Reflections on The Saviour of the World Volume 5

Reflections on The Saviour of the World Volume 5

Book II Poem XXI

Charlotte Mason envisions a scene contrary to all the laws of love and war. A royal prince from a neighboring land comes to pay a visit. An emissary, an ambassador, representing his royal father from abroad. How should he be treated? Don’t we all know?

And yet contrary to all civility and international law, the royal prince is accosted and apprehended by a troop of guards who are normally sent for common criminals.

Where did Mason discover this scene? From a fairly tale or a fable? No, she found it in the Word of God. The royal father is God and the prince is His Son. A troop of guards were sent to apprehend him. How would He respond? Find out in today’s poem here.


Book II Poem XXII

In Henry Latham’s classic Pastor Pastorum, the author lists a set of principles that he believes were followed by Christ when He was deciding when and which miracles to perform. The fifth principle, he wrote, is that “No miracle [was] worked which should be overwhelming in point of awfulness so as to terrify men into acceptance, or which should be unanswerably certain, leaving no loophole for unbelief.”

Latham mentions the idea of “loopholes” two other times in his book. in both cases, they refer to reasonable and plausible stances to which those “who wanted to escape being convinced” by Christ could retreat and find peace of mind.

This idea is complementary to Charlotte Mason’s “the way of reason,” summarized in point 18 of her synopsis. Reason is fallible, she warned. It is very good at giving us confidence in “an initial idea, accepted by the will.” In other words, it allows us to accept “loopholes” with complacency.

Today’s poem by Charlotte Mason is best understood in light of “the way of reason” and the loopholes to faith. Many heard the words of Christ, but few willed to understand. The rest asked, “What is this word that He saith?” Read or hear it at this link.


Book II Poem XXIII

“Once again,” writes C. S. Lewis, “the best image is in a Psalm, the 19th. I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”

Building on Lewis’s lofty assessment, J. Clinton Mccann Jr. writes: “As remarkable as the lyrical quality of Psalm 19, however, is its extraordinary theological claim. In essence, Psalm 19 affirms that love is the basic reality. According to the psalmist, the God whose sovereignty is proclaimed by cosmic voices is the God who has addressed a personal word to humankind—God’s torah.”

In what some consider to be the greatest poem of all time, King David praises the perfect law of God. But how do we imperfect beings face the perfect law? “Cleanse me from secret faults,” David pleads. “Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins!”

In her poem on a poem, Charlotte Mason echoes David’s prayer. “How dare I go,” she cries, “exalting my poor wisdom over His”? The title of the poem is her plea, our plea — “Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sin.” Read or hear Mason’s poem here. And may it incline your heart to appreciate David’s’ poem anew.


Book III Poem XXIV

In one of Charlotte Mason’s most remarkable texts, now found in Parents and Children, she asks:

Does this doctrine of ideas as the spiritual food needful to sustain the immaterial life throw any light on the doctrines of the Christian religion?

And then she answers:

Yes; 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…

Isaiah cried out, “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters.” For Charlotte Mason, this is an offer for living water, and our thirst is real. In Mason’s dramatic poem on Isaiah 55:1, the dance between the literal and the figurative paints a wondrous truth. Read or listen to Mason’s poem to understand just how thirsty we are. Find it here.


Book III Poem XXV

The book of Ezekiel is filled with images, some disturbing, some confusing, and some mysterious. It is filled with symbols, some clear, some opaque, and some convicting. It is filled with intricate descriptions of buildings, a temple, and an altar, and a measurement of land. But then towards the end of the book the reader encounters an image which, to me, can only be described as beautiful.

After reading about the rules for entering the vast new temple yet to be seen on earth, and how the gate facing east is to be opened for the prince, we read how Ezekiel saw something truly marvelous: water began to flow from the temple to the east. It became a river! And “Along the bank of the river, on this side and that, will grow all kinds of trees used for food; their leaves will not wither, and their fruit will not fail.”

Charlotte Mason’s students read the book of Ezekiel in Forms V and VI. They were told to read the accompanying comments by John R. Dummelow. His statement about the river from the temple is striking: “To Ezekiel this river was not a mere symbol of spiritual refreshment. The perfect kingdom of God still presented itself to him in an earthly form, accompanied by outward fertility and other material blessings.”

In her own way, Mason too felt that this was no symbol. She felt that the living water was real. “Ideas emanating from our Lord and Saviour, which are of His essence, are the spiritual meat and drink of His believing people,” she wrote.

Back in 2016 I was asked to select three poems by Miss Mason to include in a conference notebook. This poem was the third. Yes, the river from the temple is real, in more ways than one. Read or hear Mason’s poem at this link.


Book III Poem XXVI

Isaiah “should be called an evangelist rather than a prophet,” wrote St. Jerome, “because he describes all the mysteries of Christ and the church so clearly that one would think he is composing a history of what has already happened rather than prophesying what is to come.”

When Charlotte Mason read Isaiah 55, she saw not a prediction of the future but an account of the past. She saw the day that Christ stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.”

J. Paterson-Smyth reflects on how Christ continues to call out even to this day:

His voice still comes as we tramp on,
With a sorrowful fall in its pleading tones:
“Thou wilt tire in the dreary ways of sin,
I left My home to bring thee in.
In its golden street are no weary feet,
Its rest is pleasant, its songs are sweet.”
And we shout back angrily, hurrying on
To a terrible home where rest is none:
“We want not your city’s golden street,
Nor to hear its constant song.”
And still Christ keeps on loving us, loving all along.
Rejected still, He pursues each one.

Charlotte Mason’s poem captures the voice of the One who rejected still, still pursues each one. Read or hear it here.



To be human is to be thirsty. Our bodies cannot live without water, but our souls are thirsty too. But what exactly will quench our thirst?

Catherine Benincasa grew up before the days of running water. As a little girl she would run down a path near her home to a fountain called Fonte Branda. The waters flowed from a hillside spring and were collected in a pool, the walls of which were lower at certain points to let out the overflow. From one of these points she would fill her jug and drink from it. And then the jug would be empty again.

Charlotte Mason noticed the many kinds of jugs that we drink from. There is money, there is pleasure, there is power, and there is lust. And there is love. But even there we do not realize that a man cannot “live by draining another’s cup to allay his thirst.”

Catherine Benincasa grew up and came to know Jesus. She tried to explain about Him, and she remembered the fountain called Fonte Branda. “The blessed Christ is the one who invites us to the living water of grace,” she wrote. “He said as much when he cried out in the temple, ‘Let whoever is thirsty come to me and drink, because I am the fountain of living water.’ He truly is a fountain. For just as a fountain holds the water and lets it spill out over the wall that surrounds it, so does this gentle loving Word, clothed in our humanity, do.

“His humanity was a wall that held within itself the fire of the eternal Godhead which was joined with that same humanity. And the fire of divine charity spilled out through the opened-up wall, Christ crucified. His precious wounds poured out blood mixed with fire, because it was by the fire of love that his blood was shed. From this fountain we draw the water of grace, since it was not merely through his humanity but by the power of the Godhead that human sin was washed away and we were restored to grace.”

Then Catherine added a qualifier. “He says, however, ‘Let whoever is thirsty come to me and drink.’ He doesn’t invite those who have no thirst.” Charlotte Mason’s poetic reflection on these words of Christ penetrates the heart and awakens our thirst. And so we come to the fountain, where the fire of divine charity spills out through the opened-up wall. Read or hear the poem here.



n Acts 2 we read of the coming of the Holy Spirit. The believers were all in one place and then “suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” Since that day, countless believers have desired and longed for a similar experience with the Holy Spirit of God.

Taking his cue from John 7:39, Joseph Dongell makes several keen observations about the pouring out of the Holy Spirit:

First, it is Jesus who gives the Spirit as water to the thirsty. The Spirit does not stand as a power independent of Jesus, nor as a focus of faith distinct from Jesus. In coming to and believing in Jesus, the Spirit is given.

Second, the gift of the Spirit comes in such abundance that what begins as a quest for a ‘drink’ becomes the discovery of a ‘river’! In many ways, grace far exceeds human expectation and desires, not only at the point of initial faith but throughout the entire course of Christian experience.

Third, this gift of abundant water fulfills the longing of God’s people, a longing witnessed by the Old Testament… All of the deepest desires of humankind are richly supplied in the water Jesus gives.

Fourth, the giving of the Spirit would happen only according to the larger plan of God. Not until Jesus had been glorified would the Spirit be given in the measure Jesus promised. Fulfillment of the Father’s desire to indwell believers would need to await the completion of the Son’s earthly mission.

Charlotte Mason also took her theological cues from John 7:39. Nearly rehearsing the same four observations, she does so in unforgettable poetic form. Read or listen to Charlotte Mason’s verses which point to the one true source of the water of life.


Book III Poem XXIX

During yesterday morning’s Idyll Challenge discussion, a participant pointed our attention to the second-to-last sentence of this month’s reading:

A new Renaissance is coming upon us, of unspeakably higher import than the last; and we are bringing up our children to lead and guide, and by every means help in the progress—progress by leaps and bounds—which the world is about to make.

“I checked when this was written,” explained the participant. She noted that it was before World War I. Did Charlotte Mason’s optimism ever change, she wondered, as the devastations of the twentieth century began to unfold?

I quietly explained that Mason’s hope for the future was never based on humanity, philosophy, politics, or patriotism. It was never based on virtue, enlightenment, education, or optimism. Rather, it was always grounded in her faith in a King. At the height of the Great War she wrote:

The great Hope rising upon us out of the present distress is that an era of passionate Christianity is coming, when we shall hear the shout of a King in our midst and shall all stand at attention waiting his word of command, when we shall hasten to do his bidding.

In today’s poem, Mason writes of “an aged man”:

ah, well might he,

Athirst through all his days, lie down and die,

Parched and unsatisfied; what hope might be

That he, old man, should drink and satisfy

That craving, long consumed him?

Though others may doubt, Charlotte Mason always believed there was a hope for young and for old. “Come to Me!” shouts the King. Read or hear her poem here.


Book III Poem XXX

Charlotte Mason wrote a set of eleven poems under the heading “The Water of Life.” The full set was inspired by only three short verses in the New Testament. But for Charlotte Mason, the idea of thirst and fulfillment was integral to her philosophy of education, as well as to her philosophy of life.

Three weeks ago when I shared the fourth poem here, I noted that to be human is to be thirsty. We also know that to be human is to be created in the image of God. But sometimes it can be hard to relate the imperfections of our humanity to the perfections of God.

Kazoh Kitamori was born in Kumamoto, Japan in 1916. As a teenager, he read a paper about Martin Luther that inspired a lifelong interest in theology. He became a professor, a pastor, and a writer. He is now remembered by some as the one who “developed the first original theology from the East.”

Emil Brunner describes this contribution as follows: “The theology of Kitamori is the first attempt to make suffering an attribute of God in contrast to the orthodox idea of the happiness of God, which is rather an idea of Platonic philosophy than of the New Testament gospel.”

Dr. Katamori was particularly struck by Jeremiah 31:20 in which we read of God’s yearning for Ephraim. The Authorized Version says that God was “troubled for him.” Katamori found here the gospel of the cross. In a phrase that is hard for the mind to grasp, Katamori noted that “God loves the objects of his wrath.”

In Psalm 42 the psalmist compared his thirst to that of a panting deer. It is a powerful image of human need. But in one of my very favorite poems of Charlotte Mason, she makes a stunning observation. Two are thirsty. Read and contemplate the moving poem here.


Book III Poem XXXI

C. S. Lewis writes, “The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water.’”

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy,” he continues, “the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

To be human is to thirst. And there is One who quenches. The scandal, the miracle, is that He thirsted first. Read or listen to Charlotte Mason’s moving poem here.



“In the deep of winter, Herman looked at a barren tree, stripped of leaves and fruit, waiting silently and patiently for the sure hope of summer abundance. Gazing at the tree, Herman grasped for the first time the extravagance of God’s grace and the unfailing sovereignty of divine providence. Like the tree, he himself was seemingly dead, but God had life waiting for him, and the turn of seasons would bring fullness. At that moment, he said, that leafless tree ‘first flashed in upon my soul the fact of God,’ and a love for God that never after ceased to burn.”

That burning love prompted Herman to join the Discalced Carmelite monastery in Paris where he forever became known as Brother Lawrence.

“Men invent means and methods of coming at God’s love,” he wrote; “they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God’s presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?”

Perhaps it was simple for him. But is it simple for us? Perhaps the key lies in the words of his second conversation in The Practice of the Presence of God: “We ought to make a great difference between the acts of the understanding and those of the will; that the first were comparatively of little value, and the others all.”

Those words found their way into a poem by Charlotte Mason. And they find a home deep in the heart of her method. Do you believe in with your understanding, or do you believe with your will? For Brother Lawrence, it made all the difference in the world. And it did for Charlotte Mason too. Read or hear her poem here.

📷 @aolander



The reader of Parents and Children can be a bit unnerved when reaching Chapter 5. It starts out very promising: Mason proposes to explore “How to fortify the children against the doubts of which the air is full.” But then on the next page she says that “‘Evidences’ are not Proofs.” And in a jarring sentence she claims that “the Christian apologist is open to the imputation conveyed in the keen proverb, qui s’excuse, s’accuse.”

Many parents who love the Charlotte Mason method quietly sidestep this advice. Early on, I followed a well-established Charlotte Mason curriculum whose booklist included works by a well-known apologist. With that for “air cover,” my family enjoyed (and devoured) those books. I never had the sense that by doing so, je m’accuserais.

But I have come to see that Mason was on to something. “The truth by which we live must needs be self-evidenced, admitting of neither proof nor disproof,” she wrote. Her words anticipated the writings of philosopher Alvin Plantinga, who argued that faith in God is “properly basic.” In short, we believe in God because the Holy Spirit tells us to.

Jesus performed many astonishing miracles. Guards were sent to abduct him, but they were stopped dead in their tracks. Not by signs and wonders or by Christ disappearing from their midst. Not by bolts of lightning or by cracks in the earth. Not by the logic of philosophers or by the authority of leaders. All of their powers and all of their weapons weapons were held at bay by one thing: words. “Never man spake as this Man.”

I love Christian evidences and I love the work of apologists. But there is something that I love even more: the words of Christ. In the company of the Holy Spirit, they stand above proof or disproof. Charlotte Mason’s poem today explores the nature of faith and the reaction of the guards. May you prayerfully read or listen to it, and invite the Holy Spirit to convince you of the truth that admits of no other response but “Yes.”

Find the poem here.


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