New Testament Studies in the Higher Forms

New Testament Studies in the Higher Forms

Ever since I first spoke about Charlotte Mason’s The Saviour of the World at the 2013 CMI national conference, I have been trying to better understand Mason’s program for New Testament studies. In Towards A Philosophy of Education, she provides a brief overview:

The higher forms in the P.U.S. read The Saviour of the World volume by volume together with the text arranged in chronological order. The lower forms read in turns each of the Synoptic Gospels; 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. The study of the Epistles and the Book of Revelation is confined for the most part to Forms V and VI. (p. 169)

This tantalizing summary asks as many questions as it answers. How were the Gospel of John and the Acts of the Apostles studied? How do these books relate to The Saviour of the World? How did the students actually interact with these books?

In order to obtain a more complete picture of Mason’s model for New Testament studies in the higher forms (Forms III through VI), I have analyzed all of the assigned New Testament readings in the PNEU programmes from 1921 to 1933. I have also examined certain Parents’ Review articles that shed more light on how Bible Lessons were conducted. This article is the first in a two-part series in which I share my findings. This article answers the question of when. The second article will answer the question of how.

At the outset, it is important to note the difference between Bible lessons and private daily Bible reading. All the programmes begin with a section entitled “Bible Lessons.” This section typically opens with the following instruction: “In all cases the Bible text must be read and narrated first.” Bible Lessons are the formal portion of the student’s education designed to lead him or her to the knowledge of God:

Now our objective in this most important part of education is to give the children the knowledge of God. We need not go into the question of intuitive knowledge, but the expressed knowledge attainable by us has its source in the Bible, and perhaps we cannot do a greater indignity to children than to substitute our own or some other benevolent person’s rendering for the fine English, poetic diction and lucid statement of the Bible. (Towards a Philosophy of Education, p. 160)

In addition to these formal Bible lessons with the parent or teacher, young people are expected to spend time alone with the Word with God. The PNEU programmes explicitly call for students in Forms III to VI to follow a lectionary for “private daily Bible reading.” The lectionary that appears the most often in the programmes is the Lectiones by Spottiswoode. This lectionary is described as follows:

Therefore short passages called Lectiones have been selected by a committee composed mostly of schoolmasters; just ten or twelve verses are grouped round the festivals of the church; and are so selected that a boy does not say simply, “that’s over,” and get into bed, but he really thinks, “now that has meant something, there is a definite thought running through that, something that applies to my life and can be used in my life.” (PR18, p. 456)

So whereas Bible lessons are intended to help the student grow in the knowledge of God, these lessons do not take the place of the student’s personal relationship with God.

The Bible lessons for Forms III-VI cover both the Old Testament and the New Testament. However, the programmes make it clear that students are always to follow two separate tracks of New Testament studies concurrently. The first track is based on The Saviour of the World, and the second track is based on a reading plan to complete a book-by-book study of most of the New Testament. Based on what I have seen in the programmes, I would propose the following prototypical plan for a student to study the New Testament through the upper forms:

Forms Year Term Track 1
The Saviour of the World
Track 2
III-IV 1 1 Volume 1, pp. 1-52 John 1-7
2 Volume 1, pp. 55-104 John 8-14
3 Volume 1, pp. 107-159 John 15-21
2 1 Volume 2, pp. 1-54 Acts 1-4
2 Volume 2, pp. 57-122 Acts 5-9
3 Volume 2, pp. 123-174 Acts 10-13
3 1 Volume 3, pp. 1-65 Acts 14-17
2 Volume 3, pp. 66-126 Acts 18-22
3 Volume 3, pp. 129-187 Acts 23-28
V-VI 4 1 Volume 4, pp. 1-65 Romans 1-8
2 Volume 4, pp. 66-133 Romans 9-16
3 Volume 4, pp. 134-193 Galatians
5 1 Volume 5, pp. 1-63 Ephesians
2 Volume 5, pp. 67-128 Philippians
3 Volume 5, pp. 129-192 Colossians
6 1 Volume 6, pp. 1-55 James
2 Volume 6, pp. 59-124 Hebrews
3 Volume 6, pp. 125-185 1-3 John, Jude


In a multi-age setting, Forms III-VI could all study of The Saviour of the World together. Forms III and IV would be combined for “Track 2,” and Forms V-VI would be combined for their “Track 2.” Thus, for example, a homeschool with students of ages 12, 14, 16, and 18 might coordinate through a year as follows:

Term The Saviour of the World with all four students together Track 2 with the students of ages 12 and 14 Track 2 with the students of ages 16 and 18
1 Volume 5, pp. 1-63 Acts 1-4 Ephesians
2 Volume 5, pp. 67-128 Acts 5-9 Philippians
3 Volume 5, pp. 129-192 Acts 10-13 Colossians


The programmes for Forms III-VI always follow the same schedule for The Saviour of the World. So it is clear that Mason did not believe that every student must start with volume 1. Instead, each student simply joins the rotation wherever it happens to be when he or she enters Form III. Of course, families homeschooling independently can simply start with volume 1 when their oldest student reaches Form III. But then the family would follow a single rotation as each subsequent child reaches Form III.

The last point to note is that “Track 2” always involved the use of a commentary. The programmes typically recommended the following commentaries:

John Commentary on the Four Gospels, by William Walsham How
Acts The Acts of the Apostles, by Ellen Mary Knox
Epistles One Volume Bible Commentary, by John Roberts Dummelow


As I have taken a bird’s-eye view of the programmes, I have been struck by the elegance, simplicity, and logic of the structure:

  • Rather than rushing through any portion of the Bible, the programmes enable the child to linger with each New Testament book long enough to establish vital relationships with its characters and content.

  • Instead of jumping around, the programmes allow the child to read each individual New Testament book from beginning to end. Mason describes the satisfaction this brings to the child:

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. (Parents and Children, pp. 111-112)

  • Through his or her educational career, the child begins with the narrative books of the New Testament before moving on to the epistles. When reading the narrative books, the child begins with the more concreate (the Synoptic Gospels) before moving on to the more abstract (the Gospel of John) and the Acts of the Apostles.

  • Never at any form or age are the children overwhelmed with too much material at any given time.

  • Without compromising any of the above gains, the programmes also afford the child the unique experience of journeying through the Gospel story in a chronological manner. In this way, the child is able to experience what Mason advises in Towards A Philosophy of Education:

Let us observe, notebook in hand, the orderly and progressive sequence, the penetrating quality, the irresistible appeal, the unique content of the Divine teaching; (for this purpose it might be well to use some one of the approximately chronological arrangements of the Gospel History in the words of the text). Let us read, not for our profiting, though that will come, but for love of that knowledge which is better than thousands of gold and silver. By and by we perceive that this knowledge is the chief thing in life; the meaning of Christ’s saying, “Behold, I make all things new,” dawns upon us; we get new ideas as to the relative worth of things; new vigour, new joy, new hope are ours. (pp. 337-338)

As parents, our desire for our children is that they grow in their love and reverence for the sacred text. And even more so, that they grow in their love and reverence for the Savior of whom the text testifies. The beauty of the programmes is that they lay out a simple and elegant way for us to facilitate that most important relationship of all.

Now that we have answered the question of when, the second article in the series will answer the question of how.

27 Replies to “New Testament Studies in the Higher Forms”

    1. Yes it would! The sequence, pace, approach, and structure of this multi-year study would have a profound impact on mature adults as much as it would on young adults. In fact, in 1923 E.A. Parish wrote regarding these lessons that “sometimes the teacher asks questions or points out some new aspect but more often she learns a great deal from the children”!

  1. Thank you for all the work that goes into what is shared on this site!

    A search on Amazon brings up Volumes 1-3 of Saviour of the World published by CreateSpace…. as I understand it, anyone can publish public domain books through CreateSpace—so my question about these three volumes is— are they trustworthy/non-pirated from the work of someone such as yourself and taken by another to be published? Do you know? I don’t see any links to printed books from this site hence my hesitation to support someone by purchasing those volumes through Amazon without clarifying. Thank you for any insight!

    (If those are legit, do you know of any plans to publish the remaining volumes?)

    Thank you again for this wonderful website and all that is freely shared with others!

    1. Dear Kim,

      Thank you for raising this important question. I am aware of three sources from which one may obtain Charlotte Mason’s The Saviour of the World today.

      1. Here on Charlotte Mason Poetry we offer free access to all six volumes in three different digital formats: transcribed PDF, facsimile PDF, and transcribed for Logos Bible Software. These transcriptions were done over many years by a large and diverse community and they are shared here with no restriction. I would be happy if someone would publish it.

      2. Deborah Hough of Simple Pleasures Press performed her own independent transcription of volumes 1-3. These are available as paperback from with the publisher listed as CreateSpace. I have spot-checked some of the transcriptions and they seems accurate to me.

      3. Routledge Revivals has published new but pricey facsimile editions of volumes 1, 3, 4, and 5 in both hardcover and softcover. These are very nice little volumes if you can afford them.

      Sadly, there is no way to get volume 6 in print today, except by printing the PDF’s from Charlotte Mason Poetry.

      Thank you for the kind words about this site, and please keep coming back!


  2. Thank you SO much for this amazing scholarship. So helpful to have this all mapped out for us. Would these students also have been reading the Old Testament during these years?

  3. Thank you for your continued dedication. It is always a delight to read and bring into my life and my family’s days (within all of our atmospheres, habits & life) the joyous knowledge unfolded within each posting. This article is no exception. I have been enjoying reading “The Savior of the World”, however, found it too difficult read the biblical passage in order of verse (book by book) and pair it in order of the volumes (of The Savior of the World). Placing a nice chart and brief explanation of the selections of both biblical passages and poetic narratives to be read and assimilated gave me a very nice picture in my “mind’s eye” of the separate “tracks”, not pairing. A great tool- so grateful.

    1. Thank you for your feedback and your kind words. I do think it is helpful to distinguish between the two tracks. The Saviour of the World track also involved its own Bible reading. I do have a chart connecting biblical passages to the poetic narratives in the first track.

      1. I ordered it this morning. While there are many on the market, I’m finding it a challenge to locate a commentary on John that would also make a good choice for students. I look forward to seeing why the PNEU might have chosen it.

  4. Thank you, Art, for sharing the work you have done. What a blessing to so many. My question is: do you know if the programmes kept to set order of New Testament reading for Track 2? For example, should a Form III student always begin with John? If I have a Form IV student who has already studied John and is now ready to study Acts, can the Form III student join the Form IV for Acts or should the Form III student begin with John? Thank you for your help in my understanding.

    1. Jennifer,

      Thank you for this excellent question. The answer is quite certain. Mason did not require students to always start at the beginning of a track. Her programmes followed a rotation model, not only for Bible lessons, but also for other subjects such as history. Therefore all Form III and Form IV students were always doing the same lessons in any given term, regardless of when each individual entered the track. So in your case, it would be completely appropriate to have your Form III student join the Form IV student in Acts, and get to John later in the rotation. I hope this is clear.


  5. Art,
    I’m getting ready to start Volume 2 of the Savior of the World this year. To be honest, my kids really did not enjoy volume 1. They liked the Gospel History, but greatly disliked the poems and rarely understood them. I’m not giving up and hoping volume 2 will go better. I think part of the problem is my ability (and my kids’ ability) to read the poems. I have heard you read a few of the poems out loud and I like them and understand them so much better, but I can’t seem to figure out the poetic meter (if that’s the right term) of her poems to make them flow nicely. Any advice on this? My second question has to do with Dummelow’s commentary. I would like to make greater use of the commentary and sadly I neglected to use it most lessons. First, should students each have their own copy? I think that is what you said in the podcast. Secondly, how do I find the commentary section to use with each Gospel History lesson? Since the Gospel History is a conglomerate of all the different books, do I look up each corresponding commentary? Do I have to prepare this in advance since we don’t have a lot of time during the lesson? For example, poem 2 of volume 2 references 6 different passages from Luke, Matthew, Mark, Isaiah, 1 Kings, and 2 Kings. Where do I turn to in Dummelow’s commentary to dig a little deeper without taking too much time or requiring a lot of preparation? I hope this makes sense! Thank you!

    1. Sarah,

      Thank you for raising these great questions.

      I find that it works best for me to read the poem out loud. I think that reading with expression helps the listener to grasp the meaning. I think the expression has less to do with meter and rhyme and more to do with the flow and emotion of the narrative. I recommend that you take some time before the lesson to familiarize yourself with the poem. Try to feel the emotion yourself, and then let that emotion come out when you read it to your children. That will help them grasp some of the magic and beauty of these poems.

      For Dummelow, I actually also read the commentary out loud. I think some older students would read it for themselves, but for us it works best when I read it for my child to hear. Usually Dummelow puts his notes in the first Gospel that covers the episode in question. So, for example, if the episode is covered in Matthew, the notes for Matthew will probably be sufficient. Dummelow very often references the other Gospels and parallel passages in his notes on the first Gospel.

      I hope this helps!


  6. I was looking at this article again today as I grappled with condensing down the weekly SOTW lessons for the term into only 11 lessons when there are more poems than that in this section, and that happens frequently. As I reread your articles, I saw this again and it stuck out to me and made me wonder if the Gospel History drives the lesson to some extent.

    ‘The passage to be studied is read in the Gospels and then narrated… When the teacher and the children have found out all they can, the verses referring to it in the “Saviour of the World” are read by the teacher and narrated by the children.’ (Parish, 1932, p. 61)

    Parish says, “…the verses referring to it [the Gospel History reading] in the “SOTW” are read…” This gave me pause and made me wonder. Does it mean that they would read all the poems in one lesson that went along with that GH chapter or just one? If only one, then would they reread that GH chapter each time they read another poem referring to that chapter? I don’t expect you to have all the answers, but these are my questions and ponderings. I know above in the comments that you said you can combine poems because some are short or refer to the same passage. You also said in the comments that some days you only read a poem when there is no correlating GH passage. I am on my 3rd term of condensing the Holy Infancy books down into a terms worth of lessons, but I still don’t feel like I am getting the flow figured out very well. I guess I am rambling, but ultimately just curious as to whether or not there exist examples of lessons without a GH passage or an example of a lesson with GH and multiple poems or a rereading of GH passage for a new lesson of poems on the same passage as the previous lesson (e.g., Book 3 of Holy Infancy where poems 1-3 are all GH 19 or where there are 4 poems connected to GH 22). I so appreciate all your research and posts. Thank you!

    1. Rachel,

      Thank you for raising these questions. I’m sorry that you haven’t quite found your rhythm yet. Unfortunately, I have not come across any more specific lesson plans or guidelines from the PNEU literature. However, I can share with you a few basic principles and what has worked for me.

      (1) The timetable is sacrosanct in the PNEU. There are some cases where there are too many poems for a single Gospel History section to fit in a single lesson time. Therefore, I must conclude that sometimes a single Gospel History section spanned multiple lessons.

      (2) The instructions in the programme say, “In all cases the Bible text must be read and narrated first.” Therefore, I conclude that whenever possible, at least some portion of the Gospel History should be included in the lesson.

      On the basis of these principles, the pattern I follow in my own homeschool is to sometimes read only a portion of a particular Gospel History section along with the accompanying poem. I find that I rarely if ever have to repeat an exact paragraph or portion of Scripture from lesson to lesson. And on rare occasions, the lesson consists only of a poem.

      I hope this helps!


      1. Thanks for sharing that, Art. For our last term with Holy Infancy, I ended up splitting the Gospel History #19 in half. I did two poems with the first half and one with the second half. Two lesson times. This is the first time I’ve done it that way and it worked out nicely. I’ve enjoyed the poems immensely myself, just praying they impact my son. 🙂 Thank you for the peek into how you’ve done things. It gives me a little more confidence.

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