The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Chats with "Tante."

by A. Johnston, M. D.
Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 191-203

[Lectures delivered to the students of the House of Education.]

By the kind thought for you of "Tante," we are about to commence a series of chats upon health; and health is, as our Yankee cousins would say, rather a "big" subject, embracing both health of body and health of mind (mens sana in corpore sano), and the natural reaction of each upon the other.

Our first chat will take the form of a sermonette, and as anything in the shape of a sermon must, in modern days, have a text, I shall take a text from the Psalms (lxii. 12). This is a text from which I am continually preaching sermons to my patients, ringing the changes upon it in various ways; but it is one with which even diligent Bible students do not seem by any means familiar--i.e., if you quote the text, omitting one particular word, which may be looked on as the key-note to the passage, and ask them to supply the missing word, any word, or any number of words, will, at least nine times out of ten, be suggested instead of the word which actually finds place there. "Also unto Thee, O Lord, belongeth--, for Thou renderest to every man according to his work." You would naturally expect, reasoning as man reasons, that the word to fill up the blank here would be "justice," seeing that the next clause is ushered in by the conjunction "for." But no. The idea contained in the verse is a very much more beautiful one. It is that of Mercy. And the question at once rises to the lips: "What possible connection can there be between God being merciful, and his rendering to every man according to his work? Nevertheless, it is the truest mercy, according to God's mode of governing the world. He is ever EDUCATING us, slowly, it is true; but as fast as we are able to go, or rather as fast as we are willing to go, for willingness here is largely the measure of ability--ever striving to lead us out of our darkness and ignorance into His marvellous light.

Take a simple illustration: Suppose a child of from one to two years old, just beginning to toddle independently, left alone in a room with an open fire-place; he sees the pretty dancing flame, and he goes over and makes a grab at the blazing coal; think you he will ever do so again? No. He has learned in the best of all schools, that of experience, and in this case that of painful experience, the most emphatic of all teachers, A LAW OF NATURE which he will never forget while he has being--namely, that fire burns.

But you may perhaps ask--What is meant by a "law of Nature?" Well, it is a phrase that is in every one's mouth, but, like every phrase that has a definite meaning, it will bear explanation; and to know the meaning of the phrase we must know the meaning of the words which compose it. By "Nature," then, I mean the entire universe to its remotest limits, with its million world-suns, including of course our planet and all that pertains to it--short of God. I make choice of this phrase "short of God," as the least objectionable that I can think of, as "outside of God" is open to the objection that "in Him all things live, and move, and have their being," and conversely, "He is above all, and through all, and in all." "Nature" has been prettily defined as the "garment" of the living God, in which He, so to speak, outwardises Himself; in which He manifests, or reveals, Himself in forms of tenderness, of beauty, of sublimity, of grandeur, and sometimes of apparent cruelty, as, for instance, in the case of earthquakes, which swallow down thousands in a moment of time, but when we get to the bottom of the matter we see that the cruelty is only apparent. Or again we may look upon it as an almost infinitely vast and complicated machine, animated and guided by its Great Artificer, who never hastes and never rests.

Further, by the term "law" all that is meant to be conveyed is a constantly uniform mode of action, so that when we speak of the "laws of Nature," we mean merely, or at least should mean merely, the unchanging mode in which God acts through the machine which He informs and guides. So whenever you hear the phrase "law" or "laws of Nature," remember that they are laws of God.

I am proceeding thus, purposely, step by step, being wishful to lay as broad a philosophical basis as possible, that you may have well-assured ground to fall back upon as regards our future teaching.

It is vain for us to attempt to go against the laws of Nature. They are imperative and unchangeable. To be in harmony with them is happiness. Punishment, from which there is no escape, is the result of their violation. This punishment is fixed, certain, equal, and impartial. It requires no judge nor executioner. It is never more nor less than the just penalty and righteous consequence of our own misdoings. A knowledge of Nature enables us to put ourselves in harmony with her laws. Happy indeed is he who can say with the Psalmist, "O Lord, Thou hast made me glad through Thy work, I will triumph in the works of Thy hands."

"All the phenomena we see around us are the result of fixed laws, but many of them are of a very complex nature, because they are the result of several laws acting together; in consequence of this we are often unable to trace effects to their real cause."

If we observe physical and organic laws we are in harmony with Nature on her lower plane, and therefore, measurably, with the Author of Nature, while, if we observe moral and religious laws, we are, in a higher sense, in harmony with our Maker.

These "laws of Nature" are, I again repeat, simply modes of God's action. I dwell upon this because many good people, many of the very best of people, think that the term "Natural Law" necessarily implies something that is intended to supersede the action of Deity--to take the place of God. And I fear their apprehension has, in many cases, but too good grounds. Materialism and practical Atheism have, I believe, largely gained ground during the latter half of this century, owing to causes which I need not here dwell upon. But because a term or a thing is abused by some, that constitutes no sufficient reason why others should be debarred its use. I don't know whether you are aware that in Hebrew there is but one root-word to express cursing and blessing--a circumstance pregnant with instruction. If we think upon it, as pointing to the fact that these terms are, like everything in life, merely relative, and indicating that the good or evil conveyed by the terms in question depends altogether upon the use or abuse of that to which they refer. This holds all through life. To take the broadest and commonest illustrations of it: What is a greater blessing than water? What may not be a greater curse than water? What is a greater blessing than fire? What may not be a greater curse than fire? What is a greater blessing than opium? What may not be a greater curse than opium? And so on, ad indefinitum; so that you see it comes to this, that there is no curse which may not, under God's grace, become a blessing; and there is no blessing which may not, through being abused, become a curse. And this holds equally true on the higher planes as on the lower. All the powers of our being, from the lowest up to the highest, are all from God, and even the very lowest in the scale may be a blessing, and give rise to blessing, while, on the other hand, the very highest may be a source of misery and a curse. I can't stop to enlarge upon this further at present, but we shall, I hope, have opportunity to consider it later on.

These Laws of Nature are broadly divisible into three classes:
I. Physical Laws, or laws relating to inanimate matter.
II. Organic Laws, or laws relating to things which have life, things which grow vitally, so called because the possession of organs is implied for the purposes of life and growth.
III. Mental Laws, or laws relating to the mind, of which the brain is the material organ.

This last class may further be subdivided into:
1. Laws having reference to the Propensities common to man and the lower animals.
2. Those having reference to the Moral Sentiments.
3. Those having reference to the Intellectual Faculties, comprising the Perceptive and the Reflective.

And I hope to be able to show, before we close this series of chats, that the maintenance of both bodily and mental health is very closely connected with a due observance of the laws presiding over these.

I cannot too often repeat, for the sake of impressing it upon you, that the laws of Nature are the laws of the Almighty impartial Father, who maketh His sun to shine equally on the evil and on the good, and Who sendeth His rain alike on the just and on the unjust, and Who, because, for the very reason that His tender mercies are over all His works, has made His laws the laws of Nature, the laws of health, the laws of life, constant and invariable, under similar conditions, that by due diligence we may be able to discover these laws, and, having discovered, to obey them. So that you see knowledge must go before obedience. You can't obey until you know what it is you are to obey. And when you know the laws of life, taking this word in its highest and deepest sense, and also taking the verb in its highest and deepest sense, as including obedience, then you know God, as far as He can be known here below, and have life; as St. John puts it: "This is life eternal, to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent."

To follow on to know Him, even in the lower forms of Nature, is always, to a rightly-constituted mind, of surpassing interest, and, to speak of it in the most moderate terms, and eminently valuable acquisition; but to know Him in the highest life, which He has ever vouchsafed to earth, in him who came to manifest Him, this is indeed the highest and most blessed knowledge.

I must call your particular attention to the fact, that each of the divers of laws referred to above--namely the physical, the organic, and the mental--has its own special sphere of action, and its own sanctions. You may be most diligent on observing the moral laws, and while you gain your reward on the moral plane, if you at the same time infringe a physical or an organic law, you must needs suffer on the plane of that class of laws which you have transgressed, even though the transgression have been committed, not wilfully, but through ignorance. I shall endeavour to expand this statement so as to make it as plain as possible to your apprehension, because you often hear it said, with reference to some great sufferer: "What a mysterious dispensation, that one so good should be the subject of such affliction!" The speaker's words evidently implying, if they have any meaning at all, that he thinks that the moral goodness of the sufferer in question ought to shield him or her from such a visitation. But this is a very grievous mistake, arising from not bearing in mind the fact above stated, that each class of natural laws has its own sphere of action and its own sanctions.

In the case supposed, the suffering individual has, in all probability, either knowingly or ignorantly, either in his own person, or in those of his progenitors, violated important organic laws, from the consequences of which violation there is no escape on the organic plane; and you will bear in mind that "the sins of the fathers (parents) are visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation." This statement, which is as true as truth itself, implies, you see, that the sin or sins of the progenitor, from the consequences of which the descendant is assumed to suffer, has not been repeated within three generations immediately previous--"unto the fourth generation;" but assuming that it has been repeated up to that immediately preceding the sufferer in question, the consequences of such "sins," or violations of law, are bound to come upon the latter with cumulative force.

Dr. Combe writes: "The following case was furnished to me by an actual observer. 'A gentleman far advanced in years fell into a state of bodily weakness, which rendered necessary the constant presence of an attendant. A daughter, largely endowed with natural affection, benevolence, and veneration, devoted herself to this service with the most ceaseless assiduity. She was his companion for month after month, and year after year--happy in cheering the last days of her respected parent, and knowing no pleasure equal to that of solacing and comforting him. For months in succession she went not abroad from the house; her duty became dearer to her the longer she discharged it, till at length her father became the sole object on earth of her feelings and her thoughts. The superficial observer would say that this conduct was admirable, and that she must have received a rich reward from heaven for such becoming and virtuous devotion. But Providence rules on other principles, and never yields. Her enjoyment of mental happiness and vigour depended on the condition of her brain, and her brain was subject to the organic laws. These laws demand, as an indispensable condition of health, exercise in the open air and variety of employment, calculated to maintain all the faculties in activity. She neglected the first in her constant attendance in her father's chamber, and she overlooked the second in establishing him as the exclusive object of her consideration. The result was that she fell into bad health, accompanied by weakness of brain, excessive anxiety, hysteria, and even symptoms of insanity. Some judicious friends at last interfered, and by forcing her to leave, for a time, although much against her inclination, the object of her solicitude, rescued her from death, or confirmed mental derangement.'

"If this case had been allowed to proceed uninterruptedly to its natural termination, many pious persons would have marvelled at the mysterious dispensations of Providence in afflicting so dutiful a daughter; whereas, when the principle of the divine government is understood, the result appears neither wonderful nor perplexing."

To show, from the very simplest illustrations I can think of, that each class of natural laws has its own sphere of action and its own sanctions: suppose the very best man living were, through carelessness, to fall over a precipice, think you that man's moral goodness would exempt him from the consequences of the operation of the law of gravitation? No. You know well that he would be dashed to pieces as certainly as though he were the vilest malefactor. This case illustrates the consequences of an infraction of a physical law.

Or again: Suppose the same individual to swallow a deadly poison in mistake for a healing draught; think you, would his goodness exempt him from the operation of the organic law implied in the relation of the poison so taken by mistake to his vital frame, even though the taking of it were not due to any carelessness or fault on his part? You well know it would not.

What endows the operation of these natural laws with awfully enhanced gravity, is the consideration that the consequences of their transgression are not limited to the individual guilty of such, nor even confined to those in direct line of descent from him, but may be multiplied collaterally, in the direct ratio of the number of those who may, directly or indirectly, be affected by the results of such transgression.

Witness the case of the destruction of the Tay bridge, which will be tolerably fresh in the recollection of most of you, where, from the carelessness or greed of the contractor, who made use of faulty materials in its construction, the train, with its living freight, was hurled into the boiling tide.

Had every carriage of this train been occupied to the full by the very salt of the earth, would that circumstance have availed one whit to nullify the operation of the natural law which ordains that iron of a certain quality and strength will bear only a corresponding strain?

Or, take again the case of the steamship London, which set sail for Australia a few years since, in which the famous actor, Gustavus Brooke, went down, which, through the greed of the person who chartered the vessel, was far too heavily laden with iron rails, and after battling nobly with the elements in a wild storm for three whole days, at last succumbed, the almost certainty, from the report of the survivors, being that had she been less heavily laden, she would have reached her port in safety. There was one boat containing twenty-seven survivors from the wreck, who endured most fearful sufferings from thirst during nineteen days, who, but for their ignorance of another natural law (viz. that water holding saline matter in solution, when kept in contact with the skin, is absorbed as fresh water), might have had their sufferings from this cause vastly mitigated.

"The Almighty Father governs the world by general laws. He could not interfere to prevent the calamities that arise from our ignorance or neglect of natural laws, without doing more harm than good. If a ship overloaded did not sink, a bad building fall, or poisoned air and water produce sickness regularly, when all circumstances are the same, all motives for care would be taken away. This makes steady, unchanging laws the greatest blessing. Accident, chance, or fortune are words which we use to denote results, the causes of which are hidden, or too complicated for our comprehension. A perfect knowledge of natural laws would render such words unnecessary. It may well be that the term Providence means only God helping us in our highest efforts; not doing, instead of our doing it, but helping us mentally, as a father tries to help his child."

One thing is certain, that the book of Nature, being God's handiwork, is divine, and therefore its laws can never be at variance with true religion.

"By studying the laws of Nature we see more clearly that human interest and human duty are in harmony with each other. We may further learn that there are as many kinds of enjoyment as there are laws of the mind. We become convinced that no real advantage is to be gained by doing wrong, and that we are never so truly happy as when we are trying to promote the happiness of others. We begin to discover that even our ignorance and imperfections become blessings indirectly, by promoting the activity of our moral and intellectual powers. From this study we may find that there is no failure in the Divine arrangement of the world; that what is, is for the best, except that which is the result of our own misdoings."

Every organ in our body acquires strength by exercise, always supposing that such exercise be not in excess; the simplest illustration of which law being seen in the case of the blacksmith's arm; in like manner, if we want a moral people, their moral nature must be called into greater activity; if we want an intellectual people, their faculties of perception and reflection must be duly exercised, by the acquisition of knowledge through the perceptive faculties, and by earnest and vigorous thought; our social feelings require to be called into life and strength by use. All the powers of our nature should be called into due activity to secure intellectual, moral, religious, and social elevation. To properly educate is to awaken all the faculties into harmonious development.

"The laws by which nations are governed, are, for the most part, artificial expedients, rendered necessary by our ignorance of natural laws. Man is by nature intended to be a law unto himself. The laws of Nature are permanent and of universal application. Human laws are temporary and pernicious when they are not founded on, or not in harmony with natural laws."

We ought now, I think, to be in a position to appreciate the force of St. John's definition of "Sin," as you will find it in I John iii 4 (Revised Version). "Sin is lawlessness," or violation of law, in the abstract. Not (the) transgression of the law (meaning the Decalogue), as it reads in King James' version, which reading may be seen, on very slight consideration of the context, to be incorrect. Of course, the Bible being chiefly concerned throughout with vindicating the law of righteousness (or rightness) in its higher moral aspect, this fact of the far-reachingness of law may not appear on the surface as plainly as it would otherwise do, but, nevertheless, we find the disciple, who certainly most resembled his Master in his most Godlike * attribute, giving, in this passage, this wide-grasping definition of sin. And leaving out of consideration altogether infractions of the higher moral laws, how can we with any show of reason look upon a breach of a Divine law, and seeing also, as we have seen, what wide-spread and fearful consequences it may entail.

* ["Thy truth and Thy justice are Thine, Who speak of Thy love speak of Thee."--Mrs. Charles]

If we really desire that the prayer which is so often upon our lips should receive its answer, the prayer, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth;" we shall do our utmost diligence to attain to, and then to spread, a knowledge of the Divine laws in every department of God's wondrous universe--laws spiritual, laws mental, laws organic, laws physical; so shall we most effectually co-operate with Him in hastening the day of His appearing.

The whole of this third chapter of John's first epistle is wondrously beautiful, more especially the opening of it; it would, however, require an angel from heaven to expound it fittingly. I will just read the first four verses of it:

"Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us, that we should be called 'children of God'; and such we are . . . . . Beloved, now are we children of God, and it is not yet made manifest what we shall be. We know that if He shall be manifested we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him even as He is. And every one that hath this hope in him purifieth (αγνιζει) himself, even as He is pure (αγνος). [Has the name "Agnes" any relation to this word? On looking into the Church Calendar I see that the 21st January is dedicated to St. Agnes. She was a Roman maiden who, for steadfast adherence to her vows, suffered death by torture A.D. 304, in the persecution under Diocletian.] Whosoever violateth law (i.e., natural law, God's law, not by any means necessarily man's law, which must be in harmony with God's laws before a violation of it can be regarded as sin), committeth sin, for violation of law is sin." And I would like to call your attention to the circumstance that the word in the third verse in the original (αγνιζει) which both our versions render "purifieth," properly covers a very much wider space of ground than the idea which we commonly attach to that term. It properly means: strives to keep himself free from all sin--i.e., from all violation of law; strives to act up to the injunction, "Be ye perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect."

It may be interesting to note (I quote now from Archbishop Trench) that the word here, and generally throughout the New Testament, rendered "sin" is αμαρτια which literally means "missing a mark"--a metaphor taken from shooting or running a race, holiness being looked upon as the mark to be struck, or the goal to be attained, the failure to attain which is a missing of the mark, or, in a measure, "sin."

"Sin may be looked upon in various other aspects--e.g. 'the overpassing of a line.' It is then 'παραβασις'--'Transgression;' 'Disobedience to a voice,' in which case it is 'παρακοη'; 'Falling' where one should have stood upright, this will be 'π'αραπτωμα'; 'Culpable ignorance'--'αγνοημα'; 'Diminishing' of what should have been rendered in full measure--'ηττημα'--; 'Non-observance of law'--'παρανομια'-- or 'ανομια'; 'A false note,' 'a discord'--πλημμεια. And in other ways almost without number."

This last expression is perhaps the most telling of them all. Most of us are too apt to forget that the terms "heaven" and "hell" represent, not so much localities, as states of mind, whether here or hereafter. Heaven is harmony, and hell is discord. "The kingdom of heaven is within us," and the kingdom of hell is just as truly within us. The "kingdom of heaven," or "kingdom of God," is right(eous)ness, and peace, and joy in [the possession of] a * holy spirit."

* [Correct rendering. It is strange, and matter of deep regret, that the "Revisers" should have overlooked this.]

The kingdom of hell is the opposite of all these.

From all this we may see that "sin" is a very "big" thing. There may be "violation of law" which, as you have seen, is "sin" in a vast number of directions. Just as I said at the outset of this discourse, that "health," which is really the opposite of sin, is also a very "big" thing.

Does the statement that health is the opposite of sin surprise you? Nevertheless I think you will see that it can be fully justified. We have seen that "sin" is infraction of law; and did we know perfectly all the laws of our being, which is far from being the case as yet, and did we, knowing, observe them, doubtless we should enjoy a state of perfect health (i.e., had our progenitors observed them likewise, and so the argument is carried down as to our descendants)--health mental and health physical; and if we look to the etymology of the word "health," we shall see that it is synonymous with "holiness."

The Anglo-Saxon noun "hoel" means health, happiness, salvation. There is also the Anglo-Saxon adjective "hal" whence our word "hale," which generally, as you know, goes with "hearty," the word "hal" meaning "whole"--i.e., free from all deficiency. You are familiar with the common expression referring to one who is a little wanting in the upper store, "He's not all there"; its connection with health being illustrated by the saying of Jesus, "They that are 'whole' need not a physician." Again, in the Book of Common Prayer we find: "We have offended against Thy holy [This adjective is not of course intended to have here any limiting signification; it is merely pleonastic; all the laws of God must, form the necessity of the case, be "holy" laws.] laws; we have left undone [Either from αγνοημα or ηττημα.] those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and there is no 'health' [This, doubtless, refers primarily to health of soul, but it may cover much wider ground.] in us." Then confession passes over into prayer: "But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders; spare Thou them, O God, which confess their faults; restore Thou them that are penitent." In reference to which three last clauses I would note with solemn emphasis the words of Jesus: "Not every one who saith unto Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who doeth the will of My Father who is in heaven." The will of My Father, which finds its expression in His "holy laws." And I would earnestly ask you to consider anew the meaning of these clauses, in the light of the facts brought forward in the earlier part of this discourse.

Again, from the Anglo-Saxon "hoel"--"health," comes the Anglo-Saxon adjective "halig"--"holy," and its substantive "haligness"--"holiness."

Again, in Acts xxvii. 34, where Paul is exhorting the crew of the shipwrecked vessel to take food, "for this is for your health," the word rendered "health" is 'σωτηρια' the same word which is rendered elsewhere throughout the New Testament "salvation," and further the very name "Jesus" means, as I dare say you are aware, a "healer," one who restores to "health," the Greek form of the name being "Ιησονς", from the verb "Ιαομα," I heal.

Before beginning with our work proper, I should like to make a few observations with respect to character, which is really very closely connected with health in the broad acceptation of this word.

Character, in any individual, may be looked on in the light of a work of art, the joint production of--

      (1) The earthly authors of his being;
      (2) Those who have charge of his education;
      (3) The individual himself.

It may further be viewed under the representation of an alto-relievo or of a basso-relievo. Looked at in the former light, under the simile of which St. Paul is so fond--that of a building--it will of course be composed of several course, symbolising habits formed or acquired, each of which courses will be composed of individual stones, symbolising so many acts, from which, by continual repetition, habits have been built up. I think there could not be a better illustration than this is of the mode of formation of character. It behoves us all, therefore, and more especially you who are as yet young, to see that the stones, whatever their original composition may be (for which each individual is not responsible, as regards himself), are cut and finished to their best, and that the courses are laid true, seeing that habits, once formed, are either beneficent masters or cruel tyrants, holding sway to the end of this life--and beyond.

Or, it may be looked upon as a bas-relief, as its etymology suggests.

Our word "character" is transferred bodily from the Greek without the change of a single letter; "χαρακτηφ", meaning "an engraving," derived from the verb "χαρασσω", "I engrave." Character, then, looked at from this point of view will mean (leaving out of account the original material) the finished product of the successive strokes of the chisel, some, mayhap, forming lines of grace and beauty, while others constitute, from ignorance, clumsiness, inattention, or what not, marks of deformity; and it behoves us to bear in mind that not one of these latter can be erased, and a comely line put in its place, without injury to the material, such injury corresponding to the depth of the line faultily graven.

Proofread by LNL, Sept. 2023