“And he said unto him, My lord knoweth that the children are tender, and the flocks and herds with young are with me: and if men should overdrive them one day, all the flock will die.
“Let my lord, I pray thee, pass over before his servant: and I will lead on softly, according as the cattle that goeth before me and the children be able to endure, until I come unto my lord unto Seir.” – Genesis 33:13-14
In the church calendar today is Christian Education Sunday. The purpose which the Lord has in view in the creation and care of men is a heaven of angels. In its spiritual meaning the opening chapter of the Word tells of the stages we pass through in attaining this development. It begins with the creation of light, and the continuous and progressive acquisition of truth. As heaven is formed from regenerated men and women, the highest natural use is the procreation of offspring. So it is written, “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord,” and, “Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.”
This truth should be self-evident. From this use comes the happiness of marriage and parenthood.
Every child is born that he may become an angel in heaven, yet he must be left free to choose his own destiny. The heavenly life cannot be forced upon anyone. The period when this choice can be made, however, lies a long way beyond birth. And before this period is reached, a large and important work of preparation is to be accomplished. This work, stretching from infancy to maturity, may be described under the general term “education.” It is by means of education that the great purpose of birth – which is the attainment of heaven – comes to be realized. We are told in the writings that in the spiritual world, where education is carried on in the wisest way and under the most favorable conditions, it never fails in the accomplishment of its purposes for those who are taken before they reach maturity. Nor are those who grow up in this world wholly deprived of these heavenly influences. We read in the Gospel of Matthew, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” And this association continues with less exalted angels as guardians as the child passes out of his infantile and childlike states. This angelic influence is a work that is going forward upon the spiritual side of the child’s life. And the earthly educators of the child should take it into account. Education should look not only to this world but to the world beyond. Upon parents, of course, rests primarily the responsibility of educating their children. The writings teach us that the primary concern of the first inhabitants of this earth, the people of the Most Ancient Church, was the education and training of their children. Were our lives more quiet and orderly, were we less engrossed with mere natural things and less fevered by natural ambitions, we might find more time and inclination for this exalted use.
When the young man asked, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” he expressed the purpose of life here and the fact that we must be free to think and will from our affections.
We need indeed to educate ourselves for life in this world. There is much that we have to learn to prepare ourselves for our occupations, which are the means of providing for external needs and which are becoming increasingly more numerous and complex. This education almost everyone seeks to get, namely, the kind of education that will enable him to gain success here. No one believes that a successful life in this world can be attained without intelligent planning.
But the process of the development of true human life is a still more essential type of education, and the first essential in this education is a knowledge of the Lord. Something of this knowledge should be taught as early in life as possible. It is the duty of man to acquire this knowledge and work out its results in himself and in the world. For in the knowledge and love of the Lord the purpose of creation is fulfilled. So, for example, the sciences should be taught and studied in the light of interior truths if they are to be comprehended rightly. Otherwise they become wholly materialistic and mechanical.
This is seen in our colleges and universities. Modern education tends to reject everything spiritual and to cast doubt upon spiritual realities and upon the Scriptures as the Word of God, and even questions the reality of the spiritual world and the existence of God, when yet the prime object of education should be to prepare ourselves for eternal life.
In the story of the meeting of Jacob and Esau, from which our text is taken, Jacob represents the understanding and Esau the will. It is the Lord’s constant endeavor, from the very beginning of our lives, to bring these faculties together. The journey of Jacob toward the land of Canaan pictures this. For all spiritual progress is properly represented by a journey. We go on step by step, little by little. So Jacob in his journey from Haran to the Holy Land found it necessary to proceed slowly, leading on “softly, according as the cattle that goeth before… and the children be able to endure.”
In the Divine providence there is no haste. Every state of life is given due time and space. We advance by stages or states, and every state prepares the way for that which is to succeed. Hence the importance that every state should be complete. Infancy should have its full place, and then it will bring forth a better childhood. Let childhood have its full place and it will bring forth a better youth. Let youth have its full place and it will develop a nobler manhood and womanhood.
Natural states are states of hurry and impatience. Time seems short, the years few. Some are anxious to get into business, into professional life, into society, into premature cares and responsibilities. So each successive stage of preparation is cut short that the next may be sooner reached, with the result that the normal and healthy development of the entire life is never realized.
It is otherwise, however, with genuine spiritual states of life. In such states hurry has no place. Time is not our standard of measurement. Life is not limited to the few short years of our stay here. There is room for growth. There is opportunity to live out every state of life, thus laying a broad basis for that which is to follow. Our measure of fullness is not quantity, but quality. The education which looks to the world beyond must be no overdriving. Ever must we “lead on softly.” And to “lead on” means that we must go that way ourselves.
In a child there is no established ruling love either good or evil. There is going on in him a most important work or preparation, but not until he reaches maturity and begins to choose intelligently for himself can he in any proper sense be called “good” or “bad.”
The one great lesson for us, entering into and underlying all the others, is patience and trust. Realizing that we are not alone, keeping our eyes steadily fixed on heaven which, as the Lord’s end for the child, must also be ours, we are to lead on softly, to shun, as involving the greatest danger upon both the intellectual and the spiritual planes of life, overdriving. Considerate of the weak and tender states of children, we are never to hurry their development, but to allow them, yes, to encourage them, to live out every orderly state of their lives before their entrance upon that which follows. Thus will every succeeding state be entered upon with a fullness of preparation which will be the most favorable for complete and healthy development.