From that time the training of the colt is not suspended for a moment. If in training it to travel in harness a piece of paper should blow across the training-course, causing the colt to shy, an assistant holds the paper on the opposite side of the road, so that the animal shall have the kink taken out of its nervous system and its tendency to shy again in the same direction be at once corrected.
The old method was to allow a colt to run wild until two or three years of age, then "break it in." The result was apt to be either a "cowed" animal or a nervous horse.
Would that we were manifesting as much wisdom in the religious training of our children as that horse-trainer. But unfortunately we are pursuing largely the old method, allowing our children to get full of all sorts of mental kinks up through those first plastic three or four years, and then handing them over to the church kindergarten-teacher for one hour a week, expecting her to straighten out all these aberrations and give back to the parents a normally religious child.
Many parents seem to assume that the child's brain is lying dormant during those first few years, when, as a matter of fact, the child's mind during these years is most receptive, and expanding at a rate never after equalled. The nervous system is receiving impressions which, though in after-years the child has no conscious memory of it, are yet indelibly chiselled there for good or ill.
It is high time that parents and religious teachers took more cognizance than they do of this fact.
There are other parents who deliberately refuse to give their children any religious training during this period for fear of "unduly influencing" them from the religious standpoint. This point of view is stated, whether seriously or not, in the following quotation from a recent writer: "I think it is a bad thing to be what is known as 'brought up,' don't you? Why should we -- poor, helpless little children, all soft and resistless -- be squeezed and jammed into the iron bands of parental points of view? Why should we have points of view at all? Why not for those few divine years when we are still so near God, leave us just to wonder? We are not given a chance. On our pulpy little minds our parents carve their opinions, and the mass slowly hardens, and all those deep, narrow, up-and-down strokes harden with it, and the first thing the best of us have to do on growing up is to waste precious time beating at the things, to try to get them out. Surely the child of the most admirable and wise parents is richer with his own faulty but original point of view than he would be fitted out with the choicest selections of maxims and conclusions that he did not have to think out for himself. I could never be a schoolmistress. I should be afraid to teach the children. They know more than I do. They know how to be happy, how to live from day to day, in godlike indifference to what may come next. And is not trying to be happy the secret we spend our lives trying to guess? Why, then, should I, by forcing them to look through my stale eyes, show them, as through a dreadful magnifying-glass, the terrific possibilities, the cruel explosiveness of what they had been lightly tossing across the daisies, and thinking they were only toys?"
All of which sounds very pretty, but when simmered down, the wisdom, if wisdom it be, of a statement like that can be compressed into the old adage, "Where ignorance is bliss 'tis folly to be wise." But the point is that the world has pretty generally come to the conclusion that bliss is not necessarily the most healthful thing, either for adults or children. "Soft and resistless!" Precisely, there is the crux. If these "soft and resistless" minds do not receive good impressions they will receive bad ones, and it is the part of wisdom to get the good in first. Where a mind is "to let," some sort of tenant is sure to occupy.
Coleridge put the case in a nutshell when an English deist inveighed bitterly against the rigid instruction of Christian homes. The deist said: "Consider the helplessness of a little child. Before it has wisdom or judgment to decide for itself, it is prejudiced in favour of Christianity. How selfish is the parent who stamps his religious ideas into a child's receptive nature, as a moulder stamps the hot iron with his model! I shall prejudice my children neither for Christianity nor for Buddhism, nor for Atheism, but allow them to wait for their mature years. Then they can open the question and decide for themselves." Later Coleridge led his friend into the garden, and then whimsically exclaimed: "How selfish is the gardener to ruthlessly stamp his prejudice in favour of roses, violets and strawberries into a receptive garden-bed. The time was when in April I pulled up the young weeds, -- the parsley, the thistles, -- and planted the garden-beds out with vegetables and flowers. Now I have decided to permit the garden to go until September. Then the black clods can choose for themselves between cockleburrs, currants and strawberries." The deist saw the point.
Another weakness in our system of religious training for children is manifest at the adolescence-period of the child. We have been in the habit of allowing the child to consider the Bible-school as his church. We send him to the Bible-school in his very early years, but make no demands upon him as far as specific church-attendance is concerned. And at the kindergarten-period we are probably wise in this; for after the child has attended kindergarten for an hour, it is too great a tax upon him to require him to sit through an hour's church-service. But after the kindergarten-period it seems to me the plain duty of parents to encourage the child to attend church, though not necessarily for the entire service; for if the child does not establish a church-going habit during these plastic years, the probability is that he will never form it. This partially explains why there is such a leakage between the Bible-school and the church. When the child gets "too old for Bible-school," not having formed the church-going habit, he is stranded
"Between two worlds,
And the result is he drifts away from the Church.
In the endeavour to remedy this situation in his own Church it has been the custom of the writer to have all children from seven to twelve years of age in the Bible-school, which meets on Sunday morning before church, attend the morning worship for the first fifteen minutes. During this time they hear the Call to Worship, the Invocation, the Lord's Prayer, the Children's Sermon, and the Anthem by the choir. At the close of the anthem the children file out with their teachers as the adult congregation rises for the Responsive Lesson. In this way the children are establishing a church-going habit, with the result that they early begin to feel that something is wrong on Sunday if they have not been to church.
A word as to the content of the sermons preached. I believe that a child's religion ought to be largely of the motor type. That is, it should be concerned with getting religion into the child's hands and feet. In other words, it should seek to establish in him a habit of right-doing. For this reason his religion should be of the most practical sort, leaving the theory to come later. He should have sufficient theological pegs to hang his morality on, but he should be troubled little with dogma. For this reason his religion will probably have largely to do with the here and now. He cannot be much interested in an other-worldly religion. The normal child at this period will not sing with any great enthusiasm "I want to be an angel." For this world is to him just then a very interesting and fascinating place. He is for that reason ready also to admire men of action, and is wide open for the influences of hero-worship. And while he cannot be argued into being a Christian, for he is not sufficiently awake to logic; and while he cannot be coerced, for he possesses the dynamic of a locomotive combined with the resistance of a mule, he can be magnetized into being a Christian if there is set as his teacher and example a virile, magnetic man. The boy will open his soul to him as he does his windows to welcome the breath of May. Such considerations as these have determined the content of these sermons.
The author makes no claim to originality for much of the material presented, but he has given a new setting to old truths, a setting which experience has proved to be interesting to the children of his own congregation.
It may seem that the wording of some of these sermons is beyond the grasp of the children for whom it was intended. Two things are to be noted in this connection. First, a child resents being talked down to. He soon detects a condescending smile and mock affability in a speaker. And when he detects these he closes the door of his heart against the message. Second, it is better to give the child something to grow to, provided it is not too far beyond his grasp. But here again experience is the best criterion. The children who have heard these sermons have enjoyed them, and have carried their substance and lessons home with them to repeat to older ears.
They are offered to the public, therefore, in the hope that they may suggest a method, add a little to the scant supply of material for children's sermons, and serve to interest other children as well.
Orange, New Jersey.