Christianity, History of Charlotte Mason, personhood, Philosophy, The Charlotte Mason Collection
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Images of Christ in Dunning’s Letters to Charlotte Mason By Lori Lawing

(Adapted from a Fireside Chat given at the ChildLightUSA Conference, June, 2009)

“Put that down!”   “Quiet, please!”  “Where is my map of the Mediterranean?  Who took it?”   “Could you please sit still?”  “I said be quiet!”

Oh, the pleasures and pressures of teaching!  Do you ever feel taxed, inadequate, discouraged, stretched beyond measure?  What do you do with your impatience, your frustration?  Have you ever just blown it in front of your students or children?   Do you sometimes even question your own Christianity when the fruit of the Spirit are so lacking in your attempts to teach?  Joy?  Patience?  Kindness?  Gentleness?  Self-control?  Ha!

We are not alone in these sentiments.  Apparently Charlotte Mason struggled too.

I was deeply touched by the letters I read in John Thorley’s article, “Charlotte Mason’s Early Correspondence.”  (See the Charlotte Mason Educational Review Summer/Fall 2008.)  Dr. Thorley introduces us to Charlotte Mason’s tutor, Mr. Robert Dunning.  In the article Dr. Thorley includes two letters from Mr. Dunning to young Charlotte.  In these letters we learn of Charlotte’s own trials as a teacher.  We also find profound encouragement from her tutor, the dear man, Mr. Dunning.  The following is quoted from Dr. Thorley’s article from the Review.  The italicized portion is Dunning’s letter to Charlotte.

“Charlotte went to the Home & Colonial College…in London in January 1860 at the   age of 18….  Charlotte was due to have her tutor into one of her lessons.  She had not been well, doubtless partly because of the nervousness about the classroom assessment itself.  The result was that at the last minute she could not face the assessment of her lesson.  Her tutor and ‘Master of Method’, Mr. Dunning, wrote to her that very afternoon.”  (Review p. 6, 7)

“I liked your lesson much.  I trust the good Lord will spare your life and permit you to work in his vineyard a while here.  If however [this is] his sovereign will – to depart and escape this world and its snares [would] be more for your real and eternal happiness.  Do you not love the Savior dear Miss Mason and if so to behold his face will be glorious.  I hope your affliction does not lead you to repine.  You may be young in years but rich in experience.  To suffer perfects more and faster than to do.  Thus you are brought to be more like the Savior.  May the Lord’s presence be with you in all the riches of his power and love and give you when the summons comes an abundant entrance into his everlasting kingdom which is a kingdom of glory not of suffering.” (Emphasis his.  Review p. 7-8)

What perspective!  In the midst of illness and suffering Charlotte is pointed to the Savior and the Kingdom to come!

In March of 1861 Charlotte Mason left London and moved to Worthing where she began teaching at the Davidson School.

“It seems that [a] letter Charlotte had written [to Mr. Dunning] in August contained considerable lamentations about her situation in Worthing.  She was of course not yet 20 years old, she had taught only for a term, and the responsibility of teaching in and organizing [a] school of some size must still have been a daunting undertaking.”  (Review p.13)

We do not have the letter from Charlotte.  But we do have the letter Mr. Dunning wrote in response.  It is most encouraging.  How are we to fulfill the high calling of teaching children when our own sin and inadequacies get in the way?  Imagine you are just starting out in your teaching career.  You are 18 or 19, and you are teaching at a large school with many students of all ages.  You are eager, yet apprehensive.   Do you have the wisdom and patience required to persevere?  This was the case for young Charlotte Mason in 1861.  Apparently, she too questioned her ability and even her own Christianity when faced with her own sin (wickedness) while teaching the precious children under her care.  Mr. Dunning responds to Charlotte’s professed struggle as a teacher.  What I hear in his letter to Charlotte is the Gospel!  Mr. Dunning, it appears, was urging his young Charlotte to rest in the work of Christ.

“I do hope dear child that your mind is more at ease and comfortable than it was when you wrote in August.   I do understand how ‘very’ wicked’ you may feel your heart and yet be a Christian.  It is ‘Christ in us’ the hope of glory, not a pure and sinless heart in us the hope of glory.  [Colossians 1:27]  Paul called himself a wretched man.  Are you lower than that?  …Do you not feel some witness in yourself?  Like Peter cannot you sometimes say Lord I love you – oh what a blessed state is that to feel our utter unworthiness and with broken and contrite heart [Psalm 51:17] to cast ourselves upon the Worthy Lamb, and feel that he is all to us, our righteousness, our sanctification – ‘ye are complete in him‘.” (Emphasis his. Review p.12)

Why does Dunning say that it is a “blessed state to feel our utter unworthiness”?  Because when we do we acknowledge that it is not our good works that make us worthy for heaven.  We hope in Christ alone, His righteousness, not our own.  Dunning says our hope of heaven (glory) is in Christ alone, not our ability to be good moms and teachers!

We find enormous encouragement in these words from Mr. Dunning.  He reminds us that though we seek after holiness and have a true desire to please God, our daily sin can cast us down and make us question like Charlotte, “how can I be a Christian when I am so wicked?”  But O, the Lord is good to set our sin ever before us!  In doing so God daily reminds us that we need a Savior.  Perfect righteousness on this side of glory is not possible.  Our hope of glory is not that we will attain perfection.  It is not “a pure and sinless heart in us the hope of glory.”   No, indeed!  He alone is our righteousness!  It is ‘Christ in us’ the hope of glory!  We must rest in Christ as we teach our precious children.

© Lori Lawing 2010

Lori Lawing delights to teach literature, poetry, writing, Shakespeare and the glories of Christ to her own five children and others near her home in Denver, NC.  She may be reached at

Note from the publisher: If you would like to read Dr. Thorley’s article in its entirety, you can find this issue of the CM Educational Review at


Carroll Smith has spoken on various topics related to Charlotte Mason. Currently he teaches at Gardner-Webb University and enjoys working with children, teachers, college students, and Charlotte Mason Institute. He was a teacher and a principal for 21 years before coming to Gardner-Webb University where he has been for six years. Having grown up in eastern North Carolina, he attended East Carolina University for his undergraduate degree and his master's in school administration. He completed his terminal degree and wrote his dissertation on Charlotte Mason at Virginia Tech. Carroll enjoys reading, gardening, and discussing ideas with friends. He and his wife, Andra, and their two young adult college-age children, Corban and Anna, enjoy living, working and playing in North Carolina.


  1. jacqleene says

    Thank you for this, Lori. This was exactly what I needed to read today. 🙂

  2. Lanaya says

    Please repost this at least twice a year! 🙂 We need this reminder. I feel so inadequate as a homeschooling mother. I’m not all that equipped to teach my children all subjects with interest and authority and excitement. I get frustrated by that as well as losing patience with my dear children sometimes. But my trust is in God, and I pray that our children will most importantly find that trust for themselves. Thank you again for this reminder.

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