Ambleside Blog

To Know God: The Proper Study of Mankind

The Proper Study of Mankind (excerpt from a sermon by Rev. R. C. Spurgeon)6

It has been said by some one that "the proper study of mankind is man." I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God's elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, "Behold I am wise." But when we come to this master-science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought, that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass's colt; and with the solemn exclamation, "I am but of yesterday, and know nothing." No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God. We shall be obliged to feel—

"Great God, how infinite art thou,
What worthless worms are we!"

But while the subject humbles the mind it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe. He may be a naturalist, boasting of his ability to dissect a beetle, anatomize a fly, or arrange insects and animals in classes with well nigh unutterable names; he may be a geologist, able to discourse of the megatherium and the plesiosaurus, and all kinds of extinct animals; he may imagine that his science, whatever it is, ennobles and enlarges his mind. I dare say it does, but after all, the most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity. And, whilst humbling and expanding, this subject is eminently consolatary. Oh, there is, in contemplating Christ, a balm for every wound; in musing on the Father, there is a quietus for every grief; and in the influence of the Holy Ghost, there is a balsam for every sore. Would you lose your sorrows? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead's deepest sea; be lost in his immensity; and you shall come forth as from a couch of rest, refreshed and invigorated. I know nothing which can so comfort the soul; so calm the swelling billows of grief and sorrow; so speak peace to the winds of trial, as a devout musing upon the subject of the Godhead.
 


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Spurgeon, Rev. R.C., excerpt from “The Immutability of God”, a sermon delivered on January 7, 1855 at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, London, England

To Know God: First Concerns of a Teacher


To Know God

What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?1
This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.2

First Concerns of a Teacher

We maintain that education has a noble purpose - the cultivation of a mature woman, a mature man. For at least twenty-five hundred years, such a position has had its naysayers, those who would reduce education to the mere equipping of students with the data and skills necessary for productive employment.3 While we must not undervalue productivity, for every mature man and mature woman will be productive, sloth being a mark of immaturity; neither can we assume that alone the skills necessary to be productive in the marketplace will lead to a full and free life. There are countless stories of top graduates from the best universities, who, though blessed with every opportunity, have made train-wrecks out of their lives.
While there are many aspects to maturity, there is none as important as the nature of one’s relationship with God.  It is a truism that we are creatures who desire and worship and that we become like the things we desire and worship. We are always in the process of being conformed to the image of our gods. More than this, if the universal testimony of great saints is true, our hearts are made for God and our soul will never be at rest, until it rests in Him.4 The heart of man and woman cries for more than the humdrum of daily existence. We are made for the infinite and find no true fulfillment apart from it.

Crowned kings have thrown up dominion because they want that which is greater than kingdoms. Profound scholars fret under the limitations which keep them playing upon the margin of the unsounded ocean of knowledge. No great love can satisfy itself in loving. There is no satisfaction for the Soul of a man, save one, because the things about him are finite, measurable, incomplete; and his reach is beyond his grasp; he has an urgent, incessant, irrepressible need of the infinite.

Even we lesser people, who are not kings or poets or scholars, are eager and content enough in pursuit; but we know well that when we have attained, be it place or power, love or wealth, the old insatiable hunger will be upon us: we shall still want––we know not what!

St Augustine knew, when he said that the Soul of man was made for God, and could never be satisfied until it found Him. But our religious thought has become so poor and commonplace, so self-concerned, that we interpret this saying of the sainted man to mean, we shall not be satisfied till we find all the good we include in the name, ‘salvation’. We belie and belittle ourselves by this thought, ‘it is not anything for ourselves we want’; and the sops that we throw to our souls, in the way of one success after another, fail to keep us quiet.

'I want, am made for, and must have a God.' We have within us an infinite capacity for love, loyalty, and service; but we are deterred, checked on every hand, by limitations in the objects of our love and service. It is only to our God that we can give the whole, and only from Him can we get the love we exact; a love which is like the air, an element to live in, out of which we gasp and perish. Where, but in our God, the Maker of heaven and earth, shall we find the key to all knowledge? Where, but in Him, whose is the power, the secret of dominion? And, our search and demand for goodness and beauty baffled here, disappointed there––it is only in our God we find the whole. The Soul is for God, and God is for the Soul, as light is for the eye, and the eye is for light. And, seeing that the Soul of the poorest and most ignorant has capacity for God, and can find no way of content without Him, is it wholly true to say that man is a finite being? But words are baffling; we cannot tell what we mean by finite and infinite.

We say there is no royal road to learning; but this highest attainment of man is for the simple and needy; it is reached by the road in which the wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err. In this fact, also, we get a glimpse of the infinite for which we hunger. How strange it is to our finite notions that ALL should be offered to the grasp of the simplest and the least!5


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1 Gospel of Mark 8:36
Gospel of John, 17:3
Consider the debate between Socrates and the sophists in Plato’s Republic
Augustine, Confessions, Book 1, Chapter 1
5 Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, pp. 175-176

Three Gifts My Father Gave Me

My father is not generally the gift giver of the family, at least not in the sense of things that can be wrapped in a box. Usually Christmas and birthday presents arrive bearing Mom’s fingerprints. There are, however, the special exceptions. On such occasions, I open a box and find some special tool or bit of technology. Then, I know that Dad was at Home Depot or Radio Shack, and he thought to himself, “Bill would appreciate this (small flashlight built upon a flexible tripod).”

As much as I do appreciate the flashlight built upon a flexible tripod, three of dad’s gifts are much dearer. My Dad and I keeping bees

First and foremost, for fifty-five years now, I’ve watched him love my mother. Dad has always been faithful, always a hard worker, and always a strong provider. Yet, through the years, I’ve watched him become tenderer, more sensitive especially to Mom. He always emptied the dishwasher, knowing this is mom’s least favorite chore. But, the years have brought something more, awareness and delight in my mother. She is the twinkle in his eye. More than anything else, it is this love of my mother that has made his love of God a creditable witness.

Second, Dad was always willing to invest time in me. From last Easter’s trip, when he and Mom spent a week with Maryellen and I, to forty years ago working on a physics problem.

Finally, Dad is a man of few words, but when he speaks, particularly after a momentary pause, what he says is wisdom.

At twenty-two, I was home transitioning into my first adult job. Early one morning, walking into the master bedroom, I saw Dad shaving beside the bath vanity, and I posed this question. “Dad, what is your vocation? What is your mission in life?” He put down his razor, paused for a moment, turned and looking into my eyes, said, “To facilitate the ministry of my wife and children.”

What a remarkable thing for a man to say – my chief purpose is to serve my wife and children, supporting them in a more fruitful walk with God. Even more remarkable, for fifty-six years he’s done it. Very far from perfect, as he would be the first to admit, but fundamentally, he’s done it.

May we all live to serve so well.
 

Moms and the Power of Presence

 

The Power of Presence

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 Savior and God with unconscious delight and trust.
Charlotte Mason

Because human persons are profoundly social and not merely self-directed, babes turn to their mothers not only for nourishment but also for comfort, security and love. This relationship is established in the early years of life, the child being shaped primarily by his or her mother. So it was with me, when yet a little child, my mother turned my heart towards God.

I cannot remember a time I did not believe in God. God was in the atmosphere of our home - it was all about me and ventilated through my mother. We did not read the Bible or say prayers at meals or before bedtime. Yet, as a young child lying awake in bed, I thought about God, his love towards me and his sacrifice for me. My mother spoke of God and about God - it seemed as though she knew Him.

The older I grew, the more significant this early thought atmosphere became. In my teens, the cultural clamored for my attention. Internally, I was entangled, but externally I remained aloof.  In my isolation, I responded to God. As I gained more knowledge, I began to acquire the sense that I was made for God. The initial shaping in childhood began to take form and continues. 

This Mother's Day, I reflect upon the power of presence in my mom.

Family Shakespeare

During my time with Ambleside Homeschool, we have had the opportunity to read several Shakespeare plays in story form.  These readings come from well-written story versions for children.  Now, my Ambleside mentor tells me, we are ready to engage in reading Shakespeare in the original.  How exciting! As our school day is full of many other engaging subjects, that I did not want to eliminate, I decided to add Shakespeare into our family time after dinner.  This new ritual has become a fount of delight.  Let me explain.

First, I purchased five full Hamlet texts, one for each of us.  Next, we set aside time in the evening, about 3-4 times per week, to read one scene per night.  Our first night, we reviewed the story of Hamlet and I printed out a Hamlet ‘family tree’ to help us keep the characters straight.  Before we began the first act, I asked, “Who wants to be Claudius?  Who wants to be Gertrude, the ghost, Horatio?”  Great enthusiasm was evoked as there was a chorus of “I do, I do”.   After we all settled on our characters for the night, I told them that they had 3 minutes to go and get any prop they wanted for their character.  My youngest daughter quickly found the ballet tiara for Gertrude, my husband seemed to form a crown for Claudius by turning my sunhat inside-out, Horatio donned a scarf from the coat closet, I was given a ski hat, apparently to endure the weather in Denmark, and the ghost, was covered in the family room throw blanket.  Even our Spaniel played the part of the Guard, a non-speaking role.  Yes, we were now ready to begin.  It was then pure delight to see this thespian experience unfold as each of us, comfortable in familial safety, fully became our character.  Lines were read with great enthusiasm and the beautiful language was accessed with ease. What joy!  After our reading and amateur acting of Act 1 Scene 1 we sat down together as a family and discussed the ideas, characters, set-up, etc.  Each family member lit up with something to say about our reading, something they noticed that touched upon their soul.  Well, it is Shakespeare after all. 

Every family Shakespeare evening since has produced more of the same delight, enthusiasm and intellectual challenge.  It continues to surprise me as to how personal this play has become to our family, the resulting dinnertime conversations and the continued enthusiasm to read and act out the next scene.  Children thrive on great literature and great ideas, just as adults, and this has been a wonderful way to bring the two together.  I attribute this to another one of the blessings that flow from a living education.

We Found a Friend

We just finished reading Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin in school.  As I read the last few paragraphs aloud, I found that I was feeling "choked up."  And I looked up to see my young boys with flushed faces and tears in their eyes as well.  We sat for a moment in the silence of the feelings and ideas that washed over us.  It was a tender moment worth every other moment of struggle we have gone through in school to get to the point of still, quiet contemplation of a well-written text.  No words were needed while we communed together in this precious shared experience.

After a time, I asked what thoughts and emotions were filling their minds.  As a tear rolled down his face, my 9-year-old said, "I want more of Benjamin."  He asked if I could find more to read about him.  My 7-year-old, through pink puffy cheeks and while biting his lips to hold back tears, said "We've been reading about him for so long.  It feels like a friend to us that we are leaving.  Like Sara Crewe, too." (A reference to Little Princess.)

From the final two paragraphs of the book:

"Long seconds after the last note had been sung, the crowd stood still.  They had journeyed so far back into America that they were a long time returning.  Slowly the sun umbrellas clicked shut.  Slowly the people walked back to their horses.  They still seemed part of the long ago and the far away.  They had struggled with the boy Benjamin, as he overcame great odds.  They had watched the boy grow until he became the father of American painting.

It was not easy for them to begin talking in their everyday voices, as if nothing had happened to them.  Something had happened to them.  They had gone a-leafing and found a page of American history."

Something had happened to us.  We had found a friend.  And when my 7-year-old asked what we would do next without Benjamin, I told him that we would find another friend - and keep Benjamin and Sara in our hearts as well.

 

Training Children as Ministers of Grace

Children are open to vanity as to all other evil dispositions possible to human nature. They must be educated to give and to help without any notion that to do so is goodness on their part. It is very easy to keep them in the attitude of mind natural to a child, that to serve is promotion to the person who serves for indeed he has no absolute claim to be in a position to pour benefits upon another. The child's range of sympathy must be widened, his love must go out to far and near, rich and poor; distress abroad and distress at home should appeal to him equally; and always he should give some manner of help at real cost to himself. Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children, 66.
       
Charlotte Mason evokes several principles in her call for children to serve:
• Service is a deliberate work – they must be educated. Children must see adults serve and must be given some instructions on how to serve. What must a young person know about visiting the elderly at an assisted living home? How might they give? How might they help?
• Service widens one’s sympathy - love must go out to far and near, rich and poor; distress abroad and distress at home. Children must be informed about the persons they are visiting. What are their distresses?
• Service involves self-sacrifice - some manner of help at real cost to himself. What is the personal cost? Discomfort? Time? Work?

An Ambleside teacher shares his experience with service:
Over this school year my ten and eleven year old children have been going to a local nursing home once a month.  There have been several interactions between students and residents that demonstrate the presence of God in these visits.  I would like to share one such occurrence.  The residents range in ability, some able to communicate well and others only able to utter a moan or move a few fingers. 

The first time we went I knew it would be uncomfortable for some of the students.  Most adults have trouble being genuine at these places.  Many students were shy and unwilling to touch the residents’ hands or even the game pieces they had touched.  When we got back to school after the first visit one boy asked why we went there.  “They can barely stay awake,” he said, with many other students agreeing.  As a class we discussed these things not in an attempt to win over the cynics but to actually ponder the legitimate question from the mind of a child.  ‘What a glorious question for a young mind to struggle with,’ I thought to myself.  The ‘least of these’ teachings given to us by the Savior had an application now and we read several scriptures where Jesus cared for those that were ignored by others.

However, instead of thinking that it was our class caring for the ‘least of these’ I discovered I was wrong.  A student new to our school has had some past experiences with being bullied and on random days he may withdraw from others as a defense.  Our class happened to be visiting the elderly on one of these days.  When we arrived he tried to sit in the corner of the small room away from everyone.  I called him out into the hallway where I saw his hands trembling and tears in his eyes were on the verge of spilling over.  I did my best to help him regulate himself. 

To my surprise an elderly gentleman, who must had been watching, called the boy over to sit next to him.  The man was masterful at pulling the boy out of his anxious state.  He asked for help when he did not need it, used the boy’s name like he had known him for years, and clapped wildly when my student won a round of the game. The friendliness of this stranger almost brought me to tears, especially when he looked up at me and winked, as if to say, ‘I’ll help him out, Teach!’

Near our time to leave I always allow my students to go look at the fish tank on display. As they were enjoying the fish, I went to the man and thanked him for his kindness. I found out he had been an educator in New England as a younger man.  It was clear he was passionate about the life he lived pouring support into young people.  He told me about two boys he befriended while they were in middle school and his friendship with them continues to this day. I would have enjoyed continued talking with him, but I had to shorten the conversation to get back to my students. I thanked him again and as I stood I realized that it was the residents, even the invalids, which were serving us.  I went to each person and thanked him or her for playing with the children and asked the students to do the same.  I watched as the students went around the room thanking the residents.    It was not difficult to see that it was the elderly men and women that felt they had accomplished the service that day. 

At the beginning of each visit, the students walk down the hall, find a seat next to a resident, and start playing a game, interacting, and just being with them.  In the beginning, I thought we came to shine the light on those less fortunate than us.  I pitied them for the monotonous days, lack of visitors, and having to be wheeled everywhere. But now I see how God’s ways are so different yet much more perfect than our ways.  By coming to serve, we allowed them an opportunity to serve us and in so doing their sense of worth and value shone bright upon each of their faces.  These ministers of grace, both young and old are a revelation of the kingdom of heaven on earth.
 

An Exercise in Contrast -Gaining Perspective

A simple exercise of taking the time to measure the length and height of a Brachiosaurus allows one to have a moment to see. What might a person consider during this moment?

  • The creature.
  • The human.
  • What distinguishes one from the other?
  • What is realized upon this recognition?

Suppose more of our lessons gave us something more to think about?

 

 

 

Photo Courtesy of Ambleside Homeschool family

The Gift of Love and Gladness

In the days before Christmas, anxiety about the holidays is heard in many exchanges with family, friend, and stranger. Topics vary from decorations, shopping, baking, guests, travel, to the most menacing of all  - the illusive gift for that special someone. Charlotte Mason speaks about “a shade of anxiety in the mother’s face as she plans for the holidays.”  We all have had experiences of being around persons who are anxious; no help is needed; yet all help is needed. One is in a quandary of just how to be and act in an atmosphere of anxiety.

In order to not have ourselves and our loved ones breathe in this anxiety, one must break away and come to Him.  Our hearts cry out with the children, “ Come to earth O, tiny King, take away our sadness. At your birth our hearts will sing filled with hope and gladness.”   The young children of Ambleside School of Fredericksburg sang these melodies repeatedly with increased volume as the resonance of the vowels of each word were emphasized – resounding the message of come King, take away and bring.

Come away from the anxious thoughts and multitude of tasks and come to the King – receive his love and joy. And in these days of Christmastime, may you be a conduit of Jesus’ gladness and love to all. Happy Christmas to You!

The Gift of Self

The Gift of Self

"He must feel it in your touch, see it in your eye, hear it in your tones, or you will never convince a child that you love him, though you labor day and night for his good and his pleasure. Perhaps this is the special lesson of Christmas-tide for parents. The Son came––for what else we need not inquire now––to reinstate men by compelling them to believe that they––the poorest shrinking and ashamed souls of them––that they live enfolded in infinite personal love, desiring with desire the response of love for love. And who, like the parent, can help forward this "wonderful redemption"? The boy who knows that his father and his mother love him with measureless patience in his faults, and love him out of them, is not slow to perceive, receive, and understand the dealings of the higher Love". Charlotte Mason, Formation of Character

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Gospel of John

There is no greater gift we can give our children than the gift of ourselves.
May you and those you love have a blessed Christmas.

Bill and Maryellen St Cyr
Ambleside Schools International

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