Parents as Inspirers
Primal Ideas Derived from Parents
'One of the little boys gazing upon the terrible desolation of the scene, so unlike in its savage and inhuman aspects anything be had ever seen at home, nestled close to his mother, and asked with bated breath, "Mither; is there a God here?"'––John Burroughs.
The Chief Thing we have to do––The last chapter introduced the thought of parents in their highest function––as revealers of God to their children. To bring the human race, family by family, child by child, out of the savage and inhuman desolation where He is not, into the light and warmth and comfort of the presence of God, is, no doubt, the chief thing we have to do in the world. And this individual work with each child, being the most momentous work in the world, is put into the hands of the wisest, most loving, disciplined, and divinely instructed of human beings. Be ye perfect as your Father is perfect, is the perfection of parenthood, perhaps to be attained in its fulness only through parenthood. There are mistaken parents, ignorant parents, a few indifferent parents; even, as one in a thousand, callous parents; but the good that is done upon the earth is done, under God, by parents, whether directly or indirectly.
Ideas of God fitting for Children––Parents who recognise that their great work is to be done by the instrumentality of the ideas they are able to introduce into the minds of their children, will take anxious thought as to those ideas of God which are most fitting for children, and as to how those ideas may best be conveyed. Let us consider an idea which is just now causing some stir in people's thoughts.
'We ought to work slowly up through the Human Side'––why not?––'We read some of the Old Testament history as "history of the Jews," and Job and Isaiah and the Psalms as poetry––and I am glad to say he is very fond of them; and parts of the Gospels in Greek, as the life and character of a hero. It is the greatest mistake to impose them upon children as authoritative and divine all at once. It at once diminishes their interest: we ought to work slowly up through the human side.' (Memoirs of Arthur Hamilton. Messrs Kegan Paul & Co.)
Here is a theory which commends itself to many persons because it is 'so reasonable.' But it goes upon the assumption that we are ruled by Reason, in infallible entity, which is certain, give it fair play, to bring us to just conclusions. Now the exercise of that function of the mind which we call reasoning––we must decline to speak of 'the Reason'––does indeed bring us to inevitable conclusions; the process is definite, the result convincing; but whether that result be right or wrong depends altogether upon the initial idea which, when we wish to discredit it, we call a prejudice; when we wish to exalt, we call an intuition, even an inspiration. It would be idle to illustrate this position; the whole history of Error is the history of the logical outcome of what we happily call misconceptions. The history of Persecution is the tale of how the inevitable conclusions arrived at by reasoning pass themselves off for truth. The Event of Calvary was due to no hasty, mad outburst of popular feeling. It was a triumph of reasoning: the inevitable issue of more than one logical sequence; the Crucifixion was not criminal, but altogether laudable, if that is right which is reasonable. And this is why the hearts of religious Jews were hardened and their understanding darkened; they were truly doing what was right in their own eyes. It is a marvellous thing to perceive the thoughts within us driving us forward to an inevitable conclusion, even against our will. How can that conclusion which presents itself to us in spite of ourselves fail to be right?
Logical Certainty and Moral Right––the Conscientious Jew and the Crucifixion––Let us place ourselves for one instant in the position of the logical and conscientious Jew. '"Jehovah" is a name of awe, unapproachable in thought or act except in ways Himself has specified. To attempt unlawful approach is to blaspheme. As Jehovah is infinitely great, presumptuous offence is infinitely heinous, is criminal, is the last crime as committed against Him who is the First. The blasphemer is worthy of death. This man makes himself equal with God, the unapproachable. He is a blasphemer, arrogant as Beelzebub. He is doubly worthy of death. To the people of the Jews is committed in trust the honoured Name; upon them it is incumbent to exterminate the blasphemer. The man must die.' Here is the secret of the virulent hatred which dogged steps of the blameless Life. These men were following the dictates of reason, and knew, so they would say, that they were doing right. Here we have the invincible ignorance which the Light of the world failed to illumine; and He,
'who knows us as we are,
Yet loves us better than He knows,'
offers for them the true plea, 'They know not what they do.' The steps of the argument are incontrovertible; the error lies in the initial idea––such a conception of Jehovah as made the conception of Christ inadmissible, impossible.
The Patriotic Jew and the Crucifixion––Thus reasoned the Jew upon whom his religion had the first claim. The patriotic Jew, to whom religion itself was subservient to the hopes of his nation, arrived by quite another chain of spontaneous arguments at the same Inevitable conclusion:––'The Jews are the chosen people. The first duty of a Jew is towards his nation. These are critical times. A great hope is before us, but we are in the grip of the Romans; they may crush out the national life before our hope is realised. Nothing must be done to alarm their suspicions. This Man? By all accounts He is harmless, perhaps righteous. But He stirs up the people. It is rumoured that they call Him King of the Jews. He must not be permitted to ruin the hopes of the nation. He must die. It is expedient that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.' Thus the Consummate crime that has been done upon the earth was done probably without any consciousness of criminality; on the contrary, with the acquittal of that spurious moral sense which supports with its approval all reasonable action. The Crucifixion was the logical and necessary outcome of ideas imbibed from their cradles by the persecuting Jews. So of every persecution; none is born of the occasion and the hour, but comes out of the habit of thought of a lifetime.
Primal Ideas derived from Parents––It is the primal impulse to habits of thought which children must owe to their parents; and, as a man's thought and action Godward, is
'The very pulse of the machine,'
the introduction of such primal ideas as shall impel the soul to God is the first duty and the highest privilege of parents. Whatever sin of unbelief a man is guilty of, are his parents wholly without blame?
First Approaches to God––Let us consider what is commonly done in the nursery in this respect. No sooner can the little being lisp than he is taught to kneel up in his mother's lap, and say 'God bless . . .' and then follows a list of the near and dear, and 'God bless . . . and make him a good boy, for Jesus' sake. Amen.' It is very touching and beautiful. I once peeped in at an open cottage door in a moorland village, and saw a little child in its nightgown kneeling in its mother's lap and saying its evening prayer. The spot has ever since remained to me a sort of shrine. There is no sight more touching and tender. By-and-by, so soon as he can speak the words,
'Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,'
is added to the little one's prayer, and later, 'Our Father.' Nothing could be more suitable and more beautiful than these morning and evening approaches to God, the little children brought to Him by their mothers. And most of us can 'think back' to the hallowing influence of these early prayers. But might not more be done? How many times a day does a mother lift up her heart to God as she goes in and out amongst her children, and they never know! 'Today I talked to them' (a boy and girl of four and five) 'about Rebekah at the well. They were very much interested, especially about Eliezer praying in his heart and the answer coming at once. They said, "How did he pray?" I said, "I often pray in my heart when you know nothing about it. Sometimes you begin to show a naughty spirit, and I pray for you in my heart, and almost directly I find the good spirit comes, and your faces show my prayer is answered." O. stroked my hand and said, "Dear mother, I shall think of that!" Boy looked thoughtful, but didn't speak; but when they were in bed I knelt down to pray for them before leaving them, and when I got up, Boy said, "Mother, God filled my heart with goodness while you prayed for us; and, mother, I will try to-morrow."'
Communing out loud before the Children––Is it possible that the mother could, when alone with her children, occasionally hold this communing out loud, so that the children might grow up in the sense of the presence of God? It would probably be difficult for many mothers to break down the barrier of spiritual reserve in the presence of even their own children. But, could it be done, would it not lead to glad and natural living in the recognised presence of God?
A Child's Gratitude––A mother, who remembered a little penny scent-bottle as an early joy of her own, took three such small bottles home to her three little girls. They got them next morning at the family breakfast, and enjoyed them all through the meal. Before it ended the mother was called away, and little M. was sitting rather solitary with her scent-bottle and the remains of her breakfast. And out of the pure well of the little girl's heart came this, intended for nobody's ear, 'Dear mother, you are too good!' Think of the joy of the mother who should overhear her little child murmuring over the first primrose of the year, 'Dear God, you are too good!' Children are so imitative, that if they hear their parents speak out continually their joys and fears, their thanks and wishes, they, too, will have many things to say.
Another point in this connection; the little German child hears and speaks many times a day of der liebe Gott; to be sure he addresses Him as 'Du,' but du is part of his every-day speech; the circle of the very dear and intimate is hedged in by the magic du. So with the little French child, whose thought and word are ever of le bon Dieu; he also says Tu, but that is how he speaks to those most endeared to him.
Archaic Forms in Children's Prayers––But the little English child is thrust out in the cold by an archaic mode of address, reverent in the ears of us older people, but forbidding, we may be sure, to the child. Then, for the Lord's Prayer, what a boon would be a truly reverent translation of it into the English of to-day! To us, who have learned to spell it out, the present form is dear, almost sacred; but we must not forget that it is after all only a translation, and is, perhaps, the most archaic piece of English in modern use: 'which art1,' commonly rendered 'chart,' means nothing for a child. 'Hallowed' is the speech of a strange tongue to him––not much more to us; 'trespasses' is a semi-legal term, never likely to come into his every-day talk; and no explanation will make 'Thy' have the same force for him as 'your'. To make a child utter his prayers in a strange speech is to put up a barrier between him and his 'Almighty Lover.' Again, might we not venture to teach our children to say 'Dear God'? A parent, surely, can believe that no austerely reverential style can be so sweet in the Divine Father's ears as the appeal to 'dear God' for sympathy in joy and help in trouble, which flows naturally from the little child who is 'used to God.' Let children grow up aware of the constant, immediate, joy-giving, joy-taking Presence in the midst of them, and you may laugh at all assaults of 'infidelity,' which is foolishness to him who knows his God as––only far better than––he knows father or mother, wife or child.
'The Shout of a King.'––Let them grow up, too, with the shout of a King in their midst. There are, in this poor stuff we call human nature, founts of loyalty, worship, passionate devotion, glad service, which have, alas! to be unsealed in the earth-laden older heart, but only ask place to flow from the child's. There is no safeguard and no joy like that of being under orders, being possessed, controlled, continually in the service of One whom it is gladness to obey.
We lose sight of the fact in our modern civilisation, but a king, a leader, implies warfare, a foe, victory––possible defeat and disgrace. And this is the conception of life which cannot too soon be brought be before children.
The Fight of Christ against the Devil––"After thinking the matter over with some care, I resolved that I cannot do better than give you my view of what it was that the average boy carried away from our Rugby of half a century ago which stood him in the best stead––was of the highest value to him––in after life . . . I have been in some doubt as to what to put first and am by no means sure that the few who are left of my old schoolfellows would agree with me; but, speaking for myself, I think this was our most marked characteristic, the feeling that in school and close we were in training for a big fight––were, in fact, already engaged in it––a fight which would last all our lives, and try all our powers, physical, intellectual, and moral, to the utmost. I need not say that this fight was the world-old one of good with evil, of light and truth against darkness and sin, of Christ against the devil."
So said the author of Tom Brown's School Days [Thomas Hughes] in an address to Rugby School delivered on a recent Quinquagesima Sunday. This is plain speaking; education is only worthy of the name as it teaches this lesson; and it is a lesson which should be learnt in the home or ever the child sets foot in any other school of life. It is an insult to children to say they are too young to understand this for which we are sent into the world.
'Oh dear, it's very hard to do God's Work!'––A boy of five, a great-grandson of Dr Arnold, was sitting at the piano with his mother, choosing his Sunday hymn; he chose 'Thy will be done,' and, as his special favourite, the verse beginning 'Renew my will from day to day.' The choice of hymn and verse rather puzzled his mother, who had a further glimpse into the world of child-thought when the little fellow said wistfully, 'Oh, dear, it's very hard to do God's work!' The difference between doing and bearing was not plain to him, but the battle and struggle and strain of life already pressed on the spirit of the 'careless, happy child.' That an evil spiritual personality can get at their thoughts, and incite them to 'be naughty,' children learn all too soon and understand, perhaps, better than we do. Then, they are cross, 'naughty,' separate, sinful, needing to be healed as truly as the hoary sinner, and much more aware of their need, because the tender soul of the child, like an infant's skin, is fretted by spiritual soreness. 'It's very good of God to forgive me so often; I've been naughty so many times today,' said a sad little sinner of six, not at all because any one else had been at the pains to convince her of naughtiness. Even 'Pet Marjorie's' buoyancy is not proof against this sad sense of shortcoming:––
'Yesterday I behaved extremely ill in God's most holy church, for I would never attend myself nor let Isabella attend, . . . and it was the very same Devil that tempted Job that tempted me, I am sure; but he resisted Satan, though he had boils and many other misfortunes which I have escaped.'––(At six!)
We must needs smile at the little 'crimes,' but we must not smile too much, and let children be depressed with much 'naughtiness' when they should live in the instant healing, in the dear Name, of the Saviour of the world.
1Catholics say 'who art']