WE have dwelt at some length upon the influence of family life, because it appeals to us as the right approach to the subject of training the young. There is no influence to equal that of a good home. One of the major tragedies of our time is the disruption of home life. Its disastrous consequences are daily apparent in the law courts. They manifest themselves, too, in other ways: young people are restless and constantly in need of some distraction; they appear to have no anchorage. On Sunday evenings in the large cities, even when the sun shines from the summer sky, thousands of youths may be seen, patiently waiting to crowd into cinemas.

These signs of an all invading paganism have so alarmed the authorities that they have sought remedies to the situation. Social work among the young has been stimulated and extended. The schools, especially, are expected to play a major part in moral rearmament. Since the Education Act of 1944, religious instruction has been made compulsory.

It is not generally realized what an amazing social change this indicates. Less than a hundred years ago education was virtually a church monopoly; it was not until 1870 that the State started to assume any direct responsibility for education. Gradually in this as in other departments, the power of the State has grown; at the same time the authority and influence of the Church have waned. The result has been curious; whereas once the Church sought to form mind and character, she now appears unable to perform either function. Her work has therefore to be taken over by the schools, for these the children of the land must attend.

It has been aptly observed that religion is caught not taught, and one may well wonder whether legislation will succeed where the homes and the churches have failed. Too often instruction in the schools, as in the pulpit, is coloured by critical notions, and the number of teachers capable of kindling faith in the Scriptures is all too small.

It is inevitable that the considerations which called into being the clauses of the 1944 Act relating to religious instruction should also receive attention from brethren. Many have felt that the peculiar difficulties of the time should be met by appropriate measures. In the case of the adolescent, especially, a single Scripture lesson on Sunday afternoon is deemed inadequate. It was once a common experience to see children attending Sunday School until the age of fourteen or so, and then leaving because there was no suitable provision for them. Furthermore the recruiting of strangers’ children has brought into our midst, in increasing numbers, young people whose home environment may be of little or no assistance. Here then, it is argued, are excellent reasons why the ecclesia should establish more frequent contacts with the young.

With this desire all must surely feel the fullest sympathy. We do not want to see our young go out into the night. In this matter, as in so many, Christ has given us a clear lead. At the end of his ministry, he could say: “… those that thou gavest me have I kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition” (John 17:12). But we cannot quote this verse without taking note of the first part: “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name”. There was never any suggestion of compromise on Christ’s part, never any endeavour to court popularity or to increase by doubtful means the size of his following. He showed great understanding of men’s needs and compassion on their frailties, but he gave these weaknesses no encouragement. There was never any attempt to accommodate the Gospel to human whims and fancies. With any who advanced a false philosophy he could display the greatest severity. Peter had a way to the kingdom which avoided the cross; Christ was forthright in his denunciation: “Get thee behind me, Satan”. Some of the language used by our Lord to the seven churches, especially that addressed to Laodicea, might even appear intemperate to the squeamish. It serves, however, to render Christ’s detestation of a faith that is tepid. (“So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”) it is language which should be carefully noted in these days of emasculate religion. Paul foresaw as a feature of the last days that men would possess a form of godliness without any real force (2 Tim 3:5).

There has been no diminution in the claims the Gospel makes upon us; the conditions of salvation have not become easier because the spirit of the age craves for diversion rather than enlightenment. God has always asked much of His children, young or old. A rich young ruler came to Jesus and enquired what were the conditions for obtaining eternal life. Christ quoted some of the requirements of the Law; with all these his interlocutor had faithfully complied. But he lacked one thing: “Go and sell all that thou hast … and come and follow me”. This was doubtless a stern demand for one so young; but he wanted eternal life, and one who desires so much must allow no impediment to stand in his way.

Towards the end of his career, Paul wrote to Timothy, his son in the faith; he bade him “endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim 2:3). Paul had every right to address such an admonition. Later in the same epistle, the elderly apostle who bore in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ reminded the younger man of the sufferings he had endured in the course of his apostleship: “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life … persecutions, afflictions, which came upon me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra”. Paul dwells particularly upon the afflictions encountered in the region from which Timothy came, afflictions which were in a sense the price of his disciple’s conversion.

Both the characters cited were doubtless older than those who frequent our Youth Circles, but the principle is the same. Though it is necessary to temper the wind to the shorn lamb, the wind must not be permitted to lose its force. Our youth organizations, if they are discharging their true function, will never be mere clubs for the diversion of the young. There is in the Christian faith a noble strain of idealism, capable of making a strong appeal to the imagination of the young. It must be preserved in its integrity. The Gospel is not dull in itself, but it can be made dull; the Scriptures have their difficulties and obscurities, but the basic teaching is marvellously clear. They are full of romance, of the best kind, able to inspirit both mind and heart. Those who have charge of our Sunday Schools and Youth Circles have priceless opportunities; are they seizing them with both hands?

Are they taught in the Word? “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Psa 119:9). The passage is familiar enough; it should stimulate those who teach the young to deepen and extend their knowledge of the Scriptures. It is, of course, far easier to organize secular activities, well supported and giving the illusion of a “flourishing” Youth Circle; it is possible for a tree to have luxuriant foliage and bear little fruit. The secular activities, however innocent, will in themselves save nobody. Salvation by environment, as has been well remarked, was tried, and failed, in the Garden of Eden. In a community whose guide is not the Word, the social side will tend to predominate, encouraging shallowness of mind with no strong convictions. We should always aim at producing young brethren and sisters with a well developed backbone, capable of standing on their own feet, with a genuine love of the Scriptures, unashamed of their vocation and able to act as beacons in a godless world.

We do not wish to be unmindful of the needs of young people; they deserve sympathetic treatment. However, if secular activities are introduced, the wise organizer will see that they are strictly subordinated to the main purpose of preparing the young for a life of full and active discipleship. Such pursuits should never constitute an inducement (Biblical teaching is very clear on this matter). The main appeal should always be the spiritual exercises. Each ecclesia has a plain duty to ensure that any organization to which it lends its support should have reverence for God as its object, and Bible study as its heart and soul.

Many of our Youth Circles have leaders who fully recognize, and pursue, the highest ideals of our calling. We are sure their work will be blessed. Let them labour diligently to produce more workers for the vineyard. There is no need for us to despair of the future if this is done. Our community is still able to produce young people with a high sense of duty and enterprise. The writer can vividly recall the first of the Scottish campaigns. Things were going well; the response was most encouraging. It was unthinkable that the work should be abandoned. Two young brethren immediately responded; they left their old employment but soon found new. They were the nucleus of what is now a well established ecclesia. The same brethren have also been concerned with the foundation of other ecclesias. God has abundantly rewarded their courage. We can also think of another young brother who Sunday by Sunday, through sunshine and through rain, cycles a considerable distance so that he can lend his invaluable support to a small, struggling ecclesia.

But some will say that abuses exist in certain of our Youth Circles, that there are futile and frivolous pursuits quite removed from the atmosphere of the Gospel. Where such a state of affairs may happen to exist, the ecclesia concerned has a clear duty. When Paul learnt of the abuses attending the agapē or love feast at Corinth, he sternly rebuked the church: they were coming together not for the better but for the worse (1 Cor 11:18). If they wished to satisfy their hunger let them do so at home and let them come together for mutual edification.

The Christian calling must be first holy, and this fact should be steadily kept in view in all ecclesial activities. Those who deliberately ignore it will be destroyed by Christ at his coming. On the other hand, the brethren and sisters who in their work with the young, take heed unto the doctrine, continuing faithfully in it, will both save themselves and those that hear them.