Parents as Instructors in Religion

          The history of England is now reduced to a game of cards,—the problems of mathematics to puzzles and riddles. . . . There wants but one step further, and the Creed and Ten Commandments may be taught in the same manner, without the necessity of the grave face, deliberate tone of recital, and devout attention hitherto exacted from the well-governed childhood of this realm.”—Waverly.

          Sunday Schools are Necessary.—That  parents should make over the religious education of their children to a Sunday School is, no doubt, as indefensible as if they sent them for their meals to a table maintained by the public bounty. We ‘at home’ plead not guilty to this particular count. Our Sunday Schools are used by those toil-worn and little-learned parents who are willing to accept at the hands of the more leisured classes this service of the religious teaching of their children. That is, the Sunday School is, at present, a necessary evil, an acknowledgment that there are parents so hard pressed that they are unable for their first duty. Here we have the theory of the Sunday School—the
parents who can, teach their children at home on Sunday, and substitutes step in to act for those who can not.

          Parents are the Fit Instructors.—No doubt we have parishes, and even whole denominations, in which the young people are taken hold of from first to last; but then it is by the clergy, teachers, class leaders, and so on; and all parents do not regard it as an unmixed blessing that the most serious part of their children’s training should be undertaken by outsiders. The thing that seems most worthy of imitation in this Australian movement is, that parents themselves are recognised as the fit instructors of their children in the best things, and that they are led to acknowledge some responsibility to the Church with regard to the instruction they give.

          Why do Parents Neglect this Duty?—Here is matter of grave consideration for us all—for, though the investigation was conducted by Churchmen, it naturally covered boys of various denominations attending public and middle-class schools; the distinctive character of the religious education was the subject of separate inquiry. No doubt there are many beautiful exceptions; families brought up in quiet homes in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; but if it is, as some of us fear, a fact that there is a tendency among parents of the middle and upper classes to let the religious education of their children take care of itself, it is worth while to ask, What is the reason? and, What is the remedy? Many reasons are assigned for this alleged failure in parental duty—social claims, the restive temper of the young people and their impatience of religious
teaching, and much else. But these reasons are inadequate. Parents are, on the whole, very much alive to their responsibilities; perhaps there has never been a generation more earnest and conscientious than the young parents of these days. All the same, these thoughtful young parents do not lay themselves out to teach their children religion, before all things.

          Discredit thrown upon the Bible.—The fact is, our religious life has suffered, and by-and-by our national character will suffer, through the discredit thrown upon the Bible by adverse critics. We rightly regard the Bible as the entire collection of our Sacred Books. We have absolutely nothing to teach but what we find written therein. But we no longer go to the Bible with the old confidence: our religion is fading into a sentiment, not easy to impart; we wait until the young people shall conceive it for themselves. Meantime, we give them such æsthetic culture as should tend to develop those needs of the soul that find their satisfaction in worship. The whole superstructure of ‘liberal’ religious thought is miserably shaky, and no wonder there is some shrinking from exposing it to the Ithuriel’s spear of the definite and searching young mind. For we love this flimsy habitation we have builded. It bears a shadowy resemblance to the old home of our souls, and we cling to it with a tender sentiment which the younger generation might not understand.

          ‘Miracles do not Happen’.—Are we then unhoused? Undoubtedly we are, upon one assumption—that assumption which it takes a brilliant novelist to put forth in its naked asperity—‘Miracles do not happen.’ The educated mind is more essentially logical than we are apt to suppose. Remove the
keystone of miracle and the arch tumbles about our ears. The ostentatious veneration for the Person of Christ, as separated from the ‘mythical’ miraculous element, is, alas, no more than a spurious sentiment toward a self-evolved conception. Eliminate the ‘miraculous,’ and the whole fabric of Christianity disappears; and not only so, what have we to do with that older revelation of ‘the Lord,’ the Lord, a God full of compassion and gracious’? Do we say, ‘Nay, we keep this; here is no miracle; and, of Christ, have we not the inimitable Sermon on the Mount—sufficient claim on our allegiance? No, we have not; therein we are taught to pray, to consider the lilies of the field, the fowls of the air, and to remember that the very hairs of our head are all numbered. Here we have the doctrine of the personal dealing, the particular providence of God, which is of the very essence of miracle. If ‘miracles do not happen’ it is folly and presumption to expect in providence and invite in prayer the faintest disturbance of that course of events which is fixed by inevitable law. The educated mind is severely logical, though an effort of the will may keep us from following out our conclusions to the bitter end. What have we left? A God who, of necessity, can have no personal dealings with you or me, for such dealings would be of the nature of a miracle; a God, prayer to whom, in the face of such certainty, becomes blasphemous. How dare we approach the Highest with requests which, in the nature of things (as we conceive), it is impossible He should grant?

          Our Conception of God depends upon Miracles.—We cannot pray, and we cannot trust, may be yet we are not utterly godless; we can admire, adore,
worship, in uttermost humility. But how? What shall we adore? The Divine Being can be known to us only through His attributes; He is a God of love and a God of justice; full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. But these are attributes which can only be conceived of as in action, from Person to person. How be gracious and merciful unless to a being in need of grace and mercy? Grant that grace and mercy may modify the slightest circumstance in a man’s existence, spiritual or temporal, and you grant the whole question of ‘miracles’; grant, that is, that it is possible to God to act otherwise than through such inevitable laws as we are able to recognise. Refuse to concede ‘the miraculous element,’ and the Shepherd of Israel has departed from our midst; we left are orphaned in a world undone.
         Such and so great are the issues of that question of ‘miracle’ with which we are fond of dallying, with a smile here and a shrug there, and a special sneer for that story of the swine that ran violently down a steep place, because we know so much about the dim thoughts of the brute creation—living under our eyes indeed, but curiously out of our ken. Grant the possibility of miracles, that is, the voluntary action of a Personal God, and who will venture to assign limits of less or more?

          How Fit are the Miracles of Christ.—The mind which is saturated with the Gospel story in all
its sweet reasonableness, which has absorbed the more confused and broken rays wherein the Light of the World is manifested in Old Testament story, will perhaps be the least tempted to the disloyalty of ‘honest doubt’; for disloyalty to the most close and sacred of all relationships it is, though we must freely concede that such doubt is the infirmity of noble minds. Believing that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, that the man is established in the Christian faith according as the child has been instructed, the question of questions for us, is, how to secure that the children shall be well grounded in the Scriptures by their parents, and shall pursue the study with intelligence, reverence, and delight.

[1] The Rev. E. Jackson, sometime of Sydney.

[2] See “Report of the Committee of the House of Laymen for the Province of Canterbury on the Duty of the Church with regard to the Religious Education of the Upper and Middle Classes.”—Nat. Soc. Depository, Westminster.

[3] “What are the laws of nature? To me perhaps the rising of one from the dead were no violation of these laws, but a confirmation even some far deeper law, now first penetrated into, and by spiritual force (even as the rest have been) brought to bear on us with its material force.”—Carlyle.

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