Stow: Picturing out in words


Stow, David: 1844. Scottish Sabbath School Teachers’ Magazine Vol. 1, 1844, The Edinburgh Sabbath School Teachers’ Union, James Gall and Son, Edinburgh pps 116-120 

IN conducting a Bible lesson, it is peculiarly necessary that terms and figurative words and phrases be pictured out in words to the mind otherwise no lesson can be drawn. Such as, for example, ‘Glory,’ both in the abstract and the conventional meaning. ‘Saviour’ in the abstract – a Saviour, who can save me from danger, and the Saviour, who can save me from death or hell.  Also ‘Redeemer’, ‘wisdom’, ‘wise’ ‘ faith’ ‘way’ &c. &c., ‘helmet of salvation’ –  ‘shield of faith’ – ‘kingdom of heaven’ – ‘rivers of pleasure’ – ‘fountains of living waters’ – as well as innumerable, emblems which must be understood, in other words, pictured out familiarly to the mind, both in their natural history and accepted sense, before any practical lesson can be drawn. Such passages as ‘I will refine thee as silver is refined’ – ‘The path of the just is as the shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day’ – ‘Iron sharpeneth iron, so doth the face of a man his friend’ – ‘As the dog to his vomit, and the sow that is washed to her wallowing in the mire’ – ‘As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over ‘her young,’ &c., ‘so the Lord did lead them,’ &c. Like a tree planted by a river’ – ‘They who wait upon God shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles’ – ‘As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God’ – ‘Like grass which groweth up in the morning,’ &c. ‘Be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves’ – ‘Keep me as the apple of thine eye’ – ‘Hide me in the hollow of thine hand’ – The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree’; ‘he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon,’ &c. &c.

Such words and phrases might be quoted without end, every page of Scripture being full of figurative expressions; and although it is not necessary to enter minutely into the science or nature of the objects on which the lesson is based; yet as much must be given as to enable the Bible learner to draw the lesson for himself. This being done in a week-day elementary school (for there is not time in Sabbath schools or from the pulpit) then the reading of Scripture will become more luminous, and sermons from the pulpit better understood. Some clergymen, it is true, have the power of simplifying their discourses so as to interest the young at the half-yearly addresses to Sabbath schools; but how frequently do we find the utmost listlessness,  …. because the speaker is preaching over the heads of the children. A previous course of ‘Bible Training’, however, would have rendered the children attentive and intelligent hearers. We know one clergyman who was induced to preach to the children of his parish one afternoon every month; he informed the grown persons belonging to his congregation of his intention, and that he would be happy to see them also. After a year’s trial the clergyman declared that not only was the church more crowded with adults, but he had reason to believe more good was done by these addresses than by the others he delivered. It is perhaps the most difficult of all attainments to simplify to children; but if we cannot come down in our phraseology, let us bring them up to ours by a systematic course of school training.

Figurative words and phrases, which all come within the range of our senses, we have seen, are capable of being pictured out; but, as we have already stated, there is a limit. We cannot describe, for example, the eternity or omnipresence of Jehovah. Paul was caught up to the third heavens; ‘and heard words which it was not lawful to utter’, or which he was not able to utter and why so ? because they were expressive of things and ideas, the reality of which no human language could convey; they were above our range of vision, and of course our modes of expression.

Knowledge makes but slow progress in the world, and our ideas are oftentimes incorrect and confused, in consequence of using words and phrases, the meaning of which is not clearly apprehended.

Every word is a figure representing some object or objects, or more technically, ‘every word either represents an object or a combination of objects, and may therefore be pictured out in words representing objects. We literally know nothing but from or through the medium of visible objects., The first step, therefore, is to store the mind with a knowledge of objects, and words expressive of these objects. Once present to the mind a variety of objects, and, little by little use of words representing the qualities, relations, and combinations of these objects, the mind may be trained from the known to the unknown.

Pestalozzi introduced the use of objects and prints, in popular education. ‘The Training System’ has added the picturing out in words, by analogy and familiar illustrations of every abstract term, figurative word, and figurative phrase. Mere objects and prints exhibit only one condition or point of the subject they represent, whereas picturing out in words may be carried ad infinitum.

All words being figurative, and all phrases and collocations of words being figures, the most complex may be reduced to simple elements. Of course there is a limit when we come to facts which we cannot thus picture out, and these become objects of faith, an example of which we shall shortly give. But the rule of analysis which we adopt is applicable to every thing within the range of human perception and reason.


In regard to abstract terms, no explanation can convey the idea of a stone or an egg, for example, until they are presented to the senses. A fish must be seen before we know what a fish is; but having seen one we may be easily trained to know any fish. The same in regard to a bird; but having once seen, even a humming bird, we may. be trained to know the appearance, size, and qualities of an eagle.


We might analyse innumerable figurative words requiring a reduction from complex to simple terms before the idea intended by the use of the word can be formed in the mind. We might take the word abstract itself as an example, as denoting something having a previous existence in one condition, and being drawn out of that condition into another and distinct condition. I may abstract a stone from a quarry, or heap of rubbish, or an apple from a basket and thus from simple we may proceed to complex ideas – such as the idea of what a man is who is engrossed with one subject, or who is so peculiar in his modes of thinking as to ‘be drawn out’, as it were, or aside, from the generality of mankind.

In education, many terms are used which, although verbally explained, yet not being pictured out by analysis and familiar illustrations, the real meaning of such terms is not present to the eye or the mind, and is consequently not understood. Latin grammar, for example, might be, rendered a less dry study, and more interesting, were the boy not permitted to use any term which had not first been pictured out to his mind, such words as participle, perfect, indicative, pluperfect, subjunctive, &c. &c. – why a noun is declined, and a verb conjugated. And the same in English grammar: objective, possessive; &c. We know of nothing more puzzling to the student than the use of terms not previously pictured out. This, however, being. done, which is the natural and training, mode, study becomes a pleasure, every term in use having evidently a meaning. It is, a principle of the training system, that no abstract term, or figurative word, be used, or any passage committed to memory, until each particular term and the whole subject be analysed and familiarly illustrated; the exercise of the understanding thus preceding the exercise, of the memory.

In reading a book, or listening to a lecture or sermon, should even one figurative word or phrase be used which has not been pictured out to the mind of the auditory, that word or phrase maybe a barrier to the understanding of the whole subject; hence the slow progress of knowledge in the world as we have already stated, and the necessity of a previous school training; and a picturing out, by analyses and familiar illustrations of all figurative words and phrases used in elementary, scientific, and Scriptural education. Picturing out to the mind is still more necessary, when not merely one figurative word is used; but when a number are presented in a single sentence. For example, Dr Buckland, in giving proofs of design in the effects of disturbing forces on the strata  of the earth, thus expresses himself : ‘Elevations and substances, inclinations and contortions, fractures and dislocations, are phenomena, which, although at first sight they present only the appearance of disorder and confusion, yet, when fully understood, demonstrate the existence of order, and method and design, even in the operations of the most the turbulent among the mighty physical forces which have affected the; terraqueous globe. We know; such sentences are read in schools, without one word having been pictured out; the dictionary, with its verbal explanation, alone being accessible to the pupil; and grown-up persons peruse the same words without attaching any definite idea to, them; and finding no definitions, or rather familia illustrations, of technical phrases in a dictionary, the sense of the author is lost to them, from the neglect of picturing out every word they met in their early education. Complex terms, before being used, ought uniformly to be reduced to simple terms; and although the following might be considered an extravagant case yet, as we know it to, be an actual occurrence, we give it as an additional illustration of our point, and showing the necessity of a systematic mode of picturing out. The following may be considered an extravagant case, yet as we know it to be an actual occurrence, we give it as an additional illustration of our point, showing the necessity of a systematic mode of picturing out.

After the public examination of a school in a certain manufacturing town in Scotland, a learned gentleman present was invited to put a few questions to the children, whoe previous appearance did great credit to their teacher, a man eminently qualified for the office he held. The gentleman proceeded – ‘ Children look at me – and answer a few questions – answer me this –  Is it not a fact, that mutation is stamped on all sublunary objects? The children, of course, remained silent. Mutation to them was a mere sound without meaning; stamped (it being a town where muslins are manufactured) only suggested to them the idea of stamping gauze or jaconet for tambouring; sublunary had never come under the catalogue of their reading, and the term had not been analysed or explained – to them the word was therefore quite incomprehensible; and as to objects; in connection with the other unpictured out words they naturally thought of lame beggars who were carried from door to door on ‘a hand-barrow,’ it being common to term all disabled persons objects -‘ such and such a one,’ they were accustomed to say, ‘is quite an object.’

Amidst such a heterogeneous mass of sounds and imperfect ideas, as might be expected, no answer was given; and of course the examinator thought them stupid children. The question commenced with ‘is it not a fact?’ Had the answer been ‘No,’ then they would have contradicted their examinator; but had it been ‘ Yes,’ an approving smile would, no doubt, have followed from the audience, accompanied with the expression, ‘Very right, children,’ -the children remaining, however, as ignorant as before. The verbal answer would have been correct, but neither the individual words nor the phrase as a whole having been pictured out, or presented to the mind, no idea whatever was conveyed

We believe the credit of many an excellent teacher suffers by the ill-put questions of such unskillful (sic) and complex-minded examinators. Any word used by a speaker or teacher and not clearly before the mind of his pupils, is without meaning; to the person speaking it may be perfectly understood, but to those  addressed he speaks in a foreign. tongue.

For the sake of those who have not practised the system, we may state that picturing out is not always literal but is frequently used conventionally. For example, a blind man cannot ‘see’ colours, and yet the variety in colour may be pictured out, or rendered present to his mind, in words by comparison. It is true he cannot see red or green with his bodily eyes, but by touch, or by words describing the difference in feeling, he knows which article is red or green. Wee have heard a man, blind from birth, that a cow which had been presented to him, was the finest he ever saw; and this mental sight, we also observed, had been acquired by the butcher by the same process, not by sight, but by the sense of touch. The same may be stated in regard to sound. A deaf man cannot hear music but he may feel it; and can discover, to the extent of his sensibility, the distinction of sounds. We hear persons say, I never saw such a wind. Why? I was almost blown down; and yet all language, secular or sacred, is formed to convey ideas of things that strike our senses; sight or feeling (conventionally at least) representing the whole. Picturing out to the mind’s eye, therefore, we understand to mean, rendering a thing present to the mind, whether it be a simple or complex idea.


Taken from: Scottish Sabbath School Teachers’ Magazine Vol. 1, 1844, The Edinburgh Sabbath School Teachers’ Union, James Gall and Son, Edinburgh pps 116-120