THE CHRISTIAN MOTHER
by John Abbott, 1833, Worcester, Mass.
Published by the American Tract Society
Very great success has attended the efforts which have been made to collect children in Sunday schools for religious instruction. Maternal associations have been of inestimable value. But nothing can supersede the necessity of effort and instruction at the fire-side. The mother must collect her little flock around her and take upon herself the responsibility of their religious education. She may find enjoyment and improvement in associating with others for prayer; and if she is faithful, she will see that her children are punctual attendants of the Sunday school. But she will not regard these as exonerating herself in the least degree from her parental responsibility. The influence of Sunday schools has undoubtedly been to awaken more general interest at home in behalf of the spiritual welfare of children. Still there is danger that some parents may feel that the responsibility is transferred from themselves to the Sunday school teachers; and that they accomplish their duty in seeing them punctually at school with their lessons well learned.
1. It is, however, of the first importance that home should be the sanctuary of religious instruction. The mother must be the earnest and affectionate guide to the Savior. She must take her little ones by the hand and lead them in the paths of piety.
No one else can possibly have the influence which a mother may possess, or the facilities which she enjoys. She knows the various dispositions of her children; their habits of thought; their moods of mind. Thus can she adapt instruction to their needs. She alone can improve the numberless occurrences which open the mind for instruction, and give it susceptibility to religious impression. She is with them when they are in sickness or pain. She can take advantage of the calm of the morning, and of the solemn stillness of the evening. In moments of sadness she can point their minds to brighter worlds, and to more satisfying joys. God has conferred upon the mother advantages which no one else can possess. With these advantages he has connected responsibilities which cannot be laid aside, or transferred to another. At home, and by the parents, the great duty of religious education must be faithfully performed.
The quiet fire-side is the most sacred sanctuary; maternal affection is the most eloquent pleader, and an obedient child is the most promising subject of religious impressions. Let mothers feel this as they ought, and they will seldom see their children leave the paternal roof unfortified with Christian principles and sincere piety.
2. Parents must have deep devotional feelings themselves. It is certainly vain to hope that you can induce your children to fix their affections upon another world, while yours are fixed upon this present world. Your example will counteract all the influence of your instructions! Unless Christian feelings animate your heart, it is folly to expect that you can instill those principles into the hearts of your children. They will imitate your example. They confide in your guidance. That little child which God has given you, and which is so happy in your affection, feels safe in cherishing those feelings which it sees you are cherishing. And, mother! can you look upon your confiding child and witness all her fond endearments and warm embraces, and not feel remorse in the consciousness that your example is leading her away from God—and consigning her to ceaseless sorrow?
You love your child. Your child loves you, and cannot dream that you are abusing its confidence, and leading it in the paths of sin and destruction. How would it be shocked in being told that its mother is the cruel betrayer of its eternal happiness! O unchristian mother! You are wedded to the world. You have not given your heart to God. Not content with being the destroyer of your own soul, you must carry with you to the world of woe, the child who is loving you as its mother and its friend! O there is an aggravation of cruelty in this, which cannot be described. One would think that every smile would disturb your peace; that every proof of affection would pierce your heart; that remorse would keep you awake at midnight, and embitter every hour. The murderer of the body can scarce withstand the stings of conscience. But, O unchristian mother! you are the destroyer of the soul. And of whose soul? The soul of your own confiding child!
We cannot speak less plainly on this topic. We plead the unparalleled wickedness to children—betrayed by a mother's smile and a mother's kiss. Satan led Adam from Paradise. Judas betrayed his Master. But here we see a mother leading her child, her own immortal child, far from God and peace—to the rebellion of worldliness—and to the storms of eternal retribution. That little child following in your footsteps, is the heir of eternity! It is to survive the lapse of all coming years; to emerge from the corruptions of the grave; to expand in spiritual existence, soaring in the angel's lofty flight—or groping in the demon's gloom! You, O mother! are its guide to immortality—to heaven's green pastures—or to despair's dreary wastes. If you go on in unrepented sin, your child, in all probability, will go with you!
We have heard of a child, upon her dying bed, raising her eyes to her parents and exclaiming, in bitterness of spirit, "O my parents! you never told me of death, or urged me to prepare for it; and now," said she, bursting into an agony of tears, "I am dying, and my soul is lost!" She died. Her sun went down in darkness. What were the feelings of those parents! What agony must have torn their hearts! How must the spectre of their ruined daughter pursue them in all the employments of the day, and disturb their slumbers by night.
But you must meet your children again. The trumpet of judgment will summon you to the bar of Christ. How fruitless would be the attempt to describe your feelings there! That dreadful day will surely come! The appointed hour makes haste! Death is followed by judgment—and judgment by eternity! If you are the destroyer of your child, through eternity you must bear its reproaches. You must gaze upon the wreck of its immortal spirit, while conscience says that, if you had been faithful, yourself and your child might have been reposing in heaven. Think not that you can go in one path, and induce your child to walk in another. You must not only "point to heaven," but "lead the way."
The first thing to be done, is for a mother to give her own heart to God. Become a Christian yourself, and then you may hope for God's blessing upon your efforts to lead your child to the Savior. We do entreat every mother who reads these pages, as she values her own happiness and the happiness of her children, immediately to surrender her heart to God. Atoning blood has removed every difficulty from the way. The Holy Spirit is ready, in answer to your prayers, to grant you all needful assistance. Every hour that you neglect this duty, you are leading your children farther from God, and rendering the prospect of their return more hopeless.
3. Present religion in a cheerful aspect. There is no real happiness without piety. The tendency of religion is to make us happy—both here and hereafter; to divest the mind of gloom, and fill it with joy. Many parents mistake in this respect. They dwell too much upon the terrors of the law. They speak with countenances saddened and gloomy. Religion becomes to the child an unwelcome topic, and is regarded as destructive of happiness. The idea of God is associated with gloom and terror. Many parents have, in their latter years, become convinced of the injudicious course they have pursued in this respect. They have so connected religious considerations with melancholy countenances and mournful tones of voice, as to cause the subject to be unnecessarily repugnant.
We may, indeed, err upon the other extreme. The nature of sin, and the justice of God, and the awful penalty of his law, should be distinctly exhibited. The child should be taught to regard God as that being who, while he loves his creatures, cannot look upon sin but with abhorrence. If we speak to children simply of the Creator's goodness, as manifested in the favors we are daily receiving, an erroneous impression of God's character will be conveyed. It is to be feared that many deceive themselves in thinking they love God. They have in their minds "a poetic idea of an amiable and sentimental being"—whose character is composed of fondness and indulgence. Such people are as far from worshipping the true God, as is the Indian devotee or the sensual Moslem!
God must be represented as he has exhibited himself to us in the Bible and in the works of nature. He is a God of mercy—and of justice. He is a God of love—and a consuming fire. He is to be regarded with our warmest affections—and also with reverence and godly fear. Let, therefore, children distinctly understand that sin cannot pass unpunished. But it should also be understood that judgment is God's strange work. Ordinarily speak of his goodness. Show his readiness to forgive. Excite the gratitude of the child by speaking of the joys of heaven. Thus let the duties of religion ever be connected with feelings of enjoyment and images of happiness, that the child may perceive that gloom and sorrow are connected only with disobedience and irreligion. There is enough in the promised joys of heaven to rouse a child's most animated feelings. This subject has more to cheer the youthful heart than any other which can be presented. Appeal to gratitude. Excite hope. Speak of the promised reward. Thus may you most reasonably hope to lead your child to love its Maker, and to live for heaven.
Reserve the terrors of the law for solemn occasions, when you may produce a deep and abiding impression. If you are continually introducing these motives, the mind becomes hardened against their influence; religion becomes a disagreeable topic, and the inveteracy of sin is confirmed.
4. Improve appropriate occasions. We all know that there are times when there is peculiar tenderness of conscience and susceptibility of impression. These changes come over the mind, sometimes from unaccountable causes. One day the Christian will feel a warmth of devotional feeling and elevation of spiritual enjoyment, which the next day he in vain endeavors to attain.
The man whose affections are fixed upon the world, at one time will be almost satisfied with the pleasure he is gathering. The world looks bright; hope is animated; and he rushes on with new vigor in his delusive pursuits. The next day all his objects of desire appear as vain shadows. He feels the heartlessness of his pleasures; his spirit is sad within him; and he is almost resolved to be a Christian. With these changes nearly all are familiar. Sometimes they may be accounted for from known external causes. At other times the causes elude our search.
A mother should ever be watchful to improve such occasions. When she sees her child with an unusually tender spirit, with a pensive countenance and subdued feelings—let her then look to God in fervent prayer, and with all the persuasions of a mother's love endeavor to guide her child to the Savior. When the mind is in such a state as this, it is prepared for religious instruction. It then can be made to feel how heartless are all joys, but those of piety. Its hold upon the world is loosened, and it may more easily be led to wander in those illimitable regions where it may hereafter find its home. O how sweet a pleasure it is to present the joys of religion to a child whose feelings are thus chastened; to behold the tear moistening its eye; to see its little bosom heaving with the new emotions which are rising there! If there be a joy on earth, it is to be found in such a scene as this. The happy mother thus guiding her young immortal to its heavenly home, experiences a rapture of feeling which the world knows not of. Such occasions are frequently arising, and the mother should endeavor always to have her heart warm with love to Christ, that in such an hour she may communicate its warmth to the bosom of her child.
There are certain seasons also which are peculiarly appropriate for guiding the thoughts to heaven. Our feelings vary with scenes around us. Upon some dark and tempestuous night you lead your little son to his chamber. The rain beats violently upon the windows. The wind whistles around the corners of the dwelling. All is darkness and gloom. The mind of the child is necessarily affected by this rage of the elements. You embrace the opportunity to inculcate a lesson of trust in God. "My son," you say, "it is God who causes this wind to blow, and the rain to fall. Neither your father nor I can cause the storm to cease, or increase its violence. If God wished, he could make the wind blow with such fury as to beat in all the windows and destroy the house. But God will take care of you, my son, if you sincerely ask him. No one else can take care of you. I hope that you will pray that God will protect you, and your father, and me, tonight. When God commands, the storm will cease. The clouds will disappear; all will be calm. And the bright moon and twinkling stars will shine out again."
In some such manner as this the child may be taught his entire dependence upon God. He cannot fail of obtaining a deep impression of the power of his Maker. You may say that God is omnipotent, and it will produce but a feeble impression. But point to some actual exhibition of God's power, and the attention is arrested, and the truth is felt. When the mother leaves the room, and her son remains alone and in darkness, listening to the roar of the storm, will not his mind be expanded with new ideas of the greatness and the power of his Maker? Will he not feel that it is a fearful thing to offend such a being? And if he has been rightly instructed to place his trust in God, the agitation of the elements will not trouble the serenity of his heart. He will feel that with God for his protector, he need fear no evil.
Some such simple occurrence as this may often be improved to produce an impression which never can be forgotten. Such thoughts as these, introduced to the mind of a child, will enlarge its capacities, give it maturity, lead it to reflection, and, by the blessing of God, promote its eternal well-being. One such transient incident has a greater effect than hours of ordinary religious conversation.
One of the most important duties of the mother is to watch for these occasions and diligently to improve them. Any parent who is faithful will find innumerable opportunities, which will enable her to come into almost immediate contact with the heart of her child. The hour of sickness comes. Your little daughter is feverish and restless upon her pillow. You bathe her burning brow and moisten her parched tongue, and she hears your prayer that she may be restored to health. At length the fever subsides. She awakes from refreshing sleep, relieved from pain. You tell her then, that if God had not interposed, her sickness would have increased until she had died. By pointing her attention to this one act of kindness in God, which she can see and feel, you may excite emotions of sincere gratitude. You may thus lead her to real grief that she should ever disobey her heavenly Father.
A child in the neighborhood dies. Your daughter accompanies you to the funeral. She looks upon the lifeless corpse of her little companion. And shall a mother neglect such an opportunity to teach her child the meaning of death? When your daughter retires to sleep at night, she will most certainly think of her friend who has died. As you speak to her of the eternal world to which her friend has gone—of the judgment-seat of Christ—of the new scenes of joy or woe upon which she has entered, will not her youthful heart feel? And will not tears of sympathy fill her eyes? And as you tell your daughter that she too soon must die; leave all her friends; appear before Christ to be judged; and enter upon eternal existence—will not the occurrence of the day give a reality and an effect to your remarks which will long be remembered? There are few children who can resist such appeals.
A father once led his little daughter into the graveyard, to show her the grave of a playmate, who, a few days before, had been consigned to her cold and narrow bed. The little girl looked for some moments in silence and sadness upon the fresh mound, and then looking up, said "Papa, I now know what is meant by the hymn, 'I, in the burying place may see, graves shorter there than I.' My grave would be longer than this."
It is by introducing children to such scenes, and seizing upon such occasions, that we may most successfully inculcate lessons of piety. One such incident enters more deeply into the heart than volumes of ordinary conversation.
You are perhaps riding with your son. It is a lovely summer's morning. The fields lie spread before you in beauty. The song of the bird is heard. All nature seems uttering a voice of gladness. As you ascend some eminence which gives you a commanding view of all the varied beauties of the scene; of hill and valley, rivulet and forest, of verdant pastures and lowing herds, can you fail to point the attention of your son to these beauties, and from them to lead his mind to Him whose word called them all into being? May you not thus most effectually carry his thoughts away to heaven? May you not lead his mind to the green pastures and the still waters, where there is sweet repose forever? May you not introduce him to that kind Shepherd, who there protects his flock, gathering his lambs in his arms, and folding them in his bosom? May not a mother's or a father's tongue here plead with an eloquence unknown in the pulpit?
By carefully improving such occasions as these, you may produce an impression upon the mind, which all future years cannot remove. You may so intimately connect devotional feelings with the ever-varying events and changing scenes of life, that every day's occurrences will lead the thoughts of your child to God. The raging storm; the hour of sickness; the funeral procession; the tolling death-bell, will, in later life, carry back his thoughts to a mother's instructions and prayers. Should your son hereafter be a wanderer from home, as he stands upon the Alps, or rides upon the ocean, his mind will involuntarily be carried to Him who rules the waters and who built the hills. With all those occasions then, which produce so vivid an effect upon the mind, endeavor to connect views of God and heaven.
There is hardly any person so reckless of eternity, so opposed to piety, who will not at times listen to religious conversation. A Christian gentleman was once a passenger on board a vessel where his ears were frequently pained by the profane language of a crude and boisterous cabin boy. He resolved to watch for some opportunity to converse with him. One evening the gentleman was lying, wrapped in his cloak, upon the quarter-deck, with a coil of ropes for his pillow, enjoying the beauties of ocean scenery. A gentle breeze was swelling the sails and bearing the ship rapidly over the undulating waters. The waves were glittering with their phosphorescent fires, and reflected from innumerable points the rays of the moon. Not a cloud obscured the thousands of lights which were hung out in "nature's grand rotunda." The cabin boy happened to be employed in adjusting some ropes near the place where the gentleman was reclining in the rich enjoyment of his wandering thoughts. A few words of conversation first passed between them, upon some ordinary topic. The attention of the boy was then, by an easy transition, directed to the stars. He manifested increasing interest, as some simple but striking remarks were made upon the facts which astronomy has taught us. From this the mind of the boy was led to heaven. He stood gazing upon the stars, as the gentleman spoke of the world of glory and the mansions which Christ has gone to prepare. He listened with subdued feelings and breathless attention, as the conversation unfolded to him the dreadful scene of judgment. By this time his mind was prepared for direct allusion to his own sins. He was attentive and respectful, while he was kindly but most earnestly entreated to prepare to meet Christ in judgment.
The effect produced upon the mind of this wicked lad was evidently most powerful. Whether it were lasting or not, the gentleman had no opportunity to ascertain. But by taking advantage of the stillness of the evening, and the impressiveness of the scene, the turbulent spirit of that boy was, for the time at least, quelled. Religious instruction was communicated to his willing mind. And probably he will often, while a wanderer upon the ocean, gaze upon the stars in his midnight watches, and think of judgment and of heaven.
How often can a mother seize upon some similar occasion, and instruct, while at the same time she most deeply interests and most effectually impresses the mind of her child!
5. Avoid introducing religious subjects upon inappropriate occasions.There are times when serious injury is done by urging the claims of religion. Your child is angry. His flushed cheek and violent motions show the sinful irritation of his mind. Shall the mother now converse with him upon the wickedness of these feelings and God's displeasure? No! It is unseasonable. It would be as unavailing as to converse with a madman, or one intoxicated. Punish him for his irritation in some way which will soothe his feelings and lead him to reflection. But wait until these passions have subsided before you attempt to reason with him upon their impropriety, and to lead him to evangelical repentance. Kneel by his bedside in the silence of his chamber, and in the pensive hour of evening. When his mind is calm, and passion is not triumphing over reason, he will hear you, and may be melted to contrition.
When Peter denied his Master, he did it with cursing and swearing. But when his fears had subsided, and the hour of reflection came, with a sad heart he entered the hall of Pilate. Then did a single glance from the Savior pierce his heart, "and he went out and wept bitterly."
A child is highly excited with pleasurable emotions. His attention is so highly engrossed by the immediate object of his enjoyment, that it is almost impossible to draw his thoughts to any other subject. If, under these circumstances, an effort is made to convince him of the uncertainty of human enjoyments, of his own sinfulness, of the need of a Savior, the effort will not only, in all probability, be unavailing, but the subject will be so unwelcome as to excite disgust. There are times when the mind is prepared with gratitude to receive religious instruction. Let such occasions be improved. There are others when the mind is so manifestly engrossed in one all-absorbing subject, that it is in vain to present any other. If you would not connect religion with unpleasant associations, and excite repugnance, do not on such occasions intrude spiritual subjects.
If a gunner should enter a forest and walk along loading and firing at random, he might accidentally get some game, but most assuredly he would frighten away far more than he would secure. If a parent, with blind and unthinking zeal, is incessantly throwing out random remarks, she may by chance produce the desired effect. She will, however, more frequently excite opposition, and confirm rebellion, than lead to penitence and prayer.
Guard against long and tedious conversations on religious subjects. The mind of a child cannot be fixed for any great length of time upon one subject without exhaustion. Every word that is uttered, after there are manifestations of weariness, will do more harm than good. If a mother will exercise her own judgment, and gather wisdom from her own observation, she will soon acquire that facility in adapting her instructions to the occasion which will have the best tendency to improve her child. No rules can supersede the necessity of personal watchfulness and reflection.
6. Make the Bible your text book in the religious instructions of your children.Few moderns have attained greater celebrity than Lamartine. As a poet, a statesman, an orator, he has filled the world with his renown. When a child, his mother was his intellectual guide, and the Bible the book from which she taught him. She inspired him with all that is noble in his nature, arousing his affections, enkindling his mind, guiding his thoughts, forming his tastes. The Bible was her text book. Under its guidance, she led her noble and ardent boy through the groves and by the crystal streams of Eden. With her he gathered the fruit, and plucked the flowers, or listened to the songs of Paradise. He saw depicted before him Adam and Eve in their innocence and bliss, and in their condition and history he saw and felt the beauty of holiness.
The Fall came with its gloom and withering curse. In the howling tempest, the desolation of the garden of Eden, and the weary wanderings of our first parents when ejected from their early home—he saw the hatefulness of sin. The Deluge then follows with its blackness of darkness, and its surging billows overwhelming a struggling world. The heart of the child throbs in the conception of the dreadful scene as a mother's lips tell the tale. His mind is expanded, and his whole spirit elevated by the terrific idea. Babel rises before his eye. The story of Joseph and his adventurous life inspires him with lofty desires. Daniel, the heroic and the noble, awakens in his bosom the firm resolve that he also will be a Christian hero, daring to do and to suffer, though the famished lion roar, and the heated furnace glow. The Savior, in all the perfection of moral loveliness, and in all the grandeur of moral sublimity, becomes the object of his youthful love and admiration. His bosom glows with lofty emotions at the recital of the eventful lives of the Apostles.
His character is thus formed upon the model of the sacred heroes. The mother, with the Bible, aided by God's blessing, has ennobled and saved the boy.
At length, she dies and molders to the dust. Life, with its tempests, rolls over her son. Temptations crowd around his path in blooming youth and in vigorous manhood. But there is a guardian angel ever hovering over him. That gentle and familiar voice which taught him in infancy never dies upon his ear. That sweet maternal smile never fades from his eye.
After long years of toil and conflict have passed away, Lamartine resolves to visit in person the land to which the instructions of his mother had so often led his youthful mind. The evening twilight is just settling down over the hills of Judea as he catches the first dim glimpse of their outline. The fresh breeze urges the ship over the blue expanse of the Mediterranean, and the moon rises brightly over Carmel and Olivet and Lebanon. His mother first guided his spirit to the Holy Land. And now his thoughts involuntarily turn to her. "My mother," he says, "surely looks down at such an hour as this upon her happy son." With a soul swelling with emotion, with eyes swimming in tears, he looks upon the unveiled Heavens above him and exclaims, "Mother! dear, dear mother! here am I drawing near to your own loved Jerusalem. I am to weep upon Olivet and upon Calvary. Upon the shores of the river and the lake I am to tread in the footsteps which your Savior and my Savior have trodden. Mother, dear mother! I know that you are with me, and that you sympathize in the joy of your child."
Thus does the spiritual sympathy which binds the heart of a child to a mother, survive, and continue to exercise its power, long after that mother has been slumbering in the grave. The Bible is the strongest of all influences in the creation of that sympathy. There is, in its relations the union of all that is intellectually exciting, and all that is spiritually sacred. Its narratives, its imagery, its precepts, its thrilling and heroic incidents, all more powerfully move the human heart than any other agency.
We have not sufficient faith in the potency of the Bible. It should be to the parent her manual, her armory, a treasury for her of every blessed influence. The infant mind eagerly listens to the recital of the biography and the history with which its pages are filled. Tell your child the stories of Eden—of the Fall, and of the Deluge—of the cities of the plain, wrapped in fire—of Samuel, and Joseph, and Moses, and David, and Ruth, and Daniel. Read to them these narratives in the beautiful simplicity with which the pen of inspiration has recorded them, and you will awaken a strong and abiding interest in his mind; you will fortify him against the wiles of infidelity, with arguments more potent than all the demonstrations of philosophy; and you will ally your name, a mother's name, with the Bible, with angels, with heaven, with God.
The mother must not surrender the instruction of her children in the narratives and truths of the Bible, to others—to the Sabbath-school teacher or her pastor. Grateful as she may be for the Sabbath school, and the church, and all the kindhearted influences which they exert—it is her privilege, her peculiar privilege, her inestimable privilege—a privilege of which no one may deprive her, to take her child by the hand herself and lead him to the Savior. She must reveal to the tender and awakened spirit—death and its struggles—the grave and its corruption—the archangel's trumpet—the morning of the resurrection—the sublimity and the terror of the final judgment. A mother's loving voice must guide the mind to the garden of God on high—its blessed mansions—its still waters—its green pastures—its fullness of never-fading joy. A mother's gentle tones must reveal all that is dreadful in the retribution of a righteous God—and the remorse and the despair, which, like an undying worm and a quenchless flame, must consume the sinner's heart. In doing this, the Bible should ever be the parent's storehouse of religious influence. It is the mighty power of God.
7. In teaching children from the Scriptures, aim at interesting them in the moral truths and sentiments which the narratives convey.
In fact, upon a proper use of the sacred volume, a great deal depends in respect to the success which is to be obtained through its instrumentality. There are some parts of it which children can at a very early age understand and appreciate. Others, from their style or subject, will act efficiently on mature minds alone. From the former, which ought to be early read and explained, an immediate and most important religious influence can at once be exerted. Selections from the latter should be fixed in the memory, to exert an influence in future years.
For the former of these purposes the narrative parts, if judiciously selected, are most appropriate in early years. But great care ought to be taken to select those which may be easily understood, and those in which some moral lesson is obvious and simple. Let it be constantly borne in mind that the object in view in teaching the Bible to a child, is to affect his heart—and it would be well for every mother to pause occasionally, and ask herself, "What moral duty am I endeavoring to inculcate now? What practical effect upon the heart and conduct of my child is this lesson intended to produce?"
To ask a young child such questions as, "Who was the first man?" "Who was the oldest man?" "Who slew Goliath?" may be giving him lessons in pronunciation, but it is not giving him religious instruction. It may teach him to articulate, or it may strengthen his memory—but is doing little or nothing to promote his piety. I would not be understood to condemn such questions. I only wish that parents may understand their true nature. If the real or supposed dexterity of the child in answering them is not made the occasion of showing him off before company—thus cherishing vanity and self-conceit—it may be well thus to exercise the memory; and some facts which will be useful hereafter, may be fixed in this way. But it must not be considered as religious instruction—it has not in any degree the nature of religious instruction.
What, then, is the kind of instruction which is to be given from the Bible? I will illustrate the method of supposing a case which may bring the proper principles to view. We will imagine the child to be two or three years old.
"Come," says its mother, "come to me and I will read you a story." It is Sabbath afternoon we will suppose; the mind of the child is not pre-occupied by any other interest.
"Sometimes," continues the mother, "I tell you stories to amuse you. But I am not going to do that now. It is to do you good. Do you understand how it will do you good to hear a story?"
"Well, you will see. It is the story of Cain and Abel. Do you know anything about it?"
"Yes, Cain killed Abel."
"Do you know why he killed him?"
"Because he was wicked."
"No, I mean what did Abel do to make Cain angry with him? Did you ever see anybody angry? Were you ever angry yourself?"
"And I suppose you had some cause for it. Now I will read the account, and see whether you can tell what made Cain angry—'And Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.' Do you know what the fruit of the ground is?"
"It means anything which grows out of the ground. Cain was a farmer; he planted seeds and gathered the fruits which grew from them, and he brought some of them to offer them to God. 'And Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock.' Do you know what that means?"
The child hesitates.
"Abel did not cultivate the ground like Cain. He had great flocks of sheep and goats, and he brought some of the best of those to offer to God. So that you see that Cain and Abel did almost exactly the same thing."
"Now, God does not notice merely what we do—but how we feel, while we are doing it. If I would ask you to go and shut that door when you are busy, and if you should go immediately, but feel angry, God would be displeased. He looks at the heart. Do you ever feel angry when I wish you to do what you dislike?"
"Now Cain, I suppose, did not feel pleasantly when he brought his offering—and God was dissatisfied with him. But God was pleased with Abel's offering, and accepted it. Would you have thought that Cain would have liked this?"
"No. Did he like it?"
"No, he did not. He was very much displeased; and it is very remarkable that he was displeased, not only against God, but he was angry with his brother, who had not done him the least wrong. That is the way with us all. If you should do wrong, and your sister do right, and I should blame you, and praise her, you would be tempted to feel angry with her, just because she had been so happy as to do her duty. How wicked such a feeling is!"
"Cain, however, had that feeling; and little children have it very often. It shows itself in different ways. Cain being a strong man rose against his brother in the field and killed him. But young children who are weak and small would only strike each other—or say unkind things to one another. Now God is displeased with us when we have these feelings, whether we show them by unkind words or by cruel violence. There is a particular verse in the Bible which shows this. Would you like to have me find it?"
"I will find it then. It is in Matthew 5:22. Our Savior says it. It is this, 'Whoever is angry with his brother without a cause, shall be in danger of the judgment; and whoever shall say, You fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire.' This is not the whole of the verse. I will explain the other part some other time."
The reader will perceive at once that the kind of instruction here exemplified, consists in drawing out the moral lesson which the passage is intended to teach, and in giving it direct and practical application to the circumstances and temptations of the child.
The views which are generally entertained of heaven, as described in the Bible, are far more indefinite than they ought to be. This home of the blessed is described in the Scriptures with the most magnificent imagery that nature affords. Heaven is spoken of as having a distinct locality, like any place on earth. We hear of the splendor of the golden city, adorned with every beauty with which the hand of Omnipotence can embellish it; of the mansions glittering with architectural magnificence. We are informed of the social enjoyments of that world. The Christian is introduced to the society of angels; converses with them; unites in their enjoyments; becomes a beloved member of their happy community. We are informed of the active delights of heaven. Angel bands fly to and fro, the rejoicing servants of God. They unfold their wings and take their rapid flight where all the glories of the universe allure their curiosity, and where no darkness follows the splendor of ceaseless day. The eye gazes full and undazzled upon the brightness of God's throne. The ear is charmed with melody. The body of the Christian is to arise from the grave, incorruptible and immortal. There is the union of soul and body in that happy world. There we meet our Christian friends; recognize them; rejoice in their love. Thus we pass our eternity with songs, and everlasting joy upon our heads, where sorrow and sighing forever flee away.
How vivid and impressive are the views which the pen of inspiration gives of the Christian's future abode! Yet the very common idea entertained of heaven is, that it is a vast aerial expanse, where shadowy and unsubstantial spirits repose in mysterious and indefinable enjoyment. There is, indeed, with many individuals, an impression that it is wrong to associate ideas of joy with which we now are familiar, with that celestial abode. But is it not safe, is it not a duty, to be guided in our instructions by the Bible? Admitting that the descriptions of the Bible are figurative—as they of necessity must be—still these are the figures which God has employed to convey to our minds an idea of the joys of heaven. And God would surely select the most appropriate figures, and those which most nearly resemble the enjoyments to be illustrated.
8. It is our privilege and our duty, therefore, to describe heaven to our children, as God has described it to us.Thus may we give it vividness in their minds. Thus may we excite in their youthful bosoms the most intense desire to enter that happy world. And why has God unfolded its glories—but to allure us to holiness and entice us home? Your son has an unusual thirst for knowledge. His curiosity is ever on the alert. He is prying into nature's mysterious movements, and asking questions which the human mind cannot answer. Tell him that there are no limits to human improvements; that the grave cannot enchain the energies of the mind; that time cannot circumscribe its range, that eternity cannot weary its powers; that it will advance in its acquisitions, and soar in its flight, long after suns, and moons, and stars shall have waxed old and decayed. Tell him that in heaven he shall understand all the wonders of God's works, and experience the most exquisite delight, as he looks into and comprehends all the machinery of nature. And then you can tell him of the Savior, who died that he might introduce him to this happy world.
Your daughter has an ear charmed with the melody of sound. Music is to her a source of exquisite enjoyment. Is there no music in heaven? Is there no melody in the "chorus of the skies?" Is there nothing enrapturing to the soul while uniting with angelic choruses in their hallelujahs? God has thus described heaven to us. Why should we not then animate our children with the same description?
You may, in familiar language, carry the thoughts of your daughter away to companies of happy angels, with celestial harps and divine voices rolling their notes of joy through heaven's wide concave. Thus will she have some definite idea of the enjoyments to which she is invited. The joys of heaven will be to her intensely alluring; and she will be led to inquire more earnestly into the way of salvation, and with more fervor to implore God's aid to overcome sin and prepare her for a heavenly home.
Your child has an affectionate disposition, a heart open to receive friendship, and to pour forth its love. Tell him of the love of heaven, of God, of the angels. Tell him of the love which animates the bosoms of those noble spirits who have not a single fault to repel attachment. Tell him of again meeting all his friends who love the Savior, in that world where an unkind word, or an unkind look, or an unkind thought is unknown. And as you dwell upon the proofs of a Savior's love, his heart may be melted.
Is your child passionately fond of nature's scenery? Does he look with a poet's eye upon the ocean, upon the starry canopy, upon the gilded clouds of sunset? There surely is magnificence in the scenery of heaven. There is splendor worth beholding in the visions of angels, the throne of God, the widespread universe of countless worlds. What is the ocean but a drop sprinkled from the almighty hand? What is Niagara, to us so magnificent, but a tiny rivulet rippling over its pebbly channel? Animate your child with the description of those glories of heaven, before which all the sublimity of earth sinks to insignificance. Fear not that this will extinguish in his bosom a taste for nature's beauties. It will, while increasing the enjoyment which he derives from these sources, refine and elevate his mind, and give him ardent desires to be prepared for this world of glory.
Fear not that this will strengthen in his heart the principles of selfishness instead of leading him to piety. If God had felt such fears, he never would have presented us the allurements of heaven, or the terrors of hell. Present these joys, that your child may be induced by them to repent of sin, to trust in the Savior, and to consecrate life to his service.
These descriptions are necessarily in some degree figurative, and we must so instruct our children. But we must not neglect the use of these figures, for they convey to the mind the most correct conception that can be attained of the enjoyment of the future world. The fact that God has selected them, proves that no other language can be equally appropriate. They describe, as perfectly as human language can describe, the nature of heaven's enjoyments. But they do not come up to the reality—for eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived, the joys which God has prepared for those who love him.
God knows how to adapt instruction to the human mind. We must imitate his example. And we must present heaven to our children as God has presented it to us—crowded with images of delight. The purest and noblest joys that we experience on earth, will be found again in that world—only infinitely elevated and refined. And he must adopt singular principles of interpretation, who does not read in the Bible, that in heaven we shall find splendor of scenery, harmony of music, congeniality of companions, ardor of love, delight of activity, mansions of glory, and homes of never failing bliss. Let us urge these views upon our children until their hearts are warmed by them. Nothing can have a stronger tendency to convince them of the folly of laying up treasures upon earth. And this will lead them to listen with interest to your instructions in order that they may learn how salvation is to be obtained.
9.Next to the Bible, as a means of religious influence, we must place the careful culture of our own hearts. The parent must strive to be herself, just what she wishes her child to be. She must cherish in her own spirit those virtues and those graces, which she desires to see as the embellishments of the character of her child. Our children have more right to expect that we shall be model parents—than we have to require that they shall be model children. Their temptations are as severe for them as ours are for us. We are apt to think their burdens light, because upon our mature minds they would press with but little weight. And thus most erroneously we excuse ourselves for defects, which we censure severely in them.
Would you have your children look to God sincerely, affectionately, cheerfully—as their Father and their friend—their sympathizer in joy—their comforter in sorrow? Lead them to do this—by your example. Let them see this spirit in you. When you bend over the cradle of a dying child—when disaster comes and sweeps away your means of luxury and even of comforts—when disease takes you from the busy cares of the household and you languish in debility and pain upon your bed—then is the time in which to show the loveliness and blessedness of confidence in God. A smile upon your countenance, a glance of confiding affection in your eye, a word of calm submission from your full heart, will then go to the hearts of your observing children, with great and effectual power.
Words alone are air. They fall upon the ear, and are forgotten. But who ever forgets abiding, consistent, unvarying example? What child ever ceases to remember the life—the daily life, of its father and mother?
The ornaments and graces too, of the natural character as well as the principles of piety, can best be inculcated upon children through the influence of example. Would you have your daughter learn to control her passions, and cultivate a subdued, gentle, and submissive spirit? Would you have her speak soothingly to her little brother, when he is irritated, and bear her own little troubles without fretfulness or complaining? Show her how to do it by your example. When the careless maid drops the china vase, or spoils the dinner, or breaks the lamp of oil upon the carpet—then is the time, in which to teach your child how to govern herself. This is your hour of conflict. Gain the victory yourself, and your child will gather strength from your success to struggle with her own temptations and sins.
Say not that the annoyances and trials which you have to bear, are too great to be always endured with equanimity. God lays upon his children no intolerable burdens. We need such discipline as these things bring that we may be able to sympathize with our children in their trials. And we surely ought not to be surprised to find that our children get vexed and angry at the disappointments and injuries which befall them, if we lose our own tempers and resent with ruffled feelings and angry words the acts of carelessness on the part of others by which we are annoyed.
Parents should never, especially in the presence of their children, give way to feelings of irritation and anger. Even when a child does wrong, there should be no expression of resentment or vexation in our looks or in our words. We may act firmly on such occasions, and reprove effectually—while yet we maintain throughout, the quiet, gentle, and peaceful spirit by which the conduct of the Christian ought at all times to be characterized.
In fact, the efficiency of parental discipline will depend in a great measure upon the mildness and gentleness of the form it assumes; while at the same time, by assuming such a character, it makes the subject of it gentle and mild.
In the same manner, feelings of benevolent regard for the happiness of others, and all other right moral sentiments of heart, can be best cultivated through the influence of parental example. Would you cherish in your child, a heart to feel for others' woes—a generous spirit, active in the relief of distress? Take your son or your daughter with you, as you grope through the dismal passageway, to the room of sickness and poverty. Let him see the scanty furniture, the thin clothing, and the feeble flame dying on the hearth. Let him carry, himself, the basket which conveys comforts to the desolate—and the spirit which glows in your bosom, will warm his also—and the spirit of benevolence which Christ has enkindled in your bosom, will diffuse its warmth into his youthful heart.
It is a beautiful arrangement of Providence, that requires that the great work of the formation of the character of children should be done in the heart of the parent herself. I am to teach my child to avoid vanity, and pride, and selfishness—by cultivating within myself, with never-tiring industry, the spirit of lowliness, of humility, of self-sacrifice. It is thus, more effectually than in any other way, that I am to reach and influence his heart. So I am to curb the impetuous passions of my child, mainly by gaining the victory over myself, and bringing all my own passions under perfect control. It is thus within myself—it is in my own heart, that I can work most effectually in molding the character of my children; for in promoting their moral progress I must go before them and lead the way.
What fearful questions, then, arise in the mind of every parent? Am I what I wish my child to be? Am I grateful, submissive, cheerful? Have I conquered my passions, obtained weanedness from the world, and am I daily, in my life, presenting an example such as my child may safely imitate? Here lies the great work of parental faithfulness. Here is to be laid the deep foundations of all salutary family discipline. Thus did our Savior plead. Such was the influence he wielded. Persuasive as were his words, infinitely more persuasive was the power of his example.
10. Dwell particularly upon the Savior, in the religious instruction of children.The Scriptures declare that the preaching of Christ crucified is the great instrument which God uses in convincing of sin, and leading the soul to penitence and gratitude. And the history of the church in all ages has shown that the history of a Savior's love and death will awaken contrition and melt the heart, when all other appeals are in vain. Your child will listen, with tearful eye, while you tell of the Savior's glory in heaven—of his becoming man—of the sufferings and persecution of his life—and of his cruel death upon the cross. And when you tell your child that it was 'God' who thus became manifest in the flesh, and suffered these indignities that he might redeem his sinful creatures from woe—you will convey to the tender mind such an idea of God's kindness, and the ingratitude of sinners, as nothing else can produce.
The philosopher may admire the noble conception of the eternal, incomprehensible, invisible Spirit. But it is God, as manifested in the compassionate, gentle, and suffering Savior—who attracts the sympathies of the heart. A definite idea is introduced to the youthful mind, when you speak of him who took little children in his arms and blessed them. Every Christian can judge, from the effect produced upon his own heart by the recital of a Savior's love—of the tendency it has to awaken in the bosom of a child the deepest emotions of contrition and gratitude. It is very observable, in all the accounts of youthful piety, that the Savior is the prominent object of affection.
Any person will be interested, in turning over the pages of almost any pious child's biography, to witness how strong the impression which a Savior's love produces upon the heart. Even under the most adverse circumstances, the youthful heart has found its way to him. Not a few instances have occurred, in which parents, who have not been accustomed to give prominency to the Savior in their instructions, have been surprised to find that Jesus Christ is the sympathizing friend to whom a child, in sickness and in suffering, has most affectionately clung. God, in Christ, has attractions which nothing else can have!
When little Nathan Dickerman was asked, "What do you love to think about most when you are in pain?"
"The Lord Jesus Christ," he answered.
At another time his biographer records—Nathan is very sick tonight. His heart is beating most violently and rapidly, while the pulse can hardly be perceived at the wrist. But he says he is more happy than usual. I asked him why. He replied, "Because my Savior is near."
Being asked which was his favorite hymn; he reflected a moment, and repeated,
"One there is above all others well deserves the name of friend;
His is love beyond a brother's—costly, free, and knows no end.
Which of all our friends, to save us, could or would have shed his blood?
But this Savior died to have us reconciled in Him to God."
The remembrance of what the Savior suffered sustained him in all his sufferings. Redeeming love was the theme of his sweetest meditations.
One day, someone was mentioning in the room, that his disease was of such a nature that he would probably die suddenly. Nathan heard it, and rising up in the bed, clasped his hands together, and repeated the verse—
"Jesus can make a dying bed feel soft as downy pillows are—
while on his bosom I lean my head, and breathe my soul out sweetly there."
And after sitting a few moments in silence, he added another—
"Jesus, my God, I know his name, His name is all my trust;
Nor will he put my soul to shame; Nor let my hope be lost."
"Isn't that a good hope, mother?"
We might open to almost any memoir of early piety, in illustration of this principle. And indeed everyone who is familiar with the characteristics of devotional feeling, as they are exemplified in the mind of a child, must have observed the wonderful adaptation of religious truth to our weakness and frailty.
Let parents, therefore, imitate the apostles, and preach to their children a suffering Savior. Show them God in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. This is the simplicity of the Gospel. Indeed, we can hardly conceive it possible for the affections of a child to cling with ardor to any object, of which it cannot form some definite conception. Tell your child of Christ—who created him; of Christ—who became man, and suffered and died to save him; of Christ—before whose judgment seat he soon must appear; of Christ—whose praises the Christian will sing in heaven, ages without end. This is God, if I may so express it, simplified to the comprehension of the child.
The mother who does not often present this Savior, and dwell upon the story of his sufferings and death, has not yet learned the simplicity and power of the gospel. All other motives are feeble, compared with this. You may search the world of fact and imagination in vain for any motive calculated to produce so deep an impression upon the mind. And everything in this astonishing occurrence has a tendency to promote humility, penitence, and love. I dwell the more earnestly upon this point, for it appears to me of primary importance. The gospel is the all-availing instrument which God has given to subdue the power of sin in the heart.
Pray with your children. It is not only the duty of a mother to pray for her children, but when they are young, to pray with them. Let them hear your fervent supplications that God will make them his friends. Let them see that your desires are intense that they may be preserved from sin—and prepared for heaven. The feelings which animate the bosom of the mother will, by sympathy, in some degree, be transferred to the bosoms of the children. These scenes of devotion will long be remembered. And even if your efforts and your prayers are not answered with the early evidences of your children's piety, these hours of devotion will leave a trace upon the memory never to be effaced. Through all succeeding years they will operate as restraints from plunging into guilty excess, and as monitions of conscience calling loudly to repentance and virtue.
It is reported of a man, notable for his talents, his elevated situation in life, and his wicked life—that one evening, while sitting at the gaming table, he was observed to be unusually sad. His associates rallied him upon his serious aspect. He endeavored, by rousing himself, and by sallies of wit, which he had always at command, to turn away their attention, and throw off the transient gloom. Not many moments transpired before he seemed again lost in thought, and dejected, by some mournful contemplations. This exposed him so entirely to the ridicule of his companions, that he could not defend himself. As they poured in upon him their taunts and jeers, he at last remarked, "Well, to tell the truth, I cannot help thinking, every now and then, of the prayers my mother used to offer for me at my bedside when I was a child. Old as I am, I cannot forget the impressions of those early years."
Here was a man of highly cultivated mind, and of talents of so high an order as to give him influence and eminence, notwithstanding his dissolute life, and yet, neither lapse of years, nor acquisitions of knowledge, nor crowding cares, nor scenes of vice, could obliterate the effect which a mother's devotions had left upon his mind. The still small voice of a mother's prayers rose above the noise of guilty revelry. The pious mother, though dead, still continued to speak in impressive rebuke to her dissolute son. Many facts might be introduced illustrating the importance of this duty. The following is so much to the point, and affords such cheering encouragement, that I cannot refrain from relating it.
A few years since, a gentleman from England brought a letter of introduction to a gentleman in this country. The stranger was of accomplished mind and manners—but in sentiment an infidel. The gentleman to whom he brought letters of introduction, and his wife, were active Christian philanthropists. They invited the stranger to make their house his home, and treated him with every possible attention. Upon the evening of his arrival, just before the usual hour for retiring, the gentleman, knowing the peculiarity of his guest's sentiments, observed to him that the hour had arrived in which they usually attended family prayers; that he would be happy to have him remain and unite with them, or if he preferred, he could retire. The gentleman intimated that it would give him pleasure to remain. A chapter of the Bible was read, and the family all knelt in prayer, the stranger with the rest. In a few days the stranger left this hospitable dwelling, and embarked on board a ship for a foreign land. In the course of three or four years, however, the providence of God again led that stranger to the same dwelling. But O, how changed! He came the happy Christian, the humble man of piety and prayer. In the course of the evening's conversation he remarked that when he, on the first evening of his previous visit, knelt with them in family prayer, it was the first time for many years that he had bowed the knee to his Maker. This act brought to his mind such a crowd of recollections, it so vividly reminded him of a parent's prayers which he had heard at home, that it completely absorbed his attention. His emotion was so great that he scarcely heard one syllable of the prayer which was uttered, from its commencement to its close. And God made this the instrument of leading him from the dreary wilds of infidelity—to the peace and joys of piety. His parents, I believe, had long before gone to their rest; but the prayers that they had offered for and with their son, had left an influence which could not die. They might have prayed ever so fervently for him, but if they had not prayed with him, if they had not knelt by his side and caused his listening ear to hear their earnest supplications, their child might have continued through life unreconciled to his Maker.
There is efficacy in prayer. God hears and answers our requests. But he does this in accordance with the laws which he has established. It is presumption to expect that he will interrupt the harmony of those laws. He acts through them. And we should endeavor to accommodate all our efforts to the known habits and laws of mind; to present those motives which have a tendency to influence. God answered the prayers of these pious parents; but he did it through the instrumentality of the very effort which they were making in asking him to bless their son, though their efforts seemed for a time to lead to no result.
12. Teach your children to pray themselves.It may be very useful to teach a child the Lord's prayer and other simple forms. And a child may thus really pray—give utterance to his own feelings in the language of another. But this cannot supersede the necessity of teaching him to go himself to thank God for all the nameless enjoyments of the day, and to ask forgiveness for the various faults he may have committed. The minds of children dwell upon particulars. They are not in habits of generalizing. It requires but little feeling to confess that we are sinners. But to specify individual acts of wickedness demands a much greater exercise of humility. And a general recognition of God's goodness affects the mind very differently from the enumeration of particular mercies. It is therefore important that your child should be taught to review the events of each day at its close. He should be reminded of the mercies received, and the faults committed—and be taught to express gratitude for the one, and implore pardon for the other.
The return of a father from a journey has given your children an evening of very unusual enjoyment. When they retire for the night, allude to the happy evening they have passed. Tell them it was God who preserved their father's life, and returned him safely home. And having thus excited real gratitude in their hearts, lead them to express this gratitude in their own simple and artless language.
By thus pointing their attention to prominent facts and individual blessings, they will not only acquire facility in prayer, but be most effectually taught their entire dependence upon God.
Care should also be taken not to overlook the ordinary blessings of life. It is a rainy day. Show God's goodness in sending the rain. Let them see distinctly that their Father in heaven does it that his children may have food to eat. It is night. Show them the consequences which would result if God would never again cause the sun to rise and shine upon them. They have received some needful clothes. Show them how God makes the wool grow, that they may be warm. Every mother can easily present to them such contemplations, which will enlarge their field of thought, increase their knowledge of God, promote gratitude, and give a facility in prayer which will be to them a permanent and valuable acquisition.
Let it not be said that to impart such instructions as these requires a degree of knowledge and skill which but few parents possess. The chief difficulty to be surmounted is the feeling which so many parents entertain that they have not time. But the mother who feels the importance of this subject as it deserves to be felt, will find time to be faithful with her children, whatever else she may be under the necessity of neglecting. The same course should be pursued in confession of sin. By pointing to these mercies you may easily convince your child of its lack of suitable gratitude. Perhaps he has, during the day, been guilty of falsehood, or disobedience, or anger. Point to the definite case, and lead your child to confess it before God, and ask forgiveness. We will suppose that your son has been irritated, and struck his sister. Before he falls asleep, you remind him of his sin. Show him how wicked it was, and how displeased God must be. Tell him when he is asleep he will die—unless God keeps him alive. Under such instructions, almost every child would desire to ask forgiveness, and probably would offer some such prayer as this: "O God, I am very wicked. I struck my sister. I am very sorry, and will never do so again. O God, forgive me, for Jesus Christ's sake."
This would be prayer, if offered from the heart; and if, after it had been offered, the mother would kneel by the bedside, and confess the sin of her child, and pray that God would forgive him, in all probability the intended effect of prayer would be accomplished. The offender would be penitent, and the sin forgiven. For these reasons, it is a most obvious duty to teach children to express their own feelings in their own language. And the careful mother may make this exercise one of the most efficient instruments in teaching her child obedience here, and in training it up for holiness and happiness hereafter.
Parents are apt to smile at the childish expressions which children make use of in prayer, and sometimes fear that their language is irreverent. But God looks simply at the sincerity of the petition, at its importance in the mind of the petitioner. A little child of two and a half years prayed, "Lord, help me to laugh and not to cry when mother washes me in the morning." And does not God look with as kind a regard upon the humble request of this little child, as he does upon the fervent petitions of the man who implores support under some painful operation, or strength to overcome an irritable spirit? Such a request, coming spontaneously from the heart of a child, is genuine prayer, and it shows a state of feeling which ought at all times to be cherished.
13. Expect that your child will become a Christian.That heart which is susceptible of sorrow and love—is capable of evangelical repentance and love to God. No one can doubt but that, at a very early period in life, a child has all the powers which are employed in the exercise of true religion. Neither can there be any doubt that at that early period the mind is more susceptible of impression, the hold of the world is more feeble, and the current of affection may be more easily turned to God. And facts do hold forth most abundant encouragement. How many little memoirs have recently been issued from the press, which have told the affecting tale of youthful piety! Children of five or six years of age have given the most gratifying evidence of attachment to the Savior. They have endured pain, and met death, sustained by the consolations of religion. Such facts have been too numerous and too decisive to allow unbelief to be longer excusable.
And yet it is to be feared that many parents do not feel their immediate responsibility. They still cherish the impression that their children must attain maturity before they can be decidedly penitent for sin, and the friends of God. But the mother who entertains such feelings as these, is guilty of the most cruel injustice to her child. It is almost impossible that she should be vigilant and faithful in her efforts—unless she expects success. Every mother ought to engage in the duties of religious instruction, with the confident expectation that God will accompany her exertions with his blessing. She ought even to feel that, if her child does not give early evidence of piety, much of the responsibility rests with her.
The Christian experience of the child will undoubtedly differ from that of the man who has passed many years in sin, whose habits are firmly fixed, and whose affections have long been flowing in the channel of worldliness. With such a person the struggle of turning to holiness will often be great, and the sense of sin distressingly intense. But the period of your child's conversion may be at so early a stage of its existence as to leave no trace by which the time of the change can be remembered. The struggle will be comparatively feeble, and penitence will be manifested by the tearful eye and the sad heart—and not always by that deep agony of spirit which not infrequently marks the change of those who have grown old in sin.
Much injury is often done by laying stress upon the time when one becomes a Christian. Past feelings are at best but an uncertain test of Christian character. The great object of inquiry should be as to present feelings and conduct. Is the life now in accordance with the requirements of the gospel? Is the heart now affected with humility, and patience, and gratitude? Is the resolution now strong to live for God? If the sun is shining warmly upon us, it is of but little consequence at what moment it arose. There are many Christians who cannot recollect the time when they became subjects of the new birth. Be not, therefore, anxious upon this point. Indeed, by directing the attention of your child to any particular time when it became a Christian, there is danger of leading the mind to rely upon the supposed experience of that moment, rather than upon continued penitence and devotion.
And therefore let every mother do all in her power to awaken the bosoms of her children emotions of sorrow for sin, and reliance upon Christ. And when she finds these feelings in the heart, and controlling the life, let her thank God, and take courage. She must watch with maternal solicitude, that temptation be avoided, and that the feeble flame burn brighter and brighter. Christ has entrusted this beloved object to your guardianship. Why should not a mother confidently expect this result to follow her efforts? Has not God encouraged her thus to hope, by promising to aid with his blessing? Has he not encouraged, by again and again crowning such efforts with success? Away then with unbelief. To doubt is to distrust the promise of God. Instruct your child, and pray for your child, and look for an immediate blessing. Thus, in all probability, will your heart be made glad by the fruits of early piety at your fireside—grateful children will honor you through life—and the joys of heaven will be magnified by meeting your loved ones there.
14. Do not speak to others of the piety of your child.Great injury is thus often done. A child becomes deeply interested in the subject of religion, and his friends are encouraged to hope that he has really become a Christian. They speak of it to others. It is soon publicly known. He receives much attention—he is caressed and flattered. Thus is this little child thrown at once into the very hottest furnace of temptation. We might refer to many painful illustrations of this truth in the memoirs of early piety.
Says the biographer of little Nathan Dickerman, "His feelings were often wounded by the injudicious conversation which was frequently held in his presence."
"Kind friends indulged in perhaps what were well-meant, but sadly ill-judged remarks in his presence. And it is most deeply to be regretted that parents and friends so often, inconsiderately no doubt, speak before children in praise of their persons, in a manner that inevitably fosters vanity—which injures their usefulness and happiness as long as they live."
"Nathan's ear was often greeted with—beautiful boy! Remarkable boy! What a fine countenance! Certainly the most wonderful case I ever heard of! The half had not been told me."
It is remarkable that, while exposed to such temptations, real humility could have been preserved. And though the grace of God sustained this lovely child, but few would have escaped uninjured.
How often is even the Christian minister sensibly affected by flattery! And can a child safely receive such adulation? An honest development of facts, upon this subject, would be exceedingly painful. Humility is one of the cardinal virtues of Christianity. The moment an impression is conveyed to the mind that there is something remarkable and meritorious in penitence for sin, and love for God—the heart is elated with pride. And then things are said, and actions performed, to attract attention. Prayers are offered, and feelings of piety expressed, from the love of ostentation—and the child is "spoiled." Preserve your child from these temptations, by giving no publicity to his feelings. Carefully cherish at home the flame which is kindled in his bosom. Under your protection, let him acquire strength of principle and stability of character. Gradually introduce him to the more public duties of the Christian life. Teach him humility. Preserve his childlike spirit. In this manner you may lead him along to be a humble, and, at the same time, an active and ardent follower of Christ.
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