Jacobus Koelman (1632-1696): A curriculum for training children aged 6 to 12 in the Reformed faith

Jacobus_Koelman

 

In his The Responsibility of Parents to Raise their Children for God (De Pligten der Ouderen om Kinderen voor God op te Voeden, 1684), the Dutch Nadere Reformatie minister Jacobus Koelman (1632-1696) lays out guidelines for Christian parents on how to raise their covenant children in the Reformed faith. Offering different guidelines according to the age of the children, he spends one chapter (ch. 3) specifically focusing on what and how to teach children between the age of 6 and 12.

This training is broad and thorough, considering the target age range, and is intended to be taught throughout the week, although, of course, especially every Lord’s Day. The curriculum starts with Koelman’s own catechism within this book, focusing particularly on the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. This teaching also includes a reading and exposition of the Scripture proof texts given for each answer in the catechism, requiring the parent to demonstrate to the child how the doctrine in question is founded on Scripture. Although there is an emphasis on ensuring the child memorizes what is taught, yet Koelman insists that parents must ensure that, beyond mere regurgitation, their children actually understand what is taught, and recognize the doctrine’s foundation in Scripture. Furthermore, parents ought always to pray to God to bless their teaching, and that God may grant their children the ability to understand what is taught.

Next, Koelman prescribes the teaching of elementary systematic theology on eight main loci: (1) doctrine of Scripture, (2) doctrine of God, (3) anthropology, (4) doctrine of the Mediator, (5) doctrine of effectual calling, (6) doctrine of the privileges of effectual calling in this life, of grace, (7) doctrine of the privileges of effectual calling in and after death, in glory, (8) doctrine of the Sacraments or seals of the covenant of grace. The child is thus given an elementary but firm grounding in all the main loci of Reformed systematic theology.

Naturally enough, the Heidelberg Catechism is also important in Koelman’s curriculum, and despite it being taught in the schools and at church every Lord’s day, he suggests that it also be studied above and beyond the context of school and church on a Sunday. Ideally, if possible, the Heidelberg Catechism should be studied alongside the children’s catechism of Jacobus Borstius, minister in Rotterdam.

Next up, the children are to be taught biblical history, narratives, and chronology, with the assistance of Koelman’s “historical catechism” within this book. And Koelman, true to Nadere Reformatie form, insists that the learning of these biblical narratives and histories should always be accompanied by a practical application to the child. In other words, the question should always be asked: what does this particular passage or book teach me about God, and how is this knowledge of God which I gained from this text relevant to my life as a believer? The child is thus taught the practical, applicatory nature of theological doctrine from a young age. And this practical application of the doctrine to the child’s life, says Koelman, “may not be neglected.”

Once the child has gained a good grounding in biblical history, and has a solid grasp of the historical contours of the biblical narrative, the next part of the curriculum is a history of the church, which Koelman says should include teaching about the various persecutions and trials which God’s children have endured through the ages, whether by heathens or Papists, with special emphasis on martyrs and martyrologies, with the goal of setting forth the martyrs as examples of faithfulness and endurance in their faith under extremely testing circumstances. Once again, therefore, a practical dimension is in view, with inspirational figures in the church’s history acting as a “cloud of witnesses” spurring the young believer on in his or her faith. Next up, a history of the Netherlands should be taught, which should include a focus on the “Spanish yoke” and the “Antichristian Inquisition” under which the Dutch people long suffered, and from which (Koelman believes) God saved the Dutch. Moreover, children should be taught how God providentially safeguarded the Reformed faith in the Netherlands not only against the Papists, but also in the face of the Arminian threat.

After this overview of ecclesiastical and Dutch history, children should be taught what one might call Heresiology 101. They need to be taught about the “most despicable” errors of the Papacy, as well as the errors of the Jews, Socinians, Arminians, Mennonites, and (sic) the Lutherans. Yet Koelman says that the focus should always be primarily on  positively building up children in true doctrines, and that these errors should only be brought up and refuted by the by, when occasion demands it. In other words, a focus on theological errors should always be aimed at elucidating the truth.

For Koelman, ordinary everyday Bible reading should undergird all of the above teaching endeavours, and, ideally, parents should have a schedule of Bible verses or passages for their children to memorize. Concerning the sermons which the children hear in church on Sundays, he holds that parents should help their children to make notes and understand the contours of sermons, so that they may more easily follow the arguments and reasoning of the preacher, and be able to discern when he is offering doctrine, admonishment, comfort, or exhortation. Children should furthermore be taught from a young age to sing Psalms and (ideally) learn to read musical notes so that they may sing without the aid of instruments, and in this way gain a familiarity with the Psalms.

Once the child is well trained in all of the above, Koelman says that he or she should advance to weightier commentaries on the Heidelberg Catechism, such as those of Petrus de Witte, Zacharias Ursinus, or Franciscus Ridderus, in order to get a firmer, more mature grounding in the faith.

In all of these different parts of the curriculum, Koelman calls upon the parent to set an example for the child on how to handle holy subjects with the requisite seriousness and piety, and to impress on the child a realization of the weightiness of the divine subject matter that he or she is learning, and to treat it with due reverence.

Finally, Koelman encourages parents to reward their children when they are diligent and make progress in their learning, in order to manifest parental love to the child and to further encourage them in their learning. Although he says that parents should employ their parental authority and exercise the necessary strictness when the child is stubborn or unwilling to learn, yet he stresses that the parent should always strive to draw the child to his or her studies with benevolence and kindness, and seek to make the learning as “sweet and enjoyable” to the child as possible.

This curriculum, which was designed for 17th-century Dutch Reformed parents to train children aged 6-12 at home, may seem, to modern eyes, an unrealistic ideal. It is loaded and very comprehensive for that age range. For most in Reformed churches today, the idea of having 12-year-olds polishing theological books as weighty as Ursinus’ commentary on the catechism is utterly unthinkable. As far as Koelman was concerned, however, this level of theological training in children was eminently attainable. In one place, while warning parents to be careful not to overload their children and expect them to memorize too much at one time, he nevertheless does comment that “ordinarily their memory can take and retain more than we typically think.” And this is most certainly true – adults often underestimate the memory capacity of young children.

In the end, much can be learned from Koelman’s curriculum as to the scope of biblical and theological teaching which Reformed Christians might want to offer their children at home in these important formative years. There is a firm grounding in the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer; there is a familiarity with the contours of redemptive history in Scripture and the memorization of Scripture; there is familiarity with the Heidelberg Catechism and elementary systematic theology focused on the traditional loci; and there is an overview of the history of the church and the child’s own place in this greater narrative of redemptive history. And all of this is aimed at teaching the child to practically know and love the Triune God ,and to live unto, pray unto, and worship him from a tender age, and from within the covenant community of believers, starting at home.

Advertisements

Andreas Essenius (1618-1677) on Christ’s ascension

Andreas Essenius

 

The Utrecht professor Andreas Essenius (1618-1677) discusses Christ’s ascension in his Compendium Theologiae Dogmaticum, Chapter XII, Section LXI, which I have translated below:

The ascension to heaven is the second step of [Christ’s] exaltation [the resurrection being the first], by which Christ was carried up from earth to the highest heaven locally and visibly; where he dwells for the good of the Church, until he will return for the final universal judgment. ‘After the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven’ (Mk. 16:19).

The moving subject was Christ himself according to his human nature: and so the same soul and the same body which was united in his resurrection should here be held in view […]

The terminus a quo was the Mount of Olives near Bethany (Lk. 24:50-51). The terminus ad quem was the highest heaven, or the heaven of the blessed (Eph. 4:10; Heb. 7:26).

As pertains to the manner, this ascension happened locally, by departing earth, and by advancing on high through means [presumably Essenius has the clouds on which Christ ascended in mind here]; and at the same time visibly, his disciples beholding this movement for some time by sight (Acts 1:9-11).

Concerning the time, this happened after Christ had for 40 days affirmed the truth of his resurrection and further instructed his disciples about various things.

This was predicted (Ps. 68:18; cf. Eph. 4:8-11) and prefigured by the high priest, when he annually entered the holy of holies, which is a type [exemplar] of heaven (Lev. 16:12-17; cf. Heb. 9:7, 24).

The efficient cause was the same as that of the resurrection, namely the power of God, and hence with respect to the Father it is called assumption; but with respect to the Son it is called ascension (Acts. 1:11) […]

Its ends were the following:

1) So that he would position his human nature, now truly glorified, in its true abode of glory; that he would demonstrate himself as Lord of heaven: and that he would most gloriously triumph over all his enemies (Eph. 1:20-21; 1 Cor. 15:47-49; Eph. 4:8).

2) So that he would dispense those things which he had accomplished for the salvation of the elect in heaven by his intercession, and at the same time would send the Spirit to his own, to distribute his various gifts (Heb. 9:24; Jn. 14:2-3; 16:7).

3) So that he would take possession of his own by name in the kingdom of heaven; and so that from this we would have a most assured evidence of our own ascension to heaven (Eph. 2:6; 1 Cor. 15:49; Jn. 17:24; Rev. 3:21).

4) So that we would be in constant meditation on heavenly things, and always be attentive of things above (Col. 3:1; Phil. 3:20).

Melchior Leydekker (1642-1721): 6 marks by which true theology may be distinguished from false theology

Melchior Leydekker

 

According to Melchior Leydekker (1642-1721), in his Synopsis Theologiae Christianae (Chapter 1, p. 13), true theology bears six marks by which it may be distinguished from false theology. Of course, many others could be added to this brief list, but, generally speaking, these are helpful to distinguish true from false theology. It is a mark of true theology when:

  1. It gives the greatest glory to God (Rom 11:26; 1 Cor. 1:30-31).

  2. It draws every holy and blessed good thing out of God as its source (1 Cor. 4:7; Eph. 2:8, 10).

  3. It expounds the true reason of reconciliation with God through the Messiah, Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:19-24; 1 Cor. 2:2).

  4. It humbles sinful man, convicts him of his sin and misery, and compels him to the grace of God and the righteousness of Christ (Phil. 3:9-10).

  5. It demonstrates the true reasons for sincere piety, filial obedience, and genuine gratitude (Rom. 12:1; Ps. 2:11; Tit. 2:11).

  6. It consoles those whose consciences are terrified by the divine law and whose souls are poor in spirit, through Christ the Mediator and the promises of the Gospel (Is. 40:1; 61:1-2; Matt. 5:3; Lk. 2:24).

Melchior Leydekker (1642-1721) on the means by which to pursue theology

Melchior Leydekker

 

In chapter 1 of his Synopsis Theologiae Christianae, Melchior Leydekker (1642-1721) briefly comments on the means which one should in the pursuit of theology. He lists five (p. 11):

  1. The pious and painstaking reading, meditation, and comparison of Holy Scripture [in the sense of interpreting Scripture by Scripture] (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 3:15).

  2. Faithful and effective prayer (Js. 1:5; Ps. 119:18).

  3. Humble reverence and pious practice toward God (Ps. 111:10; Jn. 5:42, 44; 7:17).

  4. The legitimate use of the writings of ecclesiastics.

  5. The study of the oriental languages, true and solid philosophy, history, etc.

Although he doesn’t elaborate, it seems natural to me that by “the writings of ecclesiastics” he would not only include official church documents such as creeds, confessions, and synodical decrees, but also the books which have been deposited in the church by individual theologians throughout its history. By “oriental” languages, no doubt, Leydekker has in mind the biblical languages (including Greek, of course), not only those which we would refer to as “oriental,” such as Hebrew, Aramaic, etc.

Just a few comments on the first four of these points.

Firstly, as Leydekker points out a few pages before, the external principle (principium externum) of all our theology is Holy Scripture, and the internal principle (principium internum) is the grace of the Holy Spirit, “internally teaching, instructing, and certifying the divinity and true sense of Holy Scripture.”  Hence the preeminence he gives to Scripture here.

Secondly, regarding prayer, notice his citation of James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Students of theology should not depend on their unaided reason, but should constantly look to God in prayer to enlighten their minds as they study.

Thirdly, theology is not merely an intellectual (i.e. theoretical) exercise. Reformed Orthodox theologians emphasised the practical nature of theology, and Leydekker is no exception. He says a few pages earlier that “the whole of theology is practical, inasmuch as it refers, directs, and leads every divine truth perceived by the intellect to practice.” After all, the very name of this blog, taken from Petrus van Mastricht, points to this: theology is the doctrine of living unto God through Christ; that is, doctrine (theoretica) is a means to an end, namely living (practica) unto God through Christ.

Finally, regarding the legitimate use of tradition (i.e. reading the ecclesiastics), see these posts from Richard A. Muller and Carl Trueman.

Herman Witsius (1636-1708): Definition of a theologian

220px-Hermann_Witsius

 

In his inaugural lecture at the University of Franeker in 1675, Herman Witsius (1636-1708) spoke on the character of a true theologian (De Vero Theologo). Below is his definition of a theologian:

“By a theologian, I mean one who, imbued with a substantial knowledge of divine things derived from the teaching of God Himself, declares and extols, not in words only, but by the whole course of his life, the wonderful excellencies of God and thus lives entirely for His glory. Such were in former days the holy patriarchs, such the divinely inspired prophets, such the apostolic teachers of the whole world, such some of those whom we denominate fathers, the widely resplendent luminaries of the primitive Church. The knowledge of these men did not lie in the wiredrawn subtleties of curious questions, but in the devout contemplation of God and His Christ. Their plain and chaste mode of teaching did not soothe itching ears but, impressing upon the mind an exact representation of sacred things, inflamed the soul with their love, while their praiseworthy innocence of behaviour, in harmony with their profession and unimpeached by their enemies, supported their teaching by an evidence that was irresistible, and formed a clear proof of their having familiar intercourse with the most holy God.”

This lecture can be found in his Miscellaneorum Sacrorum Libri IV, and, should you be interested, an English translation is available here.

Johannes Hoornbeeck (1617-1666): Theology is not only speculative

Johannes Hoornbeeck

To add to previous posts from Edwards and Calvin on the practical nature of theology, this is from the Utrecht and Leiden professor Johannes Hoornbeeck (1617-1666), Theologiæ Practicæ, vol. 1, p. 7:

“Theology never teaches one only to speculate but always directs the action of the will towards some object whether good or evil, so that we may detest and flee the latter and truly so that we may love and pursue the former, and at every point in the same mode and order be directed to God.”

Johannes d’Outrein (1662-1722) on the Reformed Church

Johannes d'Outrein

Tonight I was reading through some sections of the catechism of Johannes d’Outrein (1662-1722), titled Een Korte Schets der Godlyke Waarheden (A Short Sketch of Divine Truths), and thought this excerpt was worth translating into English and sharing:

Question 11. Where is the true church now to be found?

Answer: In the congregation where the marks of the true church are found.

Question 12. What are these marks?

Answer: Where the pure preaching of God’s word is, and the Sacraments are administered according to the institution of Christ – there is the external (i.e. visible) congregation in which those who believe and are converted constitute the true Church.

Question 13. And which is presently this congregation?

Answer: The Reformed Church.

Question 14. Do you then exclude [those of] other convictions from the true church?

Answer: No, if they do not err in essential points, if there is [held among them] the justification of sinners before God, etc.

Question 15. What do you hold of the Roman Church?

Answer: That it is apostate [‘afvallig’ in the original Dutch] and a multitude of carnal confessors, who make up the beast which we see in Revelation chapter 13, etc.

Question 16. Do you then exclude all who belong to the Roman Church from the true Church and hence from salvation?

Answer: We would like to hope the best of such who are simple under Popery and trust in Christ and his merit, but those who know the depths of Satan and reject the true doctrine of the reconciliation of sinners to God through the blood of Christ alone, there we cannot see much good of expectation. See Is. 45:22-24; Jer. 17:5.

Question 17. If the Reformed Church is the true one, is the true church then entirely new, because where was the church before the Reformation?

Answer: The true church was then in the captivity of the Spiritual Babel and was greatly obscured, though at all times there were those who clung to the true doctrine. See Song of Songs 6:10; Rev. 14:6.

Question 18. Did our forefathers have reasons to separate themselves from the Roman Church?

Answer: Yes indeed, because it was then so bastardized in doctrine and morals that one could not remain in such a depraved Church without running into the greatest danger of his salvation.

Question 19. But the Reformed Church is now also much deteriorated; does one for this reason also have no reason to separate oneself from it, as the Labadists do?

Answer: By no means, because 1) The deterioration is not so general, so that there are still many who serve God in truth. 2) The doctrine of truth is confessed purely among us, and as long as this happens there is no reason for separation. 3) One must also take care that that does not apply to us which is stated in Isaiah 65:5: ‘Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou’.”

– Johannes d’Outrein (1662-1722), Een Korte Schets der Godlyke Waarheden, Chapter XX (Of the Christian Church)