The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."

by Rev. M. R. Neligan, Vicar of St. Stephen's.
Volume 13, 1902, pg. 657-665

At 3 p.m., a short service was held at St. Mary Abbot's Kensington, when the Rev. M. R. Neligan, Vicar of St. Stephen's, Westbourne Park, preached the following sermon:--

In the 17th chapter of the Holy Gospel according to St. John, and at the 19th verse, it is written:--"And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth" it is the authorised version, while in the revised version it read:--"that they may also be sanctified through truth." This latter is a more accurate translation of the Greek.

Anybody who proceeds to read these particular chapters of St. John's Gospel must be struck, especially when he is reading the 17th chapter, with a sense of deep and real solemnity. One seems to be entering into what has well been called "The Holy of Holies," and, indeed, any man or woman reading these chapters can well lay to heart, and will do well to remember the words, "Keep thy foot when thou enterest into the House of God." For here, in these chapters of St. John, there does seem to be given to us a revelation of the innermost thoughts of the Lord Jesus Christ. And yet, though all this be true, though it be the case that as we read these chapters, and particularly the 17th chapter, this overpowering sense of their solemnity comes upon us; yet, naturally, any man or woman who desires to learn anything as to the way of living their own life, or anything of the love of God, or how to help other people to live their lives, or, above all, how to educate other people, any such man or woman will naturally and almost instinctively turn to the 17th chapter of St. John. There one will learn how it is that the Great Educator of Humanity laid down the great fundamental principles of education, there one will find how He--"the Express Image of the Father"--taught men and women what were the first principles and the fundamental motives which should and must guide education for all time.

Therefore He gives inspiration, gives inspiration to men and women, who oftentimes want it, because life is very hard, and life is sometimes very disappointing, and therefore He gives to men and women inspiration, telling them, as it were, that failure does not matter. After all, so far as the world counts, His life was a ghastly and a horrid failure, and yet He tells men and women to go on.

Not only does He give them inspiration, but He teaches them method, method concerning the educator, and method concerning those who are to be educated; He sanctified Himself for their sakes.

Again, not only does He give inspiration and the method, but He lays down the great principle that all education is to fit us for life; for education indeed that does not fit for life ceases to be education. The motto of life, as He discloses it to us in these chapters, is: that life finds its truest solution not in success, but in service. "For their sakes I sanctify myself." The Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep."

And, my friends, I think that in one of your Parents' National Educational Union leaflets one sees that this principle, which was laid down by our Lord, is underlying a very considerable amount of your literature which I came across lately, where you define education as being "the science of relations." It is the definition which is underlying these thoughts of our Lord which we are considering this afternoon, for here you find that the Lord is laying down in his system of Education this "science of relationship."

Just before the words which we have taken for our text, He is talking about the relationship which exists between men and good and evil, and He is saying that the relation is a personal relation. He prays that they shall be kept from the evil one. He prays that those He is educating--His disciples--may be kept and preserved from the pervading influence of the evil one, and then He proceeds to lay down certain great big principles concerning the relationship of man to truth. He says that this relationship, if man be preserved in personal contact with truth, this relationship will not only give man what he wants--protection--but it will give man something higher and something better than protection, and indeed something that issues of necessity from the nature of the protection which is afforded, namely,--hallowing. He says, "Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom Thou hast given Me." Protection is afforded by sanctification, protection issues from hallowing. As Bishop [Brooke Foss] Westcott says, and the sentiment is worthy of our remembrance, "the truth is not only a power within man by which he is moved, but it is an atmosphere in which he lives. The end of the Truth is not wisdom which is partial, but holiness which is universal." [Gospel According to St John] That is what the Lord is laying down as His principle of Education, the universality of holiness, the possibility of holiness being universal.

In laying this down He makes two sentences, one concerning Himself, "I sanctify myself," the other concerning those whom He is educating and leading, those who believe in and follow His teaching. His followers are to be a sanctified and hallowed people, sanctified in truth. The definite article is omitted in the Greek version, and the omission of this definite article renders it in the Greek "εν αλϑςια" instead of "εν τη αλϑςια" as in other passages. The particular force of this omission is: men and women who come under this higher scheme of education, and consequently boys and girls, should be and must be truly, actually, and really hallowed by the very personal relationship that they have to those principles which are eternal, and which cannot vary: the relationship of God to man and man to God. Therefore, if education is, as you say in your papers quite rightly it is, "the science of relations," the relationship of truth, the relation of the child or man or woman to truth stands out as the very first essential. For the product of that relationship must be--it cannot help itself--it must be holiness. And that product of holiness arising from the relationship of the individual to truth, is the only universal quality that can possibly be obtained. Wisdom, knowledge, learning, these are only partial qualities. They are only for the few, and not for the many. The quality of sanctity, the quality of holiness, the quality of purity, on the other hand, is universal, and within the grasp and reach of all.

Further, if this relationship to truth does produce, as it can and ought to produce, this quality of holiness; then you will find that this quality becomes power, i.e., the power of transforming. You will experience that it is not a case of being conformed to this world, but transformed to the things which are pure, to whatsoever things are good and noble. This transforming power results from the very force of this relationship to truth.

Then you get a further effect--the effect of the creation of an atmosphere wherein man has the power of seeing things rightly, an atmosphere in which, with sharp, distinct, and clearly-cut outlines, the difference between wrong and right is easily seen and the difference between truth and want of truth is quite discernible, where the difference between purity and impurity is readily to be discerned, and the difference between honour and dishonour does not become a question of casuistry, but remains a matter of eternal principle. In that atmosphere, which results from such a relationship, men and women gain the power they want: the power of seeing things as they really are, the power of seeing into the real life of things.

I doubt not that, thus far, I shall have succeeded in carrying you all with me; that none will be prepared to contravene these broad and general principles. From them we can go further and deduce personal and direct application such as may be more particularly fitted to this special service with which you are very rightly concluding your Congress in London this week. I would lead you to the personal application of these principles in this way:--

They very title of your Union--The Union of Parents--suggests the direction for thought. The first "object" in your Union emphasizes that suggestion: there you lay down that your prime purpose is, "to assist parents of all classes to understand the best principles and methods of education in all their aspects, more especially of those which concern the formation of habits and character."

From your title and from that first "object" one gets down, I think, to this application, which is not really one of irreverence; for the Lord lived the human life. It is just because the Lord lived the human life that the Lord can understand the human difficulties and the human troubles, and can sympathize with the human sorrows. So it is not irreverent to take His own words into our own lives, and we who are parents must try to get hold of His words as they apply to ourselves--"I sanctify myself." Well may we pray in that old collect of our Prayer-book that as Jesus Christ left us an "ensample of godly life," so we "may daily endeavour ourselves to follow the blessed steps of His most holy life." Well may those of us who have to do with children, who have the priceless privilege and signal responsibility of parentage, take these words to himself or herself--"I sanctify myself." How shall we do it?

Well, I take it that this is the very first thing a parent has to be--a parent has to be a poet. Not necessarily writing what we call poetry; there is a great deal of rubbish in what is often called poetry: it is often simply mawkish sentimentality which can only be compared to the jangling rhymes of some cheap versifier. The real poetry of life consists in making life. The word poet means someone who makes something. You may remember Browning, in The Ring and the Book, describing the reception he got from the publishers of the time. They treated him with scorn. All the time however he feels that that story which he picked up on the old book-stall in Florence has got some virtue, that it could be made to tell a tale to men and women. He tells the tale. He has the quality of a poet: one who takes something and makes it into something else, takes something which is ordinary and makes it into something extraordinary, takes the common and makes it marvellous. Brethren, the parent who is not a poet, in the sense I have spoken of, is failing signally in the responsibilities of parentage. Firstly, he or she is capable of making himself or herself, his or her character. Then they have to make a character for those dependent upon them. They have to create the atmosphere in which this relationship to truth can flourish, wherein character can develop on true and sound lines. The influence of the parent upon the child, of the teacher upon the scholar, absolutely and entirely depends--not upon wisdom and learning--but upon the making power of the parent, or of the teacher. The character of the future generation depends upon the making power of the older folk, and the making power of the older folk is proportional, absolutely proportional, to their hallowing of themselves; to their own personal relation to truth. "I sanctify myself."

Ah, "my duty is not to unmake myself, but to make the absolute best of what God made," those words of Browning are true. It is our duty to "make the absolute best of what God has made," and God has made us here, men and women, with the power of a direct and personal relation to eternal truth. As that thought enters into my soul, as that forms my character, so am I making the character of the rising generation, so am I helping to create an atmosphere in which truth shall flourish.

My brethren, I suppose that is you were to ask two classes of men in London, or any other large town, what was their experience of the causes of most of the family troubles and unhappiness in life, if you were to ask the diligent Parish Priest or the Family Doctor--in both cases I am presupposing that the Priest or Doctor is the friend of his people--I venture to assert without fear of contradiction that in every case where there was family trouble, such men would state that it was produced through the neglect of the principle laid down by the Lord as to the necessity of personal relationship to truth, the personal sanctification of the heads of the family. Time and again you come across it. I know there are cases where you see people of apparently blameless lives who are cursed with unprofitable children; I know there are many of these mysteries of life: but we do not take exceptions as our rule. Our rule undoubtedly is: that family disasters and troubles are not to be laid at the door of the children, but that they are to be laid at the door of the parents, and you have only to think of one or two simple illustrations to prove this.

Do you remember St. Paul's advice concerning temper, given with just that touch of the master-hand which he knew how to give? You will find it at the end of the Epistle to the Ephesians and in the Epistle to the Colossians. "Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged." There is the responsibility for the child's temper, the responsibility which is upon the parent as to how the child is corrected, with what words the child connects itself with its fault. It does so through the words which are used by the parent. The parent's anger is the cause of the child's ill-temper, and the child is discouraged.

Or think of the nature of a good deal of what is called "talking" in the home. What is the tone? If the tone of modern conversation is trivial, and indeed is occasionally slack and even worse than slack, where was it learnt? It was learnt at home. "Take heed that ye offend not one of these little ones" should be ringing in the ears of every father and mother as they sit at table with their children, or in the drawing-room afterwards. The tone of conversation at the table, the tone of conversation in the home, that is the thing which is going to influence the tone of conversation of the child when it grows up, and the tone of the child's life.

And, similarly, when you talk of Marriage. We speak in these days of Marriage being disregarded. We talk of the grievousness of a "Deceased Wife's Sister's Bill" being advocated in Parliament, of the prevalence of Divorce, and so forth. These are, indeed, two most serious things. It is something almost beyond belief--but I know it to be a fact, for I have known solicitors who have been asked to do it--that in certain marriage settlements requests have been made for provision in case of divorce. If these things are the case, as undoubtedly they are, then it is we, the older people, it is we who have got children, it is we who are responsible for changing it. It will only be done by keeping the standard of marriage very high, by keeping the whole tone of it pure and holy, by keeping life simple, and by keeping the standard of the marriage bond very true and very pure. Home, life, love, purity, everything that is good in this country depends upon the aspect with which we regard the marriage bond.

Or if you go further and consider Life in general, it is said--I do not believe it myself to be universally true at all--it is said that the young of this generation are not so well prepared for sacrifice as the young of preceding generations. I do not believe it is universally true at at all, but I do know that when you consider certain aspects of life you are appalled at the standard which is put before young people in these times: the standard which is put before them is the standard of Success, and not the standard of Service. But where a nation gets to believe that Success is the highest standard for national life, the days of that nation are numbered. The law of the Lord is: personal sanctification, personal self-sacrifice. As a country, we needed the dark days of December, 1899, to make us think. As a country we needed all that sharp awakening, but we have not yet wakened up, as a country, to the great and increasingly sore need of the law of Service being set before young men and young women as the highest law of life, and instead of the law of Success. One could illustrate that from various branches of life, but suffice it to merely notice this in passing. We see in the modern professions, particularly in the professions of Medicine and in the Ministry of the Church, not only in the Ministry of the Church of England, but in the Ministry of Non-conforming bodies and in the Ministry of the Roman Church; we see the dearth of University Candidates for Medicine or for the Ministry in all these bodies, and it is serious and alarming. Why? Simply because in many of our homes the principle of Success and not Service is set forth. This principle applies to personal sanctification, and is the principle of religion in our hearts.

I am not concerned now with the definition of religion, I am only concerned at this present moment with that definition which the Lord gives here, the personal relation to Truth. I am concerned with this: with the ideal home, and the ideal home is that place where the Will of God is the general atmosphere of that home, where the Will of the Father is sought to be performed. But this is impossible, if, on the one hand, the definition of Religion that the child learns is Sectarianism, or Party feeling, or Churchianity, instead of Christianity; or where it means religious gossip connected with trivialities. Or, on the other hand, where the connotation of religion is: that it is a thing that does not matter, and everything else can come before it.

In the words, "I sanctify myself," there is put before us who are parents this thought--I have got to sanctify myself, and I cannot teach this child without personal sanctification. Personality is the thing we have to consider. You know it in your children and I know it in mine. It is the personal equation which makes your home unhappy, or which makes it happy, and it is the personal equation which makes influence in the home fruitful or not.

Education: what is education? Education does not consist in preaching. Education does not consist in nagging. Education does not consist in always saying to poor, hapless mites of boys and girls--Don't do this or the other. It does not consist in pestering boys or girls, or little children, with wretched examinations. Education does not consist, first of all, in the personal hallowing of the elders, so that the standards of life and love, of purity, of marriage and of religion may be so high that the child is brought up with this standard before it, the standard of "Noblesse oblige."

And lastly we must remember that it is "for their sakes" you and I have got to do it. That is the motive. It is for the sakes of those who are the gift and heritage of the Lord. It is for the sake of those who "like the arrows in the hand of the giant are the young children," for the sake of those of whom it is said "Blessed is the man that hath his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate." They are ours, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh. There they are and they are ours! They are ours and their standard depends upon our standard. There they are, symbols of the unity of the Godhead, that strange descending love, from the father, through the mother, to the child. There they are and they are ours: each with his own gift, each with his own power from God on high. But, mark you, that gift, that power, has no force of its own for expansion, has no inherent power of its own for development. That gift depends for its development and expansion upon the character of the child who is to be the man who is to use it, and that character depends upon the spirit which animates that child's life, and that spirit depends upon you, depends upon me.

"For their sakes I sanctify myself!" The love for the child impelling the father to self-sacrifice, impelling the mother to devotion, impelling and compelling the parent to the noblest aspect of life, and the highest ideal and standard of purity and truth. Which then shall it be? The standard of Success that we shall put before our children or the standard of Service? Which is the standard of Christ? Which then shall it be that we shall put before our children to live for? A Materialism which is sordid and mean or an Idealism which is holy, which is splendid, which leads to God? Which shall it be? Well, it depends entirely upon whether we are or are not prepared to take the words of the Lord into our own lives, "For their sakes I am prepared to sanctify myself."


After the service, members and their friends were most hospitably entertained by Mrs. Winkworth, in her beautiful garden at Holly Lodge, Camden Hill.

[Moore Richard Neligan, 1863-1922, Irish. He was at St. Stephen's in Paddington from 1894-1903. Very shortly after this address, he took a position in Auckland, New Zealand, where he served for seven years. He married Mary Macrory in 1894. There's a photo of him at the bottom of the book page here. There's a photo of a Folio Bible in an Oak Box on Facebook with these inscriptions as it was passed to the eldest son for four generations, starting with M.R.'s grandfather: "Presented To The Rev. W. H. Neligan. As A Token Of Esteem And Regard For His Ministrations At Melton Mowbray." (1848) "The Rev Doctor Neligan of New York desirest of leaving this book as an heirloom in the family. Presents it to the Revd. Maurice Neligan M.A. Chaplain of the Mollyneux Church [Dublin, Ireland] and hopes he will always remember the donor in his prayers. St. Columba Church, New York. August 31, 1865." "I give this to my son Moore Richard Neligan of St Stephen, Bayswater, London. Maurice Neligan Canon July 1894, Christ Church, Leeson Park, Dublin." "Given to me, Moore Dermot Macrory Neligan, by my parents Moore Richard Neligan (Bishop of Aukland, N.Z. 1903-1910) and Mary Neligan to be given by me to my elder son and to be given by him to his elder son."]

Typed by happi, Jan. 2021; Proofread by LNL, Apr. 2021