The Christian Father's Present to His Children
by John Angell James, 1825
THE ADVANTAGES AND RESPONSIBILITY
OF A PIOUS EDUCATION
The value of any system of education, must, of course, be estimated by the importance of the end to be obtained, which, in the present case, is the possession of saving religion in this world—and eternal happiness in that which is to come. The end to be obtained includes not only a profession of piety in our present state of being—but all that infinite and everlasting felicity which piety brings in its train—of what vast consequence, then, must be the most suitable means for attaining to this sublime purpose!
I. The ADVANTAGES of a pious education.
The value of a thing, my dear children, is sometimes learned by the lack of it—consider, therefore, the situation of those young people whose parents, careless of their own souls, take no pains for the salvation of their children. In what a helpless situation are such young people placed! They are taught, perhaps, everything but true religion. They are instructed in all the elegant accomplishments of fashionable life—but how to serve God and obtain eternal salvation, is no part of their education. In their abode, wisdom, in the form of parental piety, is never heard saying—"Hearken, O children, and I will teach you the fear of the Lord." They see cards and other amusements often introduced to the domestic circle—but no Bible; they hear singing—but it is not the songs of Zion; there is feasting and partying—but no devotion; there is no domestic altar, no family prayer. The Sabbath is marked with the same levity as other days. They go to church, perhaps—but not to hear the true gospel of Christ. They are taken to every mirthful party in the neighborhood, and are studiously trained that 'pleasure' is their chief end. They scarcely ever see the lovely form of true religion in the circles which they frequent, except when, like its divine Author, it is brought there to be despised and rejected of men. How are such young people to be pitied! Who can wonder that they do not fear the Lord!
How different has been your lot!—the very opposite of this. From your earliest childhood, you have been taught the nature and the necessity of true religion. Instruction on this subject has been concurrent with the dawn of reason. Every topic of piety has been explained to you—as your mind could bear it. The doctrines of Christianity have been stated and proved, its duties unfolded and enforced. The nature and attributes of God, the extent and obligation of His law, the design and grace of the gospel, have been explained; your sinful state has been clearly set before you, the object of Christ's death pointed out, the necessity of regeneration, justification, and sanctification impressed upon your heart. If you perish—will it be for lack of knowledge? If you miss the path of life—will it be from not having it pointed out?
To instruction has been united admonition. With all the tenderness of parental affection, and all the seriousness which the nature of the subject demanded, you have been warned, entreated, and even pleaded with—to fear God and seek the salvation of your souls. You have seen the tear glistening in a father's eye, while his tongue addressed to you the fondest wishes of his heart for your eternal happiness. You have enjoyed the advantage of a system of mild and appropriate discipline. You remember the time when your budding corruptions were nipped by the kind hand of parental care—and the blossoms of youthful excellence were sheltered and nurtured by a mother's watchful solicitude. Have they not often reproved you for what was wrong, and commended you for what was right? Have they not, by praise and by dispraise, judiciously administered, endeavored to train you up to hate that which is evil, and to cleave to that which is good? Have they not kept you from improper company, and warned you against associates that were likely to injure you? Have they not, with weeping eyes and bleeding hearts, administered that correction which your faults deserved?
You have also seen all this enforced by the power of a holy example—imperfect, it is true, yet sufficient, like the sun, even when partially covered by a mist, to be your guide. You have seen them walking with God, and in fellowship with Christ. You have seen them retiring for prayer, and marked what an impression of devout seriousness they have brought from the presence of God. You cannot doubt that true religion was the governing principle of their hearts. The happiness as well as holiness of true piety has appeared in their conduct. You have seen the cloud of sorrow which affliction brought upon their brow, irradiated with the sunbeams of Christian faith and hope. Thus, the whole weight of parental example has been employed to give impression in favor of true religion on your heart.
But the advantage of a pious education rests not here; for you well know that it has procured for you all other religious benefits which conduce, in the order of means, to the salvation of the soul. You have been taken, from childhood, to hear the gospel preached by those who were anxious to save those who hear them. You have been associated with pious people, and joined the circles of the righteous, where the claims of true religion are respected, and her holy image has been welcomed with affection, and treated with respect. Religious books have been put into your hands. Schools have been selected for your education, which would aid the work of your parents—and everything kept out of your way which would be likely to be an impediment to the formation of your religious character, and your pursuits of eternal salvation.
Thus, so far as means go, the very avenues of perdition have been blocked up—the way to destruction has been filled with mounds and barriers; while the path of life has been carefully laid open to your view, and everything done to facilitate your entrance to the road to immortality. You have been born, cradled, and instructed in an element of true religion; you have trod the ground, and breathed the atmosphere of piety. What advantages! Who shall count their number, or calculate their value!
II. The RESPONSIBILITY of a pious education.
And now think of the responsibility which all these privileges entail upon you. This thought fills me with trembling for you—if you do not tremble for yourselves. Man is an accountable being, and his accountability to God is in exact proportion to his opportunities for knowing and doing the will of his Creator. No talents of this kind, that are entrusted to man, are so precious as those of a pious education; and with no people will God be so awfully strict in judgment, as with those who have possessed them. A 'law of proportion' will be the rule of the final judgment. Ten talents will not be required from those to whom only five were delivered; nor will only five be demanded from those with whom ten were entrusted. This is plainly stated by Christ, in that most impressive passage—"That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants, will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." Luke 12:47-48
Who, upon this scale, shall measure the height and depth of your responsibility? The poor pagan—who hews down a tree, makes a god of its wood, and worships the deity which he has thus fashioned—who lives in all kind of lust, and cruelty, and falsehood—the Mohammedan, who turns his face to the rising sun, and calls upon his prophet—the savage, who revels in the village, where his father rioted before him, and where neither of them ever heard one parental admonition, nor one gospel sermon—no, even the infidel, who derides the scripture, and was taught to do it by his father—will not have so much to account for in the day of scrutiny as you, who have enjoyed the advantages of a pious education.
Think, I beseech you, upon all your privileges, the instructions, the warnings, the admonitions, the reproofs, you have received, even from your infancy—your father's earnest prayers, and your mother's admonishing tears—domestic teaching and ministerial advice—Sabbaths spent, and sermons heard—all, all must be accounted for at the last day—all will be demanded in judgment.
You may now think lightly of these things—but God does not. You may forget them as they pass—but God does not. They are dealt out to you as precious things; the number of them is written down in the records of Omniscience; and in that day, when the throne shall be set and the books shall be opened, the improvement of each will be demanded, by a voice at which the universe shall tremble. You will not be tried as one who had only the feeble glimmering of 'natural reason' to guide his perceptions and his conduct—but as one who walked amid the noontide splendor of divine revelation—as one who occupied just that station in the moral world, where the light of heaven fell with the clearest and the steadiest brightness.
Imagine yourself called into judgment to answer for your religious privileges; summoned by a voice which it is impossible to resist, from the throng of trembling spirits waiting for their doom. Imagine you hear that voice which commanded the universe into being, saying to you, "Child of godly parents, son of many prayers and much concern, give an account of yourself! Exhibit the fruits and improvement of all your rich and innumerable advantages for a life of piety. You parents who taught him, bear witness. I entrusted him to your care. Did you bring him up in the fear, and nurture, and admonition of the Lord? resign your trust; deliver your testimony; clear yourselves." Impressive and dreadful spectacle. There you stand before the tribunal of God, confronted by the mother who bore you, and the father who loved you. If you shall then be found to have neglected your advantages, and lived without piety, what a testimony will they bear. "You are our witness, O God, and that unhappy individual in whom we once delighted as our child—but whom we now renounce forever, with what affectionate solicitude, and unwearied perseverance; with how many tears and prayers we labored for his salvation. But all was useless. This is not the season of mercy, or we would still pour over his guilty head one more fervent prayer for his salvation—but forbidden to commend him to your mercy, we can now do nothing but leave him to your justice."
Miserable man, what can he say? He is speechless. Conscious guilt leaves him without excuse, and despair seals up his lips in silence. One piercing, agonizing look is directed to his parents, one deep groan escapes his bosom, as the ghosts of murdered opportunities rise upon his vision, and crowd the regions of his memory. As his distracted eye ranges over the millions who stand on the 'left' hand of the Judge, there is not one whose situation he does not envy. The Pagan, the Mohammedan, the poor peasant, who sinned away his life in a benighted village, even the infidel going up to receive his doom for blaspheming the God of Scripture—appears less guilty, less miserable than he.
But where my pen dipped in the gall of celestial displeasure, I could not describe the weight of the sentence, nor the misery which it includes, that will fall upon the ungodly child of pious parents. Who shall portray the hell of such a fallen spirit, or set forth the torments with which it will be followed to the regions of eternal night? We all know that no sufferings are so dreadful as those which are self-procured; and that self-reproach infuses a bitterness into the cup of woe, which exasperates the anguish of despair. Disappointment of long and fondly-cherished hopes is dreadful—but if there be no reason for self-reproach, even this is tolerable. But to suffer through eternal ages, in the bottomless pit, with no prospect but of misery, no employment but that of numbering over the advantages we once possessed for escaping from the wrath to come—this is hell.
My children, my children! my heart agonizes as I write. I groan over these lines of my book—these pictures in my mind. Do take warning. Hearken to these sentiments. Let them have their due weight with your souls. Treasure up this conviction in your minds—that of all lands on the earth, it is the most dreadful to travel to the bottomless pit from a Christian country; and of all the situations in that country, it is the most awful to reach the bottomless pit from the house of godly parents. Let me be anything in the day of judgment, and in eternal misery, rather than the ungodly child of pious parents!
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