*Address delivered by the undersigned on the meeting of the friends of Christian instruction at Byron Center. This address, as the reader will surmise, was amplified here and there with a view to its publication in The Standard Bearer.
We should, as Christian people, definitely know that it is God’s will that we have and maintain our own schools for the instruction of our children. Without such knowledge there can be on our part no strong conviction that, in maintaining our own schools we are doing what the Lord requires. And I take it that you do know and that therefore in sponsoring the cause of Christian instruction you do act from conviction and principle and are being impelled by the love of God. However, there is also such a thing as being strengthened in our hallowed convictions and of such a strengthening, stablishing, settling, God’s believing people always have need. So my aim is now to deliver an address the hearing of which may result in our being confirmed in our belief that in maintaining our own schools we are doing the will of God. I speak to you on the subject:
THE CHRISTIAN SCHOOL WILLED BY GOD*
In making this plain, I must set out with directing your attention to our children, and in particular to the fact that they are seed of the covenant of God. To appreciate this statement, one must precisely and definitely what is to be understood by the covenant. The covenant, as to its essence, is God’s loving His people, chosen by Him unto life eternal in Christ Jesus and filled by Him now and ever with the fullness that dwells bodily in Christ. Thus the covenant is also this people’s as so chosen and redeemed, loving, seeking and delighting in God, the God and Father of Christ. The covenant then is a bond—the bond of perfect love between God and His redeemed. This covenant is God’s. How could it be otherwise if this people is by nature dead in sin and thus without strength, if it only can only will to hate God and despise His salvation. We affirm, therefore, that the covenant is solely God’s. He conceived of it; He prepared it for His people through Christ; He establishes it, through His saving His people from all their sins and thus through His pouring His love in their hearts.
In this covenant is contained but one party and this party is God. The chosen ones, this covenant seed, are thus of God’s party. As such they form the second part to the covenant.
In the light of the above observations, it is evident that my statement to the effect that our children are covenant seed implies a deal more than that they are baptized, that is, dipped in or sprinkled with water. It implies, does this statement, that they are chosen of God unto eternal life in Christ, that thus they are or eventually will be baptized with the Holy Spirit, that, as a result they are, or in God’s good time will be, cleaving “to this one God, Father Son and Holy Spirit” that they love and serve Him in principle, that they even as children show that they possess the power to forsake the world, crucify their old nature and walk in a new and holy life.
You surmise, to be sure, that I am using the term covenant seed as the signification of our elect children, the seed of promise. Beside this seed there is also the carnal seed, comprised of such whom God wills not to save, and who thus despise Christ and perish in their disobedience. This seed is not truly in the covenant. It is not the true covenant seed. The true seed is comprised solely of God’s chosen people. Hence, it is with this seed alone that the covenant is actually made firm, so that, in the final instance, it is this seed only to whom the promise pertaineth and who come into the actual possession of its content.
Now this seed, these lambs, sheep of Christ, must be fed. Education is a term that denotes an action that consists in feeding this seed. The educator then does not make but feeds the child—the new man in the child, the potential man of God. The child comes to the tutor as made—made as to its distinctive nature, spiritual and mental power, capacity for good (or evil). It is folly to speak of the task of the educator as consisting in making the child, of building character. The character of a child is its distinctive nature. This nature, if evil, cannot be changed or eradicated and a more likely nature impressed upon the essence of the child’s being. True, such a child can be trained to behave. It can be taught to observe for its own benefit recognized laws of decency. But the resultant character that the educator imagines he succeeded in building is but so much veneer.
This then is the real task of the pedagogue, to wit, feeding the potential man of God. And the pedagogue, at all worthy of the name, wills to do this very thing. This occasions the question: what is that food with which this man is to be fed. And the answer: the kind of food whereby he can grow. This man is capable of growth. So he appears in Holy Writ. Allow me to quote a Scripture or two. “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies. . . . As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Pet. 2:1, 2). There are other scriptures. “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro. . . . But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:14, 15). “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).
Now this spiritual growth of the “man of God” should not be identified with the growth of natural mental capacities and the development of the moral and religious sense common to every normal child without distinction. The child speaks as a child, understands as a child and thinks as a child. Its conceptions of things and mental grasp is that of a child. A very young child of, let us say, two or even six years, can have no notion of the magnitude of time and space. Explain to such a child the principle of locomotion of an automobile and it will be none the wiser. The child is without a natural singleness of purpose. It is irresponsible. It is without a moral sense and a sense of propriety. Its convictions are that of a child and in these convictions it is easily shaken. But when the child becomes a man, it puts away childish things. It speaks, thinks and understands as a man. There is depth to its insight and strength to its impulses. It knows its mind. There is direction to its life. It has clear and definite notions of things that formerly lay beyond its mental grasp, and its view of life is fixed. For the child is now a man. There is then such a thing as a maturing mind and soul and a growing consciousness of God and of right and wrong. It is, to be sure, not due to sin that we come into being as creatures who through a process of mental and physical growth must attain to manhood and womanhood. This is due to our being born babes. Yet it is unmistakably true that much of what is now characteristic of the child-soul is to be accounted for by the entrance of sin.
Now, as was just remarked this natural growth of the child-soul is one and the spiritual growth of the man of God is another. Yet the two are intimately related in God’s believing people. And the two usually go hand in hand in the elect ones whom the Lord regenerates in their youth. (And there is every reason to believe that with the majority of the elect regeneration does take place early in youth). Yet an elect one may, be spiritually mature or nearly so, though but a child. Rightly considered, it is not the new man as such that grows; for this man is spiritually perfect and is therefore not subject to growth. It is the believer himself who grows. And this growth consists negatively in His laying aside by the mercies of God all sin and positively in his being more and more transformed by the renewal of his mind. However, the believer, the man of God, this spiritual seed, must have food whereby to grow. We must now take up the matter of the kind of food with which our covenant seed must be fed. This food, in one word, is Christ. We know this from Christ’s own lips, “Except” said He, “ye eat my flesh and drink my blood, ye have no life in yourselves.” Then there is this word coming to us from the apostle, “As new born babes long ye after the mental, genuine milk. . . .” As appear from the sequence, this milk is Christ Himself. “If ye have tasted,” so the sacred writer continues, “that the Lord (namely, Christ) is good.” Christ then is the milk, as He also is for the man of God the true bread, the living water and the wine. And He is this as in Him dwelleth all fullness, all the gifts of grace that accrue from His suffering and death. He therefore is this man of God’s food, and his only food. There are not several but there is but one food for this man, for our covenant seed, so that to feed this seed any other food, is to feed it stones for bread. The apostle would have this well understood. He therefore wrote, “Long ye for the mental, genuine milk. . . This statement of mine is not extreme; it is altogether true. The tutor must teach, feed (to teach is to feed) our covenant seed Christ, the word of God, God’s self-revelation, and this word only. The only food is God as revealed in the face of Christ, is thus Christ as to his person, natures, and all His works of the past present and future. Now these works, the report, description, record of them, is contained in the Scriptures, which are thus the means by which we know God. Hence, to feed our children Christ is to feed them the Scriptures. Eating, imbibing the Scriptures, the written Word of God, they eat Christ.
But how can it now actually be maintained that Christ is the only food. This must be maintained. God said it. He said it first by the mouth of His servant Moses, “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou best down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as front-lets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates” (Deut. 6:6-9). The singular personal pronoun thou indicates that the admonition was directed to every Israelitish parent. And the thrust of the command plainly is that the child (children) be taught the word of God at all times and in every place, that thus this word be made to form the content of all instruction. Now this command is as much in force today as then. It must not be supposed that the reason why Israelitish parents were commanded to teach their children the word of Jehovah exclusively is that life in Canaan was so very simple that there was nothing to teach but the word. Life was simple indeed. Yet then as well as now there was the earthly pursuit to be followed. And to teach the child the word was not, no more than it now is, to refrain from imparting unto the child such knowledge as it needed to properly follow this pursuit. Yet it is true that the sole content of all instruction is and must be the word of God,—God revealed in the face of Christ. Whatever course of study our children are made to follow, must be so taught that essentially the Word is being taught. And the branches of study will actually be so taught, if the sciences are founded upon God’s word, if the cultivator of the sciences proceeds from the premise that the earth and its fullness is the Lord’s, that, in the words of the Confession, the universe is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are so many characters leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God and of Christ. Let the instructor impart unto the child knowledge of this earth. But let him not fail to tell the child that the earth is God’s, that the ordinances of the stars and the moon and the sun were given by God. Let the instructor impart unto the child knowledge of its mortal frame, but let him not neglect to repeat in the audience of the child the words of the psalmist, “I will praise thee for I was fearfully and wonderfully made; and that my soul knoweth right well. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in thy book, all my members are written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.” Let the instructor tell the child that God makes history and that through all the events of time, however dreadful, God’s kingdom comes. In a word, let the prescribed courses of study be so taught that their sum and total mirror the praises of God and of Christ. Let, in this essential sense, the sole content of all the instruction be exclusively the word of God,—revealed in the face of Christ. The covenant seed has need of this word, for it is the food, the only food by which the man of God can grow.
In the state (public) schools the child is fed stones for bread. This statement applies to the entire content of the instruction. In those institutions the instructor does not, is not permitted to, base the various sciences, which he teaches, upon God’s word. What he finds himself under the necessity of doing is shutting out God from His creation. This he does, not always deliberately and directly perhaps, but through his keeping silence about God and thus through his discoursing upon the earth and its fullness as though he had to do with an entity that exists through and for itself. Thus in the course of study in the state schools the earth and its fullness is made to appear not as God’s creature, but as the other god before God’s face, thus as an idol—the idol which the child is trained to deify and to glory in and which it is taught to seek for its own sake. In the state school then the child is fed the image of the idols of this world. But God is not mocked. Attend to this scripture from Paul’s pen, “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man,” and, Paul might have added, ‘fed their souls with the image of this man, the creature.’ But God is not mocked, “For this cause God gave them up to vile affections. . . . And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them ever to a reprobate mind, to do things which are not convenient; being filled with all, unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful. . . . .”
Such is the rioting of sin to which God in His judgment gives man up when he forsakes God and turns to the idol. Consider now that the educators in in the worldly institutions of learning are indeed knelt before the shrine of the idol and that all who enter the doors of these institutions are made to kneel with them. If then God is not mocked, how can His believing people, who have understanding of this, send their covenant seed to schools other than Christian? They cannot. If this seed is Christ’s—and it is this, as He bought it with His own blood—how dare they? How have they the heart, if in these worldly institutions the child is given stones for bread? Are stones the food by which the man of God can grow? That man must be fed Christ, and the God and Father of Christ, if God is going to be glorified through this man.
But now another thing. If the man of God is to grow, it is not sufficient that he be fed Christ. More is required, namely, that Christ be set before him in a pure state. Attend once more to the apostle’s exhortation, “Desire the mental, unadulterated milk. . . that ye may grow thereby. . . . The apostle has reference here not to the very person and natures but to the revelation, the doctrine of Christ. It is this doctrine that must be eaten by the man of God. Now this doctrine came down from God in a pure, unadulterated state. And in this state it is also contained in the Scriptures. Man, however, adulterates this doctrine, mental milk, food, through his mixing it with the lie. Now it is against this food as adulterated that the apostle indirectly cautions. And he has reason. What mother would knowingly feed her infant child adulterated, that is, poisoned milk! How can we as parents be satisfied with anything less than the purest mental milk, doctrine, for our covenant children! Can the man of God thrive on adulterated milk? Shouldn’t we, Protestant Reformed confessors, have our own schools? Someone will say, “The schools, such as we now possess, will do.” But do we not realize that, by so retorting, we render void the very and sole reason of our existence as a Protestant Reformed people?
Whose task is it be feed, educate, the child, this man of God? The parents.’ So God has ordained. The book of Deuteronomy contains this admonition, “Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thy eyes have seen and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy son’s sons; especially the day that thou stoodest before the Lord thy God in Horeb, when the Lord said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon toe earth, and that they may teach their children” (Deut. 4:9, 10). And again, “And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart: And thou shall teach them diligently unto thy children. . . . And when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What means the testimonies. . . . Then thou shalt say unto thy son, We were Pharaoh’s bondmen in Egypt; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. . . (Lent. 6:7, 20).
The italicized clauses indicate that it was the parents to which the Lord through the agency of Moses was commanding, that thus the task of feeding, instructing their children, sons and daughters, was assigned by Him to them. The reason that this task, that the right and duty to train, teach, instruct, the child should be the parents’ is obvious, it is the parents who instrumentally brought the child into being. But the parents not only have the right but they are also best qualified to train the child and this on account of the bond of love—filial on the side of the child and parental on the side of the parents—between parents and children. It is this filial love that renders the child so susceptible in its youth to the instruction of its parents. And from this parental love springs a natural patience, understanding and sympathy that the child can find in its parents only. And this, too, is of the Lord.
Now the Israelitish parents trained their own children. The school with its schoolmasters, as an auxiliary in the work of training the child, was unknown not only in Israel but in all countries of that epoch. The school (outside the home) is a phenomenon of our Christian era. Church and state schools were established (by Charles the Great. In the 14th and 15th centuries their number multiplied. Only two branches were taught, namely, reading and writing. The Reformers urged the state to establish good schools where children might receive instruction in the service and fear of the Lord. Besides the church and state, there were also diaconate and orphanage schools. But their number were few. The Reformed churches in the Netherlands ruled upon their synods that the consistories should see to it that there were competent school-teachers, able to give instruction in languages and the free arts and especially in the doctrine and the truth.
The French Revolution abolished revealed religion. In the Netherlands the tie between church and state was severed, and the church lost all supervision over the school which thereupon became an instrument for the instilling of the principles of the Revolution.
In our day the school has become so much a part of our civilization, that it is impossible to conceive of modem life without the school. The land of civilized peoples are dotted with schools for the training of the youth. And in our land the requirement is that our children remain in school from their fifth to their 16th year. And if at all possible that son or daughter must be sent to college. I suppose this is all right. Without their having learned a smattering of this and a smattering of that, they would not be cultured. So, as a result of compulsory education, mankind in civilized lands has become literate. But literacy is yet no wisdom.
On account of the complexity of modern life, it is undoubtedly true that the school as an auxiliary in the work of training the youth is a necessity. How now are we to regard the school? What can be its task? What is the relation in which it stands to the parents? What is the character of the authority of those who teach there? These are questions that can be supplied with clear and definite answers. From the proposition that the task, the duty, right to train the child is solely the parents, it must follow that the school is to be defined as the extension of the home and the schoolmaster as the agent of the parents, appointed by them to assist them in bringing up their child in the fear and the nurture of the Lord. Thus the task of the parents and that of the tutor in the school are one and the same. The tutor derives his right to teach the child from the parents and must function under their jurisdiction and supervision.
Such then is the task of the instructors in the school. Their task is to co-operate with the parents in bringing up the child in the fear and nurture of the Lord. And what will be the fruitage, if this task be faithfully and properly performed? The answer: The man of God will be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. For the Scriptures are able to make this man wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:17, 15). Mark you, the man of God, the spiritual seed, the elect of God, His believing people. It is with this seed that the instructors in the school have to do. It is primarily with a view to this seed that we do and must will to have our own schools. Should we gainsay this? Consider that it is precisely this seed, and this seed only, in whom instruction that is Christian will bear truly good fruit. And the reason is that it is only this seed that can receive and by it grow. When the apostle penned, “Desire the mental, pure, milk, that ye may grow thereby. . . ” he had in mind solely this seed. This is plain. Those whom he admonishes, he calls “new born babes.” It is these babes, and they only, who have life in themselves, and who, as the possessors of life (spiritual) desire Christ, eat His flesh and drink His blood. Food, certainly, is only for the living. And eating, these living ones bear fruit that is, true culture. And our Christian schools will be institutions of true culture, only if the instructors who teach in them feed the Child with bread that is bread and not stones.
What is culture? The word cultivate is from the Latin colere, cultum, meaning, to till, cultivate. Culture then is the act or practice of cultivating; application of labor or means in rendering productive, in reducing, in refining, in cherishing, promoting, advancing, as the culture of the soil, of the mind. It is the state of being cultured; result of cultivation; physical improvement; enlightenment and discipline acquired by mental training. So then the fundamental meaning of culture is to till. The term culture properly denotes the labor applied, together with the fruit of the labor; the yield of the land (if the cultivator be the tiller of the soil) the information gained, the data accumulated, the skill acquired and the practical use to which this knowledge is put. The cultured man is said to be schooled in the sciences and arts. Whereas the act reacts upon the doer and when oft repeated passes into a habit, the cultivators of the more spiritual sciences (philosophy, history, literature and the like) show a certain mentality and elegance of manner and speech and taste that the world calls refinement, which in the ungodly is refined sin. In a word, the term culture in the world stands for the entire complex of sciences and arts, engagements, attainments and achievements of a civilized people. Thus in the vocabulary of the world, culture is but another term for civilization.
But what is true culture. What is culture in the sphere of (special) grace? Let us take our answer from the allegory of the vine and the branches. Said Christ, “I am the true vine and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15).
Let us attend closely to this word of Christ. Consider then that culture calls for a being capable of rational action. In the sphere of grace this being is God. “My Father is the husbandman,” that is, the tiller, the culturist. Culture, further, calls for an object that can be acted upon. In the sphere of grace, this object is the spiritual seed in our homes, in our schools and in our churches. Further, the term culture, as was just said, denotes the cultural action, the labor applied together with the fruit of the labor. In the sphere of grace, this action is the labor expanded upon Christ’s branches by the divine Husbandman, God,—expanded directly by Himself and through the agency of the parents, the instructors in the school and the pastor of the child. And the fruit of this labor is the fruit borne by the spiritual seed, by the branches who abide in Christ. And this fruit is the believer himself, his hope, faith and love, his works of love, his praise and prayer and thanksgiving, his affections, as set upon the things above, the spiritual man, renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that called him; the bowels of mercy of this man, his kindness, humbleness of mind, his meekness, longsuffering and forbearance. This fruit is true culture. And in this culture, God’s believing people must be interested. This culture they must love. It is the only culture worthy of the name. And because they do love this true culture and desire it for their children, they insist on maintaining their own schools.
It may still be asked: What is the difference between the instruction which the child is to receive in the home, in the school, and in the church? Certain it is that there may be no essential difference between what is fed the child in the home and what is fed it in the school and what is fed it by the pastor. The instructors in the school, as well as the (parents in the home and the pastor must feed the child bread that is bread and not stones. Will anyone gainsay this? Will anyone want to maintain that the instructors in the school in distinction from the pastor and the parents may feed the child stones? Indeed not. But this of course cannot, does not mean, that the task of the church is to give instruction in writing and arithmetic and the like. This is the task of the parents and the school. The sole calling of the church is to preach the word of God. And the calling of the instructors in the school is to so mix all they teach with the word, that of their instruction, too, it can be said that it is truly bread. The earth and its fullness, as detached from God and the heavenly, is the idol, the other god before God’s face. I have said.