The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
A Meditation for Parents

by The Rev. Canon Liddell
Volume 7, 1896, pgs. 637-641

[Rev. Canon Edward Thomas Liddell, 1845-1914, honorary canon of Durham, "a man with 'strong intellect' and a mind 'like an Encyclopaedia', who wrote papers on religion and society," including the book "St. Abans Abbey." In 1872 he married Christina Catherine Fraser Tytler, sister of Mary Watts, sister-in-law of George Watts. He is somehow related to Alice (in Wonderland) Liddell, 1852-1934.]

"That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace."--Ps. cxliv. 12.

A great part of the Bible, which we pray to read, mark and learn and inwardly digest, is written in poetry, by which we ordinarily mean literature composed in rhyme and rhythm. In Homer's "Iliad," "Paradise Lost," in "The Idylls of the King," there is rhythm though no rhyme.

[Martin Farquhar] Tupper and Walt Whitman have tried, but without much success, to break this rule of modern poetry. They have written lines without rhyme or rhythm, and shall we say without reason?

But the poetry of the Bible is of a different kind. It is instinct with life: it is full of imagination; it rings with music, and as no other poetry does, it carries its music with it into whatever language it is translated; yet it has neither rhyme nor rhythm. On what then does its charm depend? Take any Psalm of David, any lyrical passage of Isaiah, the Virgins' Hymn of Praise, or the song of Zacharias, and you will see that the charm of the poetry, nay, the poetry itself, lies in the repetition, the contrast, the likeness of ideas more than of sounds and syllables. Sometimes, not often, there is a play upon words. But very often there is a subtle interwoven harmony of thoughts, which only gradually dawn upon the mind and enlighten the heart. As a rule, one half of a verse echoes and explains the other half; and if in our cathedrals and "places where they sing," the half verses were chanted on each side of the choir as in the old Temple service, it would bring out much more clearly the meaning and intention of the Psalms. One half of the verse seldom conveys the whole truth: it is usually supplemented by the other half, as in the quotation at the head of this paper.

There is a different image in each half of the verse, whether you take the beautiful Prayer-book version or the more accurate translation of the authorized and revised version. The ideal for the sons is that they are to grow up as young plants. The ideal for the daughters that they are to be as the polished corners of the temple, or as hewn stones prepared for a palace.

Now, from what we have already seen, the image of the plant does not belong exclusively to the boys, nor the image of the hewn stone exclusively to the girls. The fact is, that to have a correct ideal for the training of children we need both images. Let me ask you to examine them both, and, with the help of God, to learn something from them.

I. There is a great mystery in the growth of a plant. Where in the tiny seed which must die ere it lives, lies that mysterious principle of life by which it is enabled to reproduce the plant from which it grew? Modern science, with all its experience and experiments, cannot answer this question. It can weight and measure the atoms of the seed that dies, but not of the seed that lives, and we have to leave that side of the mystery, as of so many other mysteries, in the hands of God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. But a mystery is a truth of which one side only is hidden from us. Though we cannot understand the plant itself, yet we can study the uses of it and the things which help or hinder its growth.

I. A plant (unless it is an orchid) must have soil, and soil suited to it. Plants will not grow in sawdust, ashes, or waste paper.

II. Then it must have liquid, and that liquid must be water. Other liquids, such as oil, wine, or milk, are of no help to a plant.

III. Then it must have air. Put a plant in an exhausted receiver, or in an atmosphere infected with chlorine gas, and the plant withers and dies.

IV. Last, but not least, it must have light, and light of a particular kind.

I read once a story of a little boy who had a geranium. He wished to help it to grow. He knew it needed light; and as he lived in a dark street he thought a candle would give the needful light to his geranium. But, as we all know, he was mistaken. No gas-light, candle-light, or electric-light will take the place of the sun with its three rays, which we see but as one,--the heat ray, the light ray, and the chemical ray.

And now let us go back to the prayer of our text, and see what light these simple facts about plants throw upon the training of our children.

If a child should grow up as a young plant, what answers to the soil in which such a young life should grow?

I. Is not the soil the surroundings of the child? And if these surroundings are but the ashes of a loveless home, the sawdust of a sordid street, whose only ornament is a public-house sign, the waste paper of other children as badly housed and treated as himself, how can the child grow up as a healthy young plant? It is outside the school as well as within that its true education is being carried on. Oh, parents, ask yourselves, Am I providing the soil in which my lad, my lass, can grow up as a young plant?

II. The next thing a plant needs is water. We can have no doubt as to the spiritual meaning of this in the training of a child. For water, whether in the form of dew, or rain, or living fountain that wells up from the earth, is the symbol of the Holy Spirit of God. And as water comes through channels, natural or artificial, so through channels does God pour the water of His Holy Spirit on the souls of His children.

Other "liquids," such as science and secular knowledge, will not take the place of this. For the young plant to grow, for the young soul to develope into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, it must be watered from above, receiving, as gardening experience would remind us, neither too much at a time nor too little. And as roots take up the moisture, so it is the hidden life (hid with Christ in God) that is nourished by religious truth and reveals itself in the healthy growth of the outward life.

III. But the plant must breathe as well as drink. The purer the air, the better does plant life flourish. We need not go far for the meaning of this, for the air which pervades all, which is necessary to all, so invisible yet so real, so gentle yet so powerful, reminds us, and is intended to remind us, of the continuous presence of God. There is no truth that the smallest children breathe in so quickly and so easily as the old one, expressed by Hagar the bondmaid: "Thou God seest me." There are no prayers that ascend more surely to the throne of God than the simple words that all children should be taught to use as they rise in the morning and as they go to bed at night. So planted, it may be in lowly but holy homes, washed and refreshed through the channel of their teachers and parents with the water of the Spirit, breathing the very presence of God their Father in heaven, our sons might grow up as young plants.

IV. They have one more need, and that is light,--not the candle-light of knowledge, not the gas-light of worldly experience, nor the brilliant electric light of human philosophy, but the Divine light that streams from Him who said, "I am the True Light." The light which a knowledge and love of Jesus Christ our Lord sheds upon the life, compares exactly in all but one respect to the effect of beautiful sunlight on a plant.

But the sun may wither a plant, as our Lord mentions in the parable of the sower; whereas the light of Jesus never withers the soul, but ennobles, enriches, and purifies it. For a ray from Christ, like the sun's ray, is one, yet threefold. All lies, errors and exaggerations, and misproportions, flee before the ray of light. All coldness and hardness of heart, all contempt for God's Word and commandments are melted by the heat of the love that was revealed on the way from Bethlehem to Calvary. And the work of the chemical ray is represented by that marvellous transmuting of our natural character by which the cowardice of a Simon became a rock of faith, and the bold zeal of a John became the burning love of a St. John the Divine.

Such are some of the thoughts suggested by one prayer of our text,--that our sons may grow up as young plants. When we glance at the other image,--the other half of the prayer,--we are struck at once by a contrast: that our daughters may be as the polished corners of the temple. For the plant has life; the stone has not. The one is aided or hindered from without, but developes from within; the other is wrought first in the quarry and then in the workshop.

And do not these images suggest to us two great principles in the training of children, neither of which should be lost sight of, though one is infinitely greater importance than the other? For we do not wish to send our children into the world with a merely polished surface, but lifeless and hard and cold within. We want to train them so that their own mysterious God-given life may be perfectly developed.

The polished stone is the apt symbol of instruction, so needful, so necessary to fit our children for their place in the great house of life. The plant suggests the more difficult, deep and eternal work of education,--the drawing out of the child's powers of body and mind and spirit, so that they may be used for the glory of God.

And now are there any saying, what has this to do with me? Whether or not a parent or teacher, you are a member of the Christian Church, and as such belong to a body of which these children are also members. And as members you have often used this prayer. Let me beg you to remember that it is a prayer,--a prayer which, if used and acted upon on behalf of our children, would bring untold blessings upon them and upon the country.

For Jesus' sake (who was Himself described as a plant out of dry ground), pray in all the fulness and breadth of its meaning, that our sons may grow up as the young plants, our daughters as the polished corners of the temple.

Proofread by LNL, Oct 2020