Mason’s Program for Bible Lessons

Mason’s Program for Bible Lessons

Charlotte Mason wrote, “Now our objective in this most important part of education is to give the children the knowledge of God.” Mason did not approach this “most important part of education” in a haphazard fashion; rather, she developed a progressive program of study for children from ages 6 to 18 that is breathtaking in its simplicity, elegance, and efficacy. This presentation reviews the content, sequence, and structure that Mason developed for Bible lessons for Forms I through VI. With the understanding that education is the science of relations, we explore her approach to facilitate the most important relationship of all.

This live presentation was filmed at the Charlotte Mason Soirée Summer Mountain Mini in June, 2018.

You can download the slides from the presentation.

Errata: At the time this presentation was recorded, I thought that J. Patterson Smyth’s The Bible for the Young included a volume covering the Gospel of Luke. I have since learned that no such volume exists, and that the programmes apparently assigned Bishop Walsham How’s The Four Gospels as the commentary on the Gospel of Luke for Forms I and II. The presentation slides have been updated accordingly.

This link provides an audio-only version of the presentation:

9 Replies to “Mason’s Program for Bible Lessons”

  1. Art, thank you for sharing this talk along with these slides. I’m wondering whether you think teaching through J. Patterson Smyth’s selections “The Gospel Story” could replace going through his individual volumes on the gospels (Matthew, Luke, Mark) in the earlier forms. It seems that he goes through the life of Christ chronologically in “The Gospel Story”, choosing passages from the different accounts. Thanks for your time and consideration.

    1. Lovejoy,

      Thank you for asking this interesting question. No, I do not think Smyth’s The Gospel Story should take the place of reading through the Synoptic Gospels in the early forms. As I explain in my presentation, one key element of Mason’s program for Bible lessons is the reading books of the Bible in their entirety. As she wrote:

      How delightful it would be that each birthday should bring with it a gift of a new book of the Bible, progressing in difficulty from year to year, beautifully bound and illustrated, and printed in clear, inviting type and on good paper. One can imagine the Christian child collecting his library of sacred books with great joy and interest, and making a diligent and delighted study of the volume for the year in its appointed time.” (volume 2, pp. 111-112)

      One error in my presentation is that I wrongly assumed that Smyth had written a commentary on St. Luke’s Gospel. In volume 6, Charlotte Mason wrote, “I know of no commentator for children, say, from six to twelve, better than Canon Paterson Smyth (The Bible for the Young)” (p. 162). The PNEU programmes reflect this, assigning “Lessons” from Smyth for the Gospel readings in Forms 1 and 2. However, when I was researching the programmes, I noticed that when the Gospel of Luke was assigned, “chapters” were listed instead of “Lessons”:

      The Bible for the Young, by Dr. Paterson Smyth (P.N.E.U. Office, 1/6): (a) Genesis, Lessons 17-24, (b) St. Luke’s Gospel, chapters 16-24. (S.P.C.K. Commentary, 9d.). (Programme 90, Form I, 1921)

      At the time, I didn’t grasp why “chapters” were assigned for Luke only, not “Lessons” as with Matthew and Mark. I assumed, however, that somehow, somewhere, there must be a commentary by Smyth on the Gospel of Luke.

      Recently Ashley Olander pressed the point and forced me to accept that no such commentary exists. I looked more carefully at the programmes and saw this time what I had missed before: “S.P.C.K. Commentary,” a note that is placed in the Form I and II programmes for Luke only. I knew that Forms III and IV used an S.P.C.K commentary for the Gospel of John: “Form IV adds the Gospel of St. John and The Acts, assisted by the capital Commentaries on the several Gospels by Bishop Walsham How, published by the S.P.C.K.” (vol. 6, p. 169). I began to wonder whether the How commentary for Luke was recommended for teachers of Forms I and II.

      A programme from 1933 (number 122) for Form 1 pointed me to an answer. In this programme we read, “Teacher may study… Commentary on St. Mark, by Bishop Walsham How (S.P.C.K., 9d.).” Perhaps Smyth’s commentary was by then out of print, and How’s commentary was suggested since it had been assigned for Luke years ago. Interestingly, in the 1945 “P.N.E.U. Lending Library,” we see listed two books by “Bishop Walsham”—“The Gospel (St. Luke)” and “The Gospel (St. John).” Perhaps those two volumes remained from the days of programme 90 and earlier.

      It was enough to convince me. I will be updating the slides for my Bible Lessons presentation accordingly. And to bring one more element of the PNEU to the 21st century, printer-friendly PDF’s of How’s commentary on Luke chapters 1-14 are now available for download.


  2. Thank you so much! Your presentation was illuminating and helped me consider Bible study from a new vantage point. I have three children in Forms 1A, 2B and 3. I’m wondering how one would conduct Bible study with a non-reader, a very fluent reader and a child who would should be embarking on reading The Gospel History and Saviour of the World. I’ve tried to combine the younger two and let the older student read on his own, but I feel my older child and I are missing out on the rich conversation that could be occurring. I’d like to keep Bible study as the first thing on our morning agenda, but it seems like it would also be beneficial to stagger the readings. Do you have suggestions for reading the Bible with multiple children? Thank you so much! I have greatly benefitted from your ministry here. Heather

    1. Heather,

      Thank you for reviewing my presentation and posting this question. I might ask a similar question: how do you teach math when one child is learning fractions and the other is learning algebra? Surely the answer is not to leave the older child to learn algebra by himself. Quite simply, the answer is to take the time to have a personal face-to-face lesson with one child on fractions, and a personal face-to-face lesson with the other child on algebra. In your case, I suggest you do the same with Bible lessons. Combining your Form 1 and 2 children into a single group lesson makes perfect sense. Then I urge you to carve out separate time to work directly with your Form 3 child on The Gospel History and Saviour of the World. These will be wonderful times with your older child that you will remember and cherish for the rest of your life.


  3. Reading through Mason’s works and seeing her quote Scripture, I was curious what translation she was quoting. I went immediately to KJV because I figured that would be most relevant to her time. I saw in your slides she used ERV, an updated version of KJV for her time. When I compare the two now though, KJV follows what she quotes a lot better than ERV (Volume 1, part 1, section 2 quoting Matthew 18:10). This difference was a little concerning to me. Is the ERV now more revised or different than what Mason used?

    1. I believe you are referring to page 12 of Home Education, where Charlotte Mason has four quotations:

      1. “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
      2. “Except ye become as little children ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven.”
      3. “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
      4. “And He called a little child, and set him in the midst.”

      The first is from Matthew 19:14 and is the same in the KJV and the ERV.

      The second is probably Mason’s own paraphrase. She omits the “be converted” (KJV) or “turn” (ERV) with no ellipsis, and then has “no case” which follows more closely the ERV’s “no wise” than the KJV’s “ye shall not.” Perhaps she is quoting from memory and thinking of the KJV’s Matthew 5:20: “ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

      The third is from Matthew 18:1 and follows the KJV, not the ERV.

      The fourth is from Matthew 18:2, and is again probably Mason’s own paraphrase. “And He called” matches the ERV, but she omits the “unto him” (KJV) or “to him” (ERV). The remainder is the same in the KJV and the ERV.

      Finally, Mason does draw from Matthew 18:10 at the bottom of the page when she writes, “Take heed that ye offend not—despise not—hinder not—one of these little ones.” The phrase “despise not one of these little ones” is the same in the KJV and the ERV.

      I would note that the ERV New Testament was published in 1881 and the Old Testament in 1885. Mason first spoke these words in a lecture in 1885. I am not sure when Mason started using the ERV for study, but it was certainly before 1898, since the ERV is clearly the basis for her Scale How Meditations. Even so, for very familiar passages in the volumes, or when she was quoting or paraphrasing from memory, she did draw from the KJV.

      The ERV has not changed. What source are you using for that text?

  4. Hello Art,

    In your work on Bible lessons in Mason’s framework, have you come across anything explaining why Mason does not schedule the Gospel of John in the lower forms?

    This is an instance where I disagree with Mason and have diverged from her programme since the Gospel of John made an impact on me as a young child. I’m open to changing my approach if there’s something I might have missed.


    1. Lovejoy,

      I can’t think of a single quote where Charlotte Mason gives an exact answer to your question. However, I suspect Mason’s rationale is based on three main considerations:

      (1) In the early forms, Mason has children reading narrative passages from Scripture. For example, she writes, “By nine they should have read the simple (and suitable) narrative portions of the Old Testament” (I:248). Narrative passages hold the attention of children and are straightforward to narrate. By contrast, the Gospel of John contains many theological discourses (such as chapters 6, 10, and 14–17) that can be difficult for young children to absorb. Mason was aware of the theological richness of these discourses and refers to “the divine philosophy of John” (VI:309). I think she felt that the cover-to-cover study of this Gospel was best undertaken by children in Form III and above.

      (2) Mason believed that the Gospel of John was intended for someone who had already read the Synoptic Gospels. in Meditation #12, she writes, “The Evangelist only alludes to a circumstance fully recorded in the synoptic gospels, whose contents were, no doubt, well known to the Church.” The Parents’ Review volume 17 contains an article by Canon Scott Holland in which he writes:

      First, the writer of the fourth Gospel, of course, assumes the story told in the first three. He assumes that you know it, that everybody knows it. He assumes that you know it so well that the slightest little hint will be enough to put you in possession of what he intends and means. (p. 669)

      Given that the rotation format of Forms I and II could have the child reading the Synoptic Gospels in any order, I think Mason wanted to make sure that all three had been read cover-to-cover before the Gospel of John was approached systematically.

      (3) The Gospel of John was not completely withheld from young children. They would still hear the Gospel in Sunday readings, family devotions, and the daily lectionary. Mason was not banning children from hearing the beautiful words of this book. She was simply delaying the systematic study of the book to Form III.


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