« Prev VI. Plays and Pastimes, Holidays and Sundays. Next »

VI.
PLAYS AND PASTIMES, HOLIDAYS AND SUNDAYS.

"And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof."—Zechariah, vii. 5.

HAPPY days are these that figure in the prophet's vision. The people of the city are accustomed to scenes that are widely different, and give a peculiar zest to his picture. In the times of pestilence, in the horrors of the siege, in the sweeping out of captivity, what silence of desolation have they seen—the silence of ghastly death, the silence of gaunt famine, the silence of emptiness and depopulated life. It shall no more be so; the city shall be God's mountain, sheltered under his care, exempt from all the past desolations of pestilence and war—peaceful, populous, secure, and strong. All which is shown by two simple touches that make out the complete picture—"There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls, playing in the streets thereof."

We can see, too, for ourselves that the prophet's feeling goes into his picture; and that he has a natural delight in it himself. He sees the venerable crones 339 gathering at the corners, and blesses himself in the sight; hears the ring of happy voices in the streets and market-places, and plays his feeling in, with the playing boys and girls of the Lord's glad mountain. Inspiration has not taken the nature out of him, but has only made him love the innocent glee of childhood the more.

I draw it, accordingly, from this beautiful touch of the prophet's picture, that religion loves too much the plays and pleasures of childhood, to limit or suppress them by any kind of needless austerity.

Having set the young of all the animal races a playing, and made their beginning an age of frisking life and joyous gambol, it would be singular if God had made the young of humanity an exception; or if, having put the same sportive instinct in their make, he should restrict them always to a carefully practical and sober mood. What indeed does he permit us to see, in the universal mirth-time which is given to be the beginning of every creature's life, but that He takes a certain pleasure in their exuberant life, and regards their gambols with a fatherly satisfaction? What, too, shall we judge, but that as all instincts are inserted for that to which they tend, so this instinct of play in children is itself an appointment of play?

Besides, there is a very sublime reason for the play-state of childhood which respects the moral and religious well-being of manhood, and makes it important that we should have our first chapter of life in this key. Play is the symbol and interpreter of liberty, that is, Christian 340 liberty; and no one could ever sufficiently conceive the state of free impulse and the joy there is in it, save by means of this unconstrained, always pleasurable activity, that we call the play of children. Play wants no motive but play; and so true goodness, when it is ripe in the soul and is become a complete inspiration there, will ask no motive but to be good. Therefore God has purposely set the beginning of the natural life in a mood that foreshadows the last and highest chapter of immortal character. Just as he has made hunger in the body to represent hunger in the soul, thirst in the body to represent thirst in the soul, what is sweet, bitter, sour in the taste to represent what is sweet, bitter, sour in the soul's feeling, lameness to represent the hobbling of false principle, the fierce combustion of heat to represent the rage of angry passion, all things natural to represent all things spiritual, so he prepares, at the very beginning of our life, in the free self-impulsion of play, that which is to foreshadow the glorious liberty of the soul's ripe order and attainment in good. One is the paradise of nature behind us, the other the paradise of grace before us; and the recollection of one images to us, and stimulates us in, the pursuit of the other.

Holding this conception of the uses, and the very great importance of play, as a natural interpreter of what is highest and last in the grand problem of our life itself, we are led, on sober and even religious conviction, to hold in high estimation the age of play. As play is the forerunner of religion. so religion is to be 341 the friend of play; to love its free motion, its happy scenes, its voices of glee, and never, by any needless austerities of control, seek to hamper and shorten its pleasures. Any sort of piety or supposed piety that i.s jealous of the plays and bounding activities of childish life, is a character of hardness and severity that has, so far at least, but a very questionable agreement with God's more genial and fatherly feeling. One of the first duties of a genuinely Christian parent is, to show a generous sympathy with the plays of his children; providing playthings and means of play, giving them playtimes, inviting suitable companions for them, and requiring them to have it as one of their pleasures, to keep such companions entertained in their plays, instead of playing always for their own mere self-pleasing. Sometimes, too, the parent, having a hearty interest in the plays of his children, will drop out for the time the sense of his years, and go into the frolic of their mood with them. They will enjoy no other play-time so much as that, and it will have the effect to make the authority, so far unbent, just as much stronger and more welcome, as it has brought itself closer to them, and given them a more complete show of sympathy.

On the same principle, it has an excellent effect to make much of the birthdays of children, because it shows them, little and dependent as they are, to be held in so much greater estimation in the house. When they have each their own day, when that day is so remembered and observed as to indicate a real and felt interest in it by all, then the home in which they are so 342 cherished is proportionally endeared to feeling, and what has magnified them they are ready to magnify.

On the same principle, too, public days and festivals, those of the school, those of the state, and those of religion, are to be looked upon with favor, as times in which they are to be gladdened by the shows, and plays, and simple pleasures appropriate to the occasions; care being only taken to put them in no connection with vice, or any possible excess. Let them see what is to be seen, enjoy what is to be enjoyed, and shun with just so much greater sensibility whatever is loose, or wild, or wicked.

Religious festivals have a peculiar value to children; such I mean as the festivals of Thanksgiving and Christmas—one a festival of thanks for the benefits of Providence, the other for the benefits of that supernatural providence which has given the world a Saviour and a salvation. Both are religious, and, in that fact, have their value; for nothing will go farther to remove the annoyance of a continual, unsparing, dry restraint upon the soul of childhood, and produce a feeling, as respects religion, of its really genial character, than to have it bring its festive and joyously commemorative days. One of the great difficulties in a properly religious nurture is, that religion has to open its approaches to the soul, and make its beginnings in the shape of law; to say God requires of you this, forbids you in that, makes it your life to be set in all ways of obedience. It takes on thus a guise of constraint, and so far wears a repulsive look; but if it can show how genial it 343 is, how truly it loves even childish enjoyment, by gilding for it days of joy and festive celebrations, then the severities of law and responsible obedience take on themselves a look of benignity, and it begins to be felt that God commands us, not to cripple us, but to keep as safe and lead us into good. Such days, it is true, may be greatly abused by what is really unchristian; what is sensual and low, and very close to vice itself; and it is much to be regretted that the Christmas festival, otherwise so beautiful and appropriate, taken as a Christian commemoration of the greatest fact of the world's history, has been so commonly associated with traditional looseness and excess. The friends of such a day can not do it any so great honor, as to clear it entirely of the excess and profane jollity by which it was made to commemorate any thing and every thing but Christ, that, setting it in character as a genuine religious festivity, they may give it to all friends of Christ as a day of universal observance.

Happily there is now such an abundance of games and plays prepared for the entertainment of children, that there is no need of allowing them in any that stand associated with vice. Those plays are generally to be most favored that are to be had only in the open air, and in forms of exercise that give sprightliness and robustness to the body. At the same time, there needs to be a preparation of devices for the entertainment of children indoors in the evening; for the prophet did not give it as a picture of the happy days of Jerusalem, that the streets of the city should be full of boys and girls playing 344 there in the evening, or into the night, away from their parents and the supervision of their home. There is any thing signified in that but happiness and public well-being. Christian fathers and mothers will never suffer their children to be out in the public streets in the evening, unless they are themselves too loose and self-indulgent to assume that care of the conduct and the hours of their children, which is imposed upon them by their parental responsibilities. In country places, far removed from all the haunts of vice, and in neighborhoods where there are no vicious children, it might work no injury if boys were allowed to be out, now and then, in their coasting or skating parties in the evening. But the better rule in large towns, the absolute rule, having no exceptions as regards very young children, will be that they are never to be out or away from home in the evening. Meantime, it will be the duty of the parents, and a kind of study especially of the mother, to find methods of making the house no mere prison. but a place of attraction, and of always cheerful and pleasant society. She will provide books that will feed their intelligence and exercise their tastes—pictures, games, diversions, plays; set them to inventing such themselves, teaching them how to carry on their little society, in the playful turns of good nature and fun, by which they stimulate and quicken each other; drilling them in music, and setting them forward in it by such beginnings that they will shortly be found exercising and training each other; shedding over all the play, infusing into all the glee, a certain sober and thoughtful 345 look of character and principle, so that no over grown appetite for sport may render violent pleasures necessary, but that small, and gentle, and easy, and almost sober pleasures, may suffice; becoming, at last, ever most satisfactory. Here is the field of the mother's greatest art, viz: in the finding how to make a happy and good evening for her children. Here it is that the lax, faithless, worthless mother most entirely fails; here the good and wise mother wins her best successes.

Meantime some care must be exercised, that the religious life itself be never set in an attitude of repugnance to the plays of childhood. There must be no attempt to raise a conscience against play. Any such religion will certainly go to the wall; any such conscience will be certainly trampled, and things innocent will be done as if they were crimes; done with a guilty feeling; done with as bad effects every way, on the character, as if they were really the worst things. Nothing is more cruel than to throw a child into the attitude of conflict with God and his conscience, by raising a false conscience against that which both God and nature approve. It is nothing less than making a gratuitous loss of religion, required by no terms of reason, justified by no principle, even of Christian sacrifice itself.

Suppose, for example, that a child has begun to show many pleasant evidences of love to God and all good things, but that he is eager still in play, or sometimes gets quite wild in the excitement of it. If, at such a time, it is sprung upon him, as a conclusion, that he 346 does not truly love God, because he is so much taken by the excitements of play, he will thus be discouraged without reason, in all his confidences of piety, and it will be strange, if by and by he does not begin to show a settled aversion to religious things. How can he do less, when he is compelled to see it, as in conflict with all the most innocent and most truly natural instincts of his age? Or, to make the case more plain, drawing the question to a closer point, suppose the child, having so many evidences of piety in his dispositions, to be found at some kind of play in the family prayers, or that he rushes out from such prayers, in a manner that indicates eagerness and an emancipated feeling, or that he sometimes shows uneasiness in the hours of public worship on Sunday, or gives manifest tokens, in the morning, of a desire to escape from it, is it then to be set down, in your parental remonstrances with him, that he has, of course, no love to God, or the things of religion? By no means. How often does the adult Christian feel even a disinclination to such things; how often hurry away from his formal prayer, that he may get into his shop, or his field, or into some negotiation that has haunted his sleep in the night; how often sit through sermons with his mind on the game of politics, on the investment made or to be made, on his journey, or his mortgage, or the rivals he has in his trade? Is it worse for a child to be after his plays, with only the same kind of eagerness? Doubtless all such engrossments of the soul, whether of one kind or the other, are to be taken as bad signs, and, as far as they 347 go, to be allowed their due weight. But which is worse and more fatal, the child's undue possession by the spirit of play, or the man's by the spirit of gain—the honest, artless, letting forth of nature by one, or the deliberate, studied, scheming of the other—it is not difficult, I think, to guess. No matter if the latter is more sober and thoughtful in the mood, observing a better show of gravity. For just that reason he is only to be judged the more harshly. If then we can beat with adult Christians, who are much in the world, and, forgetting themselves often, fall into moods of real disinclination to their duty, are we to set it down as some total evidence against the piety of a child, that, by mere exuberance of life, he is occasionally hurried away from sacred things, into matters of play? Nothing is more unjust. Why should we require it of a child to be perfect, when we do not require it of a man? And if we tolerate inconstancy of feeling or impulse in one, why not a much less worldly and deliberate inconstancy in the other?

Thus far we speak for the side of play, showing how far off it is from the purpose of religion to take away, or suppress, the innocent plays of childhood; how ready it is, on the other hand, to foster them and give them sympathy. But it is not the whole of life, even to a child, to be indulged in play. There is such a thing as order, no less than such a thing as liberty; and the process of adjustment between these two contending powers, begins at a very early date. Under the law of 348 the house, of the school, and of God, the mere play impulse begins very soon to be tempered and moderated by duty, and the problem is to make divine order itself, at last, a state of liberty analogous to the state of play, as already suggested. But the law that is to fashion such order will be first felt as a restriction; then, when it becomes the spirit of the life, the order itself will be liberty. There is no such thing, therefore, as a possibility to childhood of unrestricted play. Restriction must be encountered as often as the order of the house demands it, then as often as the school demands it, then as often as the duties of religion demand it; though such restrictions are never to be looked upon as hostile to the child's play, but only as terms that are really necessary for his training into the organic relations under which he is born, best for his character, and even best for the enjoyments of his play itself. Otherwise he would either become sated by it in a short time, or his appetite for it would become so egregiously overgrown, that no possible devices or means could be invented to keep pace with it. Besides, a child, thus put to nothing but mere play, would very soon grow into such lightness and dissipation of feeling, as to be mentally addled, and would so be wholly incapacitated for any of the more sober an4 manly offices of life.

Here, then, begins a process of training into moral order, which, without wishing to be any restriction upon play, is yet of necessity such a restriction. The child is required to conform his conduct, including his 349 plays, to the peace of the house, to the conditions of sick persons in it to the hours and times and general comfort of other inmates older than himself. Errands are put upon him that require him to forego his pleasures. When he is old enough, he is set to works of industry, it may be, that he may contribute something to the general benefit. By all which restrictions of play, lie is only prepared to enjoy his pastimes and plays the more. The restrictions he will doubtless feel, at the time, and may be somewhat restive under them; but when he is thoroughly brought into the order of the house, and is set in the habit of serving it, as an interest of his own, then he will obey, contrive, and work, and even drudge himself to serve it, constrained by no motive but the service itself.

In the same manner it will be laid upon him to be at his place in the school, to be punctual to his times, to miss no lesson, to hold his mind to his studies by close, unfaltering application, even though it cost him a loss of just that liberty in play that he would most like, and take it as the very bliss of his good fortune to have. Restricted thus by the order of the school, he will only enjoy his play-times the more, and finally will come to the enjoyment of study itself for its own sake.

And so it will be in religion. There must, of course, be in it, what may be called restrictions upon children. All law is felt as restriction at the first, but it will not be that God makes war on their innocent plays; they only need as much to be established in right conduct, well-doing, and piety, as to have their indulgence in such 350 pleasures. If God will take them away from all misrule and wretchedness, and will bring them into all best conditions of blessedness and peace, and even of liberty itself, he must pit them under his commandments, train them into his divine will, and settle them in his own perfect order; and if he is obliged, in such a design, to infringe here and there upon their plays, it is not be cause he likes the infringement, but only that he seeks the higher bliss of character for them. Thus when a little child is required to say his prayers and retire at the proper time for sleep, there is nothing to complain of in that kind of constraint, even though he wants to continue his play; for the thing required is plainly for his good—this for the double reason that it trains him toward obedience to God, and a life in heaven's order, and because it even gives him a better appetite, and a fuller fund of vigor for, his play itself. And so it is universally; no constraint is to be blamed as infringement on his happiness, or a harsh severity against his pleasures, when, in fact, all highest happiness and widest range of liberty depend on the requirement imposed.

The suggestions and distinctions thus far advanced, have, it will now be seen, another kind of use and importance, when taken as preparatives for the settlement of a great practical question, viz: how to use the Christian Sabbath, or Sunday. so as to best honor the day in its true import, and best secure the ends of Christian nurture. The question is one that relates to a whole 351 seventh part of the child's time, and to just that part which is most peculiarly religious in the form, and most likely to assist the implanting and due fostering of religious impressions. So much indeed is there in this matter of a right use of Sundays, that the success of family nurture will be more exactly represented and measured by that use, than by any thing else. Sunday is preeminently the child's day for the soul, and the defective or bad use of it is never going to be compensated, by any wisest, best use of the other six days of the week. Indeed there is so much depending on this day, as regards human society, and the growth, and purity, and power of religion, that where it is lost in the training of families, no other kind of advantage—no liturgical drill, or eloquent preaching, or faithful and clear doctrine—can possibly make up the loss.

The main question, here, is how much, or little, of restriction is to be laid upon children in the due observance of the day? And the tendency is, it will be observed, to one or the other of two opposite extremes—that of undue severity, or that of unchristian looseness—and this, for two distinct sets of reasons. Sometimes for the reason of self-indulgence, or indolence in the parents; and sometimes for the reason of insufficient views of the day, as it stands in the Scripture, or in the judgments to be held of its uses. Thus it will be noted—

1. That, where parents are too indolent for any kind of painstaking in their families, they will contrive to case the burdens of their duty by one or the other of 352 two distinct methods. They will either take up the notion that it is best and most soundly orthodox, to make a very stiff practice for their children; in which case they will perhaps require them to sit down within doors a good part of the day, learning catechism or scripture, stilling the house in that manner so as to allow them to sleep; or else they will take up the notion that, in modern times, we are to be more liberal, of course, being more intelligent; in which case they will get their children off to the Sunday-school, (with a lesson, or without,) or if they better like it, send them into the streets, or the fields. Here is the first great obstacle to be encountered, in securing a right and useful Sunday in families, viz: that invincible self-indulgence in parents, which is the bane of all true care and responsibility; the poison, too, of all honest judgment in finding what the way of duty is. They have frequently nc such earnest and prayerful desire of the religious benefit of their children, as fastens their own attention, or presses them into a study of plans and expedients for creating a religious interest in their minds. And then a double mischief follows, viz: that they grow rusty themselves in their religious character, and having no good conscience, subside into a state of silence and acknowledged incapacity; and next, that, having become mere drones of respectful nothingness in the positive duties of religion, they stand as actual impediments in the way of all genuine religious impressions in their families. The man who can make sacrifices and take pains for his children at home will grow, 353 and be a useful Christian every where; and the man who can not, will be a dead weight every where. Here is the secret of a great part of that drying up of character which we so often deplore; and the secret also of that strangely irreligious temper, that hatred and contempt of all religion, that so often excites our wonder in the children of nominally Christian families. Let no parent hope to have God's blessing on the Sundays of his house, or indeed on any thing else that concerns the religious welfare of his children, unless he is willing to take pains, make sacrifices, burn as a light of holy example, for them and before them. Pass then,

2. To the inquiry what is the true conception of our Lord's day, or Sunday? What, according to the Scripture, and to all sound judgment of the day, as related to the Christian training of families, and to the general welfare of society, is the mode and amount of restriction imposed by it? I think it will be found, in giving a right answer to this question, that the true use of the day lies between two errors, or extremes, that stand over against each other; one that makes a virtually Jewish day of it, and an opposite that, with undue haste, quite sweeps it away. Neither is the mode of scripture, and the two are about equally weak, as regards their philosophic grounds and reasons.

According to the Scripture, God ordained a religious day, called a Sabbath, at the very morning of the creation. This was the day that Moses found already existing and only re-enacted in the ten tables of the moral law, as he did the statutes against lying and murder. 354 The Sabbath stands, therefore, on precisely the same ground, scripturally, as the others; on the same too morally, save that the precise natural and social reasons for it, equally clear to God, are not so to us; and that, so far, it has the character to us of a simply divine institute, while the other nine statutes of the decalogue have the nature of acknowledged principles, grounded in their perceptible moral reasons. Could we also grasp, as God does, the precise natural reasons for observing just one day in seven as holy time, tracing perfectly the vast religious, and social, and moral, and physical effects involved, it would have no more the look of an institute, and would become a principle of natural obligation, like the others that stand with it.

In this view, it can not be repealed any more than the statute against theft, or false witness. It is not a Jewish day, in any proper sense of the term, but a day of humanity, a world's-creation day; type also and ground of the new-creation day of the Lord. Moses went on, it is true, after the delivery of the decalogue, and ordained laws civil, and police regulations, by which the Sabbath was to be observed and enforced, and it was these that gave a Jewish character to their Sabbath. And, so far, no farther, it was that the Sabbath was repealed, in becoming a Lord's day. When Paul complains to the Colossians, that they "observe new moons and Sabbaths," and boldly rebukes the Galatians, that they "turn again to the beggarly elements desiring to be in bondage," and "observe days, and months, and times, and years," he does not mean to call the seventh 355 day of the decalogue beggarly elements, any more than he does the command to have but one God, or not to steal or kill. The beggarly elements are the political additions, those rigors of observance that were added by the political statutes and the religious drill of the ritual; designed, as it was, for a slavish people, low in their perceptions, and unable to know religion at all, save in the practice of austerities under it. Restriction was to them, at their low point, about the only religious conception they were equal to, and their whole ritual economy had a great part of its merit, in the stringent closeness of it, and the perpetual girding of their practice under its hard austerities. So far the whole economy was to be displaced, and the civil-law Sabbath was to go down with it. But the more ancient Sabbath be longed to the covenant of promise itself, and had the same kind of freedom and genial life in it that pertained, in Paul's view, to the whole Abrahamic order in religion. We can see too, for ourselves, that, so far as it is affirmed in the moral code of the decalogue, in distinction from the civil law, it has a character of extreme beauty and benignity. What can be a more genial token for God, than that he appoints such an institute of universal rest from labor? And what could evidence a more beautiful mercy than that God should take the part, in this manner, of all labor, even that of servants and slaves, and indeed of the laboring beasts, the oxen and the asses, asserting his protection over them (beautiful lesson of mercy to animals!) even against the selfishness of their owners, and allowing them to have a 356 respite to their otherwise endless toils. There is, in fact, no restrictive word in the commandment, save what may be felt of restriction in the injunction to "keep the day holy," and even that is interpreted, to a great degree, by the simple requirement of a cessation from labor; though it is, doubtless, to be understood that the day is duly hallowed, only by a careful devotion of it to the uses of religion. Is there any thing harsh or unduly restrictive in such a day? Does Christianity itself find any thing to accuse, or any want of benignity in it?

There is, then, no pretext of authority in the Scripture for making the Lord's day, or Sunday, a Jewish day to children. And those parents who make it a point of fidelity to lay it on their children, according to the strict police regulations of the Jewish code, would be much more orthodox, if they went farther back, and took up conceptions of the day some thousands of years older. When they assume that every thing which can be called play in a very young child is wrong, or an offense against religion, they try, in fact, to make Galatians of their children; incurring a much harsher, Christian rebuke, than if they only turned to the beggarly elements themselves, and laid their own souls under the bondage. What can a poor child do, that is cut off thus, for a whole twenty-four hours, from any right to vent his exuberant feeling—impounded, strictly, in the house and shut up to catechism; or taken to church, there to fold his hands and sit out the long solemnities of the worship, and what to him is the mysterious lingo 357 of preaching; then taken home again to struggle with the pent up fires, waiting in dreary and forlorn vacancy, till what are called the mercies of the day are over? What conception does he get of religion, by such kind of treatment, but that it comes to the world as foe to every bright thing in it; a burden, a weariness, a tariff, on the other six days of life?

But there comes in, here, a grand scripture reason for some sort of restriction, viz: that restriction is the necessary first stage of spiritual training every where. Instead of rushing into the conclusion, therefore, as many parents do, that all religious observances which create a feeling of restraint, or become at all irksome to children, are of course hurtful, and raise a prejudice in their minds against religion, the Scripture boldly asserts the fact that all law begins to be felt as a bondage. Law and gospel have a natural relationship, and they are bound together every where, by a firm interior necessity. It is so in the family, in the school, and in religion. The law state is always felt to be a bondage, and the restriction is irksome. By and by, the goodness of the law, and of them by whom it is administered, is fully discovered, and the obedience that began as restriction merges in liberty. The parents are obeyed with such care, as anticipates even their wishes; the lesson, that was a task, is succeeded by that free application which sacrifices even health and life to the eagerness of study; and so the law of God, that was originally felt only in the friction, rubbed in by that friction, is finally melted into the heart by the cross of Jesus, 358 and becomes the soul's liberty itself. It is no fault then of a Sunday that it is felt, in some proper degree, as a restriction; or even that the day is sometimes a little irksome to the extreme restlessness of children. All restraint, whether in the family or the school, is likely to be somewhat irksome at the first. The untamed will, the wild impulse of nature, always begins to feel even principle itself in that way of collision with it. Nor is it any fault of the Sunday observance, that it has, to us, the character of an institute. If it were a mere law of natural morality, we might observe it without any thought of God's will; but if we receive it as an institute, we acknowledge God's will in it; and nothing has a more wholesome effect on just this account, than the being trained to an habitual surrender to what God has confessedly enjoined or instituted by his will. It is the acknowledging of his pure authority, and is all the more beneficial, when the authority is felt in a somewhat restrictive way. The transition too is easy from this to a belief in the supernatural facts of Christianity. The conscience and life is already configured to such faith; for whatever is accepted as an institution of God, is accepted as the supernatural injunction of his will.

The flash judgments, therefore, of many, in respect to the observance of Sunday, are not to be hastily accepted. We are not to read the prophet, as if promising that the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls, on the Lord's holy day, playing in the streets thereof; or as if that kind of license were necessary to clear the irksomeness of an oppressive observance; or 359 as if the power of religion were to be increased by removing every thing in it, which disturbs the natural impatience of restraint. Some child that was, for example, now grown up to be a man—a profligate it may be, a sworn infidel, a hater of all religion—laughs at the pious Sundays that his godly mother made him keep, and testifies to the bitter annoyance he suffered under the irksome and superstitious restrictions thus imposed on his childish liberty. Whereupon some liberalist or hasty and superficial disciple, immediately infers that all Sunday restrictions are injurious, and only raise a hostile feeling in the child toward all religion. Whereas it may be, in the example cited, for such are not very infrequent, that the child was never accustomed to restriction at any other time as he ought to have been, or that his mother was too self-indulgent to exert herself in any such way for his religious entertainment, as to respite and soften the strictness of the Sunday observance. Perhaps the requirement was really too restrictive, or perhaps it was so little and so unevenly restrictive, as to make it only the more annoying. Be it as it may, in this or any particular example, a true Sunday observance needs to be restrictive in a certain degree, and needs to be felt in that way, in order to its real benefit. What is wanted is to have God's will felt in it, and then to have it reverently and willingly accepted. A Sunday turned into a holiday, to avoid the supposed evil of restrictiveness, would be destitute of religious value for just that reason.

The true principle of Sunday observance, then, appears 360 to be this: that the child is to feel the day as a restriction, and is to have so much done to excite interest, and mitigate the severities of restriction, that he will also feel the true benignity of God in the day, and learn to have it as one of his enjoyments. When the child is very young, or just passing out of infancy, it will be enough that, with some simple teaching about God and his day, a part of his more noisy playthings are taken away; or, what is better than this, that he have a distinct Sunday set of playthings; such as may represent points of religious history, or associate religious ideas, abundance of which can be selected from any variety store without difficulty; then, as the child advances in age, so as to take the full meaning of language, or so as to be able to read, the playthings of the hands and eyes will be substituted by the playthings of the mind; which also will be such as connect some kind of religious interest—books and pictures relating to scripture subjects, a practice in the learning and beginning to sing Christian hymns, conversations about God and Christ, such as bring out the beauty of God's feeling and character, and present Him, not so much as a frightful, but more as a friendly and attractive being; for the child who is only scared by God's terrors and severities, will very soon lose out all proportional conceptions of him, and will want to hear of him no more. Even the Sunday itself that only brings him to mind will, for just that reason, become a burden. The endeavor should be to excite a welcome interest in the day and the subjects it recalls.

361

And the devices that may be used are endless. The natural history of Palestine, the rivers, lakes, mountains, every city, every plain, will be easily associated in the child's memory, with the events and characters, and religious transactions of the sacred history; so with lessons of duty and sentiments of piety. For such uses, an embossed map of the Holy Land would be invaluable in a family of young children. Here are marked the sites of towns and cities, and the face of the ground is given on which they stood, or stand. Here was the locality of a battle, on this mountain or slope, or in this plain, or by this river. Here dwelt some patriarch, or prophet, or ministering woman. Looking over these ranges of mountain, through these valleys, and across these lakes and plains, questions of locality, geography, prospect, transaction, miracle, travel, can be raised with endless variety, such as will sharpen the intellectual curiosity, and the sense of religion together. The whole country may be daguerreotyped in this manner on the child's mind, and a tenfold interest excited in every event, whether of the Old or New Testament history.

The day itself also will be raising fruitful topics of inquiry. The topics of public preaching, especially those which relate to Christ—Christ the child, Christ the friend, brother, bread, way, reconciling grace—will raise interesting questions in the child's mind, and he will be delighted if the parent can make out a good and lively child's version of them.

Hearing much too of the church, and the communion 362 of saints in its order and ordinances, he will want to know more exactly what the church is, what it is for, and who are in it. And when he is rightly informed concerning it, as being God's holy family, or school, ill which all the members are disciples or learners together, and how Christ himself dwells in it, unseen, as the teacher and head, preserving its order from age to age, and dispensing gifts of life and salvation to them that are folded with him in it, how tenderly will it move his feeling, and with what gladness, to hear that he also is a member, whom Christ has accepted beforehand, to grow up as a disciple in it. His feeling will thus begin at once to take sides with it, as with his family itself, and he will be drawn along into the spirit and cause of it, just as he is into the cause of his family.

Perhaps too he will have witnessed the sacraments, the holy supper, and baptism as administered to infants, and he will be asking, probably, for some explanation of these. And nothing can have a more benign effect on a child's religious feeling than to be trained to a genuine faith in sacraments. But, in order to this, they must be sacraments; that is, observances appointed by God, as the occasions of a special faith in the special visitations and powers he engages to bestow on the receivers.

We lave become even a little jealous of sacraments. Our recoil from the extravagances of priestly magic has been carried too far. We keep them on foot, but we can scarcely be said to have faith in them, or to use them. The very attitude of mind they require is what 363 we want—want in the family, want in the church. They set us before God in just the way to receive Him best. He knew exactly what we wanted, and therefore gave them to communicate his own divine power in them. Suppose that Carthage, in giving to her sons an oath (sacramentum) of eternal hostility to Rome, hat been able to pledge a war-grace also, going into battle with them to make them strong before their enemy and always victorious, how eagerly would they have taken hold of it, in the terrible encounters of the field!

The supper then is to be a sacrament and no merely monumental affair, as if it were a coming to the tomb of Jesus to read his inscription; but it is to be an occasion where he is to be discerned, manifested as discerned, in his most real, only real, presence; dispensing himself and his reconciling peace to the soul. Explained thus to the child, in a manner adapted to his understanding, it is also to be added—"this is for you, and Christ is waiting to receive you and bless you in it, whenever you can ask it truly believing that he will, according to the faith to which you were pledged in your baptism." I see no objection whatever to his being taken to the supper casually, whenever his childish piety really and seriously desires it; unless some opposing scruples in the church, or the minister, should make it unadvisible. Christ, I am sure, would say—"Suffer the child and forbid him not."

The sacrament of baptism, which he will often see dispensed to infants—and they ought always to be presented in a public way, or in the open church, for that 364 purpose—can be handled, in these Sunday conversations, with still greater effect. This preeminently is the child's sacrament; signifying no regenerative work done upon the child, (opus operatum,) but the promise of an always cherishing, cleansing, sealing mercy, in which he is to be grown, as one that is born in due time; and which he is always to believe in, and be taking hold of, in all his childish struggles with evil. And he is to have it, not as a sacrament dispensed once for all and ended, but as a perpetual baptism, always distilling upon him, pledged to go with him, overliving his many faults and falls, and operating restoratively when it can not progressively, assisting repentances when it can not growths in good. He is thus to be always putting on Christ, as being baptized into Christ, and to live in the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Sentiments of profoundest reverence for his baptism are to be always cherished in him. He is to have it as the one pure thing that has touched, and always touches him. Family government, the family prayers, the saintly mother's kiss, every thing earthly, has the touch and stain of evil; but the sacrament of God's pure Spirit has not. All purest sympathy of God is here with him. He is God's child, and is to be God's man. Using thus his baptism, growing up into his baptism, obligation will be serious, but never oppressive; for he breathes for giving help, and has it for his element.

Now all these subjects of the Sunday conversation—365the church, the supper and baptism—being institutes of God, like the day itself, chime with the day, and go to keep alive the same institutional faith, thus to keep alive the faith of a supernatural religion and make it habitual. Nature being all, there is no Sunday, no church, no sacraments. All God's institutes are set up on the world by His immediate authority, never grown out of nature and her causes. And it is just here that the childish affinities are most readily taken hold of by religion. Children want the supernatural; and the Lord's day, used in this manner, or enlivened by this kind of teaching, will prepare an ingrown habit of faith, and will never annoy them, or worry them, by its reasonable restrictions. They will "count the Sabbath a delight, and the holy of the Lord honorable," and will have beside, all the blessings of the prophet that follow. Under such a practice, religion, or faith, will be woven into the whole texture of the family life, and the house will become a truly Christian home. Nothing will be remembered so fondly, or steal upon the soul with such a gladsome, yet sacred, feeling afterward, as the recollection of these dear Sundays, when God's light shone so brightly into the house,, and made a holiday for childhood so nearly divine.

366
« Prev VI. Plays and Pastimes, Holidays and Sundays. Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |