The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Hints on Religious Training of Children.
In these days, with so many new theories and views on religious topics as well as others floating in the air, and with the tendency that there is either to open scepticism or to careless indifference to religion, it behoves parents and teachers to seriously consider these questions, and to make up their minds as far as possible as to what their own faith is, and as to what line they will pursue in presenting religion before their children, and so guiding them that they may avoid the danger of drifting straight into atheism or indifference on the one hand, or of holding narrow old-fashioned views on the other, which they are likely to see the error of as they pass through the world and meet with cultured minds. The shock of discovery that things on which they had pinned their faith were found in the march of progress to be other than they imagined might cause them to make shipwreck of their faith, whereas had it been pointed out to them from the first that human interpretation of things may change, but the truth taught remains firm, they might have been saved from many dangers and difficulties. The following suggestions on a few subjects which come frequently before one's notice may be of some slight assistance to those intrusted with the training of children.
To fortify young minds against the assaults of scepticism, it is a great matter to aim at cultivating and strengthening the judgment of children, to let them know from the beginning that people's views may change and be modified about religious subjects as more light is thrown upon them, whilst the truths taught remain the same. For instance, in Old Testament history, the Jewish mind was not prepared to receive or digest divine truths placed naked before them. They had to be clothed in the form of allegory and metaphors in order to be at all understood, and probably then they were but dimly appreciated. The nation itself had to be specially instructed in God's ways before they could receive all the truths for which they were gradually more and more prepared and trained. In the teaching of morality, things were permitted which would be cruel in these days, as for instance, the massacre of the heathen nations, and the sternness with which transgressions of the Mosaical law were punished; but without the aid of these strong measures, God's people, who were themselves to be as examplars and beacons for other nations, could not have been taught the heinousness of sin or God's strength of purpose and determination against it.
Again, it is a great point with children to train them in all good habits, but especially in that of reverence for God, leading up to this by teaching them respect for those older and wiser than themselves. This will lead also to humility and a modest estimate of their own powers. Christian truths should be taught and impressed upon their minds as they are able to bear them and understand them, not before; pointing out that the Bible should be looked upon as a whole, and the Old Testament as a gradual revelation of God to man. It should be impressed upon the mind that God is love, and that by trust in Him, things now dark to us will be revealed in due course.
A great help in teaching any special subject is to have some central idea round which all subsequent ones may group themselves. In teaching religion, no thought can be grander and more elevating than that of "God is Love." The greatest commandment and that on which hang all the law and the prophets, as Jesus Himself said, is, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart with all thy mind, with all thy soil and with all thy strength; and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself"; and this power to love can only come from God Himself Who is Love. In connection with this thought may be taken the doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ as the central one round which all other doctrines group themselves. It thus becomes the most fitting to present first to children, and from that to lead on to the Resurrection and Ascension, and later to the doctrine of the Trinity. The Incarnation is the doctrine to which the Old Testament teaching leads up, and it is intimately connected with the great truth, "God is Love," this love being proved by His giving His Son, both to live and to die for us. By His life Christ showed us the nature of God, He Himself being the express image of the Godhead. He also manifested in His life God's purpose of love towards man, how he was designed by Him to be upright, pure and true, with high aims and unselfish views towards others, though he has now so sadly fallen from this noble ideal. We see manifested the unchangeableness of God, past ages and events slowly working forward and preparing for the coming of Him Who fulfilled in the person of Christ the purpose that God had in view when he created man in His own image. Christ is the first perfect man, but shows us how we too may become like Him by following in His steps, till, in the life to come and in the full light of His countenance, "We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is."
Then we lead on to the doctrine of the Resurrection; believing that, as Christ died and rose again, so shall we rise with our bodies from the grave. This may be illustrated from the vegetable world by pointing out how the seed falls and is buried in the ground, yet in due course reappears in a glorified form; also how the tree appears to die in winter yet puts on fresh beauty each returning spring. In the animal world, too, a ready illustration lends itself in the life of the butterfly which shows no signs in its grub and chrysalis stages of the beauty which lies hid within it, and which it afterwards develops. After this we work on to the doctrine of the Ascension, believing, as we do, that as Christ the first fruits--His work on earth being finished--ascended up on High, there to intercede for us, so, too, shall we, with souls purified and refined, in due time join Him in the mansions He has gone to prepare.
The doctrine of the Trinity may be touched upon in connection with Christ's promise to send the Comforter to His disciples when He is no longer with them. God the Son--being on high with God the Father--promises to send God the Holy Spirit into the hearts of his followers, yet these three Gods are one Person and one God: Jesus said to His disciples, "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." The illustration of man himself as a threefold being may help to make this difficult doctrine clearer; every human being has body, intellect and spirit, and yet is one person.
Again a candle has threefold properties: that of burning or consuming, of giving light, and of giving heat, and these three, though so different in property, cannot be divided in substance.
In studying the question whether Natural Theology can teach us much about God, one great difficulty which presents itself is that, in nature, each stronger creature preys upon the weaker, and brute-force, might rather than right, seems to govern the world. The presence of sin, of sorrow, and of suffering are unexplained mysteries, and the great fact that death falls upon all alike, the evil and the good, is the strongest point of all against believing in a divine being, who is at the same time all-powerful, just, and loving.
A Christian can meet these difficulties by faith that the life here does not end all things, that rewards and punishments are not necessarily meted out in this world, but that the very trials which beset us here like fire in its purifying effects upon metal, only serve if met in a right spirit to purify us and fit us the better for the life beyond the grave. True faith in the Son of God who came not to do His own will but the will of Him who sent Him, would lead us to see that our mission in life is not merely to enjoy ourselves and get what good we can out of life, but by following in the steps of Christ to grow more and more into His likeness, so that, come what may, everything leads us nearer to Him, and, trusting in His love, we shall believe that the mysteries of sin and sorrow will be one day revealed, when we see no longer through a glass darkly, but face to face, in the light of the Sun of Righteousness.
The question has sometimes arisen as to the connection between Will and Conscience; though they act and react upon one another, they are not the same thing. The Will has to do more with the mental and physical parts of man, the Conscience with his moral and spiritual qualities. The Will controls action, Conscience determines what this action shall be.
The Will requires training so as to learn self-control. The term--a wilful child, is misleading, as in reality what one understands by that expression is a child who follows the impulse of the moment, and has not the power of turning from its purpose when reasoned with, so that the child in reality suffers from want of Will. If trained aright a child of this sort develops with a strong character for good, but he must be taught that it is not true strength to be determined only upon gratifying the passing whim. When wisely directed, the Will will be accompanied by judgment and guided by Conscience.
The Conscience itself must be taught, and is not developed naturally. A child does not know by instinct what is right and what is wrong except, to a certain extent, through heredity. It may tell lies without knowing them to be wrong; and the untaught savage looks upon robbery and murder as things to be proud of. Cruelty again is a thing many children do not realise to be wrong until taught.
On the other hand, a wise discretion must be used not to lay upon the tender conscience of a child burdens too heavy for it to bear. It is quite possible to make a child morbidly sensitive by laying too great a stress upon unimportant matters.
Typed by happi, July 2019; Proofread by LNL, Apr 2020
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