The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

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


The Call of Abraham.

A Suggestion to Sunday School Teachers.

by E. [Ellen] A. Parish.

Volume 15, 1904, pg. 112-121

The plan I have decided on as likely to be of most use to Sunday School Teachers is to give a brief sketch of such a lesson as I presume you would give any Sunday, trying, at the same time, to illustrate by it such points as we consider necessary to the right development of a child's mind. Please believe that I write in all humility. I am going to propose a method of working such as we students of the House of Education are educated to use. I do not claim great success for my own work but I am confident that, so far as my teaching is true to the lines laid down by Miss Mason, the foundress of the P.N.E.U., just so far my work succeeds beyond all expectation.

What we aspire to do is to help our pupils to make the best of themselves in every possible way, to make life fuller, broader, more serviceable and more telling for them. We want them to feel in harmony with the world they live in. We want them to feel a part of it and a necessary part. We want them to be good citizens and to realize the responsibilities which each is forced to carry with him. It has been said that the "meaning of life here on earth may be defined as consisting in this--to unfold yourself, to work what thing you have the faculty for." [Reginald J. Campbell: Jeremiah 45] We teachers need to feel that we have at least placed stepping-stones and not stumbling-blocks before the feet of our children.

The sketch I am about to give is supposed to be for a child eleven or thirteen years of age. But this is of small moment, as in our teaching we are accustomed to assemble our families of children during the Scripture lesson. By this I do not mean that Class I. (girls perhaps of sixteen) would be taught absolutely the same lesson as the babies in Class I.a and b. But we find it quite possible to take children of seven and nine or ten together, or again children of nine and fourteen. For this reason, we believe that the little ones will find as much as they need and that the older ones will be tempted to work out the ideas they receive. Of course a careful teacher sees to it that each pupil gets his special share and has his interest aroused by a well directed question which goes straight to his want, though it might lose its point if put to any other member of the class. May I from the beginning urge the intense importance of respecting the personality of children. It is something so precious, so easily quenched and so hard to revive. Every child is different. Every child needs different treatment. "The humblest rivulet will take its own wild liberties." One of the most difficult lessons a teacher has to learn, is that of keeping herself in the background; yet it is the only way if the child is to learn to be self-reliant, and to use his own thoughts instead of someone else's. We teachers have to be as "The voice of one crying in the wilderness." We have perpetually to guard against absorbing our children's personality in our own.

Again, I fear my preamble is long, but there are one or two points I am anxious to make clear--one word about the "child mind." This is a thing for which we do not lay ourselves out at all. We believe that children are ignorant, but we also know it to be impossible to measure their intelligence by our own slower brains. We do not, for instance, in speaking to children, use only such words as they have heard before--we endeavour to choose our language well, confident that the meaning of our words will, sooner or later, reveal itself to our children, and their vocabulary will be so far the richer. This is really an illustration of the principle underlying all our dealings with children--we believe that they need, not capability, but opportunity. The mind of a child of seven is the same as the mind of a child of fourteen, with one exception. The mind of fourteen holds seven years' more experience, it has had seven more years in which to prove its own experiments and draw its own conclusions.

Now for the sketches.

I have chosen for my subject the "Call of Abraham"--taking it from that most helpful book, The Bible for the Young, by Paterson Smith. It is summed up under brief headings which I give that it may be easier to follow.

Gen. xi. to ver. 10, ver. 26 to end, and xii.

I. The shepherd living in Ur.
      (a) His surroundings and conditions contrasted with those of the present day.
      (b) Rudimentary religion.

II. God's call to Abram.
      (a) How the call came.
      (b) Why it came.
      (c) The difficulty of obeying.

III. Bible saints and heroes.
      (a) The humanity of Abram.
      (b) All great men are not above human weakness.

IV. God's call to-day.
      (a) Present-day application.
      (b) Nobleness of small things.

Now what we want to see is how this lesson can be made to help in the development of a child.

Here I offer to you a second sketch of the objects we could reasonably expect to obtain through this lesson.

I. We want to train him to understand the world.
      (a) By realisation of the past.
      (b) By its application to the present.

II. We want to train him to understand the workings of God in Nature.
      (a) The idea of natural craving after good.
      (b) Nature the expression of good.

III. We want to train him to understand that his thoughts, words, and deeds are the expression of his spirit.
      (a) Common desires.
      (b) Common emotions.

IV. We want to help him to establish more conscious relations with God.
      (a) The inheritance of the ages.
      (b) The expression by service.

By establishing relations, I mean developing a friendly and sympathetic feeling. A feeling that one is "in touch" with all that is above us, around us and beneath us, with the past, present and future.

It is not always that one realizes that so much can be done in a lesson as I have suggested under these headings. Nor do I mean to imply that they all could--in one lesson, but they are the main principles on which we have to work and which we cannot afford to ignore. We need to remind ourselves of them continually and see that some of them, at least, are being applied in every lesson we give. Probably, too, I am omitting many objects which are all important. But I am only offering food for reflection and the matter can be worked out as occasion shall require.

Anyhow, something of this method must be pursued if the moral training of a child is to be equal to his instruction. "Instruction" or the giving of knowledge in certain subjects is extremely important and necessary. But "Education" or the art of letting our children into the secret of self-control and self-knowledge is absolutely indispensable if we are to fit them for the stern battle of life.

      "Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control,
      These three alone lead life to sovereign power."

This means a firm foundation of sound moral training. I wish to make a great point of this question of "moral training." I do not think it is widely enough recognised that religious training without sound moral training is inadequate to the needs of life. Miss Mason says in Home Education, "We do not always make enough of the fact that the Divine grace is exerted on the lines of enlightened effort."

Now to return to our sketches. My plan is to take each object I have suggested to you in my second sketch and see how far I can illustrate it by the first.

Illustration of Application of Lesson

We want as our first object to try and train our children to understand the world. How else can we fit them for its battles? We will try to do this by (a) realization of the past and (b) by the application of that past to the present. Now, how is this object to be furthered by the lesson we have in hand?

One thing which appeals very strongly to children is mental pictures. If you can be so fortunate as to enable them to say, "Oh, but can't you see it all?" then you may feel you have so far succeeded. Here we have the makings of a lovely picture.

The country of Ur, the holy city of the Chaldees, with its stately temple of the moon. What is a temple? It is a most beautiful building, the most beautiful building the city contains, because it is the house of God. But they hadn't a god! They did not know the Being whom we know as God. But it was not their fault, only their ignorance. They wanted a god and wondered where they would find him. Then they thought of a wonderful sun, how it rejoices man's heart, how it warms the earth, how it makes the plants grow, how it gives life to everything. So they took the sun for their god, and since in night the sun had disappeared and the moon taken its place, they worshipped the moon too. It wasn't wonderful at all that they should do this. They just didn't know! Now there was a great shepherd clan who lived in the spreading plains lying round this city of Ur. They lived in tents--why? Can any of you tell me what a tent is like? These tents were brown, and dotted all over the plains and surrounded by flocks of sheep, cows, and camels. Now, the chief of this clan was named Terah, and if you look in the 11th chapter of Genesis you can tell me the names of other members of his clan--Abram and Lot. Now think of this boy living quietly in those plains, learning to be a shepherd. What other great man was a shepherd too? Think of him, a quiet thoughtful boy, lying out at night on the plain, looking up at the brilliant moon and stars and wondering about them. There is a beautiful legend contained in the Jewish Talmud about Abram. It pictures him "as a lad, beholding the brilliant splendour of the noonday sun, and the reflected glory which it cast upon all objects around, and he said: 'Surely this brilliant light must be God; to Him will I render worship.' And he worshipped the sun and prayed to it. But as the day lengthened the sun's brightness faded; the radiance which it cast upon the earth was lost in the lowering clouds of night; and as the twilight deepened, the youth ceased his supplication, saying: 'No, this cannot be a god. Where, then, can I find the Creator; He who made the heavens and the earth?' He looked towards the west, the south, the north and the east, The sun disappeared from his view; nature became enveloped in the pall of a past day. Then the moon arose; and when Abram saw it shining in the heavens surrounded by myriads of stars, he said: 'Perhaps these are the gods who have created all things'; and he uttered prayers to them. But when the morning dawned and the stars paled, and the moon faded into silvery whiteness, and was lost in the returning glory of the sun, Abram knew God and said; 'There is a higher power, a supreme Being, and these luminaries are but His servants--the work of His hands.' From that day, even until the day of his death, Abram knew the Lord, and walked in all His ways."

This is tradition. But we may be sure that some such deep thoughts were stirring in the boy's heart--such thoughts as come to many of us in our better moments, when God's Spirit is near, and we realize that there is something within us more akin to God than to the grovelling world. By such thoughts God is always preparing boys and girls and men and women for the high and useful future.

You know that Abram was a boy, just such as one of you, and he thought about things and wondered about them and wanted to understand them just as one of you. God is always seeking boys and girls for high and useful futures, and training them as Abram was trained. God's great want now, as then, is to fit men and women to help Him in blessing and ennobling the world. What was there in Abram that made God choose him? He was thoughtful, he tried to understand things, he sought truth. If you try to do these things God will let you help Him to make the world better, and happier and more beautiful. You would be proud to feel that you were allowed to help God? That is how He rewards those who seek to obey him.

Here I think we may agree that we have carried out our objects in trying to awaken a clear realisation of the past, and in applying the case of the boy Abram to the case of boys of the present day.

Now the boys are interested and Abram has become a real person to them and they will like to hear more about him, every little detail you can tell them of him will be acceptable.

II. Now for our second division. We want to train our children to understand the workings of God in nature--our own nature and the world of nature around us, and this under the two headings--

(a) The idea of natural craving after good.
(b) Nature as the expression of good.

The Bible tells us very shortly how God called Abram. We know that there must have been in him that natural longing after good which is found in all of us. This longing after good is really conscience and you will find that it is found in everybody. The youngest child, as soon as he understands the word, blushes and draws back at the word "naughty." The poorest savage has his ideas of right and wrong, and though they are frequently very dreadful ideas according to our way of thinking, they are still a proof that he is striving after good in his own way. Men who have studied the subject will tell you that this sense of duty, this deep consciousness of something better and greater than ourselves, is found in all men naturally--I do not say that this sense can resist wilful deadening, but that is not the work of nature.

And now I want you to think for a moment of the country in which Abram lived, first in Chaldea and then in Haran where they lived till Abram's father Terah died. Think of the beauty of those dry, hot, summer nights and cloudless days when the boy Abram would be in the plain alone with his flocks. Those who are much out of doors and who love being in the fields and woods, know how good it is to be there and how the beauty of it helps us to be better and gives us beautiful thoughts. God has made the world so beautiful so that it can help us in this way, and it is certain that Abram felt it and that his longing after good was made much stronger by it. So you see that, first of all, God puts in us that longing for good, and then He makes the world so beautiful, which increases that longing. We do not know how God's call came, perhaps in a mysterious appearance to him; perhaps in a clear call of God and duty in his conscience, such as we get in our day. All we know is that he felt certain it was God's call, and unhesitatingly obeyed. We may by a few words help the children to realise that this call was the supreme event in Abraham's life; that not only his own after history, but all the history of the Jews who were to descend from him, depended upon whether he heard and obeyed or refused and rejected. It is a solemn and delightful thing to be spoken to by God and we must all take heed how we hear. The call came because God intended to take him away alone with Himself to train him; perhaps it was too comfortable and easy for him at home and needed dangers and trials which would make him turn more and more to God. And then God wanted to set apart His chosen people. It could not have been easy for Abram to obey God's call. It seems as though he did not like to leave his father and persuaded him to take the journey too, and that they got as far as Haran and then they stayed there till Terah's death. The Bible does not say this was wrong, and it seems that God was willing to leave Abram to his old father as long as he wanted.

Having thus tried to illustrate how it might be possible to train the children to a better understanding of the world, and of the workings of God in nature, we will proceed to our third division.

III. We want to train them to understand that their thoughts, words and deeds, are the expression of their spirit.
      (a) Common desires.
      (b) Common emotions.

And this is to be illustrated by the two points:--
      (a) The humanity of Abram.
      (b) The fact that all great men are liable to human weakness.

Now we come again to some points on which it has been found out that all men are alike. We know now that all men have some wish which makes them act; either they wish for praise, or for the good opinion of others. Or else they are anxious to learn a great deal and understand the things they see. Others do not like to be alone and wish to be always gay and with other people. These wishes are called desires and everyone has them. Then there are certain feelings which come to everyone at some time or other, such as joy, grief, resentment, sympathy; these are known as the emotions and are common to all. Now, we are certain to act according to which of these wishes and feelings are uppermost in our minds. If they are good, our actions are good. If they are bad, our actions are bad. We come in this chapter to a sad story of Abram in Egypt. You see, he had not yet given all his thoughts to God's keeping, though he was quite willing, really, to serve Him. He let cowardly thoughts come into his heart and then he was afraid to tell the truth and so he told a lie. It is not wonderful when one thinks of the time in which he lived and the people among whom he had been brought up. Lying and crooked dealing were quite common among them, and so you see that Abram is no hero, but a poor, sinful man, like ourselves, struggling to be good, and unless helped by God's grace, he can be frightened and selfish and tell lies like the others of his race. You will learn later on what religion did for this man.

IV. Our last division is really a general summing up. We have described it as trying "to help the children to establish their relations with God." I write this diffidently. I do not think help will be needed, for the relations should be established by the time we have come thus far. Our headings are:--
      (a) The inheritance of the ages.
      (b) Expression by service.

I think it is good for children to feel their privileges in the respect of this inheritance of the ages. They are sometimes apt to condemn an action in past history as foolish or wicked. They find it difficult to understand how much harder it was to be always good and wise when all laws of good conduct were still in their infancy and when every virtue had to feel its way out of chaos and become a recognised quality. Then the call of Abram can be applied to the present day. Instances can be given of other calls, Moses, Joshua, Peter, Matthew, Tyndale, Luther and many more. Then the call to mission labour, and the call that everyone has to carry on at home the expression in loving service of the duty we owe to God, and of working out the nobleness of small things.

Here then are the parallel sketches, worked out as well and as briefly as I have known how to work them.

There are two great agencies which may be taken into consideration in the work of education.

I. The power of assimilating ideas (and it has been my main purpose to illustrate how these ideas may be offered).

II. The power of forming habit. This last, though of equal importance with the first, is too large a subject for me to touch in this paper, and I have thought it best to restrict myself to the "Inspiration of Ideas." A child whose mind has been once deeply impressed by any beautiful, amusing or striking idea, is never likely to forget it. Once he has become the possessor of a living idea, it will grow in his mind, becoming always more powerful and, as other impressions and ideas are added to it, reasonable thought will increase and ideas will come with greater ease to his brain.

Miss Mason says that "Life should be nourished with ideas, the food upon which personality waxes strong."

Show a little child a horse chestnut in its outer spiky green shell, just suggest in a very few words how the strong protects the weak. Don't say too much, and leave the child to think it over. There is an idea. It must be the aim of the educator to communicate these ideas. I hope that you are indulgently inclined to admit that I have not strayed so far from my point as it at first seemed that I was about to do. You will have recognised that if our lessons tend to help our children to understand the world in which they live--the workings of God in nature, the facts that their thoughts are sure to influence their deeds and that their acknowledgment of God must be shown in service, then we have gone far in their mental development.

Of course I should like to write a great deal of self-control; how it is by nature self-forgetfulness, how it must be inspired by a high ideal and how its great secret is the power of change of thought.

I think that it is most important to recognise the value of personality. I have alluded to this before, but I put in one more plea for it as I feel again how tempting it is to substitute one's own thoughts for the children's thoughts. The children resent it, though perhaps unconsciously, and their interest in a subject dies when they have no free thought in the matter.

I am aware that my illustrations might lead you to believe that I appreciate something of the lecture style of lesson. I should like to explain such an idea away. We think it as crime to tell a child anything he may find out for himself. Thus our lessons sometimes seem a little halting, but the child is interested throughout and the work accomplished is his own.

Typed by melissaknoll625, June, 2022; Proofread by LNL, June, 2023