Charlotte Mason’s Theology: The Scale How Meditations

Dear Reader,

Note: I am developing something of a series on Charlotte Mason’s theology. You might also want to check out:

Charlotte Mason, Anglicanism, and You

Was Charlotte Mason Reformed?

Was Charlotte Mason Arminian?


After my recent post “Was Charlotte Mason Arminian?” it was suggested to me that I should read her Scale How Meditations (edited by Benjamin Bernier, Lulu.com, 2011). This book contains a series of meditations on the first chapters of the Gospel of John given by Miss Mason to her students at the House of Education.

In that earlier post I was trying to discern Mason’s theology, and particularly her soteriology (=theology of salvation), from her writings in the Home Education series. The problem of course was that she was not intending to write theology in that series. In Scale How we are dealing with biblical interpretation and Mason’s theology is made quite clear.

I am gratified to find that the things I had deduced about Mason’s theology seem to hold up. Specifically, I had argued that her theology falls into the category “Arminian” [1] in that it assumes that there is an ability man has which precedes saving grace which enables him to play some part in his own salvation. Mason identifies this ability with what she calls “the Will.”

There are a number of passages from Scale How which make it quite clear that there is an act of man which Mason calls the will which is necessary for salvation:

“Let us not suppose that God wills, chooses, that some of us should receive the power to become sons of God and others should never have this power. Is it not rather that our will must embrace the will of God, must accept the ineffable mystery, adore the grace, be so united with the will of God that no perplexity baffles our understanding, because we do not seek to understand?” (p. 48)

“The active will to believe appears to be the one condition enacted by our Lord. Men must bring the will; Christ will give the power, and by the union of the two the miracle of the new birth is accomplished.” (p. 117)

“He, Who came for the healing of the nations, makes one condition — the active will.” (p. 122)

What is this willing Mason speaks of? It is not a “vague aspiration” but a focused decision which requires some level of mental or spiritual effort:

” . . . willing fulfills itself by an effort of attention. Let us fix our thoughts upon that which we desire to know or to do, and turn away our thoughts from that which we should avoid and we have the secret to willing.” (p. 118)

“‘Heigho! I wish I were a better man’ or ‘a better woman’  — does not count. Nothing but that strenuous bending of the attention, which we have seen to be the mode in which the will acts, can fulfill the conditions.” (p. 122)

“Willing the will, like working the work, is, probably, to hold ourselves in that willing and obedient attitude of soul in which conviction is possible; to keep the single eye, to ponder upon the things of Christ . . . To this attitudeof soul comes faith — the free gift of God.” (p. 200)

Though she speaks here of a “free gift,” it is a gift which comes in response to man’s act in willing. God in Christ is to some extent helpless to save men, apart from their own act in thus willing:

“So, too, of the spiritual life, though the Bread of Life, and the Water of Life, and the light of the Life, are brought to our very doors, though He stand at the door and knock. We must eat, we must drink, we must open, that is, we must turn our thoughts steadfactly upon Him Who is our salvation, and He will meet the willing will and fill us with Himself.” (p. 122)

Christ is depicted not as One who acts definitively but as One who asks and who must convince men to believe in Him (p. 141).

There is an explicit rejection of the doctrine of election here:

“‘even so the Son also quickeneth whom He will.’ ‘Whom He will’ –no arbitrary selection is, we may believe, implied but he that will to believe is he whom the Son wills to quicken.” (pp. 129-30; cf.p. 173)

” . . . it is the divine will that all should believe; but here we see where the election comes in. It is we who choose.” (p. 176)

Note what Mason is saying here — she rejects “arbitrary selection,” i.e. unconditional election, and says rather that God chooses to save those whom He foresees will choose Him by an act of their will to believe.

If salvation is dependent upon man’s act, to will and therefore to be saved is open to all people:

” . . . the Judge who came not to condemn but to show to every man the best that is possible to him, the unsuspected good that is in him.” (p. 76)

Here we think also of Miss Mason’s infamous second principle — children “are not born either good or bad, but with possibilities for good and for evil” — which has caused some debate in educational circles. This principle is often taken as referring only to education as if it did not also apply to man’s spiritual state, but Mason here makes clear that she does apply this principle more broadly (p. 42) and that man is able, before saving grace, to do some good, even if that good is only to will.

Ultimately, through a lifetime of choices, men sort themselves into two camps:

“[Christ] comes to save the world; but even so, a natural, incidental judgment is going on. Of their own accord men judge themselves, and range themselves into the sheep and the goats.” (p. 100)

Thus in Mason’s manner of speaking God judges and condemns no one but “the sinner practically pronounces judgment on himself when he chooses darkness rather than light” (p. 107). Though Mason does hold open the possibility that there may be a second chance after death for those who have not turned to Christ in this life (p. 138).

I have used Mason’s own words as much as possible. I think it is clear from the quotes above that she rejects the doctrine of unconditional election and that she makes man’s salvation dependent upon his own act, what she calls willing. In so doing she rejects also irresistible grace and limited atonement. Though my contention is that Mason’s theology falls clearly within the Arminian camp, this is not to say that she was not a Christian. As I read her words in these meditations, I am often struck by the depth and sincerity of her faith.

The big question for us as reformed people who are nonetheless attracted to Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education is how deeply her theology has influenced her views on education and to what extent we can trust and employ her methods knowing that her foundation, while Christian, is not identical to our own. I have tried in many ways to answer these questions as I have developed my own philosophy of education. Though this volume of meditations is not on education, there are points at which she touches on ideas which we can recognize from her philosophy of education and so I think I will also take one more post on this book to try to ferret out these ideas and to see how they are influenced by her theology.

Until then,

Nebby

[1] “Arminian” can be a loaded, and quite derogatory, term in reformed circles so I would refer you to that earlier post for a good working definition of how I am using the term.

 

2 responses to this post.

  1. […] Edited 8/24/2020: I now have a follow-up post to this one which looks at Charlotte Mason’s Theology in her Scale How Meditations. […]

    Reply

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