Government of Mansoul.––We have now to consider a subject of unspeakable importance to every being called upon to sustain a reasonable life here, with the hope of the fuller life hereafter; I mean, the government of the kingdom of Mansoul. Every child who lives long enough in the world is invested, by degrees, with this high function, and it is the part of his parents to instruct him in his duties, and to practice him in his tasks. Now, the government of this kingdom of Mansoul is, like that of some well-ordered states, carried on in three chambers, each chamber with its own functions, exercised, not by a multitude of counsellors, but by a single minister.
Executive Power vested in the Will.––In the outer of the three chambers sits the Will. Like that Roman centurion, he has soldiers under him: he says to this man, Go, and he Goeth; to another, Come, and he cometh; to a third, Do this, and he doeth it. In other words, the executive power is vested in the will. If the will have the habit of authority, if it deliver its mandates in the tone that constrains obedience, the kingdom is, at any rate, at unity with itself. If the will be feeble, of uncertain counsels, poor Mansoul is torn with disorder and rebellion.
What is the Will?––I do not know what the will is; it would appear to be an ultimate fact, not admitting of definition: but there are few subjects on which those who have the education of children in their hands make more injurious mistakes; and therefore it is worth while to consider, as we may, what are the functions of the will, and what are its limitation.
Persons may go through life without deliberate act of Will.––In the first place, the will does not necessarily come into play in any of the aspects in which we have hitherto considered the child. He may reflect and imagine; be stirred by the desire of knowledge, of power, of distinction; may love and esteem; may form habits of attention, obedience, diligence, sloth, involuntarily––that is, without ever intending, purposing, willing these things for himself. So far is this true, that there are people who live through their lives without an act of deliberate will: amiable, easy-going people, on the one hand, hedged in by favouring circumstances; and poor souls, on the other, whom circumstances have not saved, who have drifted from their moorings, and are hardly to be named by those to whom they belong. Great intellectual powers by no means imply a controlling will. We read how Coleridge had to be taken care of, because he had so little power of willing. His thoughts were as little under his own volition as his actions, and the fine talk people went to hear was no more than an endless pouring forth of ideas connected by no other link than that of association; though so fine was his mind, that his ideas flowed methodically––of their own accord, so to speak.
Character the Result of Conduct regulated by Will.––It is not necessary to say a word about the dignity and force of character which a confirmed will gives to its possessors. In fact, character is the result of conduct regulated by will. We say, So-and-so has a great deal of character, such another is without character; and we might express the fact equally by saying, So-and-so has a vigorous will, such another has no force of will. We all know of lives, rich in gifts and graces, which have been wrecked for the lack of a determining will.
Three Functions of the Will.––The will is the controller of the passions and emotions, the director of the desires, the ruler of the appetites. But observe, the passions, the desires, the appetites, are there already, and the will gathers force and vigour only as it is exercised in the repression and direction of these; for though the will appears to be of purely spiritual nature, yet it behaves like any member of the body in this––that it becomes vigorous and capable in proportion as it is duly nourished and fitly employed.
A Limitation of the Will disregarded by some Novelists.––The villain of a novel, it is true, is, or rather used to be, an interesting person, because he was always endowed with a powerful will, which acted, not in controlling his violent passions, but in aiding and abetting them: the result was a diabolical being out of the common way of nature. And no wonder, for, according to natural law, the member which does not fulfil its own functions is punished by loss of power; if it does not cease to be, it becomes as though it were not; and the will, being placed in the seat of authority, is not able to carry its forces over to the mob––the disorder would be too fearful; just as when the executive powers of a state are seized upon by a riotous mob, and there are shootings in the highways and hangings from the lanterns, infinite confusion everywhere.
Parents fall into this Metaphysical Blunder.––I am anxious to bring before you this limitation of the will to its own proper functions, because parents often enough fall into the very metaphysical blunder we have seen in the novel-writer. They admire a vigorous will, and rightly. They know that if their child is to make his mark in the world, it must be by force of will. What follows? The baby screams himself into fits for a forbidden plaything, and the mother says, 'He has such a strong will.' The little fellow of three stands roaring in the street, and will neither go hither or thither with his nurse, because 'he has such a strong will.' He will rule the sports of the nursery, will monopolize his sisters' playthings, all because of this 'strong will.' Now we come to a divergence of opinion: on the one hand, the parents decide that, whatever the consequence, the child's will is not to be broken, so all his vagaries must go unchecked; on the other, the decision is, that the child's will must be broken at all hazards, and the poor little being is subjected to a dreary round of punishment and repression.
Willfulness indicates want of Will Power.––But, all the time, nobody perceives that it is the mere want of will that is the matter with the child. He is in a state of absolute 'willfulness,'––the rather unfortunate word we use to describe the state in which the will has no controlling power; willessness, if there were such a word, would describe this state more truly. Now, this confusion, in the minds of many persons, between the state of willfulness and that of being dominated by will, leads to mischievous results even where willfulness is not fostered nor the child unduly repressed: it leads to the neglect of the due cultivation and training of the will, that almost divine possession, upon the employment of which every other gift, be it beauty or genius, strength or skill, depends for its value.
What is Willfulness?––What, then, is willfulness, if it be not an exercise of will? Simply this: remove bit and bridle––that is, the control of the will––from the appetites, the desires, the emotions, and the child who has mounted his hobby, be it resentment, jealousy, desire of power, desire of property, is another Mazeppa, borne along with the speed of the swift and the strength of the strong, and with no power at all to help himself. Appetite, passion, there is no limit to their power and their persistence if the appointed check be removed; and it is this impetus of appetite or of passion, this apparent determination to go in one way and no other, which is called willfulness and mistaken for an exercise of will. Whereas the determination is only apparent; the child is, in fact, hurried along without resistance, because that opposing force which should give balance to his character is undeveloped and untrained.
The Will has Superior and Inferior Functions.––The will has its superior and its inferior, what may be called its moral and its mechanical, functions; and that will which, for want of practice, has grown flaccid and feeble in the exercise of it higher functions, may yet be able for the ordering of such matters as going or coming, sitting or standing, speaking or refraining from speech.
The Will not a Moral Faculty.––Again, though it is impossible to attain moral excellence of character without the agency of a vigorous will, the will itself is not a moral faculty, and a man may attain great strength of will in consequence of continued efforts in the repression or direction of his appetites or desires, and yet be an unworthy man; that is, he may be keeping himself in order from unworthy motives, for the sake of appearances, for his own interest, even for the injury of another.
A Disciplined Will necessary to Heroic Christian Character.––Once again, though a disciplined will is not a necessary condition of the Christian life, it is necessary to the development of the heroic Christian character. A Gordon, a Havelock, a Florence Nightingale, a St. Paul, could not be other than a person of vigorous will. In this respect, as in all others, Christianity reaches the feeblest souls. There is a wonderful Guido 'Magdalen' in the Louvre, with a mouth which has plainly never been set to any resolve for good or ill––a lower face moulded by the helpless following of the inclination of the moment; but you look up to the eyes, which are raised to meet the gaze of eyes not shown in the picture, and the countenance is transfigured, the whole face is aglow with a passion of service, love, and self-surrender. All this the divine grace may accomplish in weak unwilling souls, and then they will do what they can; but their power of service is limited by their past. Not so the child of the Christian mother, whose highest desire is to train him for the Christian life. When he wakes to the consciousness of whose he is and whom he serves, she would have him ready for that high service, with every faculty in training––a man of war from his youth; above all, with an effective will, to will and to do of His good pleasure.
The sole Practical Faculty of Man.––Before we consider how to train this 'sole practical faculty of man,' we must know how the will operates––how it manages the ordering of all that is done and thought in the kingdom of Mansoul. "Can't you make yourself do what you wish to do?" says Guy, in the Heir of Redclyffe [by Mary Charlotte Yonge), to poor Charlie Edmonston, who has never been in the habit of making himself do anything. There are those, no doubt, who have not even arrived at wishing, but most of us desire to do well; what we want to know is, how to make ourselves do what we desire. And here is the line which divides the effective from the non-effective people, the great from the small, the good from the well-intentioned and respectable; it is in proportion as a man has self-controlling, self-compelling power that he his able to do, even of his own pleasure; that he can depend upon himself, and be sure of his own action in emergencies.
How the Will operates.––Now, how does this autocrat of the bosom behave? Is it with a stern 'Thou shalt,' 'Thou shalt not,' that the subject man is coerced into obedience? By no means. Is it by a plausible show of reasons, mustering of motives? Not this either. Since Mr. John Stuart Mill taught us that "all that man does, or can do, with matter" is to "move one thing to or from another," we need not be surprised if great moral results are brought about by what seem inadequate means; and a little bit of nursery experience will show better than much talking what is possible to the will. A baby falls, gets a bad bump, and cries piteously. The experienced nurse does not "kiss the place to make it well," or show any pity for the child's trouble––that would make matters worse; the more she pities, the more he sobs. She hastens to 'change his thoughts,' so she says; she carries him to the window to see the horses, gives him his pet picture-book, his dearest toy, and the child pulls himself up in the middle of a sob, though he is really badly hurt. Now this, of the knowing nurse, is precisely the part the will plays towards the man. It is by force of will that a man can 'change his thoughts,' transfer his attention from one subject of thought to another, and that, with a shock of mental force of which he is indistinctly conscious. And this is enough to save a man and to make a man, this power of making himself think only of those things which he has beforehand decided that it is good to think upon.
The Way of the Will––Incentives.––His thoughts are wandering on forbidden pleasure, to the hindrance of his work; he pulls himself up, and deliberately fixes his attention on those incentives which have most power to make him work, the leisure and pleasure which follow honest labour, the duty which binds him to the fulfilling of his task. His thoughts run in the groove he wills them to run in, and work is no longer an effort.
Diversion.––Again, some slight affront has called up a flood of resentful feeling: So-and-so should not have done it, he had no right, it was mean, and so on, through all the hard things we are ready enough to say in our hearts of an offender against our amour propre. But the man under the control of his own will does not allow this to go on: he does not fight it out with himself, and say, 'This is very wrong in me. So-and-so is not so much to blame, after all.' He is not ready for that yet; but he just compels himself to think of something else––the last book he has read, the next letter he must write, anything interesting enough to divert his thoughts. When he allows himself to go back to the cause of offence, behold, all rancour is gone, and he is able to look at the matter with the coolness of a third person. And this is true, not only of the risings of resentment, but of every temptation that besets the flesh and spirit.
Change of Thought.––Again, the sameness of his duties, the weariness of doing the same thing over and over, fills him with disgust and despondency, and he relaxes his efforts;––but not if he be a man under the power of his own will, because he simply does not allow himself in idle discontent; it is always within his power to give himself something pleasant, something outside of himself, to think of, and he does so; and, given what we call a 'happy frame of mind,' no work is laborious.
The Way of the Will should be taught to Children.––It is something to know what to do with ourselves when we are beset, and the knowledge of this way of the will is so far the secret of a happy life, that it is well worth imparting to the children. Are you cross? Change your thoughts. Are you tired of trying? Change your thoughts. Are you craving for things you are not to have? Change your thoughts; there is a power within you, your own will, which will enable you to turn your attention from thoughts that make you unhappy and wrong, to thoughts that make you happy and right. And this is the exceedingly simple way in which the will acts; this is the sole secret of the power over himself which the strong man wields––he can compel himself to think of what he chooses, and will not allow himself in thoughts that breed mischief.
Power of Will implies Power of Attention.––But you perceive that, though the will is all-powerful within certain limits, these are but narrow limits after all. Much must go before and along with a vigorous will if it is to be a power in the ruling of conduct. For instance, the man must have acquired the habit of attention, the great importance of which we have already considered. There are bird-witted people, who have no power of thinking connectedly for five minutes under any pressure, from within or from without. If they have never been trained to apply the whole of their mental faculties to a given subject, why, no energy of will, supposing they had it, which is impossible, could make them think steadily thoughts of their own choosing or of anyone else's. Here is how the parts of the intellectual fabric dovetail: power of will implies power of attention; and before the parent can begin to train the will of the child, he must have begun to form in him the habit of attention.
Habit may Frustrate the Will.––Again, we have already considered the fatal facility in evil, the impulse towards good, which habit gives. Habit is either the ally or the opponent, too often the frustrator, of the will. The unhappy drunkard does will with what strength there is in him; he turns away the eyes of his mind from beholding his snare; he plies himself assiduously with other thoughts; but alas, his thoughts will only run in the accustomed groove of desire, and habit is too strong for his feeble will. We all know something of this struggle between habit and will in less vital matters. Who is without some dilatory, procrastinating, in some way tiresome, habit, which is in almost daily struggle with the rectified will? But I have already said so much about the duty of parents to ease the way of their children by laying down for them the lines of helpful habits, that it is unnecessary to say a word more here of habit as an ally or a hinderer of will.
Reasonable Use of so effective an Instrument.––And, once more, only the man of cultivated reason is capable of being ruled by a well-directed will. If his understanding does not show good cause why he should do some solid reading every day, why he should cling to the faith of his fathers, why he should take up his duties as a citizen,––the movement of his will will be feeble and fluctuating, and very barren of results. And, indeed, worse may happen: he may take up some wrong-headed, or even vicious, notion and work a great deal of mischief by what he feels to be a virtuous effort of will. The parent may venture to place the power of will in the hands of his child only in so far as he trains him to make a reasonable use of so effective an instrument.
How to Strengthen the Will.––One other limitation of the will we shall consider presently; but supposing the parent take pains that the child shall be in a fit state to use his will, how is he to strengthen that will, so that by and by the child may employ it to control his own life by? We have spoken already of the importance of training the child in the habit of obedience. Now, obedience is valuable only in so far as it helps the child towards making himself do that which he knows he ought to do. Every effort of obedience which does not give him a sense of conquest over his own inclinations, helps to enslave him, he will resent the loss of his liberty by running into license when he can. That is the secret of the miscarrying of many strictly brought-up children. But invite his co-operation, let him heartily intend and purpose to do the thing he is bidden, and then it is his own will that is compelling him, and not yours; he has begun the greatest effort, the highest accomplishment of human life––the making, the compelling of himself. Let him know what he is about, let him enjoy a sense of triumph, and of your congratulation, whenever he fetches his thoughts back to his tiresome sum, whenever he makes his hands finish what they have begun, whenever he throws the black dog off his back, and produces a smile from a clouded face.
Habit of Self-management.––Then, as was said before, let him know the secret of willing; let him know that, by an effort of will, he can turn his thoughts to the thing he wants to think of––his lessons, his prayers, his work, and away from the things he should not think of;––that, in fact, he can be such a brave strong little fellow, he can make himself think of what he likes; and let him try little experiments––that if he once get his thoughts right, the rest will take care of itself, he will be sure to do right then; that if he feels cross, naughty thoughts coming upon him, the plan is, to think hard about something else, something nice––his next birthday, what he means to do when he is a man. Not all this at once, of course; but line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, as opportunity offers. Let him get into the habit of managing himself, controlling himself, and it is astonishing how much self-compelling power quite a young child will exhibit. "Restrain yourself, Tommy," I once heard a wise aunt say to a boy of four, and Tommy restrained himself, though he was making a terrible hullabaloo about some small trouble.
Education of the Will more important than that of the Intellect.––All this time, the will of the child is being both trained and strengthened; he is learning how and when to use his will, and it is becoming every day more vigorous and capable. Let me add one or two wise thoughts from Dr. Morell's Introduction to Mental Philosophy: "The education of the will is really of far greater importance, as shaping the destiny of the individual, than that of the intellect. . . . Theory and doctrine, and inculcation of laws and propositions, will never of themselves lead to the uniform habit of right action. It is by doing, that we learn to do; by overcoming, that we learn to overcome; and every right act which we cause to spring out of pure principles, whether by authority, precept, or example, will have a greater weight in the formation of character than all the theory in the world."
Conscience is Judge and Lawgiver.––But the will by no means carries on the government of the kingdom of Mansoul single-handed. True, the will wields the executive power; it is only by willing we are enabled to do; but there is a higher power behind, whose mandate the will does no more than express. Conscience sits supreme in the inner chamber. Conscience is the lawgiver, and utters the 'Thou shalt' and the 'Thou shalt not' whereon the will takes action; the judge, too, before whom the offending soul is summoned; and from the 'Thou art the man' of conscience, there is no appeal.
'I am, I ought, I can, I will.'––'I am, I ought, I can, I will'––these are the steps of that ladder of St. Augustine, whereby we
"rise on stepping stones
Of our dead selves to higher things."
'I am'––we have the power of knowing ourselves. "I ought'––we have within us a moral judge, to whom we feel ourselves subject, and who points out and requires of us our duty. 'I can'––we are conscious of power to do that which we perceive we ought to do. 'I will'––we determine to exercise that power with a volition which is in itself a step in the execution of that which we will. Here is a beautiful and perfect chain, and the wonder is that, so exquisitely constituted as he is for right-doing, error should be even possible to man. But of the sorrowful mysteries of sin and temptation it is not my place to speak here; you will see that it is because of the possibilities of ruin and loss which lie about every human life that I am pressing upon parents the duty of saving their children by the means put into their hands. Perhaps it is not too much to say, that ninety-nine out of a hundred lost lives lie at the door of parents who took no pains to deliver them from sloth, from sensual appetites, from willfulness, no pains to fortify them with the habits of a good life.
Inertness of Parents not supplemented by Divine Grace.––We live in a redeemed world, and infinite grace and help from above attend every rightly directed effort in the training of the children; but I do not see much ground for hoping that divine grace will step in as a substitute for any and every power we choose to leave unused or misdirected. In the physical world, we do not expect miracles to make up for our neglect of the use of means; the rickety body, the misshapen limb, for which the child has to thank his parents, remain with him through life, however much else he may have to thank God for; and a feeble will, bad habits, an uninstructed conscience, stick by many a Christian man through his life, because his parents failed in their duty to him, and he has not had force enough in himself to supply their omission.
Conscience not an Infallible Guide.––In this matter of conscience, for instance, the laissez-faire habit of his parents is the cause of real wrong and injury to many a child. The parents are thankful to believe that their child is born with a conscience; they hope his conduct may be ruled thereby: and the rest they leave; the child and his conscience may settle it between them. Now this is to suppose, either that a fully-informed conscience is born into an infant body, or that it grows, like the hair and the limbs, with the growth of the body, and is not subject to conditions of spiritual progress proper to itself. In other words, it is to suppose that conscience is an infallible guide, a delusion people cling to in spite of common sense and of everyday experience of the wrong-headed things men do from conscientious motives. The vagaries of the uninstructed conscience are so familiar as to have given rise to popular proverbs: 'Honour among thieves,' 'To strain out the gnat and swallow the camel,' point to cases of misguided conscience; while 'The wish is father to the thought,' 'None is so blind as he who won't see,' point to the still more common cases, in which a man knowingly tricks his conscience into acquiescence.
But a real Power.––Then, if conscience be not an infallible guide––if it pass blindfold by heinous offences, and come down heavily upon some mere quibble, tithing mint, rue, and all manner of herbs, and neglecting the weightier matters of the law––if conscience be liable to be bamboozled, persuaded into calling evil good and good evil, when Desire is the special pleader before the bar, where is its use, this broken reed? Is this stern lawgiver of the breast no more, after all, than a fiction of the brain? Is your conscience no more than what you happen to think about your own actions and those of other people? On the contrary, these aberrations of conscience are perhaps the strongest proof that it exists as a real power. As Adam Smith has well said, "The supreme authority of conscience is felt and tacitly acknowledged by the worst, no less than by the best, of men; for even they who have thrown off all hypocrisy with the world, are at pains to conceal their real character from their own eyes."
That Spiritual Sense whereby we know Good and Evil.––What conscience is, how far it lies in the feelings, how far in the reason, how far it is independent of both, are obscure questions which it is not necessary for practical purposes to settle; but this much is evident––that conscience is as essential a part of human nature as are the affections and the reason, and that conscience is that spiritual sense whereby we have knowledge of good and evil. The six-months-old child who cannot yet speak exhibits the workings of conscience; a reproving look will make him drop his eyes and hide his face. But, observe, the mother may thus cover him with confusion by way of an experiment when the child is all sweetness, and the poor little untutored conscience rises all the same, and condemns him on the word of another.
Facts like this afford a glimpse of the appalling responsibility that lies upon parents. The child comes into the world with a moral faculty, a delicate organ whereby he discerns the flavour of good and evil, and at the same time has a perception of delight in the good––in himself or others,––of loathing and abhorrence of the evil. But, poor little child, he is like a navigator who does not know how to box his compass. He is born to love the good, and to hate the evil, but he has no real knowledge of what is good and what is evil; what intuitions he has, he puts no faith in, but yields himself in simplicity to the steering of others. The wonder that Almighty God can endure so far to leave the very making of an immortal being in the hands of human parents is only matched by the wonder that human parents can accept this divine trust with hardly a thought of its significance.
A Child's Conscience Undeveloped Capability rather than a Supreme Authority.––Looking, then, upon conscience in the child rather as an undeveloped capability than as a supreme authority, the question is, how is this nascent lord of the life to be educated up to its high functions of informing the will and decreeing the conduct? For though the ill-taught conscience may make fatal blunders, and a man may carry slaughter amongst the faithful because his conscience bids; yet, on the other hand, no man ever attained a godly, righteous, and sober life except as he was ruled by a good conscience––a conscience with not only the capacity to discern good and evil, but trained to perceive the qualities of the two. Many man may have the great delicacy of taste which should qualify him for a tea-taster, but it is only as he has trained experience in the qualities of teas that his nice taste is valuable to his employers, and a source of income to himself.
The Uninstructed Conscience.––As with that of the will, so with the education of the conscience; it depends upon much that has gone before. Refinement of conscience cannot coexist with ignorance. The untutored savage has his scruples that we cannot enter into; we cannot understand to this day how it was that the horrors of the Indian Mutiny arose from the mere suspicion that mixture of hog's lard and beef fat had been used to grease the cartridges dealt out to the Sepoys. Those scruples which are beyond the range of our ideas we call superstitions and prejudices, and are unwilling to look upon conduct as conscientious, even when prompted by the uninstructed conscience, unless in so far as it is reasonable and right in itself.
The Processes implied in a 'Conscientious' Decision.––Therefore, it is plain that before conscience is in a position to pronounce its verdict on the facts of a given case, the cultivated reason must review the pros and cons; the practiced judgment must balance these, deciding which have the greater weight. Attention must bring all the powers of the mind to bear on the question; habits of right action must carry the feelings, must make right-doing seem the easier and the pleasanter. In the meantime, desire is clamorous; but conscience, the unbiased judge, duly informed in full court of the merits of the case, decides for the right. The will carries out the verdict of conscience; upon the verdicts of conscience is the conscientious man, of whose actions and opinions you may be sure beforehand, and then what becomes of these elaborate proceedings? That is just the advantage of an instructed conscience backed by a trained intelligence; the judge is always sitting, the counsel always on the spot.
The Instructed Conscience nearly always right.––Here is, indeed, a high motive for the all-round training of the child's intelligence; he wants the highest culture you can give him, backed by carefully formed habits, in order that he may have a conscience always alert, supported by every power of the mind; and such a conscience is the very flower of a noble life. The instructed conscience may claim to be, if not infallible, at any rate nearly always right. It is not generally mature until the man is mature; young people, however right-minded and earnest, are apt to err, chiefly because they fix their attention too much upon some one duty, some one theory of life, at the expense of much besides.
The Good Conscience of a Child.––But even the child, with the growing conscience and the growing powers, is able to say, 'No, I can't; it would not be right'; 'Yes, I will; for it is right.' And once able to give either of these answers to the solicitations that assail him, the child is able to live; for the rest, the development, and what may be called the adjustment, of conscience will keep pace with his intellectual growth. But allowing that a great deal of various discipline must go to secure that final efflorescence of a good conscience, what is to be done by way of training the conscience itself, quickening the spiritual taste so that the least soupçon [suspicion)of evil is detected and rejected?
Children play with Moral Questions.––There is no part of education more nice and delicate than this, nor any in which grown-up people are more apt to blunder. Everyone knows how tiresome it is to discuss any nice moral question with children; how they quibble, suggest a hundred ingenious explanations or evasions, fail to be shocked or to admire in the right place––in fact, play with the whole question; or, what is more tiresome still, are severe and righteous overmuch, and 'deal damnation round' with much heartiness and goodwill. Sensible parents are often distressed at this want of conscience in the children; but they are not greatly in fault; the mature conscience demands to be backed up by the mature intellect, and the children have neither the one nor the other. Discussions of the kind should be put down; the children should not be encouraged to give their opinions on questions of right and wrong, and little books should not be put into their hands which pronounce authoritatively upon conduct.
The Bible the Chief Source of Moral Ideas.––It would be well if the reticence of the Bible in this respect were observed by the writers of children's books, whether of story or history. The child hears the history of Joseph (with reservations) read from The Bible, which rarely offers comment or explanation. He does not need to be told what was 'naughty' and what was 'good'; there is no need to press home the teaching, or the Bible were written in vain, and good and bad actions carry no witness with them. Let all the circumstances of the daily Bible reading––the consecutive reading, from the first chapter of Genesis onwards, with necessary omissions––be delightful to the child; let him be in his mother's room, in his mother's arms; let that quarter of an hour be one of sweet leisure and sober gladness, the child's whole interest being allowed to go to the story without distracting moral considerations; and then, the less talk the better; the story will sink in, and bring its own teaching, a little now, and more every year as he is able to bear it. Once such story will be in him a constantly growing, fructifying moral idea.
Tales fix attention upon Conduct.––The Bible (the fitting parts of it, that is) first and supreme; but any true picture of life, whether a tale of golden deeds or of faulty and struggling human life, brings aliment to the growing conscience. The child gets into the habit of fixing his attention on conduct; actions are weighed by him, at first, by their consequences, but by degrees his conscience acquires discriminating power, and such and such behavior is bad or good to him whatever its consequences. And this silent growth of the moral faculty takes place all the more surely if the distraction of chatter on the subject is avoided; for a thousand small movements of vanity and curiosity and mere love of talk are easily called into play, and these take off the attention from the moral idea which should be conveyed to the conscience. It is very important, again, that the child should not be allowed to condemn the conduct of the people about him. Whether he is right or wrong in him verdict, is not the question; the habit of bestowing blame will certainly blunt his conscience, deaden his sensibility to the injunction, "Judge not, that ye be not judged."
Ignorance of a Child's Conscience.––But the child's own conduct: surely he may be called upon to look into that? His conduct, including his words, yes; but his motives, no; nothing must be done to induce the evil habit of introspection. Also, in setting the child to consider his ways, regard must be had to the extreme ignorance of the childish conscience, a degree of ignorance puzzling to grown-up people when they chance to discover it, which is not often, for the children, notwithstanding their endless chatter and their friendly, loving ways, live very much to themselves. They commit serious offences against truth, modesty, love, and do not know that they have done wrong, while some absurd featherweight of transgression oppresses their souls. Children will bite and hurt one another viciously, commit petty thefts, do such shocking things that their parents fear they must have very bad natures: it is not necessarily so; it is simply that the untaught conscience sees no clear boundary line between right and wrong, and is as apt to err on the one side as the other. I once saw a dying child of twelve who was wearing herself out with her great distress because she feared she had committed 'the unpardonable sin,' so she said (how she picked up the phrase nobody knew); and that was––that she had been saying her prayers without even kneeling up in bed! The ignorance of children about the commonest matters of right and wrong is really pathetic; and yet they are too often treated as if they knew all about it, because 'they have consciences,' as if conscience were any more than a spiritual organ waiting for direction!
Instructing the Conscience––Kindness.––That the children do wrong knowingly is another matter, and requires, alas, no proving; all I am pressing for is the real need there exists to instruct them in their duty; and this, not at all haphazard, but regularly and progressively. Kindness, for instance, is, let us say, the subject of instruction this week. There is one of the talks with their mother that the children love––a short talk is best––about kindness. Kindness is love, showing itself in act and word, look and manner. A well of love, shut up and hidden in a little boy's heart, does not do anybody much good; the love must bubble up as a spring, flow out in a stream, and then it is kindness. Then will follow short daily talks about kind ways, to brothers and sisters, to playmates, to parents, to grown-up friends, to servants, to people in pain and trouble, to dumb creatures, to people we do not see but yet can think about––all in distress, the heathen. Give the children one thought at a time, and every time some lovely example of loving-kindness that will fire their hearts with the desire to do likewise.
Take our Lord's parable of the 'Good Samaritan' for a model of instruction in morals. Let tale and talk make the children emulous of virtue, and then give them the "Go and do likewise," the law. Having presented to them the idea of kindness in many aspects, end with the law: Be kind, or, "Be kindly affectioned one to another." Let them know that this is the law of God for children and for grown-up people. Now, conscience is instructed, the feelings are enlisted on the side of duty, and if the child is brought up, it is for breaking the law of kindness, a law that he knows of, that his conscience convicts him in the breaking. Do not give children deterrent examples of error, because of the sad proclivities of human nature, but always tell them of beautiful 'Golden Deeds,' small and great, that shall stir them as trumpet-calls to the battle of life.
The Conscience made effective by Discipline.––Be courteous, be candid, be grateful, be considerate, be true; there are aspects of duty enough to occupy the attention of mother and child for every day of the child-life; and all the time, the idea of duty is being formed, and conscience is being educated and developed. At the same time, the mother exercises the friendly vigilance of a guardian angel, being watchful, not to catch the child tripping, but to guide him into the acting out of the duty she has already made lovely in his eyes; for it is only as we do that we learn to do, and become strong in the doing. As she instructs her child in duty, she teaches him to listen to the voice of conscience as to the voice of God, a 'Do this,' or 'Do it not,' within the breast, to be obeyed with full assurance. It is objected that we are making infallible, not the divinely implanted conscience, but that same conscience made effective by discipline. It is even so; in every department of life, physical or spiritual, human effort appears to be the condition of the Divine energizing; there must be a stretching forth of the withered arm before it receives strength; and we have every reason to believe that the instructed conscience, being faithfully followed, is divinely illuminated.
"The very Pulse of the Machine."––It is evident we have not yet reached
"The very pulse of the machine."
Habits, feeling, reason, conscience––we have followed these into the inmost recesses of the child's life; each acts upon the other, but what acts upon the last: what acts upon them all? "It is," says a writer who has searched into the deep things of God––"it is a King that our spirits cry for, to guide them, discipline them, unite them to each other; to give them a victory over themselves, a victory over the world. It is a Priest that our spirits cry out for, to lift them above themselves to their God and Father,––to make them partakers of his nature, fellow-workers in one authentic testimony that He is both the Priest and King of Men1."
Parents have some Power to Enthrone the King.––Conscience, we have seen, is effective only as it is moved from within, from that innermost chamber of Mansoul, that Holy of Holies, the secrets of which are only known to the High-Priest, who "needed not that any man should tell Him, for He knew what was in man." It is necessary, however, that we should gather up crumbs of fact and inference and set in order such knowledge as we have; for the keys even of this innermost chamber are placed in the hands of parents, and it is a great deal in their power to enthrone the King, to induct the Priest, that every human cries for.
The Functions and Life of the Soul.––We take it for granted in common speech that every soul is a 'living soul,' a fully developed, full-grown soul; but the language of the Bible and that of general experience seem to point to startling conclusions. It has been said of a great poet––with how much justice is not the question here––that if we could suppose any human being to be made without a soul, he was such an abortive attempt; for while he had reason, imagination, passions, all the appetites and desires of an intelligent being, he appeared to exercise not one of the functions of the soul. Now, what are these functions, the suspension of which calls the very existence of a man's soul in question? We must go back to the axiom of Augustine––"The soul of man is for God, as God is for the soul." The soul has one appetite, for the things of God; breathes one air, the breath, the Spirit of God; has one desire, for the knowledge of God; one only joy, in the face of God. "I want to live in the Light of a Countenance which never ceases to smile upon me2," is the language of the soul. The direct action of the soul is all Godward, with a reflex action towards men. The speech of the soul is prayer and praise, the right hand of the soul is faith, the light of the soul is love, the love of God shed abroad upon it. Observe, these are the functions, this, the life of the soul, the only functions, the only life it can have: if it have not these, it has no power to turn aside and find the "life of its hand" elsewhere. As the conscience, the will, the reason, is ineffective till it be nourished with its proper food, exercised in its proper functions, so of the soul; and its chamber is dull, with cobwebbed doors and clouded windows, until it awake to its proper life; not quite empty, though, for there is the nascent soul; and the awakening into life takes place, sometimes with the sudden shock, the gracious miracle, which we call conversion; sometimes, when the parents so will, the soul of the child expands with a gentle, sweet growth and gradual unfolding as of a flower. There are torpid souls, which are yet alive; there are feeble, sickly souls, which are yet alive; and there are souls which no movement Godward ever quickens.
What is the Life of the Soul?––This life of the soul, what is it? Communicated life, as when one lights a torch at the fire? Perhaps; but it is something more intimate, more unspeakable: "I am the Life"; "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men"; "Abide in Me and I in you." The truth is too ineffable to be uttered in any words but those given to us. But it means this, at least, that the living soul does not abide alone in its place; that place becomes the temple of the living God. "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. How dreadful is this place!"
The Parent must present the idea of God to the Soul of the Child.––But this holy mystery, this union and communion of God and the soul, how may human parents presume to meddle with it? What can they do? How can they promote it? and is there not every risk that they may lay rude hands upon the ark? In the first place, it does not rest with the parent to choose whether he will or will not attempt to quicken and nourish this divine life in his child. To do so this is his bounden duty and service. If he neglect or fail in this, I am not sure how much it matters that he has fulfilled his duties in the physical, moral and mental culture of his child, except in so far as the child is the fitter for the divine service should the divine life be awakened in him. But what can the parent do? Just this, and no more: he can present the idea of God to the soul of the child. Here, as throughout his universe, Almighty God works by apparently inadequate means. Who would say that a bee can produce apple trees? Yet a bee flies from an apple tree laden with the pollen of its flowers: this it unwittingly deposits on the stigmas of the flowers of the next tree it comes to. The bee goes, but the pollen remains, but with all the length of the style between it and the immature ovule below. That does not matter; the ovule has no power to reach the pollen grain, but the latter sends forth a slender tube, within the tube of the style; the ovule is reached; behold, then, the fruit, with its seed, and, if you like, future apple trees! Accept the parable: the parent is little better in this matter than the witless bee; it is his part to deposit, so to speak, within reach of the soul of the child some fruitful idea of God; the immature soul makes no effort towards that idea, but the living Word reaches down, touches the soul,––and there is life; growth and beauty, flower and fruit.
Must not make Blundering Efforts.––I venture to ask you to look, for once, at these divine mysteries from the same philosophical standpoint we have taken up in regarding all the capabilities and functions of the child, partly, because it is instructive to see how the mysteries of the religious life appear when it is looked at from without its own sphere; partly, because I wish to rise by unbroken steps to the supreme function of the parent in the education of his child. For here the similitude of the bee and the apple tree fails. The parent must not make blundering, witless efforts: as this is the highest duty imposed upon him, it is also the most delicate; and he will have infinite need of faith and prayer, tact and discretion, humility, gentleness, love, and sound judgement, if he would present his child to God, and the thought of God to the soul of his child.
God presented to Children as an Exactor and a Punisher.––"If we think of God as an exactor and not a giver," it has been well said, "exactors and not givers shall we become." Yet is not this the light in which God is most commonly set before the children––a Pharoah demanding his tale of bricks, bricks of good behaviour and right-doing? Do not parents deliberately present God as an exactor, to back up the feebleness of their own government; and do they not freely utter, on the part of God, threats they would be unwilling to utter on their own part? Again, what child has not heard from his nurse this, delivered with much energy, 'God does not love you, you naughty boy! He will send you to the bad place!' And these two thoughts of God, as an exactor and a punisher, make up, often enough, all the idea the poor child gets of his Father in heaven. What fruit can come of this but aversion, the turning away of the child from the face of his Father? What if, instead, were given to him the thought well expressed in the words, "The all-forgiving gentleness of God"?
Parents must select Inspiring Ideas.––These are but two of many deterrent thoughts of God commonly presented to the tender soul; and the mother, who realises that the heart of her child may be irrevocabley turned against God by the ideas of Him imbibed in the nursery, will feel the necessity for grave and careful thought, and definite resolve, as to what teaching her child shall receive on this momentous subject. She will most likely forbid any mention of the Divine Name to the children, except by their parents, explaining at the same time that she does so because she cares so much that her children should get none but right thoughts on this great matter. It is better that children should receive a few vital ideas that their souls may grow than a great deal of indefinite teaching.
We must Teach only what we Know.––How to select these few quickening thoughts of the infinite God? The selection is not so difficult to make as would appear at first sight. In the first place, we must teach that which we know, know by the life of the soul, not with any mere knowledge of the mind. Now, of the vast mass of the doctrines and the precepts of religion, we shall find that there are only a few vital truths that we have so taken into our being that we live upon them––this person, these; that person, those; some of us, not more than a single one. One or more, these are the truths we must teach the children, because these will come straight out of our hearts with the enthusiasm of conviction which rarely fails to carry its own idea into the spiritual life of another. There is no more fruitful source of what it is hardly too much to call infant infidelity than the unreal dead words which are poured upon children about the best things, with an artificial solemnity of tone and manner intended to make up for the want of living meaning in the words. Let the parent who only knows one thing from above teach his child that one; more will come to him by the time the child is ready for more.
Fitting and Vital Ideas.––Again, there are some ideas of the spiritual life more proper than others to the life and needs of the child. Thus, Christ the Joy-giver is more to him than Christ the Consoler.
And there are some few ideas which are as the daily bread of the soul, without which life and growth are impossible. All other teaching may be deferred until the child's needs bring him to it; but whoever sends his child out into life without these vital ideas of the spiritual life, sends him forth with a dormant soul, however well-instructed he may be in theology.
The Knowledge of God distinct from Morality.––Again, the knowledge of God is distinct from morality, or what the children call 'being good', though 'being good' follows from that knowledge. But let these come in their right order. Do not bepreach the child to weariness about 'being good' as what he owes to God, without letting in upon him first a little of that knowledge which shall make him good.
We are no longer suffering from an embarrassment of riches; these limitations shut out so much of the ordinary teaching about divine things that the question becomes rather, What shall we teach? than, How shall we choose?
The Times and the Manner of Religious Instruction.––The next considerations that will press upon the mother are of the times, and the manner, of this teaching in the things of God. It is better that these teachings be rare and precious, than too frequent and slighty valued; better not at all, than that the child should be surfeited with the mere sight of spiritual food, rudely served. At the same time, he must be built up in the faith, and his lessons must be regular and progressive; and here everything depends upon the tact of the mother. Spiritual teaching, like the wafted odour of flowers, should depend on which way the wind blows. Every now and then there occurs a holy moment, felt to be holy by mother and child, when the two are together––that is the moment for some deeply felt and softly spoken word about God, such as the occasion gives rise to. Few words need be said, no exhortation at all; just the flash of conviction from the soul of the mother to the soul of the child. Is 'Our Father' the thought thus laid upon the child's soul? there will be, perhaps, no more than a sympathetic meeting of eyes hereafter, between mother and child, over thousand showings forth of 'Our Father's' love; but the idea is growing, becoming part of the child's spiritual life. This is all: no routine of spiritual teaching; a dread of many words, which are apt to smother the fire of the sacred life; much self-restraint shown in the allowing of seeming opportunities to pass; and all the time, earnest purpose of heart, and a definite scheme for the building up of the child in the faith. It need not be added that, to make another use of our Lord's words, "this kind cometh forth only by prayer." It is as the mother gets wisdom liberally from above, that she will be enabled for this divine task.
The Reading of the Bible.––A word about the reading of the Bible. I think we make a mistake in burying the text under our endless comments and applications. Also, I doubt if the picking out of individual verses, and grinding these into the child until they cease to have any meaning for him, is anything but a hindrance to the spiritual life. The Word is full of vital force, capable of applying itself. A seed, light as thistledown, wafted into the child's soul will take root downwards and bear fruit upwards. What is required of us is, that we should implant a love of the Word; that the most delightful moments of the child's day should be those in which his mother reads for him, with sweet sympathy and holy gladness in voice and eyes, the beautiful stories of the Bible; and now and then in the reading will occur one of those convictions, passing from the soul of the mother to the soul of the child, in which is the life of the Spirit. Let the child grow, so that,
"New thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven,"
are a joy to him, too; things to be counted first amongst the blessings of a day. Above all, do not read the Bible at the child: do not let any words of the Scriptures be occasions for gibbeting his faults. It is the office of the Holy Ghost to convince of sin; and He is able to use the Word for this purpose, without risk of that hardening of the heart in which our clumsy dealings too often result.
The matter for this teaching of divine things will come out of every mother's own convictions. I will attempt to speak of only one or two of those vital truths on which the spiritual life must sustain itself.
Father and Giver.––"Our Father, who is in heaven," is perhaps the first idea of God which the mother will present to her child––Father and Giver, straight from whom comes all the gladness of every day. 'What a happy birthday our Father has given to my little boy!' 'The flowers are coming again; our Father has taken care of the life of the plants all through the winter cold!' 'Listen to the skylark! It is a wonder how our Father can put so much joy into the heart of one little bird.' 'Thank God for making my little girl so happy and merry!' Out of this thought comes prayer, the free utterance of the child's heart, more often in thanks for the little joys of the day counted up than in desire, just yet. The words do not matter; any simple form the child can understand will do; the rising Godward of the child-heart is the true prayer. Out of this thought , too, comes duty––the glad acknowledgement of the debt of service and obedience to a Parent so gracious and benign––not One who exacts service at the sword's point, as it were, but One whom His children run to obey.
The Essence of Christianity is Loyalty to a Person.––Christ, our King. Here is a thought to unseal the fountains of love and loyalty, the treasures of faith and imagination, bound up in the child. The very essence of Christianity is personal loyalty, passionate loyalty to our adorable Chief. We have laid other foundations––regeneration, sacraments, justification, works, faith, the Bible––any one of which, however necessary to salvation in its due place and proportion may become a religion about Christ and without Christ. And now a time of sifting has come upon us, and thoughtful people decline to know anything about our religious systems; they write down all our orthodox beliefs as things not knowable. Perhaps this may be because, in thinking much of our salvation, we have put out of sight our King, the divine fact which no soul of man to whom it is presented can ignore. In the idea of Christ is life; let the thought of Him once get touch of the soul, and it rises up, a living power, independent of all formularies of the brain. Let us save Christianity for our children by bringing them into allegiance to Christ, the King. How? How did the old Cavaliers bring up sons and daughters, in passionate loyalty and reverence for not too worthy princes? Their own hearts were full of it; their lips spake it; their acts proclaimed it; the style of their clothes, the ring of their voices, the carriage of their heads––all was one proclamation of boundless devotion to their king and his cause. That civil war, whatever else it did, or missed doing, left a parable for Christian people. If a Stuart prince could command such measure of loyalty, what shall we say of "the Chief amongst ten thousand, the altogether lovely"?
Jesus, our Saviour. Here is a thought to be brought tenderly before the child in the moments of misery that follow wrong-doing. 'My poor little boy, you have been very naughty to-day! Could you not help it?' 'No, mother,' with sobs. 'No, I suppose not; but there is a way of help.' And then the mother tells her child how the Lord Jesus is our Saviour, because He saves us from our sins. It is a matter of question when the child should first learn the 'Story of the Cross.' One thinks it would be very delightful to begin with Moses and the prophets: to go through the Old Testament history, tracing the gradual unfolding of the work and character of the Messiah; and then, when their minds are full of the expectation of the Jews, to bring before them the mystery of the Birth in Bethlehem, the humiliation of the Cross. But perhaps no gain in freshness of presentation would make up to the children for not having grown up with the associations of Calvary and Bethlehem always present to their minds. One thing in this connection: it is not well to allow the children in a careless familiarity with the Name of Jesus, or in the use of hymns whose tone is not reverent. "Ye call Me Master and Lord; and ye say well, for so I am."
The Indwelling of Christ is a thought particularly fit for the children, because their large faith does not stumble at the mystery, their imagination leaps readily to the marvel, that the King Himself should inhabit a little child's heart. 'How am I to know He is come, mother?' 'When you are quite gentle, sweet, and happy, it is because Christ is within,––
"And when He comes, He makes your face so fair,
Your friends are glad, and say, 'The King is there."
I will not attempt to indicate any more of the vital truths which the Christian mother will present to her child; having patience until they blossom and bear, and his soul is as a very fruitful garden which the Lord hath blessed. But, once more, "This kind cometh forth only by prayer."