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OFFICERS OF THE AMERICAN BIBLE SOCIETY.
Hon. John Cotton SMITH, of Sharon, Connecticut, President.
For the Methodist Magazine and Quarterly Review.
BY ELIAS BOWEN.
* Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” Prov. xxii, 6.
This passage contains both a duty and a promise; the one encouraging the other. The duty here enjoined consists in the proper training of children: the promise, in the permanent benefits annexed to such a course. We shall, first, consider the duty enjoined; secondly, the promise by which it is encouraged.
I. First, then, we are to consider the duty here enjoined; which consists in the proper training of children, or the bringing them up in the way they should go.
1. There are many parents, even among professors of religion, who bring up their children, not in the way they should go, but in the way they would go; regarding the will of the child as the governing rule of his conduct. In this case, however, the parents do not govern their children, but the children their parents ; reducing them not merely to the condition of servants, but to that of slaves. And the humbled parents in this degraded state usually put in requisition all their resources to gratify the peevishness, the pride, the ambition, the avarice of their children; for they must not be crossed in any event, whatever may be the consequence. It is well known, likewise, that children of this description, accustomed to bear rule at home, aspire to the same pre-eminence abroad, especially when at school; where, impatient of restraint, they never fail to manifest a spirit of insubordination and misrule. And as those whose province it is to govern do not feel at liberty to yield their authority, a quarrel consequently ensues, which the parents, the obsequious allies of their ruined offspring, are sure to espouse; thereby supporting their children in crime, and bringing themselves into disgrace. There are others who bring up their children, not in the way they should go, but in the way they do go; i. e., in the way usually pursued by young people; for, in this case, the prevailing custom is to be the standard of their behavior. Hence, because it is fashionable, they must attend the party,—the dancing school,the theatre. They must learn music, painting, and poetry. They must dash out in all the pride of personal embellishment; exhibiting all those qualifications, however needless, or even hurtful, which
are calculated to attract the giddy world. Should the above association seem to disparage the fine arts, we beg leave to say that such is not our intention; only so far as they are substituted for the more solid branches of education, or even for religion itself.
But the duty enjoined in our text consists in bringing up our children, not in the way they would or do go, but in the way they should go; i. e., in the way of righteousness—the way of life and salvation. St. Paul says on this point, “ Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath ; but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” From which it appears, that we are not only to teach our children the elements and rules of good behavior, but that we are to train them up in the principles and duties of true religion. It is admitted we cannot change their hearts, or save their souls by our own power; but, surely, we are able to see that they observe the means of grace; abstaining from all outward sin, as profane swearing, breaking the holy Sabbath, and the various habits of intemperance on the one hand; while they attend to all the outward duties of religion, as reading the Scriptures, going to church, and offering prayer to God, on the other. And if we oblige them to use the “form of godliness,” beginning with their infancy, they will sčarcely fail, in a single instance, to enjoy "the power;" for there is a vital connection between the means of grace, and the ends for which they were instituted.
2. But a question arises here—“Is the duty we are considering practicable? Can we bring up our children in the way they should go ?" It is certain there are very few brought up in this way; and it generally turns out that delinquent parents, unwilling to bear the blame themselves, contrive to throw it on God, by saying, He has withheld from us the requisite qualifications for the proper training of our children. We have neither time nor talents; neither wisdom, patience, nor influence for the undertaking." But this excuse for neglecting a plain duty is nothing else than the blasphemy of the slothful servant—“Lord, I knew thee, that thou art a hard man; reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast 'not strewed.” As many, however, have taken sanctuary under their supposed incapacity to bring up their children aright, it seems important to remark, that the practicability of a duty is implied in its very nature, since a command on the part of God necessarily presupposes a capacity on our part to obey; while no performance above our capacity can be regarded as a duty. As, therefore, the proper training of children is viewed in the light of duty, it must, of course, be perfectly practicable. Besides, we would inquire whether it seems likely that our heavenly Father would place us under tutors and governors," during our minority, who are incapable of training us up in a proper manner? The bare supposition would do great injustice even to an earthly parent, with all his imperfections: how, then, can it be imputed to Him who is infinitely "holy, just, and good !"
It is acknowledged, however, that with irreligious parents the proper training of children is impossible. And yet, strange as it may seem, their inability rather increases than lessens their guilt; for, while it is voluntary, and therefore can never absolve them from the obligation of bringing up their children as required, it involves
the additional delinquency of neglecting their own salvation. The fact is, we need only maintain the character of genuine Christians in order to be capable of training up our children properly; therefore we can all bring them up in this way, for we can all maintain the character of genuine Christians.
3. The first principle to be observed in the proper training of children, is good government; in which the will of the parent is made the rule of the child's conduct. It may seem too arbitrary with many; but nothing is more certain, than that authority is the foundation of all improvement. Let this be wanting in a state or nation, and do you think such a nation would be likely to make much improvement in the science of political economy? Could we look for her to make any advancement in wealth, in reputation, in power? Or would she, through crime and ignorance, be sure to lose all means of self-preservation, and fall an easy prey to some foreign enemy, or sink in the vortex of self-destruction ? Let there be no authority in a school or seminary of learning, and what improvement would the pupil be likely to make in his studies, however competent his preceptor may be in other respects? And if there be no authority in a family, how is it possible the children should be trained up in the way they should go? If they respect not our authority, neither will they respect our instruction, our example, our feelings. Nay, they will treat our religious devotions with criminal indifference, if not with the most shameful contempt! And after they shall have wounded our affections, pierced us through with many sorrows,” and overwhelmed us with ten thousand mortifications, they will “bring down our gray hairs with sorrow to the
The truth is, parents are to their children, when young, in the place of God. Hence he has clothed them with supreme authority; placing their children in absolute subjection to their will, on the one hand, and charging them with the duty of enforcing that subjection on the other. The absolute subjection of children to the will of their parents, is clearly enjoined in many passages of Scripture, particularly the following Children, obey your parents in the Lord; for this is right. Honor thy father and mother, (which is the first commandment with promise,) that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.”—“Children, obey your parents in all things; for this is well pleasing unto the Lord." Filial obedience, as here set forth, is, first, universal in its extent; for the apostle says, “Children, obey your parents in all things." Secondly, it is pious in its nature; for the apostle says again, “This is right ; this is well pleasing unto the Lord.” From which it appears, that as children are capable of no other obedience in early life, so this is all God requires at their hands; as being sufficient, of itself, to give them a religious character or constitute them practical Christians, and entitle them to all those blessings of the gospel covenant of which they are capable. Hence it is that the obedience of children coming to riper years does not change its nature in more directly assuming the forms of piety, but merely takes in a higher object; which transition is quite natural and easy. If, then, to obey our parents in childhood is to obey God, what vast importance is stamped upon filial obedience! And what amazing interest should parents feel, in training up their offspring under the influence of such a principle! Thirdly, the obedience which children are required to render their parents is seen to be of the last importance, at least in God's account, as it “is the first commandment with promise;"—the first duły, both in order of time and in point of importance, to which a gracious promise has been annexed by way of encouragement. But we have said, that while children are placed in absolute subjection to the will of their parents on the one hand, the parents are charged with the duty of enforcing that subjection on the other. This will appear from the following quotations, viz. : “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and-let not thy soul spare for his crying." "He that spareth the rod, hateth his son; but he that loveth him, chasteneth him betimes.” In the phrase, “Let not thy soul spare for his crying,” the wise man must be understood to say, in effect, Do not suffer thy sympathy to triumph over thy judgment when the child begins to cry; and then exchange the rod, as many do, for flattery, deception, or a promised reward. In the last-mentioned text he teaches a doctrine the very reverse of what is commonly held; for, while many ascribe the unbounded indulgence of children to love, and the correction of them to hatred, cruelty, and the want of natural affection,” Solomon says, “He that spareth the rod hateth his son; but he that loreth him, chasteneth betimes.” And I would ask, Who can be supposed to love his child most: he that saves him by timely correction, or he that ruins him, soul and body, for ever, by indulgence ?
To perceive that the want of authority in parents is repugnant to the will of God, destructive to their children, and a source of great trouble to themselves, we need only read the affecting account which is given of Eli in the first book of Samuel, concerning the management of his family. From this account it appears that Eli, hearing his sons were disorderly and wicked, said unto them, “Why do ye such things? for I hear of your evil dealings by all this people. Nay, my sons, for it is no good report that I hear." In the estimation of most parents, no one is required to go beyond the example of Eli; and there are many, it is to be feared, who fall far behind him, for he was not only sorry for the wickedness of his children, but he gave.them good counsel also; and even went so far as to reprimand them with some degree of explicitness. Still, this was not enough, as we learn in the sequel; where “the Lord said unto Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end. For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever, for the iniquity which he knoweth ; because his sons made themselves vile and he restrained them not. And, therefore, I have sworn unto the house of Eli, that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for
We see here that God required Eli to restrain his children from evil, not merely by counsel, admonition, entreaty, and the like, but by authority. And it is oertain he requires the same of all parents, whom he holds responsible for the due exercise of that authority with which he has invested them, partly for domestic, but chiefly for religious purposes. There are not a few, it is well known,
who attribute their want of parental authority to incapacity, the uncommon obstinacy of their children, or the embarrassing peculiarity of their circumstances: thereby laying the blame on God, as if he had rendered impracticable a duty required in his own word; or on their children, who, if particularly obstinate, have been made so by themselves. But this effort to throw the blame on others will doubtless recoil on their own heads with fearful consequence in the day of final retribution; when the blood of those children they have tolerated in vice shall be found in their skirts; and they shall receive, at the hand of their righteous Judge, “the things done in the body!"
With these views of parental authority, many, I am aware, will be extremely shocked ; as if they were utterly irreconcilable with every dictate of humanity. And yet, however startling they may appear in the eyes of some, they are not only consistent with the most gentle treatment of our children, but are indispensably necessary to such treatment. This is, indeed, with me, a main consideration in favor of that authority for which I so earnestly contend, since I feel a very tender sympathy for children, especially my own; and would be among the last to advocate a frequent use of the rod. Nor will this ever be found necessary, if, in the first place, it be applied seasonably; i. e., "betimes," as Solomon expresses it; or by the time our children are a year old, according to Wesley. And, in the second place, effectually ; i. e., so as to attain the end proposed, viz., the entire subjugation of the child's will. For, the more peremptory our authority, the less occasion will there be for punishment; as children, properly governed, will seldom violate the instructions of their parents. As there is danger, however, of falling into an error on either hand, in regard to the correction of our children, it is important to observe that the true medium lies between the extremes, so common in the world, of too many stripes on the one hand, and none at all on the other.
But many parents, neglecting all other means for the proper training of their children, rely on authority alone; as if this were sufficient of itself. And these, generally speaking, are for ever beating, their children, either for some real or supposed offence: at one time for doing wrong, without teaching them how to avoid it; and again for not doing right, without informing them in what right consists. It is plain, however, that such a course, while it is at variance with the apostle's direction—"Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged,"—is every way calculated to break the child's spirit, and harden him in a total disregard of all authority, human and divine. And it is equally plain, that a course of this nature is not the use, but the abuse of authority; since he who carries every point by prerogative is neither a parent nor a governor, but a tyrant.
4. We have said, to be sure, that authority is the first principle of family religion, but it is not the last. For, notwithstanding no other means will avail any thing without authority, yet this in no wise supersedes the use of other means. The truth is, a just authority is to be regarded as the foundation, on which we are required to build a regular course of instruction. For, as our children will receive no lessons of instruction in the absence of authority, so neither will they be rendered either virtuous or happy by authority, without instruction.