Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Domestic Christian Education

From 1850-1860, the Presbyterian Educational Repository, overseen by Cortlandt Van Rensselaer, published a journal entitled, The Home, The School, and The Church

The following is from the conclusion of an article written by Rev. Isaac Ferris, D.D. Entitled “Domestic Christian Education.” After having argued the Christian parent's natural, Christian, and covenantal duty to bring up his children in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord,” he concludes with some suggestions for Christian parents to do just that.


There are several important measures not so frequently the subject of remark, which are now to be proposed for your consideration.

1. In the first place, the observance of occasional seasons of closet prayer with each child, is a very important measure.

Every Christian parent, it is presumed, will pray for his child; indeed, will he not as often as he goes to the mercy-seat, remember those whom God has given him. In addition to this general player, it is suggested that he adopt, as a part of his plan, a retiring from time to time to pray with each child singly. As a means of good, this has been seen to be a measure of blessed influence. There is something in the circumstances of the parent with his child in such a situation, calculated to move the hearts of both. A child that loves his parent will be melted as he sees the earnest, tender entreaty in his behalf. His own individual case will be brought more fully and forcibly before his mind. He will realize more distinctly the presence of God, and his dependence on him — a spirit of devotion will be inspired, while his heart is bound more tenderly to his parent — a barrier to the world's influence will be raised up — conscience will be kept active. A child thus dealt with, in the overflowings of Christian love, may possibly under temptation break away from parental counsel; but something will have been deeply implanted, which will often goad him, and which will afford the best hope of his return.

Has this course been tried, do any ask? It has, and with happy effect. Out of many cases let me mention a few. The first is that of a Christian parent, whose beloved child had become wayward, and had fallen into a habit which threatened most unhappy consequences. He had tried advice, entreaty, and correction, in vain. With a heart deeply grieved, he took his child to the closet — the case was the subject of prayer — it was an affecting season — both wept — the child's heart was melted, and the issue was all a parent could wish. Another is the case of one, who had lost a mother's care when very young; a pious father was spared, whose practice it was every evening as he carried his son to his couch, to pour out his heart over him in prayer. The earliest recollections the son had of the father, were of him in the attitude of prayer for him. These exercises were never forgotten — that son has been for years a useful minister of Christ in a neighboring city. Another is the case of one, whose pious mother was left to pursue a Christian parent's duty, unaided by her companion. Often did she retire with her son to pray, when all was hushed in sleep. He felt the exercise. He pursued for a time the way of folly, but even then felt an invisible check. A mother's prayers, with other instruments which she had much to do in applying, brought him to choose the better part. In the ministry of reconciliation now, he has often blessed God for that mother's care and prayers; and how far others may have been benefited by his labors, and have reason to join with him, this congregation have for years had the opportunity of judging.

2. The devotion of some time on the Sabbath evening to the examination of Divine truth with an assembled family, deserves special regard.

The parent, truly anxious for his children, will suffer no opportunity of dropping a good word, or any striking occurrence, or any awful calamity, private or public, to pass unimproved. He will seek special seasons, and fix on those whose attending circumstances most favor his object. Now, for a season the most favorable, we are led to the Sabbath evening. This is a season peculiarly fitted for gathering around us our beloved circle, and seeking their everlasting good. Then the bustle and distraction of the world are removed — then there is a freedom from interruption, which cannot be secured at any other time; then naturally all are brought together; the public exercises of the Sabbath have prepared the mind for solemn reflection, as well as furnished the materials for profitable remark. And thus situated and prepared, never can a parent hold converse with his children more profitably. Refreshed and mellowed himself by the truths he has heard and the exercises he has engaged in, out of a full heart he can mete instruction and advice to his charge. The Sabbath evening is thus honored, and by that circle will be loved. There certainly is not a more interesting sight than that of a family, consisting of children of different ages, thus gathered around a beloved parent, and hearing from his or her lips the words of eternal life. Often there will be seen the glistening tear, the heaving breast, under an apprehension of the evil of sin — of personal unworthiness, or in view of a Savior's sufferings — often there the seeds of eternal life will be planted. Such a circle, how truly a nursery of Heaven! It is to be regretted that the evening of God's holy day is not thus more frequently improved. It is now in many cases the dullest season in the week, or, though occupied in religious exercises, passed far less profitably than we have suggested. Public exercises are allowed to supplant this interesting service, or confine it to a very brief space. Far be it from me to say a word which shall keep any one from a proper attendance on the house of God, and yet it must be acknowledged that attendance on public ordinances has become much of a gossiping matter. Many seem to think that religion requires no time for reflection; that all a man has to do to sustain a religious character, is to rush from one public exercise to another as often as possible, and the oftener the better. Every one must be aware that in a city there are persons who may be variously detained, and parts of families only who can attend at a given time, and many who, from years and other circumstances, may require a third service, and should have the opportunity of attending; but many, very many more are they whose Sabbath evening would be best spent in the bosom of their families, and who can only on the Sabbath evening enjoy calmly the company of their children. In the practice to a considerable degree prevalent, there is much selfishness on the part of parents: they seek through the whole their own interest, to the neglect of their children. There is a beautiful symmetry in true religion — every duty and every interest has its proper place, and the Christian parent should, for the sake of example, as well as the welfare of all around him, study to cultivate this symmetry, and have every duty in its appropriate place. His children's welfare, as well as his own satisfaction and profit, must be consulted, and if to the latter be devoted the Sabbath day exercises, he may well give the evening to the former.

The course suggested may cost him labor and patience; but what good, com pared in any degree with his children's immortal interests, does not cost him labor and patience? The course suggested has been long and extensively pursued in Scotland, and seems to have a close connection with the remarkable success of parental efforts in that country, already spoken of. This mode of spending the Sabbath evening has a fascinating effect on children. There are many who look back to evenings thus spent as among the most interesting and happy they have enjoyed. If the preacher may refer to his own experience, he would say that he fixes on the Sabbath evenings thus passed in his youth, with five or six other children around a pious mother, when the Westminster Catechism was regularly recited, and the Scriptures read, and an account given of what had been read and heard through the day, as among his happiest evenings. He believes, moreover, that those exercises have proved no unimportant part of his preparations for the ministry, though at the time he had no thought of the use Providence might make of them.

3. Care should be taken to improve and impress the public dispensation of Divine Truth.

The preaching of the gospel, as commonly enjoyed, is rather fitted for mature minds. It may be very simple, and yet will involve much, the force of which none but minds of maturity will perceive. This peculiarity cannot be altered, it being affected altogether by the circumstances of the congregation, who cannot be addressed in a childlike familiarity, and to whom the same description of illustration which gives the greatest zest to the instruction of children and youth, would be unsuited. While this is the fact, it is to be lamented that so little is effected for children by the exercise of preaching, and yet the defect is not without a remedy. While k will be acknowledged to be desirable in the highest degree that all ages should find this divine institution profitable, it is very much in the parent's power to make it so to his children. There is a plan practiced successfully by many, which deserves the attention of all. It is that of regularly examining children on the sermons they hear, and expecting them to bring home some account of the heads of a sermon, and the various topics illustrated. When this plan is pursued, it gives the parent an excellent opportunity for impressing the truth delivered, in a very familiar manner, and dwelling on and carrying out those points which may strike him as particularly important. This plan cultivates the habit of attention, and while it exercises both the memory and the judgment, is valuable as an exercise of mental training. If the power of analysis be of almost indispensable importance, such an exercise, which will unquestionably to a degree cultivate it, must be highly esteemed. There is nothing which, in such a space and in so pleasant a manner, shows the value of analysis so clearly as a well studied sermon. In it every part has its place, and all united make a grand whole, bearing on one end. The plan of which we speak will call for attention on the part of the parent, and of this both his mind and his heart will find the benefit. The first efforts of a child in this work may only give him the text; but this recorded in his book is great gain. His next effort may give him a meager skeleton of a sermon; yet in a short time it will be surprising to himself to see how much of a public exercise he may bring home. At thirteen years, in most cases, the account he will furnish will be in a degree complete. And what will be gained as to the habit of attention in the sanctuary? And how, as the whole plan is carried out on the part of the parent, will he drink in instruction and soon apply for himself? The habit of bringing divine truth thus directly home will be blessed, and how many thousand times better this than the practice of many parents, who return to their families to show what captious hearers they are, and by their conversation and conduct undermine all the confidence their families might otherwise feel in the sermons they hear?

4. It is a matter of great moment that every parent furnish his children with suitable reading of a pious character.

Reading will be found one of his most valuable auxiliaries — one by which in a sense his children become their own teachers. Care should be taken, however, by the parent, if he would avail himself of it fully, to select or lead the way to that sort of reading which shall impress his own instructions, and mend the heart, while at the same time it interests. Now for this, it must not merely be religious reading, but that reading which presents religion in a style suited to his years. We have many choice treatises on the great subject of Christianity, which may bring joy to the adult Christian, but which will be dry as husks to the young mind — and forcing the child to read these, or confining him to them, will create a distaste not only for them, but for religion itself, as he will be led to associate with it the idea of some intolerable burden. Every Christian can judge of this for himself, for who of them would not feel the same, if confined to the study of a book on science, which entered into its minutiae, while it took for granted the necessary elementary know ledge on the part of the reader. There is no necessity of our falling into this mistake at the present time. A great change has taken place, and while books of excellent character for adults are multi plied, our religious juvenile literature, has, not only within a few years, become a distinct department, but very extensive. The Christian parent has now the opportunity of selecting from a large number, works which precisely meet the need of his children, writ ten in the most interesting style on all the ordinary subjects on which he would dwell, and adapted to the youthful mind.

The parent should not, let me say, think his work done when he places these books within the reach of his children; on the contrary he should make it his business to inquire carefully into the reading of each child, and may well make such inquiry a part of his Sabbath evening's engagements; while at the same time he may have select books read aloud, in order, for the purpose of calling out remarks from his children, and for making his own observation and application.

5. The pious observance of family worship is an important auxiliary in Domestic Christian Education, and even an essential part of it.

Regarded as a general duty, every one claiming to be a Christian, and indeed every parent should have his altar in his house, around which his children are daily gathered. It is in the matter of Christian education "an engine of prodigious power." If the several services be pertinent, brief, varying with circumstances, lively, they will make an impression. Is the Word of God read on every occasion, in proper portions, as one of the exercises, not only is the truth of God impressed on the mind, but it is regarded as the family oracle: the young, seeing the place it occupies with a pious parent, will cling to it as the Book of books. And how much may we hope to gain by this, when we remember that the young man cleanses his way by cleaving to God's Word. Picture to yourself, a family on their knees at worship — hear the prayer a beloved father offers so feelingly: he adores God, and acknowledges his own and his family's dependence on Him, traces every blessing, the rest of every night, the comfort of every day to Him — how does this tend to cherish a reverence for God and the feeling of obligation in the bosoms of all? He confesses his sins and his family's, he seeks to come into the dust at God's feet, and cannot go without his pardon — how calculated this to make his children feel their accountability — to awaken solicitude for their own state — to lead them to God for pardon? He commits them to God, prays for security, for blessings, for all they need — how calculated this to check the foolish self-dependence to which our nature is prone, to keep his children under a sense that all is in God's hands? Look at this exercise as Providence leads to its variation, by the sickness or death of friends — or the occurrence of difficulty, or deliverance from imminent danger — and does it not speak directly to the heart, does it not aid in the cultivation of those feelings at which a Christian education aims? Blessed institution indeed. A master mind (Cecil) has spoken thus of it — "worship thus conducted may be used as an engine of vast power in families. It diffuses a sympathy through the members. It calls off the mind from the deadening effect of worldly affairs. It arrests every member -with a morning and evening sermon, in the midst of all the hurries and cares of life. It says, 'There is a God' — 'There is a spiritual world' — 'There is a life to come.' It fixes the idea of responsibility in the mind. It furnishes a judicious and tender father or master an opportunity of gently glancing at faults, where a direct admonition would be inexpedient. It enables him to relieve the weight with which subordination or service often sits on the minds of inferiors."

6. Finally, a careful observance of the Sabbath is indispensable as a part of a Domestic Christian Education.

The observance of the Lord's day is urged mostly on the ground of a moral claim on the part of God, and the view we now take may be considered novel — it is nevertheless correct. Look at the place the Sabbath holds; does not its observance bear on all the interests of religion, and can a man be called religious who does not keep it? And if the Sabbath have not a hold upon a man, will any thing else have? Do not all religious interests in the church, in society, in a man's own heart, rise and fall with the observance of "the day the Lord has made?" Now when we speak of a proper observance of the Sabbath, we mean its consecration as entirely as possible to the business of religion — to worship, to religious reading, while the business of the world, the indulgences of the world, and all bustle are shut out — such an observance, as makes this day stand out in holy pre-eminence above all the other days, as The Day of God. Now with such a view of it, we ask what will be the influence of such observance on a growing family; will not such observance of one- seventh of the time fill the house with a holy atmosphere; will it not make a family feel there is a solemn reality in religion? will it not raise the tone of pious feeling in such house? will it not, in a most blessed manner, stand as a check upon the influence of our worldly pursuits; and as such an observance associates the Sabbath here with the Sabbath of heaven, will it not lead the young heart to heaven? Can a Christian parent, if he would bring up his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, pursue a more effectual means than thus hallowing God's day? For confirmation of all this, I beg you to look to the families where God's day is not honored; where the political newspaper or secular periodical is read in preference to the Scriptures — where business, or visiting, or pleasure walking, or frivolous conversation, occupy the attention, and see if there you find a due sense of religion, or children growing up with the feeling that religion is a matter of any moment, or growing in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. No, God's impress is on this matter. The parents in such a family may give sage advice, they may supply any quantity of religious reading, though they are not likely to do this; they may sit down regularly at the communion-table, and yet their profanation or neglect of the sanctity of the Sabbath will destroy all. They shall see their children grow up, thoughtless, giddy, lovers of the world and not at all of God.

Many conceive such an observance of the Sabbath as we speak of, will make it a heavy, dull day; if it be so, it is their own fault, for religion has nothing heavy or dull about it. A judicious parent will find no difficulty on this point. He will study and lay himself out so to direct reading and the study of divine truth and conversation, that the Sabbath will be a delight.

Two things should enforce what has been said: your time with your families is short; they will either be taken from you or you from them — and if you neglect your duty to their souls, while you have them, you will plant a thorn in your dying pillow. By all that is dear to you in the interests of your children; by all your desires to see the Church of your Redeemer sustained by their active, holy efforts; by the fearful consequences which you have seen to follow the neglect of parents; by all the griefs by which the hearts of others have been wrung; by all your anxieties to have your children members of that great family which shall assemble around the glorified Redeemer at last, and sing His praises for ever, I charge it upon you, be faithful.

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