The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
The Religious Education of Children (Parts 1 and 2)
by Robert Bird Author of "Jesus, the Carpenter of Nazareth," "Paul of
There comes a time in the experience of us all when we ask ourselves if we should not now begin to teach our child religion—that is, how to know and obey God, his Heavenly Father—how to be good. We have watched the sweet flower growing and expanding in the sun, and it is time he knew what is required of him. The service of innocence is to become a reasonable service. Some parents leave this to the Sunday school teacher or the governess; others will entrust it to no one, knowing that out of it are the issues of life, and that to hand over this sacred duty to someone else, because we have not the time, or the inclination, is to incur a grave responsibility. But this instruction is not difficult, if we confine ourselves to the few simple things which are essential, and leave theology to the professors of that science; for religion is with us every day, and we should be able to speak of it intelligibly and simply to our children.
What is your working method?
Have you ever, amid all your letter writing, invoice writing, essay writing, and, it may be, book writing, tried to write down what is that living thing swaying between right and wrong which regulates your daily life and settles what you should do and what you should avoid? In other words, what is your every-day household and counting house religion, as compared with your church religion? If you can lay your finger on this practical monitor which never deceives you and which you cannot deceive, you will get some idea of how far out upon the fringe of life lie your religious theories. Why do we not steal? Is it because we have read the commandment somewhere, or is it for some deeper reason? We are conscious that we must not steal, tell lies, or be cruel. That light of the knowledge of good and evil goes not out. Our conscience tells us. And God illumines our conscience, revealing His will to us. This guidance we get by asking, watching, waiting for it, as the semaphore sparkles in the sun.
Conscience our guide.
This then is the practical working method that every man, woman, and child has of doing good and avoiding evil in this world, and I know of no other guide given to man. To have a conscience void of offence toward God and man, was the daily exercise of Paul of Tarsus. If this be our practice, what then is our theory of religion? Would any of us, being English, begin to recite the Thirty-nine Articles as our answer, or being Scotch, repeat the Confession of Faith, in 33 chapters? If we were to approach our subject on these rails, we should start an enquiry, which, like the learning of the traditions and the commentaries by the young Rabbis, might well occupy us for the rest of our days. There is a shorter way to the heart of the matter, and, in following it, we must use words simple and easy to be understood, which the words of theology are not.
A simple religion required.
How to know and obey God must be a simple thing if little children are to learn it. I am no theologian, but a plain man speaking from the ranks of the laymen to parents in words of plain sense, and not loaded with meanings beyond the daily use and wont. Our children take only plain meanings out of plain words, and it seems to me that wresting words from their plain meaning is responsible for most of the religious disputes that have harassed Christianity.
We are free to choose whether we shall teach our children a simple or a complex religion, and you agree with me that to be understood we must express simple thoughts in simple terms. After all, it comes to this, whether we shall take our children to sit like Mary at the feet of Jesus and hear from Him the one thing needful, or take them to sit in turn at the feet of His followers to hear the same thing, accompanied by many things that are not needful for them; in the words of Peter speaking of Paul's epistles, "Things hard to be understood." I prefer to let theology wait until my child has learned the simple Christianity of Christ, and my first duty is to present Jesus to him in simplicity and truth, stopping short of all creeds and catechisms. In the debate on the English Education Bill in the House of Lords, the Bishop of Herelord used these words, "Where did you get your best religious teaching? At your mother's knee, where you learned the divine lessons of the life of Jesus." And that is what I wish you to teach your children.
I speak, therefore, to parents who earnestly desire to educate their children in the simple religion of Jesus, without addition and without deduction, such as you can easily explain, and shall attach, not their theological, but their every-day meanings as between man and man, and such as Jesus used to His disciples and they to Him.
When do you think religion begins with a child? That is, knowing and obeying God—being good. Jesus said that His words were the seed of God springing up into life. In every child there is this seed of God, this "Light which lightens every man that comes into the world." A grain of wheat in the ground springs into life. The life in it is a mystery, defying alike the microscope and the crucible. The seed of holiness in your child eludes all analysis, but it is there; too rare for human eye, too fine for human touch, but its fruits are like the miracle of the rising of innumerable grains in the field of wheat.
What is your standpoint?
Our attitude is one of reverence, as we approach this holy life in our children. And as the child's hand is put into ours for guidance, we ask ourselves, what is to be our standpoint towards this little one? Is it to be—
"But trailing clouds of glory do we come
Is it to be that of Jesus, as He looked upon the children of the fieldworkers and vine dressers, disporting themselves under the blue skies of Syria, and told their parents and the parents of all time that the children of this world are the children of His Kingdom? What mother's heart doubts this? A child in the midst, stands in a nimbus of heavenly light, laying a finger on the fathers lips, and a hand on the mother's heart.
The innocence of childhood precedes all rules and theories for being good. The act of breathing precedes the knowledge of how we breathe. Holiness precedes the knowledge of how to be good, and so we are pressed back in our enquiry, until we stand by the cradle of child life, where innocence and holiness hold out hands unspotted by the world.
Three stages of childhood.
There are three stages of childhood. The stage when the child can imitate, but cannot reason, and is taught mainly by example. The stage when he can both reason and imitate, but has not reached discretion, and then he is to be taught the life of Jesus. The stage of years of discretion, when he is to have the sayings and example of Jesus impressed upon him. When he reaches manhood, he will test this foundation of Jesus Christ on which he has built, and though rains and floods and winds may blow and beat upon that house, it will not fail, for it is founded upon a rock. During all this period, the influence of example is incalculable.
The first stage of a child's education is the age of innocence taught by example. This child from God, lying in your arms, is to be taught by you to know and obey God, to be good. Your attitude to the infant is that of Jesus. "See that you despise not one of these little ones, for I tell you that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven."
Before your child can speak, he can answer smile for smile and frown for frown. His little spirit is weaving for himself a vesture of the colours around him, of the rainbow or of the cloud. A voice whispers to the mother as she sits by her child's cot, bidding her be true, for God is true, be loving as He is loving, be gentle, peaceable, self-denying, for she is as God to this little one, to be absorbed by him. And like Mary, she will find in her communings beside that little ark, searchings, prophecies, intimations, to be laid by in her heart, too deep for words, too sacred to be seen. Thus is she drawn by these little hands very near to God. Mothers have the care of the human race during the first years of its existence, and it is during this precious time that the clay is moulded and the twig bent. Could God have placed in your hands, ye mothers! a higher trust, or a mightier power? Not if He had made you the rulers of the thrones of this world would you have wielded a more imperial sway, for beside that cot your will is supreme, your example unquestioned. And whether it is in the wind shaken cottage, or the battlemented castle, every mother has a light upon her path, and may she not be neglectful of that heavenly vision!
Love begets love.
Love in us begets answering love in our children, drawing out that quality which is of the essence of God Himself. Patience begets patience, another of God's attributes. Gentleness, peace and truth, beget these divine things. As months pass into years, the spirit that looked forth from the windows becomes manifest in deed and word, and according as God's attributes of beauty and holiness have been moving to and fro about your child, will his soul be tinctured with these divine things. If he sees his parents wearing the attributes of God, the grace of God will be upon him, clothing him with a vesture beautiful as the temple purple, shining as the temple lamp.
And when will the sweet chords, waked in the hours of infancy, cease to vibrate in your child's heart? Never while memory holds and life endures. But some may say, that to walk in the grace of God before our children is too much to ask; a counsel of perfection; and my answer is this. If we are not prepared to be to our children the Christians which we profess to be, then we live a very poor life indeed.
To be holy as God is holy, to be pure as Christ is pure, is more than man can do, but it is not difficult to set our faces towards goodness, for it amounts to nothing more than living the daily life of not theoretical, but practical Christians—a much simpler affair. Every man has his ideal, avowed or concealed, and we must endeavour to show our children that it is possible to be the thing which we so earnestly desire them to be. It is no use to stand by the side of the path, pointing the way for their feet to go. We must walk in it.
Only one standard of goodness.
But some people who love the theories of religion more than its plain facts, tell us that these attributes of God and this grace of God in our children is not goodness, but something else. But wherever a ray of God is found, whether it be in the breast of a consecrated ecclesiastic or the heart of a little child, there is goodness. God's goodness does not depend upon the soil! Jesus has told us that God makes His sun to rise upon the good and upon the bad, and does not withhold His light from anyone. To tell us that the truth of a child comes not from the Spirit of all truth, is to juggle with words, and say that two and two are not always four.
I have asked parents to show forth the attributes of God in their daily life, that these may appear in their children. A mother's image is the first to be enshrined in that little temple, to live and shine there while life endures. In what colours is she to be arrayed? Radiant with the beauty of the rainbow, or draped in the sables of the cloud?
The angel child.
When a mother calls her child an angel, she means it with her whole heart, and not all the creeds of Christendom will convince her of the contrary. Her heart tells her the truth, for he is an angel, whose rosy feet have not yet trod the pathways of this world. Oh, happy home! in which the parents can say that they have earnestly striven to be what they desire their child to be, and in which they have seen him, like the young Christ at Nazareth, growing, with the grace of God upon him, during these years of infancy, so innocent, so happy, so fleeting, and yet of such deep importance.
In these years God should be presented to the child as Jesus presented Him to the common people who saw His face and heard His ringing voice; not as a God dwelling in thick darkness behind a veil of mystery; not as a God to whom sheep were to be slaughtered and sacrifice offered to propitiate His wrath. Jesus have us a fuller, truer, and dearer revelation. Prayers were no longer to be to Almighty Jehovah, the Lord of Hosts, but to our Father which art in heaven, of hallowed name; and when Jesus prayed, it was to thank His Father in heaven. Thus He showed God's real nature. "Be merciful, as your Father in heaven is merciful." "If you forgive others, your Father will forgive you." "If you, being liable to sin, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?" "He that keeps my commandments loves Me, and he that loves Me, shall be loved of My Father." "Love your enemies, that you may be the children of your Father." Christ's pictures of God are of a tender and loving Father. Who is more ready to forgive us than we are to forgive others, or to ask forgiveness; Who is not a hard or a harsh God, but tender and loving, and Whose commands are easy and Whose burden is light. So that we may tell our child, on the authority of Jesus, that God loves him, and will help him, and that he need have no fear of Him, or doubt of being able to be good.
The second stage.
I pass on. In the second stage of a child's religious education, his reasoning faculties awake, and he may be taught by both example and theory. In most children this is about eight years of age. If you think I am putting the age too high, test it. Read to a child of eight some reasoning or theory about religion, and ask what meaning he attaches to it, and I think you will agree with me that you must not seek for logic, or argument, or conclusions in a mind recently capable of believing that a doll thinks, and that fairies live in flowers. You have told your child of the love of God his Father in heaven, and of Jesus; you have told him how simple is goodness, the joy of doing right and the sorrow of doing wrong; you have taught him to lift his little hands in prayer to his Heavenly Father, and the dear child believes you utterly. The next step is to flood his mind with that vision of goodness, the Friend of little children, as the one example of holiness to be believed in and followed, dwelling at this stage on Christ's life more than on His sayings.
What was the attitude of Jesus to the little children about Him? For let us never forget that He was once an elder brother in that home at Nazareth, seeing deeper into the hearts of His little brothers and sisters than mortal eye could see, spending years of daily contact with them in a very practical and responsible way, taking the place of the dead father Joseph. His heart was as the heart of a mother towards children, filled with overflowing tenderness at one time, and the next, threatening punishment against anyone who should try to harm them. His teaching about the holiness of children was a heavenly revelation to the men of His time, and there are men among us now who never fail to see motes in the sunbeams of childhood. I can recall phrases of tenderness toward the children whom Jesus saw about Him:—I can see His dark eyes resting upon them, and kindling with love as He spoke, but I cannot recall one syllable to suggest that He saw sin in them. Children fulfilled His twin commands of loving and believing. Look at two of His meetings with children.
Jesus and the little children.
The first is in a fisherman's cottage by the side of the blue lake, and the children were those of the common people. Drawing a little child towards Him, He made him stand forth in the midst as a living, breathing example to His disciples, and these are His golden words:—"Unless you change and become as little children you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven," meaning that if they did become as the little child before them, they would enter in. And taking the child in His arms, He added, "Whoever shall receive this little child in my name, receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives Him that sent Me. But whoever shall cause one of these little ones which believe in Me to stumble, it were better for him that a large millstone were hanged about his neck and that he should be sunk in the depths of the sea." Was there anger in His voice as He uttered these terrible words? All the more terrible that they came from the lips of one so gentle. He may have seen glances of incredulity amongst His disciples, for He added: "See that you despise not one of these little ones, for I tell you that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven."
If someone had said to Him, "Yes, teacher, but you forget that they are born in sin, and are children of wrath," we can imagine what His answer would have been.
The next scene is in the Perea, in springtime when the leaves are on the trees. He is on His way to the fords of Jordan at Jericho, and He will never return. The dark-eyed country women have drawn near, with the simple petition, "Before Thou goest, bless our children." Sitting in the shade of a tree by the way-side, He waited, and they thronged Him. Again His disciples could not see in these common children what Jesus saw, for they forbade them to come, and this is His golden saying, rising above all Creeds and Catechisms, uttered in tones of indignation, "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven." What did these plain words mean to these simple people, and to the wondering disciples standing by, and what do they mean to us, considered in a common-sense way? They meant that these little ones of field, and garden, and dusty highway, were in Christ's Kingdom, the Kingdom of God. Men strive to enter in, but the little ones are born within the gate. But something in the look of the men about Him caused Jesus to add, "Truly I tell you, whoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child, shall in no way enter therein," and He took them in His arms and blessed them.
We have heard of Him saying, "Whoever shall receive one of these little children in My name receives Me, and whosever receives Me, receives not only Me, but God who sent Me." One of these little children! these children of the common peasantry, standing in the sunshine of the road in sight of them all, brought away from their games to see the young prophet! Who dare to fling the first stone at them, for Jesus took them in His arms and blessed them, and he will take our children also, for they, too, are of his Kingdom. These words of Jesus drop like honey into the hearts of all mothers with sweetening and strengthening for all time. Be assured that if Jesus thought these children of the country people were under the wrath of God, doing evil, and that continually, as one catechism says, He would not have spoken as He did.
John, the beloved disciple, who saw with human eye the scenes which I have described, and whose heart was close to the heart of the Master, said years afterwards, "I write to you, little children, because you have God." And let every mother say to her child, "I speak to you, my child, because you have God," and so strengthen her heart for the simple task of teaching him to know God more, and obey Him better.
I have shown Christ's attitude, which will be yours, of goodness in your children, with the possibilities of evil, increasing as the child comes more into contact with the world. At this early age you will fortify your child's heart by telling him that he is loved by his Father in Heaven, you will unfold in short bits at a time the wonderful story of the life of the Holy One, the Son of God, Who came into this world to save men from their own wickedness. Believe me, the holiness of your child is not a beautiful deception conceived for the purpose of entrapping mothers into the belief that their lisping children are sinless. If you doubt it, look at your child, as he sleeps on his pillow with eyes sealed and cheeks flushed, his lips parted with imperceptible breathing, and ask yourself if you know of a sight more lovely, more beautiful, more holy in this wide world than a little child asleep. The answer of your heart is the answer of Jesus. In plain language, your sweet child begins life with a fair start, and not weighted down with the sin of someone else. From earliest hours he has visions of God without a cloud, and what mother doubts it as she stand with a listening ear, an ear sealed to everything but the words of Jesus her Master-stands as these peasant women stood on that country road so long ago, seeing Him and believing Him?
(To be continued.)
The Religious Education of Children (Part 2)
by Robert Bird Author of "Jesus, the Carpenter of Nazareth," "Paul of
(Continued from page 257)
The Life of Jesus
In telling our children the story of the life of Jesus, we must not limit ourselves to the bare words of Scripture, or the pictures of early childhood, which interest a child most, would be few and meagre. He must understand that Jesus was once a little child like himself. Children sing about it in their hymns, and they should hear of it from their mothers' lips. There is much encouragement in knowing that as Jesus was a holy child, so must he try to be.
I have spoken of our children wearing the attributes of God, of love and peace and truth. How was it with the infant Christ? The record of His early years is in these words, "The child grew and waxed strong, becoming filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon him." His whole life is our example, and there is nothing in these simple words to bar out the hope that you, too, may see your boy filling with wisdom and being clothed with the peace of God as the years pass.
But what is this wisdom with which the child Jesus was filled? And may our children partake of it? It is not far from any one of us. The knowledge of God is the beginning of wisdom. And your child will grow in this knowledge by God's influence guiding him toward goodness; and seeing attributes of God taking shape and life in his father's house, God will then no longer be only a name to him, but a living power, swaying his parents, who are the instruments of God for revealing His nature. Was ever a prophet or priest dowered with a sweeter duty or a higher call? And thus will the child learn from his parents that they sincerely believe what they tell him about God, and that with their whole heart they try to follow Him.
Be not discouraged
While these are the simple things to be taught, we must not be discouraged if our children do not take hold of them as we should wish. We plant, God gives the increase. The heart is known to Him alone, and what may look like failure to us may be something very different.
How then can you best teach your child all about the life of Jesus? It is not difficult, for there is an inspiration in it which unites with the holiness of God in your child, and as he listens, he believes and loves. The children of the Perea, when they saw Him and heard Him speak, believed what He said; and your children will believe also when you present Him in a story, and as they hear His sayings from their mothers' lips, lips which they have learned to believe are the fountains of truth and love. We must remember that we are speaking to a little citizen of His kingdom, in whose mind there is no doubt. There were people who looked upon Jesus as a liar and an imposter, but these were ecclesiastics and not children.
Tell your child about the love of Jesus for little children and of His defence of them, "Whoever gives a cup of water to one of these little ones that believes in Me, gives it to Me." Tell him how the little children in the Temple cheered him and would not stop, and that he refused to chide them. Tell him that Jesus loves the praise of little children more than that of grown men. He loves them so much that He is called the Friend of little children. Let him hear His call to them to come into His arms as surely and as truly as ever the boy in the fisherman's cot, or the children on the Perean road, or Christ's own brothers and sisters at Nazareth ever heard it, and God in Jesus will bless your child.
The third stage.
Having passed through infancy and childhood, we come to the stage when the child has reached years of discretion, and is to be taught by the example of his parents, by the story of the life of Christ, and by having Christ's sayings and example impressed upon him.
Beginning with the innocence of childhood, the birth gift of God, you have nourished your child's spirit by example and conversation and have seen him grow in wisdom with the grace of God upon him, and he believes in God and Jesus as sincerely as he believes in his own father and mother. But his passions are slumbering, and he is only looking out of windows at the world. As his will becomes stronger, his reason must be satisfied with fuller knowledge of God, and of that wisdom from on high which is to be more powerful within him than anything that is in the world; his guide and comforter, his refuge and strength during long years of responsibility. And how better can you do this than by placing before him in all His rich colours the Example of living wisdom, walking, not upon the mountain tops apart from men, but in the lowly valleys, through the cornfields, and among the fishing villages, calling upon men to believe His words and follow Him,—the figure of the Son of God, the Saviour of men, who bent over a carpenter's bench at Nazareth.
The sayings of Jesus
A few of the sayings of Jesus are incomprehensible, but most of them are easy to be understood, for they were intended for the poor and the illiterate, very few of whom could read and write. They could follow a story, although they could not understand an argument, and hailed His teaching as simple compared with their old teachers, and they thronged about Him, and many believed Him gladly. His teaching is easy still, and still the common people, the uneducated and the children have no difficulty in understanding His words, although they have great difficulty in understanding His interpreters and commentators. His person is not hedged about with intellectual forms and theological fences, for He moves freely everywhere. He was not afraid of being touched by the common people, as the other religious teachers were. He went about the country proclaiming that heaven was near, that it was in their village, was passing their door. He came to break down the fence and remove the difficulties of the theology of 1900 years ago. He is in the midst of us still and is doing it now. He came to make simple the way of salvation to the crowds of common folk. Is He doing it now? Nineteen hundred years ago the Scribes had put a maze of hedges before the gate of heaven, of rules, definitions, traditions and laws, dating back for hundreds of years, and they enjoyed the intellectual pleasure of threading these mazes. These thorns and briars, choking the truth, Jesus burnt up, leaving no longer any fence, but an open way between God and man. He told the people to follow Him to the home of His Father. But, as might be expected during these 1900 years, the Scribes have raised fresh mazes, raising them in his name, until His figure is almost lost among them. But these too must disappear, if the little children and the common people are to enter in.
Jesus called upon the men of His day to turn from the interpreters of God to God Himself, and I would invite you to turn from Christ's interpreters to Christ Himself, in the first place, so that your children may be nourished upon plain and simple things before stronger food is offered to them. I wish the child to lay hold of the life and sayings of Jesus. That is enough for him, and he may find in later life that it is enough for a man also.
The sum of saving knowledge
Some 250 years ago when the Bible was not so well understood as it is to-day, the Scottish theologians drew up a document, and called it "The sum of saving knowledge," but time has shown that the life and sayings of Jesus are more worthy of the name. They are the true gold of the world, the seed springing up into everlasting life. Short readings of Scripture, or instruction on Sundays only, or the teaching of the Sunday School or the Church, are not sufficient to make Jesus the elder brother of your children. He must be the familiar companion of their every-day life, whose sayings have not a distant pulpit ring about them, but wear the conversational tone of the parents' voice. If any parent thinks he has not time to see to this, then a great responsibility rests upon him.
The ruling influence in the life of Jesus was His obedience to the will of His Father, and that must be the ruling influence in your child if he is to follow His example. With God enlightening his conscience, a God and Father in Heaven in whose love he has learned to trust, he has a sure guide to do the right and avoid the wrong. This is the teaching of Jesus, and it is simple and sufficient. Complexity in religion means theology, and theology lives upon meta-physics, logic, argument and definitions, things difficult to grown-up persons and incomprehensible to a child.
There is much useless theology in the world. Let us look for instance at the doctrine of original sin—that every little child lies under the wrath of God for something which he did not do. What is its history? According to one text book, because of what Adam did so long ago, "Every child born into the world deserves God's wrath and damnation." According to another, "Every child is wholly inclined to evil and that continually." Now this curse runs so contrary to the love of God, that we should expect to find it specified with the utmost clearness in the Bible, but it is not. We read that God cursed the serpent, that He told Eve her sorrows would be multiplied, and Adam that the ground would be cursed for his sake, and that he would eat bread by the sweat of his brow, that dust he was, and unto dust he would return; but there is nothing about every child born into the world deserving damnation. It was left to theology to put that awful meaning into words of another sense. We must not forget this, for nine-tenths of theology is built upon that foundation of sand.
The Ten Commandments
But to pass on. The ten commandments and the statutes of Moses are supposed to set forth the religion of God before the time of Christ, yet they contain no hint of this theory of original sin. We read of sacrifices, offerings and atonements, for sins committed during life, but not a word about seeking forgiveness for sins committed by others before we were born.
When Jesus was a child
We pass on for a thousand years, to the time of Jesus, and find that the idea of original sin was then unknown, for the Bible did not contain it and the Rabbis did not teach it. We turn next to the sayings of Jesus, and search there for the theory of original sin, for it must stand or fall with Him. If He proclaimed it to mankind, it passes into our Christianity. If He did not, that ends the matter. But there is nothing in the sayings of Jesus imputing original sin to children, and there is much imputing innocence and holiness to them, and this thought draws a line of limitation across the ages at his great name. The theory is not Christ's, but the work of a much later time.
Theology is unnecessary for your children, and no man would lead them out into that deep sea if it could be avoided, and it can be, by looking to Christ and following Him. The warnings of Paul are warnings to us all. "Shun foolish questionings and genealogies and strifes and fightings about the law, for they are unprofitable and vain." The Rabbis surrounded the laws of Moses with 10,000 rules and explanations, but the teaching of Jesus requires none of these.
Rules of Worship and Church Government
When your child grows up, he may take an interest in theology or he may not. The knowledge of God and of Jesus which he learned at his mother's knee may be sufficient, and happy for him if it is so, for he will be saved many a conflict, many a doubt. When he comes to consider the subject of Church Government and Rules for Public Worship, he may build upon your foundation a structure of the pattern of one sect or of another, but the foundation will ever be more important to him than the structure upon it. If you think otherwise of the confessions and catechisms of the various sects of Christianity, I would like you to glance at the Thirty-nine Articles and the Catechism, and ask yourself whether the words of Jesus are not better for a child. I have never met a man who could understand these church standards, much less get a child to understand them. In ten lines of the Confession of Faith, fifty propositions regarding God may be found.
When does Sin begin?
According to the ecclesiastical text book, sin is "Any want of conformity to, or transgression of any law of God given as a rule to the reasonable creature." A child of tender years is a cipher under the civic law of our country and so it is before his Father in Heaven, until he can discern good from evil with a reasonable and responsible intelligence.
We read that the child Jesus was obedient to his parents, and we must encourage our children to obey us. The sincerity of their service we can never know, but we can trust them, for distrust yields bitter fruit. One mistake in disbelieving a truthful child is worse than ten mistakes in believing the untruthful.
What is our aim?
Let us never lose sight of our aim: to teach our children in the simplest and surest way possible, how to know and obey God, how to be good. The training of Timothy is commended in these words, "From a child thou has known the holy writings, which are able to make wise unto salvation." If this was said by Paul of the books of the Old Testament, how much more may it be said of those wonderful records by the four Evangelists, of the life and sayings of Jesus, so varied, and yet so uniform. We are told that this knowledge "makes wise." What is this wisdom? for it certainly is not literary, artistic, commercial, scientific, or even theological wisdom. It is plain wisdom, within the reach of plain people and their children, the wisdom of righteousness or right doing.
The knowledge of the life and sayings of Jesus is of more value to our children than all the articles, creeds, catechisms, and confessions that ever were written. Let us teach our children the Christianity of Christ as He left it, not as it has been beaten out by thousands of busy hammers, and we shall have imparted to them the secret of right living. Christ's hatred of evil will lead our children to hate it, His scorn of the rules of men taking the place of the commands of God will lead them to scorn them also, and the love of Jesus for all mankind will make them love their neighbour, until their hearts beat with the compassion of their Saviour.
Believing in Jesus
When you ask your child if he believes in Jesus, he will answer with a simple "yes," in which is hid the meaning of Peter's answer, "Yes, Lord, I believe, for Thou alone has the words of everlasting life."
Let your question have no subtlety under it. Jesus did not ask the people gathered about Him, if they believed He had come from God to be killed to take away original sin caused by Adam's fall. Strange to say, the words "Sacrifice," "Guilt," "Reconcile," "Atone," are not to be found in His vocabulary. He did not ask them if they believed in any doctrine, but if they believed in Him, a person. He only asked for the belief of a little child, and they would find the door of His Kingdom open.
What is believing?
What does Jesus mean by believing in Him? for that must not be left in doubt. To answer this question, we go to the Fountain-head, and consider His own words. He used plain language to plain people, and its common meaning was its true meaning. "You believe in God," He said, "believe also in Me." He asked only for the simple belief which a child has in a father, which a brother has in his brother, which a husband has in his wife. Just in the same way that these people believed in anything, they were to believe in Him. "Whosoever believes in Me shall have everlasting life." At the Last Supper, His disciples exclaimed, "Thou knowest everything and by this we believe that Thou camest out from God." "Do you now believe?" was His reply. Believe that He came from God, was what He asked.
There is the scene with the beggar in the streets of Jerusalem, who was seeking for Jesus.
"Dost thou believe in the Son of God?" Jesus asked.
"And who is He, Master, that I may believe in Him?"
"Thou has seen Him," was the reply, "and it is He that speaketh to thee now."
"Lord, I believe!" was the answer.
There is no better teacher of Christianity than Jesus Himself, unaided by any other, and by familiarity with His life and sayings, your child will early come to believe in Him, and to have faith in what He says. Your child does not doubt this saying of Jesus, "If anyone loves Me, he will obey Me, and we will dwell with him." He believes it and knows it, for it is his daily experience. He is not left in confusion and despair as to what he should do and what avoid. He has heard the Saviour say, "I am the Light of life," and he believes it as sincerely as that the sun is the light of the heavens; he believes it because he has that light guiding him, and knows no other light.
In considering the mind of Christ in relation to children, we must not forget His warnings. It is apparent that children may be made to stumble, and He says that those who cause it deserve to be drowned. And our duty is to so fortify our children that they may understand the conditions of their citizenship, knowing that the door of the fold is never shut for straying lambs to return with repentance in their hearts. And whilst the child is told that he will often be tempted to take his own will and be selfish, and not obey the will of God, he must also equally know that for sincere sorrow and determination to do right there is ever pardon with the Father.
The one foundation
You have now laid the foundation of your child's life, laid it upon the rock Christ Jesus, and nothing else greatly matters. If that foundation goes, everything goes; if that foundation remains, all else may go. He will have creeds and rules, forms and ceremonies presented to him, and will be able to study them with intelligent equanimity. The building that he may rear upon the simple faith of his childhood may be church or chapel, it will be a life spent in striving after the pattern of his Master, and it cannot fall in being a life well pleasing to God.
Christianity is Christ's method of knowing and obeying God, of being good. It is the attitude of a child to a father. "My Father in Heaven, and your Father in Heaven," are His manner of speaking of God. Thus He brought God very near to us, teaching us how to pray in few and simple words, commencing "Our Father which art in Heaven," and he warned us against long prayers. He taught us to have faith in the guidance of God, and to obey that guidance. He gave us a message from God that if we did evil and repented and sought forgiveness, we should be forgiven, and that the truth and sincerity of our repentance was known to God alone. Our only way to know a good man is not by his theories and professions, but by his good fruits, and that every man will be weighed, not for calling Him Lord and professing faith in Him, but by good words and good deeds.
What more is wanted?
Having taught your child to see God in and through Jesus, what more is there to teach? The ear of his Father in Heaven is open to him and his heart is open to His heavenly guidance; he sees God face to face, and whether he be in the market or the church, on the moor or in the crowded city, he has a temple to worship in, he has an hour of prayer at any hour. Let him lay hold on religion, the religion of Jesus, and leave theology to those who have time and taste for it. It was not necessary for the peasantry of Galilee and it is not necessary for your child. Vast fields of speculation and controversy spread around him, libraries of books look down on him. The theories of the early centuries are crossed by the theories of a later age, the theories of Roman Catholic Christianity are crossed by the theories of Protestant Christianity, and the theories of 300 years ago when the Thirty-nine Articles were framed are crossed by the theories of to-day. One thing, however, has not changed, for they all hold it alike, that Jesus is the great example for all men to follow, the Son of God, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that all who follow Him and believe in Him will have Heaven, for He said it.
What is faith in Jesus but faith in His way, His truth and His life? These are the things that save from sin. The words of Jesus are, "God loves you because you love Me, and believe that I came from God."
Not wrath and anger, but love is the attitude of God towards your child. Love is the foundation of faith. If we do not love we cannot believe, and if we do not believe we cannot love. The love which we have towards one another is the love which we have towards God; "As I have loved you, so love ye one another," are the words of Jesus. There are not two kinds of love. Jesus has made that clear, "He that would love Me must love his brother also." And so with our faith in Jesus. It is to be of that substantial kind which makes us say we have faith in an honest man. It is faith sincere and whole-hearted, the faith of a child. Jesus asks no more, and He will accept no less than the heart-trust of a child. Your child's simple faith unites him with God, and having this, he will have little to learn and nothing to unlearn when he grows up. This is the one thing needful, God in his conscience dwelling with him and saving him as Jesus saved.
So long as men fail to see in childhood what Jesus saw, so long as they fail to make faith in Jesus the simple thing which Jesus made it to these children of Galilee, so long will they be found like the Scribes of old hiding the key and barring the door of the Kingdom, neither going in themselves, nor letting others in. But when men look on children as Jesus looked on them, as they stood at a distance in the yellow dust of the Perean road, scared and held back, then will they understand the divine anger against anyone, then and now, who would despise or offend them, or put a cause of stumbling in their way; then will they feel the tenderness and the rebuke of the heart that drew them into His Kingdom with the arms of love. And the mothers of to-day who hold up their children's hands to Jesus, and lead their feet to Him as the mothers did of old, may know, and that of a surety, whatever men may say, Jesus will not turn them away, nor deny to them what He so freely gave to all who came to Him, when He walked the paths of this world.
Proofread by Leslie Noelani Laurio, December 2008
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