and study the orderly and progressive sequence, the penetrating quality, the irresistible appeal, and the uniqueness of the Divine teaching. For this kind of study, it might be good to use a chronological arrangement of the Gospels. Let's not just read for our own benefit, although we will benefit. Let's read for the love of the knowledge that's better than silver or gold. Soon we'll understand that this knowledge is the most important thing in life. We'll see what Jesus meant when He said, 'Look, I make all things new.' We'll get new concepts about the relative worth of things. New strength, new joy, new hope will be ours.
If we believe that knowledge is the main thing, that there are three kinds of knowledge, and that the foundation for all knowledge is the knowledge of God, then we'll bring up our children as students of Christianity. And we'll learn right along with them, continuing that study for our entire lives. We'll be prepared for Sunday sermons and find them as satisfying as bread to a hungry man. We might even realize what an enormous demand we make on our pastors to provide us with living, original thought. It's only when we familiarize ourselves with knowledge that science and nature help us understand more. As we learn more, they proclaim God in a way that we can hear. But if we're ignorant about the most important knowledge, we'll miss what they're telling us.
Volume 6, Philosophy of Education, pg 341
Even the Old Testament itself, with a little guarded editing, would be more available for children to read. And not many people would object to removing a few obscenities here and there from Shakespeare. In this regard, we have a bit too much superstitious piety.