THE CHRISTIAN MOTHER
by John Abbott, 1833, Worcester, Mass.
Published by the American Tract Society
FRUITS OF PIETY
Nothing will conduce more effectually to a mother's success in the work of training up her children to be consistent and useful Christians, than right ideas of true fruits of piety. We must know what fruits the true spirit of piety will produce—for our own sakes and also for our children. We must know what points we are ourselves to aim at attaining in cultivating the Christian character, and also in what direction we are to lead our children. I propose in this chapter to consider what the true fruits of piety, as developed in a Christian family, properly are.
1. A DEVOTIONAL SPIRIT.A spirit of habitual and sincere devotion is so directly implied in the very idea of piety, that it seems scarcely proper to enumerate it as one of the fruits of piety. And yet the importance of direct and constant efforts to cultivate such a spirit, is often overlooked. By a devotional spirit is meant a spirit of sincere and fervent prayer, and a disposition to associate the thoughts of God and his providence with all the occurrences and events of life. Cherish now this spirit in yourselves and inculcate it upon your children. Teach them, for example, that when their father, or you yourself, assemble them for morning or evening prayer, it is not a mere form, or a duty that they are to witness merely, but to take part in. Teach them, on the other hand, that they have themselves an active and important duty to perform at these seasons.
"When your father reads the passage of scripture," you can say to them, "you must not be inattentive, but must fix your thoughts upon what he reads, and to apply the instructions to your own case. And as he addresses God in prayer, you should silently repeat after him all the words of his petition, trying to make them your own. And thus you should make the season of family prayer, a season in which you not merely listen to your father's prayer, but engage in devotion yourselves."
It will not be sufficient to inculcate such a lesson as this upon your children by precept alone; you must lead them to such duties by your example. They must see the evidence of a sincere spirit of devotion in you. To this end you must be diligent in secret prayer, confessing your own sins, and imploring God's assistance to enable you to resist the peculiar temptations to which you are exposed. Social prayer is a great source of spiritual improvement and enjoyment. But it can never take the place of secret prayer. There are sins and temptations to which we all are exposed, which we cannot confess in the presence of anyone but God alone. In our secret prayers, therefore, we should be particular, mentioning by name our secret sins, and our constitutional imperfections.
Teach your children these truths. "At the close of the day," you may say to them "when you retire to your chamber for the repose of the night, and before you close your eyes in sleep, retrace, with your thoughts, the scenes of the day. Recall to mind all the duties that you have faithfully performed, and also all the duties that you have neglected, and the temptations to which you have yielded. Among your sins of omission, you see, perhaps, that you did not improve your time in school as well as you ought to have done. Your mother found it necessary to censure you for leaving your clothes in your room in disorder. You also remember that you felt irritated at some little annoyance from your sister, and though you had sufficient self-restraint to refrain from speaking angrily to her, your feelings were for some time so ruffled as to make you quite unhappy. Reflect upon these faults until you feel how sinful they were in God's sight. You must then confess all these and other similar sins to God, and ask his forgiveness for them."
It is thus that you must watch over your own spirit, and teach your children to watch over theirs day after day, and year after year, that you and they may grow in grace. It is only by this spirit of particular and secret prayer, that any one can make any rapid or sure attainments in the divine life. Nothing can be substituted for faithful prayer. The moment that you begin to neglect it, your heart begins to grow cold, and you become the victim of spiritual desertion. But if you are faithful in devotion, your path through life will be "as the shining light that shines more and more unto the perfect day." You will soon, in this way, gain such a conquest over all sinful passions—that serenity and peace will be the habitual state of your mind.
2. CHEERFULNESS.A cheerful spirit is so specially enjoined in the Scriptures that it may almost be considered a sin to be melancholy. It is a duty to be happy. Gloom and despondency are not only the consequences of sin—but they are sinful states of mind. They prove ingratitude, and lack of submission to the government of God. I will not say that there may not be particular seasons in life, in the history of individuals, in which they must unavoidably be borne down with sorrow. Now and then, there comes upon an individual a dreadful calamity, and the strongest mind and the strongest faith are prostrated by it. But, even in these cases, it is certain that it is the duty of the Christian to feel such perfect confidence in the wisdom and the benevolence of God's government, as to illustrate the truth of the promise, "You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you."
There can, however, be no question but that it is our duty under all ordinary circumstances, to have a mind serene and peaceful. And while admitting that there may be a great difference, in this respect, in the natural disposition of children, nothing is more certain than that we can cultivate, in them as well as in ourselves, the habit of looking upon the bright side of every object, and by this cultivation, with more or less difficulty, a spirit of almost uninterrupted tranquillity and happiness may be acquired. Young people, and indeed many older people, are apt to imagine that, if they are of a melancholy temper, it is their misfortune. But the truth is, in general, it is not their misfortune—but their sin. They indulge themselves year after year in those feelings which they know to be wrong, and which gnaw at the heart like a viper biting there.
Suppose when you awake in the morning, before offering your morning prayer, you think of all the blessings with which you are surrounded. You reflect how many people, during the past night, have tossed upon beds of pain. "How many have died," you say, "and find themselves this morning in the eternal world—unprepared for its awful scenes! My Heavenly Father has kept me alive, and another day is now given me in which to prepare for Heaven. The Lord has provided me with all necessary clothes to wear, and food to eat. I have kind friends around me; opportunities for doing good opened before me; and if I am faithful in duty this day, how happily may its hours glide along! And above all—blissful thought—if the Lord should see fit to take me from the world today, I cannot doubt that he has, for my blessed Savior's sake, forgiven my sins, and that he will take me to Heaven. Every day is carrying me nearer to eternal holiness and happiness. O, how much occasion have I for a heart overflowing with gratitude! I shall indeed be inexcusably ungrateful to my heavenly Father if, when crowned with all these blessings, I have a sad and murmuring heart.
"Heavenly Father," you say, in meditative prayer, "help me this day to manifest my gratitude to you by happy love. May I so love you, and serve you, and have such confidence in your goodness, and so subdue all those passions which are sinful, and consequently disturb one's peace, and so perform all my duties that I may have a tranquil heart all the day long."
In your morning prayer, you pray for a cheerful spirit, as one of your most important duties and blessings. You then go fortified by prayer from your chamber to the family below, with a tranquil countenance, and a still more placid heart. If any domestic annoyances arise, you are thus prepared to triumph over them. And there is a mysterious influence by which the serenity and good nature of one heart are transmitted to all surrounding hearts. As you speak in kind and pleasant tones to the family; as you are continually active in making peace and in keeping peace; in preventing, as far as possible, all occasions of annoyance; and in sacrificing, with alacrity, your own ease and your own rights to make all things go smoothly—you maintain an unruffled state of mind, which most richly compensates you for every act of self-denial.
The reward comes with the duty. It is surprising what an influence one really warmhearted, cheerful, unselfish person may thus have upon a whole family. I once heard it said of a certain child, "There can be no sorrow where she is. She has the faculty of making everything go pleasantly, and everyone feel happy." This should be the character of every Christian child; and how much more effectual, in disseminating an atmosphere of enjoyment, may be the efforts of a Christian mother.
If any mother will set out perseveringly and prayerfully, in this course of life, resisting every emotion of discontent, cultivating, day after day and hour after hour, a cheerful and happy spirit, contending against every wrong feeling, and cherishing everything that is lovely and of good report, with an effort, never intermitted, to keep a smile upon her countenance and peace in her heart—she will soon gain such control over herself, and get into such a habit of being happy, that hardly anything can interrupt her joy. If she is sick, she will be happy. If well, happy. She will be happy at home or abroad, at work or at rest, alone or in company. When young she will be happy, and when old she will be happy. And when a dying hour comes, and she looks forward to a home in heaven, while others weep—she will rejoice.
"Rejoice always," says the apostle Paul. This is a divine command; but is one that we cannot obey without making direct efforts to cultivate the spirit that it enjoins. The mother must then carefully and prayerfully cultivate this spirit of joy. A depressed and gloomy spirit she must resist. It is the spirit of Satan—not of God. It is the element of the world of woe—not of the home of the angel. It is said of the celebrated Wilberforce, that he so carefully, in the early part of his life, watched over his own heart, carefully subduing all emotions of vanity, ambition, selfishness, and irritability—that in the latter part of his life he seemed to have risen above temptation. In respect to those sins which so much disturb the peace of ordinary minds, the struggle with him seemed to be almost over, and the victory complete. The closing years of his life were like the calm and golden glory of a summer's evening. Not a cloud obscured the horizon of his joys. He was just as happy as the days were long. His children and his grandchildren clustered around him, feeling that his presence dispelled almost every sorrow. His favorite passage of Scripture was, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God; and the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ." Now, I cannot doubt that it is in the power of almost every person, by the same culture, to attain the same rich and heavenly joy.
Many people are unhappy who are surrounded with almost every earthly blessing—and many are very happy, who are deprived of almost every earthly good. Our happiness depends far more upon the state of our hearts than upon anything else. Cultivate, then, a right state of heart—and you will almost surely have a happy life. And do not think that you have any right to be unhappy. If you pass an unhappy day, in gloom and depression, you should repent of it, and ask God's forgiveness, and seek his aid, that you may sin thus, no more. Such a day must be a misspent day. Your gloom must have dishonored the religion you profess. It must have marred the happiness of your friends, your husband, your children, and of all your domestic circle. And it must not only have prevented the possibility of any vigorous efforts of doing good—but the influence of your gloomy example must have repelled others from religion.
Therefore make it a daily duty to be cheerful. Pray that you may be cheerful; meditate upon your blessings; look upon the bright side of everything; and carefully study your own heart, that you may ascertain what those feelings are which disturb the tranquility of your mind, and should therefore be checked—and what those emotions are which are satisfying and pleasurable, and should therefore be cultivated. You probably have no idea how much your usefulness and happiness depends upon the careful cultivation of a cheerful spirit.
3. KINDNESS.The spirit of religion is the spirit of self-sacrifice, of giving up our own convenience, and relinquishing our own rights—that we may promote the happiness of others. We are thus to endeavor, not only to secure the happiness of those we love—but also to promote the happiness of those who are unkind to us, whose characters and manners are disagreeable. We are instructed in the Bible, that we must in this respect imitate God, "who makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." Now we must diligently practice this sentiment ourselves, and diligently inculcate it upon our children. Teach them that it is by no means enough, that we love those who love us—that we are kind to those who are kind to us. Our kindness must be a state of the heart—an established principle of universal application. Wherever we can confer a favor, we must do it gladly, whether they who receive it are deserving or undeserving—and we must thank God for the opportunity to thus doing good.
We must remember that an act of kindness however small, if it proceeds from sincere goodwill is pleasing to God. We must teach this truth to our children. A little child, for example, is seated at a corner of the fireplace, on a cold winter morning. It is a snug corner—the pleasantest seat in the room. With an entertaining book in her hand she is enjoying her pleasant position. Her brother comes in from the cold. At once, perhaps, the thought arises in her mind, "I got this seat first, and have a right to it. It is so comfortable that I cannot think of leaving it." This is the selfish spirit of earth and sin. But she repels this thought. The spirit of Christianity and heaven springs up in her heart, and, immediately rising from her seat, she affectionately says, "Here brother, you look very cold. Take this warm seat. I am quite warm, and will move a little further from the fire."
Now, God looks down upon that act, and is pleased with it. It is acting like God. Angels look down and love such a spirit, and say, "That is the spirit of heaven; there is a child whom we should wish to have associated with us here."
This spirit you should manifest at all times, and on all occasions, and thus set the example of it to your children. Teach them to be ever ready to do all in their power to make others happy. When with their brothers and sisters, or with their associates at school, they must be ever ready in all things to relinquish their own plans to gratify others. A plate of apples is brought into the room. One is larger and more luscious than the rest. Teach them not to choose that one for themselves—but to select it kindly though unostentatiously, for their brother, or their sister, or the friend who has come to visit them. Some play activity is proposed. Teach them to relinquish their own preference, for the choice of others. So, in everything in which it is not wrong to yield, teach them to give up their own wishes—that they may gratify others.
We must be careful, however, that this amiable and yielding disposition does not degenerate into indecision and fickle-mindedness. We are never to yield in the least degree where it is wrong to do so. Whatever we think to be our duty, that we must mildly and kindly, but firmly resolve to do—at all hazards. We must not say, "It is a little sin, and I will indulge in it to gratify others." Remember that the time is near when we must appear before God's judgment—and he will not deem it an excuse for displeasing him, that we did it to please our friends or associates. These temptations we must resist—and God exposes us to them that by resistance we may strengthen in our hearts the principle of obedience to him.
A person may have the most amiable disposition in the world—the kindest and the most gentle—and yet possess such a degree of decision of character as to be willing to encounter any opposition and any ridicule rather than do the least wrong. This was the character of our Savior. He was willing to leave heaven, and all the joys of heaven, and to suffer and die upon the cross, that he might do us good. All this he could do for those who did not love him; who were his enemies, and who, with hatred and insult, nailed him to the cross. Such fearful sacrifices as these our Savior could make to promote the happiness of others. And yet there never was any other person in the world, who had so much decision of character as he. No earthly motive could induce him to do anything in the least degree wrong.
We must all possess the spirit of Christ, if we would be his disciples. We must imitate him in his self-denying kindness—in his forgetfulness of his own comfort, that he might promote the happiness of others—and also in his conscientious discharge of duty at all hazards. To cultivate this disposition, is one important part of the Christian conflict.
4. POLITENESS.Some people may be surprised in finding politeness mentioned as one of the fruits and evidences of piety. You have, perhaps, ever been accustomed to regard politeness as one of those fashionable graces which belong rather to the gay and thoughtless—than to the serious and devotional. But the truth is, that politeness is one of the most important of Christian virtues. "Be courteous," is one of the injunctions of the Bible. Indeed, the Bible contains the most perfect rules of politeness known in the world; and it enforces the observance of those rules, as of infinite importance. The most perfect definition of politeness that I have ever seen, is "real kindness, kindly expressed." Politeness does not consist in flourishing manners and airs, artificially acquired. It is the natural expression of amiable feeling. If we carefully cherish the feelings to which I have alluded under the head of kindness, and, with real and unostentatious benevolence, treat all with whom we associate according to these principles—we shall be truly polite. Our manners will be pleasing to all people. And people who have not these feelings, and wish to appear polite, will attain only to the empty and lifeless form. Indeed, it is hard to conceive how one can be a Christian, who is not polite. The Christian character is certainly very defective, where this grace is lacking—for it implies the absence of the most lovely traits of the mind and of the heart.
A writer says, "A gracious word is better than a gift;" and it is indeed true, that some people will confer a favor in so repulsive a way that it gives you pain rather than pleasure to receive it. Our real kindness must be kindly expressed. If it be not so, we shall often give more pain than pleasure by that which we intended as kindness.
Let the mother than teach her children, both by precept and example—to be always polite. Let her feel real kindness for all, and express the kindness that she feels, in a kind manner. Let her inculcate these principles upon her children. Show them plainly that both points are essential. It is not enough that there should be a substantial feeling of kindness in the heart—it must be kindly expressed. On the other hand it is not enough that there should be kind expression of words or acts—there must be kind feeling in the heart.
This distinction may be made very clear to the youngest child by the following example. I was once riding with a clergyman, when we met a poor, lame man walking along the road. The clergyman thought it would be a deed of kindness to help him on his way, and stopping his horse, said, "Here, you lame man, get in here!" The poor man was glad for the ride, and got in. The clergyman took no further notice of him, but employed his mind with his own thoughts. Occasionally the poor man would make some remark; but no attention was paid to what he said, unless it was necessary to answer him, and then the reply was a short yes or no. At length we arrived at the place where the man wished to get out. As he left the carriage, he very warmly thanked the clergyman for his kindness in giving him the ride. Not a word, however, was said in reply to his thanks; but the clergyman merely drove on. Now, the unkind manner in which this favor was conferred, undoubtedly gave far more pain to the poor man than the ride gave him pleasure. It was, indeed, conferring a favor in an extremely unfeeling and unchristian way. The clergyman was exceedingly impolite.
Suppose now that he had added to the substantial favor which he intended to confer the charm of kindness of manner in conferring it. He would have said, "Friend, I have a spare seat in the carriage here—will you not get in and ride a little way?" He would then have cheerfully and socially conversed with the man, and manifested some interest in his history. And when the man left the carriage, and thanked him for the ride, he would have replied, "You are very welcome, sir." This manner of conferring the favor would have cheered and gratified the lame man, and he would have gone to his home with happy feelings.
It is surprising what a vast amount of happiness may be conferred in a long life—by a kind manner of doing kind things. It is by a careful attention to these little things, as some consider them, that we are to make those happy who are around us. As our whole life is made up of such little things as moments, so is the happiness or the unhappiness of life dependent upon the pains or pleasures with which these swiftly-flying moments may be filled. And it is invariably true, that, that person is the happiest who does the most to promote the happiness of others.
A selfish man is always an unhappy man. And a selfish child is always an unhappy child—as she sits alone in her corner, eating her apple, which she refuses to share with brother or sister—as she eagerly takes the most comfortable chair in the room—as she grasps the new book, resolved to have the pleasure of reading it first—she is, and must be unhappy. Conscience within her is disturbed, and her countenance shows in its unamiable expression what an uncomfortable heart she has. And just so it is with those, who have passed the period of childhood. The man or woman who has grown up with a selfish spirit—is friendless and joyless. Such people are often to be seen. They live as it were alone in the world. They love no one—and no one loves them. And, after a heartless life, they die—and no one laments them.
Let children be trained up then to cultivate a courteous spirit—to speak in kind tones of voice—to use a gentle and pleasant way of doing kind things—and it will promote their happiness every day that they live. It will tend to make all around them happy. Others will imitate their example—and imbibe their spirit. The spirit of politeness will vastly increase our influence also, in turning others to the Savior. It will confer honor upon the religion of Christ; for the world judges of Christianity—not so much by the teachings of the Savior—as by the lives of its professors!
There is nothing in this world worth having which can be attained without effort. If you would possess the grace of Christian politeness—you must make it a part of your Christian duty and a subject of prayer. You must resolve in the morning, that you will endeavor through the day kindly to manifest kind feelings. And at night, in self-examination, you must inquire where you have failed in this duty—what opportunities you have enjoyed where you might have contributed to the happiness of others, but in which you have failed to do so. This is the true spirit of heaven. If we are ever to enter heaven, we must have this spirit. And it is here, in this world of sin—that we are to triumph over temptation—and subdue passion—and attain all those lovely traits of character which will make us happy companions for angels, and for the spirits of the just made perfect.
5. Faithfulness in LITTLE DUTIES.One great error which nearly all Christians fall into, is not being sufficiently punctilious in the performance of what are usually called the little duties of life. We are not sufficiently careful to carry out the principles of Christianity into all our relations as husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, parents and children, neighbors and friends. If you, my reader, whatever your situation in life may be, have sincerely commenced a Christian life, you must make it your daily effort to please God in the performance of every duty—small and great. And it is by your attention to things which many people deem trivial, that you can most effectually glorify God.
Children particularly are apt to imagine that religious obligation is something far removed above all the ordinary duties of life. They seldom connect the idea of Christian duty with such subjects as order, personal neatness, politeness, and other similar points of what are called sometimes 'minor morals'. But you cannot too assiduously teach them that the principle of piety, if they possess it at all—is to regulate all their conduct—and lead them to do right in little things as well as great things.
In fact, the little things, with children, are the great things—for in their various bearings and relations they involve the highest moral principles. Here is a boy for instance, whose mother has appropriated to his use a couple of drawers, in which he is to keep his clothes; and she has enjoined it upon him to have his clothes neatly folded, and always placed in order. Some day she goes into his room, and, as she opens the drawers behold, everything is in disorder. In haste to get some article of clothing, the boy has crudely drawn it out, and thrown other things in, unfolded, and now everything is in confusion. The mother is deeply pained that her son should be forming such negligent habits. It has sent an emotion of real unhappiness to her heart. Her own valuable time is occupied in repairing the effects of his indolence and neglect, and the boy himself is growing up with habits which will extremely diminish his efficiency and usefulness as a man. And now that cannot be called a little sin, which produces such consequences, which makes a mother unhappy, and increases her cares and labors, and which is forming in the child habits which will render him unfit for the future duties of life. As well may a man who sets fire to a city, say that it is a little sin, because he merely kindled a very little match. Teach children then that the eye of God is upon them in everything that they do—and that if they really love him, and wish to please him—they will endeavor to be faithful in all their duties—in small things as well as great.
The mother must feel this truth herself also and apply it to her own case. Few people imagine how much one's usefulness and happiness in life depend upon their cultivating a habit of neatness, order, and system, in all that they do.
Some ladies will accomplish twice as much all through life as some others, simply because, in their childhood, they acquired the habit of keeping everything in its proper place. Go into their house, and everything appears in order. There is no hurry or bustle. There seems to be no effort in keeping things in order. Other ladies, who have been trained up under different habits, either give up in despair, and indolently sit down in the midst of the confusion which reigns in their house—or they toil and hurry through life, never enjoying any quietness or leisure—and always engaged in putting things in order, but never able to keep them so.
Do not, then, allow children to imagine that it is a little sin to be untidy or negligent. It is one of the most important of their duties to cultivate correct habits in these respects. Teach them that they may thus please God, gratify their parents, adorn religion, and not only prepare for future usefulness—but be useful every day and every hour.
We are very apt to think that if we were in some situation different from that in which we are actually placed, we might do a great deal of good. The young often suppose that if they were out in the world, they might, in various ways, as men and women, serve their Maker—but they imagine that they cannot do much, if anything, to serve God and promote his glory, unless in some important station. But God wishes to have His friends placed in all the different positions in society—that the power of religion may be exhibited in all. He desires that there should be merchants, and mechanics, and sailors, pious fathers and mothers, and pious children. And the child who is pious, may as acceptably serve God in the situation in which she is placed—as any other people in the situation in which God has placed them. It is not the station in society that we occupy, to which God looks—but the faithfulness with which we discharge the duties of the position in which he has placed us. And the faithful, Christian conduct, even of the smallest child—is as acceptable to him, and perhaps as useful in the accomplishment of his purposes, as the zeal and energy of the most devoted Christian martyr.
Teach these things diligently to your children, and train them up in the habit of neatness and order in all that they do. When they come home from school, let them be taught always themselves to hang up the cap, the bonnet, and the cloak in their proper places—and to put their books away. Teach them to shut the door after them when they pass out or in. Teach them to keep all their picture-books and playthings in order. Show them that it is their duty to attend to all these little things, not as matters of trifling importance, but as Christian duties of the greatest significance, demanding constant watchfulness and care.
These are the ways in which God wishes that the young should evince the power of religion, and glorify him. It is by a conscientious attention to such duties as these, performed because they wish to do that which is pleasing in God's sight—that they are to exhibit the fruits of piety. They must aim, every day, to acquire a character of perfect fidelity in the performance of all these duties; remembering that nothing which tends to the perfection of character is too trivial to call for their efforts and their prayers. The best evidence which either the aged or the young can give of piety, is the conscientious endeavor to be faithful in the discharge of every duty, whatever it may be. Thus we glorify God, and honor the Christian religion—in the best manner.
This is what is meant by the text, "By their fruits shall you know them." The way in which we are to judge of the piety of all people, is by their conduct. If a man or woman professes to be a Christian, and yet is unfaithful in the discharge of the ordinary duties of life, the profession is vain. It is so in youth—and is so in old age. The best evidence afforded by the devout Christian is the fidelity with which he performs all the duties of life, both great and small.
We continue in this chapter the enumeration of the several traits of Christian character, which the mother should endeavor to cultivate in herself—and in those under her charge.
6. Guard against a CENSORIOUS SPIRIT.A censorious spirit is a very common sin. And it is one to which females, from their comparatively retired mode of life, are peculiarly exposed. There is hardly any sin against which the Bible warns us in more earnest and impressive terms. The evils and mischiefs produced by an ungoverned tongue—the ruin it produces in alienating friends—kindling animosities—and disturbing in every way the peace and harmony of society—are topics which have called forth some of the most energetic expressions of the inspired penmen.
"The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. So is the tongue among our members, that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire of hell." "If anyone among you seem to be religious, and bridles not his tongue, this man's religion is vain."
Such are the terms in which the sacred writers speak of the importance of setting a guard upon one's tongue. One single person, of a censorious disposition, will often keep a whole church or neighborhood in turmoil. And every reader of this book has probably often seen great unhappiness produced by the unkind remarks or slanderous reports which others have circulated. Indeed, there are very few people who have not often had hours of suffering to bear in consequence of unguarded remarks which they have made, and which have, perhaps, been slightly exaggerated and carried to other ears—by those who are always ready to do mischief. Solomon tells us, "Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird of the air may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say." By which poetic expressions he would teach us, that there is always someone ready to carry evil tidings. If you say anything against another person, it is very probable it will be repeated, with exaggerations to that individual. One will repeat it to another, until the story, gathering in size as it goes like the balls of snow which boys roll together in the early spring, reaches the ear of the person against whom the remark was made. Then ensues recrimination, unkind treatment, a quarrel. Others are drawn in. And it may be truly said, in the language of the Bible, "Behold how great a matter a little fire kindles!"
The amount of suffering which is caused in this world, simply by evil speaking, is inconceivable! Every school, every church, every neighborhood, is ravaged by it. A very little observation will show you how great is this evil.
Let a mother explain this subject to her children, and caution them against this danger. Lead them to form the resolution that they will never allow themselves to speak against anyone—unless it is clearly their duty to do so. Set them a good example, too, yourselves in this respect. Resolve that you will nip a censorious spirit in the very bud. If you do this, it will save you hours of suffering. If, on the other hand, you allow yourself to speak freely of the faults of others—if you report the various stories you hear—you will be continually in trouble yourself, and will always be involving other people in difficulty. Resolve that you will not say anything against any absent person—except in cases where it is most undoubtedly your duty to do so—which you would be willing to have repeated to that person.
There are cases in which it is our duty to speak of the characters of others, and, if their characters are bad, to say so. It may be our duty to warn our children against a vicious and dangerous acquaintance. And when such an occasion clearly arises, we must faithfully perform the duty, however unpleasant it may be. But such cases are comparatively rare—while the fault of evil speaking is one of the most general and inexcusable in the world.
When this habit has once been formed, it is almost impossible to eradicate it. A person who has become a thorough gossip, retelling all the slander which she can collect, is almost beyond the hope of amendment. She will, with out the least compunction of conscience, throw suspicions upon the fairest reputation. No character is secure from her backbiting assailment. She becomes blind to her own degraded character—as the village gossip and slanderer. It is surprising how unconscious such a person may be of her odious fault. When she hears anything about evil speaking, she has been so much in the habit of looking at the faults of others, and not at her own, that she does not think of making any self-application—but looks around to see upon whom of her neighbors she can lay the charge.
We have all so many faults of our own to mourn over and to correct—that we should be exceedingly tender of the failings of others! And when we see anything in the conduct of our friends or acquaintances, which is wrong or disagreeable—we should try to avoid those things ourselves, and at the same time be very careful not to mention them to others. It is one of the best compliments which can be paid to any lady—to say of her that she was never known to speak badly of others. Resolve, with the grace of God assisting, that this shall be your character—and make every effort to form the same character in your children. Show them that such a habit will multiply their friends—that it will save them many hours of heartache—and that, all their life long, it will greatly add to their usefulness and their enjoyment.
7. Teach your children to cultivate, as one of the fruits of piety, scrupulous delicacy and PURITY of mind.The conscience of children will be a very sensitive guide upon this subject—if it is in a healthy state. Teach them that any conversation which they would be unwilling to engage in, or to repeat in the presence of their mother, they ought to refuse to hear. If their associates at any time commence such conversation, they ought to leave them at all hazards—whether the others are offended by it or not. They cannot be too careful respecting the words that they use—or the ideas that they allow to enter their minds. The delicacy of the mind is very easily impaired, and, when once impaired, the injury is irreparable. Even in the higher walks of life, females are often met with who seem to have no sense of propriety. They are always introducing topics of conversation which are revolting to the refined mind, while they themselves have become so desensitized in their feelings, that they appear entirely unconscious of any impropriety. Other ladies have an instinctive modesty and delicacy—which is their brightest ornament. You never hear from them a word, or an allusion, which is not pure and pleasing. The appropriate simplicity of their dress—the softened tones of their voice—the topics of conversation which they introduce—and the gentle expression of countenance—all unite in testifying the spotless purity that reigns in their hearts. Who can see such a lady, and not esteem and love her? The indecent of either sex are rebuked by her presence. Even indecent ladies (if it be not a perversion of language to call one a lady who has an impure mind) are careful, in her presence, to put a guard upon their tongues.
"Keep your heart with all diligence," is one of the cautions which God has given us, and the happiness of every young Christian depends more upon the cultivation of this virtue, than we often imagine. To find, as we go on through life, that our thoughts naturally dwell upon objects which are pure and pleasant—will be one of the richest sources of our earthly enjoyment. We must necessarily pass many—very many hours in life—with our own thoughts. If our thoughts are such that they give us uneasiness of conscience, and we must be continually struggling against them, we shall have many days of secret, but real sorrow. If, on the other hand, by a careful cultivation of the heart, we have cherished only those thoughts which conscience approves—we shall probably move about, in our daily employments, in tranquil happiness.
Explain these principles to your children, and endeavor to lead them to resolve that they will not at school, or anywhere else, engage in conversation, or listen to conversation, which they would not be willing to repeat in the presence of their father and their mother. Let that be with them the test of propriety. Say to them that if at any time they are in doubt, whether the conversation which they are hearing is proper or not, they must ask themselves, "Am I willing to repeat this to the family, at the supper table, this evening?" If they are not, then they must refuse to hear it. If they cannot turn the conversation to a more wholesome topic, they should leave the company. Teach them to remember that God is always present—that His eye is upon them—that He hears every word that is uttered—that He sees every thought of the heart—and that as they prize his approbation, they must resolve to cherish, with the utmost care, purity of heart.
8. A very scrupulous observance of TRUTH should be one of the prominent fruits of piety.To some it may seem that this is almost a needless direction. In fact parents are very slow to be convinced that their children ever tell falsehoods at all. It is an almost invariable rule, that all mothers believe that their children always speak the truth—and it is a rule almost equally invariable, that they are all mistaken. Children generally will say what is false, until they are taught to speak the truth. Sometimes they are thus taught very early, and in such cases the mother, forgetting the infantile falsehoods, says that she never knew her child to tell a lie.
Even in later years it will not do generally to trust to any 'natural love of truth', to save our children from the sin of falsehood. We must often, in our conversations with them, present this subject to their attention, not in the way of suspicion and fault-finding, but of confidence and goodwill. We must explain to them how God regards the sin of falsehood, and cite and explain those passages of Scripture which relate to the subject.
The mother must herself, also, always be honest, and frank, and open, in all her dealings with all her children. Never combine, as many mothers do, with an older child, to deceive a younger one. If you do, you must expect that your children will combine together to deceive you! Be honest with them all, and in your dealings with your friends, and neighbors, and acquaintances—be open and sincere. Thus you will lead your children in the right way.
4. The spirit of FORGIVENESS is one of the fruits of piety.The mother must cultivate this spirit herself, and inculcate it upon her children. Teach them that the rule of Christianity is, "Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for the happiness of those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other cheek. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give what you have to anyone who asks you for it; and when things are taken away from you, don't try to get them back. Do for others as you would like them to do for you." The mother must inculcate this principle, like all the others, by her own example. And next to her own example, the narration of instances of a forgiving spirit will have a greater influence upon children, than any general precepts or exhortations.
I will here, for example, relate such an instance. There was once a rich merchant who had many peculiarities of character which exposed him to ridicule. He was a benevolent man, but he was of such eccentric habits, that a witty writer could easily represent him in a ludicrous light.
A certain neighbor of his, without any just provocation, published a most insulting pamphlet against him, calling him 'Billy Button', and holding him up to the laughter of the world, in the most contemptuous and ludicrous attitude in which he could be represented. The publication of such a pamphlet was as gross and cutting an insult as could be inflicted, for there is nothing that the human mind so much recoils from, as derision and scorn. The merchant read the libelous pamphlet, and simply remarked that the writer would probably live to repent of its publication.
Someone informed the writer of the pamphlet of the remark that the merchant had made. He considered it as an angry threat of vengeance, and said that he would take good care to keep out of the merchant's power. But in a few years, in the course of business, the writer of the libel unavoidably became deeply indebted to the merchant, whom he had so wantonly injured, and became a bankrupt. For unless the merchant would forgive the debt, the writer could never enter into business again, and must always remain a poor man.
By much exertion and after many delays, the unfortunate debtor effected a settlement of his affairs, and obtained a release from his other creditors—but how could he go to the merchant whom he had made the laughing-stock of the town—and who had declared that the libeler would yet live to repent of his publication? It seemed folly to hope that he would forget the wrong, and forgive the debt. But the claims of a suffering wife and children at last compelled him to make the application. Humbled by misery, he presented himself at the office of the injured merchant. The merchant was at his desk alone, and as he turned around and saw his libeler before him, his first words were, "Take a seat, sir." The guilty man, trembling with apprehension of the repulse which he so richly deserved, told the piteous tale of his misfortunes, and presented his certificate of release, signed by his other creditors, though he had but a very faint hope of obtaining the signature of one he had so deeply wronged.
The merchant received the certificate, and, as he glanced his eye over it, said, "You wrote a pamphlet against me once, I believe, sir." The wretched man could make no reply. The merchant, saying no more, wrote something upon the certificate, and handed it back to him. The poor debtor in despair received the certificate, expecting to find written upon it something expressive of indignation. But how great was his surprise to see, in fair, round characters, the signature of the merchant, releasing him from his debt! "I make it a rule," said the forgiving man, "never to refuse signing the release of an honest man, and I never heard that you were anything else." The surprise and joy were too much for the poor creditor, and he burst into tears. "Ah!" said the merchant, "my saying was true. I said that you would live to repent writing that pamphlet. I did not mean it as a threat. I only meant that some day you would know me better—and would repent that you had attempted to injure me. I see that you repent it now." "I do, indeed I do!" exclaimed the grateful man. "Well, well, my dear sir," said the merchant, "you know me now. How will you get on? What are you going to do?"
The unfortunate man replied, that having obtained a release from his creditors, he had friends who would assist him in getting into business again.
"But how are you to support your family in the meantime?" asked the merchant.
The man's answer was, that having given up every farthing to his creditors, he had been compelled to deprive his family of even common necessities. "My dear sir," said the merchant, "this will never do—your wife and children must not suffer. Be kind enough to take this to your wife from me," handing him a fifty dollar bill, "and keep up a good heart. All will be well with you yet. Set to work with energy, and you may yet see many days of prosperity." The poor man was entirely overcome by his emotions. He could not speak. His feelings forbade all utterance, and burying his face in his handkerchief, he went from the room sobbing like a child!
Stories which afford practical illustrations of any moral principle, will generally exert more powerful influence upon the minds of children than general instructions. The minds of the hearers catch the spirit which the story exemplifies by a sort of moral sympathy.
The mother who is aware of this, will, in her general reading, watch for incidents and passages which she can turn to good account in interesting and instructing her children. These she will read and explain to them at proper times, and enforce the lessons which they are calculated to teach, by additional remarks of her own.
Teach your children thus in every way to cultivate a forgiving spirit. Tell them that this is the spirit of the Bible—the spirit of Christ. No one who has any other spirit can safely offer the prayer, "Forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us."
10. Cultivate in your children a taste for pure and noble pleasures—instead of a love of worldly gaiety.Pure and noble pleasures last. They wear well. They leave no sting behind. The pleasures of worldliness and gaiety do not wear well. They exhaust the powers of body and mind, and all the capacities of enjoyment, prematurely—and leave a sting behind. That is the reason why the Word of God condemns them—and why Christians abstain from them.
There is hardly any reproach more frequently cast upon Christians than the charge of bigotry—because they refuse to unite with the world in these scenes of gaiety. They are invited to a ball, to the theater, or to a card party—and yet no persuasions can induce them to go.
"What can be the possible harm," it is said, "in going to a ball? We go to a brightly illuminated hall. We have pleasant music to gratify the ear. In graceful measures we beat time to its cadences in the exhilarating dance. After having thus passed a few hours of heartfelt hilarity, we retire unharmed to our homes. Now, what real objection can there be to this amusement," it is asked, "which is not founded on ignorance and superstition?"
This is a very important question, and it deserves a very serious answer. To explain my views upon this subject, let me suppose that you have a son nineteen years of age—a very amiable, correct, and promising young man. He is the darling of the family—attentive to his father and mother—kind to his sisters—all love him. He is a clerk in a store, and is highly respected by his employers. As you have known many amiable young men, in such situations, ruined by such worldly pleasures—you feel great solicitude for him. He has so little of selfishness in his nature, and is so willing to sacrifice his own inclinations to oblige others, that, while he thus promises to be one of the best and most useful of men, he is much exposed to be led away by temptation.
Like an affectionate and dutiful son, as he is, he comes to his father some day, and says to him, "Father, there is to be a ball tonight. All my acquaintances are going, and, if you have no objection, I would like to go also."
"Well my son," says his father, "what time does the ball commence?"
"Between eight and nine o'clock in the evening," he replies.
"And what hour will it close?" the father asks.
"They tell me," the son answers, "that they will probably go home between two and three o'clock in the morning."
"I suppose that wine will be circulated very freely on the occasion; will it not, my son?"
"Why, yes sir; I suppose so—but I hope that I have resolution enough not to be guilty of any excess."
"I trust that you have, my son. But do you know of any who are going to the ball who have the reputation of being intemperate?"
"Yes sir; there will be several there who are known to drink too much wine."
"Will there be many present who are considered generally dissolute in their habits—so much so that you would not like to have them for your acquaintances?"
"There will be some such, sir, I suppose."
"It is rather dangerous," the father rejoins, "for a young man to be thrown into such company, in the midst of all the excitements of music, and dancing, and wine. It will not be easy to shake off acquaintances you may necessarily form there.
"I suppose, of course, too," adds the father, "that they have card-playing in some of the rooms."
"Do they play for money?"
"Some of them I believe do, sir—for small sums."
"It is not uncommon," the father replies, "under such circumstances, for people to commence with small sums and go on to greater. Under the stimulus of play and wine, they plunge deeper and deeper into the game, until the dawn of morning finds them still with the cards in their hands. Many a young man in these scenes, commences on the road to ruin. I have in my experience known a great number thus lost to virtue, and who have brought hopeless shame upon their parents and friends.
"You say, my son, that the ball will break up about three o'clock in the morning. You can, perhaps get home and to your bed at half-past three. You must rise at six o'clock in the morning to get the store opened in time. This allows you two hours and a half for sleep—sleep which, from the previous excitement must be feverish and unrefreshing.
"I counsel you therefore, my son," the father continues, "not to go. By going into such scenes, you will be exposed to many temptations—the excitement of wine—the excitement of many dangerous passions. You can hardly avoid forming many very undesirable acquaintances. You will be invited to the gaming table, and may thus commence the acquisition of a taste for all the excitements of gambling.
"Many may be there, who, having no pleasures except those of fashionable dissipation, will be glad to secure you as an associate. Invitations will multiply upon you. When a young man once enters this vortex—it is difficult to get out again. When you go to the store in the morning, you will be languid and melancholy—all your energies will be exhausted. With aching head, and bloodshot eyes, and trembling limbs, you will have a day of mental depression, which will much more than counterbalance all the enjoyment of the night—and which will greatly disqualify you from discharging your duty to your employers.
"It is for these reasons," the father continues, "that your parents are unwilling to have you enter such scenes. We are satisfied that, on the whole, instead of increasing, they greatly diminish, the amount of human happiness. It is on this account that we have always been desirous that neither you nor your sisters should acquire a taste for these worldly pleasures—for our own observation, as well as the testimony of the wise and the holy in all ages, has taught us that these amusements, by breaking in upon the regular and peaceful enjoyment of domestic life, expose those who engage in them to great temptation—and by prematurely exhausting the mental and bodily powers, and undermining the constitution, seriously interfere with future happiness, and lead to imminent danger!
"And when our neighbors have wondered that we should so carefully keep you away from such scenes of gaiety and worldly amusements which to them appear innocent and pleasing—-we have replied, that we could make you far happier by cultivating in your heart a taste for a totally different class of pleasures.
"Such worldly pleasures, too, always leave a sting behind them. Discontent and dissatisfaction always take possession of the soul after a scene of unseasonable and excessive gaiety. This is always the case—in all ranks and conditions of life. Madame de Geniis, who moved in the highest circles of Parisian life, and was familiar with the gaieties of the Royal Palace in the highest of splendor, remarked that the days which followed brilliant entertainments were always melancholy.
"Therefore, my son," the father continues, "I counsel you not to go! Persevere in the plan of life which you have heretofore laid down for yourself. Come home, and spend the evening in quiet enjoyment with your mother, or your sisters—or by the perusal of some interesting volume from the library—acquire a taste for reading, and store your mind with useful knowledge. At your usual hour, retire to rest. You will then rise in the morning fresh and vigorous, and in good temper you will go to your duties. And as you see your associate in the adjoining store, who attended the ball, dozing in dejection, and lounging the whole day at his desk—you will be thankful that you were more wise than to sacrifice so much substantial good for a few hours of midnight merriment.
"By persevering in this course," the father continues, "you will more effectually secure to yourself the confidence of businessmen. Your credit will be better. Your prospects in life will be better. You will soon be able to have a home of your own. You will make that home more happy. Your life will glide away with far less danger of your falling before the power of temptation—and, consequently, there will be a far brighter prospect of your enjoying eternal happiness beyond the grave!"
This is, in the main, the argument upon which Christians rely, and have relied, during all past ages, against the amusements and gaieties of the world. They are fully convinced that he who acquires a taste for such pleasures, will find his earthly happiness greatly impaired, and will be exposed to temptations which will greatly endanger his eternal well-being.
I have dwelt upon this subject more fully, because the young—inexperienced in the dangers of the world—often wonder why their pious parents are so unwilling that they should acquire a fondness for worldly amusements which appear so innocent and pleasing. But I think that any ingenuous boy or girl, of fourteen or fifteen years of age, may see the force of the above considerations, and may be satisfied that Christians have not, in their decision upon this subject, acted without good reasons.
And here I do not intend to enter into the question whether these amusements might not be so far improved and refined as to obviate all objections against them. I wish to refer to them as they now are, and as they ever have been, and as there is every prospect that they will continue to be.
They are all of the same general character, leading to peculiar temptations, from the indulgence of bad passions, and the exposure of those who engage in them to unworthy associates. They all tend to destroy the taste for those quiet, domestic enjoyments, which, when cultivated, grow brighter and brighter every year, and which confer increasing solace and joy when youth has fled, and old age, and sickness, and misfortune come. Christian parents endeavor to guard their children against acquiring a taste for these worldly pleasures, because they foresee that these amusements will, in the end, disappoint them—and they can lead them in a safer path, and one infinitely more promotive of their happiness!
We have contemplated the influence of one of these scenes of gaiety upon a young man. Let us now consider its effects upon a mother of a family—or a young lady.
In the first place in the mere preparation for any assembly of worldly gaiety and dissipation, many hours are taken from the peaceful routine of ordinary duties—in devotion to dress and appearance. Then the temptation is almost irresistible, from the strong rivalry which is called into exercise, to make expenditures which can not be afforded. And then, when the midnight scene of gaiety is at its height, and music's voluptuous swell is loudest, and the smile on every cheek is least clouded—how many secret sources of chagrin are necessarily fostered, though studiously concealed! The spirit of the occasion has the strongest tendency to call into exercise the sinful passions of envy and rivalry. The superior dress of one lady—and the superior beauty of another—the comparative neglect with which one is treated—and the excessive attention which another receives—constitute the most fruitful source of vanity on the one side—and of jealousy and envy on the other.
The very nature of the enjoyment, and the whole spirit of the occasion, have the most direct tendency to call these feelings into active exercise. There is no place in which the wicked feelings of the heart are so frequently and so painfully excited—as in gay, glittering assemblies. To use the familiar language of the poet,
"Though the cheek may be tinged with a warm, sunny smile,
The cold heart to ruin runs on darkly the while."
And when, long after midnight, fevered with the heated room and exciting exercise, the young lady returns to her home—how poorly she is prepared for the duties of devotion! In how unsuitable a frame of mind is she, acceptably to commune with God, and to commend herself anew, with an affectionate and a humble heart, to His service!
And then when another morning dawns, all the concerns of the family are in disorder. At a late hour she rises unrefreshed from her pillow. During the whole day she feels depressed in spirits, and unable to engage, with any satisfaction, in life's ordinary duties. It often requires one or two days of languor and melancholy for the system to recover its tone—from the exhaustion of the few hours of midnight revelry. Even allowing the pleasurable emotions of the convivial hours to be as great as anyone will venture to estimate them—the enjoyment must be considered as far more than counterbalanced, by the physical, moral and intellectual drawbacks which necessarily ensue.
And when we go a little farther; when we consider the inevitable termination of this life of pleasure—when we contemplate the victim—for victim we must consider her—of a mirthful and fashionable life, after having passed through the period of youth and vigor, with her faculties to these excitements worn out—her mind and heart satiated with those pursuits—and yet with no taste formed for more solid and satisfying joys—we regard her with the deepest pity—as an impressive warning for all the young to avoid those quicksands, upon which her happiness has been so fatally stranded!
When we turn to the Bible, to the character of our Savior and His apostles, we find these views confirmed by the weight of inspiration—so much so, indeed, that even the idea of our Savior, or the apostle Paul, taking an active part in such scenes, is so shocking to our feelings, that the very supposition is almost irreverent. And why is it that one shrinks from such an idea—but because the spirit of the Bible is so diametrically opposed to these amusements, that the mind recoils from the thought of connecting them with sacred personages?
And when we inquire of Christian testimony, we hear but one voice, which comes down from all past time, and from every nation—in attestation of the folly of a life of worldly pleasure. There are thousands now in our churches, who were once the devotees of worldly gaiety; and they will tell you, without a contradicting voice, that, since they have abandoned their former pursuits, and sought happiness in different objects, and cultivated a taste for different pleasures, they have found peace and satisfaction, which they never knew before—and they have no more disposition to turn back to these gaieties, than they have to resume the rattles of babyhood!
It is quite important that the young should understand the true reason of the decision, to which Christians have come upon this subject. It is not a gloomy and morose spirit that dictates this decision—or any desire to prohibit real pleasures. But we see that these gaieties are, in the end, promotive of far more sorrow than happiness—and therefore, we wish all whom we love, to walk in those ways of wisdom, which are pleasantness, and in those paths which are peace.
And hence, if parents would, in their own lives and in the lives of their children, bring forth the peaceable and joyful fruits of righteousness—they must avoid these scenes of gaiety! You must carefully guard against cultivating a taste for such worldly pleasures. There are, in this world, many avenues of enjoyment, where one may walk in safety. There are many joys which are improving to the heart, and which afford increasing happiness amid the infirmities of old age and approaching death—joys which, in the 'morning of life', are like the morning sunshine—and, in the 'evening of our days'—are like the serene and golden hues of a summer sunset. There are the joys of well-cultivated affections, of an improving mind, of friends, and love of home, of social converse at the quiet fireside, of the flower garden, of the domestic animal feeding from the hand it loves, of the twilight walk in solitude or company, of visiting the sick, and cheering the desponding. There are enough sources of enjoyment which God has opened to us in this world, which are purifying in their nature—and which leave no sting behind. It is not necessary for us to search for happiness in dangerous and forbidden paths.
In all the ways pointed out in this chapter, the mother must endeavor to train up her children in the service of God. These are the practical duties of Christianity—duties which bring with them their own reward. There is no other path to heaven than that which is here pointed out—reliance upon an atoning Savior for the forgiveness of past sin, and faithful endeavors to live a devout and holy life. They who will diligently and faithfully pursue such a course, will find the Savior's yoke indeed easy, and His burden light. Duty will continually become more easy and more pleasant. The propensities and passions, whose unrestrained dominion so often mar the peace of others, will cease to trouble them—being subdued by divine grace—and they will go on their way rejoicing to the end!
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