The Christian Father's Present to His Children
by John Angell James, 1825
THE ANXIETY OF A CHRISTIAN PARENT FOR
THE SPIRITUAL WELFARE OF HIS CHILDREN
My Dear Children—
Never did I pass a more truly solemn or interesting moment than that in which my first-born child was put into my arms, and when I felt that I was a father. A new solicitude was then produced in my bosom, which every succeeding day has tended to confirm and strengthen. I looked up to heaven and breathed over my babe the petition of Abraham for his son—"O! that Ishmael might live before you!" Recognizing, in the little helpless being which had been introduced into our world, a creature born for eternity, and who, when the sun shall be extinguished, would be still soaring in heaven—or sinking in hell, I returned to the closet of private devotion, and solemnly dedicated the child to the God who had given me the precious blessing; and earnestly prayed that whatever might be his lot in this world—he might be a partaker of true piety, and numbered with the saints in glory everlasting.
During the days of your infancy I and your godly mother watched you, with all the fondness of a parent's heart. We have smiled upon you when you were slumbering in healthful repose; we have wept over you when tossed with feverish restlessness and pain; we have been the delighted spectators of your childish playfulness; we have witnessed with pleasure the development of your intellectual powers, and have often listened, with somewhat of pride, to the commendations bestowed upon your person and attainments. But amid all, one deep solicitude took hold of our minds, which nothing could either divert or abate; and that was, a deep concern for your spiritual welfare—for your religious character.
You cannot doubt, my children, that your parents love you. In all your recollections, we have a witness to this. We have, as you know, done everything to promote your welfare; and, so far as was compatible with this object, your pleasure also. We have never denied you a gratification which our duty and ability allowed us to impart; and if at any time we have been severe in reproof, even this was 'a dreadful form of love'. We have spared no expense in your education—in short, love, an intense love, of which you can at present form no adequate conception, has been the secret spring of all our conduct towards you; and, as the strongest proof and purest effort of our affection, we wish you to be partakers of true piety. Did we not cherish this concern, we would feel that amid every other expression of regard, we were acting towards you a most cruel and unnatural part.
Genuine love desires and seeks for the objects on which it is fixed the greatest benefits of which they are capable; and as you have a capacity to serve, and enjoy, and glorify God by true religion, how can we love you in reality, if we do not covet for you this high and holy distinction? We would feel that our love had exhausted itself upon trifles, and had let go objects of immense, infinite, eternal consequence—if it were not to concentrate all its prayers, desires, and efforts in your personal true religion.
Almost every parent has some one object, which he desires, above all others, on behalf of his children. Some are anxious that their offspring may shine as warriors; others, that theirs may be surrounded with the milder radiance of literary, scientific, and commercial fame. Our supreme ambition for you is, that whatever situation you occupy, you may adorn it with the beauties of holiness, and discharge its duties under the influence of Christian principles. Much as we desire your respectability in life (and we will not conceal our hope that you will occupy no base place in society), yet we would rather see you in the most obscure, and even menial situation, provided you were partakers of true piety, than behold you on the loftiest pinnacle of the temple of fame, the objects of universal admiration—if, at the same time, your hearts were destitute of the fear of God. We might, indeed, in the latter case, be tempted to watch your ascending progress, and hear the plaudits with which your elevation was followed, with something of a parent's vanity; but, when we retired from the dazzling scene to the seat of serious reflection, the spell would be instantly broken, and we would sorrowfully exclaim—"Alas my son, what is all this, in the absence of true religion—but soaring high, to have the greater fall!"
You must be aware, my dear children, that all our conduct towards you has been conducted upon these principles. Before you were capable of receiving instruction, we presented ceaseless prayer to God for your personal piety. As soon as reason dawned, we poured the light of religious instruction upon your mind, by the aid of pious books and conversation. You cannot remember the time when these efforts commenced. How often have you retired with us, to become the subjects of our earnest supplications at the throne of grace! You have been the witnesses of our agony for your eternal welfare. Have we not instructed, warned, admonished, encouraged you, as we laid open to your view the narrow path which leads to eternal life? Have we not been guided by this object in the selection of schools for your education, companions for your recreation, books for your perusal? Has not this been so interwoven with all our conduct, that, if at any time you had been asked the question—"What is the chief object of your parents' solicitude on your account?" you must have said, at once—"For my being truly pious." Yes, my children, this is most strictly true. At home, abroad, in sickness and in health, in prosperity and in adversity—this is the ruling solicitude of our bosoms.
How intently have we marked the development of your character, to see if our fondest wishes were likely to be gratified. We have observed your deportment under the sound of the gospel, and when you have appeared listless and uninterested, it has been as wormwood in our cup—while, on the other hand, when we have seen you listening with attention, quietly wiping away the tear of emotion—or retiring pensive and serious to your closet, we have rejoiced more than they which find great spoil. When we have looked on the conduct of any pious youth, we have uttered the wish, "O that my child were like him!" and have directed your attention to his character, as that which we wished you to make the model of your own. When, on the other hand, we have witnessed the behavior of some prodigal son, who has been the grief of his parents, the thought has been like a dagger to our heart, "What if my child should turn out thus!"
1. Now, we cherish all this solicitude on OUR OWN account.We candidly assure you that nothing short of this will make us happy. Your piety is the only thing that will make us rejoice that we are your parents. How can we endure to see our children choosing any other ways than those of wisdom—and any other path than that of life? How could we bear the sight, to behold you traveling along the broad road which leads to destruction, and running with the multitude to do evil? "O God, hide us from this sad spectacle, in the grave, and before that time comes, take us to our rest." But how would it embitter our last moments, and plant our dying pillow with thorns, to leave you on earth in an unconverted state; following us to the grave—but not to heaven. Or should you be called to die before us, and take possession of the tomb, how could we stand at "the dreadful post of observation, darker every hour," without one ray of hope for you, to cheer our wretched spirits? How could we sustain the dreadful thought, which in spite of ourselves would sometimes steal across the bosom, that the very next moment after you had passed beyond our kind attentions—you would be received to the torments which know neither end nor mitigation? And when you had departed under such circumstances, what could heal our wounds—or dry our tears?
Should you become truly pious, this circumstance will impart to our bosoms a felicity which no language could enable me to describe. It will sweeten all our communion with you, establish our confidence, allay our fears, awaken our hopes. If we are prosperous, it will delight us to think that we are not acquiring wealth for those who will squander it on their lusts—but who will employ it for the glory of God when we are in dust. Or if we are poor, it will cheer us to reflect, that though we cannot leave you the riches of this world, we see you in possession of the favor of God, a portion which, after comforting you on earth, will enrich you through eternity. My dear children, if you are anxious to comfort the hearts of your parents, if you would fulfill our joy, if you would repay all our labor, concern, affection, if you would most effectually discharge all the obligations which you cannot deny you owe us—Fear God, and choose the ways of true religion—this, this alone will make us happy.
2. We cherish this solicitude on behalf of the CHURCH, and the cause of God.
We see every year conveyed to the tombs of their fathers, some valued and valuable members of the Christian church. We are perpetually called to witness the desolations of the 'last enemy' in the garden of the Lord. How often do we exclaim over the corpse of some eminent Christian and benefactor, "Departed saint, how heavy the loss we have sustained by your removal to a better state! Who now shall fill up your vacant seat, and bless like you both the church and the world?" My children, under these bereavements, to whom should we look but to you? To whom should we turn but to the children of the kingdom, for subjects of the kingdom? You are the property of the church. It has a claim upon you. Will you not own it, and discharge it? Must we see the walls of the spiritual house mouldering away, and you, the rightful materials with which it should be repaired, withheld? We love the church, we long for its prosperity, we pray for its increase, and it cannot but be deeply distressing to us to witness the ravages of death, and, at the same time, to see the lack of true religion in those young people whose parents during their life filled places of honor and usefulness in the fellowship of the faithful.
We are anxious for your being pious that you might be the instruments of blessing the world by the propagation of true religion. The moral condition of the world is too bad for description. If it be ever improved—it must be done by Christians. True piety is the only real reformer of mankind. A spirit of active benevolence has happily risen up, rich in purposes and means, for the benefit of the human race. But the men, in whose bosoms it now lives and moves, are not immortal upon earth; they too must sleep in dust, and who then shall succeed them at their post and enter into their labors? Who will catch their falling mantle, and carry on their glorious undertaking for the salvation of millions? If it ever be done, it must be done of course by those who are now rising into life. The propagation of true religion to the next generation, and to distant nations, depends on you, and on others of your age. While I write, the groans of creation are ascending, and future ages are rising up to plead with you, that you would bow to the influence of true religion, as the only way of extending it to them.
3. But we are chiefly anxious, after all, on YOUR OWN account.
My children, the concern which we feel on this head, is far too intense for language. Here I may truly say, "poor is thought, and poor expression." If piety were to be obtained for you only by purchase, and I were rich in the possession of worlds, I would beggar myself to the last farthing to render you a Christian—and think the purchase cheap! "Godliness is profitable for all things, having the promise of the life that now is, as well as that which is to come." As I shall have more than one chapter on the advantages of piety, it will not be necessary to enlarge upon them here, any further than to say, that true godliness will save you from much present danger and trouble, promote your temporal interests, prepare you for the darkest scenes of adversity, comfort you on a dying bed, and finally conduct you to everlasting glory. The lack of true piety ensure the reverse of all this. Sooner or later such a destitution will bring misery on earth, and be followed with eternal torments in hell.
What then, my children, are all worldly acquirements and possessions, without true piety? What are the accomplishments of taste, the elegancies of wealth, the wreaths of fame—but as the fragrant and many-colored garland which adorns the miserable victim about to be sacrificed at the 'shrine of this world'? Authentic genius, a vigorous understanding, a well-stored mind, and all this adorned by the most amiable temper and most pleasing demeanor, will neither comfort under the trials of life, nor save their lovely possessor from the worm that never dies and the fire that is never quenched. Oh no—they may qualify for earth—but not for heaven. Alas! alas! that such estimable qualities should all perish for lack of that piety which alone can give immortality and perfection to the excellences of the human character!
Can you wonder, then, at the solicitude we feel for your personal true religion, when such interests are involved in this momentous concern?
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