Puritan Board Doctor
Tonight, hubby and I were talking about some things we have rode the line on a bit. I'm a natural bibliophile (I collect books...of all sorts). I try to weed out the bad stuff, but I also try to collect certain things...some for future reading, some because I've enjoyed them in the past, some because they were simply passed onto me, and others because they are "classics" or "must haves". It's been weighing on my mind lately that there are some books on my shelves that simply don't need to be there...so the plan was to go through some books. Also to seek advice on books that I was unsure of (I know I will still have quite a collection AFTER weeding through them). I went to an online aquaintance's blog and linked to her website. There I found this article. She gives permission at the bottom to reprint it in full, so I have simply copied and pasted the article here. I felt it suited and hopefully others will glean from it as well. I'm open to discussion on "what are nurishing books, what are not, and why".
A Woman that Fears the Lord
Choosing Books that Nourish your Child's Soul
Do you notice how quickly the days are passing, Mothers? I often tease my husband and ask if the scripture that talks about the days being shortened in the last days means that each day is literally less hours. ( He just *amuses* me and smiles).Does it seem as if the day when the house will be empty is a million years away? I can promise you it’s closer than you would care to know. Think back for a moment of when you once held your first born in your arms. Did it not seem as if it were yesterday? The baby that I held in my arms many years ago now towers above this mothers head. The time seems as if it were only a few short hours instead of nearly 21 years. My daughter is married and taking care of her own husband. Our Lord is the only one who knows the days that he has given us to train our children. We may only have today to give them the message and hope of eternal life. Are we redeeming the time by capturing every opportunity to present the message of the cross to the precious souls that have been entrusted into our care? Are we being faithful in the duty assigned us to ‘shepherd’ their souls. Or are we allowing the minutes to slip away by filling their days full of book knowledge which may crowd out any premium time to be effected by godly literature.
An old puritan once said, "Our great business in this world is to prepare for the next". That is why we home school , right? Our hope is that by home schooling our children we will be discipling them in the faith, preparing them for heaven. What we must continually ask ourselves though, is whether or not our days are fulfilling our long term goal. Is the time that we are spending home schooling our children TRULY making a difference? Are the books and curriculum that they read throughout the day capturing the moments for eternity? Do we see the urgency of the moment?
Eph 5:15-16 say:" See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil." Sometimes we tend to jump past a definition and we miss so much of the meaning of the passage. I’d like to share a few definitions from Websters 1828 dictionary concerning this verse.
Circumspectly - Literally, looking on all sides; cautious; prudent; examining carefully all the circumstances that may affect a determination.
Redeeming- to use more diligence in the improvement of it; to be diligent and active in duty and preparation. Strongs concordance says that to redeem the time is to ‘ rescue from loss’.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary states, "Circumspect walking is the effect of true wisdom, but the contrary is the effect of folly. It follows, redeeming the time (v. 16), literally, buying the opportunity. It is a metaphor taken from merchants and traders who diligently observe and improve the seasons for merchandise and trade. It is a great part of Christian wisdom to redeem the time."
If you look back in early history starting in the 1600’s, the goal of most children’s literature was to redeem the time in order to bring the child to the question, ‘What must I do to be saved?’. Of course, just because a book is old doesn’t mean that it is worth reading, but their is a vast difference between the goal of most children’s books written in our generation compared to those written in centuries past. A child learned to read in order to read the bible. Once the ordinary population could read the bible they were able to stop their education. While learning to read by means of their ABC the child would memorize simple prayers, poems, verses from the bible and portions of an easy catechism. (more on this later) The purpose of education was to show a child how to glorify God, to help the child see their sin, to show the child the end of a life of sin and to help them have concern for their soul. Is this goal of modern Christian books, to redeem a child from the consequence of sin or is the purpose to entertain them, pass the time or just to fill them with head knowledge and information?
The purpose of education in glorifying God started to change near the end of the 1600’s. After the reformation up until the time of the late 1600’s the fundamental doctrinal position in the 16-17 century was that a child was by nature born in sin and depraved due to the fall of Adam. It was uncommon to find a person who believed that children were born neutral or good . The knowledge that children were born in sin haunted the minds of nearly all Protestants and helped to influence the kind of books that were written for children. Children did not always live through their childhood. The puritans lived with this reality and redeemed every moment for the salvation of their children. The great reformers of that time, Luther, Calvin and Knox, desired to kindle in the child a desire for salvation. The doctrine of original sin began to be questioned during the end of the 1600’s. This change in doctrine was reflected in children’s literature . Instead of showing original sin as the reason a child told a lie , now environment and heredity were to blame. Do you see the deception in this thinking? No longer is a child taught that he is responsible for his sin but the blame is transferred to parents, schools or s.
Interesting enough, after the reformation, much of the literature for children was taken from sermons. One out of 8 sermons were preached directly to the children of the congregation. The young were encouraged to pay attention in church because the first lesson on Monday morning was a test from Sunday’s sermon. Sermons, funerals, biographies were used to bring the child to the question, "what must I do to be saved". The answer always being, Redeem the time, Repent and be born again. This may be why their theology helped to convert a child at 6 instead of 18. These early conversions were not mere confessions with no evidence being shown in the way the child lived out their life, but an actually change was witnessed in their behavior , love and devotion to the Lord.
Aside from printed sermons, true biographies were the most popular among the young. These biographies were written to set an example for the children. The biographies encouraged good conduct and taught the child how to live and die in a Christian fashion. A proper book for a child would have either included a sermon, examples of divine judgment on sinners or stories of early piety and deaths that were edifying. Wicked children were not idolized in their stories, but used to show the end of sin.
The purpose for which we must redeem the time is for the salvation of our souls and those we love , the duty of religion and to prepare for eternity. Richard Baxter (1615-1691)gives us wonderful instruction on how to set our minds to redeem the time. " Live continually as under the government of God; and keep conscience tender, and in the performance of its office; and always be ready to render an account to God and conscience of what you do. If you live as under the government of God, you will be still doing his work; you will be remember his judgment; you will be trying your work whether it be such as he approveth; this will keep you from all time-wasting vanities. If you keep conscience tender, it will presently check and reprehend you from your sin; and when you lose but a minute of time it will tell you of the loss: where as a ‘seared conscience’ is ‘past feeling’ and will give you over to lasciviousness. Eph. Iv. 19; 1 tim iv. 2 and will make but a jest at the loss of time; or at least will not effectually tell you either of the sin or loss."
From what should our children’s time be redeemed from if we are going to capture the moments of each day towards the redemption of their soul? Ephesians 5:16 says that we are to redeem the time because the days are evil. 2 Tim. 3:1-5 gives us along list of sins we will find in the last days. One of the sins mentioned is that men shall be lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God. Our children’s time should be redeemed from unprofitable amusements and pleasure. Children are encouraged by scripture to fell youthful lusts and to remember their creator in the days of their youth. 2 Tim. 2:22, Eccles. 12:1 Pleasure seems to have taken on a whole new meaning in recent generations. Amusements and entertainment scream for our attention daily. The television, novels, computers and movie theaters entice us to entertain our flesh by watching and enjoying sin without giving us anything in return that would help to draw us closer to fellowship with Christ.
Pleasure , in and of itself, was not considered wrong in earlier centuries, unless it distracted a person from serving and glorifying God. During the reformation and puritan era, the Christian would not allow pleasure to distract the heart from communion with God for he would not willingly serve two masters. Pleasure was not to become a means to an end. The ‘end’ being that all must be done for the ‘glory of God’. An amusement or pleasure that only made men happy without piety was considered a mere husk leaving the flesh only craving for more, compared to the bread of heaven which Jesus said would cause them to not hunger or thirst again.
You may wonder if these Christians allowed their children any enjoyment at all? These authors of children’s books desired to give children pleasure, just not in the way we view pleasure today . To them the highest attainment of pleasure was studying and enjoying the will of God. They knew that the nature of true joy was repentance and faith in God through obedience to Him. An author writing merely to entertain a child would have been thought sinful. Romance stories, novels and fiction were considered ‘vile’ because they distracted ones time from being spent in soul-searching and edification. Fiction was seen as a rejection of truth and reality making it meaningless . This would include historical fiction , such as Walt Disney type stories, that easy a little history into the episodes with no standard of right or wrong. Earlier authors believed that edification and amusements were not compatible. Novels were felt to the taste, pollute the heart, demoralize the conduct and excite and sensualize the affections.
The most popular children’s book written in the 16th century, next to only the bible , was called, A Token for Children. A Token for Children was a collection of true stories of children who had come to a saving knowledge of Christ while all coming to an early joyful death. These children were considered joyful in their death because they had Christ for their Savior. Their lives are left as an example of piety even to us as adults today. They were found studying God’s Word both day and night , even in sickness and poor health. They witnessed to their family and friends of the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and even consoled their grieving parents. Now, what would be the chance of a book of this nature being found in our modern bookstores on the top 10 bestsellers list? Does it seem strange that a book of this nature would be popular among children? Parents today may feel that the topic would be too sad or frightening for a child. Parents of earlier generations considered it a horror to protect a child from truth. The truth that a child could die and be sent to hell as well as an adult, compelled parents to teach their children the condition of their souls at the earliest age. Many parents in recent generations view childhood through sentimentality believing that it needs to be prolonged. Because of this attitude our children are maturing later than generations ahead of us. The wisdom of parenting in the past saw that children had many hard truths to be learned and they desired to hand down that truth to the young. Childhood was serious business.
Colonial children were encouraged to leave diaries and as a result we can ‘peek’ into their thoughts and childhood. Never do you find a child complaining about cranky parents, cramped living quarters , the annoyance of brothers and sisters or whining about too much school work. As a result we find no trace of juvenile delinquency in court records and adult crimes were rare compared to our generation. The stark contrast of the child raised today compared to earlier generations is frightening.
So, with all of this said, how does a parent choose books that will nourish a child’s soul by bringing them to the ‘question’ , ‘What must I do to be saved?’ The first place I would start is by using a catechism to train my children . (Did I see your mouth just drop?) By catechism I do not mean a catholic catechism. The term catechism in Websters 1828 dictionary states: A form of instruction by means of questions and answers, particularly in the principles of religion. A catechism teaches precept upon precept (Isa 28:10) supported with biblical texts. The first catechism was written after the reformation to prevent the church from going back into Catholicism, heresy and error . The child usually was taught his catechism at home by his mother and examined by his father. This was considered a required duty in Christian homes. Families were brought before the church if they were found not ‘catechizing’ their children properly. The catechism was part of their elementary schooling, too. It was usually in the form of a book but sometimes it was pasted or nailed to a wall. C. H. Spurgeon wrote, "I am persuaded that the use of a good Catechism in all our families will be a great safeguard against the increasing errors of the times…." " Those who use it in their families or classes must labor to explain the sense: but the words should be carefully learned by heart, for they will be understood better as years pass". Catechism’s were used by teaching the child to memorize the question , answer and scripture proof. The first question in the smaller Westminster catechism is "What is the chief end of man. The answer is "To glorify God and enjoy Him forever". I can’t tell you how many times the Holy Spirit has used that simple truth in my life.
When discerning literature there are a few principles that I have gleaned from others that have become a check list.
1. Humanism- Does the book reject God’s Word and His authority as the only means to govern our lives? Are man’s ways being exalted over what God says? Humanism is believing that self knows better than God or His word. It exalts self and feelings over truth. Humanism is ‘vain philosophies’ which cause us to doubt God’s Word as being able to be applied to our lives personally. It arouses a discontent with God’s purpose for my life. The feminist movement would fall under this category. Feminist’s are discontent with God’s purpose and goal for a women being a wife and a mother. Career is seen as the goal of fulfillment. A woman taking care of her home and family is seen as lazy and below a woman’s full potential. Watch for this attitude in the books that your girls read. Are the books that your girls are reading promoting God’s design for their life? Or does their role come across as boring? Do the boys seem to be having all the fun? Is the girl doing ‘girl-things’ or does she get more excitement from ‘boy-things’? Is a spirit of competitiveness encouraged or is self-sacrifice and serving one another promoted? Is higher education the goal of her life or is becoming a wife and mother promoted as the ideal? Watch the reversal with how the men are portrayed? Have you ever noticed on most of the sitcoms on television how the man is seen as being irresponsible and childish while the woman has all the answers and is making the responsible decisions in the home? (Home -Improvement or Dr. Quinn). Are the biblical roles as found in scripture reversed? Is the man staying home watching the children while the woman works? Who is taking care of the children? The mother or a baby-sitter? Look at the list in Titus 2 of what an older woman is to teach a younger woman. Are these qualities being promoted in what your children read? Read the list of the qualifications for a deacon…. are these qualities seen as important?
2. Is there a standard for right and wrong? Is there instruction in righteousness? Does the book show an action with it’s corresponding results? Is divine judgment seen on the end of a life of sin? Or does the book display a series of chance happenings, luck or lucky coincidences? Is wickedness seen as profitable as appealing? Is hard work seen as a blessing or something to be avoided? What is the goal of the author, there religious background? Is the author aiming at the child’s heart to deal with their sin? Or is the author dealing with the emotions by stirring up sentiment without interacting with the sin in their heart or promoting godliness.
3. Ask yourself if you knew that today was the last day your child had to live, what kind of books would you want him to read? What would be the purpose of the day that you planned for him? I know that we have to live as if the Lord is coming today, yet to occupy until He comes. I realize that many have state requirements to fulfill and I know we have to prepare our boys to earn an income to provide for their families. But, how much of what we are filling their days with is really necessary and profitable unto salvation? If we get up late in the morning what is the first thing that we consider skipping in order to get going with the school work? What message do we give to our children when we skip our bible time and devotional reading to start our school work?
I’m not trying to be a ‘party-pooper’ , Sisters! I’m just asking that we take a look back in scripture and history to see whether or not the current path we are leading our children on is biblical and profitable. We are given one moment at a time without any promise of another. Each moment that passes may never return. May the Lord give us wisdom to redeem the time for the sake of our children.
Copyright 1998. You may reproduce these pages in their entirety. Georgene Girouard http://awomanthatfearsthelord.com