THE CHILD’S ESTATE
The Child in the Midst.—And first, let us consider where and what the little being is who is entrusted to the care of human parents. A tablet to be written upon? A twig to be bent? Wax to be moulded? Very likely; but he is much more—a being belonging to an altogether higher estate than ours; as it were, a prince committed to the fostering care of peasants. Hear Wordsworth’s estimate of the child’s estate:—
“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The soul that rises with us, our life’s star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
. . . . .
Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie
Thy soul’s immensity;
Thou best philosopher, who yet dost keep
Thy heritage; thou eye among the blind,
That, deaf and silent, read’st the eternal deep,
Haunted for ever by the eternal mind—
Mighty Prophet! Seer blest!
On whom those truths do rest,
Which we are toiling all our lives to find
Thou, over whom thy immortality
Broods like the day, a master o’er a slave,
A presence which is not to be put by;
Thou little child, yet glorious in the might
Of heaven-born freedom, on thy being’s height”—
and so on, through the whole of that great ode, which, next after the Bible, shows the deepest insight into
what is peculiar to the children in their nature and estate. “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.” “Except ye become as little children ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven.” “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” “And He called a little child, and set him in the midst.” Here is the Divine estimate of the child’s estate. It is worth while for parents to ponder every utterance in the Gospels about the children, divesting themselves of the notion that these sayings belong, in the first place, to the grown-up people who have become as little children. What these profound sayings are, and how much they may mean, it is beyond us to discuss here; only they appear to cover far more than Wordsworth claims for the children in his sublimest reach—
“Trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.”
Code of Education in the Gospels.—It may surprise parents who have not given much attention to the subject to discover also a code of education in the Gospels, expressly laid down by Christ. It is summed up in three commandments, and all three have a negative character, as if the chief thing required of grown-up people is that they should do no sort of injury to the children: Take heed that ye OFFEND not—DESPISE not—HINDER not—one of these little ones.
So run the three educational laws of the New Testament, which, when separately examined, appear to me to cover all the help we can give the children and all the harm we can save them from—that is, whatever is included in training up a child in the way he should go. Let us look upon these three
great laws as prohibitive, in order to clear the ground for the consideration of a method of education; for if we once settle with ourselves what we may not do, we are greatly helped to see what we may do, and must do. But, as a matter of fact, the positive is included in the negative, what we are bound to do for the child in what we are forbidden to do to his hurt.