The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Biblical View of Heredity

by Compton Reade.
Volume 1, 1890, pg. 657

Exploration has thrown a vivid light on the most ancient records of the Old Testament, proving conclusively that they were not garbled figments concocted after The Captivity, but deservedly held in reverend because of their sacred origin. Physiology, in like fashion, as it advances by slow steps towards the comprehension of what his now the mystery of our physical organization, may yet help to verify the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, and rescue thereby the modern Sadducee from the gloom of agnostic despair. Already that science in its infancy has revealed much of prime importance. We know now that a germ containing in crystalized form the essence--corporeal and mental--of the male parent passes to the female for accretion and development. The being, infinitesimal in size but infinite in its possibilities, becomes moulded as well as nurtured by the mother, and after its birth ascends to the material and moral stature of manhood and womanhood. Our identity, therefore, with our male parent, qualified for good or evil as it must ever be by temporary incorporation with our mother, remains a fact, and, paradoxical though the assertion my sound, the corollary of that fact is, that we have existed--under perpetually varying conditions--for the last six thousand years at least. What has been illogically termed instinct thus becomes memory, blurred it is true by the recurrent evolutions through which we have passed, yet non the less memory; and death, whatever else it may do, will release the spiritual portion of our complex individuality from its material prison during a series of aeons which, in retrospect, seem almost eternal.

Now, assuming this view of our past, present, and future, as the basis afforded by the researches of science so far as they have as yet travelled, we at once are able to grapple successfully with the anti-Christian argument against the earliest theological doctrine to be found in the Bible. Those who have chanced to attend the popular lectures of infidels cannot but have remarked the triumphant jubilance wherewith our heritage of Adam's sin is denounced. The resources of ridicule are exhausted in demolishing the alleged superstition of an individual at the close of the nineteenth century being in the smallest degree responsible for an error committed, according to Fynes Clinton, nearly sixty centuries ago, albeit the immorality of a remote progenitor will, admittedly, entail scrofula on his descendants in perpetuity. When, however, the plain truth be realized, that each life is only a link in a chain of existence stretching back through the ages, the links each differing from each other in detail, yet being one in essence, then the continuity of Adam's sin--his moral scrofula, if I may hazard a bold parallel--follows as an inevitable consequence, for the simple reason that every one of us was Adam. Moreover, this accounts for the necessity, emphasized with such passionate earnestness by our Divine Lord, of a new birth for the immortal portion of ourselves. The seed, which has been transmitted from the first, is corruptible. Germ after germ has fructified, yet all have displayed the same taint. "Ye must be born again!"

Further, if there be one stone in our theological edifice which, more than most, gives offense, it is the selection of a particular race for favor by God. The selection, however, was not arbitrary, still less capricious. As branches issued from the stem of Adam, the fault and corruption of his nature, already exhibited in such characters as Cain and Lamech, became apparent in all except one. Abraham pleased God. That was the cause, and surely a sufficient one, why he should be favored, and every Jew, from Isaac onwards, has been a differentiated reproduction of that mighty patriarch. True, differentiation often means deterioration, but the great tone-poet, Felix Mendelssohn, pure as his divine melodies, profound as his pathetic harmonies, the great philanthropist, Sir Moses Montefiore, displaying the quality of a good conscience in the usage of colossal wealth--these Jews justify still their father Abraham. For some four thousand years a few noble natures, for sire to son, from son to sire, carried forward the strain of fidelity which was the patriarch's crowning virtue, and such Israelites it is who inspire the thought of a new Jerusalem on earth, preparatory to that which is above, the mother of all spirits gathered to God.

It was Abraham, moreover--the same Abraham, though multiples in a myriad individuals, who marched to the conquest of the land of promise. What matter if a single generation perished int he wilderness, it was Abraham, still Abraham, who took possession of that good land, Abraham, too, who crushed, aye, and exterminated, the dispossessed nations. And when the objection is raised indignantly because ignorantly--"Why kill the children of those nations? Babes could have committed no sin against God"--The simple answer is, that those very babes, in the person of their parent, had already shared that parents' sin. Before they emanated from their parent they were not merely one with him--they were actually merged in his individuality, so that we could create a distinction on in imagination, and a misleading one. Supposing, ex hypothesis, that the fathers deserved to be erased from the human family, equally so did their offspring. We prate about innocent children. It is the veriest delusion. The child born to-day has been engaged for thousands of years in shaping his own character, and indeed, his mental attributes. The Asiatic, for example, must, so to speak, walk a dozen times round a simple idea before grasping it. The Englishman seizes it directly, and that is why he has made himself the Asiatic's master. No doubt climate, during successive generations, has conduced in either case to this habit of mind. The Asiatic, living in a semi-tropical latitude, has few needs, and those few obtainable by little labour, so he has acquired by degrees mental lassitude, and intuitively takes time to think. A native of our brumous climate, on the other hand, has not forgotten the lesson first learnt when he crossed the German Ocean on a filibustering expedition, concerning the rigors of Britain. He has been forced, all the centuries, to work with might and main to ward off the wolf, to shield himself from the bitter blast, and to tight for his own hand. So his custom is to hit hard and hit straight, to come to the point at once, and to keep to it. In like manner the Amorite, Hittite, Hivite, Jebusite, thanks to their proximity to Egyptian astrology, and the vile rites of a priesthood who acquired influence by appealing to the most depraved imaginations of the human brain, had been passing through an evolution of corruption, and, had the rising generation been spared, we may safely predict that it would have exceeded the abominations of its predecessors. So again, the sin of the Cities of the Plain cried to high heaven for the extinction, and when the catastrophe came, it overwhelmed the child as completely as the hoary sinner. Decreta Dei justa sunt.

I believe that it could be shown by a careful analysis of holy writ, that the Divine mind regards individuals, not merely in reference to their own character, but even more in respect of their antecedents before they assumed their present individuality. "As your fathers did, so do ye." "Verily ye allow the deeds of your fathers!" "Ye are the children of your fathers," and many more passages could be cited to show that God judges a man by what he has been in the proximate, if not the remote, past. A blessing upon their posterity descended as a reward for the fidelity of Abraham and Jonadab the son of Rechab; a blight seems to wither those who catalogue of vices in a series of past lives has made them objects of defilement, such as were of old those sinners the Amalekites. Yet even here the bias of the Devine mind towards mercy stands forth as a beacon of hope. Prospective curses are usually limited. The decalogue with all its severity refuses to travel beyond the fourth generation, while later in Jewish history, as through to win back half-hearted truants, it is proclaimed that the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father--a grand concession, but one offered subject to the prime condition of the said son forsaking his sire's evil ways--he must undergo something analogous to the baptism of repentance parched by St. John Baptist. The simple truth is, and we cannot evade it, that just as a pedigree dog, horse, or bull, rises superior to one of the same species that has not been cultivated to the highest pitch of perfection, so human beings reproduce the attributes of their previous lives, and not only the attributes but the special talents also. Scholarship is child's play to the son of scholar, for he learnt it all before, and it comes back to him. The son of a mechanic, whose mind has been schooled to calculation and measurement by his employment, acquires mathematics readily whereas the son of a country squire echoes form his heart Lord Macaulay's averment, that they are a study not fit for a gentleman. Now, when omniscience regards us in what we term our individuality--i.e., in our present phase of mental development, it can be no more possible to ignore our antecedents in the long past than it would be fore a skilled painter to examine a Raphael and yet to overlook the composition of its colors. In viewing the Madonna di San Sisto, the glamour of that ineffable masterpiece enchains our eye, and all except artists forget that one pigment came from Greece, another form the East, another perhaps from the side of some English hill. Yet so it was, and it has taken likewise many threads of many lives to make us what we are.

The pedigrees themselves, of course, tell a tale of the intense importance attached by the Jews to ancestry. To echo this belief may be to traverse the democratic sentiment of today, which is preeminently anti-traducian, and regards any reference to a man's progenitors as the assertion of a claim in essence inequitable. No such prejudice or passion blunted the perception of the chosen people. They, at all events, held in reverence those who were of the house and lineage of David; they plumed themselves as being one and all Abraham's children. It was this conviction that sustained them through sharper trails than have tested the self-reliance of any nation. It nerved them--even after the scepter had departed and the veil of the Temple had been rent in twain--to resist the legions of Titus to the bitter end. It has preserved them still as a peculiar people, though dispersed and a byword among the nations. Moreover, which, perhaps, concerns us more, the belief in inherited excellence was transmitted from the Jews to the early Christians, and to it we may fairly attribute the acceptance of infant baptism. "Thy grandmother Chlois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded in thee also." Words such as these testify tot he notion of the Church transmitting its stores of grace, not merely to her spiritual, but even to her natural children, who were, in consequence, admitted in unconscious infancy to the privilege of membership. It would be interesting, though far from conclusive, to trace the inherited capacity for the reception of grace. In the elder dispensation we find four generations--from Abraham to Joseph-- of souls in touch with the unseen and illumined by the light of God's countenance. Had all been patriarchs, this heritage of grace would have been rule. Alas, the instances to the contrary outweigh a solitary example. El's sons were of Belial. To David, the inspired, succeeded Solomon, wiser in head than in heart, and to him a degenerate scion indeed. But it is futile attempting to generalize, nor, indeed, were the conditions on parallel lines with those of the new dispensation. No doubt the story of the Church, when it comes to be revealed at the Great Day of Account, will reveal many a sequence of gracious souls, each having, in its little span, passed through the same experience as the other. Such was, probably, the internal history of the Wesley, the Wilberforce, the Wordsworth, and the Faber families. It may be remarked also as a significant phenomenon, that the hand of Providence has poured a cornucopia of worldly blessings on very many house of our English pietists, who indeed, have absorbed a large share of the wealth of the nation, being, nevertheless, some generations back, universally of humble origin. The judgments of God are righteous. He lifteth up one and setteth down another. Peace and prosperity follow those who have attained the highest spiritual gifts, and this, too, from generation to generation.

In conclusion, among current topics under discussion, that of heredity seems to be fraught with the intensest interest. Science, here as elsewhere, is simply amplifying into the form of a theory an intuition, which was never resisted by common sense, until democracy began to burn with fierce jealousy at the bare suspicion of race being superior to race, family to family, and the born leaders of men to the rank and file. All I can urge is, that if democracy be right, and all men are equal, then great is the truth, and it must prevail. In the absence of evidence verifying this doctrine of dead level, I for one prefer to hold with Horace, that eagles do not generat doves, and with Lord Tennyson that:

The highest is the measure of the man,
And not the Kaffir, Hottentot, Malay.

As ancestry of honest toil ought to be one nobody need feel ashamed of, and may well arouse as sterling a sentiment of pride as the escutcheon with thirty quarterings. We must remember, also, that the pedigree of all takes us back to one man, of whom it has been written, that he was the Son of God. Looking back through the vista of ages, they eye dare travel no further than our first parent. We dare not predicate of ourselves that we are the image and likeness of the Eternal, Immortal, Invisible. Yet, if the future is to balance the past, then an eternal pas must be regarded as the necessary correlative of an eternal future. Obliterate all notion of our having always been, and the eternal "to be" fades into a shadow. Life begins with the first, and ends with the last breath. Against such a miserable conclusion we alike recoil, and can only be effectually safeguarded by the internal evidence of religious experience, which has convinced many millions of perfectly sane and sober intellects, that the Holy Spirit is a fact capable of cognisance, and not merely a dream of enthusiasm. True, our apocalypse has been adapted to the slenderest spiritual capacities. We know now only in part, but it was not always so. At the Fall we, in person of Adam, broke away from our prime origin, the Godhead. With us God--and no anthropomorphic God--our Father and our friend--walked in Eden. We were conscious of His presence, we heard His voice, through our human eye could see no outward form, no similitude, and perhaps it is possible for some illumined souls to stretch back their recollection to those primeval days, with their sunshine, their peace, and perfection. At all events the apocalypse of every conversion reiterates a happy experience, ere the sin committed in Eden had darkened our souls and dwarfed our intellect, and changed us from spiritual giants to spiritual pigmies. Fuimus is the motto of every hatchment. We have been, not merely in this little ephemeral span we call our life, but through the circle of centuries, and though we have existed so long--so very long--not one of us has as yet tasted death. That is the final and critical experience looming in front of us, and the momentous question for decision is--Will it carry us back to the God from who we originally sprang--our Father--or will it hurry us away to outer darkness? Hitherto, throughout the ages, we have been sharing the individuality of others, and those of us who are parents have continued our individuality in our offspring. But we do not thereby lose our present individuality. Our present is the offspring of a mighty past, and the parent of a mighty future. Sum, ergo fui; fui, ergo ero.

Typed by Deborah, Apr 2017