“The praises of the Lord.” Psalm 78:4
Men have studied for making confession as long as Christ’s church has existed. That is perfectly natural. You would not need to study if you had been present personally when God revealed himself through the prophets, through Christ, and through the apostles. But God’s works and God’s revelations were not completed within the scope of one man’s lifetime. They occurred long before you lived, and they needed several epochs to be fulfilled. Because of that, and because of that only, it is necessary that you study for making confession.
If you are to know anything about the history of your own country, you must study it. You know what is happening around you in your own time without having anyone tell you of it. But you have not this same firsthand information concerning what happened in the days of William Penn, of the Redcoats, of George Washington, or of Abraham Lincolm.* Of that you were not an eyewitness. Accordingly the history of those days has been written into books so that you may read of it.
Because God accomplished his mighty deeds in bygone ages, and because he made his significant revelations long before you were born, it pleased him to have the record of them preserved for you in written history. He provided that all of his “praises,” as Psalm 78 calls his mighty deeds, would be available for you to read. But if these praises are not to remain foreign and unknown to you, you must put forth a conscious effort to acquaint yourself with them.
*Names taken from American history have been substituted for those borrowed from Dutch history by the author. —Translator
It is for purposes of such study that God endowed you with a memory, that marvelous faculty that enables you to carry a photograph of the past with you in your mind. Because of memory, bygone epochs can become palpably real and genuinely meaningful to you. By means of it you can relive the experiences of an earlier generation.
That does not mean that you may use your memory only for familiarizing yourself with the “praises of the Lord.” You may use if to bless your daily, public life also. Yet you may never forget that your memory is employed for its highest function only when you use it as a means to make the deeds and the revelation of God part and parcel of your own consciousness. You do well to remember that you must love the Lord your God with all your faculties. Memory is not the least of these.
Your attitude is not to be commended if in study you concentrate all your powers upon the several sciences and arts, and never once undertake to enrich the rising generations by a knowledge of God’s deeds and by the science of his revelation.
The value of study as a preparation for confession may therefore not be underestimated. Yes, even the task of committing matter to memory is an invaluable one. The strenuous efforts that must be put forth in such study form a part of the “sweat of the
brow” by which alone we are to eat bread. You may think that you are manifesting love for your children by sparing them exertions required for such study, but such misdirected pity makes you guilty of a brutal want of sympathy for them. Your children must study, even if the exertion demanded from you and from them ever so exacting. The faculty of memory meets fewer obstacles in exercising itself in children than it does in adults. The age of childhood accordingly is the appropriate time for memorization.
One caution is in order, however, in urging that children be compelled to memorize the historical truths narrated in the scriptures. It is this: Never suppose that a well-supplied memory equals piety, or that an encyclopedic mind alone can ever foster religion. When a man has gathered stones into a heap, he has not yet built a house. An aggregation of kernels is not yet a loaf and will stay no man’s hunger. So too the facts accumulated by the memory will become so much ballast to the brain if they are there left unused. Yet it is also true that no house can be built nor loaf baked before the constituent elements have been gathered together. So again there can be no religion without knowledge of “God’s praise.” It remains equally true that just as an aggregation of constituent elements can never equal a house or a loaf of bread, so also an accumulation of facts cannot amount to true religion unless they have been seized upon and shaped into a living, organic whole.
It is necessary that memory be put to work at accumulating facts that can be of real use. That fact makes a second caution necessary. There are those who fatigue children by compelling them to commit long, meaningless lists of names to memory. Perhaps your children can recite in order the names of all the patriarchs who lived before the flood and of all the kings of Israel. Pray, what of that? It does not prove that they appreciate the “praises of the Lord, and his strength, and the wonderful works he hath done.”
Such appreciation should nevertheless be the sole purpose of religious study. The progressive movement of the grace of God is clearly discernible in history. It has pleased God to accomplish strikingly a mighty work in successive epochs of history, a work that affects all mankind, and that accordingly affects you also. By that work, which culminated gloriously in the sending of his Son, God displayed his compassionate grace toward sinful men. It is that work, that mighty deed that must be struck deep into your consciousness and into the consciousness of your children. Familiarize yourself with the evolution of that work. Let its organic unfolding be a vivid picture in your mind. Ponder it often; be able to translate yourself from the present to the past at the bidding of your will; learn to enjoy living with previous generations. That should be the goal of your study, the content of your trust, the stay of your hope in life.
How untoward the results of those Sunday schools and catechism classes are therefore that try to convert pupils into memorization machines. Upon graduation such pupils can recite quantities of facts. But when they are asked, “What has God done for you, and what has he revealed to you?” they stand embarrassed for want of an answer.
A child must be able to appreciate what it has learned and must be allowed to enter into the spirit of it. His knowledge should mean things for him and should serve him well in the conflicts his soul is soon enough to experience.
If he is armed with such real knowledge, you need not be anxious about your child. It may even be likely that he will hear the Lord’s “praises” mocked, slandered, or denied. But upon such occasions he will come to his Savior’s defense, armed not with a series of patriarch’s names or with a list of parables, but with the bold and eloquent testimony that God has wrought a mighty accomplishment throughout the centuries. If he is to make that bold and lofty confession, your child must have stood in breathtaking awe and wonderment before the grandeur of that work of God.