The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Early Bible Lessons

by Miss L. M. Gore
Volume 12, 1901, pgs. 509-515

". . . It is ideas, then, that we remember, and for this reason--an idea is living, and whatever lives, grows. An idea might be compared to the nucleus in one of the cells in the growing point of a young shoot. The nucleus is the centre and life of the cell, the essence of it: in time it divides and sub-divides and forms new cells. So the idea is the centre of thought, and is always growing and spreading, and always lives in the thought it has produced."

Miss L. M. Gore read a paper on Early Bible Lessons.

In dealing with my present subject, Bible Lessons, my first thought is that every lesson must have its motive--its object. Before giving the lesson, we think, why are we doing so? what is our object? what effect is it to have? and having first decided this point, we turn our attention to the means by which we are going to bring about this effect.

Most lessons are given with a desire to impart knowledge, and this, not merely because it is wise and prudent to furnish a child with a store of facts which may be useful to him when he comes to take his part in the world, but because knowledge in itself is education, and the various subjects to be studied have their effect, not only on the intellect, but on character.

The task of imparting a string of facts for their own sake is a thankless one, not easy, and not likely to leave a lasting impression. We take it for granted that facts learnt at school are often forgotten afterwards; what then is the use of a school life spent in learning things to be soon forgotten? But there are things which we never forget, and often we account for our memory by saying, "it made an impression on me at the time," "I was struck by it," i.e., I stopped to think, the fact interested me, in short, an idea had been presented to me so forcibly as to take root. It is ideas, then, that we remember, and for this reason--an idea is living, and whatever lives, grows. An idea might be compared to the nucleus in one of the cells in the growing point of a young shoot. The nucleus is the centre and life of the cell, the essence of it: in time it divides and sub-divides and forms new cells. So the idea is the centre of thought, and is always growing and spreading, and always lives in the thought it has produced. A suggestion calls to life the idea (or seed-thought, as it has been called); we are struck by some thought or even word which we have never till now considered, yet before a week is over we have come across that word or thought on a dozen different occasions, and this because the idea has been roused into life, and is growing and adding to itself. And so our thoughts are influenced, and through them our characters.

If ideas grow and increase thus and influence our thoughts and character, it is clear that they form a most important branch of education. Each of the ordinary school subjects may be made a channel for ideas: of these subjects it is my purpose to deal with Bible lessons, given to young children; and certainly no subject affords greater scope for the presentation of ideas, and no one is more receptive than a young child.

The state of a child's mind of course varies much, and its powers of reception are greater at some times than others. Without a determined effort of attention, the child will naturally give his whole mind to an interesting subject, in other words, put his mind into a receptive attitude. It is never very difficult to secure this attitude when the lesson is a Bible story. I suppose there are no children who do not delight in stories, and few young children who do not like fairy stories best, and Bible stories are like fairy stories to them, with the additional charm of being true. What more could an imaginative child want, a child who loves heroes and the miraculous, than such stories as those about David, Samson, the Flood, Daniel; or in the New Testament--the feeding of the five thousand, the healing of the sick, and bringing the dead to life. Children love all these stories, and the receptive attitude is secured by no more than announcing the subject of the lesson. Then throughout the lesson it is well to keep two aims in view--first, to keep up this attitude and secondly, to see that these ideas, upon which he is to fix his attention, are of the best.

(1) To keep the mind open, which practically means to sustain the interest, and this leads us to consider the choice of subject. Here there is not much difficulty. The story will be a simple one, easily understood, and such stories are without number. Care should be taken to tell them in chronological order, as far as possible, for the obvious reason of linking them together, and also because the interest is doubled by such a connection.

The story chosen, we should next consider the manner in which we are going to deal with it. One must remember how very simple a child's mind is--it is not capable of very complicated reasoning. Too many whys and wherefores, discussion of motives, explanations even, produce confusion. Too much explanation robs the story of its life, its vividness. When a child has lost himself, and is living for the moment with his hero, probably impersonating him, it seems a shame to jerk him back to his every-day self by explaining some word or action into commonplace. The idea of proportion must always be kept in view. The chief thread of the story must not be broken by digressions; there should be brought to bear, and to which other ideas should give place. I do not mean by this that the story should be bare and devoid of detail; one of the many reasons why children love Bible stories is that they afford enormous scope for imagination; a word or two of picturesque description carries the child on till he can see the place where the event happened; he can picture to himself the brook from which David took the stones for his sling, and the Temple where Christ sat with the doctors. He delights in details of the minutest description; he loves to picture his hero's appearance, his surroundings, the country he lived in, its customs, its flowers and animals and a hundred other details. Such side-lights as bear directly on the subject are of great value, and it is only useless digressions which carry one from the man point which should be avoided.

The lesson might begin, for instance, with some description of the surroundings; the story itself to be read simply and without comment, and all extra details interesting to a little child may be introduced in a talk following the reading. The object of reading the story rather than telling it is that children cannot too soon become familiar with the words of the Bible; they must associate them with the lessons they teach so closely that the one will always recall the other. Besides the first and highest reasons for which we love and revere the very words themselves, there are purely intellectual advantages in becoming familiar with them. No English is more beautiful and, at the same time, more simple than Bible language; it affords the highest literary culture.

Following the reading comes an informal talk about the story. Children are sure to have many comments to make, many questions to ask; they enter so warmly into the very being of the chief figure in the story that they will have much to say about his thoughts and feelings, his joys or sorrows, which they share keenly. This sympathy does away with the necessity of dragging out the moral and applying it to the child's own life. He lives in his hero, and best feels the force of the lesson which the story has to teach in that capacity; it is a pity that he and his own failings should be brought into the question. Teach him to detect good qualities and to admire them, keep before him the dominating idea to be awakened by the lesson, and the object of pointing out the moral is accomplished. An occasional remark or question will draw out and direct the child's discrimination between good and evil. Put before him the case of some good man who has to choose between two paths--good coupled with danger, and evil with, at any rate, bodily safety: for example, Daniel--will he give up praying to God because it endangers his life? And the child's answer will be "No," as a matter of course, showing that the idea of fearless trust in God, with which he is naturally endowed, has been awakened in him.

". . . perhaps they are all combined in the one leading idea to be presented in Bible stories--the idea of God."

(2) Having discussed a few ways of keeping the lesson simple and interesting and so ensuring that the child's mind is open and alert for the reception of ideas, we next come to these ideas themselves. They are innumerable, but perhaps they are all combined in the one leading idea to be presented in Bible stories--the idea of God. The responsibility of such a task is enormous, and cannot be undertaken lightly; it is in all probability the idea which he will carry with him through life, certainly one which cannot be uprooted without the greatest difficulty, and which must have an undying influence.

There are two aspects in which a child may think of God. One of these aspects is that of the great Judge, who will punish the wicked--hard, immovable, unsympathetic, to be feared. This idea generally arises when the child has often heard that God will be angry if he is naughty, and so it happens that he is either frightened into good behaviour, or becomes defiant. I once heard a child say that he wished people would be angry with him and punish him if he were naughty, because then he wouldn't care much, but he did care if they were just sorry. That child felt as if he could in a way atone for his naughtiness by being punished, as if he might choose to sin with a free conscience if he was willing to pay the penalty. But give him the true idea of God, and such a feeling will no longer soothe his conscience. Let him see that God will be sorry, not angry, if he is naughty, and the state of things is altered. Show him how God loves him, just as his father and mother do, takes care of him, keeps him out of danger, gives him all his pleasures, his home, his friends, even his little amusements; how He knows him by his name, is glad when he does right, grieves when he does wrong, and so the child's idea of God will be that of a personal Friend, only more loving, more wonderful, and far more forgiving than any earthly friend would ever be; Someone Who is always sympathetic, Who will understand all difficulties, and always be ready to help. No more will be needed to make the child realize the shame and dishonour of deliberately grieving such a Friend.

This, then is the principal idea to be presented in Bible lessons (as it will also be presented, of course, on many other occasions). There is no Bible story which will not afford food for it.

There are, of course, many other ideas to be presented also, such as those of reverence, faith, charity, gratitude, etc. I propose to take one of these, the idea of faith, and try to illustrate what I have said by working it out in a slight sketch of a lesson on David and Goliath.

Every lesson should begin with some recapitulation of the last, to link the two together; so this subject should open with a few questions about David, drawing from the children that he was the youngest of eight brothers, and was employed in caring for his father's sheep. This would lead to the opening of the story--the fact that the three elder brothers were fighting for Saul at this time. The children will already know something of the Philistines from former lessons. David himself remains at home keeping the sheep. Then comes his father's command that he shall go and see his brothers and find out how they fare, a command very gladly obeyed, for David is young and brave, and has probably been longing to join his brothers in the war.

Then comes a description of the place where the two armies were facing one another--seen with David's eyes when he arrives; and a most striking scene it must have been, the two armies on the opposite slopes of the hills, and the valley between, and the men armed and arrayed ready for the fight. David runs eagerly into the midst of the army to greet his brothers. As he is talking with them Goliath comes up with his challenge. Here follows a description of the giant, and the impression he must have made on David by his great height, his strength, his imposing armour.

But Goliath does not make half so great an impression on David as does the fact that the Israelites are afraid of him and flee, and that none dare accept his challenge. David's faith is too great to admit fear; it gives him the physical courage to resolve to fight the Philistine, and the moral courage to keep to his resolution in spite of the scorn and even anger of his brothers, and in fact all those to whom he mentions it. And so he goes gladly when Saul sends for him, and persuades the king to give him permission. Saul argues in vain that David is but a youth and not skilled in fighting, but such arguments have no effect on David, who is not trusting to his own strength but rests his faith on the God who delivered him from the lion and bear, saying, "The Lord who delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, He will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine." He refuses even to wear the king's armour; he has not proved it, but he has proved and relies on God's protection. And so David provides himself with a simple sling and a few pebbles, and goes fearlessly out to meet the champion, whose scornful taunts have no power to unnerve him. Then follows the account of David's triumph, and the wonderful result and reward of faith. One might with advantage dwell upon the fact that, from his earliest childhood, his faith has never failed him, nor has the reward been wanting.

This is, of course, a mere outline of the story. At its close, one of the children should be called upon to narrate it from the beginning (children are rather inclined to begin at the end), and tell it consecutively and clearly without the aid or the interruption of many questions. Then would follow the talk, bringing in any further details, and making sure by a few judicious questions that the idea of the lesson--the idea of faith--has been grasped.

Again, such a story as the feeding of the five thousand would be most fruitful in awakening the true conception of God as being full of tenderness and compassion. Our Lord pities the people who have flocked to the desert with their sick from great distances. He speaks of them as "sheep without a shepherd," heals them, teaches them, and remembering their bodily needs, feeds them. This story will certainly appeal to a child, and make him feel that his God is not too great to stoop to consider the daily needs of His children.

Among other ideas which one would wish to awaken in children is the idea of true charity, and the story of the widow's mite would be especially suitable, teaching, as it does, that the spirit of the giver is worth much more than the material value of the gift.

And so each Bible story contains its life-giving idea, and in touching the corresponding chord in the child's heart, the lesson becomes more than a mere story, more than a history lesson; it is the means of awakening ideas, and those ideas the very highest to which we can aspire, and the most fruitful in their undying influence on the future character of the man.

Proofread by Phyllis Hunsucker