The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Address at St. Mary Abbott's, Kensington, at 3 p.m.
by Rev. T. W. Sharpe, C.B.
All religion, especially the religion of children, should be cheerful. Many passages in Holy Scripture advocate a cheerful spirit which should, in the ordinary events of life, confer quiet happiness, in the serious events, a calm serenity, and at all times an assured hope.
This pessimistic age makes the most of the perplexities of the world, the complexity of civilization which produces the extremes of luxury and penury, the cruelty and ferocity of animals, with reddened tooth and claw, and the still greater savagery of man. But the believer in the Fatherhood of God may enjoy a faithful hope that waits for a future solution of all difficulties, which will come in the great day of restoration of all things.
Nothing but a firm belief in the Fatherhood of God can create such a hope, and whoever heard of a father, however great, however far above his poor wayward children, that does not bear his children in his heart? The very name of "father" brings God near to us, and in this sense the ancient people who translated the word "religion" as that which binds us to God, were wise in their generation in attributing all religion and all morality to the union between God and man.
The Fatherhood of God then is the only principle, as I have said before, that can give serenity in trouble, happiness in the serious affairs of life, and cheerfulness in duty. If so, what a responsibility rests upon all parents to present to their children in their own fatherhood a picture (imperfect it must be) of a Father's love and of His self-control. 'Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath,' is the keynote to parents control of self. By self-restraint we foster that confidence between parent and child, the counterpart of that trustful confidence which exists between God and the Christian who confides everything to his Father. It is difficult, sometimes, to efface ourselves and let the children learn for themselves. We should all prefer to take the shorter way of discipline and warn our children of a small coming danger to the bodily frame, or of some small trial of moral strength (from serious dangers we must always protect them), but a little suffering self-inflicted sinks deeper into the memory than a warning many times repeated. Still, with all their self-control, parents often meddle too much with the lives of their children and check the rising confidence by a sharp rebuke, or an ironical remark, or a rude silence, such as they would never dream of using to their equals in age and experience of life. Not that I would be understood to be favouring the common fallacy that children do not readily submit to the guidance of their parents, that they are self-willed and consequently must be either spoiled or sulky; whereas children, like grown-up men, naturally like an orderly condition of surroundings, in which their own rights are carefully respected and they gladly in return respect the rights of others. Nothing but a patient habit of watchful self-control can secure confidence between parents and children, and give us that power of inculcating true ideas of the Heavenly Father; we may then hope for that cheerfulness in duty which springs from a true understanding of God's self-control and of His trustful and watchful care. First of all, we ought to know what is passing in the minds of our children, that we may be able to guard them from superstitions; and by superstitions I mean those false ideas of our relations to God, which darken life by fear of His anger and heavy punishments and by hopelessness of ready forgiveness. It is in this way that the separation between God and man begins and religion becomes divided from duty. Cheerfulness never accompanies that fatalism which is so prevalent among the more ignorant classes from which the nurses are drawn who have the charge of our children. Probably this may arise from the confusion between the physical laws, as they are called, by which, for the purpose of guidance to man, God has determined to rule the universe. Forces of nature, natural laws, are, after all, only survivals, the custom of an indifferent age, which relegated the Creator to a distance and substituted for his immediate and loving superintendence a rigid system of machinery. All men of science at the present time, whether agnostics or believers, unite in declaring that all we know of the guidance of the world is an invariable sequence of events in certain given conditions. You may believe with the one set of philosophers that there is no evidence of anything more, or with the believers that God's hand guides everything in a wonderful order for our good and for our guidance.
But instead of recognizing the immediate presence of a merciful God, the majority of uneducated persons regard the works of Providence as a kind of fate, more or less inexorable, according as their early education has been gloomy or cheerful. A similar fallacy is to be found among the ranks of the educated, that the same iron rules prevail in the spiritual world; there must be order and an orderly sequence of mental and spiritual phenomena, but it is fallacious to transfer the same laws from the natural world to the spiritual. So far as the spiritual depends upon the bodily state of man, natural laws must have their effect in modifying the conditions of the spiritual life. But it is contrary to our own experience and to all our highest conceptions of God to maintain, for example, that all punishments must fall inexorably, and, because nature never forgives, that the God of Spirits never forgives. Every parent knows that for certain offences, punishment ought to follow, in the sense that if no other conditions intervene, the sentence should be carried into effect. But other conditions continually intervene in the spiritual world; we are not dead, we are living spirits, and a wrong action may be followed immediately by a change of feeling, a revulsion of the moral sentiment, a pain which is in itself sufficient penalty. Parents may often safely leave to their older children, and in some cases to the younger, to inflict upon themselves some appropriate penalty, even as our Heavenly Father leaves the penalty to his children of full-grown age.
Another cause of superstition is the well-intentioned employment of abstract qualities to represent the living personal God. Thirty years ago it was much the fashion with our orthodox metaphysicians to speak of God as The Infinite and The Absolute, without any recognition of the personality of God. Probably this is the truth at the bottom of all objections to dogmatic creeds, containing abstract metaphysical terms, which are not understood, even in their primary literal sense, much less in their religious application.
How many people know that the term "incomprehensible" in the Athanasian Creed merely declares that God cannot be bounded by conditions of time and space; perhaps a still smaller number recognize the purpose for which the word was inserted, viz., to oppose the wrongful opinion that there may be some part of the universe beyond the knowledge of the Almighty, and therefore beyond His power to help and bless His people. Dogmatic creeds are the bulwarks of the Church, but they should never be taught to children in abstract impersonal terms until they have been interpreted for them into the work of a personal loving God. It is very touching to see the first ideas of a loving God taught to deaf children; some affectionate act is shown by the teacher to the scholars, or by the scholars to one another, and by some gesture or word describing greatness, the act is transferred to the Heavenly Father as infinitely multiplied and amplified. The ideas of God in early childhood should be associated with loving personal actions, should not be couched in abstract terms, nor mechanically elicited by mere verbiage. It seems to be essential to the human mind that the ideas of God should be in some degree anthromorphic; but what to the early peoples was often a source of error in leading them to graft the passions and appetites of our human nature on the Divine, has become impossible to us who believe that in sending His Son in the likeness of man, with the whole of man's natural powers and passions, yet controlled by the Divine nature, God has revealed himself to us through the Son. An intelligent love of a personal God is the root of all true cheerfulness.
Let me now pass for a moment to the non exclusion of any part of life from the religious sentiment. It is sometimes held that the happy conversation in the family circle, and especially that wit and humour which brighten the conversation, are in some sense outside our religious life. The Lord, who watched children in the market place, playing at weddings and funerals, loved to see their games and loved to sit among friends at their simple meals. Such happy and pure society is really one of the highest exercises of religious duty; it includes sweet temper, self-control, consideration for others, love of higher ideas, and gives a feeling of rest to the spirits of all the members of a family.
Again, what a real cheerfulness may be enjoyed by children in the true observance of Sunday. I may be treading here upon dangerous ground; I value all religious observances of Sunday, from the strict Scottish rule to the lighter rule of English churchmen. Let me quote the words of Dr. Dale, of Birmingham, one of the most tolerant and religious of English orthodox Nonconformists--"Sunday does not so much impose obligations as offer privileges. The first question we have to ask" (i.e., in respect to Sunday observance) "is not, 'Shall I by doing this break a law?' but, 'Shall I by doing this lose a blessing?' It is a day to rejoice in; a day not of bondage, but of freedom; not of gloom, but of gladness; it is an Easter Day in every week."
If we wish our children's daily life to be religious and if we do not wish their religious observances to be non-religious, let us remove from their thoughts or, better still, guard their early life from superstitions, either with regard to the world around, or to God, or to God's worship. If we can guard their minds against false and gloomy views of their Heavenly Father, the religion of their future life will be a cheerful religion, full of happiness and full of hope.
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The whole week's proceedings were pleasantly terminated by a Garden Party, when Mrs. Winkworth very kindly entertained the members in her lovely garden at Holly Lodge, Campden Hill.
Proofread by LNL, May 2020
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