By Adam Clarke
To many God gives children in place of temporal
good. To many others he gives houses, lands, and thousands of gold
and silver; and with them the womb that beareth not; and these are
their inheritance. The poor man has from God a number of children,
without lands or money; these are his inheritance: and God shows
himself their Father, feeding and supporting them by a chain of
miraculous providences. Where is the poor man who would give up his
six children, with the prospect of having more, for the thousands or
millions of him who is the centre of his own existence; and has
neither root nor branch, but his forlorn solitary self, upon the
face of the earth? Let the fruitful family, however poor, lay this
"Children are a heritage of the Lord; and the fruit of the womb is his reward."
And he who gave them will feed them; for it is a fact, and the maxim formed on it has never failed: "Wherever God sends mouths he sends meat." "Murmur not," said an Arab to his friend, "because thy family is large; know that it is for their sakes that God feeds thee."
Education is generally defined, "that series of means by which the human understanding is gradually enlightened, and the dispositions of the heart are corrected, formed, and brought forth between early infancy and the period when a young person is considered as qualified to take a part in active life." Whole nations have been corrupted, enfeebled, and destroyed, through the want of proper education: through this, multitudes of families have degenerated; and a countless number of individuals have come to an untimely end. Parents who neglect this, neglect the present and eternal interests of their offspring.
A spirit of inquiry is common to every child. The human heart is ever panting after knowledge; and if not rightly directed when young, will, like that of our first mother, go astray after forbidden science. If we wish our children to be happy, we should show them where happiness is to be found. If we wish them to be wise, we should lead them unto God, by means of his word and ordinances. It is natural for a child to inquire, "What do you mean by this baptism? by this sacrament? by praying? by singing psalms and hymns?" &c. And what fine opportunities do such questions give pious and intelligent parents to instruct their children in every article of the Christian faith, and every fact on which these articles are established! Owhy is this neglected, while the command of God is before our eyes, and the importance of the measure so strikingly obvious?
A child should be taught what is necessary for it to know, as soon as that necessity exists, and the child is capable of learning. Among children there is a great disparity of intellect, and in the power of apprehension and comprehension.
Many children have such a precocity of intellect as to be more capable of learning to read at two than others are at five years of age: and it would be high injustice indeed to prevent them from acquiring much useful knowledge and some hundreds, if not thousands of ideas, by waiting for a prescribed term of "five" years. When a child is capable of learning any thing, give that teaching: but let the teaching be regularly graduated; let it go on from step to step, never obliging it to learn what it cannot yet comprehend. We begin very properly with letters, or the elementary signs of language; teach the child to distinguish them from each other, and give them in their names some notion of their power. We then teach them to combine them into simple syllables; syllables into words; words into sentences; sentences into speeches, or regular discourse. This process is as philosophic as it is natural: but who follows it through the successive steps of education? Scarcely any. Because a child can understand a little, and shows aptness in learning, parental fondness, or the teacher's ignorance, comes into powerful operation; and the child is pushed unnaturally forward to departments of learning to which it has not been gradually inducted. The mind is puzzled and bewildered; a great gulf is left behind which cuts off all connection with what has been already learned, and what is now proposed to the understanding; and the issue is, the child is confounded and discouraged, and falls either under the power of hebetude, or learns superficially, and never becomes a correct scholar. A child must understand what it is doing before it can do what it ought.
"A young saint, an old devil," was a maxim of such unaccountable prevalence formerly, that even parents have been afraid to discover any tendency to early piety in their children, lest the proverb should be verified in them: and I have known some who, in their tender years, deeply feared God, who were afraid to encourage such heavenly feelings, lest they should be a prelude to their endless perdition! On this very ground piety to God was rarely cultivated on the infant mind; and both parents and teachers thought it best to instruct children in their simple duties, without showing the basis on which they should rest, or the spring from which they should flow. Hence, though they were generally taught what God had done for their souls, they were seldom, if at all, shown what God must do in them, in order to their being saved unto eternal life.
It is not to be wondered at, that infant piety was formerly very rare, when we consider the influence of the above diabolic proverb, with the general listlessness of parents, who were glad to omit duties which they found little disposition to perform, under the apprehension that early piety would most likely degenerate, in advanced life, into a more than ordinary degree of profligacy or irreligion.
A most injurious and destructive maxim has lately been advanced by a few individuals, which it is to be hoped is disowned by the class of Christians to which they belong, though the authors affect to be thought Christians, and rational ones too. The sum of the maxim is this: "Children ought not to be taught religion, for fear of having their minds biased to some particular creed; but they should be left to themselves till they are capable of making a choice, and choose to make one." This maxim is in flat opposition to the command of God, and those who teach it show how little they are affected by the religion they profess. If they felt it to be good for any thing, they would certainly wish their children to possess it; but they do not teach religion to their children, because they feel it to be of no use to themselves. Now, the Christian religion properly applied saves the soul, and fills the heart with love to God and man; for the love of God is shed abroad in the heart of a genuine believer by the Holy Ghost given to him. These persons have no such love, because they have not the religion that inspires it; and the spurious religion which admits of the maxim above mentioned is not the religion of God, and consequently better untaught than taught. But what can be said of those parents who, possessing a better faith, equally neglect the instruction of their children in the things of God? They are highly criminal; and if their children perish through neglect, which is very probable, what a dreadful account must they give in the great day! PARENTS ! hear what the Lord saith unto you: Ye shall diligently teach your children that there is one Lord, Jehovah, Elohim; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and that they must love him with all their heart, with all their soul, and with all their might. And as children are heedless, apt to forget, liable to be carried away by sensible things; repeat and rerepeat the instruction, and add line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, carefully studying time, place, and circumstances, that your labour be not in vain: show it in its amiableness, excite attention by exciting interest; show how good, how useful, how blessed, how ennobling, how glorious it is. Whet these things on their hearts, till the keenest edge is raised on the strongest desire, till they can say, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee!"
Initiate the child at the opening of his path. When he comes to the opening of the way of life, being able to walk alone, and to choose; stop at this entrance, and begin a series of instructions, how he is to conduct himself in every step he takes. Show him the duties, the dangers, and the blessings of the path; give him directions how to perform the duties, how to escape the dangers, and how to secure the blessings, which all lie before him. Fix these on his mind by daily inculcation, till their impression is become indelible: then lead him to practice by slow and almost imperceptible degrees, till each indelible impression becomes a strongly radicated habit. Beg incessantly the blessing of God on all this teaching and discipline; and then you have obeyed the injunction of the wisest of men. Nor is there any likelihood that such impressions shall ever be effaced, and that such habits shall ever be destroyed.
Teach a child that "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth." Teach him that God suffers men to hunger and be in want, that he may try them if they will be faithful, and do them good in their latter end. Teach him that he who patiently and meekly bears providential affliction shall be relieved and exalted in due time. Teach him that it is no sin to die in the most abject poverty and affliction, brought on in the course of divine providence; but that any attempts to alter his condition by robbery, knavery, cozening, and fraud, will be distinguished with heavy curses from the Almighty, and necessarily end in perdition and ruin. A child thus educated is not likely to abandon himself to unlawful courses.
We do not know of how much religious instruction our little ones are capable. Nothing of this kind, rightly spoken and suitably recommended, is lost. A child seldom forgets any thing by which it is interested. In the morning sow thy seed: speak to them lovingly; instruct them affectionately; encourage them powerfully; upbraid them as little as possible; and commend them as much as you can. Tell them about Jesus; and how he loves them; and what he has done for them; and what he will do in them; and how happy he will eternally make them! No tale affects the heart so much, whether of old or young, as that of Christ crucified;—and, let me add, there is no tale that God will bless so much as this; for there is nothing else that is, or can be, the power of God unto salvation. He was delivered for our offences; he rose again for our justification; and ever liveth to make intercession for us! How unspeakable is his mercy! How boundless is his grace!
How powerful are the effects of a religions education, enforced by pious example! It is one of God's especial means of grace. Let a man only do justice to his family, by bringing them up in the fear of God, and he will crown it with his blessing. How many excuse the profligacy of their family, which is often entirely owing to their own neglect, by saying, "O we cannot give them grace!" No, you cannot; but you can afford them the means of grace. This is your work, that is the Lord's. If, through your neglect of precept and example, they perish, what an awful account must you give to the Judge of quick and dead! It was the sentiment of a great man, that should the worst of times arrive, and magistracy and ministry were both to fail, yet, if parents would be faithful to their trust, pure religion would be handed down to posterity, both in its form and in its power.
Early habits are not easily rooted out, especially those of a bad kind. Next to the influence and grace of the Spirit of God is a good and religious education. Parents should teach their children to despise and abhor low cunning, to fear a lie, and tremble at an oath; and, in order to be successful, they should illustrate their precepts by their own regular and conscientious example.
It is no wonder that the great mass of children are so wicked when so few are put under the care of Christ by humble, praying, believing parents.
Were a proper line of conduct pursued in the education of children, how few profligate sons and daughters, and how few broken-hearted parents should we find! The neglect of early religious education, connected with a wholesome and affectionate restraint, is the ruin of millions. Many parents, to excuse their indolence and most criminal neglect, say, "We cannot give our children grace." What do they mean by this? That God, not themselves, is the Author of the irregularities and viciousness of their children! They may shudder at this imputation; but when they reflect that they have not given them right precepts; have not brought them under firm and affectionate restraint; have not shown them, by their own spirit, temper, and conduct, how they should be regulated in theirs; when either the worship of God has not been established in their houses, or they have permitted their children, on the most trifling pretences, to absent themselves from it: when all these things are considered, they will find that, speaking after the manner of men, it would have been a very extraordinary miracle indeed if the children had been found preferring a path in which they did not see their parents conscientiously tread. Let those parents who continue to excuse themselves by saying, "We cannot give grace to our children," lay their hand on their conscience, and say whether they ever knew an instance where God withheld his grace while they were, in humble subserviency to him, performing their duty? The real state of the case is this: parents cannot do God's work, and God will not do theirs; but, if they use the means, and train up the child in the way he should go, God will never withhold his blessing.
It is not parental fondness nor parental authority, taken separately, that can produce this beneficial effect. A father may be as fond of his offspring as Eli was, and his children be sons of Belial: he may be as authoritative as the Grand Turk, and his children despise and plot rebellion against him. But let parental authority be tempered with fatherly affection; and let the rein of discipline be steadily held by this powerful but affectionate hand; and there shall the pleasure of God prosper; there will he give his blessing, even life for evermore. Many fine families have been spoiled, and many ruined, by the separate exercise of these two principles. Parental affection, when alone, infallibly degenerates into foolish fondness; and parental authority frequently degenerates into brutal tyranny when standing by itself. The first sort of parents will be loved, without being respected; the second sort will be dreaded, without either respect or esteem. In the first case obedience is not exacted, and is therefore felt to be unnecessary, as offences of great magnitude pass without punishment or reprehension. In the second case, rigid exaction renders obedience almost impossible; and the smallest delinquency is often punished with the extreme of torture, which, hardening the mind, renders duty a matter of perfect indifference. Parents, lay these things to heart: remember Eli and his sons; remember the dismal end of both! Teach your children to fear God; use wholesome discipline; be determined; begin in time; mingle severity and mercy together in all your conduct; and earnestly pray to God to second your godly discipline with the power and grace of his Spirit.
"Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath:" avoid all severity; this will hurt your own souls, and do them no good; on the contrary, if punished with severity or cruelty, they will only be hardened and made desperate in their sins. Cruel parents generally have bad children. He who corrects his children according to God and reason will feel every blow on his own heart more sensibly than his child feels it on his body. Parents are called to correct, not to punish, their children. Those who punish them do it from a principle of revenge; those who correct them do it from a principle of affectionate concern.
Mrs. Wesley taught her children from their earliest age their duty to their parents. She had little difficulty in breaking their wills, or reducing them to absolute subjection. They were early brought by rational means under a mild yoke; they were perfectly obsequious to their parents; and were taught to wait their decision in every thing they were to have, and in every thing they were to perform. They were taught also to ask a blessing upon their food, to behave quietly at family prayers, and to reverence the Sabbath. They were never permitted to command the servants, or to use any words of authority in their addresses to them. Mrs. Wesley charged the servants to do nothing for any of the children unless they asked it with humility and respect: and the children were duly informed that the servants had such orders. This is the foundation, and indeed the essence, of good breeding. Insolent, impudent, and disagreeable children are to be met with everywhere; because this simple, but important, mode of bringing up is neglected.
"Molly, Robert, be pleased to do so and so," was the usual method of request both from the sons and the daughters; and because the children behaved thus decently, the domestics reverenced and loved them; were strictly attentive, and felt it a privilege to serve them. They were never permitted to contend with each other: whatever differences arose the parents were the umpires, and their decision was never disputed. The consequence was, there were few misunderstandings among them, and no unbrotherly and vindictive passions; and they had the common fame of being the most loving family in the county of Lincoln! How much evil may be prevented, and how much good may be done, by judicious management in the education of children! Mrs. Wesley never considered herself discharged from the care of her children. Into all situations she followed them with her prayers and counsels; and her sons, even when at the university, found the utility of her wise and parental instructions. They proposed to her all their doubts, and consulted her in all difficulties.
I consider the time spent at boarding school in teaching girls music, drawing, painting, and dancing, as almost totally lost. Reason and the necessities of the case, if consulted, would dictate that young women should be taught such things as might fit them for social and domestic life. But this is so far from being the case, that, when married, they are generally found utterly ignorant of the several duties incumbent on them; therefore the expectations of the husband are disappointed; he finds to his sorrow that the fine, well bred young lady knows better how to play on the harpsichord, drop a courtesy, sketch a landscape, or paint a rose, than to behave herself as a wife and mother, or conduct her domestic affairs with discretion. All these things, therefore, should be considered so many useless conformities to the world, which can be of no advantage in the most important departments and relations of life.
It is easier for most men to walk with a perfect heart in the church, or even in the world, than in their own families. How many are as meek as lambs among others, when at home they are wasps or tigers! The man who, in the midst of family provocations, maintains a Christian character, being meek, gentle, and long suffering, to his wife, children, and his servants, has got a perfect heart, and adorns the doctrine of God his Saviour in all things.
How can that family expect the blessing of God where the worship of God is not daily performed? No wonder their servants are wicked, their children profligate, and their goods cursed. What an awful reckoning shall such heads of families have with the Judge in the great day, who have refused to petition for that mercy which they might have had for asking!
How ruinous are family distractions! A house divided against itself cannot stand. Parents should take good heed that their own conduct be not the first and most powerful cause of such dissensions, by exciting envy in some of their children through undue partiality to others: but it is in vain to speak to most parents on the subject; they will give way to foolish predilections, till, in the prevailing distractions of their families, they meet with the punishment of their imprudence, when regrets are vain, and the evil past remedy.
It may not be well in general for parents to tell their children of their former failings or vices, as this might lessen their authority or respect, and the children might make a bad use of it in the extenuation of their own sins. But there are certain cases which, from the nature of their circumstances, may often occur, where a candid acknowledgment, with suitable advice, may prevent those children from repeating the evil; but this should be done with great delicacy and caution, lest even the advice itself should serve as an incentive to the evil.
Sovereign of the heavens and of the earth, behold this my daughter on the anniversary of her birthday! I bring her especially before thee; fill her with thy light, life, and power; as in thee she lives, moves, and has her being, so may she ever live to thee. Strengthen her, O thou Almighty! Instruct and counsel her, O thou Omniscient! Be her prop, her stay, her shield, and her Lord. Put all her enemies under her feet; deck her with glory and honour; make her an example to her family, a pattern of piety to her friends, a solace to the poor, and a teacher of wisdom to those who are ignorant and out of the way; and on all her glory let there be a defence to preserve, and in every respect to render it efficient! By her may thy name ever be glorified; and in her may the most adorable Saviour ever see the travail of his soul and he satisfied. Amen, amen! So be it! and let her heart hear and feel thy amen, which is, So it shall be—hallelujah.
Wo to those parents who strive, for filthy lucre's sake, to prevent their son from embracing a call to preach Jesus to their perishing countrymen, or to the heathen, because they see that the life of a true evangelist is a life of comparative poverty; and they would rather he should gain money than save souls.
How strange is the infatuation, in some parents, which leads them to desire worldly or ecclesiastical honours for their children! He must be much in love with the cross who wishes to have his child a minister of the gospel; for, if he be such as God approves of in the work, his life will be a life of toil and suffering; he will be obliged to sip, at least, if not to drink largely of the cup of Christ. We know not what we ask when, in getting our children into the church, we take upon ourselves to answer for their call to the sacred office, and for the salvation of the souls that are put under their care. Blind parents! rather let your children beg their bread than thrust them into an office to which God has not called them; and in which they will not only ruin their souls, but be the means of damnation to hundreds; for, if God has not sent them, they shall not profit the people at all.
We may easily learn from the child what the man will be. In general they give indications of those trades and callings for which they are adapted by nature. And, on the whole, we cannot go by a surer guide in preparing our children for future life than by observing their early propensities. The future engineer is seen in the little handicraftsman of two years old. Many children are crossed in these early propensities to a particular calling, to their great prejudice, and the loss of their parents; as they seldom settle at, or make much out at, the business to which they are tied, and to which nature has given them no tendency. These infantine predilections to particular callings, we should consider as indications of divine providence, and its calling them to that work for which they are peculiarly fitted.
I have no high opinion of Polyglot businesses, though I am an admirer of Polyglot Bibles. A chymist, a druggist, a grocer, a bookseller, are too much at once. A chymist, if properly understood, is a business of science and practice, sufficient to occupy the whole of a man's life. A chymist is a student by fire, and his eyes should ever be awake to behold the operations of nature, and the synthesis and analysis of endlessly varied substances, which require such an accuracy of observation, and such a patience of investigation, in order to find out all the double and single multitudinous elective attractions as would require the attention of a first- rate mind. As a druggist, he should understand the chymical nature and actions of all simples that enter into the composition of the whole materia medica, and the proper method of dispensing the recipes of physicians. As to a grocer, whether he be a wholesale or retail person in that line, he requires not only a knowledge of the simples in which he deals, but also an acquaintance with the state of the commercial relations of his own country with those of the nations with which we hold commercial traffic and trade, each of which requires particular knowledge. Now, as to the bookselling, it is a science as well as a trade, of great extent and difficulty. The man who professes it should have an accurate knowledge of the whole operations of typography, compositions of papers and inks, of spacing, pointing, registering, &c.; and, in short, of bibliography, without which he cannot give a proper character of a book; be enabled to point out the characteristics of a good from a bad, a genuine from a spurious edition, and be able to judge of the merits of the different editions. I might say much more on all these topics; but I forbear. If, however, "chymist" mean only one who sells some matters prepared by the chymists, without knowing any thing of the science itself; a "druggist," the seller of those matters used by apothecaries, and prescribed by physicians to their patients, without knowing a tittle of their hygeian properties; or, whether they are calculated in the case ( pro re nata ) to kill or to cure; the "grocer," the dealer in pounds or pennyworths of tea, sugar, spices, raisins, soap, starch, blue, &c., &c.; and the "bookseller," merely a vender of Reading-made-Easys, geography, histories of England, and the snivellings and drivellings of the sentimental writers; all these may be dealt in by the same person, and collected together in the same shop, if it be only large enough. I must confess I pay great deference to ancient adages, and among them I remember, "Jack of all trades, and master of none." "He who has too many irons in the fire,—some of them must cool."
A match of a man's own making, when guided by reason and religion, will necessarily be a happy one. When fathers and mothers make matches for their children, which are dictated by motives, not of affection, but merely of convenience, worldly gain, &c., &c., such matches are generally wretched; it is Leah in the place of Rachel to the end of life's pilgrimage.
If I be asked, "Should Christian parents lay up money for their children?" I answer: it is the duty of every parent, who can, to lay up what is necessary to put every child in a condition to earn its bread. If he neglect this, he undoubtedly sins against God and nature. "But should not a man lay up, beside this, a fortune for his children, if he can honestly?" I answer: Yes, if there be no poor within his reach; no good work which he can assist; no heathen region on the earth to which he can contribute to send the gospel of Jesus; but not otherwise. God shows, in the course of his providence, that this laying up of fortunes for children is not right; for there is scarcely ever a case, where money has been saved up to make the children independent and gentlemen, in which God has not cursed the blessing. It was saved from the poor, from the ignorant, from the cause of God; and the canker of his displeasure consumed this ill-saved property.
Christ loves little children, because he loves simplicity and innocence; he has sanctified their very age by passing through it himself. The holy Jesus was once a little child.
There is no evidence in the whole Book of God that any child dies eternally for Adam's sin. Nothing of this kind is intimated in the Bible; and, as Jesus took upon him human nature, and condescended to be born of a woman in a state of perfect helpless infancy, he has, consequently, sanctified this state, and has said, without limitation or exception, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God." We may justly infer, and all the justice as well as the mercy of the Godhead supports the inference, that all human beings, dying in an infant state. are regenerated by that "grace of God which bringeth salvation to all men," Titus ii, 11, and go infalliby to the kingdom of heaven.
Who can account for the continual preservation and support of little children, while exposed to so many dangers, but on the ground of a peculiar and extraordinary providence?
Youth is the time, and the time alone, in which learning can be attained. I find that I can now remember very little but what I learned when I was young. I have, it is true, acquired many things since, but it has been with great labour and difficulty; and I find I cannot retain them as I can those things which I gained in my youth. Had I not got rudiments and principles in the beginning, I should certainly have made but little out in life.
Hear, ye children: God has given us only ten commandments, essentially necessary to our happiness in our religious, civil, and domestic life; and one of the ten speaks of, and strongly recommends, obedience to parents. Nature and common sense teach us that there is a degree of affectionate respect which is owing to parents, and which no other persons can properly claim. For a considerable time, parents stand, in some sort, in the place of God to their children; and, therefore, rebellion against their lawful commands has been considered as rebellion against God. This precept, therefore, prohibits, not only all injurious acts, irreverent and unkind speeches to parents, but enjoins all necessary acts of kindness, filial respect, and obedience.
We can scarcely suppose that man honours his parents who, when they fall weak, blind, or sick, does not exert himself to the uttermost in their support. In such cases God as truly requires the children to provide for their parents, as he required the parents to feed, nourish, instruct, support, and defend the children, when they were in the lowest state of helpless infancy. All the reasonable commands of parents, children, while they are under their jurisdiction, should punctually obey. And even in cases where parents have no right to command, (as in matters of religion, which refer only to God and the conscience, and in the choice of partners for life, in which the parties themselves are alone interested, because they are to dwell together for life,) their counsel and advice should be respectfully sought, as their age and experience often enable them to speak seasonably on such a subject.
There is little room to doubt that the untimely deaths of many young persons were the judicial consequences of their disobedience to their parents. Most who come to an untimely end are obliged to confess that this, with the breach of the Sabbath, were the principal causes of their ruin. Reader, art thou guilty? Humble thyself, therefore, before God, and repent.
The duty of children to their parents only ceases when the parents are laid in their graves, and this duty is the next in order and importance to the duty we owe to God. No circumstances can alter its nature or lessen its importance. "Honour thy father and thy mother," is the sovereign everlasting command of God. While the relations of parent and child exist, this commandment will be in full force.
Filial affection is one of the first duties man owes upon earth: only his duty to God is paramount. There cannot be a nearer representation of an empoverished Christ, to the eye of a child, than a parent in distress; nor will the approbation of God be more strongly expressed in the day of final retribution than to that child who has honoured the Lord with his substance, in supplying the wants of those from whom, under God, he has derived his being. And those who have ministered to the necessities of their parents will be found at the top of the list of those of whom the Fountain of justice and Father of mercies speaks when he says, "I was hungry, and ye gave me meat; thirsty, and ye gave me drink; naked, and ye clothed me; sick, and in prison, and ye ministered unto me."
 The reading of Dr. Clarke's interesting "Memoirs of the Wesley Family, by all parents and children, has my warmest recommendation.—S.D.