The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Early Bible Reading

by Mrs. Hart Davis
Volume 4, 1893/94, pg. 497

The appeal for help in Bible-reading from J.H. is very touching. I hope it may bring us some advice from the first two she mentions, who have helped us so much before.

I can only add a few words from personal experience. I have often longed to encourage some of the religious simple hearted mothers who think they do not know enough to teach their children, or who wait and wait to find a book to help them, which never comes. To such I would say most earnestly, lose no time in doing what you can, for what you can do no one else--and no book can do for you, and if you do not do it, the time goes quickly by, and you deprive your children of one of the most precious of all their early recollections.

To begin with the very little ones of four and five. If a mother will daily take the largest Bible she has, and place it on her lap, seating herself low down, so as to bring her face on a level with the little ones round her, and then will talk the old stories to them, reading now and then a verse, but using chiefly her own words, she will find that the interest on both sides will grow. In reading the Old Testament she must take, not so much the general facts, with a view of teaching chronology or sequence, she must tie herself with no syllabus--but just take the passages she knows well, and try to picture to the children the lives of the great men of old, representing in strong words the faith in which they lived and died, and the work for the Lord they strove to do. She should tell the children enough to make each great name a living character, and omit all the rest which their young minds cannot retain. The point to aim at is the reverent "picture making" in the little hearts, and this can be done ever so simply, always remembering that later study will correct and remodel the details.

You must give what you possess, and you possess at least this much, and you know not till you try, how much more. Neither do you know till you try how fertile virgin soil in which you sow will reward you. You may see their eyes a few moments dreamy, and such a replay may come as this, which is a true one of a child of five learning the history of Jacob when Joseph sent waggons to fetch him to Egypt--"I suppose some of them must have had Benjamin on their laps all the way"--and on the same passage, six months later, going through it again--"I suppose Benjamin would go on his father's camel, or have a little camel by the side." Another instance in the Acts, from another child explains what I mean. When the disciples bade farewell to St. Paul on the shore "the little ones would have to be lifted up to kiss him and say good bye."

In each of these cases the child had seized on the part which touched him most, and had done a great deal of the work with his own little mind. I remember one more such instance, when the elder ones of the circle wished to help the younger ones to picture the brethren of Joseph sitting--"the first born according to his birthright, and the youngest according to his youth,"--"Don't you see, like beginning with you, and then each of us, sitting in ages, right up to mother." If you can get this kind of picturing in the mind, I think you need not fear that the great lessons of faith and righteousness should fail to go in too, though but seldom you "point the moral." They will go in deep enough by their own power, and you will see that too, and know that the little hearts are growing in the knowledge of God. "Was it good" or "Was it evil," you will hear them say--not "What is truth?" Their personal needs for the guidance of daily life are very simple indeed.

As you go on, and especially as you try to deal thus with Our Lord's own teaching, you will find how very much there is to be done simply in explaining the meaning of the words. Take almost any passage of the four Gospels, and go carefully through the words, asking a child of nine or ten to put another word for "offences" (stumbling blocks), "halt," or "maimed," "witnesses," "exalted," "tolerable," and you will be surprised to find out how much that from long custom is fairly clear to you, is altogether dark to him, you will see how much patient steady work remains to be done, for the difficult, ambiguous words must all be replaced by clear and easy ones, and the passage read afresh, before any picturing is even begun. By taking sentence after sentence, and turning it very naturally into a question, and in an easy kind of way drawing back the children to tell in their own words over again what has been read; by looking out good references, useful parallel passages, gradually you will be able to feel out the dark places, explain the words, and find out how the lesson of the passage has been received and taken in.

But how much in the Gospels is quite foreign to a child's experience, and therefore, difficult to him to apprehend. He lives in a free country, can he easily realise the Roman rule--the taxes--the oppression--or conceive the craving of the Jews for a Saviour to "restore the kingdom to Israel?" He mixes freely with other nations; it will take many and many a repetition before he understands how it came to be a sin to "eat with the Gentiles." The parables are "stories" to him, but they need to be every one told over and over before they are distinguished and loved as they should be. Persons in high place and authority have to be honoured in these days, simply from their position - will it not want some careful distinction of true from false "authority" before the dignity and courage of the "Woe unto you!" and "Oh, ye hypocrites!" is in any sense appreciated?

When you have taught in this way for a time you may get such replies as these which are all true ones, written down at the time.

Fame.--"How did the news of Him spread? Did they see about Him in a newspaper? Wasn't there any newspaper then? Would only people tell people? How long would it take to go all through Galilee?"

"Did they tidy up their nets, or just leave them anyhow on the boat? Oh, but Zebedee could do that."

"They cared more for the preaching than for getting money for fish - How would they live then? Oh, people gave them food. You know the jailor that washed their stripes (Acts xvi) gave them food."

"Simon's wife's mother--Would she be Granny to his children? Then she would know how to lay the supper (minister unto them) because she taught them all to do it."

"The palsied man--Did he care more for being forgiven than for being able to run?"

"The man in the synagogue, his poor hand was like a flower when it has had no water."

In the storm on the lake--"What was the pillow like, wouldn't it be wet? If He was to die now it would be better for Him to die asleep than awake, but He knew it was not time for Him to die just then, He hadn't done preaching enough."

When the scribes and elders resisted Him--"He came to be King over all men's hearts, and King he must be, their little trying wasn't any power at all against God."

There is nothing in these instances that is specially remarkable, except that they were spoken aloud. All little children, more or less, have this power of imagination while they are young, some far more than others. What is wanted for success, is the getting hold of it early, by encouraging the putting into words of the rambling and meditative little thoughts, sometimes exquisite in their poetry and simplicity. Now a Mother (or a Father) has a better chance of doing this than anyone else. She can get the children round her early in the morning when their thoughts are clearest and brightest. She has them earlier of all, before shyness of their fellows closes their lips, and custom stops their "wonderings." She can, by various little ways, prevent the reading from being a lesson. No such things as spelling or stumbling should ever be allowed with the Sacred Words. As to maintaining a reverence that is instantly done by look and voice, the restlessness of little limbs can be calmed down by the firm touch of Mother's unoccupied hands.

As the children grow older they would naturally read aloud, and would sit round a table and use maps, etc. But it is always well to bring the lesson down to the comprehension of the youngest child, even if the elder ones help to suggest the answers, learning thus themselves how to teach, when they come to an age to help in Sunday School. A more difficult question now and then is easily added, and the same simple moral teaching is good for them all.

One would suppose that the daily reading I have tried to describe is carried on by most parents who look at life at all seriously. Gladly would I hope it is. But how then is it that we hear on all sides from teachers in schools, of the extreme and almost heathenish ignorance of the Bible in which the children come to them, unable scarcely even to pronounce the names and places, utterly unfamiliar with the facts? Either the reading is made a severe lesson from which they escape as soon as they can; or it is irregular, as often neglected as done; once a week is considered enough, or some other book is read by an unsuitable person as a substitute.

Absolute regularity is of course essential. Where a thing lasts but a quarter of an hour--to make any progress it must be six times a week, all the year round. Neither holidays, nor visitors, nor anything but a very early journey should break the custom; as soon should the children go without breakfast.

I know that it can be done, and I believe there are a number of people who only want encouragement to start with a good family custom, and to rely to a great extent on what they already know for suggestions, satisfied at first with great simplicity, and full of faith that the Word will "come with power." As they go on--every book of the Bible they themselves read, every sermon, every good thought almost, will weave itself in with the Morning Reading, and I maintain that the gain on both sides will be great. The effort that parents must make in order to carry out this Christian "rite" must bring to themselves a corresponding reward, more especially with regard to the Gospels. The attempt, however weak, to bring to bear the words of Christ himself to the daily needs of the children, and through them of the family and the nation, is certain to be rich in blessing.

We have always boasted as a Nation since the Reformation that the Bible was bound in with our National life. Shall it not remain so still? And are there not signs that we are awakening to a deeper and fuller interpretation of Christ in Modern Theology? But who is to establish the true place of His words in our children's hearts, the place of precedence over all other words, the interpretation of all bewildering perplexities, the touchstone whereby to judge the "right" and the "wrong," the comfort and solace of all trouble and sorrow, if it be not the Parents to whom the children are given, and on whom the injunction falls, to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?

Proofread by Phyllis Hunsucker and Stephanie H.