The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Religious Training of Children
(The substance--abbreviated throughout--of an Address delivered at a meeting of the Eastbourne Branch of the P.N.E.U., by the Rev. H. Bickersteth Ottley Vicar of Eastbourne, on the 23rd of February, 1894.)
"Suffer the little children to come unto Me." That, I need not remind you, is the warrant for our work in the Parents' Educational Union. It is our warrant, and it is enough. We must bring our little ones to Him. Blunder as we may, it must be attempted--nay, it must be done--this great, this glorious, but in some respects most difficult duty--the enfolding of our children at the Heart, yes, in the very Life, of CHRIST. But how is this to be done? And especially at the present time? Never, surely, in the world's history has "the time" been more opportune; never has the need been more clearly recognized than it is to-day. Everywhere--by every thinking man and woman--the void is felt which, assuredly, only the CHRIST can fill. The age is brimming over with its new ideals: the new learning, like Ithuriel's spear, is touching with its point of flame all the hopes and fears of the world.
There are no mysteries, no secrets left; we all know everything, or at any rate something about everything under the sun--so we all suppose. What with the help of our newspapers, our telegraphs, our photography, and our steam, there are no more worlds left for us to conquer! Sarcasm apart, let us look at the facts. Here, at home, the old order changing, democratic principles gaining ground, restlessness, unsettlement, from apex to base of the social pyramid; parents asking to be relieved of their parental responsibilities, expecting that either the Church or the State, or the School Board, or the schoolmaster, shall practically take entire charge, body and soul, of the children they have brought into the world. At the very core of our Public Educational system we are met with a frank disavowal in certain quarters of what has passed for Christian teaching for 1800 years; a frank demand for Secularism in lieu of Christianity in the public elementary schools of England. And, to look abroad, we see in America a Parliament of the world's religions--if haply we may thus solve the riddle of the universe. On the Continent, anarchism, rearing its head against every form of constitutional authority. But with all this--nay, possibly because of all this--men are instinctively turning wistful eyes and yearning hearts towards CHRIST. This Parents' Union--to bring this preface to its point--is proof of what I mean. We parents dread the modern age apart from CHRIST--with Him we will rejoice in it. This then is "the opportunity."
Now, in dealing with the subject of the religious training of our children, the first step is to try to get a clear conception of what is meant by the expression "Religious." The first point which I should like to emphasize is this: the "religion" of a child cannot be separated from the child himself; it is not something he can take up and lay aside at pleasure. No, the "religion" of your boys and girls is, and must be, their life itself. At a conference of clergy in London, last February, Prebendary Eyton brought into prominence the great truth that "religion" is not in itself, and cannot be, a matter of words, phrases, and definitions. "It is," said he, "an inspiration, not a hard set of dogmas." It is an inward influence, not an outward accomplishment; a motive power, a principle of character; it is in short a matter not of the letter but of the spirit, a concern of the heart rather than of the head. We must not, however, suppose for a single instant that in the methods of religious instruction we can dispense with definite statements. If there is one lesson more clearly taught than another by the present educational crisis, it is the immense importance of using clear, definite, and accurate language in our religious instruction, and it is indeed precisely here, that the Christian Church, through its primitive system of definite catechizing in the rudiments of religion, has from the earliest ages indicated what are the true and only secure methods of religious instruction. But we must bear in mind the object of all such religious instruction, which is quite distinct from its method; and I repeat that the true end and purpose of "Religious Training" is to influence the life, to form the character of a child, to inspire his thoughts, words and deeds with the best motives and the best principles. To use an illustration--a man's religion is to his whole life what the steam is to the engines of a battle-ship. You may construct your ironclad upon the most scientific principles and equip her with the biggest guns, but if your fires are too low to get up steam, your mighty ship is no use to you at all--she will be at the mercy of her foes, or will be the plaything of the winds and waves. So, you may equip your boys and girls with all sorts of useful resources; you may store their intellect with all the gifts of learning, but if you cannot utilize these for God and for the right, if your children are wanting in the motive power of a godly, righteous and sober life, if they are thrown back, as it were, upon themselves--self-centered, selfish--what shall profit them? Like that useless battle-ship, they do not realise the end for which alone they exist, they are at the mercy of their foes--passion and sin; they may become the sport of every wind that blows. But if the motive power is there, then the machinery of those mighty engines comes into play and the ship moves forward, obedient to one master mind, on her mission of duty or war. Now if the object of our children's religious training be felt to be co-extensive with their whole life, if religion is the hallowing of toil and the consecration of pleasure in the service of GOD, we must at once recognize how impossible it is to really separate between Religious and Secular education. What we really want to effect is that in acquiring the ordinary subjects of Education the boy shall acquire them in such a way, and such a spirit, as shall by and bye enable him to see GOD in them and behind them all, and to hallow everything he learns by the spirit of CHRIST. We can now come to close quarters with our question--How we can really hope to impart religious training to our children? I have not the smallest hesitation in saying that every child is from his earliest infancy open to receiving religious impressions. The readiness with what a child will respond to appeals made to his imagination is only a sign of the facility with which you can appeal to his faith.* Fairy tales and romances are the very paradise of a child; he believes in a world where all the men are brave as knights and heroes, and all the women are beautiful and holy. Little by little he finds out his mistake--fairies, giant-killers, dwarfs and princesses vanish away. Why? Only because he finds out that belief in these things is not shared by his elders; these are found to be fancies, not facts. But what of those great and glorious facts which belong to the kingdom of faith--the kingdom of GOD's unseen universe?
"If," says Mr. Lyttelton, in his valuable little book, "Mothers and Sons," "the child sees that his mother has no living belief in the unseen; if nothing that she says or does in his presence recalls those truths of which he has been told, then surely his belief in GOD will share the fate of his belief in fairies." Mr. Lyttleton goes on to show that the religious training of the child is the result of the religious character and life of his mother, and that if a mother is living in communion with GOD, that consciousness of GOD's presence must and will make itself felt in the character of the child, always and everywhere. "It is a very tremendous thought," he says, "that your endeavors must be the outcome of your character." A child is quick to discern inconsistency, unreality, and unbelief.
If the mother's faith is real, and her early teaching had been sound and sympathetic, the arguments of sceptics, however plausible they may appear, will not be able to overthrow the young man's faith in GOD. It is important in instructing young people to bring out the full force of the first clause of the Creed, "I believe in GOD," shewing not only the reasons for our faith, but what such a declaration really implies; (this may be well illustrated by reference to Psalm 139) . . .
With regard to the observance of Sunday we need to guard against making it a dull and wearisome day to the young child; there should not be too much church going, but the child should be taught the privilege of worship, and that he goes to church to thank GOD for the many good gifts he has bestowed upon him--to give and not only to get. I see no objection to a young child having some toys reserved for Sunday use, or to older children being allowed to occupy themselves on a portion of that day with needlework or painting, provided it is understood that the work or pictures executed should be devoted to some charitable purpose.
I need hardly point out the importance of enforcing upon children the duty of reverence, sincerity and thoughtfulness in prayer. Daily religious instruction based upon the reading of Scripture passages should be considered as a paramount duty by a mother. Such teaching should be interesting and definite; and if the lessons are to bear good fruit the truths inculcated must be very gradually instilled with much patience and sympathy.
At a proper age the mother should enforce the great truth that our bodies are the temples of GOD the HOLY GHOST, and enlighten her sons as to the sacred mysteries of life, not allowing them to get such information form coarse companions or classic literature. In conclusion I would like to read to you some extracts from a letter written by a lady who has for some years been one of our most successful High School mistresses. ** She says:--"The really powerful teaching is the indirect one of example; the spirit of the home where, as a matter of course, all is referred to the highest standard, where CHRIST is felt to be the Master of the house. Where self-discipline and self-restraint are practiced, the children will be disciplined. With regard to actual instruction, simplicity and definiteness are the first essentials, and, after our Lord's example, teaching by stories, in the early years especially. I have a great fear of hot-bed religion: a child's little tender soul can so easily be overstrained, and made to develop too rapidly on its religious side, and then reaction is sure to follow, and reality is too often lost. Real Christian virtues, meekness, lowliness, humility taught and practiced by parents, make the holy home, in which saintliness of character finds its natural atmosphere and develops unconsciously."
*For the thoughts that follow I am largely indebted to the Rev. the Hon. E. Lyttelton.
** Miss Alice Ottley, of the Worcester High School.
Typed by lmichelleb, Sept 2018
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