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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Parents and Children.

A Sequel to "Home Education." By The Editor.
Volume 2, 1891/92, pg. 374-380


V.--BIBLE LESSONS.

The history of England is now reduced to a game at cards,--the problems of mathematics to puzzles and riddles . . . There wants but one step further, and the Creed and Ten Commandments may be taught in the same manner, without the necessity of the grave face, deliberate tone of recital, and devout attention hitherto exacted from the well-governed childhood of this realm. Waverley.

Those of our readers who are interested in the P.N.E.U. Notes will felicitate the Parents' National Educational Union on the promise of a flourishing daughter of society in New South Wales. These are days in which parents sit at the feet of their children, and though in the main we protest against the attitude, we of the Parent Society confess gratefully that we have already something to learn from our infant daughter over the sea. Mr. Jackson, the incumbent of St. James's, Sydney, is the indefatigable propagator of the movement; and, if we mistake not the fact that the children of the richer and better educated classes are there, as in the United States, sent to Sunday School for religious instruction, first brought home to him the urgent need for such a society.

That parents should make over the religious education of their children to a Sunday School is, no doubt, as indefensible as if they sent them for their meals to a table maintained by the public bounty. We "at home" plead "not guilty" to this particular count. Our Sunday Schools are used by those toil-worn and little-learned parents who are willing to accept at the hands of the more leisured classes this service of the religious teaching of their children. That is, the Sunday School is, at present, a necessary evil, an acknowledgment that there are parents so hard pressed that they are unable for their first duty.

Here we have the theory of the Sunday School--the parents who can, teach their children at home on Sunday, and substitutes step in to act for those who can't. It is upon this delightful theory of the Sunday School that Mr. Jackson, at the Antipodes, takes action. Never does it appear to occur to him that the members of the upper and middle classes do not need to be definitely and regularly instructed in religion--"from a child." His contention is, only, that such children should not be taught at Sunday School, but at home, and by their parents; and the main object of his parochial "Parents' Union" is to help parents in this work. These are some of the rules:--

1. The object of the Union shall be to unite, strengthen, and assist fathers and mothers in the discharge of their parental duties.

2. Members shall be pledged, by the fact of their joining, to supervise the education of their own children, and to urge the responsibility of the parental relationship upon other parents.

3. Lesson sketches shall be furnished monthly to each family in connection with the Union.

4. Members shall bring their children to the monthly catechising, and sit with them, &c., &c.

Probably the "lesson sketches" are to secure that the children do just such Bible-lessons at home with their parents on Sunday as they have hitherto done at the Sunday School with teachers.

It seems to be contemplated that parents of every class will undertake their proper duties in this matter, and that the Sunday School may be allowed to drop, the clergyman undertaking instead to ascertain, by means of catechising, that certain work is done month by month.

The scheme seems full of promise. Nothing should do more to strengthen the bonds of family life than that the children should learn religion at the lips of their parents; and, to grow up in a church which takes constant heed of you from baptism or infancy until, we will not say confirmation, but manhood or womanhood, should give the right tone to corporate life.

No doubt we have parishes, and even whole denominations, in which the young people are taken hold of from first to last; but then it is by clergy, teachers, class leaders, and so on; and all parents do not regard it as an unmixed blessing that the most serious part of their children's training should be undertaken by outsiders. The thing that seems most worthy of imitation in this Australian movement is, that parents themselves are recognised as the fit instructors of their children in the best things, and that they are led to acknowledge some responsibility to the church with regard to the instruction they give.

But do we manage these things so well "at home" that we have no occasion to look about us for hints? It may be fresh in the memories of some of us, that in May, 1889, a Committee of the House of Laymen for the Province of Canterbury was appointed to examine into the religious education of the upper and middle classes.* The committee considered that they might obtain a good basis for their investigations by examining into the religious knowledge of boys entering school. They sent a paper of inquiries to sixty-two head-masters, most of whom sent replies; and from these replies the committee are led to conclude that, "for the most part, the standard of religious education attained by boys before going to school is far below what might be hoped or expected; and that even this standard, thus ascertained to be far too low, is deteriorating; and, further, that the chief cause of deterioration is considered to be the want of home-teaching and religion."

*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.

Here is matter of grave consideration for us all--for, though the investigation was conducted by churchmen, it naturally covered boys of various denominations attending public and middle-class schools; the distinctive character of the religious education was the subject of separate inquiry. No doubt there are many beautiful exceptions--families brought up in quiet homes in the nature and admonition of the Lord; but if it is as some of us fear, a fact that there is a tendency among parents of the middle and upper classes to let religious education of their children take care of itself, it is worth while to ask, What is the reason? and, What is the remedy? Many reasons are assigned for this alleged failure in parental duty--social claims, the restive temper of the young people and their impatience of religious teaching, and so on. But these reasons are inadequate. Parents are, on the whole, very much alive to their responsibilities; perhaps there has never been a generation more earnest and conscientious than the young parents of these days. All the same, these thoughtful young parents do not lay themselves out to teach their children religion before all things.

The fact is, our religious life has suffered, and by and by our national character will suffer for the discredit thrown upon the Bible by adverse critics. we rightly regard the Bible as the entire collection of our Sacred Books. We have absolutely nothing to teach but what we find written therein. But we no longer go to the Bible with the old confidence: our religion is fading into a sentiment, not easy to impart; we wait until the young people shall conceive it for themselves. Meantime, we give them such aesthetic culture as should tend to develop those needs of the soul that find their satisfaction in worship. The whole superstructure of "liberal" religious thought is miserably shaky, and no wonder there is some shrinking from exposing it to the Ithuriel's spear of the definite and searching young mind. For we love this flimsy habitation we have builded. It bears a shadowy resemblance to the old home of our souls, and we cling to it with a tender sentiment which the younger generation might not understand.

Are we then unhoused? Undoubtedly we are upon one assumption--that assumption which it takes a brilliant novelist to put forth in its naked asperity--"Miracles do not happen." The educated mind is more essentially logical than we are apt to suppose. Remove the keystone of miracle and the arch tumbles about our ears. The ostentatious veneration for the Person of Christ as separated from the "mythical" miraculous element is, alas! no more than a spurious sentiment toward a self-evolved conception. Eliminate the "miraculous" and the whole fabric of Christianity absolutely disappears; and not only so, what have we to do with that older revelation of "the Lord, the Lord, a God full of compassion and gracious"? Do we say, Nay, we keep this; here is no miracle; and, of Christ, have we not the inimitable Sermon on the Mount--sufficient claim on our allegiance? No, we have not; therein are we taught to pray; to consider the lilies of the field and the fowls of the air, and to remember that the very hairs of our head are all numbered. Here we have the doctrine of the personal dealing, the particular providence of God, which is of the very essence of miracle. If "miracles do not happen" it is folly and presumption to expect in providence and invite in prayer the faintest disturbance of that course of events which is utterly fixed by inevitable law. The educated mind is severely logical, though an effore of the will may keep us from following out our conclusions to the bitter end. What have we left? A God, who of necessity can have no personal dealings with you or me, for such dealings would be of the nature of miracle: a God, prayer to whom in the face of such certainty becomes blasphemous. How dare we approach the Highest with requests, which, in the nature of things (as we conceive), it is impossible He should grant? We cannot pray and we cannot trust, may be; yet are we not utterly godless; we can admire, adore, worship, in uttermost humility. But how? What shall we adore? The Divine Being can be known to us only through his attributes; He is a God of love and a God of justice; full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. But these are attributes which can only be conceived of as in action, from Person to person. How be gracious and merciful unless to a being in need of grace and mercy? Grant that grace and mercy may modify the slightest circumstance in a man's existence, spiritual or temporal, and you grant the whole question of "miracles"--that is, that it is possible to God to act otherwise than through such inevitable laws as we are able to recognise. Refuse to concede "the miraculous element" and the Shepherd of Israel has departed from our midst; we are left orphaned in a world undone.

Such and so great are the issues of that question of "miracle" with which we are fond of dallying, with a smile here and a shrug there, and a special sneer for that story of the swine that ran violently down a steep place, because we know so much about the dim thoughts of the brute creation--living under our eyes, indeed, but curiously out of our ken. Grant the possibility of miracles, that is, of the voluntary action of a Personal God, and who will venture to assign limits of less or more?

How long halt we betwixt two opinions?--to the law and to the testimony. Let us boldly accept the alternative which Hume proposes, however superciliously. Let it be, that, "no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish." Even so. We believe that Christ rose again the third day and ascended into heaven; or, we credit the far more miraculous hypothesis that "there is no God;" or, anyway, the God of revelation, in His adorable Personality, has ceased to be for us. There is no middle way. Natural law, as we understand it, has nothing to do with these issues; not that the Supreme abrogates His laws, but that our knowledge of "natural law" is so agonisingly limited and superficial that we are utterly incompetent to decide whether a break in the narrow circle, within which our knowledge is hemmed, is, or is not, an opening into a wider circle, where what appears to us an extraordinary exception does but exemplify the general rule.

We would not undervalue the solid fruits of Biblical criticism--even the most adverse. This should be a great gain in the spiritual life--that, henceforth, a miracle is accredited, not merely by the fact that it is recorded in the sacred history, but by its essential fitness with the divine Character; just as, if we may reverently compare human things with divine, we say of a friend, "Oh, he would never do that!" or, "That is just like him." Tried by this test, how unostentatious, simple, meekly serviceable are the miracles of Christ; how utterly divine it is,

"To have all power, and be as having none!"

The mind, which is saturated with the Gospel story in all its sweet reasonableness, which has absorbed the more confused and broken rays wherein the Light of the World is manifested in Old Testament story, will, perhaps, be the least tempted to the disloyalty of "honest doubt;"--for disloyalty to the most close and sacred of all relationships it is, though we must freely concede that such doubt is the infirmity of noble minds. Believing that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, that the man is established in the Christian faith according as the child has been instructed, the question of questions for us is, how to secure that the children shall be well grounded in the Scriptures by their parents, and shall pursue the study with intelligence, reverence, and delight.

Will our readers, clergy, parents, and teachers consider the matter, and send suggestions? Perhaps it will be well to form P.N.E.U. "Sunday" Branches, parochial or congregational, on the pattern of that of St. James's, Sydney. We are not in a condition to abolish Sunday Schools, but that such parents as can should take up with their children at home, Sunday by Sunday, those chapters of a given book which the children in the Sunday School are studying with their teachers, and that both should be catechised together in church or chapel once a month, would seem a very simple plan, and one which would tend to make children feel that they belong to the church. It is unnecessary to say a word to church people as to the opportunity for the progressive teaching of the Christian faith afforded by the weekly collect, epistle, and gospel, nor of the committing to memory of those beautiful prayers and their illustrative passages, to become a most helpful and precious life-long possession; one, indeed, which nonconformists, as well as church people, would do well to bestow upon their children.

But, again, we ask for suggestions on this vital matter of the grounding in the Scriptures of the children of the upper and middle classes by their parents, and, if possible, subject to occasional catechising by their "minister of religion."


Typed by Blossom Barden, Feb 2013