A Code of Education in the Gospels

A Code of Education in the Gospels

Several years ago, a good friend of mine told me that he had been asked by his church to teach a class for some of the children. He had never done anything like this before, so he was not sure what to do or what to expect, but he said he would do it anyway. The church leadership gave him some materials that he was supposed to use, and he read through it all very carefully.

Shortly before the first class, the mother of one young boy called him aside. She said she wanted to warn him about her little boy. She said he did not respond well in church classes like this. She told my friend Paul not to feel bad if her son doesn’t say anything at all during class. “It’s not your fault,” she said. “It’s his.”

My friend thought about this little boy, and he looked again at the material he’d been given, and he began to think deeply about teaching. What is the best way to communicate spiritual truth to this boy? To any child? In fact, what is the best way to educate anyone about anything?

There are many places my friend could go to find an answer. He could look to tradition. He could teach the way his church had always done this class. He could teach the way the church has always taught through the centuries. He could look to psychology and social science. He could look at the studies and research which point out the most effective way to teach. He could draw from the best experiments and apply the teaching to his own practice.

But my friend had a vague sense that there was something better he could turn to than tradition or research to find his way. Only a few years before, he had a life-changing experience with Jesus Christ. He had found His Savior. He now worshipped Jesus, he now followed Jesus, he now trusted Jesus. He had to ask the question: can I teach like Jesus?

In 1890, the Reverend Henry Latham was the Master of Trinity Hall in Cambridge. He had been ordained by the Church of England 42 years before. Like my friend Paul, he worshipped Jesus, he followed Jesus, and he trusted Jesus. In fact, he dedicated his life to studying the ways of Christ and teaching his countless students in Cambridge. Through all these years of study, however, he focused on a very specific topic. In 1890, his lifetime of reading and reflection came to culmination in the printing of a book. He called it Pastor Pastorum.

Pastor Pastorum is Latin for shepherd of shepherds. The title brings to mind a passage from the first letter of Peter:

Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. (1 Peter 5:2–4, NKJV)

The subtitle of his book was “The Schooling of the Apostles by Our Lord.” He had spent his life investigating a very specific question: How did Jesus go about educating His disciples? Pastor Pastorum contained his answer.

He decided to structure his book according to the chronology of Christ’s earthly ministry. He went from Galilee, to Jerusalem, to the Cross, and to the Ascension, sharing his insights along the way. However, rather than save his “big picture” conclusions for the end, he included them in an introductory chapter in the front. This introductory chapter explained the most vital, the most fundamental principle that he believed characterized the teaching ministry of our Lord. He summarized it this way:

… our Lord was a teacher of a very different kind. He reverenced whatever the learner had in him of his own, and was tender in fostering this native growth… Men, in His eyes, were not mere clay in the hands of the potter, matter to be moulded to shape. They were organic beings, each growing from within, with a life of his own—a personal life which was exceedingly precious in His and His Father’s eyes—and He would foster this growth so that it might take after the highest type.[1]

Later in the book he discusses Luke 9:57–62. This is the passage where three different people came to follow Christ, and each received a different answer. Latham wrote:

This individualising in our Lord’s treatment of men struck the disciples as something new… To our Lord’s eye every human being had a moral and spiritual physiognomy of his own. He saw at once, what it was in each man which went to make him emphatically and distinctly his very self, and He addressed Himself largely to this.[2]

He distills this concept down to a single sentence as early as page 5 in his book:

[Jesus] cherishes and respects personality.[3]

In our modern usage, I think the word personality has lost its original depth. So to make the point a little more clear, I might say that the first principle of Christ’s method of teaching is this:

Cherish and respect personhood

In this opening chapter, Latham talks about what makes up an individual’s personhood. Early on he makes a very striking observation:

Our Lord never transforms men so as to obliterate their old nature, and substitute a new one; new powers and a new life spring up from contact with Him, but the powers work through the old organs, and the life flows through the old channels; they would not be the same men, or preserve their individual responsibility if it were otherwise.[4]

In other words, Jesus recognized that there was some good in the nature of the people He met. As even John Calvin himself said, Jesus did not see “man’s nature [as] wholly corrupted.”[5] He knew that men were created in the image of their Heavenly Father. Even the most precious qualities of faith, hope, and love were not something alien to the disciples. Rather, they existed, if only in embryonic form, in the hearts of these fallen men:

When I say that the Apostles were taught Faith, I use the word taught in a different sense from that which it has when applied to the subjects of knowledge. I mean that through wise moral treatment, a quality existing only as a rudiment was so developed as to fit the disciples for communion with God; and not only did they in this sense learn Faith, but—what also need learning, more than we suppose—Love and Hope as well.[6]

Here we find, I think, a second principle:

Persons inherently possess good as well as evil in their nature

According to Latham, the profound reverence of the Lord towards the individual disciples dramatically affected his manner of teaching. Latham writes:

He was so tender in preserving every line of individuality that He would not shackle freedom of growth in His disciples.[7]

Christ refused to violate the personhood of his disciples:

[Jesus] did not make them all copies after one pattern. That which was native to the man, and which marked him off from all other men, was lovingly preserved. He intensified in each man his proper life, which grew with all the greater vigour through being let to follow its own bent.[8]

Christ’s way of teaching is the very opposite of that which would make the learner a mere reflection of his Master.[9]

He refused to impose qualities from without:

Our Lord will not even make men better by action on them from without; He will not change their being by any spiritual action without their cooperation.[10]

Belief was to grow and not to be imposed.[11]

He gave the disciples space to question and grow at their own pace:

He had kept their self-helpfulness alive in various ways; we find them bold to question, and not slow to murmur, and both questions and murmurs are readily tolerated by our Lord.[12]

From this we can draw a third principle:

Personhood must not be encroached upon by the teacher

So if Jesus did not impose from without, or force violent changes to heart or character of His students, how did He teach them? Latham’s book points out three primary ways. The first is through the ideas he presented. Jesus described His own teaching as follows:

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. (John 6:63, NKJV)

Latham explains that very verse as follows:

He gave seed thoughts which should lie in men’s hearts, and germinate when fit occasion came.[13]

Jesus did not teach flat facts or dry conclusions. He spoke words that directly prompted thought and growth. Latham calls this the “secret of all learning”:

… the meaning of these new utterances gave men some pains to find, and when they had found it, they delighted in it as something they had conquered for themselves. Our Lord lets men into this secret of all learning. Did they suffer those words of His which “were Spirit and which were Life” to [be planted in] their hearts, turning them over in their minds again and again?[14]

Latham gives a specific example of this form of teaching. In Luke 17:5, we read:

And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” (NKJV)

Latham comments as follows:

When the Apostles said “Increase our Faith,” He worked no sudden change in them, but He pointed out to them the efficacy of Faith, in order that by longing for it, they might attain to it.[15]

He gave them a living idea:

“If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:6, NKJV)

So our next principle is:

The first instrument of education is the presentation of living ideas

However, it is clear that these ideas which Christ presented were not meant to be theoretical only. He made it clear that His words were to be put in practice. In Luke 6:46, Jesus says:

But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? (NKJV)

Latham comments on this verse:

There were many hearers who would put our Lord’s precepts away somewhere in their memory, and be satisfied with possessing right and beautiful thoughts without carrying them into practice, keeping them like curios in a drawer. These were like men building on the earth, who do only just what the moment requires. But the habit formed by steady obedience effects a structural change in the man’s own mind.[16]

Latham understood, as our Lord must have too, that habit is not a merely spiritual phenomenon. We know from neurobiology that repeated actions change the physical structure of the brain. This, I think, is the principle of Romans 6:

Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:16–18, NKJV)

Jesus encouraged His disciples in the repetition of good actions until these actions became habits. They became slaves to righteousness. Here we find a second instrument of education:

The second instrument of education is the formation of habit

But Jesus did not only teach by words. The disciples were with Christ day in and day out. They traveled with Him, ate with Him, and ministered with Him. Due to this continual proximity with Him, they began to absorb His values. Latham explains:

[The disciples] marked also Christ’s beneficence, His eagerness to render kindness, His readiness to use His wondrous power for the good of those who had no claim upon Him, His gentleness in rebuke, His never recurring to a bygone fault. And this sense of being beloved, this living in an atmosphere of affection, generated in them the capacity for Loving, just as the Home Love that is round a child, not only awakens in it affection to those who shew affection towards it, but teaches it what Love is; and engenders in it a great outcome of Lovingness which it strews broadcast, and bestows, not on persons only, but on animals, and even on inanimate things.[17]

So we see that:

The third instrument of education is atmosphere

Now earlier, I mentioned that Latham said Christ “was a teacher of a very different kind.” One difference is in His conception of the role of the teacher and the role of the student. The natural tendency for a teacher is to think that he is responsible for the education of the student. It is his work which achieves the result. But:

With Christ, the part that [the student] had to do of himself went for infinitely more than what was done for him by [the teacher].[18]

Nowhere is this principle more evident than in Christ’s use of parables. In Mark 4, Jesus shares the parable of the sower along with its interpretation. Latham exposits what happens next:

And then comes a discourse explaining for what purposes the teaching by parables was employed, which throws a strong light both on this matter and on education in its highest sense. Here the principle comes to the front, that it is not so much what is done upon the man, or for the man, as what is done by the man himself, that transforms him into a higher creature.[19]

Parables forced the students to do the work of learning:

The crowd that gathered there heard a teaching new to the world both in matter and in form; … But what they heard now was … not precept, but, on the face of it, only a simple tale. “This” they would say “is all well, but how is it like the Kingdom of God?” … They were no longer given instruction in a condition ready for use, but only material from which they should extract it for themselves; and to do this they must both use their wits and have hearts alive to God.[20]

Latham says that Christ was unique in this respect:

Among the great Teachers of the world there is hardly one, whose chosen pupils have received so few tenets in a formulated shape as those of Christ; and yet the Apostles at the time of the Ascension have undergone a transformation, compared with what they were when our Lord first found them, greater than was ever wrought in men in the same time before.[21]

Latham summarizes the role of the teacher in this way:

Which is it that sways us most? Is it the teacher who tells us,—This is the way you are to think, this is what you are to believe and what you are to do? Or is it the friend who blends his life and heart and mind with ours, with whom we argue and differ, but take something each from the other, which assimilates with what is most our own? Surely we yield more freely to the one who helps to foster our particular personality than to him who would thrust it aside, and replace it by his own.

Now Christ, as portrayed in the Gospels, is such a friend. He trusts to men’s believing that the Father is in Him, not because He has declared it in set dogmas, but because He has been “so long with them.”[22]

Here we might say is another principle of education:

The stress of Education should be placed upon the student and not the teacher

Interestingly, the life of a disciple was not one of monastic seclusion and contemplation. Latham observes that the disciples were mentally and physically healthy, and explains why:

This health of theirs came in great measure from their being constantly employed about matters of which their hearts were full. The training of the Apostles fulfils all the conditions for sound spiritual health; the Twelve lead lives of out-door labour, with constant change of scene, with varied interests, with occupations to engage their minds; some had the provisioning to see to, some the contributions, some were sent on in advance to secure lodging, and some wrought works of healing in their Master’s name. All this was conducive to their becoming self helpful, fertile in practical resource, as well as earnestly devoted to their Master, confident both of His power and of that delegated to themselves…

At the same time this regular occupation, though sufficient to prevent any evil spirit finding in them a corner “empty, swept and garnished,” yet was not absorbing or exhausting, it left their minds and wills free play; they could fall into groups as they chose, they could talk freely on the way, they could debate on the meaning of a parable, or on the nature and time of coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.[23]

In Marvin Wilson’s 1989 book Our Father Abraham, he makes a similar observation:

Not in synagogue classrooms but on hillsides, in fields, and in remote locations this Galilean carpenter’s son clustered many pupils about him.[24]

From this we get our next observation:

The fullness of education includes rich and varied occupations including out-of-door life

Latham mentioned that the disciples had time to reflect and debate on the meaning of the parables and other teaching they were hearing. He sees this as an intentional element of our Lord’s approach to teaching:

In all His sayings and doings, our Lord was most careful to leave the individual room to grow.[25]

But what does that mean, to have “room to grow”?

A great truth is brought to light by an incident of wonder, a pregnant word is let drop, a hard parable is delivered now and then; but between whiles the disciples are left to dwell on their own thoughts, as their fishing boat sails along, or as they follow their Master among the northern hills. Our Lord is ever bent on making men thoughtful and on calling out in each the inner life which is proper to the man, and for this, tranquillity, or at least frequent opportunity for quiet communing with their own thoughts, was absolutely required.[26]

The disciples were not passive learners. In fact, no true learning is passive:

The Apostles were not mere recipients as the crowd had been. They were not mere passive hearers receiving and storing wise sayings. What they heard was meant to set their minds at work, and the good they got from it depended on themselves.[27]

Latham notes what happens when students don’t have the opportunity to reflect for themselves on the material they are taking in:

When subordinates, or young people, are too long deprived of opportunity for judging and acting for themselves, their minds are apt to become passive and purely receptive; they become slow to start a notion or suggest an expedient; ideas of theirs, they fancy, are not wanted, and so they soon cease to have ideas at all.[28]

Our Lord wanted disciples who would have ideas. So He gave them time to think. And He listened to what they had to say. This gives us our next principle of education:

Knowledge is not assimilated until it is acted upon

Now up to this point we have been talking about living ideas which are good in nature. But our Lord knew that we all hear evil ideas as well. When He was tempted by the devil, Jesus Himself heard the Satanic voice presenting deadly ideas to his ear. Latham believes this temptation of our Lord was instructive to the disciples also. He puts it his way:

[Jesus recognizes] a personal spiritual influence, presenting evil thoughts to the minds of men; the man remaining free to choose whether he will entertain these suggestions or not.[29]

I might restate this as the following principle:

The chief responsibility of persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas

The disciples do not remain students. They become shepherds, or pastors, also. Even while Jesus was among them, He sent them out two by two on missions of preaching and teaching. They felt what it was like to have authority. Jesus shared with them a truth about teaching:

A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. (Luke 6:40, NKJV)

Latham has a very interesting perspective on the timing of this word to the disciples:

[The disciples] are in danger of being elated at finding themselves teachers when they had so lately been learners; they might lean to correction, and might incline to be over busy in giving directions and in finding fault; they might persuade themselves too that they thought only of the learners’ good, when in reality there was, mixed with this, a good spice of the love of exercising superiority…

The text has another application besides this, the pupil when perfected would stand on a level with His master; the latter had no indefeasible superiority. When they had lighted the lamps of others the light of the rest would be as bright as their own.[30]

In other words, while they exercised Christ-given authority, this authority did not make them better than their subjects. They had only a limited and delegated authority, and they themselves remained under command. We could state it this way:

Human authority is not intrinsic but is given and circumscribed by God

Now we have the fairly complete set of educational principles that Latham derived from his lifetime study of the record of Christ in the Gospels. I want to stress that he did not provide these principles as an actual list as I have done. Also these sentences are my own paraphrase of his key points. But I hope you will agree from what I have shared of his writing that this is an accurate summary of his conclusions.

At this point you may say, “Yes, this is how Jesus taught his disciples. But they were grown men. What does this have to do with the teaching of children?”

During the many years that Henry Latham was studying the teaching methods of Christ, prior to the publication of his book, another member of the Church of England was hard at work. Her name was Charlotte Mason, and she was struggling as a teacher. She described her plight as follows:

I had at the time just begun to teach, and was young and enthusiastic in my work. It was to my mind a great thing to be a teacher; it was impossible but that the teacher should leave his stamp on the children… But, all this zeal notwithstanding, the disappointing thing was, that nothing extraordinary happened. The children were good on the whole, because they were the children of parents who had themselves been brought up with some care; but it was plain that they behaved very much as ‘’twas their nature to.’ The faults they had, they kept; the virtues they had were exercised just as fitfully as before. The good, meek little girl still told fibs. The bright, generous child was incurably idle. In lessons it was the same thing; the dawdling child went on dawdling, the dull child became no brighter. It was very disappointing. The children, no doubt, ‘got on’—a little; but each one of them had the makings in her of a noble character, of a fine mind, and where was the lever to lift each of these little worlds?[31]

Charlotte Mason was looking for a better way to teach. As for my friend Paul who had been asked to teach a children’s class at church, there were many places she could go to find an answer. She could look to tradition. She could teach the way the church has always taught through the centuries. But here is what she found:

Looking for guidance to the literature of education, I learned much from various sources, though I failed to find what seemed to me an authoritative guide, that is, one whose thought embraced the possibilities contained in the human nature of a child, and, at the same time, measured the scope of education.[32]

Then something extraordinary happened. One day she was contemplating these passages in the Gospel of Matthew:

“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14, NKJV)

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1–3, NKJV)

Like so many of us, she had been taught to see these verses as exhortations for adults. Everyone seemed to say that these verses were describing “the grown-up people who have become as little children.” But one day she had a revolutionary thought. What if these verses were taken at face value? What if these verses were telling us not about the nature of adults, but the nature of children? The more she thought about it the more convinced she became:

Here is the Divine estimate of the child’s estate.[33]

Looking at the Gospels with new eyes, she focused on three more verses:

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:6, KJV)

Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 18:10, NKJV)

Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:14, ESV)

From these three verbs, offend, despise, and hinder, she wrote the following:

Take heed that ye offend notdespise nothinder notone of these little ones.[34]

And she called it “a code of education in the Gospels.”[35]

In 2017, Dr. Benjamin Bernier commented on this discovery:

As far as I have been able to trace, Mason was the first Christian educator to define a connection between these words of Christ and a philosophy of education.[36]

In 1885, Mason shared her discovery publicly, five years before Latham published his book. Her “code of education in the Gospels” was immediately picked up by leaders in the church. In 1890, Archdeacon Richard Blunt directly quoted Charlotte Mason and wrote:

Let us then listen to the words of Christ regarding them:—and first, His prohibitions—“Despise not, offend not, hinder not, one of these little ones.”[37]

In that same article, Blunt made this amazing statement:

It has been lately said that “the child as an object of public solicitude, and of social obligation the most sacred, is entirely a modern discovery.” There is a good deal of truth in that statement; for although potentially this solicitude for children was contained in Christ’s treatment of them and commands concerning them, practically it has taken centuries to arouse the conscience of Christendom to the duty of copying His example and of doing His behest. True, the doctrine of the Incarnation involved the sacredness of childhood; the life of the child Jesus hallowed all child-life; Christian art in its devotional representations of the Divine Child in His mother’s arms enshrined it; but even chivalry failed to secure for childhood any share of the glory with which it surrounded womanhood. Long centuries ago Christ “set the child in the midst” and there the Christian Church ought always to have beheld it. But at last we are beginning to understand His Divine purpose, and are learning to minister to each side of child life.[38]

According to Blunt, Mason’s discovery of the code of education in the Gospels was awakening Christendom to something it should have known all along.

Mason wrote:

We must either reverence or despise children; and while we regard them as incomplete and undeveloped beings who will one day arrive at the completeness of man, rather than as weak and ignorant persons, whose ignorance we must inform and whose weakness we must support, but whose potentialities are as great as our own, we cannot do otherwise than despise children, however kindly and even tenderly we commit the offence.[39]

Here we have the crux of the issue. Was Christ’s method of teaching only a model for how to teach adults? Or was He modeling the way to teach children too? The answer I think depends on this question: are children born persons? Remember Latham’s first principle:

Cherish and respect personhood

And combine that with Mason’s insight:

Children are born persons

And you have a revolution. Mason wrote in 1911:

We believe that the first article of our … educational creed—“children are born persons”—is of a revolutionary character; for what is a revolution but a complete reversal of attitude? And by the time, say, in another decade or two, that we have taken in this single idea, we shall find that we have turned round, reversed our attitude towards children not only in a few particulars, but completely.[40]

Dr. Bernier stated that “Mason was the first, Christian educator to highlight these set of teachings of Christ as a code of law setting the boundaries for the education of children.”[41]

Take heed that ye offend notdespise nothinder notone of these little ones.

What does it mean to “offend not”? Mason said that “we offend [children], when we do by them that which we ought not to have done.”[42] She gave several examples:

  • When we fail to recognize that children are born with a conscience, and with an inherent “sense of may, and must not, of right and wrong.”[43]
  • When we fail to act as if we ourselves are bound by the law of God.
  • When we fail to attend to our children’s physical needs.
  • When we give them “dreary, dawdling lessons in which definite progress is the last thing made or expected.”[44]
  • When we fail to give them opportunities to develop their God-given love of others.

What does it mean to “despise not”? Mason said that to despise is “to have a low opinion of, to undervalue.”[45] She said that we undervalue our children when we:

  • Allow them to imitate bad patterns rather than good.
  • Allow them to form and persist in bad habits rather than setting to work early to form good habits in them.

What does it mean to “hinder not”? Mason said that we hinder when we “overlook and make light of [the child’s] natural relationship with Almighty God.”[46] Mason writes:

And perhaps it is not too beautiful a thing to believe in this redeemed world, that, as the babe turns to his mother though he has no power to say her name, as the flowers turn to the sun, so the hearts of the children turn to their Saviour and God with unconscious delight and trust.[47]

Here is how we hinder children:

The mischief lies in that same foolish undervaluing of the children, in the notion that the child can have no spiritual life until it please his elders to kindle the flame.[48]

But if coming to Jesus is “the natural thing for the children to do, the thing they do when they are not hindered by their elders,”[49] then how can we help, rather than hinder? Or as Mason writes:

… this holy mystery, this union and communion of God and the [child], how may human parents presume to meddle with it? What can they do? How can they promote it? and is there not every risk that they may lay rude hands upon the ark? In the first place, it does not rest with the parent to choose whether he will or will not attempt to quicken and nourish this divine life in his child. To do so is his bounden duty and service. If he neglect or fail in this, I am not sure how much it matters that he has fulfilled his duties in the physical, moral, and mental culture of his child, except in so far as the child is the fitter for the divine service should the divine life be awakened in him. But what can the parent do? Just this, and no more: he can present the idea of God to the soul of the child.[50]

There is that word — idea. What is an idea? Here’s how Mason defines it:

An idea is more than an image or a picture; it is, so to speak, a spiritual germ endowed with vital force—with power, that is, to grow, and to produce after its kind. It is the very nature of an idea to grow: as the vegetable germ secretes that it lives by, so, fairly implant an idea in the child’s mind, and it will secrete its own food, grow, and bear fruit in the form of a succession of kindred ideas.[51]

An idea is not a fact. It is not a summary. It is not a creed. It is not a rule. Remember what Latham found in the words of Christ?

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. (John 6:63, NKJV)

Ideas are spirit and life. But Mason believed that there were other living ideas out there besides just the words of Jesus which are recorded in the Gospels. She believed what the Apostle John wrote:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1, NKJV)

In this passage, Word is the Greek word logos. It means more than just a word in a sentence. It means that God’s knowledge, reasoning, and meaning are all personified in our Lord Jesus Christ. This led Mason to exclaim:

… ideas emanating from our Lord and Saviour, which are of His essence, are the spiritual meat and drink of His believing people.[52]

And so tying together verses from Mathew 4, John 6, Revelation 22, she states:

… the Bread of Life, the Water of Life, the Word by which man lives, the ‘meat to eat which ye know not of,’ and much more, cease to be figurative expressions, except that we must use the same words to name the corporeal and the incorporeal sustenance of man…

We find it no longer a ‘hard saying,’ nor a dark saying, that we must sustain our spiritual selves upon Him, even as our bodies upon bread.[53]

From the Gospels, Mason became convinced that any living idea, whether found in literature, art, poetry, history, science, or nature, if it is true and life-giving, is a manifestation of Christ. Dr. Bernier comments on this understanding in this way:

Mason assumed that the identity of Christ as the ‘living word’ reveals the true nature of all existing and living things, in particular, and their meaning in relation to Christ who is also the truth and the life. This connection gives nature a sacred character and provides a foundation for learning as an instrument for growth in spiritual life.[54]

There is no such thing as secular education. All education is to be pressed into service for the spiritual life, and to help our children to grow in the knowledge of God.

So as Latham’s book was going to press, Mason’s own ideas about education had been in print for four years. Mason later distilled her philosophy into a set of twenty principles which she called her Short Synopsis. I’d like to show you her principles side by side with the principles identified by Latham:

Principles Identified by Latham Charlotte Mason’s Twenty Principles[55]
Cherish and respect personhood (1) Children are born persons.
Persons inherently possess good as well as evil in their nature (2) They are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil.
Human authority is not intrinsic but is given and circumscribed by God (3) The principles of authority on the one hand, and of obedience on the other, are natural, necessary and fundamental; but—
Personhood must not be encroached upon by the teacher (4) These principles are limited by the respect due to the personality of children, which must not be encroached upon
The first instrument of education is the presentation of living ideas (8) In saying that “education is a life,” the need of intellectual and moral as well as of physical sustenance is implied. The mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum.
The second instrument of education is the formation of habit (7) By “education is a discipline,” we mean the discipline of habits, formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body. Physiologists tell us of the adaptation of brain structures to habitual lines of thought, i.e., to our habits.
The third instrument of education is atmosphere (6) When we say that “education is an atmosphere,” we … mean … that we should take into account the educational value of his natural home atmosphere, both as regards persons and things, and should let him live freely among his proper conditions.
The stress of Education should be placed upon the student and not the teacher (10) [A faulty principle] lays the stress of Education (the preparation of knowledge in enticing morsels duly ordered) upon the teacher. Children taught on this principle are in danger of receiving much teaching with little knowledge
The fullness of education includes rich and varied occupations including out-of-door life (12) a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we train him upon physical exercises, nature lore, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books
Knowledge is not assimilated until it is acted upon (14) As knowledge is not assimilated until it is reproduced, children should ‘tell back’ after a single reading or hearing: or should write on some part of what they have read.
The chief responsibility of persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas (19) Therefore, children should be taught, as they become mature enough to understand such teaching, that the chief responsibility which rests on them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas.

Please note that Mason was not a source for Latham, nor was Latham a source for Mason. Rather, both were looking to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Latham found the principles of education manifested in Christ’s approach to His disciples. Mason found a code of education in the Gospels. The two sets of principles agree because they came from a study of the same Lord.

At some point Mason did read Latham’s book. She mentioned it in 1905, many years after laying out her own philosophy of education. Here’s what she said about Pastor Pastorum:

Most thinking people are in earnest about the bringing up of children; but we are in danger of taking too much upon us, and of not recognising the limitations which confine us to the outworks of personality. Children and grown-up persons are the same, with a difference; and a thoughtful writer has done us good service by carefully tracing the method of our Lord’s education of the Twelve.[56]

That is the lynchpin. If children and grown-up persons are the same, then the Lord’s education of the Twelve is our pattern for educating our children.

I mentioned that Charlotte Mason’s synopsis actually had twenty principles, not 19. The 20th principle is extremely important, but it came from Israel’s Gospel. We find it in Isaiah 28:23–29:

Listen to what I am saying; pay attention to what I am telling you. No farmer goes on constantly ploughing his fields and getting them ready for sowing. Once he has prepared the soil, he sows the seeds of herbs such as dill and cumin. He sows rows of wheat and barley, and at the edges of his fields he sows other grain. He knows how to do his work, because God has taught him. He never uses a heavy club to beat out dill seeds or cumin seeds; instead he uses light sticks of the proper size. He does not ruin the wheat by threshing it endlessly, and he knows how to thresh it by driving a cart over it without bruising the grains. All this wisdom comes from the Lord Almighty. The plans God makes are wise, and they always succeed! (GNT)

Charlotte Mason’s twentieth principle is based on this:

God, the Holy Spirit, is Himself the supreme Educator of mankind.[57]

If all living ideas emanate from the Logos, the Word, the Son of God, and if the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to lift Him up, then He is the teacher of our children.

My friend Paul looked for guidance on how to teach the children at his church. He didn’t want to despise, offend, or hinder the children. He believed that they were persons with desire and capacity to know God. He believed that these children had spiritual life and it was not up to him to kindle the flame.

He reviewed the curriculum his pastor had given him to use with the kids. He thought it over very carefully. And then he asked permission to do something else.

On his first day of class, a small number of boys and girls sat around him. He didn’t play childish songs for them or show them cartoons. He didn’t have them memorize a catechism or recite a creed. He didn’t tell them what to do or believe. Instead, he opened his Bible read aloud a passage from the Word of God. Then he said, “Now, I’d like you to tell me the story that you just heard.”

There was a long pause. It took a moment for the children to realize that they were not just being asked for the right answer. They were being asked to think, to reflect, and most of all, to tell. The resistant boy, the boy that his mother had warned Paul about, said doubtfully, “You want me to just tell the story that I heard?”

“Yes,” said Paul.

There was a long pause, and then this boy who never speaks up began to speak. He retold in his own words the story he had heard in the Gospel. And he made his own comments and observations along the way. The other children did the same.

Several weeks into the class I received an email from my friend. I’d like to share with you what he wrote:

I … noticed how different the young boy is that I told you about. He is lively and sharing. At one point after we had read some Scripture I forgot to ask them to narrate and was starting to talk about something, and the young kid just jumped in and really powerfully described the essence of the passage. The kids have become used to pulling out their Bible, and are eager to go through passages when me meet and then to describe what they take from it.

The boy’s mum said “please tell them another story like the other week. They loved that story and have been talking about it.”

And then my friend continued with this:

I am so far from a perfect execution of Charlotte Mason’s method, but one thing for sure is that I am treating these kids like persons and not encroaching on them. This isn’t to say that I’m silent in the lessons. Sometimes I’m sharing along with them, but it is more like peers all sharing together.

I will say this about my friend. Granted, he may not be perfect at implementing Charlotte Mason’s method. But this I can say for sure. By following the code of education in the Gospels, he is becoming more like Christ.

Recorded live at the 2022 Gospel Vision for Children conference:


[1] Latham, Henry. Pastor Pastorum (Cambridge: Deighton Bell and Co., 1907) (first edition 1890), p. 6.

[2] Ibid., pp. 374–375.

[3] Ibid., p. 5.

[4] Ibid., p. 4.

[5] Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) (first edition 1536), p. 292.

[6] Latham, op. cit., p. 468.

[7] Ibid., p. 464.

[8] Ibid., p. 231.

[9] Ibid., p. 463.

[10] Ibid., p. 22.

[11] Ibid., p. 25.

[12] Ibid., p. 463.

[13] Ibid., p. 12.

[14] Ibid., p. 323.

[15] Ibid., p. 22.

[16] Ibid., p. 260.

[17] Ibid., pp. 468–469.

[18] Ibid., p. 6.

[19] Ibid., pp. 321–322.

[20] Ibid., pp. 280–281.

[21] Ibid., pp. 272–273.

[22] Ibid., p. 17.

[23] Ibid., p. 279.

[24] Wilson, Marvin. Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2021) (first edition 1989), p. 40

[25] Latham, op. cit., p. 10.

[26] Ibid., p. 190.

[27] Ibid., p. 312.

[28] Ibid., p. 464.

[29] Ibid., p. 43.

[30] Ibid., pp. 257–258.

[31] Home Education, p. 98.

[32] Ibid., p. 99.

[33] Ibid., p. 12.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36]Education for the Kingdom, Part 2: Beginnings

[37]Reverence for the Work of the Holy Spirit in Children,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 1, p. 724.

[38] Ibid., p. 722.

[39] Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 238.

[40]Children Are Born Persons,” The Parents’ Review, vol. 22, p. 420.

[41] Comment posted on “Reconsidering Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition,” retrieved 5/9/2016.

[42] Home Education, p. 13.

[43] Ibid., p. 14.

[44] Ibid., p. 16.

[45] Ibid., p. 17.

[46] Ibid., p. 19.

[47] Ibid., p. 20.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid., pp. 343–344.

[51] Ibid., p. 173.

[52] Parents and Children, p. 246.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Berner, Benjamin. Education for the Kingdom (2009), p. 149.

[55] Towards a Philosophy of Education, pp. xxix–xxxi.

[56] School Education, p. 183.

[57] Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. xxxi.

4 Replies to “A Code of Education in the Gospels”

  1. I am wondering if you can give a more exact reference for the Calvin quote (footnote 5) by which section of his Institutes it appears in. With a different edition I am unable to find it. When I search a pdf version for the words “wholly” and “corrupted” which are in your version, I cannot seem to find the exact quote and indeed only find lines which seem to say the exact opposite of what you are saying Calvin says.

    1. It is from Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 2, Chapter III, Point 3. The full quotation is, “These examples, accordingly, seem to warn us against adjudging man’s nature wholly corrupted, because some men have by its prompting not only excelled in remarkable deeds, but conducted themselves most honorably throughout life.”

  2. This is a beautiful article- a gold mine! Thank you so much for all the work you put into it – and finding this gem of Latham’s. This might be my new favorite article at CMP- or at least gain a spot with my other first-favourites!
    I have been thinking about the ‘good/ evil’ principle. I know people who have turned away from CM because they discover this principle and think she is denying original sin. They couldn’t be further form the truth. But they haven’t read what she says on it. Enjoyed so much your thoughts/quotes on that particular topic.
    I also had thoughts on what Light a Living Ed can have in the hurts and dark of this world, our families, our lives, and our hearts.
    Amazing how Living Education always backs up Living Education. It can be found in other authors and sources. CM wasn’t the only source of a Living Education -although she may have been the most prolific, organized, and activist in specifically promoting it. True is true– and it can always be found if one looks for it. So glad your friend is finding his way. Thanks again for your insights and work.