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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

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

by Rev. J. Rice Byrne, H.M.I. (retired).
Volume 12, 1901, pgs. 437-443


"What is education? As I have said, it is not only a furnishing, it is an unfolding and uplifting process. The object of it is to uplift the whole nature above the low level of ignorance and commonness and carnality and mere impulsiveness to the higher plane of fuller knowledge and refinement and reasonableness. And what is religion? It is a presentation of ideals, of the highest of all ideals, the ideal of Goodness, which is God."



I have purposely chosen the word "education" in preference to "instruction." Instruction, it has been well said, is putting something into a man; education is drawing something out of him. The object of education is to unfold, to uplift the whole nature, and one means by which it effects this end is instruction, or furnishing it with facts. Religious education is unfolding the nature through the instrumentality of religion.

Is religion indispensable to the attainment of this end? This is the first question that presents itself.

French educational authorities have decided that it is not. They politely bow out religion from their programme. German educational authorities have decided that it is. They include it and lay great stress on it. In some of our Colonies religious instruction, as it is called, is left out on account of the many and great differences of opinion on the subject of religion. In our own provisions in regard to elementary education in Board schools, as usual, a compromise is agreed upon. Religion is taught, but it is those elements of it which are common to all denominations of Christians and distinctive of none. "Common Christianity" is what is has happily been called.

Once more, is religion indispensable to education? Would it be complete without it?

What is education? As I have said, it is not only a furnishing, it is an unfolding and uplifting process. The object of it is to uplift the whole nature above the low level of ignorance and commonness and carnality and mere impulsiveness to the higher plane of fuller knowledge and refinement and reasonableness. And what is religion? It is a presentation of ideals, of the highest of all ideals, the ideal of Goodness, which is God. Why, here is an instrument ready to hand for the effecting of this lifting process. It would be inartistic, it would be unworkmanlike, it would be bungling of the worst description, to attempt to effect this lifting process by first throwing away the lever.

Granted, then, that religion is indispensable, in what should the teaching of it consist? The primary step is to place your scholars under the sense, the awful sense of "Thou God seest me." His eye is ever on you, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, whatever you are thinking of. How is this to be effected? By teaching them how to pray. "And it came to pass, that as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray." By all means, teach your disciples how to pray. To what purpose? In the first place, as I have said, it instills into them the sense of God's existence and omnipresence. And follow your Master's example. Let the first prayer be the Lord's prayer. It teaches them that God is their Father, that His will is to be done, as in heaven, so in earth, that from Him comes their daily sustenance, that He forgives sins and makes them proof against temptations. All prayers are conditional, conditional on its being God's will that it should be granted, with one exception, and that is the prayer to be made a better child, a better man or woman. With this you may stand up boldly before the Throne of Grace and offer it unconditionally in the certainty that it will be granted. This is not only a theological dogma, it is a psychological fact. Only desire earnestly to become a better man, and in the very act of so doing, you have become in some degree what you desire, you have made the first step towards improvement. For what saith the Scripture? "Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled."

A habit of prayer--what does it effect? It fortifies us in our performance of daily duties. Nothing like an illustration. It enables you to see the thing. "Anschauung," say the Germans, is a thing always to be aimed at in teaching. There is no proper English equivalent for the word. It may be expressed by a periphrasis. Make them see it, if not with the outward eye, as a visible object, with the eye of the mind. Years ago, in the course of my duties as an Inspector of Schools, I was visiting a school in this county, a mixed school (so called) of boys and girls, and I was struck with the perfection of everything I beheld. Not only were instruction and discipline of the best, but all the other details, the cleaning of the floor, the lighting, the ventilation, the arrangement of the classes, the desks, books, slates, copy books, school registers and so forth, were all exactly as they should be. I turned to the principal school manager, who was at my elbow and said, "What is the secret of all this?" "I cannot tell you," was his reply, "unless it be that when not in school, she is on her knees in the church hard by." This was the secret. With God ever present in her thoughts, every duty appeared to her in the light of a divine command. Every the minutest detail of duty, she took it up, as it were, and turned it over, and on the obverse found impressed the image and superscription of the Great King. This it is that clinches the sense of duty with a supernatural force. Other motives are feeble indeed compared with this. So much for what it does for us in our relations with the world without. But there is a world within as well as without. It purifies, it enlightens, it enlarges, it strengthens the world within. "Cleanse thou me from my secret sins," is the other half, often the most important half of the whole of prayer. "Our hermit spirits dwell alone." "The heart knoweth his own bitterness, and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy." It is within the man that the conflict rages most fiercely between the good and the evil. There it is that the devil couches, ready to tear and rend the sinner if he resists. Depend upon it, in many of our so-called physical maladies, it is the devil who is at the bottom of it. It is only when the devil is cast out, that the sufferer arises and is well.

Next to prayer, or accompanying it, is the reading of the Bible. Acquaintance with the Bible is an integral part of culture in its broadest sense, secular as well as sacred, for all English persons, for in the first place the Bible is the Common Book of all the English-speaking peoples, as Homer was of the ancient Greeks, of all except the Roman Catholics, who are practically--the laity at least--debarred from reading it. Familiarity with it is taken for granted. To miss, to misunderstand a Scriptural allusion, even in the minutest particular, is rightly held to indicate a want of education. I recollect once reproving an eminent novelist, because she had something costly from another, as a "spoiling of the Philistines" instead of Egyptians, and she had never even heard of Tryphena and Tryphosa! As regards things sacred, it may be said to be our handy book of morals and religion. Matthew Arnold once told me he was proud to think he had been the means of introducing certain French savants of repute to the study of the Bible, who had hitherto never looked into it. "Were you an artist," he argued, "and desirous of improving yourself in your art, you would make yourself acquainted with the famous pictures of the ancient masters of painting. Do you desire to improve in morals, you study the works of the ancient masters of morality, the Prophets, the Psalmists, the writers of the Gospels, the Epistles." They followed his advice and were astounded with the beauty and the truth to be found in books, from all acquaintance with which they had heretofore been debarred in limine by a huge Voltairean prejudice against the Bible, as a book written in interest of priests, parts of it concocted--who knows?--by the monks of the Middle Ages.

Take the Psalms alone. Consider when they were written. Shortly after the Book of Judges, where we have the picture of a society lost in rebellion and apostasy, of a people whom the law had not curbed even to an outward obedience, whom no deliverances could bring to a better mind. In the Psalms we find the highest expression of the religious affections the world has ever seen. The profoundest religious thinkers could never dive deeper, the highest saint could not soar higher to the eternal throne of justice and love. Take the 119th Psalm. The subject of it is the Moral Law. The humdrum duties, as they are to us, of justice, of charity, of truthfulness, of purity, of meekness and the like, to the Psalmist they are objects of rapturous admiration, "as great delight" has he in them "as in all manner of riches," they are "dearer to him than thousands of gold and silver, his songs, his thoughts in the night season, sweet unto his throat, yea, sweeter than honey into his mouth." Beautiful childlike spirit! Why, this is the stuff of which the kingdom of heaven is made. The pillars of the Lord's house are hewn out of this material, they rest on this everlasting foundation, everlasting because it is goodness, and goodness is the eternal God.

Now for the New Testament, the Gospels, four versions of the same story, which bear all the more clearly the impress of truth, because they do not tally in even the minutest particular, when they would certainly have been composed in concert, artificially, so as to agree. Has it ever occurred to you how great is the part that has been played by biography in the history of men and of nations? The lives of the patriarchs, of the prophets, of their national heroes generally, contributed largely to the shaping of the character and destiny of the Hebrew nation and of the individual members of it. The histories, mythical or historical, of the heroes of ancient Greece and Rome, had a similar effect upon them. In the Middle Ages the lives of the saints, the mighty doings of the knights and paladins of chivalry, exercised their influence, too, on nations and individuals. Within our own memories the lives of famous soldiers and sailors have sent youths into the army, into the navy, of good men and others to good works, of men of letters again others to literature, of men of science others to scientific pursuits. But there is one biography that has done more than them all, one short story of three eventful years, but a fragment of one sad supreme biography. It is that of "the man Christ Jesus." What a character it presents to us, so innocent, so gentle, so majestic, so God-like! And what a life of "going about doing good"! Once you have taken all this in, you have no need of "signs and wonders" to prove to you that this was God in human flesh. He himself is miracle enough. Or, if wonder-works there must be to attest His quality, let them be Christendom and the Christian character, miracles both of them, brought about by the power of His word, that is to say, by that remnant of one unique biography. Christendom, the fusion into one Christian whole of the heterogeneous chaos of nations, races, languages, religions, which was the result of the breaking up of the ancient Roman Empire, a Christendom which, with all its present defects, shall some day grow into the Kingdom of God upon earth; the Christian character, with its delicately sensitive faculty of distinguishing between right and wrong, its recollectedness, its sweetness, its even balance, its unearthly beauty.

In the Epistles you are vouchsafed a look into the noble mind of the great Apostle of the Gentiles, which opens before you as he writes like a pair of folding doors, as well as a view of those singular little religious communities of churches which he planted here and there in Greece, in the Orient, in the capital itself. Composed as they were of the rudest materials, of members of the lowest classes of society, slaves many of them, they are transformed under his influence into the likeness of Christ Himself, they are (with exceptions, of course) after the Master's own heart, so innocent, so peaceable, so unselfish. They are "little children loving one another," a fortunate island in the great ocean of heathenism lying around them in wickedness, yet not antisocial in their behaviour. They obey the laws; they honour the magistrates; they pay rates and taxes; but spiritually they are, each one of those churches, an empire within an empire, a prototype of that Kingdom of Heaven, one day to be established on earth, in which there shall be no Lord but Christ, no laws but love.

Hymns should have their place in any course of religious instruction. In the time-table of German elementary schools they occupy a high position. So natural is it for children to sing what they say. The rhythm, the rhymes, the music of the poetry, deepen the impression, make it more lasting. Hymns there are in abundance, many of them specially adapted for children, many exceedingly beautiful. Store their memories with such hymns. You are sowing seed which shall some day "spring up an hundredfold."

Doctrines must in no case be omitted; the Creeds, with suitable explanations of them. Without a symbol or creed of some sort, no religious body has ever permanently held together. The Independent Congregations of the Commonwealth time, for want of a common symbol or creed, have fallen away many of them, both in this country and America, into Unitarianism.

There is one matter on which I have not hitherto touched. In the Exhortation to Godfathers and Godmothers at the close of the Baptismal Service occur the words: "Ye shall call upon him to hear sermons." Well, sermons. There are sermons and sermons. Some are to edification; others--I am told--have been known to be stale, flat and unprofitable. Some will last for but a quarter of an hour, others are four times as long and more. St. Chrysostom used to preach sometimes for only ten minutes. There is not the same need for hearing sermons now as there was in the days when there was comparatively but little reading, little printed matter to be obtained, especially such as would be suitable for the young. However, there is still room for sermons. The living voice will always count for much. Faith still comes by hearing. Let them hear sermons by all means, in particular those that are expressly intended for the young.

Within the time allotted to me I have been able to touch on but a few points, but those, I think, amongst the most important points to be borne in mind in giving religious education to the young. Purposely I have abstained from laying down anything like a detailed course of religious education. Once be enamoured of your subject, be fired with it, and the course to be pursued with regard to this particular child or children will at once present itself. It is indeed a noble subject, replete with inspiration. It is the larger, the more important part by far, of the whole of education. Secular education is intended directly to qualify the pupil for success in this life; religious education has in view his well-being in the everlasting future. The one will make him a good citizen of the present world, the other a child of God and inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven.



Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, July, 2010