RELIGIOUS INSTRUCTION AT HOME
BY THE REV. JOHN P. CARTER
If the importance of a Christian duty is to be estimated by the emphasis with which it is enjoined in the word of God, then the religious instruction of the young demands a degree of attention which, we fear, it does not ordinarily receive.
No sooner had the Lord instituted his covenant with Abraham, by the rite of circumcision (Gen. xviii. 9-14), "to be a God unto him and to his seed after him," than that father of the faithful, "took Ishmael, his son, and every male of his household, in the self-same day, as God had said unto him," and administered unto them the token of the Lord"s covenant. And in the following chapter is recorded the testimony of God to parental faithfulness: "I know Abraham, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him." (Gen. xviii. 19.)
At the institution of the Passover, commemorating the redemption of God"s people from the servitude of Egypt, and in immediate connexion with the ceremonial observances to be attended to in that impressive ordinance, the parent is commanded: "Thou shalt show thy son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the Lord did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt." "And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the Lord brought us out from Egypt from the house of bondage." (Ex. xiii. 8, 14.)
And when Moses would impress the people with a deep sense of their exalted privileges, as a nation, in having "Jehovah their God so nigh unto them in all things that they called upon him for;" and having statutes, and judgments so righteous as all that law which he set before them that day — he adds, " Only take heed to thyself and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thine heart all the days of thy life; but teach them thy sons and thy sons" sons." (Deut. iv. 8, 9.) Again, when exhorting the people to obedience, in the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, he says, " And these words which I command you this day, shall be in thy heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." And the summary of parental instruction contained in this chapter, concludes with these impressive words: " And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the Lord our God, as he hath commanded us." (Deut. vi. 20-25.)
In the 78th Psalm, written, as is supposed, in commemoration of Asa"s victory over the Israelites, when many out of the tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Simeon, were brought back to the pure worship of God, occurs the following passage: "For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children, that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children, that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments." (Ps. lxxviii. 5-7.) The calamities which befell the Ten Tribes that revolted from the house of David, do not exceed what might have been foreseen and predicted by any pious Israelite, as the consequences of the abolition of the divinely-instituted worship of Jehovah, and the setting up of the idolatrous worship of the calves at Dan and Bethel; a measure, in the judgment of Jeroboam, essential to the permanence of his usurped authority. (1 Kings xii. 25-33.) With this change in the national religion, family religion must have experienced a corresponding mutation. For when Jeroboam had cast off the Lord"s priests from executing the priest"s office and had ordained him priests for the high places, and for the devils, and for the calves which he had made, it cannot be supposed that the families adhering to him, would be inclined, or permitted to attend to that injunction of Moses, " Ye shall command your children to do all the words of this law," which saith, " Thou shalt have no other gods before me;" " Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image."
By the event referred to in the 78th Psalm, from which we have quoted above, a portion of the revolted tribes were brought back to their allegiance to Jehovah and to the house of David, by the victorious arms of Asa; and the pious Psalmist, celebrating this triumph, introduces his subject in a style significant and striking: " I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old, which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us; we will not hide them from their children, showing to the generations to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done." (Ps. lxxviii. 2-4.)
By the house of Judah likewise, we infer that the duty of parental religious instruction was to a great extent neglected, from the prevalence of idolatry among all classes of the people. For it can not be supposed that the Lord would have commanded "the fathers to make known His truth to the children," as a means of preventing idolatry (see Deut. iv. 9, ad fin.), and then would have suffered the nation to fall into the most degrading forms of idol-worship, unless those fathers had forgotten the covenant of the Lord their God, and hidden from their children, "the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works." Although this national sin brought upon them the threatened wrath and displeasure of the Most High; and although they endured the consequences of this guilt in the horrors of the siege, the oppression of conquerors, and finally in their deportation to the bonds and servitude of Babylonish captivity; yet there is reason to apprehend, even after their restoration from that captivity, that there prevailed great inattention to the duty of family religious instruction, and disregard of those high and sacred obligations involved in the constitution of the family; the canon of the Old Testament Scriptures closing with this remarkable language: "Behold, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord; and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." (Mai. iv. 4-6.)
From this brief account of the subject under consideration, drawn from the history of God"s people under the old dispensation, it is obvious that the neglect of a duty so plainly enjoined, and upon the faithful performance of which so much depended, must have been a sin of no ordinary magnitude. And connected as this sin was, with many of the more flagrant offences of the Jewish people, as a nation and as individuals, it need not surprise us that, in God"s dealings with them, it should have met the fearful retribution of his justice, in every age, from the time that Rebecca instructed her son in the arts of deception, to the period when his descendants rejected their Prince and Saviour, madly invoking the malediction, "His blood be upon us and our children."
In the New Testament, which contains the doctrines and institu tions of the Christian religion, the duty of parental religious training occupies a position not less prominent than in the Old Testament. In the gospel, truly, " The hearts of the fathers are turned to the children, as well as the disobedient to the wisdom of the just." (Luke i. 17.)
Our Saviour rebuked his disciples for forbidding children to be brought unto him, saying, " Suffer the little children, and forbid them not to come unto me; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. xix. 13.) And to qualify children and youth for this membership in the kingdom of heaven, so far as education and discipline can accomplish that end, they are brought into covenant relation to God, on the faith of their parents (1 Cor. vii. 14). Promises are made to them (Acts ii. 39). Special instructions are addressed to them (Col. iii. 20; Eph. vi. 1-3). Parents are cautioned against provoking them to wrath, and are enjoined to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. vi. 4; Col. iii. 21). They were, doubtless, dedicated to God in the baptism of households (Acts xvi. 15, 33; 1 Cor. i. 16). And instances are recorded of their walking in the truth (2 John 4), and of their acquaintance with the holy Scriptures from childhood (2 Tim. iii. 15).
Thus, in both the Old and New Testament, the duty of family religious instruction occupies a position of importance which should bespeak for it the awakened attention of Christian parents and of the Christian Church. Its continued neglect cannot but prove fatal to the usefulness and happiness of families, and disastrous to the prosperity of Zion.
THE MATTER OF INSTRUCTION.
In further consideration of this important subject, we propose to speak of what should be embraced in a course of early religious in struction.
As "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God," the Bible should be the principal text-book in the religious teaching of the young. For this purpose, among others, was this precious volume given to the world. "The entrance of thy word giveth light; it giveth under standing to the simple."
The adaptation of the word of God to the purpose in question appears, first in the fact that the reception and contemplation of the truths of revealed religion, more than any other subjects of study, elevate and strengthen the mind. Children, that are for several years conversant only with the ordinary affairs of the family circle or with the common occurrences of life, experience a pleasing expansion of thought and development of mind when they visit places at a distance from home. But the youthful mind, though previously accustomed to retirement, soon comprehends the variety and confusion of a large city, and is presently familiarized with scenes of beauty and grandeur. The mountain range, the cataract, the extended ocean, or the starry firmament, though, perhaps, never viewed without a degree of interest, yet, as they become familiar, gradually lose their power to affect even the youthful mind with those sensations of awe, admiration, or astonishment, which were at first awakened by their contemplation. The same effect upon the mind results from familiarity with the events of history and the demonstrations of science. There appears to be a point beyond which the study of created things ceases to develop intellectual power and to increase the capacity of the mind. Whether the ability of such studies to strengthen the mind is limited by their own essentially finite nature, or results from the native incapacity of the human mind to investigate such subjects beyond a certain degree, we assume not to decide. No such arrested progress, however, attends the study of. divine truth. Acquaintance with the revealed things of God imparts to the mind the desire and the capacity for all that is truly great and good. Familiarity with one truth of revelation invigorates for the contemplation of others more complex, extensive, and profound. As the mind advances, the more is it strengthened for the pursuit of higher attainments in knowledge. Its progress is as the light which beams upon " the path of the just, shining more and more unto the perfect day." In contemplating the deep things of God and acquiring the knowledge of the manifold relations of the creature to the Creator, the immortal spirit enters upon ceaseless astonishment, admiration, and praise; ever approaching the eternal throne; never reaching it, yet ever advancing.
But, in the second place, this invigorating and elevating influence of divine truth is not confined to the intellectual faculties alone; the whole moral nature, also, is by it powerfully developed. For although, in our fallen condition, the law of our natural conscience is so far obliterated as to be unavailable in ascertaining our duty to God, yet there remains the original faculty by which we distinguish right and wrong; and to this faculty, in an especial manner, are the teachings of the word of God addressed. Our innate moral sense, though naturally depraved, is susceptible by education of still further perversion and degradation. It is also susceptible by education of great improvement. The education of which we speak is the aggregate result of all the influences of education and example to which an individual is exposed until his principles are settled, and his habits formed.
Let heathenism, for instance, train a child in her dark places, which are full of the habitations of cruelty, and he will know no higher deity than the elements of nature: he will strangle his aged father as an act of humanity; and conscientiously sacrifice his own offspring to devils. The same child, educated by Romanism, will regard it mortal sin to think for himself on matters of faith: he will yield his body and soul to the polluting domination of the confessional, as the only way of pardon. He will verily believe that the gift of God is to be purchased with money; and that the great and blessed God himself is pleased with vain oblations, pomp, and parade. But the same child, trained under the influence of the gospel and instructed in the great doctrines of the Bible, will manifest a clearness of mind, a tenderness of conscience, and a strength of moral principle which can be produced by no other educational instrumentality: so peculiarly adapted is the word of divine inspiration to operate upon the natural conscience.
"The fear of the Lord," using the term in its usual specific sense, is not only "the beginning of wisdom," but is also one of the most powerful motives that can be addressed to the natural heart. This sentiment, when once habitual, becomes the master influence of the life. Though it may not cleanse from secret faults, yet it strongly tends to keep back from open and presumptuous sins, such as profane swearing, Sabbath-breaking, fraud, violence, intemperance, and the like. It inclines to the path of duty and is the strength of moral obligation. And yet, while its tendency is to hold its possessor in subjection and obedience to God, it is remarkably adapted to remove from the character the fear of man, and an undue respect for the creature. The existence and majesty of God, his present moral government over his creatures, and the final retributions of his justice, are the truths which tend to cultivate in the youthful mind the controlling sentiment of which we have spoken: and these are the doctrines recognised and inculcated throughout the Bible.
And this influence of sacred truth is not temporary. It grows with the growth and strengthens with the strength. "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto, according to thy word." Many a young man has, by this means, been kept from the path of the destroyer, from which he could hardly have escaped, had his childhood been uninstructed in "the admonition and fear of the Lord."
Nor do the advantage and influence of Scripture instruction terminate with the inculcation of sound morality and with the restraining and moulding of the external deportment. The Sacred Scriptures, through faith in Jesus Christ, are able to make wise unto salvation. And the salvation of the soul should be the great and ceaseless aim of the parent, in teaching his child out of the lively oracles of God. Children, at a very early age, can understand their need of a Saviour and the plan of salvation. Their earliest remembrances should be associated with the love of God as displayed in the transactions of Calvary. They should be early familiarized with the name of Jesus; with the holiness of his character, the benevolence of his heart; his sympathy for the distressed, his special regard for children; with the greatness and goodness of his miracles; and above all, with the shedding of his blood in atoning for sin: that he is both able and willing to save sinners. Let the first great idea impressed upon the infant mind, in lines of indelible distinctness, be the idea of the God-Man Christ: the mighty God over all, the sympathizing friend of sinners; the pattern of their life, their Protector and Help in trouble, their Redeemer, their Judge, their God!
Thus made acquainted, from their youth, with the Holy Scriptures, they are not only kept from receiving "for doctrines the commandments of men;" but in the day of God"s merciful visitation to their souls, when they shall be effectually called by His Spirit into the kingdom of his Son, it will not be their part to occupy the room of the untaught, who are necessarily confined to a limited sphere of usefulness, while they are learning what are the first principles of the doctrine of Christ; but with sanctified affections and enlightened minds, they are qualified to enter at once into the active and efficient service of the Master. The individual, who, in youth, has been thoroughly instructed from the Scriptures and trained in the path of duty by parental faithfulness, needs but the life-giving influence of the Holy Spirit on his soul, to introduce him into a sphere of use fulness, and to invest him with a maturity of Christian character, to which he would have been a stranger, had his early religious training been neglected.
The religious training of our children will be incomplete, however, if they are instructed only in the general principles of Christian faith and practice. They should likewise be thoroughly indoctrinated in the peculiar views of our Church, and faithfully instructed in her history.
These subjects have been unfortunately, too often omitted from the early instructions of our children, in order, as it is alleged, "to avoid giving undue importance to non-essentials; and that the youthful mind may not be biased by sectarian prejudices." We apprehend, the Presbyterian Church has not yet fully realized all the evils resulting from this error. We deprecate as much as any, the bad effects of early prejudice; and "the tithing of mint, and anise, and cummin, to the neglect of the weightier matters of the law." And as the most efficient guard against these very evils, we earnestly recommend to the parents of our beloved Zion that they familiarize their children with the distinctive doctrines and order of the Presbyterian Church; exhibiting them in their proper place and showing their real importance in the system of divine truth. It will not fail to appear that the truths of the gospel, as held forth by Presbyterianism, "are like apples of gold in pictures of silver." And we need not fear that any one will be a Presbyterian from prejudice, who is well instructed in the scriptural authority of that system and in the eventful history which has distinguished its progress.
In recommending that Presbyterian children be instructed in the peculiarities and history of their Church, we assume that their pa rents believe and love those peculiarities and appreciate that history. Then by what reasons soever the system promulged in the standards of the Presbyterian Church is entitled to our credence, by which we have been induced to profess it publicly, and by which we are justified in holding it forth to the world; by the same reasons are we laid under all obligation to communicate that system to our children.
What system ever held by man is superior to that popularly known as Calvinism, in its power to benefit the world? What other system ascribes the same glory to the infinite Majesty of heaven, and at the same time is so calculated to develop the highest qualities of human nature? By this system the man of distinction and extensive use fulness is made to feel that he has nothing but what he has received, that it is God who maketh him to differ, " working in him to will and to do;" whilst his more humble fellow-servant, no less important in his appointed sphere, is encouraged to improve his single talent with the utmost diligence. Inculcating the sovereignty of God and his changeless purpose of justice and grace, it inspires the heart of man with high resolves for the glory of God and the good of man; and nerves his arm with invincible prowess for the execution of noble enterprises. And whilst it affords to the believer, effectually called, the assurance that "he shall never perish," being "kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation" — it extends to the impenitent sinner the encouragement which he needs: " It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." "By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God."
The brightest pages of history derive their radiance from the records inscribed by the principles of our system. In the progressive development of liberty, knowledge, and righteousness, those principles have exercised a controlling influence; and they enroll among their advocates multitudes of the wise, great, and good in every age, that have arisen to bless mankind.
Above all, we believe this system to be the precious truth of God, which he has revealed concerning himself and concerning our duty and destiny. And we may regard him who holds it, as occupying that mountain elevation which commands the radiant bow in full perfection, at once the memorial of justice, and the pledge of mercy. Shall we fail then, to impress upon the minds of our beloved off spring the proper estimation of such a system as this? Shall we not faithfully indoctrinate them in its principles, that they may imbibe its healthful and invigorating spirit and be enriched by its priceless blessings?
Especially is this demanded in such a day as the present, when this way is evil spoken of by many contradicting and blaspheming; and a fearful current of infidelity and atheism threatens to deluge the land. " We will not hide it from our children, showing to the generations to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works."
AN APPEAL TO PARENTS.
In the constitution of the family, Divine Providence has invested the parental relation with peculiar authority and influence for the discharge of these duties; and nothing so strengthens that authority and augments that influence as the assembling of a family, morning and evening, to be led in their devotions by parental piety, and to be instructed out of the law of the Lord.
The responsibility of a father is commensurate with the near relation which he sustains to his offspring. God has, for a season, committed to parental stewardship the immortal soul of the child. How much depends upon the manner in which are met the duties involved in that stewardship! To a great extent, success or failure; honour or degradation in the world; weal or woe in eternity. And in what terms may we define the turpitude of that parent who fails to acknowledge God before his household and to speak to his children of salvation? Not only does he deprive himself of one of the richest pleasures known to the sanctified heart, but he defrauds his little ones of a divine inheritance and contemns the authority of heaven. The total neglect of family religion is commonly attended with the decay of personal piety, loss of interest in the cause of religion generally, derangement of secular business, feuds among brethren and sisters, the alienation of children from parents or the untimely breaking up and dispersion of families, and other evidences of God's just displeasure.
The observance of a formal morning and evening service at the family altar, in which the children and domestics take no part, and which is accompanied by no religious instruction, accomplishes little more than to remind the household that a profession of religion is made in their midst. Should the devotions of a family be conducted even with spirit and zeal, but still be unaccompanied by proper instruction, and left unappropriated to the purpose of "training in the nurture and admonition of the Lord," the members of that family will derive from such devotions but feeble ability to withstand the influences which tend to divert them from the path of virtue; or to correct those false impressions made upon the minds of our youth, by which they are sometimes enticed from the faith of their fathers. On the other hand, when family religion is made to consist in mere instruction, however appropriate or orthodox it may be, to the exclusion or neglect of devotional and spiritual duties, and more especially if the instruction relates chiefly to outward ceremonies and forms — those under its influence may be expected to become formalists and bigots; or in disgust at all religion, to withdraw to the dark and unhappy recesses of infidelity.
The appropriate remedy for all these evils — the efficient guard against results so painful to a Christian parent"s heart, is that which we propose in the recommendations of this article: The instruction of our children and households in the truths of the word of God, from the Scriptures, and as they are contained in the standards of our Church; and the training of them to know their "heavenly Father as a prayer-hearing and a prayer-answering God." The faithful parent, desiring the divine blessing in his habitation, will not only impart this instruction and attend to this training as ordinary duties; but he will seek frequent occasions to speak to his children individually and in private, upon the great concern of their salvation*; warning them affectionately and earnestly to seek God, and to give their hearts to the Lord Jesus in the morning of life. And His anxiety, refusing to be satisfied with warning alone, will con duct them singly to the throne of mercy, imploring in their behalf the effectual grace of God to bring them to Christ, to give them new hearts and to adopt them into his family. Nor does his concern for them cease here; but in his secret devotions also, with strong cries to God, will he bear them before the throne upon the arms of a vigorous faith, until it shall appear that "the children of such prayers cannot perish." But while he is thus exhorting and teaching his children and making them the subjects of earnest and constant prayer, he is careful in his daily walk to set before them an example which they may safely follow; to lead them into no temptation; and to place them in no situation where their morals may be corrupted or their judgment perverted. The children of such a parent shall rise up and call him blessed; they shall be as olive plants around his table; and at last, it will be his distinguished blessedness to appear in the eternal Presence, saying: "Behold, I, and the children Thou hast given me."
This article is from "The Home, the School, and the Church," Volume 2 (1852). This was journal published by the Presbyterian Education Board of the PC USA from 1850-1860