The Bible In The Home
( Originally Published 1906 )
In treating of the Bible in the home we are dealing with another phase of the great problem of moral and religious education. We have seen that, on account of its surpassing spiritual merits, the Bible is to be used in the Sunday school as the chief instrument of spiritual culture, especially when wielded by teachers who have been deeply quickened by its influence and have thoroughly learned some of its holy lessons. We have seen likewise that, on account of its literary excellence, and its historic interest, as well as its lofty spiritual character, it is entitled to a place in the public school, side by side with the literature, history, and art of Greece and Rome; although this kind of study should be sharply distinguished from its employment for purposes of dogmatic instruction, which is not compatible with the genius of our American public-school system. And now in seeking to determine why and how the Bible should be used in the home, we are touching upon the educational function of the third of these principal formative institutions in our modern civilization.
When we consider the home intelligently we quickly discover that it is of fundamental importance. The family is the primary social institution. It is based upon natural instincts of the deepest and strongest character, whose roots are in the body, but whose flowers and fruits are in the soul. Marriage and parentage blend physical and spiritual interests and influences more vitally and completely than any other human relationship. If, therefore, any institution may be properly called sacred, with all the fulness of meaning that such an adjective ought to imply, it is the family, which is the cornerstone of the school, the church, the state, the nation.
Sociologists everywhere are emphasizing the importance of the family; indeed, it is largely to their studies that we are indebted for a more en-lightened appreciation of this primary social group. They have shown us that society is not merely a formless mass of individuals, commingling promiscuously, but rather a vast tissue of families, each constituting a vital knot or nerve-center in the social organism. And those persons who have experience in the practical conduct of charitable, humane, or reformatory work are daily corroborating this testimony. One-half of the broken lives of the world are traceable to bad homes; and we can do little for the improvement of society without engaging somehow the co-operation of the home. The best thing we can do for children is to make good homes for them, or to approximate this as nearly as possible. A good home is the best moral insurance that anybody can have. A man without a home is as badly off as "the man without a country." What-ever menaces the homes of a nation endangers every true interest in our civilization. Whatever promotes the security and happiness of the people's homes ministers directly to national welfare and human progress.
The educational function of the home is apparent as soon as we recognize the truth that education itself is a vital process, whose fruitage is the formation of character. Now when you reflect that the child is born into the home—at least, thank Heaven ! the great majority of children are thus born—and that the characteristic tendencies which are to prevail throughout the remainder of life are chiefly determined within the first three or four years of that child's existence, while the influences of the next ten or twelve years are very potent and lasting, you can see at once that the home really contributes more than any other agency to the education of the child for good or evil. It is here in the social life of the family, with its daily experience of toil and responsibility, care and devotion, sympathy and ministry, sorrow and joy, love, hope, fear, wrong-doing, remorse, forgiveness—here in this little world of the home, half of earth and half of heaven, that a human soul is started on its eternal career; and while the baneful influence of a bad home may be largely overcome, and the helpful influence of a good home greatly impaired, by what the after years shall bring, yet the impressions produced and the impulses given in this earliest of all schools are not likely ever to be wholly outgrown. After all, it is the home, more than school or church or state, that molds character in our boys and girls, our men and women.
Such being a hint of the social significance and the educational value of the home, we are ready to inquire a little more closely into the relations that ought to subsist between the Bible and the home.
Immediately I offer the general remark that one of the first conditions of a good home is a good spirit in the hearts of its inmates; and because the Bible is a great literature that breathes such a spirit with wonderful power, it would seem that it ought to have a large place of real influence, somehow, in every household whose members want their family life to be honorable, pure, and happy.
There have been thousands of such households that have thus welcomed the Bible and received its blessing. After its translation into the English language it entered the homes of English-speaking people, along with Protestant conceptions of religion, and was read with all the diligence, ardor, and devoutness which, under the conditions, that mighty spiritual awakening produced. Each home where earnest believers were found became a kind of sanctuary, domestic worship was established, and into the life of no people of modern times have the ideas and spirit of the Bible penetrated so deeply as into that of the English Puritans. Some of these came to America, bringing the Bible, with their grim acceptance of it and their inflexible purpose to found a state upon it; and, naturally, its dominant influence was felt everywhere. The custom of fireside worship, with morning and evening prayer and the reading of Scripture, was frequent if not general, and has descended even to very recent times. Doubtless you and I could tell of households in which these devotional exercises were a regular feature, or where they were at least occasional; and mayhap there are still a few such family sanctuaries, that have not yielded to the rush and superficiality of these more strenuous days, but maintain the hallowed usage of former generations.
As a rule, however, it is probably true, this ancient custom of domestic worship is rapidly disappearing in America. Indeed, it is not easy to see how it can survive for the majority of our people, until we learn how to live more simply, leisurely, and wisely. The industrial changes which have come over American society, the growth of cities and city habits, the influx of people from countries with alien ideals of religious life, the rise of a vast educational system, the multitudinous products of the printing press, the increase of social organizations of all sorts, and the amplification of the work of the churches—these and other influences are so invading and assailing our homes as to leave scant opportunity for fireside prayer and the reading of the Bible, and in fact are destroying thousands of homes altogether, their inmates flying to the club, hotel, or boarding-house. Consequently worship has been transferred mainly to the church service, however frequently or infrequently attended; the study of the Bible has been handed over to the Sunday school, which is not equal to the task imposed upon it; and the Sacred Volume no longer exerts its potent influence directly in American households generally, as it did in the days of our forefathers. I do not forget the very large number of homes into which the Sunday-school children have carried the Bible, for the first time perhaps, nor those in which the "Home Department" of the Sunday school has promoted a study of the Bible every week by parents or other adults. Nevertheless, what I have said remains substantially true : the Bible has lost the place of honor and power which it once had in the majority of American households; at least this is my own apprehension of the existing situation.
Now what can be done to improve matters? Something, surely; much, I believe.
1. We must frankly recognize the change which has taken place, and acknowledge that in a measure it is a wholesome change. By this I mean that the Puritan use of the Bible, while salutary at the time, was too serious, intense, over-strain d to last. The somber character of the Englishman took naturally to the solemn, sad, stern spirit of the old Hebrew prophets; and when the Bible was given to Englishmen in their native tongue, it so happened that they needed just such a resolute, rectifying, sanctifying influence. This was reinforced by the Calvinistic theology, and also by the severe conflicts and struggles of the period, not less for those who sought these shores than for those who remained to fight in Cromwell's army. But the austere mood could not be permanent, the rigor of Cal-vin's teaching had to relax, and the era of strife was bound to give way to a season of peace and prosperity. The age of the Puritans is gone; new conditions have arisen; new peoples are dwelling here; thought has broadened and mollified; new ideals of social life and religious duty are dawning; and the spirit which pressed the truths of the Bible into the very blood and mar-row of our ancestors is no longer in the world or the Church to do the same for us. A larger, freer, fairer, happier life has come to the teeming multitudes of this land; and while the stupendous change has brought its incidental losses and entails its great risks, yet on the whole it has been beneficial, not less for religion than for other abiding interests. Our first duty is to understand this fact.
2. Meanwhile the Bible has become vastly more interesting than it was two or three centuries ago. Scholars have brought a great light to shed upon its pages; the history with which it is connected and of which it forms a part has been made luminous, so that it reads like a brilliant fairy tale; and its spiritual treasures are now seen to be so rich and varied as to have a blessing for every man, every race, every nation that may be willing to receive them. We know more about the Bible than our ancestors did, even if we do not know so much of the Bible; and we need only to bring the two kinds of knowledge together, in order to enjoy the blessing of inspiration along with the blessing of information. Let us not forget to be duly thankful for the enormous enrichment of our intellectual life which modern biblical scholarship has rendered possible to each one of us, and which we have to use as an implement for the cultivation of a distinctively spiritual interest in the Bible on the part of the ignorant or the indifferent.
3. We have the Bible today in a much more convenient, attractive, and serviceable form than previous generations have possessed. This is really a great gain. The fine print of the small Bibles of an earlier day gave them a forbidding appearance, and one wonders how it was possible to read them by candle light; surely, the fact that they were thus read attests the deep interest which Christian people had in the message of the Scriptures. But now, while small editions of the Bible, with necessarily fine print, still abound, there are so many other editions, in large, clear type, having the subject-matter suitably paragraphed, with page headings, references, and footnotes, that one need not experience any difficulty or incur a large expense in procuring a copy of the Sacred Volume which can be read with ease and pleasure. Some of the work of illustrating, commenting, and explaining is overdone, perhaps, so that the Scripture is not sufficiently allowed to speak for itself; but such is not always the case. For general uses, the American Re-vision is possibly the best; but Professor Moulton's "Modern Reader's Bible" is in every way admirable; while the Oxford editions and the Temple Bible, employing the Authorized Version, as well as the English Revision, are presented in convenient and attractive style. No excuse on the score of availability remains, there-fore, for the neglect of Bible reading. Every household that really wants a copy of the Holy Scriptures can easily obtain it in these favored times, and can likewise obtain an abundant supply of helpful supplementary material.
4. With such advantages, the urgent need is to secure the interest and co-operation of parents. Here arises a great practical difficulty, at least in many cases, and in some instances the obstacles may be insurmountable. Thousands of parents are too busy with the pitiless struggle for subsistence to find either time or strength, to say nothing of inclination, for Bible reading with their children; other thousands are incompetent, intellectually or morally, to teach their children concerning the Bible or to lead them in reading and studying it; while, of course, others still are hostile to all religious matters. But, for the present, let us disregard these various classes, along with others that might be mentioned. Yet there will remain great numbers of parents who could find time and strength for such reading and study, and who would be competent to lead their children in the good work. The immediate problem is, How to enlist these. Some of them are church people; others, while non-attendants, are not unfriendly to the churches ; and still others, who may never have thought about Christianity at all, could be interested if wisely and kindly approached. How shall they be reached?
Evidently here is a field for the Christian churches to cultivate; and one of the very first things to do is to seek, in all delicacy and kindliness, to impress upon parents a sense of their responsibility for the spiritual welfare of their children not less than for the physical. Too often parents imagine that they do their whole duty in this respect by handing their children over to the Sunday school, supposing rather vaguely that the school will lead them into the church and make good Christians out of them. While such does, indeed, turn out, very frequently, to be the fortunate result, the plan quite as frequently miscarries. The work of the Sunday school, ordinarily, is woefully inadequate; and in any case it cannot absolve parents from their responsibility for the highest welfare of their offspring. Pastors and teachers need to learn, and are beginning to learn, that the better half of their work for the young consists in deepening and strengthening the spiritual life of the home.
This is to be done in two ways: first, by in-creasing, rather than relieving, the sense of parental responsibility; and, second, by carrying into the home the necessary practical help—sympathy, counsel, guidance, and copious material. Pastors and teachers must go to parents and say. substantially: "We are sincerely interested in the moral and religious education of your children; but we do not think it is right for us to seek to take this vital, sacred, delicate work out of your hands : for you are primarily responsible for their spiritual welfare, and no other agency can properly supplant the family relationship. But we want to help you in any and every possible way. What can we do for you? Let us send you an abundance of good materials, let us counsel with you, and let us together—family and church—do all we can to bring your children up to an enlightened, resolute, noble spiritual life and character!" Thus, in addition to bringing the children to the Sunday school and the church, there must be carried from this religious center a strong, steady influence to enrich the spiritual life of the family; and no ministry which the churches can perform in these days can be more salutary or promising.
Beginning on this basis, in this way, the Bible will come immediately into use as the one best instrument to serve the great end thus contemplated. Pastors, teachers, parents, and children will all turn at once to the moral and religious treasures contained in this spiritual storehouse. Then will come straightway the need of some plain, simple guide to the right use of the Bible —something, very primary perhaps, to help the parents understand what the Bible really is, why it should be read and studied, how interesting it may become, and just how to begin with it. For there can be no doubt that many parents today do not really know what to do with the Bible; they themselves are not familiar with its con-tents; and the rumors of the new views regarding it merely perplex them. Therefore they need primary instruction and guidance. It is not best to read the Bible through by course, and it certainly is not profitable to try to read it all, especially to the young : how, then, shall one proceed?
Fortunately, at this point, we now have some helpful selections from the abundant and varied materials in the Scriptures. Two works already mentioned are very valuable, viz.: The Bible for Children, published by the Century Company, New York; and Walter L. Sheldon's The Old Testament Bible Stories, issued by W. M. Welch and Company, Chicago, the subject-matter in the latter work being somewhat paraphrased. Let parents take such volumes as these and read to their children, even at six or eight years of age, and then read with them; and later, but still at an early period, read directly from the Bible itself—reading, parents and children together, very freely and very copiously, and simply talking matters over without much preaching or didacticism. Let the Scriptures be read, and let them make their own impression. Such is a bare hint of a natural, wise method of procedure; and the counsel thus given has grown out of experience in just this method.
In a previous chapter of this work Professor Walter F. Adeney's How to Read the Bible has been warmly commended; and justly so. But some day we shall have a "Primary Guide to the Bible," for parents and teachers, which shall be even more simple, which shall give specific directions, indicate courses of readings from the Scriptures, and bring the great spiritual influence of the Bible into more natural and vital contact with the life of today than the older conceptions and methods permitted. Meanwhile, let pastors help their people to new and fresh ways of Bible reading, especially in the family circle; and in time there will result a spiritually enriched home life that will prove a baptism of the nation.
5. One further counsel remains to crown all that has been said. It is that the most vital and valuable influence in connection with the Bible in the home is the sincere desire and effort to trans-late its great message into life. The living exemplification of the best principles and spirit expressed in the Bible, the humble, honest attempt to shape one's own conduct and character by them, is the only sure way of realizing the blessings which the Scriptures can confer, and is the most potent means of commending them to others. They themselves tend directly to awaken such a desire, to produce such an effort; yet it is possible to read them very diligently, and flagrantly to disregard their holy teachings. If this be done by parents, the children will hardly be drawn to love the Bible. But if, on the contrary, parents do evidently and sincerely try to live the noble, righteous, merciful life which the great spirit of the Bible promotes, the young people who grow up in daily contact with such an ex-ample cannot fail to perceive the sources of this high influence. The Bible will grow dear to them as the fountain of life-giving waters, whose refreshing, cleansing, sustaining power they have seen demonstrated in the lives of their parents, amid the varied experiences of joy and sorrow, struggle and triumph, which come more or less to every household. Nothing can take the place of the living exemplification of the principles and spirit of true morality and religion-no precepts, no rites and ceremonies, no dogmas and institutions. The power of the Bible to beget an honest effort toward such an exemplification is its greatest power; and the atmosphere which is thus created in a home is the most beautiful, blessed, and far-reaching influence that may serve to shape the development of childhood in a spiritual direction.
The next forward step in moral and religious education should be-let us trust that it will be-to try to help the home to fulfil its true function in this respect. Perhaps the largest uncultivated field lying before the churches of America is the field of spiritual homemaking. Every church might well maintain a ministry for this particular service, might well employ, at a good salary, an educated woman, with the heart of a consecrated pastor and the training of a high-grade teacher, to go into each and every home on this very errand, offering intelligent aid to the parents in the matter of Bible reading or study, carrying helpful books, giving sympathetic counsel, yet respecting (as a true pastor would do) all the delicate privacies of the household, and aiming only to enlighten and enrich the spiritual life of the family. Surely, if such a work could be done in a million homes in America—and why not in ten million ?-the moral problems that now baffle us would be in a fair way of solution within another generation. Is it possible that here lies the grandest opportunity of the Christian churches of our country today? And may not educators and ministers, with intelligent parents generally, well counsel together with reference to adequate measures for meeting this great need?