THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
Of the three sorts of knowledge proper to a child,—the knowledge of God, of man, and of the universe,-the knowledge of God ranks first in importance, is indispensable, and most happy-making. Mothers are on the whole more successful in communicating this knowledge than are teachers who know the children less well and have a narrower, poorer standard of measurement for their minds. Parents do not talk down to children, but we might gather from educational publications that the art of education as regards young children is to bring conceptions down to their ‘little’ minds. If we give up this foolish prejudice in favour of the grown-up we shall be astonished at the range and depth of children’s minds; and shall perceive that their relation to God is one of those ‘first-born affinities’ which it is our part
to help them to make good. A mother knows how to speak of God as she would of an absent father with all the evidences of his care and love about her and his children. She knows how to make a child’s heart beat high in joy and thankfulness as she thrills him with the thought, ‘my Father made them all,’ while his eye delights in flowery meadow, great tree, flowing river. “His are the mountains and the valleys his and the resplendent rivers, whose eyes they fill with tears of holy joy,” and this is not beyond children. We recollect how ‘Arthur Pendennis’ walked in the evening light with his mother and recited great passages from Milton and the eyes of the two were filled ‘with tears of holy joy,’ when the boy was eight. The teacher of a class has not the same tender opportunities but if he take pains to get a just measure of children’s minds it is surprising how much may be done.
The supercilious point of view adopted by some teachers is the cause of the small achievements of their scholars. The ‘kiddies’ in a big girls’ school are not expected to understand and know and they live down to the expectations formed of them. We (of the P.N.E.U.) begin the definite ‘school’ education of children when they are six; they are no doubt capable of beginning a year or two earlier but the fact is that nature and circumstances have provided such a wide field of education for young children that it seems better to abstain from requiring direct intellectual efforts until they have arrived at that age.
As for all the teaching in the nature of ‘told to the children,’ most children get their share of that whether in the infant school or at home, but this is practically outside the sphere of that part of education which demands a conscious mental effort, from the scholar, the mental effort of telling again that which has been read or heard. That is how we all learn, we tell again, to
ourselves if need be, the matter we wish to retain, the sermon, the lecture, the conversation. The method is as old as the mind of man, the distressful fact is that it has been made so little use of in general education. Let us hear Dr. Johnson on the subject:—
“ ‘Little people should be encouraged always to tell whatever they hear particularly striking to some brother, sister, or servant, immediately, before the impression is erased by the intervention of newer occurrences.’ He perfectly remembered the first time he heard of heaven and hell because when his mother had made out such a description of both places as she thought likely to seize the attention of her infant auditor who was then in bed with her, she got up and dressing him before the usual time, sent him directly to call the favourite workman in the house to whom she knew he would communicate the conversation while it was yet impressed upon his mind. The event was what she wished and it was to that method chiefly that he owed the uncommon felicity of remembering distant occurrences and long past conversations.” (Mrs. Piozzi).
Now our objective in this most important part of education is to give the children the knowledge of God. We need not go into the question of intuitive knowledge, but the expressed knowledge attainable by us has its source in the Bible, and perhaps we cannot do a greater indignity to children than to substitute our own or some other benevolent person’s rendering for the fine English, poetic diction and lucid statement of the Bible.
Literature at its best is always direct and simple and a normal child of six listens with delight to the tales both of Old and New Testament read to him passage by passage, and by him narrated in turn, with delightful touches of native eloquence. Religion has two aspects, the attitude of the will towards God which we understand by Christianity, and that perception of God which comes from a gradual slow-growing comprehension of the divine dealings with men. In the first of these senses, Goethe was never religious, but the second forms the green reposeful background to a restless and uneasy life and it
is worth while to consider how he arrived at so infinitely desirable a possession. He gives us the whole history fully in Aus Meinem Leben, a treatise on education very well worth our study. There he says,— “Man may turn where he will, he may undertake what he will but he will yet return to that road which Dante has laid down for him. So it happened to me in the present case: my efforts with the language” (Hebrew, when he was ten) “with the contents of the Holy Scriptures, resulted in a most lively presentation to my imagination of that beautiful much-sung land and of the countries which bordered it as well as of the people and events which have glorified that spot of earth for thousands of years….. Perhaps someone may ask why I set forth here in such detail this universally known history so often repeated and expounded. This answer may serve, that in no other way could I show how with the distractions of my life and my irregular education I concentrated my mind and my emotion on one point because I can in no other way account for the peace which enveloped me however disturbed and unusual the circumstances of my life. If an ever active imagination of which the story of my life may bear witness led me here and there, if the medley of fable, history, mythology, threatened to drive me to distraction, I betook myself again to those morning lands, I buried myself in the five books of Moses and there amongst the wide-spreading, shepherd people I found the greatest solitude and the greatest comfort.”
It is well to know how Goethe obtained this repose of soul, this fresh background for his thoughts, and in all the errors of a wilful life this innermost repose appears never to have left him. His eyes, we are told, were tranquil as those of a god, and here is revealed the secret of that large tranquility. Here, too, Goethe unfolds for us a principle of education which those who desire their children to possess the passive as well as the active principle of religion would do well to consider; for it is probably true that the teaching of the New Testament, not duly grounded upon or accompanied by that of the Old, fails to result in such thought of God,
wide, all-embracing, all-permeating, as David, for example, gives constant expression to in the Psalms. Let us have faith and courage to give children such a full and gradual picture of Old Testament history that they unconsciously perceive for themselves a panoramic view of the history of mankind typified by that of the Jewish nation as it is unfolded in the Bible. Are our children little sceptics, as was the young Goethe, who take a laughing joy in puzzling their teachers with a hundred difficulties? Like that wise old Dr. Albrecht, let us be in no haste to explain. Let us not try to put down or evade their questions, or to give them final answers, but introduce them as did he to some thoughtful commentator who weighs difficult questions with modesty and scrupulous care. If we act in this way, difficulties will assume their due measure of importance, that is to say, they will be lost sight of in the gradual unfolding of the great scheme whereby the world was educated. I know of no commentator for children, say, from six to twelve, better than Canon Paterson Smyth (The Bible for the Young). He is one of the few writers able to take the measure of children’s minds, to help them over real difficulties, give impulse to their thoughts and direction to their conduct. Between the ages of six and twelve children cover the whole of the Old Testament story, the Prophets, major and minor, being introduced as they come into connection with the Kings. The teacher opens the lesson by reading the passage from The Bible for the Young, in which the subject is pictorially treated; for example,—
“It is the battle field of the valley of Elah. The camp of Israel is on one slope, the big tents of the Philistines on the other. The Israelites are rather small men, lithe and clever, the Philistines are big men, big, stupid, thick-headed giants, the same as when Samson used to fool them and laugh at them long ago. There is great excitement on both sides,” etc.
There will be probably some talk and discussion after
this reading. Then the teacher will read the Bible passage in question which the children will narrate, the commentary serving merely as a background for their thoughts. The narration is usually exceedingly interesting; the children do not miss a point and often add picturesque touches of their own. Before the close of the lesson, the teacher brings out such new thoughts of God or new points of behaviour as the reading has afforded, emphasising the moral or religious lesson to be learnt rather by a reverent and sympathetic manner than by any attempt at personal application.
Forms III and IV (twelve to fifteen) read for themselves the whole of the Old Testament as produced by the Rev. H. Costley-White in his Old Testament History. Wise and necessary omissions in this work make it more possible to deal with Old Testament History, in the words of the Authorised Version, than if the Bible were used as a single volume. Then,“each period is illustrated by reference to contemporary literature (e.g., Prophets and Psalms and monuments).” Again, “Brief historical explanations and general commentary are inserted in their proper places.” For example, after Genesis iii, we read, as an introduction to the story of Cain and Abel,—
“The original object of this story was to explain the development of sin amongst mankind and the origin of homicide which in this first instance was actual murder. There are difficulties in the story which do not admit of satisfactory explanation. It may be asked,—‘Why did God not accept Cain’s offering?’ ‘How was His displeasure shewn?’ ‘What was the sign appointed for Cain ?’ ‘Whom did he marry ?’ The best way to answer such questions is to admit that we do not know, but we may add that these early stories are only a selection which do not necessarily form a consistent and complete whole, and that in this very case there are signs that the original story has been cut down and edited.”
Among the lessons taught are the following—(1) God judges man’s motives rather than his acts. The service of the heart is worth more than any ceremonial. (2) It is not the sin of
murder that is condemned so much as the sin of jealousy and malice : cf. the Sermon on the Mount, Matt. xxi, 6. (3) The great doctrine of the Brotherhood of Man, that each man is his brother’s keeper and has his share of responsibility for the conditions of the lives of others. (4) Sin always brings its own punishment. (5) God remonstrates with man before the climax of sin is reached.”
The footnotes which form the only commentary upon the text are commendably short and to the point.
Having received a considerable knowledge of the Old Testament in detail from the words of the Bible itself and having been trained to accept difficulties freely without giving place to the notion that such difficulties invalidate the Bible as the oracle of God and our sole original source of knowledge concerning the nature of Almighty God and the manner of His government of the world, children are prepared for a further study of divinity, still following the Bible text.
When pupils are of an age to be in Forms V and VI (from 15 to 18) we find that Dummelow’s One Volume Bible Commentary is of great service. It is designed to provide in convenient form,—
“A brief explanation of the meaning of the Scriptures. Introductions have been supplied to the various books and Notes which will help to explain the principal difficulties, textual, moral or doctrinal, which may arise in connection with them. A series of articles has also been prefixed dealing with the larger questions suggested by the Bible as a whole. It is hoped that the Commentary may lead to a perusal of many of the books of Holy Scripture which are often left unread in spite of their rare literary charm and abundant usefulness for the furtherance of the spiritual life….. In recent years much light has been thrown upon questions of authorship and interpretation and the contributors to this volume have endeavoured to incorporate in it the most assured results of modern scholarship whilst avoiding opinions of an extreme or precarious kind. Sometimes these results differ from traditional views but in such cases it is not only hoped but believed that the student will find the spiritual value and authority of the Bible have been enhanced rather than diminished by the change.”
The Editor has in these words set forth so justly the aims of the Commentary that I need only say we find it of very great practical value. The pupils read the general articles and the introductions to the separate Books; they read too the Prophets and the poetical books with the notes supplied. Thus they leave school with a fairly enlightened knowledge of the books of the Old Testament and of the aids modern scholarship has brought towards their interpretation; we hope also with increased reverence for and delight in the ways of God with men.
The New Testament comes under another category, The same commentaries are used and the same methods followed, that is, the reverent reading of the text, with the following narration which is often curiously word perfect after a single reading; this is the more surprising because we all know how difficult it is to repeat a passage which we have heard a thousand times; the single attentive reading does away with this difficulty and we are able to assure ourselves that children’s minds are stored with perfect word pictures of every tender and beautiful scene described in the Gospels; and are able to reproduce the austere if equally tender teaching which enforces the object lessons of the miracles. By degrees the Person of Our Lord as revealed in His words and His works becomes real and dear to them, not through emotional appeals but through the impression left by accurate and detailed knowledge concerning the Saviour of the World, Who went about doing good. Dogmatic teaching finds its way to them by inference through a quiet realisation of the Bible records; and loyalty to a Divine Master is likely to become the guiding principle of their lives.
I should like to urge the importance of what may be called a poetic presentation of the life and teaching of Our Lord. The young reader should experience in this study a curious and delightful sense of harmonious development, of the rounding out of each incident, of the progressive
unfolding which characterises Our Lord’s teaching; and, let me say here, the custom of narration lends itself surprisingly to this sort of poetic insight. Every related incident stands out in a sort of bas-relief; every teaching so rendered unfolds its meaning; every argument convinces; and the personages reveal themselves to us more intimately than almost any persons we know in real life. Probably very little hortatory teaching is desirable. The danger of boring young listeners by such teaching is great, and there is also the further danger of provoking counter- opinions, even counter-convictions, in the innocent- looking audience. On the whole we shall perhaps do well to allow the Scripture reading itself to point the moral.
“We are at present in a phase of religious thought, Christian and pseudo-Christian, when a synthetic study of the life and teaching of Christ may well be of use. We have analysed until the mind turns in weariness from the broken fragments; we have criticised until there remains no new standpoint for the critic; but if we could only get a whole conception of Christ’s life among men and of the philosophic method of His teaching, His own words should be fulfilled and the Son of Man lifted up, would draw all men unto Himself. It seems to me that verse offers a comparatively new medium in which to present the great theme. It is more impersonal, more condensed, is capable of more reverent handling than is prose; and what Wordsworth calls the ‘authentic comment’ may be essayed in verse with more becoming diffidence. Again, the supreme moment of a very great number of lives, that in which a person is brought face to face with Christ, comes before us with great vividness in the Gospel narratives, and it is possible to treat what we may call dramatic situations with more force, and at the same time with more reticence, in verse than in prose.
“We have a single fragment of the great epic which the future may bring forth,—
‘Those holy fields
Over whose acres walked those blessed feet
Which fourteen hundred years ago were nailed
For our advantage to the bitter cross.’
“If Shakespeare had given us the whole how rich should we be! Every line of verse dealing directly with Our Lord from the standpoint of His personality is greatly treasured. We love the lines in which Trench tells us,—
‘Of Jesus sitting by Samarian well
Or teaching some poor fishers on the shore.’
‘Meanwhile He paces through the adoring crowd Calm as the march of some majestic cloud.’
‘In His meek power He climbs the mountain’s brow.’
Every line of such verse is precious but the lines are few, no doubt because the subject is supremely august. Meantime we are waiting for the great epic: because the need seems to be urgent the writer has ventured to offer a temporary stop-gap in the six volumes of The Saviour of the World.” (From the Preface to the first volume).
A girl of thirteen and a half (Form IV) in her Easter examination tackled the question: “ The people sat in darkness ” ….“I am the Light of the World.” Shew as far as you can the meaning of these statements. She was not asked to write in verse, and was she not taught by a beautiful instinct to recognise that the phrases she had to deal with were essential poetry and that she could best express herself in verse?
“The people sat in darkness—all was dim,
No light had yet come unto them from Him,
No hope as yet of Heaven after life,
A peaceful haven far from war and strife.
Some warriors to Valhalla’s halls might go
And fight all day, and die. At evening, lo!
They’d wake again, and drink in the great hall.
Some men would sleep for ever at their fall;
Or with their fickle Gods for ever be:
So all was dark and dim. Poor heathens, see!
The Light ahead, the clouds that roll away,
The golden, glorious, dawning of the Day;
And in the birds, the flowers, the sunshine, see
The might of Him who calls, ‘Come unto Me.’”
A girl of seventeen (Form V) answered the question: Write an essay or a poem on the Bread of Life, by the following lines—
“‘How came He here,’ ev’n so the people cried,
Who found Him in the Temple:
He had wrought A miracle, and fed the multitude,
On five small loaves and fish: so now they’d have
Him king; should not they then have ev’ry good,
Food that they toiled not for and clothes and care,
And all the comfort that they —could require?
So thinking sought the king…..
Our Saviour cried:
‘Labour ye not for meat that perisheth,
But rather for the everlasting bread,
Which I will give’—Where is this bread, they cry,
They know not ’tis a heavenly bread He gives
But seek for earthly food— ‘I am the Bread of Life
And all who come to Me I feed with Bread.
Receive ye then the Bread. Your fathers eat
Of manna in the wilderness—and died—
But whoso eats this Bread shall have his part
In everlasting life: I am the Bread,
That cometh down from Heaven; unless ye eat
Of me ye die, but otherwise ye live.’
So Jesus taught, in Galilee, long since.
“The people murmured when they heard His Word,
How can it be? How can He be our Bread?
They hardened then their hearts against His Word,
They would not hear, and could not understand,
And so they turned back to easier ways,
And many of them walked with Him no more.
May He grant now that we may hear the Word
And harden not our hearts against the Truth
That Jesus came to teach: so that in vain
He may not cry to hearts that will not hear,
‘I am the Bread of Life, for all that come,
I have this gift, an everlasting life,
And room within my Heavenly Father’s House.’”
The higher forms in the P.U.S. read The Saviour of the World volume by volume together with the text arranged in chronological order. The lower forms read in turns each of the Synoptic Gospels; Form IV adds the Gospel of St. John and The Acts, assisted by the capital Commentaries on the several Gospels by Bishop Walsham How, published by the S.P.C.K. The study of the Epistles and the Book of Revelation is confined for the most part to Forms V and VI. The Catechism, Prayer-book, and Church History are treated with suitable text-books much in the same manner and give opportunities for such summing-up of Christian teaching as is included in the so-called dogmas of the Church. We find that Sundays together with the time given to preparation for Confirmation afford sufficient opportunities for this teaching.
 Examples of the work of scholars of various ages illustrating what has been said may be seen at the P.N.E.U. Office.