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Is the Christian Home a Possibility Today?
BY CHRISTINE TERHUNE HERRICK.
N many households religion is conspicuous chiefly by its absence. They are not necessarily the dwellings of those who either frankly declare that they have no interest in sacred topics, or who have never had the opportunity to learn anything about these. As often as not the fathers and mothers of such families were reared in church surroundings; they may even have their names on the books of some house of worship and favour it with sporadic attendance. The children have been christened in due form; they are possibly attendants at Sundayschool. Yet so far as vital religion is concerned they might never have been exposed to its influence.
"Mother, was I ever baptized?" asked a small child who was nursing an arm sore from recent vaccination.
"Certainly, my dear. You were baptized when you were a little baby."
"Did it take?" queried the boy seriously.
Older people are inclined to put the same question sometimes with regard both to children and adults of families who would be insulted if they were not styled Christians. The application of religion to their lives has had so little apparent effect that one wonders if it could ever have gained a hold on their systems.
With all due respect to the efforts of the clergy in their specific lines; with the highest esteem for the work of church and Sunday-school, it is safe to say that these labour at a disadvantage when not supplemented or reinforced by the Christian home. The spirituality which is connected only with stated places and periods of public worship is not likely to stand fast when circumstances bring unexpected tests to the individual. Religion, to be unfailingly helpful, must be part of the warp and woof of existence, and this condition cannot be attained without home training from infancy.
Some of our worthy ancestors are perhaps responsible for the theory that the domestic hearths where the Christian ex
ample is taken as the model of life are the reverse of cheery. All of us have known or heard of instances of such homes, where harmless joys were stigmatized as inconsistent with true religion and virtue, where gloom and godliness were apparently deemed identical. Still, the most severe critic of the religious home must in fairness acknowledge that such households as this have always been in the minority. The joy of the Lord is the strength of many families and observance of the precepts the Bible and the Church have uttered for the guidance of their followers has made for temporal as well as for eternal happi
One such home I recall in particular, although I have known numbers of the same stamp. Religion in principle and practice was taken as a matter of course. The day began with family worship, or rather, this followed breakfast, at which meal, as at every other, a blessing or grace was said. When the children were little the reading of the Scriptures was assumed by the father; as they grew older each child had his turn in reading two texts, and the portions of the Bible selected to be read in course were chosen with a view to their special interest to youthful minds. It might be that the chapters were from the Old Testament and told of the lives and adventures of the people of God in early history, or the Gospel tale might be followed. The father commented upon passages that were difficult of understanding for children, questions were welcomed and answered; and the sequence of the Biblical story was made clear to all. Then each one of the family repeated a verse that had been learned for the day and there was a simple and comprehensive prayer, concluding with "Our Father" in unison.
I hasten to say I fully comprehend that in many households such a rather elaborate programme might be hard to carry out. When a business man and school children must move on schedule there is not leisure for prolonged exercises. Very well, let me refer to another home in which the time in the morning is brief and crowded.
There the devotions consist only of the reading of a few verses or a short Psalm-the portion always wisely chosen-the utter
ance of half a dozen pregnant petitions by the head of the family and the repetition of the Lord's prayer. The family gathers in the library before breakfast and five minutes suffice for lifting up the hearts and sounding the keynote that determines to what measure and tune the life shall be set during the day.
In still another home where the children must hurry off to school the Bible is brought to the breakfast table, the verses read at the conclusion of the meal and then all kneel for the short prayer that commends the family to God before they separate. Only on Sunday is there time for all to join in a hymn or to repeat the texts they have learned for the occasion.
Naturally, the simplest form of family worship demands a measure of self-sacrifice. The last dear five minutes in bed must be renounced; lazy habits must be conquered; leisurely dressing is a luxury to be abandoned. In theory all these are indulgences that it is supposed to be a hardship to relinquish. But are they really? Is it not all a question of the point of view?
Anyone will rise early with some definite gain in prospect. Decide to start on a delightful expedition and see with what alacrity the couch will be quitted at an unearthly hour. Is it not because of defects in our training that we do not appreciate the benefits we derive from the time taken from our beds for devotions of any sort? And does not this bring us back to the point of departure that the religious home is essential to the formation of habits of private and of family prayer as well as of attendance upon public worship?
There can be no denying the fact that to make a custom ingrain it must be started early in life. We have heard too much talk of allowing children to come up untrammeled and to choose their particular preferences in religion when they arrive at years of discretion. The truth is that the child does not grow up an independent entity. Influences of one sort or another surround him and he is bound to be swayed by them. The parents have the responsibility of deciding which form of faith shall be inculcated and what this shall be is naturally determined by that which they themselves hold to be the highest, the truest, the most efficient.
Illustrations sometimes make clear a condition as no amount of generalization can do. The thought of a home comes to me in which the practice of permitting the family to decide as they pleased was followed. The mother had been reared in Church surroundings but had drifted away from them, influenced largely by the attitude of her husband, who was an avowed agnostic. He would not have opposed her going to church or taking her children there, but he was absolutely indifferent to religion in any form and never attended a place of worship. I have sometimes wondered how he, a man of undoubted integrity, reconciled to his conscience the vows he took when his children were baptized.
While they were young family example and custom led the mother to continue an intermittent church-going and as the children grew older they went with her, when they felt so inclined, and attended Sunday-school. But a little later all of them removed to another city and even the pretence of religious observances was terminated. No obstacle was put in the way of it and the children could have gone had they so desired. They simply did not choose to do it. Once in a while they would drop in to a service as they might at a place of entertainment, but of anything like vital piety they were absolutely ignorant.
All of them are grown now. Two of them have married and established what I hope I am not uncharitable in calling godless homes. There is no vestige of family worship. I am in doubt as to whether there is even private prayer; it is uncertain if there is a Bible or a Prayer-book in either home. Sunday is a day of cheerful relaxation, with no thought of church-going. All of the family seem entirely moral and upright; not one of them, so far as the close observer can judge, has any reliance upon God, any window open towards Heaven.
In making this rather sweeping statement I do not forget how impossible it is for the mere spectator to judge of the heart or to determine how much of the beauty and integrity of a life comes from dependence upon God. But so far as being an asset for the Church and for acknowledged religion I feel I am safe in saying that these households must be regarded as a negligible
quantity. If they are not openly against the cause of Christ and His Church it is indisputable that they are not for it in even the smallest degree.
"But," someone may say, "how can you be confident that family worship and church-going would have been sure means of leading the souls of the members of these households into union with God? Is not something more than these required for the development of the Christian life?"
Undoubtedly, just as something besides attendance upon school and college is demanded to produce a cultured man or woman. None the less, we bring our children within the influence of educational institutions; we accustom them from infancy to the idea that they are to learn; we do not permit their shrinking from mental labour to excuse them from study. Is there any more reason why we should yield to their disinclination to give up their amusements and pleasures instead of establishing them in the habits of private and public worship? Is not their spiritual training, their teaching in the ways of the Kingdom of too much importance for us to regard their immature preferences for their own will?
For what supremely enticing form of employment or diversion is attendance upon Church and Sunday-school neglected? What is put in the place of it in the average household? Is there anything more agreeable or uplifting than a late and lazy breakfast, a morning of dawdling over the Sunday papers, an afternoon of napping or of strolling aimlessly about wishing that the day were over and something interesting would happen? Would not it prove more entertaining, to look at the question only from a pleasure-seeking standpoint, if some regular sacred pursuit were planned for and carried out on the first day of the week? If the habit of religious practices were implanted would it not be taken for granted and cherished in later life?
I have heard grown men and women say that they were sickened out with church-going in childhood, that they were obliged to attend service "every time the church-bell rang," and that as a result they do not care to go to church when they finally become free agents. When this is the case, something has been