If one pages through the past volumes of the Standard Bearer, one cannot help but be impressed with the large number of articles devoted to the matter of Christian education. This fact is no doubt rooted in the emphasis which our Churches have always placed upon the doctrine of the covenant of grace.
These articles begin in the very first volume, and there is scarcely a single volume which does not contain at least one article. These articles range over a broad field of subjects, and they treat many different aspects of the problem. There are articles which urge the people of God to be faithful in their covenant calling. There are articles which discuss educational trends in the public schools and in the Christian schools. There are articles which discuss the need for our own Protestant Reformed school system. There are articles which discuss the nature of the education which ought to be given in a school which is truly Christian and truly Reformed.
These articles also bore their fruit in the establishment of many Protestant Reformed Christian Schools throughout the country.
It was difficult to pick out a representative article from the many available in the first twenty volumes of theStandard Bearer. We chose one from Volume XX. It does not deal specifically with education in the school; it rather touches upon parental responsibilities in the home. We hope that it may be of benefit to our readers to remind them of their responsibilities covenant instruction. It is a series of two editorials (slightly edited) written by Rev. H at about the time a new school year started.
The season is there again, when more than in the weeks and months of summer-vacations, our attention is concentrated upon the instruction of our covenant-children.
Schools that have been closed for several weeks have again opened their doors and resumed their work of training the young.
Catechism classes are again conducted to instruct the children of the Church in “the aforesaid doctrine”, that they may be founded in the truth. Sunday schools are prepared to add their efforts to those of the Church and of the School to instruct the children of the covenant in the knowledge of the Word.
And the long winter-evenings are more adapted than the sultry summer-nights to home- and family-life, to the “sitting in our house”, so that also in the home special attention may be paid to the bringing up of the children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.
Home-instruction is fundamental! Let us never forget it! The instruction a child receives at home is basic with respect to all other instruction, and the character of his bringing up at home reflects itself in his manifestation everywhere else, in Church, in Catechism, in Sunday School and in the Primary School. It is true, that we cannot easily over-estimate the value of a Christian education throughout, in Church and School as well as at home. It is equally true, that the danger is not imaginary, now we have so many institutions for the purpose of instructing our children outside of the home, that we trust too much in those institutions, as if they could bear the entire burden of responsibility, and that we grow negligent with respect to the bringing up of our children at home.
Scripture emphasizes the need of home-instruction. Ultimately it places the responsibility for the education of our children upon the parent.
Beautifully and very emphatically this is expressed in the well-known injunction to Israel: “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, when thou sittest in thy house and when thou walkest by the way; when thou liest down and when thou risest up,” Deut. 6:7.
When thou sittest in thy house!
A wonderful, and, alas! A rare picture is brought before our imagination by these words! A man, a father, a parent, sitting in his house! Our house is not the building in which we dwell, no matter how magnificent an edifice it may be. Our house is our home. And the home consists of the fellowship between the various members of one family. Be it ever so splendid, a mere house is not a home; and be it ever so humble, there is no place like home. The closest earthly, human relationships are formed and sustained and enjoyed in our “house”. There are the love-relations of man and wife, of parent and children, of brothers and sisters. The home is a man’s earthly sanctuary. It is his haven of rest after a day of strenuous toil. His home is strictly private. Into his home he wishes no one to intrude.
And the text draws before our mind the picture of such a home and of the actual enjoyment of home-life. When thou sittest in thy house! The parent is at home, and he is not nervously pacing the floor or busy with all kinds of outside work, but he is at leisure. And he is not sitting in his house alone, but his children are with him! For the text speaks of his instruction to his children. The family, therefore, is together. A picture that is much more rare in our modern world, even including the people of God, than it was among Israel of old. Partly, no doubt, this is due to the fact, that life in all its forms is different from the life of Israel in the promised land. Our life has become much more public. Many matters, much business, many meetings, draw us away from home, sometimes every evening of the week. Some of this cannot be helped. Much of it is also beneficial. It is a joy to see our young people make the Church their central meeting place, where they congregate to be instructed in doctrine, to enjoy one-another’s fellowship in society-life, to sing, to discuss the Word of God and to pray. Yet, even good things can be overdone and thus become harmful. All these things ought not to destroy our home-life. There should be time, especially in the winter-months with its long evenings, when everything beckons us to stay inside and gather around the home-hearth, to “sit in our house”. And we need not emphasize that the pleasures, which draw the people of the world from their fireside, should have no attraction for the people of God whatever.
But there is more.
Even when we do sit in our house, and even when not enjoy family-life and fellowship. Many a family might just as well go out and spend the evening elsewhere, as to sit in their house, as far as actual home-life is concerned. Such is the case, to mention just one of our modem habits, when, as soon as supper is finished, the radio (we might substitute television, H.H.) is turned on and we open our home to the outside world until it is time to retire for the night. Regardless now of the question as to the material we receive over the radio and the character of the program to which we listen, the fact is, that to enjoy the radio is something radically different from sitting in our house and enjoying family-life and fellowship. And thus there are many different things that might be mentioned in this connection, that prevent us from actually “sitting in our house” when we are at home.
The text draws a different picture.
Thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children!
Concretely Scripture here draws before our imagination the attractive picture of a parent, sitting in his house, entirely at leisure, and with the purpose in his heart to spend an evening at home; his children are with him and sitting about him; and he is busy teaching them.
Teaching them what?
Thou shalt teach them! That is, the precepts of the Lord our covenant God. For, this is the first and great commandment: Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart and mind and soul and strength! And, therefore, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and all instruction is, as to its spiritual-ethical nature, instruction in the Word of God!
And in general it is evident, that Scripture here places the entire burden of responsibility for the instruction of the covenant children upon the shoulders of the parents.
Home-instruction is basic.
Education must begin at home. Begin, we mean, not merely in the sense that during the first few years of its life the child is nurtured by its parent, but in the sense that all the lines of its education must continually have their beginning in the home.
Home education is basic.
And Scripture, as might be expected, places the full responsibility of the instruction of the child upon the parents.
As might be expected, I say.
For, even from a natural viewpoint, what is more natural than that the parents should be the most deeply interested in their education, because they love them with parental love? They certainly may be expected to seek the good of their children that are united to them with heartstrings. What, then, could be more in harmony with the ordinances of God, than that the education of the child should rest upon the responsibility of the parent? They, of all men, know their own children best, ought to know them better than any, are in a position to be thoroughly acquainted with them. They are with their children from the moment they open their eyes upon the world. They watch them and know them in their different characters long before the time arrives that they must also be educated in school and catechism. They, too, have the confidence of their children, unless there is something wrong in home-relations. Parents are the natural instructors of their children. It is but natural, i.e., wholly in harmony with God’s ordinances of creation and providence, that Scripture should place the responsibility of the education of the child upon the parents.
But the Word of God is addressing covenant parents.
It is speaking to the Church in the world.
God causes His covenant, as we know, to run and to be realized in the line of continued generations. Hence, we and our children are not our own, but belong to the Lord. Our children are not ours. They are not given us merely in order that we should enjoy their presence and delight in their love, but that we should teach them the fear of the Lord. The responsibility for the covenant-training, therefore, lies in the first place, with the parents.
And for that reason they are also expected to assume that responsibility when they present their children to be baptized. Then they promise before the face of the Lord, the whole church being witness, that they will bring up their children in the aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed therein, to the utmost of their power!
Hence, also according to this promise, instruction begins at home. First, the parents promise that they will instruct their children themselves. It is only in the next place that they also pledge themselves to help and cause them to be instructed, when their personal efforts and powers would not be sufficient. But even then they are responsible. They help and, they cause them to be instructed.
Always the home and always the parent!
Now, that instruction in the home may be distinguished as direct and indirect, intentional and unintentional.
And it is difficult to say which of these is the more instruction, perhaps, occupies by far more time than the direct and intentional.
What do we mean by unintentional instruction of the child at home?
The atmosphere at home, in which a child grows up.
We must remember, a child grows up gradually and constantly, not only physically, but also mentally and spiritually. He does not develop by leaps and bounds. His mental and spiritual growth do not wait for us, do not stop for a while merely because we pay no attention to him and do not give him a dose of instruction. It goes right on.
And a child is very receptive. It takes it all in! It easily imbibes all it hears and sees.
It also likes to imitate. It is a natural imitator. “Zooals de ouden zingen, zoo piepen de jongen”. (As the parents sing, so the children chirp, HJI.)
For these reasons the atmosphere of the home is of great importance. To this belongs, for instance, our conversation as parents, when we are not directly speaking to the children, but when the latter are present. And I may as well add: or when they are not present, for even then we are creating the home-atmosphere, and whatever may be the character of our conversations when the children are not present will naturally become their character when they are about us. To this belongs, too, our conversation when we have company and spend a social evening. What do we, then, talk about? Are the things of the kingdom of God the chief subject of our talk? Or are, perhaps, other matters uppermost in our mind and of chief interest in our conversation? Do we, perhaps, easily slander and backbite? Or, are we spending an evening talking about the latest fashion in coats and hats or the newest style automobile! Are the things of the world the main subject? And does the spirit of the world manifest itself in our talk, when we converse as parents or with our friends when we have them for a social evening at our home? And when we do speak about the things of God’s kingdom, what is the tenor of our conversation? Are, we, perhaps, criticizing severely and unmercifully and very conceitedly the office-bearers of the Church? Do we speak about them as also about the rest of the brethren as before the face of God, with respect because of their office and with love because they are brethren?
You see, “zooals de ouden zingen, zoo piepen de jongen.”
The child imbibes the atmosphere in which you cause it to live. You did not intend to instruct your child, but you did nevertheless.
You did not directly speak to him, but he was a very interested listener, even though himself was not intentionally so and greedily he drank in every word you said.
So little did you mean to educate your child that later, when you hear the child speak in the same way, when he also criticizes his teacher and minister and allows himself to speak deprecatingly about those that are placed over him, you disapprove and punish or rebuke the child.
But your rebuke is vain and your punishment of little avail. For, though you did not intend it so, the child will tacitly judge that you are rebuking and punishing him for what you have taught him yourself. Unintentionally you have instructed him and your intentional instruction is in conflict with it.
Many things might be added to this as belonging to this unintentional instruction, to the atmosphere in your home.
But let this be clear: there must be harmony between your direct and intentional instruction and that home-atmosphere. Both must be rooted in the fear of the Lord!
(Editor’s note: We receive the impression from the article that Rev. Hoeksema intended to continue this series in later editorials. He did not however, return to this subject, perhaps because of other pressing matters.)