Parents as Instructors in Religion
"The history of England is now reduced to a game at cards,––the problems of mathematics to puzzles and riddles. There wants but one step further, and the Creed and Ten Commandments may be taught in the same manner, without the necessity of the grave face, deliberate tone of recital, and devout attention hitherto exacted from the well-governed childhood of this realm"––Waverly.
Sunday Schools are Necessary––That parents should make over the religious education of their children to a Sunday School is, no doubt, as indefensible as if they sent them for their meals to a table maintained by the public bounty. We 'at home' plead not guilty to this particular count. Our Sunday Schools are used by those toil-worn and little-learned parents who are willing to accept at the hands of the more leisured classes this service of the religious teaching of their children. That is, the Sunday School is, at present, a necessary evil, an acknowledgment that there are parents so hard pressed that they are unable for their first duty. Here we have the theory of the Sunday School––the parents who can, teach their children at home on Sunday, and substitutes step in to act for those who can not.
But Educated Parents should Instruct their Children in Religion––An Australian Outcome of the Parents' Union––It is upon this delightful theory of the Sunday School that a clergyman1 at Antipodes has taken action. Never does it appear to occur to him that the members of the upper and middle classes do not need to be definitely and regularly instructed in religion––'from a child.' His contention is, only that such children should not be taught at Sunday School, but at home, and by their parents; and the main object of his parochial 'Parents' Union' is to help parents in this work. These are some of the rules:––
1. The object of the Union shall be to unite, strengthen, and assist fathers and mothers in the discharge of their parental duties.
2. Members shall be pledged, by the fact of their joining, to supervise the education of their own children, and to urge the responsibility of the parental relationship upon other parents.
3. Lesson sketches shall be furnished monthly to each family in connection with the Union.
4. Members shall bring their children to the monthly catechising, and sit with them, etc., etc.
Probably the 'lesson-sketches' are to secure that the children do just such Bible-lessons at home with their parents on Sunday as they have hitherto done at the Sunday School with teachers.
It seems to be contemplated that parents of every class will undertake their proper duties in this matter, and that the Sunday School may be allowed to drop, the clergyman undertaking instead to ascertain, by means of catechising, that certain work is done month by month.
The scheme seems full of promise. Nothing should do more to strengthen the bonds of family life than that the children should learn religion at the lips of their parents; and to grow up in a Church which takes constant heed of you from baptism or infancy, until, we will not say confirmation, but through manhood and womanhood, until the end, should give the right tone to corporate life.
Parents are the Fit Instructors––No doubt we have parishes, and even whole denominations, in which the young people are taken hold of from first to last; but then it is by the clergy, teachers, class leaders, and so on; and all parents do not regard it as an unmixed blessing that the most serious part of their children's training should be undertaken by outsiders. The thing that seems most worthy of imitation in this Australian movement is, that parents themselves are recognised as the fit instructors of their children in the best things, and that they are led to acknowledge some responsibility to the Church with regard to the instruction they give.
Report of a Committee on the Religious Education of the Upper and Middle Classes––But do we manage these things so well 'at home' that we have no occasion to look about us for hints? It may be in the memories of some of us, that in May 1889 a Committee of the House of Laymen for the Province of Canterbury was appointed to examine into the religious education of the upper and middle classes2. The Committee considered that they might obtain a good basis for their investigations by examining into the religious knowledge of boys entering school. They sent a paper of inquiries to sixty-two headmasters, most of whom sent replies; and from these replies the Committee were led to conclude that "for the most part, the standard of religious education attained by boys before going to school is far below what might be hoped or expected; and that even this standard, thus ascertained to be far low, is deteriorating; and further, that the chief cause of deterioration is considered to be the want of home-teaching and religion."
Why do Parents Neglect this Duty?––Here is matter of grave consideration for us all––for, though the investigation was conducted by Churchmen, it naturally covered boys of various denominations attending public and middle-class schools; the distinctive character of the religious education was the subject of separate inquiry. No doubt there are many beautiful exceptions; families brought up in quiet homes in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; but if it is, as some of us fear, a fact that there is a tendency among parents of the middle and upper classes to let the religious education of their children take care of itself, it is worth while to ask, What is the reason? and, What is the remedy? Many reasons are assigned for this alleged failure in parental duty––social claims, the restive temper of the young people and their impatience of religious teaching, and much else. But these reasons are inadequate. Parents are, on the whole, very much alive to their responsibilities; perhaps there has never been a generation more earnest and conscientious than the young parents of these days. All the same, these thoughtful young parents do not lay themselves out to teach their children religion, before all things.
Discredit thrown upon the Bible––The fact is, our religious life has suffered, and by-and-by our national character will suffer, through the discredit thrown upon the Bible by adverse critics. We rightly regard the Bible as the entire collection of our Sacred Books. We have absolutely nothing to teach but what we find written therein. But we no longer go to the Bible with the old confidence: our religion is fading into a sentiment not easy to impart; we wait until the young people shall conceive it for themselves. Meantime, we give them such æsthetic culture as should tend to develop those needs of the soul that find their satisfaction in worship. The whole superstructure of 'liberal' religious thought is miserably shaky and no wonder there is some shrinking from exposing it to the Ithuriel's spear of the definite and searching young mind. For we love this flimsy habitation we have builded. It bears a shadowy resemblance to the old home of our souls, and we cling to it with a tender sentiment which the younger generation might not understand.
'Miracles do not Happen.'––Are we then unhoused? Undoubtedly we are, upon one assumption––that assumption which it takes a brilliant novelist to put forth in its naked asperity––'Miracles do not happen.' The educated mind is more essentially logical than we are apt to suppose. Remove the keystone of miracle and the arch tumbles about our ears. The ostentatious veneration for the Person of Christ, as separated from the 'mythical' miraculous element, is, alas, no more than a spurious sentiment toward a self-evolved conception. Eliminate the 'miraculous' and the whole fabric of Christianity disappears; and not only so, what have we to do with that older revelation of 'the Lord, the Lord, a God full of compassion and gracious'? Do we say, Nay, we keep this; here is no miracle; and, of Christ have we not the inimitable Sermon on the Mount––sufficient claim on our allegiance? No, we have not; therein we are taught to pray, to consider lilies or the field, the fowls of the air, and to remember that the very hairs of our head are all numbered. Here we have the doctrine of the personal dealing, the particular providence of God, which is of the very essence of miracles. If 'miracles do not happen,' it is folly and presumption to expect in providence and invite in prayer the faintest disturbance of that course of events which is fixed by inevitable law. The educated mind is severely logical, though an effort of the will may keep us from following out our conclusions to the bitter end. What have we left? A God who, of necessity, can have no personal dealings with you or me, for such dealings would be of the nature of a miracle; a God, prayer to whom, in the face of such certainty, becomes blasphemous. How dare we approach the Highest with requests which, in the nature of things (as we conceive), it is impossible He should grant?
Our Conception of God depends upon Miracles––We cannot pray, and we cannot trust, may be yet we are not utterly godless; we can admire, adore, worship, in uttermost humility. But how? what shall we adore? The Divine Being can be known to us only through His attributes; He is a God of love and a God of justice; full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. But these are attributes which can only be conceived of as in action, from Person to person. How be gracious and merciful unless to a being in need of grace and mercy? Grant that grace and mercy may modify the slightest circumstance in a man's existence, spiritual or temporal, and you grant the whole question of 'miracles'; grant, that is, that it is possible to God to act otherwise than through such inevitable laws as we are able to recognise. Refuse to concede 'the miraculous element' and the Shepherd of Israel has departed from our midst; we left are orphaned in a world undone.
Such and so great are the issues of that question of 'miracle' with which we are fond of dallying, with a smile here and a shrug there, and a special sneer for that story of the swine that ran violently down a steep place, because we know so much about the dim thoughts of the brute creation––living under our eyes indeed, but curiously out of our ken. Grant the possibility of miracles, that is, of the voluntary action of a Personal God, and who will venture to assign limits of less or more?
Natural Law and Miracles––How long halt we betwixt two opinions?––to the law and to the testimony. Let us boldly accept the alternative which Hume proposes, however superciliously. Let it be that 'No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish.' Even so. We believe that Christ rose again the third day and ascended into heaven; or we accept the far more incredible hypothesis that 'there is no God'; or, anyway, the God of Revelation, in his adorable Personality, has ceased to be for us. There is no middle way. Natural law, as we understand it, has nothing to do with these issues; not that the Supreme abrogates his laws, but that our knowledge of 'natural law' is so agonisingly limited and superficial that we are incompetent to decide whether a break in the narrow circle within which our knowledge is hemmed, is or is not an opening into a wider circle, where what appears to us as an extraordinary exception does but exemplify the general rule3.
We would not undervalue the solid fruits of Biblical criticism, even the most adverse. This should be a great gain in the spiritual life; that henceforth a miracle is accredited, not merely by the fact that it is recorded in the sacred history, but by its essential fitness with the divine Character; just as, if we may reverently compare human things with divine, we say of a friend, 'Oh, he would never do that!' or, 'That is just like him.' Tried by this test, how unostentatious, simple, meekly serviceable are the miracles of Christ; how utterly divine it is
"To have all power, and be as having none!"
How fit are the Miracles of Christ––The mind which is saturated with the Gospel story in all its sweet reasonableness, which has absorbed the more confused and broken rays wherein the Light of the World is manifested in Old Testament story, will perhaps be the least tempted to the disloyalty of 'honest doubt'; for disloyalty to the most close and sacred of all relationships it is, though we must freely concede that such doubt is the infirmity of noble minds. Believing that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, that the man is established in the Christian faith according as the child has been instructed, the question of questions for us, is, how to secure that the children shall be well grounded in the Scriptures by their parents, and shall pursue the study with intelligence, reverence, and delight.
1The Rev. E. Jackson, sometime of Sydney.
2See "Report of the Committee of the House of Laymen for the Province of Canterbury on the Duty of the church with regard to the Religious Education of the Upper and Middle Classes."––Nat. Soc. Depository, Westminster.
3"What are the laws of Nature? To me perhaps the rising of one from the dead were no violation of these laws, but a confirmation; even some far deeper law, now first penetrated into, and by spiritual force (even as the rest have been) brought to bear on us with its material force."––Carlyle