vol 2 paraphrase pg 19
M. Adolf Monod [1802-1856, celebrated Protestant Reformed preacher in Paris] said that children owe their mother a second birth--the first birth is their natural, physical birth, and the second is into the spiritual life of intelligence--and they also owe their mother a moral sense of right and wrong. If he'd been writing for the general public and not just for mothers, I'm sure he would have said that the work of achieving this second birth requires the equal efforts of both parents. How did he come to such a surprising concept? He observed that great men always seem to come from great mothers--mothers who are gifted with an unlimited ability to take great pains in raising their children. He compares this work to a second birth that launches the child to a life on a higher plane, and the higher this life is, the more blessed the child's life will be. He says that every child has a right to this kind of second birth into a more complete human being, and that it's up to his parents to secure this kind of life for him. If Monod's conclusions were only based on his own deductions, we might ignore them and not trouble ourselves with this second birth. After all, parents may and often do neglect to secure it for their children. Or we might bring up
vol 2 paraphrase pg 20
examples of good parents whose sons turned out badly, and indifferent parents whose children sincerely tried to do right, therefore, what good is it to try? We think that a pat response like that lets us off the hook.
The appeal to be a good mother to your son because great men always have good mothers is inspiring and rousing, but it's not the only argument. To confirm how urgent this view is, we can look at the inductive methods of science. Although science still hasn't found all the answers, what it's already discovered is the truth that should be adhered to for all parents who believe it. The parable of Pandora's Box has some truth for us today, and a careless mother can let a thousand misfortunes loose on her children by her disregard. But there's also a 'cup of blessings' ready and waiting that parents can dip into to provide health, strength, justice, mercy, truth and beauty for their children.
Some may object that 'every good and perfect gift comes from the father,' and that therefore it's presumptuous for human parents to think they can bestow spiritual gifts to their children. But this is just superstitious thinking and has no part of true religion. It results in the disaster of many badly managed households and badly governed families. We need to recognize that God uses people, especially parents, as His vehicle for distributing gifts, and that He is honored when His law is kept. He isn't honored when we take the attitude of a royal attendant waiting for special favors. When we recognize that, then we'll make the effort to understand the laws that are written, not only on stone tablets and paper, but on the hearts of our children. And when we understand the law, we'll perceive with thankfulness and enlarged
vol 2 paraphrase pg 21
hearts all of the natural ways in which God shows mercy to thousands of people who love Him and keep His commandments.
But His commandment is 'exceedingly broad' and it seems to become broader every year as science discovers new revelations. We need to gird up our minds to keep up with all of these new revelations. We'll also make an effort to keep the attitude of focused expectancy that it takes to recognize the unity and continuity of scientific discoveries with God's Word. It could be that only as we accept both scientific discoveries and God's Word, and harmonize them in a willing and obedient heart that we'll enter into the heritage of glad, holy living that is God's will for us.
In the light of current scientific thought, let's consider the steps and methods needed for this second birth that is the child's right to expect from his parents. 'Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,' isn't just a promise. It's a statement of fact expressing the effect that results from a reasoned process. The author of those words had lots of opportunities to arrive at his conclusion. He'd watched lots of children grow up, and his observations taught him that children could be divided into two groups--those who were well-brought-up and turned out well, and those who were badly-brought-up and turned out bad. Undoubtedly there were exceptions, but the fact that they were exceptional only confirms the truth of this rule.
But in this passage as much as in other scriptures, the promises and warnings of the Bible will stand up to being tested with reasoned methods. We may wonder why that's the case.
vol 2 paraphrase pg 22
And we aren't satisfied with an answer as general as 'because it's natural and right.' We may observe and look for evidence until we finally come to the conclusion that this result is inevitable, and (unless there are unusual influences), no other result is even conceivable. How much we obey the rule will be in direct proportion to how much we recognize that the rule is inevitable.
Almost all of what we know about heredity is irrelevant to the second birth. But it applies to the first birth: 'qualities from a child's father and mother, grandfather and grandmother, may be dormant and show up in the child. His development will progress along the lines of those qualities in his nature. It isn't so much education as inheritance that's responsible for a child being brave or timid, generous or selfish, cautious or reckless, boastful or modest, quick-tempered or calm. The foundation of his character is laid in him at birth, and it colors all of the emotions he'll feel and the ideas that go along with them. The influence of carefully planned environment on a person is tremendous, but a child's inherited nature determines the limit that environment will have, and even, to some degree, the nature of that environment which forms the foundation that all the later modifications rest on.'
If heredity is so important as it seems to be if a child comes into the world with his character all ready laid out, then what's left for parents to do except to stay out of the way and give him room to work out his own salvation along the lines of his own individuality without their interference? The strong tendency to naturalism in our day makes us inclined to accept this view of the goals and limits of education. Yes, it's a fact and
vol 2 paraphrase pg 23
it's the truth, but it's not the whole truth. The child brings disposition into the world with him, but not character. He's born with tendencies that might just need to be reinforced, or re-channeled, or even repressed. His character--that flowering of the person that prepares the fruit of his life--is a formula consisting of the disposition he was born with, with modifications, direction, and expansion provided by education, circumstances, self-control and self-culture when he's older, and, most of all, the supreme power of the Holy Spirit, even when that power isn't evident or even requested.
The great labor of creating character is the single most effectual work that people can attempt. How is it to be accomplished? We'll start our question from a physical perspective. Yes, it's the lowest basis, but that's why it forms the foundation for the rest. The rooms on the first floor of any building are pleasant, but nobody starts a building with the first floor. What would it rest on? The difference between the physical gray brain tissue and the mind that works through it is like the difference between a song and the vocal chords of the singer. The distinction is even more physical than the difference between the physical brain and the spiritual person. The brain registers and effects every movement of thought and feeling, whether it's conscious or unconscious, with detectable molecular movement. It supports the unlimited activities of the mind by balancing an enormous amount of activity with an enormous amount of waste. The brain is the physical organ of the mind that, under present conditions, is inseparable from, and indispensable to, the vital spirit. Every time we think a thought, there's a distinct series of activities set into motion
vol 2 paraphrase pg 24
in some area of the physical brain tissue, in the same way that there's a series of activities that have to happen within the arm muscles in order for the hand to write a sentence. Once we recognize this, we'll understand that the way the brain tissue behaves provides us with a possible key to guaranteed effectiveness and a systematic approach in our educational efforts, speaking of education in its most worthy sense of character formation.
We heard Dr. Maudsley's comments about heredity. Now let's hear what he has to say about environment, which practically lets us define the possibilities that education can have.
'Anything that's existed with complete consciousness leaves something behind it after it leaves the mind or brain. It leaves behind a functional tendency to reproduce or reappear in the consciousness later. No mental activity is as fleeting as something written in water. Some evidence of it always remains behind to make it easier if it needs to be repeated. Every impression of the senses, every nerve impulse from one area of the brain to another, every cerebral action that generates movement of the muscles, leaves behind some modification in the brain nerves that it relates to. It leaves an impression, a memory of itself to make it easier to do the same thing again. The more often it's repeated, the easier it is to repeat it again. On the other hand, because a trace is left behind, it's impossible to say that the action could never happen again under some circumstance, no matter how trivial or insignificant the action is. If any kind of stimulation happens in a nerve cell and none happens to an identical nerve cell right next to it, that stimulation will create a difference in them
vol 2 paraphrase pg 25
so that the two cells will never be the same as one another again. Whatever the nature of this physical process might be, the process is the physical basis of memory, and it's the foundation of the development of all of our mental functions.
'The change that happens in the nerve cells after the activity or function is over has been called different things--residuum, relic, trace, disposition, or vestige. It's also been called a potential or latent or dormant idea. It isn't just definite ideas that leave physical impressions behind and lay the foundations for later modes of thought, feeling and action. Everything that affects the nervous system, feelings of pleasure and pain, desires, and even the outward reaction to desires leave impressions behind, too. Sometimes certain talents are formed practically or completely involuntarily. Complex actions that were first done with total application of effort and attention become automatic after enough repetition. Ideas that had to be deliberately thought of as related to each other begin to converge and become associated with each other without our conscious thinking about it, so that a person with enough experience in the world begins to have quick perception or intuition. Once feelings are active, they leave behind a lot of unconscious residual impressions that affect the way the character of the person evolves. That's how, apart from the original inborn nature of a person, contentment, depression, cowardice, bravery, and even moral feelings, a moral sense is created from certain experiences in life.'
And this sketches out a wonderful educational outline for us. It's probably a good thing that we don't realize how much liberty we have. If we did, we might be seized with such a fervor of educational enthusiasm that we'd start acting like those early Christians who expected Jesus to come
vol 2 paraphrase pg 26
any day. How would a person ever have the patience to buy and sell and collect if he knew that he was destined to paint the greatest picture the world had ever known? And if we had a striking vision of what our little child could become under our hands, how would we ever have the patience for our daily routine work? Maybe Science has finally revealed the rationale for education as a Divine sign that we've become more fit for the task because we've arrived at a higher sense of moral responsibility. Imagine what would happen if immoral people were able to fully discern the possibilities that education could bring! But we're so slow!
It's been a whole generation since Dr. Maudsley wrote his words about the physical impressions of mental activity, and since other physiologists wrote similar things to the world. I've chosen wording that has stood the test of time on purpose because, in our day, a hundred leading scientists in England and overseas are saying the same thing. Every scientist believes this! And what about us? We go on doing everything the way it's always been done as if nothing had been said. It's as if, every day and every hour, we're letting seeds of corn, hemlock, bramble and rose drop from our careless hands.
Let's go over the outline of our liberties according to the passage of Dr. Maudsley that I quoted above.
One thing we can do is to lay the physical basis of memory. When the wide-eyed baby reaches out with aimless kicking on the rug, he's unconsciously receiving the first impressions that will form his earliest memories. We can influence
vol 2 paraphrase pg 27
those early memories. We can make sure that the earliest sights he sees are orderly, neat and beautiful. We can make sure that the first sounds that his ear drinks in are musical, soft, tender and happy. We can make sure that his nose only smells delicate purity and sweetness. Those first memories are engraved on the unconscious memory, where they stay for life. As we'll see later, memories have a certain ability to accumulate. Where some memories exist, other ones of the same kind will gather, and all of life is ordered along the lines of those first pure, tender memories.
Another thing we can do is to lay the foundation for the development of all the mental functions. Is there such thing as a child who doesn't wonder, or revere, or like fairy tales, or think wise child-thoughts? Maybe not. If there is, it's only because the pollen grain was never delivered to fertilize the seed that was waiting in the child's soul.
According to Dr. Maudsley's Physiology of the Mind, there are certain things that parents can arrange for the adult the child will become, even in his early childhood:
His definite ideas about certain subjects, such as how he relates to
His habits in things like neatness or disorder, promptness and moderation.
Whether the general way he thinks is affected by generosity or selfishness.
The way he feels and what he does as a result of the way he thinks.
What he thinks about--the trivial affairs of daily life, nature, the way the mind works, how God relates to people.
vol 2 paraphrase pg 28
His distinguishing talent--music, speaking, creativeness.
The way the disposition of his character shows and affects his family and others he interacts with regularly--reserved or open, sullen or friendly, depressed or cheerful, timid or confident.