The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
On the Religious Training of the Young.
by the Rev. W. C. Compton, M.A.,
"Lovest thou Me? Feed my Lambs."
The charge upon which the most Christ-like man of the heathen world [Socrates] was put to death was that he was a corrupter of the young, and taught them not to worship the Gods whom the State worshipped, but other strange divinities. And if we enquire what is meant by religious training, it may be described as the exact counterpart of what is implied in this charge. It is the training of the young in the way of virtue, based upon the fear of that God who is the God of our fathers. The two parts must go together. It is not enough to train in the part of virtue. This may be possible for the atheist. Nor is it enough to impart a theoretic theology which does not influence the life. Religious training must have for its aim a holiness of life, derived from and based upon a faith in Christ our Saviour, and looking towards Him, as its goal and consummation, in whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead.
The word 'Training' may be applied to each of the three parts of our being, and in each case, as has been already hinted, it represents the development of those faculties which belong to that part of man's nature, (foreign text), to borrow again from Plato's Apology. Thus when we train the body, we aim at making the bodily activities capable of their highest achievements and greatest endurance. When we train the intellectual faculties, we seek in the same way to make the mind capable of the highest power of thought.
So, too, when we speak of religious training, our subject is the fostering and development of the spiritual life--(foreign text)--how the soul may become as near as may be to the likeness of "the mind that was in Christ Jesus." It is thus evident that religious training is a matter of the heart rather than of the intelligence, and it will be on this hypothesis that I shall base any methods that may be indicated in the progress of this paper. I do not wish to be misunderstood. I seem already to hear some devotee of dogmatic teaching asking me whether I suppose doctrine has no part in what I call religious training. Yes, I say, a part it has undoubtedly; but if I am not quite mistaken, doctrine, or dogmatics, as having application to the intellect rather than the life, must be regarded as only the handmaid of true religion. Of the three Christian graces, the one which ranked as the greatest has the least to do with dogma. Faith and love are by no means to be separated; but the Apostle of Faith, par excellence, who, if anyone, will be enlisted as a witness in favour of dogmatics, was the author of the eulogy upon Love, and in one of his noblest passages (if we may dare select) he shows that the work of the Preacher is to beget belief, in order that belief may bear fruit in prayer unto salvation--a salvation which was forfeited by the Jews, though they had the oracles and dogmas, because they did not in their heart and life conform to their knowledge "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? But they have not all obeyed: for, to Israel he saith, "All day long have I stretched forth My hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people" (Rom. x. 13-21). "To love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself, is better than all whole burnt-sacrifice"; and the training of the young towards a perception of this love is as far above the instruction in controversial details of doctrine, as it is a higher thing to bend the knee and fold the hands in silent adoration of a Deity who is incomprehensible, than to give the most accurate answers to such questions as we have heard of under the heading of religious knowledge papers: "Who were the Emims? Who were the Zuzims? Who were the Zamzummims?"
But all I am contending for is much more tersely expressed in a few words--if I may quote them--by the Master of Marlborough: [Religious Teaching in Secondary Schools. Macmillan.] "Religious teaching is valueless if it does not aim more at the heart than the head: its action upon the intellect must be subordinated to the primary object of stirring, lifting, purifying the desires and affections, so as to bring the heart and will into obedience to the will of God. Thus the religious teacher will value the facts and details of Bible and Church history in proportion to their fitness for teaching and illustrating lessons of religion and morality."
If we agreed what is the true meaning of religious training, the next consideration will be the various agencies available for the work.
I suppose, then, that the principal ones may be taken to be these:--
Of the first of these general agencies, I need not say much; not because it is unimportant--on the contrary it is all important--so much so that when it has been neglected, all the other agencies have a comparatively poor chance, humanly speaking; and it may often be some direct divine interposition, like a great calamity, a shock, a prolonged illness, that is needed to stir the spiritual life that has been dormant from the first--from want of the home training in early childhood. It is the work of the P.N.E.U. to foster sound views on the subject of the home training, and much has been written on the subject; but we are now contemplating the training rather from the point of view of the professional trainer than from that of the parent, whose co-operation is so all-important. I will, therefore, only make passing allusion to the untold value, the priceless boon, of an early training in a religious home, where childhood is a sacred thing, for the sake of which all other occupations and amusements take a subordinate place--where the family life is sanctified by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, and the parents' example and influence are the visible emblem of the unseen Fatherhood of God--and where reverence for all that is sacred is the natural response to the practical application of the old motto, "Maxima debetur pueris reverentia."
The second agency may be described as school teaching, and those influences that form the environments of school or the equivalent for school.
Here, too, reverence stands out as the most important foundation, and nothing is more deadly than that wanton irresponsible frivolity, which would trifle with the simple faith of childhood. Where should the millstone be hung, if not about the neck of such as thus put a stumbling block in the way of these little ones! May not even the Roman satirist, who, with all his outspokenness on the vices of his age, yet recognized that debt of reverence, be found amongst those who, coming from the east and west, sit down in the Kingdom of Heaven before such nominal Christians as throw doubts in the pathway of the young?
And if there is one thing more than another for which reverence is essential, it is for the sacred Scriptures, which are the oracles of God. If by suggesting doubts of the genuineness of the books of the Bible, or the credibility of this or that in the supernatural, we indicate our own unbelief or eclecticism, how can we wonder that the spirit of agnosticism is on the increase? There are many things that are hard to understand, and harder still to explain to the satisfaction of a young enquirer, who has begun to look into the reasons of things. Here we must avoid both extremes. On the one hand, we must not reveal any doubt of the fundamental article that "Whatsoever was written afore time was written for our learning," and that "the Holy Scriptures are able to make wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ." But on the other hand, we must be gentle and patient with the enquiring mind. Any harsh rebuke may be disastrous. Might not this be something like the right way to deal with one who should, for instance, question the truth of the early chapters of Genesis? "My young friend," we might say, "it is quite natural that you should put such a question. I am glad you have put it to me, because I think I can give you an answer that will only confirm your faith. But I must tell you that my answer will not be a complete solution of the difficulty you have started. I would have you remember that the Word of God is the expression for man (and, perhaps, for angels too) of the mind and will of the infinitely wise God. Can I then, who know so little of my own being and that of my fellow creatures, expect to be able to solve all the problems that can arise out of the revelation of the mind of God? I know that many truths of Holy Scripture are written for our learning in an allegorical form, as St. Paul has shown us by taking the case of Hagar, and again, of the passage of the Red Sea and the wandering in the wilderness. What wonder then if the Holy Spirit has thought well to reveal to us precious truths respecting our own temptations and sins, and their punishment, in the form of the myth which is the primitive literature of all races? Of one thing I can assure you, and that is that both me and to many whom you know, who have reached far higher than I on their journey heavenward, the Scriptures of Old and New Testaments have been indeed the Word of God, and the more we learn to keep His sayings and do His will, the better we shall be able to know of the doctrines, and to understand the meaning of what now seems a hard saying. Be patient, then, and trust that in time we shall pass through the veil that hides these things, and, no longer seeing as in a glass darkly, shall know even as we are known." Some such answer as this would be a commonplace, and would not preclude a more detailed attempt to solve any given problem, but would always be a safeguard against the attack of infidelity when the attempt might not seem attended with success, and would preserve that sacred feeling of reverence.
The question of inspiration might be dealt with in something the same way. This is an age of materialism, and it seems as if the materialist spirit were abroad even among our leading divines of the younger generation: and men of thought are now openly teaching a new doctrine of inspiration, for which I can find no authority in the Scriptures themselves nor in the mind of the church, so far as I know it, of former days. A new school calling itself "Higher Criticism" has set itself up, as who should say, "I am Sir Oracle"; and to these there are few points left that admit of any doubt. The research, say they, of the last few years has exploded the traditional ideas of Holy Scriptures: and so certain conclusions drawn from this criticism are made the basis of a new theology, which before long seems likely to produce a new canon of Holy Scripture, in which we shall find the fragments of what they are pleased to regard as authentic, pasted together as writings of so and so or their school, like so many pictures labelled Titian or school of Titian, while the remainder will be relegated to an appendix of interesting apocrypha, valued chiefly as having during certain of the dark ages been regarded as genuinely inspired writings, whereas everyone now knows that inspiration is a term of no more significance in regard to these specimens of Jewish literature than when applied to the effusions of Byron, or at any rate Milton. For what is the ground of this position? Is it not either a materialism that rejects the old doctrine of inspiration, because it implies the supernatural, or a presumption that our inability to understand is a proof that the authority is corrupt or unauthentic?
But perhaps I am straying beyond the scope of my paper. In concluding this part of the subject, I will only say, dare we in the face of fresh discoveries in Egypt and Palestine and elsewhere, that are daily throwing corroborative light upon the words of the Holy Scriptures, assert that we have now settled questions of authorship and genuineness and the like in a sense contrary to the traditions of the ages? Is it not far more probable that what has been revolutionized by the discoveries or research of the past twenty years will be reversed by the fresh discoveries and further research of the next twenty?
These experiments in theology will be kept out of the reach of his pupils By the teacher who (I quote from Mr. Bell) "has learnt that religion is full of mysteries, imperfectly grasped by even the most mature intellects, and that the gift of God's revelation of Himself is conveyed in earthen vessels of human fallibility. He is conscious that he has reached his own standing ground of faith through mists and quicksands of doubt and perplexity, and that even yet at times it seems to heave and shake under his feet. And then, as he looks at his young pupils, he recognizes that even as God led man to Christ through gradual stages of revelation, so the individual mind must be educated progressively; milk must come before strong meat, and there must be a certain economy in religious teaching. The Bible has been compared to a fresh cathedral which was in building for some fifteen centuries. It was built for holiness, for worship, for devotion: for this it is not essential to know at what precise date each part was built, from what quarry the stones were brought, and what materials from older buildings may have been used in its construction."
But we must be on our guard in every stage alike against the dead hand of these literal details--against the divinity lesson of the Zuzim and Zamzummim type. However must enlivened our lessons may be by descriptive illustration, unless there is a constant raising of the mind to the high moral or spiritual thought the subject is intended to convey, and unless there is a faith in the life-giving power of the subject upon the pupil's soul, the lesson will be no medium of religious training: it will not stir the heart, nor affect the life and conduct; (to quote again) it will tell nothing of the deep things of God. There can thus only be failure or sense of failure where the teacher has not life in himself.
And this brings me to an agency that I did not include as such in my enumeration--I mean the personal influence of the teacher. If this can only be of the best, I doubt whether there be any earthen vessel so well fitted to be a channel for the work of the Holy Spirit.
Of course the best instance is the parent-love, which, by a divinely implanted instinct, draws the child to love and honour all attributes of the parent who stands to the child in the relation of God. But in the case of those who have not this precious influence by natural ties--can we who would be religious trainers exercise any of that magic spell, so that we too may become to those whom we would train an influence in ourselves? If we would, there must plainly be two conditions:--(1) Those precepts by which we would have our pupils to be guided must be the rule of our own life, or else we shall not command their reverence; and (2) we must get at their hearts so that they may lose fear in "love that casteth out fear"; or else we may only chill by being too distant and lofty--too suggestive of the "touch me not" holiness, not to repel rather than to charm.
How the former of these conditions may be fulfilled it would be out of place to consider here; but the second. Can we by any means gain the hearts of our pupils, so that they may wish to do as we bid them, to be fashioned after the ideals we would portray to them? In a word, can we step into the relation of a parent? I think in some degree, greater or less, is it possible; and the way must be by treating them as a wise parent treats a child. There must an affectionate manner--not therefore effeminate--rather a reflection of the gentleness of Christ in dealing with children, a manner which gives the impression that we would do all in our power for their good, that if we saw them in danger of drowning we would leap into the water to save them--this morally as well as literally. We must show a lively interest in what interests them, and we must be companionable to them, not without the salt of humour. We must not mind stooping to all sorts of little ways to win affection. The parish priest must come out of his cassock and the schoolmaster must descend from his desk. We must take our stand upon the level of those we would train and be their elder brothers. Thus very gradually, more rapidly with affectionate dispositions than with the reserved, they will get to look upon us as their true friends, and from that time onward we shall be a constant personal influence. What we are and what we do will then be of more value as a moulding power than what we say. Our actions will say--though our lips dare not--"be ye followers of me even as I am (trying to be) of Christ." Quite unconsciously they will watch us and imitate us, and try to become like us. How vast then our responsibilities! We need to be watchful indeed over ourselves when it is not only our own character that is forming or becoming crystallized, but the characters of we know not how many lambs we are called to feed. And so if this personal influence is not the least important of the agencies in the religious training of the young, it is doubly fruitful, like the quality of mercy--"it is twice bless'd: it blesseth him that gives and him that takes."
But I have already dwelt too long on one or two of the chief agencies. I must pass on to touch upon some of the not less important ones already mentioned.
Under the heading of School teaching, besides Bible Class instruction, in which I include Church History, there were mentioned Scripture Unions or other Societies. I have known of Unions or Societies formed amongst boys of their own initiative--this is important--that have been productive of visible fruit in the life of the school or house in which they have existed. Such a society will be the better for having no vows or rigid obligations. "Guilds" are shied at by boys. The members--who need not even be elected or enrolled; for the machinery must not be displayed--will meet from time to time, on a Sunday evening preferably, and some very simple kind of devotional service will be conducted by one or more of the members, including if possible some discussion of a subject or passage of Holy Scripture. If the society is formed automatically of all who have been confirmed and are Communicants, it will serve all the better to keep alive the torch of zeal kindled at the time of Confirmation and fanned by every visit to the Lord's Table. Even if little be gained from the acts of devotion at such meetings or the discussions in themselves, the very existence of the society is a witness to the faith which its members are not ashamed to confess: and whilst in the absence of such a bond of fellowship each soul is left to its own timidity, and, like Elijah, may complain that it has been called to fight alone for the faith, the support of numbers, like the 7,000 knees that have not bowed down to Baal, will make it easier to confess and not be ashamed.
And this has led to the mention of Confirmation, a bridge between School and Church, as its preparation is so nearly akin to class instruction, and yet paves the way to the highest act of worship.
Of agencies of a temporary character this is, I venture to think, to very most important. Temporary it must be in operation, though not in effect, because, unlike religious services, Bible study, communicants' classes, or guilds, the agency is terminated when Confirmation has taken place. It becomes all the more vital that such an opportunity should not be missed by being taken too soon, or left till too late, or treated in the sadly callous way by mere examination upon valueless matters of head knowledge already alluded to. Confirmation is a matter of the heart above all things. It would be as sensible to set examination papers on the number of cubits in the measurements of the temple of Ezekiel's vision as a preparation for each partaking of the Holy Communion, as to confine the work of a Confirmation class to literary instruction on Bible and Church History and on the Prayer Book and Articles. Such treatment is simply wasting the grandest opportunity the religious trainer of the young has in his hands.
I do not ask that instruction in dogmatics should be excluded. Far from it; but as in all religious training, so here especially I would have the head treated as auxiliary to the heart. And this is recognized by the Bishops, who in their charges do not, as far as I have ever heard, allude to the importance of an acquaintance with the Zamzummins, nor with the meaning of Transubstantiation or Apostolic succession, but on having a heart prepared to fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Confirmation is a time for an awakening of the spiritual life. If the preparation has been wise and attended with some degree of success, the young soul will have been drawn, perhaps for the first time, to recognize in a practical way his dependence upon God. He will be eager to put on the armour upon God, and will have made resolutions to become no mean laggard in the battle of life. And most appropriately the Church has ordered that this awakening life should be nourished and refreshed by the spiritual sustenance now first afforded it. If the child be too young to seem capable of this realization, the opportunity may be a lost one; and so our Church has wisely ordained that Confirmation shall be administered to those who have come to years of discretion. There may be much difference of opinion what constitutes discretion; but the conviction has become intensified with every year's experience that we shall not be far wrong if we look upon the years of discretion as the age at which the child begins to exercise a moral consciousness of its responsibilities. It no longer acts without reasoning on a principle of blind obedience, but has begun to look into the causes of things, and to think why this forbidden and that enjoined. And what is of more importance still, it has begun to get some insight into its own being--how it is fearfully and wonderfully made. And with this knowledge comes the critical time that is to decide whether it is to give way to temptation, because the forbidden fruit seems a thing "to be desired to make one wise," or whether it is to live conscious that the body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, and has been bought with a price. How infinitely precious is the careful training for Confirmation at this time, appealing to the highest instincts, awakening a new interest in life with its new consciousness of power and responsibility, and offering opportunities for seeking counsel from a discreet and learned minister of God's word, who on his part will be in so far able to obey the command, "Feed my lambs," as he is able to say, "Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love Thee."
It is on these grounds that I would fix the age of Confirmation at the time when the child is growing out of childhood into the adult stage. Not too soon, lest the preparation deal with things that have no reality in his experience of life--not too late, lest the unoccupied temple may be seized By the wandering spirit that is seeking rest.
Preparation for Confirmation falls under three heads; there is the head knowledge required by the Prayer Book--to answer such questions as in the Short Catechism are contained; which I take also to involve understanding what the questions and answers mean. This is didactic--a matter of mere routine instruction, and can be undertaken by anyone capable of taking a class in the Sunday School. Then there is the homiletic, which is of far greater importance, and to which most of the time--say, three-quarters of an hour each week for some eight weeks--is devoted, drawing out the lessons from the three Baptismal vows, based upon the Catechism, lesson in which I speak of sin in unmistakable, though I trust not in offensive, terms. I have seldom found a boy who has not understood me if I have called a spade a garden tool.
And lastly, there is the more strictly pastoral work, of seeking and saving the lambs that are straying. This must be done by personal and confidential intercourse. I do not mean by that to suggest the confessional. I would far rather a boy should not impart any confidence about his own difficulties or failings, than that he should do so under a sense of compulsion, or that by doing so he should lose that strength which may be his in a higher degree if his secrets are between himself and his Maker. But I follow the Prayer Book injunction--if he cannot "quiet his conscience"; or in other words, if he cannot, by his own application of the homiletics I have referred to and other means, find strength to fight his own battles; if he needs advice of a practical kind, because he has struggled and struggled in vain with a besetting sin; then I say, "let him come to me and open his grief": and that he may do so I must make it clear to him that he may rely on meeting with nothing but the sympathy of a fellow-sinner who understands by personal experience the nature of every temptation that he is likely to encounter. It therefore becomes a third part of this course to find time for a talk of twenty minutes on an average with every candidate; and sometimes twenty minutes will run to an hour. This is at once the hardest and perhaps the most important part of the work. And I would certainly recommend an interview with each candidate early in the course of preparation as well as shortly before Confirmation. I know that there is a notion that this part of the work is just that which a schoolmaster cannot undertake, because of his disciplinary relation towards his pupils. And it is therefore argued that boys are better prepared for Confirmation by the parochial clergy. My own experience of twenty years has led me to quite the opposite conclusion. I have not found that a boy fears to acknowledge his difficulties when I speak to him in a pastoral capacity; but I know that these interviews have been the means of helping a boy to understand that a schoolmaster is not necessarily a mere taskmaster.
And then there is the preparation for first Communion, which I prefer to postpone till after the Confirmation. The direction of the Prayer Book may be complied with by having the didactics carried through to the end of the Catechism prior to the Confirmation. For the purpose of the homiletics, I think it important to make the most of each event, and I concentrate attention on Confirmation till after laying on of hands; and then we resume for a few more addresses, usually spread over about a fortnight, when the newly Confirmed are ready to receive their first Communion.
These last addresses must be devoted to a simple historical account of the Institution of the Lord's Supper, followed by an explanation of its meaning as set forth in Holy Scripture and in the Prayer Book, and some helpful hints about preparation and the attitude of mind and body which is becoming in those who partake. A point especially to be cleared up is the meaning of "worthy" partaking--a stumbling-block to many, especially among the less well educated, for want, I think, of careful warning against misunderstanding. The question of regularity or frequency in attendance is also one which should not be passed over, though I think it wiser not to lay down too exacting rules.
In this, as in all matters of religious training, the chief object to keep in view is the development of a life on sound Christian principles, a life that will carry with it through the whole of its pilgrimage the stamp of its training, a life that will be known by its fruits. If it is true Quot homines, tot sententiae, so in the spiritual life there will be "diversities of operations," though the operation is that of the same Spirit.
Some of the points touched upon by this paper may be found to be helps generally in the religious training of the young; some will perhaps only be applicable to certain conditions; many who are engaged in this training will have other methods which they have proved to be better able in their hands to foster the growth of spiritual life. The subject is one that admits of manifold treatment, and is far too large to be exhausted in a short paper. But, such as it is, this attempt to deal with the fringe will not have been made in vain, if it may have contributed any suggestions that may be helpful to such as are seeking to know the love of our Master in feeding His lambs.
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