The duties of PARENTS
"Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." Ephesians 6:4
"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6
"These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." Deuteronomy 6:6, 7
It is an interesting and important era in the history of family life, when the husband and wife receive the new names of father and mother, and become united by the supplemental tie which is furnished by the little helpless stranger, so lately introduced into the family. Who that has felt them, can ever forget the emotions awakened by the first gaze upon the face of his child, by the first embrace of his babe? Little, however, do the bulk of mankind consider what a weight of obligation, what a degree of responsibility that child has brought into the world with him, for his parents. In the joyousness with which the mother lavishes her fond embraces upon her boy, and in the paternal pride with which the father looks on this new object of their affection, how rarely does either of them revolve in deep seriousness—the future destiny of this new 'idol of their hearts'—or consider how nearly that destiny is connected with their own conduct.
Parental obligations are neither felt nor known by multitudes. How then can they be discharged? Rushing into the relationship of marriage under the mere impulse of passion, without forethought, without prudence, multitudes become parents, before they have one right view, or one right feeling, in reference to the duties of the parental relationship; to which they come with scarcely any other preparedness, than that mere animal fondness for their young, which they partake of in common with the irrational creation; but not with that same instinctive ability, "to train them up in the way they should go." Who can wonder at the disordered state of society at large, or be surprised at the aboundings of evils and miseries in our world, that looks at the manner in which family duties are neglected? When I consider what poor, ignorant, thoughtless, frivolous, wicked creatures are often seen at the head of households, I can only ascribe it to the interference of an all-wise and powerful Providence, that society is not far more chaotic than it is.
My business in this chapter is to endeavor to rectify, if possible, some of these evils, and to lay down a rule to guide the parent in discharging his truly important, and awfully responsible obligation; persuaded as I am, that many of the evils and miseries of society would vanish before a right performance of parental duties.
1. It is impossible for parents to discharge their duty, without a correct view of the nature and design of the family constitution.
This they should study, and arrive at the conclusion as speedily as possible, and keep it ever before the mind, that the great design of this compact is, to form well the character of the children; to train up the citizen for the world, and the Christian for the church; to assist the child, as a mortal, to go with honor and comfort through this life; and as an immortal, to reach life everlasting. The family circle is intended to be the school of character, where, in the highest sense of the term, the most important business of education is to be conducted; where the moral sense is to be implanted and cultivated, and the conscience, and the temper, and the heart, are all to be trained.
2. Parents should be most deeply impressed and affected with a sense of the importance of the station they occupy in the family constitution.
Their state of mind should be the very opposite of that light and frivolous indifference—that absence of all concern, which many of them manifest. There are some who seem to regard their children as pretty little living playthings, who must be well taken care of, and be taught, by somebody or other, whatever will set them off to the best advantage—but as to any idea of the formation of their character, especially of their moral and religious character, and any of that deep and painful, and almost overwhelming, solicitude, which arises from a clear perception and powerful impression of the probable relationship between the child's destiny and the parent's conduct—to all this they are utter strangers.
Many horticulturalists have far more intense solicitude about the developing of their plants, far more wakeful and anxious care about the fragrance and color of a flower, or the size and flavor of a fruit—than many parents have about the development of mind, and the formation of character in a child. They have plants of immortality in their house, they have young trees which are to bear fruits to eternity, growing up around them, the training of which is committed to their care—and yet have very little solicitude, and scarcely any thoughtfulness, whether they yield in this world or the next, poisonous or wholesome fruit. On parents it depends in a great measure what their children are to be—miserable or happy in themselves—a comfort or a curse to their relationships—an ornament or a deformity to society—a fiend or a seraph in eternity! It is indeed a fearsome thing to be a parent, and is enough to awaken the anxious, trembling enquiry in every heart, "Lord, who is sufficient for these things?"
3. Parents should seek after the possession of all possible QUALIFICATIONS for their office.
What man in his senses would undertake the office of a pilot upon a dangerous coast, without a knowledge of navigation? Or that of a general of an army, without a knowledge of military tactics? Or that of a physician, without a knowledge of medicine and diseases? And who would go on another hour in the office of parent, without seeking to possess all suitable qualifications? And what are they?—
Genuine personal religion—for how can they bring up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, if they do not know the Lord for themselves? In order to teach religion with any probable effect, we must know it ourselves. That parent will have little ability, and less inclination, to inculcate piety upon his children, who has none himself. A graceless parent is a most dreadful character! Oh! to see the father and mother of a expanding family, with a crowd of young immortals growing up around them, and teaching worldliness to their offspring, and leading them to perdition, by the power of their own example! A sheep leading her twin lambs into the den of a hungry tiger would be a shocking sight! But to see parents conducting their children to the bottomless pit, is most horrible!!
No one, then, can rightly discharge the duties of a parent, in the higher reference of the family unit, without that personal religion which consists in repentance towards God, faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and a life of habitual holiness. In the absence of this, the highest end of the family constitution must be neglected, the most sublime part of education must be abandoned.
Parents should seek the entire government of their temper—a habit of self-control; a meekness not to be disturbed by the greatest provocation; a patience not to be wearied by long continued opposition. I say to any father or mother, are you irritable, or petulant? If so, begin this moment the work of subjugating your temper. You are in imminent peril of ruining your family! A passionate mother or father, is like a fury, with a scepter in one hand, and a firebrand in the other; and when the king is a fury, the subjects are likely to be furies too; for nothing is more contagious than bad temper! O how many parents have had to bewail with weeping eyes and almost broken hearts, the effects of their own irritability as apparent in the headstrong, passionate dispositions of their children. Passion blinds the judgment, leads to undue severity, fosters partialities, in short, is the source of a thousand evils in the family government. An irritable person can never manage discipline with propriety, but is ever prone to correct, when correction should never be administered—in a rage. Parents, I beseech you to control your temper, and acquire a calm, composed disposition—for this only can fit you to rule your household in wisdom, justice, and love.
A habit of discriminationis a very important qualification in parents—a penetrating insight into character; an acuteness in judging of motives. Such a talent is of immense importance in the family community; and connected with this, a quickness of discerning disposition, together with an inventive and ingenious faculty of adapting treatment to the varieties of character and propensity which are continually exhibiting themselves.
A kindness of manner, an affectionate, persuasive address is of great importance. It is desirable for parents to render themselves pleasant to their children—to engage their confidence, to exert over them the influence of love, which certainly cannot be done by a cold, or churlish, or distant behavior.
Prudence and good senseare qualities of such inestimable worth, and depend so much upon education, that all who have the care of children, should perpetually exhibit them for imitation. A rash, thoughtless father—or a wild, unrealistic mother—do incalculable mischief in a family.
Firmnessis essentially requisite in parents; that disposition, which, though at the remotest distance from all that is rigid, stern, and cruel, can master its own feelings, and amid the strongest appeals to the tenderer emotions of the mind, can inflexibly maintain its purpose; and in the way of denying improper requests, or administering correction—can inflict pain on the object of its affection, whenever duty requires such an exercise of beneficial severity. For lack of this disposition, of this fine and noble quality, how many have ruined their children forever by over-indulgence!
Extensive knowledgeis very desirable. Parents should be able to direct the studies, to answer the enquiries, to correct the mistakes, to regulate the pursuits, and in short, to superintend the general instruction of their families.
Unvarying and inflexible consistencyshould be exhibited by all whom providence has placed at the head of a household. They should be not only excellent, but consistently excellent. An unbroken uniformity should reign over their whole character. Nothing contradictory, inexplicable, irreconcilable, should ever be seen.
Let all who are likely to become parents, look at this picture and learn how they are to prepare for the performance of their duty. And let those who already sustain this relationship, correct their errors and supply their defects by this rule.
4. Parents should settle, with themselves, what is their chief desire and highest object of pursuit, in reference to their children.
Without fixing on some end, we shall never in any course of action, proceed with much steadiness, comfort, or success—and where many ends are, and may be with propriety contemplated and sought, the chief one must be definitely selected, and continually kept in view—or we shall ever be in danger of misapplying our energies. Let parents, then, consider the ends which they should propose to themselves, in reference to their children, and decide among all those that are lawful, which is supreme, and which are subordinate.
There are many lawful ones, but only one of these can be supreme. And what is that? RELIGION. What Christian can for a moment hesitate here? What genuine believer can for a moment question whether his children's eternal salvation ought to be the supreme concern of his heart? If we look to the great bulk of mankind it is perfectly evident that religion hardly enters into their view; they are very willing that their children should go to church, but as to any concern about the religious character, the formation of pious habits, they are as destitute of everything of this kind, as if religion were a mere fable, or were nothing more than a mere Sunday ritual. Their chief object is, either elegant and fashionable accomplishments, or learning and science, or perhaps prudence and good sense; and provided their sons and daughters excel in these, they never make any enquiry or feel any concern whether they fear God; and would be not only surprised, but would either laugh you to scorn, or scowl upon you with indignation, for proposing such fanatical or methodistical questions in reference to their children.
Yes, this is the way of the greater part of parents, even in this religious country. To train them up to shine and make a figure in society, is all they seek. Amazing folly! Dreadful and murderous cruelty! Degrading and groveling ambition! To lose sight of the soul, and neglect salvation, and forget immortality! To train them in every kind of knowledge—but the knowledge of religion; to instruct them in an acquaintance with every kind of subject—but to leave them in ignorance of God their Creator, their Preserver and Benefactor! To fit them to act their part well on earth—and to leave them unprepared for heaven! To qualify them to go with respectability and advantage through the scenes of time, and then to leave them unfit for the glorious and enduring scenes of eternity! O strange fondness of irreligious parents! O miserable destiny of their hapless offspring!
In direct opposition to this, the chief end of every Christian parent must be the spiritual interests, the religious character, the eternal salvation of his children. Believing that they are sinful and immortal creatures, yet capable of being redeemed through the mediation of Christ—his highest ambition, his most earnest prayer, his most vigorous pursuit should be engaged for their eternal welfare. His eye, his heart, and his hope, should be fixed on the same objects for them, as they are for himself, and that is, upon eternal life. This should be the nature and exercise of his concern—"I am desirous, if it pleases God, that my children should be blessed with the enjoyment of reason, of health, of such a moderate portion of worldly wealth, and worldly respectability as is compatible with their station in life—and with a view to this I will give them all the advantages of a suitable education. But above and beyond this, I far more intensely desire, and far more earnestly pray, and far more anxiously seek, that they may have the fear of God in their hearts, may be made partakers of true religion, and be everlastingly saved. And provided God grants me the latter, by bestowing upon them his grace, I shall feel that my chief object is accomplished, and be quite reconciled to any circumstances which may otherwise befall them; for rather would I see them in the humble valley of poverty—if at the same time they were true Christians; than on the very pinnacle of worldly grandeur—but destitute of true piety." Such should be the views and feelings and desires of all true Christian parents; religion should be at the very center of all their schemes and pursuits for their offspring. This should be the guiding principle, the directing object, the great landmark by which all their course should be steered.
Having made these preliminary remarks, I go on to enumerate and illustrate the various branches of parental duty.
FIRST. There are some which relate more directlyto the present life, and the formation of the character generally.
1. Maintenance of physical needsis of course a claim which every child justly has upon his parents, until he is of sufficient age to be able to provide for himself.
2. EDUCATIONis another duty we owe our children. The dark ages are happily passed away, and a flood of light is now poured, and is still pouring over all classes of the people. Instruction has become general, and even they who are too poor to buy knowledge for their children, are not ashamed to beg it in our Sunday and charity schools. No man should allow his family to be in this respect, behind the age in which they live. To grudge the money spent in this way is a cruel and detestable niggardliness. A good education is a portion, the only one which some are able to give to their children, and which in many cases, has led to every other kind of wealth. In this, however, we are to be guided by our rank in life and circumstances; and for a laboring man, or a small tradesman, to impoverish himself in order to procure the same kind and degrees of accomplishments for his children, as a rich man and a nobleman would for theirs, is an ambition sanctioned neither by reason nor revelation.
Where it can be accomplished, parents should prefer family instruction, to sending their children away from home—no school can possess the advantages which are to be enjoyed under the eye of a judicious father or mother. But how few are judicious; how few are equal to the task of a general superintendence of the business of instruction; and how few can command the advantages of it at home. Let all such be careful in the selection of a school, for it is a matter of infinite consequence. Let them be guided in their choice, not by a mere regard to accomplishments, not by a view to the best drawing, dancing, music, or Latin master. This is an age of gaudy, exterior decoration. But let them first regard religion, then, the real cultivation of the mind and the formation of good habits. Wherever real piety is inculcated, a thirst for knowledge excited, and habits of application, reflection, sobriety of judgment, and good sense are formed, that is the school to be selected by a wise and Christian parent.
No word is more abused than that of EDUCATION, which in the mind of many, signifies nothing more than the communication of knowledge. But this is only a part, and a small part, of education—which, in fact, means the formation of character. A youth may have his head stuffed full of Latin, Greek, mathematics, and natural philosophy; a girl may draw, and dance, and play, and speak French exquisitely, and yet be miserably educated after all. Integrity, good sense, generosity, and a capacity for reflection—are worth more than all the academics which a university can bestow. Not, however, that these are incompatible with each other; by no means—and the perfection of education is the union of both.
3. A due regard to the HEALTH of children should be maintained.
Physical education is of no small importance. Knowledge gained at the expense of health is purchased at a dreadful rate. And there are other ways of injuring the health of children, besides a too close application of learning, for this indeed but rarely occurs. Fond and foolish mothers should be warned against pampering their appetites with sweets, clogging their arteries with fats, or injuring their stomachs with fermented liquors. Infanticide is practiced even in this Christian land, by many who never dream that they are child murderers—they do not kill their babes by strangling or poisoning them; no, but by pampering or stuffing them to death! And where they go not to this extreme, they breed up a circle of gluttons, or drunkards. Nothing can be more disgusting than to see children invited to eat all the delicacies of the dinner, and to drink liquors, with which their young palates ought to be strangers to. And lamentably injudicious it is to make the gratification of the appetite a reward for good conduct, and to have them ushered into the parlour, before they retire to rest, to receive the luscious sweet, which is the bribe for their going quietly to bed.
The mischief goes beyond the corruption of their health, for it brings them up to be governed by appetite, rather than by reason; which is, in fact, the secret cause of all the intemperance and profligacy of the world. Settle your plans on this subject, and allow neither a favorite friend, nor a kind aunt, nor a doting grandparent, to come between you and the welfare of your children.
4. Bring up your children with low notions of the importance of RICHES and worldly show, and of the power which these things have either to give respectability to the character, or to procure happiness.
Do not let them hear you magnify the value of wealth by your words—nor see you do it by your actions. Avoid a servile attention to the rich and great—do not point to them as the individuals most to be admired and envied. Discover no undue solicitude about grandeur of abode, or furniture. From the time that they are capable of receiving an idea, or an impression, teach them it is godly character that constitutes true respectability—that a good man is reputable in any circumstances, a bad man in none. Remind them of the danger of riches, and that they are Satan's baits to tempt men to love the world, and lose their souls. Not that you should produce a cynical disposition towards either riches or the rich; much less repress industry, and foster indolence. No—but encourage them to consider and seek wealth, rather as a means of usefulness, than a source of personal gratification.
5. Inculcate INDUSTRIOUS HABITS.
Caution them against idleness and slothfulness. From the dawn of reason endeavor to convince them not merely by argument, but by a reference to their own experience, that employment is pleasure—and idleness misery. Impress them with the value of time; that it is the stuff of which life is made, and that we lose as much of life as we do of time. And connected with this, enforce habits of order and punctuality. The parent that neglects to do this, is guilty of enormous unkindness towards his children; who, if they grow up without these, hinder and trouble themselves—and are a source of tremendous discomfort to their friends.
6. ECONOMYis no less necessary. Industry and economy are virtues of civilized life. Savages never possess them, but spend their time in idleness, and squander what comes in their way in wastefulness. It is reason overcoming the laziness which is natural to man, that produces industry and economy; and when we consider how important they are to the well being, not only of individuals, but of society, our efforts should be employed to foster them in the minds of our children. But, in inculcating economy, we must be careful not to drive the mind into covetousness; hence it is of consequence, that with all our endeavors to cherish frugality, we should be no less assiduous to encourage generosity; and to impress them with the idea, that the end of saving, is not to hoard—but to distribute to the needs of others.
7. Provide for your children suitable EMPLOYMENT. Happily the pride and indolence of feudal times are gone by, and it is our felicity to live in a country where trade and industry are accounted honorable; where a proud gentleman, who scorns the vulgarity of trade, begins to be thought a very despicable character; and the diligent, honest, and successful tradesman, regarded as an honorable member of the community. "The good, sound common sense of mankind will never annex 'good character' to a useless life. He who merely hangs as a burden on the shoulders of his fellow men, who adds nothing to the common stock of comfort, and merely spends his time in devouring it, will be invariably, as well as justly accounted a public nuisance."
Let parents therefore, take care to bring up their children to some suitable business; in the selection of which, due regard should be had to their own circumstances; for it is great folly and unkindness also to select for a child a business, so much above his father's station and property, as to leave no rational hope that he can ever enter upon it with a prospect of success. In the advance of society we see innumerable instances of foolish pride of this kind—and indeed it is a pretty general thing for parents to be ambitious to obtain for their children a higher grade in society than their own. Many who have really acquired wealth in a reputable, though perhaps not the most genteel trade, (for trades have their aristocratic distinctions,) seem anxious that their sons should be a step higher than themselves, and instead of sending them to business, look out for a profession, and there is a wondrous rage for professions in the present day—or if they are retail tradesmen, must make their sons wholesale ones; or if they are manufacturers must start them as merchants; and if they are merchants, must elevate them into gentlemen. What abject folly is it for a man to turn away the attention of his children from any good and honorable business, which he has followed with success, merely because it is not genteel.
Let every Christian tradesman, who has a business worth following, keep as many of his sons as he can at home with him, and educate them himself for trade in his own warehouse. Due attention must, of course, always be paid in the selection of a business, to the physical strength, to the mental capacity, and to the prevailing taste of a child.
8. GENEROSITYshould be most assiduously inculcated.
All children, and consequently all mankind, are more or less selfish by nature. This should be early watched and checked by a judicious parent, and an opposite disposition inculcated. Even infants may be made to feel the pleasure of sharing their possessions with others. Let them be taught that enjoyment arises not from individual gratification, but from a communion in pleasure. As children advance in years and reason, they should hear much of the happiness arising from gratifying others; of the luxury of benevolence, and of the baseness of greediness. We should emphasize the beauty of generous actions, and of beneficent examples. Anecdotes of remarkable generosity should be read to them, and especially should we dwell upon the wondrous love of God, and the remarkable compassion of Jesus Christ. We should send them on errands of mercy to the poor and needy, that being spectators both of their misery, and of their tears of gratitude for relief, they might acquire a disposition to do good. We should especially encourage them to make sacrifices, and practice self-denial, to do good. To give them extra money, in order that they may relieve the poor, or support religious institutions, is doing them very little good; for this is only being generous at other people's expense; but they should be induced to save their own pocket money, and distribute their regular allowance, and thus forego the gratification of their own palate, for the purpose of relieving the needs of others. But they should never be compelled to give, never have their money taken for this purpose; never be fined for misconduct, and have their fines appropriated to charity; for all this is calculated to disgust them with benevolence.
Great care should be taken at the same time, not to induce a habit of indiscriminate giving, which would render them the dupes of hypocrisy, the subjects of imposition, and the victims of extortion. We should teach them the difference between real benevolence and that easy good nature, which allows itself to be wheedled out of everything; between the generosity of a correct judgment, and that of a weak and credulous mind; between principle and mere feeling.
9. PRUDENCEis of vast importance in the affairs of life. This is, next to piety, the most valuable quality of character. Nothing can be a substitute for it; and it does more for the comfort of its possessor, more for the happiness of society than any other attribute of mind that can be mentioned. Half the miseries of some peoples lives, who are good people too, arise from a rash, thoughtless, indiscreet mind. They never think before they speak or act—they have no power, or exercise none, of forethought, deliberation, or calculation. Such people are firebrands, without intending it; and commit immense mischief, without, perhaps, a particle of malice. How important, then, that children should be early taught the nature and value of discretion. Many parents most flagrantly err on this subject—some are anxious only to communicate knowledge; forgetting that 'mere ideas' are worth nothing—except as they are discreetly employed to produce happiness. Knowledge is only the materials of comfort; it is wisdom that must put them together into form and consistency.
Others almost despise prudence; as it is not a scientific quality. It cramps genius, extinguishes taste, prevents the lofty, though somewhat erratic flights of an ardent mind; it is cold and calculating; it has nothing sublime or romantic about it; it never soars into the clouds, or plunges into the depths—but holds on its dull course on the low level of ordinary concerns. And therefore, just on this very account, it is the very thing to be coveted. Foolish, foolish creatures! And so you would have your children geniuses, that disdain the restraints of wisdom, and resemble mere fireworks, that burn and blaze out only to please others by their brilliancy and splendor, without doing good to anyone! O be not so cruel to yourselves, to your children, to society. Teach them to cultivate a deliberative, a reflecting, a calculating judgment; to weigh their words, and measure their actions; enforce upon them a habit of looking onward to the tendency and results of conduct; the calm and regular government of the soul, which leads its possessor to observe true measures, and a suitable decorum in words, and thoughts, and actions. Give them all the learning you can procure for them; I quarrel not with this—but in your own estimation, and in all your conduct towards them, exalt wisdom far above learning, genius, taste, accomplishments; and in this sense of the word, teach them that the price of WISDOM is above rubies.
Now I am anxious to impress upon the mind of all parents, that the inculcation of these dispositions, forms in fact, the very essence of education. This term, as I have already remarked, and I repeat the sentiment again and again, not by accident or oversight, but with the design of more deeply impressing it, has been very generally misapplied, because, in fact, misunderstood. Education in modern parlance, means nothing more than instruction, or the communication of knowledge to the mind; and a good education means, the opportunity of acquiring all kinds of learning, science, and what are called accomplishments. But properly speaking, education in the true and higher import of the term, means the implanting of right dispositions, the cultivation of the heart, the guidance of the temper, the formation of the character.
Or allowing, as we must, that education applies to the whole soul and character, and includes general instruction in knowledge, I would say that its most important part is that which relates to the communication of godly principles, and the formation of moral habits. It is training up a child in the way he should go. Not merely the training up a child in the way he should think, or calculate, or spell, or dance, or draw, or reason—but the way in which he should go. Everything may be taught which can sharpen the faculties, or store the mind with ideas, or cultivate the taste; but we must not stop here, but consider that the highest end of education, is the formation, first of the religious character, and then of the useful, amiable, intelligent, and generous member of the social community.
If this be true, and who will venture to deny it, then is it perfectly manifest, that the great work of education cannot be, and ought not to be transferred from parents to others. They may purchase that schooling which their own abilities may disqualify them from imparting, but the education of the character belongs to them, and cannot be transferred.
Here I cannot resist the temptation of introducing a long extract from Mr. Anderson's incomparable work. "Placed by the all-wise providence of heaven in such a peculiar situation, it will be well for you to keep especially in view, what may be denominated, the education of circumstances. Let purchased tuition be carried up to the very highest perfection, and let neither money nor wisdom be spared in reaching this height; of such vital importance in the training of children, is that department to which I now refer, that it can, and if neglected will, undermine and undo the whole, as well as render many efforts in educating the disposition, altogether abortive. Allow me to explain my meaning—
"In the laudable concern of their hearts, two parents with a family of infants playing around their feet, are heard to say, 'Oh! what will, what can best educate these dear children?' I reply, 'Look to yourselves and your circumstances.' Maxims and books are good in themselves, and especially good for the regulation of your conduct and your behavior towards them—but with regard to your children, you have yet often to remark, that many maxims are good precisely until they are tried, or applied, and no longer. In the hands of many parents, they will teach the children to talk, and very often little more. I do not mean to assert, that sentiments inculcated have no influence; far from it; they have much; though not the most; but still, after all, it is the sentiments you let drop occasionally, it is the conversation they overhear, when playing in the corner of the room, which has more effect than many things which are addressed to them directly in the tone of exhortation. Besides, as to maxims, ever remember, that between those which you bring forward for their use, and those by which you direct your own conduct, children have almost an intuitive discernment—and it is by the latter they will be mainly governed, both during childhood and their future existence.
"The question, however, returns, 'What will educate these children? And now I answer, 'Your example will educate them—your conversation with your friends—the business they see you transact—the likings and dislikings you express—these will educate them; the society you live in will educate them—your families will educate them—and whatever be your rank or situation in life, your home life, your table, and your daily behavior, these, these will educate them. To withdraw them from the unceasing and potent influence of these things is impossible, except you were to withdraw yourself from them also.
Some parents talk of beginning the education of their children; the moment they were capable of forming an idea, their education was already begun—the education of circumstances—unconscious education, which, like insensible perspiration, is of more constant and powerful effect, and of far more consequence to the habit, than that which is direct and apparent. This education goes on at every instant of time; it goes on like time—you can neither stop it nor turn its course. Whatever your example has a tendency to make your children—that, in a great degree, you at least should be persuaded they will be.
"The language, however, occasionally heard from some fathers, may here not unseasonably be glanced at. They are diffuse in praise of maternal influence; and pleased at the idea of its power and extent, they will exclaim, 'O yes, there can be no doubt of it, that everything depends upon the mother.' This, however, will be found to spring from a selfish principle, and from concern to be relieved from mighty obligations, which, after all, cannot be transferred from the father's shoulders, to those even of a mother—to say nothing of the unkindness involved in laying upon her a burden, which nature never intended, and never does. Her influence, as an instrument, indeed, a husband cannot too highly prize; but let no father imagine, that he can neutralize the influence of his own presence, and his own example at home. He cannot if he would, nor can he escape from obligation. The patience and constancy of a mother, are no doubt, first mainly tried, but then those of the father. The dispositions in each parent are fitted by nature for this order in the trial of patience; but from the destined and appropriate share allotted to each, neither of the two parties, when in health, can relieve the other.
"Addressing myself, therefore, to both parents, I would say, 'Contract to its just and proper dimensions, the amount of all that purchased education can do for you, and expect no more from it than it is truly able to perform. It can give instruction. There will always be an essential difference between a human being—cultured and uncultured. In the department of purchased tuition, you will portion out to the best advantage, many of those precious hours of youth which never will return; and such employment will lend you powerful aid in forming those personal habits, which lie within the province of parental education; but rest assured, and lay it down to yourselves as a cardinal principle, that the business of education, properly so called, is not transferable. You may engage a master or masters, as numerous as you please, to instruct your children in many things, useful and praiseworthy in their own place, but you must by the order of nature, educate them yourselves. You not only ought to do it, but you will perceive that if I am correct in what I have stated, and may still advance, you must do it whether you intend it or not.'
'The parent,' says Cecil,' 'is not to stand reasoning and calculating. God has said, that the parent's character shall have influence; and so this appointment of Providence becomes often the punishment of a wicked or a careless man.' As education, in the sense I have explained, is a thing necessary for all—for the poor and for the rich—for the illiterate as well as the learned, Providence has not made it dependent on systems, uncertain, tedious, and difficult of application. Every parent, therefore, except when separated altogether from his family, may be seen daily in the act of educating his children—for from father and mother, and the circumstances in which they move, the children are daily advancing in the knowledge of what is good or evil. The occupations of the poor man at his labor, and of the man of business in his counting house, cannot interrupt this education. In both instances the mother is plying at her uninterrupted avocations, and her example is powerfully operating every hour; while at certain intervals daily, as well as every morning and evening, all things come under the potent sway of the father, whether that influence be good or bad. Here, then, is one school from which there are no truants, and in which there are no holidays.
"True, indeed, you send your children to another school, and this is the very best in the whole neighborhood, and the character of the master there, is not only unexceptionable, but praiseworthy. When your children come home too, you put a book of your own selection into their hands or even many such books, and they read them with pleasure and personal advantage. Still, after all this, never for one day forget, that the first book they read, no, that which they continue to read, and by far the most influential, is that of their parents' example and daily deportment. If this should be disregarded by you, or even forgotten, then be not at all surprised when you find another day, to your sorrow and vexation, if not the loss of all your family peace and harmony, that your children only 'know the right path,' but still follow the wrong."
SECONDLY.—But I now go on to illustrate and enforce those duties which parents owe to their childrenin reference to their religious character, and their eternal welfare.
Not that religion is to be taught separately from all other branches of education, as an abstract thing of itself, for it is not an abstract thing of itself, but an integral part of the character, the foundation of all the qualities that have been already stated. "Bring them up in the fear and nurture and admonition of the Lord"—this is all the apostle enjoined on the subject of education, and it is the substance of all we are to teach—whatever is opposed to this must not be taught; and all that is taught or enjoined must be inculcated with a direct or indirect reference to this. In the selection of a school even for obtaining the elements of general knowledge in the branches of education that he permits his children to be taught, a Christian parent must have his eye upon religion, and this must be the polar star by which he steers.
Still, however, for the sake of making the matter more clear and obvious, as the subject of solemn obligation, I place religious education by itself, and it includes—
As soon as reason dawns, religious instruction should commence. The subject matter of instruction includes everything which forms the fundamental points of revealed truth—the character of God, the spirituality of his law, the fall of man, the evil of sin, the person and work of Christ, the need of repentance, justification by faith, the nature and necessity of regeneration, the operating power of love to Christ as the spring of obedience, the solemnities of judgment, the immortality of the soul, the punishment of the wicked, and the happiness of the righteous—all these should be intimately taught according as the capacity is able to receive them. Our instruction should not be confined to mere generalities, but should proceed from the beginning, on evangelical principles. The basis of our teaching should be the bible itself—not that I would totally discard all catechisms. Definitions and explanations may be as useful in religion, as in any other subject. Catechisms are injurious only when they push out the bible—not when they lead to it. Still I admit, that the bible should be the textbook.
Every child should learn a portion of scripture daily, and have it explained to him. A great prominency in all our instruction should be given to the law of God, as binding the conscience, and the consequent exceeding sinfulness of every human being; together with the wonderful grace of the Lord Jesus Christ as the sinner's only Savior. Much use should be made of the historical parts of scripture, as illustrating by its facts the character of God, the evil of sin, the consequences of disobedience. Abstract principles alone will not do. Children like facts, and must be taught through the medium of their imagination.
Instruction must be conveyed in a pleasing form. In order to this, there must be no wearying them by long lectures; no disgusting them by long tasks. I denounce the practice, as a most injurious one, of setting a long lesson of catechism or scripture to a reluctant child, and then punishing him for not learning it. If we wish to disgust their minds with the ways of godliness—this is the way to do it. Many an injudicious parent, in the very act of teaching piety towards God, calls into existence and activity the very tempers which it is the design of religion to suppress! An angry and scolding father, with a catechism in one hand, and a rod in the other, railing at a stubborn child for not learning his lesson, is not a scene very calculated to invest religion with an atmosphere of loveliness and a power of attraction for young minds—the only association which in such a circumstance a child can be expected to form with learning to be pious, is that of a dark room or a cane; pain of body and intolerable disgust of mind. I would say to many a parent—"do not start teaching religion, until you can command your temper, and attract the child to the subject as that which is agreeable.
Never set religious tasks to your children as penalties for bad conduct. To be made to learn catechism or scripture, in solitary confinement, and upon an empty stomach, and thus to connect imprisonment and fasting with the penance, is a sure way to finish the aversion which the rod has commenced. Instead of compelling a child to learn religion because he is naughty, which is reversing the order of things, he ought not to be permitted to touch so holy a thing in so evil a temper.
Instruction, to be valuable, must always be delivered with great seriousness. The light and trifling way in which it is sometimes delivered destroys all its effect, and reduces it to the level of a mere science. It ought not to be exclusively confined to the Sabbath, but be the business of every day; yet it should be especially attended to on the day of rest, when the family should be interrogated, as to what they understand and remember of the sermons they have heard in the house of God. Children cannot too early be made to comprehend the purpose for which they go up to public worship, and that they have a personal interest in all the sacred services of our religious assemblies. No parent who has a numerous family, and who resides in a large town, where much time must necessarily be occupied in going to, and returning from his place of worship, should attend the house of God more than twice on the Sabbath—the other part of the day should be occupied in the midst of his family. This is far too generally neglected in this day of overmuch preaching.
Instruction should be adapted to the capacity of the children, and keep pace in depth and variety, with the strengthening of their faculties. Provide for them suitable books; and as they advance in age, enter with them more into the depths of theological truth; unfold to them the beauty, the grandeur, and sublimity of Scripture; instruct them in its fundamental doctrines. I am not very fond of boys and girls writing religious themes, or conducting any researches of a religious nature, as a mere exercise of ingenuity, except their minds are already well disposed towards religion as a matter of personal experience.
2. PERSUASION, ADMONITION, and WARNING, are a very important part of religious education.
The apostles, "knowing the terrors of the Lord," persuaded men; they besought them to be reconciled to God; and warned them of the consequence of unbelief. Parents must do the same with their children, and not satisfy themselves with merely communicating bible facts. They should, in the most earnest, anxious, affectionate manner—represent to them their spiritual condition, warn them of the consequences of neglecting the great salvation, and entreat them to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and fear God. They should address them collectively and individually, on the subject of their souls' concerns; they should manifest such a deep solicitude for their spiritual welfare, as would constrain their children to feel that the most anxious desire of their parents' hearts, in reference to them, is their salvation. This should not however be done merely when their children have offended them; nor should they, on every slight occasion of misconduct, have a ready recourse to the terrors of the Lord. Parental authority must not be supported exclusively by the thunders of heaven, or the torments of hell. These subjects should never be referred to, but in seasons of solemn and affectionate admonition.
It would also be prudent not to be so frequent in the business of admonition, warning and persuasion, as to excite nausea and disgust. Many good, but injudicious people, completely overdo the matter, and defeat their own purpose; they worry the children on the subject of religion, and thus increase the aversion that is already felt. Nothing in the way of bitter reproach, or of railing accusation, for the lack of piety, should ever be uttered; nor should anger ever be manifested. In the case of elder branches of the family, a word or two occasionally spoken, and always in great mildness and tenderness—is all that is desirable. Incessant remonstrance, is in such instances, likely to be heard with indifference, if not with dislike. Such young people should be left pretty much to their own judgment and conscience, and to the force of parental example.
3. Disciplineis unspeakably important. We have considered the father as the prophet of his family, we are now to view him as their king; and his laws are as important as his instructions. By discipline, then, I mean the maintenance of parental authority, and the exercise of it, in the way of restraining and punishing offences. Parents, you are invested by God himself with an almost absolute authority; you are constituted by him the supreme magistrate of your household, and cannot have a right idea of your situation, without considering yourself as appointed to rule. You must be the sovereign of the house, allowing no interference from without, no resistance from within. You have no option in the matter, and are not permitted to abdicate the throne, or to cast away your scepter. It was mentioned as a high commendation of Abraham that he would command his children after him. But although you are to be absolute monarch, uniting in yourself the legislative and executive department—you are to be no tyrant. Your government must be firm, but mild—the love of the parent must not relax the reins of the governor, nor the authority of the governor diminish anything from the love of the parent. You must have a scepter, and always hold it, but it should not be an iron one. You must never allow the yoke to be thrown off from your children, but then it should be a yoke which they shall have no inclination to throw off, because it is easy, and the burden light.
Your authority must be presented to your children as soon as reason is awake. The first thing a child should be made to understand, is that he is to do, not what he likes, but what he is commanded; that he is not to govern, but to be governed. The scepter should be seen by him before the rod; and an early, judicious and steady exhibition of the scepter, would render the rod almost unnecessary. He must be made to submit, and that while young, and then submission will become a habit; if the reins be felt by him early, he will thus learn to obey them.
All commands should be reasonable—there should be no wild, capricious use of authority, we must not thwart and cross the wills of our children merely to teach submission. They should perceive clearly that love is at the bottom of all we do, and that reason guides all our conduct. We should calculate beforehand, whether there is a necessity for the injunction we are about to deliver, and a probability of our being able to ensure compliance; for a wise parent will not enjoin anything, if he can help it, that has not these circumstances connected with it. Commands should be sacred things, not issued in sport for the child to play with. Nothing but what is wise should be commanded, and every injunction that is issued should be obeyed. In many cases, it is beyond our power to ensure obedience; and then nothing remains but punishment.
CORRECTION is an essential part of discipline; for rewards and punishments are as necessary in the government of a family, as in that of a state. What says the wisest of men? "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction will drive it far from him. Withhold not correction from the child—for if you beat him with a rod, he shall not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and shall deliver his soul from hell. The rod and the reproof give wisdom—but a child left to himself brings his mother to shame." Do not many mothers know this by bitter experience? Even in lesser matters, have they not a thousand times blushed at the rudeness, ill manners, and insolence of children 'left to themselves'? And in greater matters, have they not lived to vent the heaviest reproaches upon their most abject folly—in spoiling their children, by leaving them to their own obstinate tempers, self-will, and rebellious conduct, without ever correcting them?
"Correct your son, and he shall give you rest; yes, he shall give you the delight of your soul." Inimitably beautiful precept—and as true as it is beautiful. "He who spares the rod, hates his child." How many are there who thus hate their children? A very strong expression, I admit; and yet these very people would be thought the fondest of parents. Would you allow your children's bodies to perish, rather than put them in pain to eradicate a disease, which if allowed to remain, would be fatal? Would not this be hating them? And what do you call that conduct, which, rather than put them to pain by correcting their faults, allows all kinds of moral diseases to increase, and fester, and corrupt the soul? Fond mother, you who will never correct a child, hear the charge, and let it shudder through your heart, exciting emotions of horror—you are a hater of your child; your foolish love is infanticide; your cruel embraces are hugging your child to death! In not correcting him, you are committing sin of the heaviest kind, and your own wickedness, in not correcting him, will at last correct yourself.
I would not, however, be thought to enjoin a cruel or even a stern and rigid severity. I do not think this compatible with the admonition given by the Apostle, not to irritate, nor "provoke our children to wrath, lest they be discouraged." We must not govern by punishment—the scepter must not be converted into a whip! The first object of every parent should be to render punishment unnecessary. It is better to prevent crimes than punish them. This can be done, certainly, to a very considerable extent, but it requires a very early, very judicious, and very watchful system of training. Many have very little of what may be called, the faculty of government—and later, coercion and punishment come in to supply the place of early guidance. The only time is allowed to go by without being improved, in which it is possible in most cases, so to train the disposition, as to do in future without much punishment—for if discipline—wise, steady, firm discipline—does not commence as soon as the passions begin to develop—it is too late then to be accomplished without some degree of severity.
Mr. Anderson strikingly illustrates this part of the subject, by a very familiar allusion—"I recollect hearing of two coaches which used to drive into Newmarket from London, by a certain hour, at a time of strong competition. The horses of the coach which generally came in first, had scarcely a wet hair. In the other, though last, the horses were jaded and heated to excess, and had the appearance of having made great efforts. The reader, perhaps, understands the cause of the difference. The first man did it all, of course, by the reins; the second, unsteady in himself, or unskillful in the reins, had induced bad habits, and then employed the whip; but he could never cope with the other. So it will ever hold in all government. If obedience to the reins is found to be most pleasant in itself, and even the road to enjoyment, then obedience will grow into a habit, and become, in fact, the choice of the party."
This, then, is the first thing to be attended to—acquire skill in the management of the reins; govern by guiding, not by forcing. But still, there are many, very many cases, in which the reins alone will not prove to be enough; the whip is needed—and where it is needed, it ought to be supplied. Not that I mean to enforce a system of corporeal punishment; no—this may be necessary occasionally, as an experiment in difficult cases; but as a system it is bad and unavailing, and is usually the resource of passionate, ignorant, or indolent parents. We should, from the dawn of reason, endeavor to make our children feel that our favor is their richest reward for good conduct, our displeasure the severest rebuke for misbehaviour. Happy the parent, who has attained to such skill in the government of his children, as to guide with a look, to reward with a smile, and to punish with a frown.
Occasions, I admit, sometimes do occur, and perhaps frequently, in which the interposition of a severer chastisement becomes necessary; and these are the emergencies which require the full stretch of parental wisdom. Take the following rules for your guidance—
Never chastise in a state of anger. Some parents can never punish except, when it ought never to be done, when they are angry. This is passion, not principle; and will always appear to the child as if it were intended, more to appease and gratify the parent's bad temper, that to promote his welfare. No parent, in such a state of mind, can be in a correct condition to adjust the kind and degree of punishment to the offence; it is like administering medicine scalding hot, which rather burns than cures. God waited until the cool of the evening before he came down to arraign, try, and punish our first parents after their fall.
Patiently examine the offence before you punish it. In every case, let there be the solemnity of judicial investigation; for justice always should proceed with a slow and measured step. Accurately discriminate between sins of presumption—and sins of ignorance—or inadvertence. Accidents should be reproved, but not punished, unless they involve willful disobedience. Most wisely and equitably apportion the sentence to the degree of offence and the disposition of the offender. Genuine confession, and sincere penitence, should in most cases arrest the process of judgment, and the child be made to punish himself by remorse. Satisfy not yourselves until you have produced repentance, for until you have done this, scarcely anything is done. Hatred of the sin, on the part of the offender, is a much more effectual preservative from its repetition, than fear of punishment.
Do not keep instruments of punishment, such as the rod or the cane, constantly in sight, for this is to govern by fear, rather than by love. Be very cautious not to threaten what you either did not intend, or are not able to inflict; yes, forbear threatening as much as possible. A parent's denouncement should not be hastily uttered for children to laugh at. In the case of older children, the greatest caution is necessary, in expressing a parent's displeasure; reasonable admonition, mild rebuke, tender reproof, appeals to their understanding, and feelings, and conscience—are all that can be allowed in this instance. If the rod ever does good, it is only in infancy, before the understanding can be made sufficiently to argue upon the heinousness of the offence; afterwards it can only provoke and harden.
Through the whole course of discipline and government, let parents ever remember, that their children are rational creatures, and are to be dealt with as such, by having the grounds of obligation laid open to them, the criminality of disobedience explained, and the evils of insubordination laid before them. To a parent storming or fretting over the inefficacy of punishment, I would say, "Have you treated that child as a brute—or a rational creature? Have you taken pains with him from infancy, to make him understand his obligations, and to comprehend the criminality of disobedience; or have you governed him by threatening and beating?" I again say, that where necessary punishment is withheld, it is a hating of the child, but the great object should be to render punishment unnecessary. Put the reins of guidance upon the disposition while your children are infants, and acquire great skill in these—and if you manage the reins well, you will have less need of the whip!
It is of vast consequence that parents should be very careful not to foster, by injudicious treatment, those very propensities, which when more fully developed, they will find it necessary to repress by discipline. Do not encourage lying and ill nature, by smiling at a false, or malignant expression, because it is cleverly said—nor nourish pride by excessive flattery or commendation—nor vanity, by loading them with fine clothes, and both admiring them, and teaching them to admire themselves—nor revenge, by directing them to vent their anger upon the people or things that have injured them—nor cruelty, by permitting them to torture insects or animals—nor insolence and oppression, by allowing them to be crude to others—nor envy, by stimulating too powerfully the principle of competition. Infinite mischief is done by thus thoughtlessly encouraging the growth of many of the 'seeds of vice'.
Discipline to be effectual, should be steady and unvarying—not fitful and capricious. It must be a system, which, like the atmosphere, shall press always and everywhere upon its subjects. Occasional fits of severity, however violent, but which are followed by long intermissions of relaxing indulgence, can do no good—and may do much harm. Each extreme is mischievous, and each prepares for the damage of the other.
Both parents should join to support family authority; for a more truly distressing and injurious spectacle can scarcely be seen in the family circle, than a fond and foolish mother counteracting the effects of paternal chastisement, by stealing in to the little prisoner in his captivity, to comfort him in his distress, to wipe away his tears, and to hush his sorrows, by some gratification of his palate. In this way children have been sometimes hardened in their crimes, set against their father, and led to ultimate and irretrievable ruin.
Wonder not that I have placed discipline under the head of religious education—for is it not the object of family government to bend, as far as means can do it, the will of a child into submission to the authority of a wise and holy parent? And what is sin against God, but the resistance of a weaker will against that which is supreme and divine? Now surely it may be conceived to be in the order of God's appointed means of bringing the child into submission to himself, to bring him first into submission to his parents. Can anyone be in a state of mind more hardened against religion, more opposed to all its just and salutary restraints, than he who rejects the mild yoke of parental government, and sets at defiance the authority of a father? Obedience to parents is one of the laws of heaven—and the first of all its laws which the mind of an infant can be made to understand. And if parents enforce it as they should do, with a direct reference to the appointment of God, they are certainly taking a preliminary step, so far as means can be employed, for the formation of the religious character.
4. EXAMPLE is necessary to give power and influence to all other means.
One of the tritest of all proverbs, is the power of example; but its force is greatest upon the youthful mind—"During the minority of reason, imitation is the regent of the soul, and they who are least swayed by argument, are most governed by example." We all learn of this preceptor, before we can reason, and before we can speak. If then we would have our children live in the fear of God, we must ourselves be seen by them steadily walking in the way of his commandments. In alluring them to religion, we must be enabled to say, "Follow me." Our religion should not only be upon the whole sincere, but it should be visible—our light should shine before our family, that they seeing our good works, may glorify God. But for our religion to produce any effect, it must be eminent—there must be no doubt, no uncertainty about the matter; it must not be a thing of a questionable nature. Our religion should be consistent. I remember once conversing with a man of great eminence for station, talents, and piety, who said to me, "I owe everything, under God, to the eminent and consistent piety of my father. When I was a young man, though I was not vicious, I was worldly; and in order the more effectually to get rid of all interference with my pursuits from religion, I wished to think it all mere profession and hypocrisy. For this purpose I narrowly watched the conduct of my father; for such was the height on which he stood as a professor of religion, that I very naturally concluded, if I could convict him of such inconsistency as amounted to a proof of hypocrisy, and a little thing would at that time have sufficed for such a purpose, I would have gained my end, and have concluded that all piety was but a name and a delusion. But so thoroughly consistent was he, that I could find nothing in the smallest degree at variance with his character as a professor of religion. This kept its hold upon me. I said to myself there must be a reality here, and I must try to understand and feel it; for I have seen such meekness in a temper naturally irritable, such comfort amid the greatest agonies, and all this supported by such uniform devotion, that I must try to catch his spirit." This beautiful instance of the influence of parental example is, perhaps, not altogether unique—though in all its circumstances, perhaps rarely equaled.
Children have their eyes always upon their parents, and are quick to discern any violations of consistency. If notwithstanding our profession of religion, they see us as worldly-minded, as grasping and anxious after riches, as solicitous to be surrounded by splendid furniture, luxurious gratifications, and fashionable habits, as the people of the world—if they see the righteous rarely at our table, except when they are great people, or popular characters, but on the contrary observe there the gay, the fashionable, the ungodly—if they see us deceitful, implacable, or malicious—if they know us to be cruel or neglectful to our wives, unkind and oppressive to our servants, cold and tyrannical to them—if they witness us inconstant in our attendance upon private, family, or public worship—what can they conclude but that our religion is mere sham? In such a case, of how little service is our attempt to impress upon their minds those claims which we ourselves practically deny? It were far better for some parents to say nothing to their children about religion, for until they alter their own conduct, their admonitions can produce no other effect than to excite intolerable disgust. It is enough to make every parent tremble, to think what a parent should be!
And there should be consistency also, between our professions and our conduct, in reference to our families. We avow it to be our supreme and ultimate desire, that they should be truly pious; and we tell them so. Do we in all things act agreeably to this principle? Do we select schools and situations, books and companions, pursuits and occupations, in reference to this desire? Do we in our general conversation with them, and before them, support this declaration? Do not our children sometimes reason thus?—"My parents tell me that their chief concern is for my salvation, and the formation of my religious character; but how does this match with their selecting for me a school where religion is the last thing attended to? With their instructing me in some things, which, as religious people, I hear them condemn? How is it that all the concern of their conduct, whatever their words may say, appears to be to make me a fine lady, who can dance well, and exhibit an elegant form, and display polished manners? I am told that religion is the first thing, but I am educated for the world!" Ah, if we act thus, we are not training up our children in the way they should go. Without a godly example, everything else that we do, is most lamentably deficient. As has been often said, it is only pointing them the way to heaven, but leading them in the way to hell.
5. DILIGENT, CONSTANT, AND CAREFUL INSPECTION, is a most important parental duty.
There should be in every family, a system of family oversight. Parents should be watchful in all things. This is the way to preserve the good seed of instruction which is sown, and to prevent the enemy from sowing tares, which he is ever wakeful to do when the parent is asleep. This is a very difficult, but a very necessary duty. We must never allow any engagements whatever, to take off our eye from our children. As soon as their character begins to unfold, we should most carefully watch its development, that we may know what regimen to place it under. We should study their propensities, capacities, and tendencies. We should watch them in play, in their interaction with siblings, with adults, with their companions—and when they are not thinking that our attention is directed towards them; for character is decided by incidents, which a superficial mind would deem too minute to be noticed. We should see how they behave after punishment and reward—in short, their whole character should be studied and inspected by us, with the most minute and anxious care; just as the different plants in a nursery are investigated by a gardener, that he may know the peculiar nature which each possesses, and the appropriate treatment which each requires.
We should also inspect our family, so as to know what good or evil is going on among them—whether the good seed is growing, and what tares are springing up. Like the farmer going out to examine his fields, or the gardener his trees, to ascertain what prospect there is of a crop, and what weeds are to be eradicated, what pests to be destroyed, what gaps to be stopped to keep out destroyers, what blemishes to be removed, what assistance to be afforded—so must the parent be and act among his children.
One is growing up with a propensity to pride, he must be taught with great care, the beauty and excellence of humility; a second is vain of personal abilities and acquirements, she must have such folly exposed, and be saved from its injurious influence upon her character; a third is scheming, equivocating and deceitful—he must have the enormity of lying unfolded to him, and be encouraged to practice more frankness, sincerity, and regard to truth; one is remarkably curious, and needs to have this inquisitiveness checked; another dull, and needs to have it stimulated; one is skeptical, and is in danger of infidelity; another naive and is in peril of deception. Now there must be a constant scrutiny carried on by the parent, to ascertain these peculiarities, and to manage them accordingly.
Scrutiny must extend to everything and everyone. To the servants that are admitted into the house; for how much injury might be done to the youthful mind by an unprincipled and artful servant. The companions of our children should be most narrowly watched—one bad associate may ruin them forever. The very first workings of the social impulse, even in a boy or girl of five or six years of age, should be noticed, for even thus early may evil impressions be produced by companionship. At the risk of offending the nearest relative, or most endeared friend he has upon earth, a Christian parent ought not to allow his children to associate with those who are likely to do them harm. On this account, home education is decidedly to be preferred, where it can be obtained, to schools. A system of extensive and dreadful mutual corruption is oftentimes going on among young people before it is perceived.
Parents should most carefully inspect the reading of their children, and keep out of their way all corrupting books and indecent pictures. And how deeply is it to be deplored, that our newspapers are oftentimes so polluted with filthy details of disgusting occurrences and trials, as to be channels through which moral contamination flows into many a family, otherwise well guarded. It becomes a serious question, whether it is the duty of a Christian, who has sons and daughters growing up, to allow a newspaper to come into his house!
The recreations of children should be watched, and no games be allowed that are immodest, nor such as are likely to foster a spirit of gambling.
For lack of this diligent, careful, and universal inspection, the best instructions, the most earnest warnings, the most fervent prayers, and the most consistent example, have been in some cases, unavailing and the children left to themselves, and the corrupting influence of others, have grown up their parents' misery—and their own disgrace!
6. PRAYER must crown all.
This duty commences with the birth of a child, no, before that event; for in the very prospect of its birth, there should be earnest prayer offered to God by the parent, for divine grace to discharge all those obligations, which the expected babe will bring upon the conscience of the father and mother. And from that time forward, until the death of either parent or child—earnest, secret, believing prayer, should never cease to be daily presented for our offspring.
Our prayers should principally respect the spiritual welfare of our children. Daily we should wrestle with God for their eternal salvation. How little can we do at most for their welfare, and how ineffectual without God's blessing, is all we do, or can do. That parent has neglected a very important branch of his duty, who has allowed one single day to pass by without bearing his children upon his heart before God in private prayer. Who can subdue their tempers or change their hearts, but God? And though in a way of sovereignty, he confers his grace upon some who neither seek it themselves, nor have it sought for them by their friends, yet we are not authorized to expect it without prayer.
It is necessary, also, not only to pray for our children but with them. We should take them apart, each by himself, to commend them to God, and thus make them the witnesses of our deep concern, and our intense agony for their eternal welfare. If they have been disobedient and wicked, it may be well, when they are brought to a right mind, and when we ourselves have forgiven them, to conduct them to the throne of divine grace, to beg for them the divine forgiveness—but this never must be done as a punishment, for this is the way to make them dread a parent's prayers, as a visitation of his displeasure.
But besides this, there must be FAMILY PRAYER.
The necessity and propriety of this, arise out of the constitution of the family; and were it not enjoined in the word of God, either by precept or example, would still be binding upon the conscience of every parent, by the relation in which he stands to his family, and the extent of their dependence upon God. Do we not need family mercies—and who can give them but God? So obviously obligatory is this duty, and so naturally does its performance arise out of all our joint feelings as parents and as Christians, that those who neglect it, cannot even pretend to feel the right influence of godliness.
No duty, however, has been more abused than this. By some it is only occasionally performed; it is taken up, perhaps, in times of family distress or solicitude by others, it is attended to on a sabbath evening; and by many, very many others it is, though regularly observed, nothing but a lifeless form, and thus felt not only to be insipid, but a mere burden. The following directions may be of service to guide the heads of families in this most interesting branch of family duty.
1. It should be offered up morning and evening, thus beginning and closing every day.
2. It should be observed with the greatest regularity, and an uninterrupted constancy. What a disgrace to a parent is it for a child or a servant to say, "Are we to have prayer this evening?" And yet, are there not some families in which the practice is so irregular, as to leave the matter doubtful?
3. All the members of the family should be present, except very young children, who cannot be made to sit still, and whose inquietude and restlessness are a disturbance to all the rest, and utterly destroy the solemnity of the service.
4. It should be attended to so early in the morning as not to subject the service to the intrusion and interruption of visitors, and secular business; and so early in the evening, as not to be rendered the mere form of a drowsy circle, who ought at that time to be in bed. It is an offense to the Almighty to conduct a family into his awsome presence, merely to sleep there.
5. There should be a fixed hour, and the hour should be most sacredly kept, and not to be interfered with, except at the dictate of necessity. In order to this, the heads of families should not eat away from home, nor yield to the modern practice of late visiting. The fashionable hours of ten or eleven o'clock at night, are driving out evening prayer—and the eagerness of commercial pursuits putting a stop, in many families, to the morning sacrifice.
6. A portion of holy scripture should be read from the Old Testament one part of the day, and from the New Testament, the other. A book should be read through in regular course, and not a chapter picked out, or stumbled upon by accident. The scriptures should be audibly read, and in a reverential manner, and with a devotional spirit, for very great evils result from reading the scriptures in a careless, slovenly, and irreverent manner. It would be well for the parent to require the children to bring their bibles with them, that the eye may help the ear, in fixing the attention of the mind. The family prophet should also accompany what he reads with short explanatory and hortatory remarks of his own, or the expository comments of others.
7. Where there are people in the family who can sing, family praise should be a part of the service. The morning or evening hymn of a pious family is one of the most touching sounds in our world.
"Lord! how delightful 'tis to see
A pious household worship Thee.
At once they sing—at once they pray;
They hear of heaven, and learn the way."
8. Then follows the prayer, which should be not so long as to weary, nor so short as to seem like a mere form—it should be fervent; for a dull, cold, heartless repetition of almost the same thing, in almost the same words, is sure to destroy all the interest of this delightful service, and render it a mere form, which wearies and burdens, if it do not also disgust. How difficult is it to keep up the life and vigor of this arrangement! And why? Because we do not keep up the life and vigor of our own personal religion. It is worthwhile to remark, that the habit of reverential reading the scriptures tends to feed the flame of devotion, and to kindle the fire of the sacrifice of prayer. The prayer of the head of a family should be in a very peculiar degree FAMILY prayer. It should respect the children, and the circumstances of the household. All should feel that the service belongs to them, and not merely to the individual who prays, or to the church and the world. But fervor, and life, and earnestness, as opposed to what is dull and formal—are of immense consequence. A few petitions breathed forth with a fervor that kindles the fire of devotion in all around, are far better than half an hour's talking about religion to God.
Oh! with what dignity, and grace, and sanctity, and authority, does a holy and fervent father rise from his knees, and take his seat in the midst of his family, while yet the rays of divine glory play upon his countenance. "Children," says Dr. Dwight, "naturally regard a parent with respect; but they cannot fail to respect him more or less, on account of his personal character. Wherever they have been accustomed to behold their parent daily sustaining the office of minister or servant of God, they necessarily associate with every idea they form of his person and character, this solemn and important apprehension. Every image of this venerable relation presented to their minds, will include in it that of a divinely appointed guardian of their spiritual concerns; a guide to their duty given them from above; a venerated and beloved intercessor for their salvation."
And the same writer in speaking of family worship, says, "In the devotion of this little assembly, parents pray for their children, and children for their parents; the husband for the wife, and the wife for the husband; while brothers and sisters send up their requests to the throne of Infinite Mercy, to call down blessings on each other. Who that wears the name of man can be indifferent here? Must not the venerable character of the parents, the peculiar tenderness of the marital union, the affectionate intimacy of the filial and fraternal relations; must not the nearness of relations long existing, the interchange of kindness long continued, and the oneness of interests long cemented—all warm the heart, heighten the importance of every petition, and increase the fervor of every devotional effort."
It may be now proper to enquire, how it comes to pass that such a system as this is so often unsuccessful? For it may, with very great propriety, because with truth, be affirmed, that the families of professors are not always, as it might be expected they would be—the nurseries of the church. It is not enough to resolve the matter into the sovereignty of divine grace, until we have first enquired whether anything can be found in the conduct of parents, which can be said with truth, to account for the painful fact of irreligious children being found in religious families.
Have parents really adopted and pursued a judicious system of religious education? Can it be said, that means, such as I have directed, or anything at all like them, have been regularly pursued? Has there been a deep, a constant solicitude for the eternal welfare of their children?
In the introduction of my volume, entitled, "A Christian Father's Present to his Children," I have stated theOBSTACLES which often prevent the success of a religious education, and have enumerated the following—
1. Religious education is oftentimes very ignorantly, negligently, and capriciously maintained—where it is not altogether omitted. It is not a first object; it is attended to with no earnestness, no concern, no system, no regularity. It does not run through everything, and is opposed by many things at variance with it. The parent's eye and heart are more intently fixed upon the worldly prosperity and respectability of the children—than on their religious character.
2. The relaxation of family 'discipline'is a powerful impediment in the way of success. There is, in some households, no family government, no order, no subordination. The children are kept under no restraint, but are allowed to do what they like; their faults are intentionally unnoticed and unpunished, and their tempers allowed to grow wild and headstrong; until, in fact, the whole family becomes utterly lawless, rebellious against parental authority—and grievous to all around them. How many have had to curse the over-indulgence of fond and foolish parents! How many, as they have ruminated amid the desolations of poverty, or the walls of a prison, have exclaimed, "O, my cruelly fond parents, had you exercised that authority with which God entrusted you, over your children, and had you checked my childish corruptions, and punished my boyish disobedience; had you subjected me to the beneficial restraint of wholesome discipline, I would not have brought you with a broken heart to your grave, nor myself with a ruined character to the jail."
Overindulgence of children is awfully common, and continually making shocking ravages in human character. It is a system of great cruelty to the children, to the parents themselves, and to society. This practice proceeds from various causes; in some instances, from a perverted and intentional sentimentalism; in others, from absolute indolence, and a regard to present ease, which leads the silly mother to adopt any means of coaxing, and yielding, and bribing, to keep the "young rebels" quiet for the time! In others, from a mistake as to the time when restraint should begin, or a spirit of procrastination, which leads parents to say, "I shall take them in hand by and bye—there is no time lost; when their reason is a little more matured, I shall lay upon them more restraint." And in some it is "mere animal affection," without the guidance of a particle of judgment; a mere instinct, like that which in the irrational tribes leads to a blind and busy care.
It is not uncommon for parents to treat the first acts of infantile rebellion, rather as accidents to be smiled at, than as sins to be disciplined. "O," says the mother, "it is only play, he will know better soon. He does not mean any harm. I cannot discipline him." No! and if the father, wiser than herself; does, she cries, and perhaps, in the hearing of the child, reproves her husband for cruelty.
Lack of parental discipline, from whatever cause it proceeds, it is in the highest degree injurious to the character of the children; let those who are guilty of it read the fearful comment on this sin, which is furnished for their warning in the history of Eli and his family. "I am going to carry out all my threats against Eli and his family. I have warned him continually that judgment is coming for his family, because his sons are blaspheming God and he hasn't disciplined them." 1 Samuel 3:12-13
3. Undue severityis, perhaps, more injurious than over-indulgence; and it is, perhaps, a conviction of this, and an observance of the mischievous consequences of extreme rigor, that has driven many into the opposite extreme. I have seen the dreadful effects of parental tyranny and the reign of household terror—in the broken spirits, the reckless desperation, the stubborn resistance to authority, or the deep and sullen melancholy of those who have been the subjects of these harsh measures. It is a truly revolting sight to see a father employing the iron rod of the oppressor to beat and bruise, and crush the minds of his own offspring into the most abject submission. He may succeed, but let him not wonder, if at the same time that he has suppressed rebellion, he has extinguished affection.
I have known parents, who, too late have seen their error, and who would give the world, did they possess it, if it were possible to do away the ill effects which their severity had produced in the character of their children; but the mischief was irreparable. No subsequent kindness could expand the heart, which they had closed forever against them, or will that confidence which they had repulsed from them. A close, sullen, melancholy disposition had been nurtured; susceptibility to the emotions of wretchedness had been planted in the bosom, which no future tenderness on the part of the parent could remove. He saw it, and repented it, but could not alter it. "You fathers, provoke not then your children to anger, lest they should be discouraged." This language is really very striking, and well deserves the serious attention of every parent.
4. The inconsistent conduct of parentswho are professors of religion, is a great hindrance to the success of religious education. Many people have no need to wonder that their children are not pious; it would have been a wonder if they were godly—for they have seen nothing at home but what was calculated to disgust them with religion. They would have been far more likely to have thought well of the ways of godliness—if their parents had said nothing about them.
5. The bad conduct of an elder childof a family often counteracts all the efforts made for the benefit of the rest. Let parents see the importance of beginning upon a good system. Children are creatures of imitation, and the models they copy after, are their elder brother or sister. A mother should educate the character of her first child, with the recollection, that he will be a pattern, which the rest will, in all probability, more or less conform to. I do not think this has been sufficiently considered.
6. Partialityhas a very corrupting and fatal influence. The history of the patriarch Jacob, first the victim, and afterwards the subject, of this sin, will remain forever a warning to all parents, against the dangers of family favoritism. The balances of government must be held, in every family, by even-handed justice, or misery is sure to ensue. Envy and jealousy are the natural consequences of partiality. Father and mother are sometimes embroiled, the children are set against each other, and all conspire against the favorite.
Behold these obstacles, and avoid them!
And now, canMOTIVES be necessary to admonish Christian parents to the diligent performance of their duty? If so, take the following—
1. Are you zealous for the cause of Christ in the world—for the prosperity of Zion—for the interest of the Redeemer—for the glory of God? Be diligent, and anxious to train up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Would you have them the enemies, or the friends of God and his cause? Dare you pretend to be the disciples of Christ, if this is a matter of indifference to you? If you are neglectful in this matter, you may expect to see your offspring united in marriage with the children of this world—if not with infidels, scoffers, or the profane.
But if you are anxious and conscientious to train them up for God, that daughter over whom you watch with such parental care and tenderness, may be joined with the female worthies, who by their chaste lives, and the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, and their zeal for the cause of Christ, have done so much to diffuse religion in the world. That son whom you now train with such holy solicitude, for future usefulness, as a disciple of the Savior, may become eminent in the church, as a consistent and intelligent member, or an able and faithful minister. "Many a congregation," says Baxter, "that is happily fed with the bread of life, may thank God for the endeavors of some poor man or woman, who trained up a child in the ways of God, to become their holy and faithful teacher." The church of God looks to the families of the righteous, and expects and asks from thence, those supplies which are to recruit its numbers, and to repair the ravages of death.
2. I urge this duty by a due regard to the temporal and eternal welfare of your children.You love your children, and would deem it a most cruel and insulting insinuation to have your affection for a moment questioned. But do what you will for them; devote as you may the energies of body and mind; the sleep of your nights and the activities of your days to your children's comfort—wear out your strength in ceaseless labor and solicitude, and yet at the same time neglect the religious education of your children, you are guilty of a species of most horrid cruelty towards them—the dreadful consequences of which may begin in this world in profligacy and vice—and extend to the eternal world in all the bitter pains of eternal death! Unrestrained by sentiments of piety, uncontrolled by a conscience which has never been enlightened, what is to prevent them from being plunged into infamy by their unbridled passions? Have not many young men, in the prisons, or at the gallows—and many unhappy women when closing in misery a course of infamy—cursed their parents for not giving them a religious education?
But even though they live and die in worldly honor and respectability, what will this do for them amid—the sorrows of life, the agonies of death, the solemnities of judgment, and the torments of perdition. Hear them as they stand shuddering and affrighted on the brink of that gulf into which they are about to plunge. "Of what avail are the riches and honors, and pleasures of the world, which my parents were so anxious to obtain for me? Why did they not tell me that the salvation of my soul was of more importance to me as an immortal creature, than the possession of the universe? Cruel, cruel parents! Fool that I was to be blinded and rendered careless by you—but my self-reproaches are now unavailing, I deservedly perish; but my blood be upon the head of those who neglected me." Ah, cruel parents indeed, who neglect the religious education of their children—more cruel in some respects than Herod! He slew the bodies of children—these cruel parents murder souls! He murdered the children of others—these cruel parents murder their own children! He employed the agency of his servants—these cruel parents do the work of slaughter themselves!
3. Do you regard your OWN comfort?Do you love yourselves? Are you anxious to avoid painful and incessant solicitude, bitter reflection, family disquietude, dreadful foreboding? Then bring up your children with the most unvarying regard to their religious character. Should God crown your efforts with success, what a harvest of joys will you reap even in this world. When you see your children enter the paths of wisdom, "thank God!" you will exclaim, "my highest ambition has at length reached its object. My children are decided Christians. I am now no longer distressingly anxious for their future prospects in this life. In one way or other, God will provide for them. And as to eternity they are safe.
Who can describe the pure, elevated felicity with which such parents mark the course of their children, in going from strength to strength in their progress to Zion. What a season of delight is that, when they publicly assume the profession of a Christian, and connect themselves with the church! What joy is felt on beholding them at their side at the table of the Lord, and holding communion with them in the joys of faith and the anticipations of eternity. And what satisfaction is experienced in seeing them enrolling their names as the friends of God and man, and giving their support to those institutions which are formed to promote the highest interests of the human race. As they grow in experience, in usefulness, in respectability in the church, the parents' joy and gratitude are continually increasing, and they feel the honor of having sent such members into the fellowship of the faithful.
Should God, in the mysteries of his providence, remove them by an early death, you will be cheered amid the agonies of separation, by their dying consolation; their piety will wipe away your tears, and be a balm to the wounds of your mind. And when they have departed, you will solace yourselves with the healing thought, that they are gone to that world of glory in which you will soon be reunited with them. Or should the order of nature be observed, and you precede them to the tomb, will not their presence and attentions in your dying chamber, be more soothing by the consideration, that they are so many saints, as well as children, ministering to your comfort? Will not their piety give a sanctity and a sweetness to all the offices of their affection? "I die," will be your expression, as like departing Jacob, you address yourselves to them, "but God will be with you, and we shall meet again where there will be no more death."
But should you unhappily neglect their religious education, and they, through your inattention, should grow up without any due sense of the claims of God, is there not a danger of their becoming immoral, as well as irreligious? And how could you bear to witness, or to hear of their profligacy and vice, if at the same time you were conscious that it was in a measure through your neglect? Perhaps they may be unkind and disobedient to you; for God may justly render that child a scourge to his parent, whose parent did not train him up in the ways of religion. O what scenes of family misery, what heart-rending spectacles of confusion and wretchedness, have profligate children occasioned in the families to which they belong! How many have thus had their hearts suddenly broken, or their gray hairs brought down by the slow process of withering sorrow to the grave; and the sting of all this, in some cases, has been the consciousness of parental neglect. No sin more heavily punishes itself, than this, nor mingles for its subject a more bitter cup.
But then, the eternal consequences, oh! the eternal consequences of this neglect. See the heart-stricken parent, wringing his hands over the dying youth who is departing without repentance. No, not a syllable escapes his lips that sounds like penitence—the father weeps, and prays, and entreats, but the son hearkens not, and dies, and makes no sign. Now in what a burst of agony does he give vent to his feelings over the corpse, from which the spirit has departed, but departed not to the mansions of the blessed—"Oh, my son, Absalom, my son, my son Absalom, would God I had died for you! O Absalom, my son, my son!"
Or, in the event of your own death, what thorns will it plant in your pillow, with what deeper shades will it invest the descent to the dark valley, to reflect that you had neglected the religious character of your children, and the eternal salvation of their immortal souls. Then, amid these fearful scenes, to awake to a sense of your duty, when it is too late, except by one parting admonition to perform it. Then to see those around your bed, with whom you had been entrusted, but whom you have neglected.
But there are other scenes more dreadful still. The faithless parent must meet his ruined children at the day of judgment—before the bar of God. Fearful will be the interview; and to us, now, utterly inconceivable. No imagination can portray the scene, and I attempt it not. And then, eternity, oh! eternity!—who shall bring out from the secrets of that impenetrable state, the condition of children, lost in some measure through the neglect of their parents; and the condition of parents, hearing through everlasting ages the cursings and reproaches of their own offspring, and all these cursings and reproaches echoed back from their own conscience! But the picture is too appalling—and if the mere anticipation chills with horror, what must be its dreadful reality!
Look for a few moments at a brighter scene, and anticipate the meeting, at the judgment day, of pious parents and children, reclaimed, converted, saved by the blessing of God upon their affectionate solicitude, and judicious and persevering efforts for their eternal welfare—but this is as much too bright for the imagination, as the other is too dreadful. It is glory, honor, and felicity too great to be imagined. And beyond all this, everlasting ages remain for the child to be blessed with salvation, and the parent to be blessed with the consciousness of having been the happy instrument of eternal blessedness to his offspring!
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