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* This article was originally a public lecture on Christian education given, apparently, at the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan by its pastor, Rev. Herman Hoeksema. Evidently, the speech was given shortly after World War I. It is from the Martin Swart collection of handwritten transcriptions of sermons and speeches by Herman Hoeksema. It is now published for the first time. The general subject and, particularly, the specific reference to the Christian school make this speech fitting at this time of the year, when we resume the training of our children in catechism and in the Christian schools.

A lady once asked me to arrange meetings for her so that she might speak to the people at these meetings. The purpose was to warn against the sin of immorality, the sin of the seventh commandment. She emphasized that particularly that sin had passed all bounds and that it was developing at an alarming rate. She emphasized that, in her opinion, one of the chief causes of the alarming spread of immorality was lack of training in childhood. A want of education she considered to be one of the chief causes. Ignorance was, in her opinion, one of the main reasons — ignorance with respect to the life of the body and with respect to the evil effects of immorality. It was her opinion that proper training would to a large extent check this rapid development of immorality.

Of course, I did not agree with her. Knowledge is no virtue. Training does not make a good man. Education is not the cause of the perfect man of God, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. Instruction does not keep an evil man from sin. Education does not train a man in such a way that the leopard loses his spots and the Ethiopian changes the color of his skin. That is impossible. The idea of the world that education would have the result that our prisons would be vacated and we would have a better world is foolish. Education does not do that, and that is not the purpose of education. You must have a good man to train, if the result of that training is to be the perfect man of God, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. As you cannot produce a minister in a theological school, so you cannot produce a Christian by training. That is impossible. But this is all the more reason why a Christian should train his children in the way they must go.

The Child to be Trained

It is but natural that, when speaking on the subject of Christian education, we turn to Proverbs 22:6, where we read: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Man’s life is made up of several different periods. Each has its own peculiar characteristics. Not as if you could divide man’s life. Not as if you could definitely mark off and distinguish these periods in man’s life. That is not the case. Man’s life is organic. It follows the line of organic development. Because man’s life develops organically, you cannot divide it into different periods. Rather do these different periods gradually blend into one another.

Nevertheless, these various periods in man’s life can easily be distinguished. There is in the first place the period of childhood, characterized by passivity and receptivity. A child is passive. In connection with this passivity, the child is receptive. It does not take an active stand over against the world. The child receives. It is dependent. It is dependent for its food, drink, and clothing. It is dependent for its entire physical development. As it is dependent as to the development of the body, so it is dependent for its development mentally. Also from the point of view of the development of the soul the child is dependent. It receives. The child is easily impressed. It easily receives. It has a strong memory and a strong imagination. That power of the soul to receive, to store up, to commit to memory, is especially strong in the child. Therefore, the child is easily molded. It is easily shaped. Its mind is easily bent.

In this respect the child is different from the man. The man is characterized by stability. He is established in his judgments. The man has been shaped. He is not easily bent. He does not easily receive things. He does not take it all in. He does not say, as the child does, teacher said so, and therefore it must be so.

In between these two periods stands the age of adolescence, of youth. Youth is strong, in a certain sense. Youth is strong mentally. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, the apostle John says. The beauty of childhood is obedience. John writes: I write to you, little children, from that viewpoint of obedience, because your sins are forgiven. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and you have overcome the evil one. The beauty of the old man is wisdom, knowledge, understanding. Training that child, that is the purpose of education.

Usually when Scripture speaks of the child, it uses a word that has a large meaning. Especially is this true in the Old Testament. It includes not only the age of childhood up to about twelve or thirteen years, but also the age of adolescence, of youth. So the word is used of Moses in Egypt. So it is used of Solomon when he ascended the throne. So it is used of Samuel. In that same sense Paul uses the word in I Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Although it is hard to train the child in its youth if it has not been trained in its childhood, nevertheless, as it is to be trained, the child must be taken in its broadest sense.

Train the child in the way it must go. The original word for training is not well expressed in our English version. Training with us has a purely practical meaning. But that is not the meaning of the original word. The term in the original literally signifies: “to stuff one’s mouth, to fill one’s mouth.” It is therefore a figurative term. It is somewhat akin to the Dutch word opvoeden. The term is therefore derived from the nourishing of the child physically. You must fill the mouth of the child with food to cause it to grow physically. That does not mean that your bringing that food to the mouth of the child is the cause of its growth. But it gives the child the opportunity to take that food, to digest it, to assimilate it. The child must take food, it must digest it, assimilate it, in order to grow. The parents do not cause the child to grow. But they fill the mouth of the child.

So it is with the spiritual, mental, psychological training of the child. It is often thought that it is the task of the educator to develop the child. The development of the child spiritually, mentally, and psychologically does not depend on the educator. But the educator must stuff the mental mouth of the child. As the parent brings food to the mouth of the child, so the educator must fill the mental mouth of the child. The better the food you bring to that child, the better it will develop. But the child must assimilate it. The mental food which the educator brings is ideas. That is intellectual growth.

But that is not all. There must not be mere intellectual growth. But through the mental mouth of the child, the will, the desires, and the heart must be reached. If it is true that the aim of education is thoroughly to furnish the man of God unto all good works, then the purpose is not intellectual attainment. The educator must reach the heart of the child. He must not only stuff the mouth of the child, but he must also train it to digest, to assimilate that which he brings to the child.

… to be concluded.