The Importance of Family Religion, Part 2
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Josh. 24:15)
The head of a family should act the part of a prophet towards the rest of his household, and impart to them such instruction as is calculated to answer the purpose for which he is placed in honour and authority over them. Without such instruction, he can not, and ought not, to expect to accomplish much by the exercise of parental discipline.
“These words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up,” Deut. 6:6, 7. This does not relate merely to instruction in the school, but particularly to familiar, domestic teaching. This instruction must concern the word of God, including its doctrines and duties. It must be imparted with diligence, with patience, and frequent repetition The natural blindness of the mind to spiritual things, and the darkening of the understanding produced by sin, render such diligence absolutely necessary, in order to make any tolerable progress in the work of domestic education.
The natural opposition of the heart to spiritual and holy knowledge, seems to require the affectionate, careful, and frequent inculcation of divine truth.
The language of the carnal heart is, “I desire not the knowledge of these things.” And the reason is to be found in that Scripture declaration, “the carnal mind is enmity against God.” Men naturally, therefore, “love darkness rather than light.” Weeds grow apace, but good plants require a careful and patient cultivation. The former are indigenous, the latter are exotic, and require the utmost diligence and watchfulness in planting and nurturing them.
The memory has been greatly impaired by sin, and children are particularly forgetful of that which it is of the most importance they should remember. Hence the necessity of inculcating again and again the same truths. This work, in order to prove effectual, must be commenced at a very early age. Recent experiments have demonstrated that children are susceptible of important instruction, at a much earlier age than has hitherto been thought possible.
The Infant School System has developed many important principles in regard to the early education of children. Many children are now in possession of much information, although not yet advanced to that period of life, at which but few, if any, hitherto deemed it expedient or important even to commence instruction. Impressions may be very early made, and with much more ease too, than at any subsequent period. The mind of a child is like soft wax, that is susceptible of any impression that may be attempted, and that without much difficulty. First impressions are the most lasting, and are removed with great difficulty, if ever removed at all. Indeed, perhaps at any age it is far more difficult to remove impressions than to make them: “As the twig is bent so the tree’s inclined.”
Even in old age, after having passed through the trials, the turmoils, and vicissitudes of a protracted life, the principles instilled in early life, are not forgotten, but are often more fresh and vivid in the mind, than those adopted in later years.
And it should ever be borne in mind by parents, that impressions will inevitably be made upon the minds of their children. If they do not make them, others will; and if they be not good, they will be bad. The young and tender mind, like the chameleon, receives its colour from every thing around it. If it be neglected by you, it will not be by the devil. “While the men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat,” Matt. 13:25. The neglected mind of a child is like an untilled garden, it will not be barren, but be overgrown with noxious weeds, which will choke and destroy every wholesome plant which may occasionally take root. Parents will then have a double work to perform. They must remove bad impressions, and root out injurious principles; make good impressions, and instill right principles. But “fill the bushel with wheat, and ,you may defy the devil to fill it with tares.”
I am aware of an objection which some make to the course above proposed, which is perhaps made rather to relieve the objector of the duty in question, than because he believes there is any force in the objection itself, and which, on that account, hardly deserves notice in this little essay; but a passing remark may not be misplaced or useless. The objection is, that the minds of children ought not to be forestalled in the matter of religion; that it is taking an unfair advantage of their tender age, and virtually depriving them of the liberty of choice and judgment, in a matter so important. To say nothing of the anti-scriptural character of the objection, we may observe, that the objection takes for granted, what we and all Christians are very far from conceding, namely, that there is nothing in the heart of a child which predisposes him to a wrong choice, and that the natural understanding of a child, even at the age when he should make the choice, is sufficiently enlightened in spiritual things to make a good one.
The Scriptures declare that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Those who make this objection have certainly never seen nor felt the necessity of any religion themselves. For the question now is, not between different creeds, but between religion and irreligion. Had they found the pearl of great price, they would not be disposed to conceal it from their children, lest their discovery of it to them, should forestall their opinion as to its character and value. Had they been made sensible of the awful danger to which they and their children were exposed, they would not refuse to point it out to them, and warn them, lest they should thereby forestall their opinion of that danger, or of its existence at all. They can have no settled belief in truth themselves, and do clearly manifest an indifference to all truth, and recognise no distinction between truth and falsehood, right and wrong. Besides, had this been the mind of God, it were necessary that all men should have the requisite means and opportunity of arriving at the truth; but this is so far from being the case, that even with such advantages, few arrive at the truth, who have not been the subjects of early instruction. And finally, as to this objection, if natural reason be a sufficient guide to the discovery of truth and duty, as those who would rescue children from the unfair advantage of early instruction, suppose to be the case, then natural reason is a sufficient light to distinguish between truth and error, when proposed to its decision by others: so that they are in no more danger of being betrayed and led astray by instruction, than by being left to themselves. However, the command to teach your children diligently the words of the Lord, has never been revoked, and the apostolic injunction to “bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” is still in force, Eph. 6: 4. “My son,” says Solomon, “hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother,” Prov. 1:8. This implies the duty of parental instruction; and it is much safer to hearken to the advice of Solomon, the wisest of men, and withal, divinely inspired, than to walk in the counsel of the ungodly, Ps. 1:1. For, “the counsels of the wicked are deceit,” Prov. 12:5.
The term education, as it is commonly received, is too restricted in its signification. In its usual acceptation, it is applied to the acquisition of what may with propriety be called worldly information, as distinguished from spiritual knowledge; and to the training of the mind for the investigation of philosophical truth, or for the business and callings of this life. Hence has arisen the qualified phrase, “religious education,” to designate the particular character of the instruction and training received. This circumstance has alienated the idea of religion and spiritual knowledge from the word “education,” as generally employed and understood. But, strictly speaking, it forms much the most important part of all genuine and scriptural education. No education can be complete without it, nor answer the great end for which all knowledge should be imparted, or acquired. There is, moreover, a species of domestic education, long sanctioned by fashionable society, which is just the opposite of that which we apprehend to be enjoined by Scripture. And if it be not effected by direct instruction it is by current precept and habitual example. The conversation and conduct of some parents, make the impression on the minds of their children, that happiness consists in the possession of wealth or fame, or in the indulgence of fashion, pleasure, or amusement. Hence, as we might expect, this impression (than which nothing can be more erroneous) gives character and direction to all the exertions and aims of their children through life. The chief business of life they suppose to be to acquire wealth, or expend it in the indulgence of the various animal passions. Under such an influence, they are trained to shine in the hall of gaiety and fashion, to parade the street in idleness and show, and become the object of the world’s approbation, its envy and applause. The burden of parental solicitude seems to be, in such cases, that their children may appear to what they falsely judge to be advantage in society. No trouble nor expense is spared to secure this end.
The topics of family conversation, and that too in the presence of the younger members and servants, are fashionable opinions, parties, amusements, and dress the merits and pleasures of the last party, and the prospects and anticipations of the next; or the character, manners, appearance, and detects of such an one, and the beauties, accomplishments, and merits of another. With such training, what must inevitably be the character of the children? Their education has no reference whatever to the next world, and looks not beyond the grave, yea, not beyond the days of health, prosperity, and active life. They are trained to be butterflies, to flutter for a season in a gaudy attire, from place to place, while the short summer of life sheds upon them its genial warmth, and to be forgotten and unknown, when the chilling winter of sickness, of age, of adversity or death shall come upon them. Yes, many who sing in the giddy circle, “I would be a butterfly,” have their wish even while they utter it. Many Christian parents, so called, are a thousandfold more guilty and cruel towards their children, than the heathen Chinese towards theirs. The former do for the heads and hearts of their children, what the latter do for the feet of theirs. They compress them into the smallest possible compass. Such an education unfits them for usefulness in this life, or happiness in the next; for their salvation is thus rendered wholly improbable, and next to impossible. They are miserable in both worlds; drones in this, and outcasts in the next. It is, to be sure, a more refined and fashionable road to perdition, but not the less, but rather the more, certain on that account. It is a road strewed with flowers, but they are the leaves of the cypress, the badges of mourning over ruined souls. It may be enlivened by music, but it is the sweetly alluring voice siren. The devoted travelers may be decked in garlands, but it is for the immolation of the soul.
Indeed, such an education does not contemplate future existence of the soul at all. For if such parents make suitable provision for the bodies of their children in this life, still there is none made for the soul in the life to come This is entirely overlooked, as unimportant and unnecessary. But does not the brute creation protect and provide for the bodies of their offspring? Wherein do they differ?
The duty of spiritual education and provision is also binding in reference to the servants, who constitute a part of your household. It is true, you may only have bargained for their labour, and promised a temporal support, but they belong to your domestic society, and have souls, which must be miserable or happy in the world to come. When you hire beasts, you bargain for their labour, and provide for their bodily sustenance; is there then no difference between them and your servants? The pious Job asked with great significancy, “If I did despise the cause of my man-servant or of my maid-servant, what shall I do when God riseth up? And when he visiteth, what shall I answer him,” Job 31:13, 14.
The believing Centurion also manifested great concern for his servant. He is represented as beseeching Christ, with great earnestness, to heal his servant, which he did Matt. 8:6, 7.
But in addition to preceptive instruction, there must be superadded the force of corresponding example. The one will effect but little without the other. We are imitative creatures, and learn our earliest lessons, and receive our most enduring impressions through the eyes and not through the ears. It is remarkable how soon children begin to notice attentively the conduct of others. We are naturally more disposed to follow example than to be influenced by precept. Parents, therefore, would do well to remember that their children have eyes as well as ears, and to act accordingly. Bad example will obliterate every impression which may have been made by wholesome precept. Let not parents, therefore, tear down with one hand as fast as they build up with the other. Let example be to precept, what experiments are, in natural science, to theory. The one should demonstrate and confirm the other. In vain may you, attempt to inculcate upon a child the importance of a duty, while he is permitted to witness your habitual neglect of it. He will do as you do, and not as you say. If you neglect the public worship of God, or behave unseemly in the sanctuary; if you violate the Sabbath day, by labour, amusement or recreation; if you take the name of the Most High in vain, or exhibit a proud, passionate, and overbearing temper, you may reasonably expect your children and servants to do the same, when an opportunity occurs of doing it with impunity. It were idle to expect a different result.
But the precept of some parents is as bad as their example in this respect. They will not only encourage, but even urge the attendance of their children, at the scenes of public amusement and dissipation; places where female delicacy is wounded, where innocence must blush, and virtue hide her head in shame. Yes, parents will permit men and women to say to their children from the stage, and in a public assembly; what it would be the grossest insult to whisper in their ear, at the family fireside. And yet, these same parents decline urging the attendance of their children at the sanctuary. They will dead them into a circle, where, amid the attractions adapted to a carnal heart, the flame of human pride is fed and cherished; where native vanity is flattered, often by brainless conversation and heartless attention; where their already too high opinion of self is more and more exalted, and the restraints of modest, retiring virtue more and more weakened. Thus they are thrown by their own parents; into the midst of a thousand temptations and snares, and estranged from God and holiness. You may, indeed, diligently provide for their temporal necessities, but you leave the soul, the deathless, enduring part of your children, to starve and perish. You may carefully clothe their bodies which must soon be laid in the grave and become the food of worms, but you leave the soul to appear in all its nakedness before God in judgement. You neglect to provide for it, the robe of the Saviour’s righteousness, and are satisfied that it should appear in the “filthy rags” of its own virtue and morality. You provide food for the nourishment of their bodies, but neglect to feed them with the hidden manna, with that bread which came down from heaven, which was the bread of life. You are solicitous to accomplish for them, advantageous matrimonial connections, but neglect to marry them to the Lamb, the Bridegroom-Jesus Christ.
Now, “if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel,” 1 Tim. 5:8. If this be true in regard to temporal provision, what may we not say of those who refuse to make the most important of all kinds of provision, viz. for the souls of their children and servants? It is most shocking cruelty to suffer the souls, whom you have instrumentally brought into the world, to perish forever through your neglect. How can a parent’s heart endure the thought, that the helpless babe who smiles at his chirps, and prattles on his knees, and beguiles his hours of leisure, with its endearing playfulness, should, through his neglect, endure the wrath of God through all eternity? Parents! think of it. Look upon your babe, behold its little fascinating ways, and say, will you train it up for the world and for hell, or for God and heaven? Will you lead it into the vortex of fashion, folly and irreligion, or “bring it up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” renouncing in its behalf, the pomps and vanities of the world, and solemnly dedicate it to the service of Christ? You must meet it at the bar of God. You may meet it in the world of lost spirits. Will you venture then to look upon it? Can you then bear its curses on your head, and its upbraiding accusation of your unfaithfulness and cruelty? Parents! think of it. Your children are committed to your care, by Him whose property they are, and who charges you to train them up a holy seed to serve him. He will require them, as such, at your hands. Shall their blood be found in your skirts? “It is beyond a doubt, that remorse is one of the chief punishments of the damned, and who can question whether the most excruciating remorse will be excited by this thought; I have plunged my children into this abyss, into which I have plunged myself?
“Imagine a parent of a family, discovering among the crowd of reprobates, a son, whom he himself led thither, and who addresses to him this terrible language: ‘Barbarous father, to what a desperate condition you have reduced me! See, wretch that you are, see the flames which burn and consume me. Observe this thick smoke which suffocates me. Behold the heavy chains with which I am loaded. They are the fatal consequences of the principles you gave me. Was it not enough to bring me into the world a sinner? Was it necessary to put me in arms against Almighty God? Was it not enough to communicate to me natural depravity? Must you add to that, the venom of a pernicious education? Was it not enough to expose me to the misfortunes inseparable from life? Must you plunge me into those which follow death? Return me, cruel parent, return me to nothing, whence ye took me. Take from me the fatal existence you gave me. Show me mountains and hills to fall on me, and hide me from the anger of my Judge; or it that divine vengeance which pursues thee, will not enable thee to do so, I myself will become thy tormentor; I will ever present myself, a frightful spectacle, before thine eyes, and by those eternal howlings, which I will incessantly pour into thine ears, I will reproach thee; through all eternity I will reproach thee with my misery and despair.’”
As the helplessness of a child, unable to defend itself from surrounding danger, makes a strong and effectual appeal to its parents for protection, so should its native ignorance, especially of the most important truths, and of those, a knowledge of which is essential to its well-being, both here and hereafter, make a still more powerful and affecting appeal, for instruction and careful training. The heathen early and faithfully train up their children to the precepts and practices of idolatry. And this is not only a dictate of that natural affection, which even heathenism has not totally quenched in the parental bosom, but it is, moreover, a principle of natural religion, which is incorporated even with the grossest system of superstition and error, that claims to be a religion.
You recognise your obligation to afford your children an academical education, or at least a knowledge of their own language, and of such other branches of common literature, as may qualify them for the vocation in life, which you design them to follow. But do you feel no obligation to instill into their minds and hearts the principles of heavenly wisdom? None, to educate them in the science of salvation? None, to impart to them a knowledge of God, which is eternal life, and of his word, which is able to make them truly wise, even “wise unto salvation,” and to fit them for entering with advantage and happiness, upon that ever enduring state of exist-cure, on the verge of which they now stand!
You feel bound to train up your children to patriotic attachment to their country and its laws; with reverence for its authority, and jealousy for its honour. But do you not feel bound to train them up in loyal fidelity to the King of kings, and the God of nations, through whose merciful interference in our behalf, we are, as a nation. what we are? None, to educate them in holy allegiance to the Lord of lords, and source of all authority? None, to instill into them a becoming reverence for His law, and an unquenchable zeal for His honour and glory?
You feel bound, in all your plans, arrangements, and efforts, to consult the temporal interests of your children, and can this be more effectually promoted, than by the knowledge and favour of God? But are you indifferent to their everlasting welfare in the world to come? You cannot procure for them a more efficient, faithful, and enduring friend than Christ, who is emphatically the friend of sinners, He sticketh closer than a brother, and will never leave nor forsake them. Unlike the friendship of the world, which is but a name, A charm that lulls to sleep, A shade that follows wealth and fame, And leaves the wretch to weep, his is as unchanging as his nature, “I am the Lord-I change not.” He is a friend to help in time of need; when others either forsake us, or can afford us no aid. Should you leave your children orphans, He is the orphan’s God;-the father of the fatherless. For when father and mother forsake them, He will take them up.
You can not lay up for your children, a more enduring or more satisfying treasure, than that which is laid up in heaven, which neither moth nor rust can corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. Earthly riches take to themselves wings and fly away; and while they last, they are both unsatisfying and corrupting, without the grace of God accompanying them. Train up your children to be rich in faith, and heirs of that inheritance which is undefiled and that fadeth not away, and you will have secured for them that “which is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come,” 1 Tim. 4:8. You feel bound to procure suitable remedies, and the skill of a physician, to counteract and heal the bodily maladies of your children; but are you not under higher obligations to provide for the cure of that deadly disease with which the souls of your children are by nature infected? Depravity is frequently, in Scripture, represented under the figure of a disease. “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot; even unto the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment,” Isa. 1:5, 6. True religion is the balm of Gilead, and Christ is the great physician. Will you, then, permit this disease to continue its ravages upon the souls of your children, and terminate in the second death, without instructing them as to the only remedy, and urging them to apply to the only Physician? How grossly inconsistent is the solicitude of parents for their children, who, at thc same time, neglect their souls, which are of infinitely more importance, than any temporal concern can possibly be!
It may be proper in this place to notice briefly, the peculiar duties, advantages, and consequent responsibilities of MOTHERS, in regard to the education of their children.
To its mother’s care and instruction, the first years of a child, are almost exclusively committed. She makes upon its infant mind, the first impressions, whether good or bad. She, in a great measure, forms its future character, and, humanly speaking, determines its destiny She observes the budding of its mind, and discovers the earliest developments of its character and disposition, and may mould them as she pleases. Hence, the mother becomes the first object of its knowledge, its affections and its confidence. Her influence is first felt, and her authority first recognised. What a trust is then committed to mothers!
The strong maternal affection peculiarly fits her for the right discharge of her duties. And in this is shown the wisdom of Him who planted that affliction in her bosom, and who requires those duties at her hands. The maternal affection is used in Scripture as a hint emblem of Christ’s love to his Church. “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb! Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” Isa. 49:15. This love excites her to the exercise of that patience which is so much required, and so indispensable, in the careful training of her child. She knows no weariness in ministering to its necessities, and in guarding its helplessness. She bears without a murmur, its disquietudes and complaints, and surmounts every obstacle, and readily endures the privation of personal comfort, care and rest, that she may supply its wants, and gratify its desires. What will she not do, and what will she not suffer, for the peace and safety of her little one! Without this natural affection, patience would soon be exhausted, and the flesh soon become weary, and the passions be vented by cruelty or abandonment. Under the influence of religion, this affection is sanctified, regulated, and properly directed. If such be the advantages of a mother, how great must be her responsibilities! Who doubts a mother’s influence in the formation of the character of her children? Who doubts the peculiar opportunities she has for making good impressions, and forming a proper character? Who doubts the obligation upon her, to embrace these opportunities, and rightly to use them, in raising up a holy seed to serve the Lord? Examples might be mentioned of some of the most distinguished benefactors of mankind, who owe, and have traced, to their mother’s instruction and example, all that has made them both an honour and a blessing to the race. Examples might also be adduced, which would reverse the picture, but establish the same principle, and show that opposite effects may commonly be traced to opposite causes. This strong parental influence is ordained of God, and forms a prominent part of that great instrumentality which he has established in the organization of the family constitution. This influence will, and must, therefore, be felt. It can not be avoided.
The obligations which rest upon parents to “bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” are numerous and weighty. Besides those already mentioned in a general way, we may specify,
- The baptismal vows which they have assumed in behalf of their children. And lest any should pass over this section, by saying, “I have never presented my children in baptism, and have therefore never assumed the vows mentioned,” let me say that if this be so, you are doubly guilty in the sight of God. It is as much your duty to dedicate your children to God in his appointed ordinance, as it is to dedicate yourself to him in that of the Lord’s Supper. Unfitness for either, while it should exclude you from the privilege, nevertheless does not relieve you from the duly. It is your duty to be prepared for both, and the longer that preparation is delayed, the greater is the sinfulness of your neglect. To plead unfitness as an excuse for neglecting duty, is to plead one sin as an excuse for another; for it is your sinfulness and unbelief that render you unfit for either ordinance. Let none, then, console themselves with the false impression, that they are relieved from baptismal duties, because they have neglected to assume baptismal vows. If, therefore, the following remarks should exhibit the obligations of those who have assumed such vows, they at the same time exhibit the obligation and guilt of those who have neglected to assume them. The presentation of children for baptism, does not, strictly speaking, create new obligations, but is a formal and solemn acknowledgment of those already binding. A witness, strictly speaking, is as much bound, in the sight of God, to tell the truth, and nothing but the truth, before he takes the oath, as afterwards.
It is to be feared, that parents too often assume the baptismal vows with too little consideration. Some present their children for the ordinance, under the influence of example or custom, or for fashion sake; some, doubtless, through the mistaken and superstitious notion of its inherent efficacy. All such motives are improper, and dishonour God, and his ordinance. They tend to banish from the mind, that becoming reverence and awe, with which God should be approached in every act of worship. It brings down the ordinance to the level of an unmeaning ceremony, and abstracts from it the idea of a solemn transaction with God. Hence, many who shrink from an approach to the Lord’s table, yet, without hesitation or much reflection, offer their children for baptism. They are both holy sacraments, and thc one is as sacred as the other. Parents, moreover, sometimes take upon them these vows, while they are conscious of an unwillingness to pay them, and indeed, with no purpose whatever to attempt it. This is lying to the Holy Ghost, and nothing less than awful perjury before high Heaven! I speak plainly on this subject, because it is too momentous to be otherwise disposed of. While, therefore, parents are bound to present their children for baptism, they are also required not to trifle with the ordinance, nor contract the guilt of perjury or broken vows. If they neglect the ordinance, they sin; and if they approach it improperly, they sin. Do you, then, ask what you are to do in such a case?. I answer, repent, believe in Christ, and seek and obtain a right heart in the sight of God, and that without delay. This is only one of the many difficulties that belong to a state of impenitency and unbelief. In presenting your children to this ordinance, you recognise their depravity and condemnation, as flowing from thc first transgression of Adam; otherwise, the ordinance is without meaning, and your approach to it, is a mockery of God. You thereby acknowledge the necessity of your child being washed with the Spirit and blood of Christ. For it is that outward sign, which signifies the washing of the heart, with that cleansing influence, which the water in baptism symbolizes.
In this ordinance, you also give your child away, without reservation, to be used and disposed of by God, as seemeth to Him best. When thus solemnly dedicated to God, in acknowledgment of His undisputed right to it, He commits it to your care, as Moses was committed to the care of his mother, that he may be trained up for the service and glory of Him, to whom he belongs of right, and by your own act of dedication. You henceforth act as the steward of God, under voluntary vows of fidelity in the discharge of your duties, both to Him and to your child. For this stewardship you must render an account. Here, then, is one source of obligation which you are not at liberty to disregard. A lively sense of this obligation, will lead you to seek daily supplies of grace and strength to meet your responsibilities, and to supplicate the blessing of God upon your endeavours, to discharge them. Thus, you will be constantly urged to a Throne of Grace in behalf of yourself and children. There too, you will bring them, and bow their infant knees before God, and teach their infant tongues to call him “Father,” and to lisp his praise.
Should you neglect, however, thus to train them; should yon bring them up in prayerlessness and irreligion, how poignant will be your reflections on a death bed, that you are about to meet your Judge, to answer for the guilt of violated vows! How keen the anguish that will wring your soul, when you are about to cast your little ones upon a cold, unfeeling, and contaminating world, without the shield of a religious education, and without the support and guide of religious principles. That you have neglected to bestow, these you have neglected to instill. But you must leave them. You cannot retrace your steps. You cannot stay even to begin the work. And should you meet them in perdition, how insufferable their upbraiding! how overwhelming your remorse!
Parents owe it to themselves to train up their children in the way in which they should go. Their own peace and happiness, in this world, will depend ‘very much on the character and conduct of their children, unless they are totally destitute of all natural affection. And even then, their own children, through parental neglect; may become their tormentors. For parents are sometimes punished in the lives of their children, who become rods to their backs. How much distress, and trouble, and affliction, are sometimes brought into a family by children, whose religious education has been neglected! How often have such brought down the gray hairs of their broken-hearted parents, in sorrow, in shame, and in disgrace, to the grave! And even if they survive, it is to witness the sad and melancholy spectacle of their children, hurried, through the want of early and proper training, by unbridled lusts and unchecked licentiousness, or by the hand of the duelist or assassin, or by the due execution of the laws of the land, to an early and dishonoured grave. This is the source of a thousand evils with which guilty parents and their families may be afflicted and overwhelmed. On the other hand, how much joy and peace, and comfort, does a parent’s heart experience, when he beholds his children walking in the ways of righteousness, devoting themselves to the service of God, and to the good of their fellow-creatures! And how unspeakably delightful is the reflection, that such are the results of his labours, his instructions, and his prayers, in training them in early life to the love and service of the Most High! And when called to part with them at death, with hope, and faith, and settled confidence, may you leave them in the hands of Him, in whose nurture and admonition you have brought them up!
You owe it to your children, thus to bring them up. You have been the means of bringing them into this world of sin and misery, were they are exposed to innumerable evils here, and endless misery hereafter. You have transmitted to them that depraved and sinful nature, which, through successive generations, you derived from our common father Adam. They come into the world under a broken covenant, alienated from the life of God and with carnal minds at enmity against Him. They have immortal souls that must be happy or miserable for ever; and the momentous issue instrumentally depends, under God, very much on the manner in which you bring them up. You launch them in a fragile bark, upon life’s troubled sea, amid the threatening storms by which it is agitated, and surrounded by the rocks and shoals on which thousands and thousands are fatally and for ever wrecked. Is it not your duty to provide them with every means of safety? Is it not your duty to afford them that instruction, to instill into them those principles; and to point them to that example, to that Guide and Saviour, by means of which they may arrive in safety to that “haven where they would be”? You are their natural instructor, governor, and protector. To you they look, on you they depend, for all that is within your power and duty to afford them, in order to accomplish the end of their existence. They have a claim upon you which can not be disputed, nor with safety and impunity disregarded. It is a sacred claim, sanctioned and enforced by the relation you sustain to them, and by the authority of Him who requires its liquidation at your hands.
- This is a duty which; as parents, you owe to the community of which, you and your children form a part, and to the world in which we live. Your children are to be either blessings or curses to society, according as their principles, education, and habits are good or bad. Should they become, through neglect of proper care and attention to their education, profligates, and the corrupters of others, you will have entailed an evil on the community in which they live, which cannot be estimated in this life, and which will countervail all the benefit that you may have conferred on the race by your own life. If ‘one sinner destroyeth much good’ who can conceive the amount of injury that may result to the human family, by your neglect of duty to your children, who in turn will, according to your example, and the principles they have imbibed, be guilty of a similar neglect to theirs? Thus may their successive generations prove a continued scourge to the land in which they dwell. Such characters are a two-fold curse. They do evil and prevent good. And they may in the end, become a burden to society, and dependent on its support. The well-being of every community must depend, instrumentally, upon the proper education and training of those who, from time to time, compose it. This is a subject of vast moment to our own country. The magnitude of its importance, and its direct bearing on the destiny of this nation; are more and more manifest as we contemplate it. Such is the character of our system of government, and such is the nature of our free institutions, that unless a wholesome moral principle, founded on eternal truth and righteousness, pervade and actuate the people, we may not hope for their efficient administration, nor for a fair and just experiment of the doctrine of self-government. It is the glory of a republic that it cannot flourish, nor permanently exist, where the people are corrupt, ignorant, and debased. Knowledge and christian virtue form the basis of a free government. And if these be wanting, the superstructure will be a “baseless fabric.” He then is a true patriot, an efficient benefactor of his country, who so brings up his offspring, as to be wise enough to understand, and virtuous enough to seek, her true interest and honour.
Should the people, generally, become corrupt, the laws which they enact, and the measures which they adopt, will wear the impress of their own unseemly image. The executive arm will become palsied, or nerved by reaction to relentless tyranny. Our free institutions will crumble to dust, and on their ruins will be erected an absolute despotism. Say not that these apprehensions are visionary. Look at the history and fate of other republics, and learn a lesson of timely wisdom. We live not for ourselves only, but to transmit unimpaired to posterity the just principles of government we have adopted, and the blessings which flow from them. We live for other nations, and for their descendants; for if the experiment now making in this land, should prove abortive, their hopes will be blighted, and the fears of despots will be quieted, and their principles receive plausibility from the failure of ours.
Let us not rely too confidently upon the wisdom of our laws, and the efficiency with which they may now be executed. For while these are necessary and important, yet if we neglect to cherish in the people, whose benefit they contemplate, that spirit, and those principles which enacted them, they will become a dead letter, and their enforcement will dwindle into oppression, or criminal favouritism.
It is a shame and a reproach to any community, where great care is taken to punish wickedness, and little or none to prevent it.
I am fully persuaded that it is the influence of christian principle alone, that can save us. “Happy is that people whose God is the Lord.” For “righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” “The wicked shall be turned into hell, with all the nations that forget God.” By the smiles of a merciful God, we succeeded in our struggle for independence. And “by the grace of God we are,” as a nation, “what we are.” To forget or disown our dependence on the same mercy and power, is ingratitude and rebellion. The sinfulness of this nation, and its abounding licentiousness of principle and practice, call for national judgments, and may provoke the Most High to bring us to naught.
The religious obligation of oaths, deserves special attention. A deep sense of this obligation should be sedulously cherished in the minds of children, that it may be controlling and abiding. This can only be effected by a careful religious education. Without such precautionary measures on the part of parents, their children will grow up without fixed and definite views of religion, and liable to be turned about like a weathercock, by every wind of doctrine.
Should they espouse the principles of infidelity, which is nothing more than a bigoted credulity; or should they adopt such erroneous views of Christianity, as amount to little or nothing more than modified and baptized deism, they will regard oaths as a mere legal formality, and be uninfluenced by their solemnity and obligation. And there can be no doubt, that the careless and irreverent manner in which they are sometimes administered, tends greatly to produce this effect upon the minds of those, who are sworn. An oath is an act of religious worship. And as to those who deny the being or essential attributes of God, who question the existence, nature, or scriptural character of sin, or who disbelieve in a future retribution of punishment, it is nothing less than mockery and blasphemy. But it is a question for the legislative power to determine, how far the oaths of such should be regarded, and how far their testimony is admissible, in courts of justice.
For my own part, I should have but little hope of justice, if arraigned at the bar, and the verdict of the jury were to be determined by the testimony of such characters, so far as the influence of oaths is concerned; especially if they could secure some sinister end, or gratify a revengeful spirit, by misrepresentation or concealment. It is manifest, therefore, that you owe it to your country and to your fellow-creatures, to “Bring up your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”