Sisterly Discourse with John's Wife Concerning John,
The Family Purse,
The Parable of the Rich Woman and the Farmer's Wife,
Little Things that are Trifles,
A Mistake on John's Part,
Must-haves and May-bes,
What Good Will It Do?
Shall I Pass It On?
"Only Her Nerves,"
The Rule of Two,
The Perfect Work of Patience,
According to His Folly,
Is Marriage Reformatory?
And Other Relations-in-Law,
A Timid Word for the Step-mother,
Children as Helpers,
Children as Burden-bearers,
Our Young Person,
Getting Along in Years,
The Gospel of Conventionalities,
Familiar, or Intimate?
Cheerfulness as a Christian Duty,
The Family Invalid,
A Temperance Talk,
A Parting Word for Boy,
Homely, But Important,
We are living in an age of surprising inventions and marvelous machinery. As a natural sequence, ours is an age of delegation. The habit of doing nothing by hand that can be as well done by a machine begets the desire to seek out new and presumably better methods of performing every duty appointed to each of us. Fine penmanship is no longer a necessity for the clerk or business man; skill with her needle is not demanded of the wife and mother. Our kitchens bristle with labor-saving implements warranted to reduce the scullion's and cook's work to a minimum of toil.
An important problem of the day, involving grave results, is founded upon the fact that, with the countless multiplicity of Teachers' Helps and Scholars' Friends, International Lesson Papers, Sunday-school weeklies and quarterlies and the banded leagues of associated youth whose watchword is "Christ and the Church," the children and young people of to-day are, as a rule, less familiar with the text of Holy Writ, with Bible history and the cardinal doctrines which the Protestant Church holds are founded upon God's revealed Word than were the children and youth of fifty years ago. Let me say here that I am personally responsible for this statement and what is to follow it. Having been a Bible-class teacher and an active worker in religious and charitable societies for forty years, and numbering as I do between twenty-five and thirty clergymen among my near kinsmen, I do not speak idly or ignorantly upon this subject. My appeal for corroboration of my testimony is to my contemporaries and co-workers.
The superficiality and glitter that are the bane of modern methods of education in our country have not spared sanctuary ordinances and family religion. "The church which is in thy house" is an empty form of speech when applied to a majority of so-called Christian homes. Early trains and late dinners, succeeded by evening engagements, have crowded out family prayers, and the pious custom, honored in all ages, of "grace before meat," is in many houses disregarded, except when a clergyman is at the table. Then the deferential bend of the host's head in the direction of the reverend guest is rather a tribute to the cloth than an acknowledgment of the Divine Giver to whom thanks are due. In the olden days it was the pupil who studied the Sunday-school lessons as needfully as he conned the tasks to be prepared for Monday's schoolroom. The portion of the old Union Question Book appointed for next Sunday was gone over under the mother's eye, the references were looked up, the Bible Dictionary and Concordance consulted. Then a Psalm or part of a chapter in the New Testament was committed to memory, and four or five questions in the catechism were added to the sum of knowledge to be inspected by the Sunday-school teacher and "audited" by the superintendent.
In writing the foregoing paragraph a scene arises before me of my father's fine gray head and serious face as he sat at the head of the room, Bible and reference books upon the stand before him; of the dusky faces of the servants in the background, intent upon the reading and exposition of the Word as they came from the lips of the master of the household, who for the hour was also the priest. I hear much, nowadays, of the "hard lines" that fell to the children of that generation, in that they were drilled after the manner I have described, and compelled to attend church twice or three times on Sunday. I affirm fearlessly that we did not know how badly off we were, and that the aforesaid "lines" seemed to our unsophisticated imaginations to be cast to us in pleasant places. The hour devoted each Sunday evening to the study of next Sunday's lesson was full of interest, the prayer that preceded it and the two or three hymns with which the simple service closed, gave it a solemnity that was delight, not boredom.
"Primitive methods" we call those studies now, and contemn, gravely or jeeringly, the obsolete practice of "going through" the Bible yearly by reading a given number of chapters every day. We assume that those were mechanical contrivances which, at the best, filled the mind with an undigested mass of Biblical matter and made sacred things trite. They who censure or sneer take no exception to the story that Demosthenes translated the works of Thucydides eight times, and also committed them to memory, that his style might be informed with the spirit and tone of his favorite exemplar. We cannot do away with the pregnant truth that the Bible-reading child of 1845 so steeped imagination and memory in the Holy Word that the wash of years and the acids of doubt have never robbed him of it. The Psalms and gospels then learned stay by us yet, responsive to the prick of temptation, the stroke of sorrow, the sunlight of joy. When strongly moved we unconsciously fall into Scriptural phraseology. God's promises then learned are our song in the house of our pilgrimage. We do not confound patriarchs with prophets, or passages from the epistles with the Psalms of David.
I am continually confronted by illustrations of the truth that the "contract system" prevails in religious teaching as extensively as in the manufacture of garments and food and furniture, and that the results in all cases are the same. Machine work cannot compare in neatness and durability with hand-made goods. The complaint, "I cannot get my Bible class to study the lessons," is almost universal. I have known large classes of adults to be made up with the express proviso that none of the members should be expected to prepare the lesson. Their appearance in the classroom at the stated hour fulfills their part of the compact. In thus presenting themselves they "press the button." The teacher does the rest. The mother, taking her afternoon siesta, or reading her Sunday novel at home, rarely knows the subject of the Bible lesson, much less what the teacher's treatment of it is.
I do not mention the pastor purposely. Except when he sees them in the Sunday-school, the faces of the children belonging (by courtesy) to his cure of souls are seldom beheld by him. The Sunday-school originally intended for the neglected children of the illiterate poor, has come to be the chief instrumentality upon which well-to-do church members depend for the spiritual upbuilding of those who are to form the church of the future. If one is tempted to challenge the assertion, let him compare the number of children (not infants) enrolled in our Sunday-schools with those who habitually attend upon divine service. The absence of the sunny, restless polls from the rows of worshipers in the pews, the troops of boys and girls who wend their way homeward at the conclusion of the Sunday-school exercises are accounted for by so-called humane apologists by the plea that two services in one day are burdensome to the little folk. And mothers "enjoy the service far more when they are not disturbed by fidgety or drowsy children." "Then, too, much of the sermon is unintelligible to them. Why torture them by a mere form?"
An old-fashioned clergyman--a visitor to a city church which I chanced to attend last winter--prefaced his sermon, "as was his custom at home," he said, by "a five-minute talk to the lambs of the fold." In the congregation of at least 800 souls there were exactly three "lambs" under fifteen years of age. It was impossible for the most reverent of his hearers to help thinking of the solitary parishioner who composed his pastor's congregation upon a stormy day, and objected to the sermon dutifully delivered by the minister "as good, but too personal."
It is as impossible for the thoughtful student of the signs of the times to avoid the conclusion that the growing disposition of the young to deny the authority of the church and to supersede her stated ordinances by organizations established and run by themselves may be the legitimate fruit of the prominence given by their parents to what should be the nursery of the church over the church itself. It would be strange if, after witnessing for fourteen or fifteen years such open and systematic disrespect of the gates of Zion, they were to develop veneration for her worship and devout appreciation of the mystic truth that this is the place where God's honor dwells.
If--and the "if" is broad and deep and long--the little ones are faithfully trained by the parents in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (dear, quaint old phraseology, fine, subtle and pervasive as lavender scent!), if sacred songs and Bible stories and tender talk of the Saviour's love and the beautiful life of which this may be made a type and a foretaste, keep in the minds of the little ones at home the sanctity and sweetness of the day of days, there is a shadow of excuse for the failure to make room for them in the family pew. Even then the tree will grow as the twig is inclined.
The mother whose knee is the baby's first altar, who gathers about her for confession, for counsel and for prayer sons and daughters who will, in older and sterner years, call her blessed for the holy teachings of their childhood, will teach them to find, with her, the tabernacles of the Lord of Hosts "amiable," i.e., worthy of all love and fidelity. The chrism of motherhood consecrates a woman as a priestess. Neither convenience nor custom can release her from the office. Let not another take her crown.