By Horace Bushnell
WHAT CHRISTIAN NURTURE IS.
WE proceed now to inquire--
II. How far God, in the revelation made of his character and will, favors the view of Christian nurture vindicated, in a former discourse, by arguments and evidences of an inferior nature? And--
1. According to all that God has taught us concerning his own dispositions, he desires on his part, that children should grow up in piety, as earnestly as the parent can desire it; nay, as much more earnestly, as he hates sin more intensely, and desires good with less mixture of qualification. Goodness, or the production of goodness, is the supreme end of God, and therefore, we know, on first principles, that he desires to bestow whatsoever spiritual grace is necessary to the moral renovation of childhood, and will do it, unless some collateral reasons in his plan, involving the extension of holy virtue, require him to withhold.
Thus, if nothing were hung upon parental faithfulness and example, if the child were not used, in some degree or way, as all argument, to hold the parent to a life of Christian diligence, then the good principle in the parent might lack the necessary stimulus to bring it to maturity. Or, if all children alike, in spite of ithe evil and unchristian example of the house, were to be started into life as spiritually renewed, one of the strongest motives to holy living would be taken away from parents, in the fact that their children are safe as regards a good beginning, without any carefulness in them, or prayerfulness in their life; and their own virtue might so overgrow itself with weeds, as never to attain to a sound maturity. Let it be enough to know, on first principles in the character of God, that he will so dispense his spiritual agency to you and to your children, as to produce, considering the freedom of you both, the best measure and the ripest state of holy virtue. And how far short is this of the conclusion, that if you live as you ought and may yourselves, God will so dispense his Spirit that you may see your children grow up in piety?
Observe, too, that he expressly pledges his Holy Spirit to you, as one of his first gifts, and, what is more, even commands you to be filled with the Spirit; and considering the organic relation that subsists, by his own appointment, between you and your children, how far off is he, in this, from pledging you a mercy that accrues to their benefit? He appoints you also to be a light to the world, and, by the grace he pours into your being, prepares you to be; how much more a light to minds that are fed by simple nurture from your own? And when you consider how fond he is, if I may so speak, in the blessings he pours on the good, of gathering their children with them in the same circle of favor, how many of his promises, in all ages, run--"to you and to your children," what better assurance can you reasonably ask, to fortify your confidence in whatever spiritual grace may be necessary to your utmost success?
2. If there be any such thing as Christian nurture, distinguished from that which is not Christian, which is generally admitted, and, by the Scriptures clearly asserted, then is it some kind of nurture which God appoints. Does it then accord with the known character of God, to appoint a scheme of education, the only proper result of which shall be that children are trained up under it in sin? It would not be more absurd to suppose that God has appointed church education, to produce a first crop of sin, and then a crop of holiness. God appoints nothing of which sin, and only sin, is to be the proper and legitimate result, whether for a longer or a shorter time; least of all, a mode of training which is to produce sin. Holy virtue is the aim of every plan God adopts, every means he prescribes, and we have no right to look only for sin, in that which he has appointed as a means of virtue. We can not do it understandingly without great impiety.
3. God does expressly lay it upon us to expect that our children will grow up in piety, under the parental nurture, and assumes the possibility that such a result may ordinarily be realized. "Train up a child"--how? for future conversion?--No, but "in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." If it be said that this relates only to outward habits of virtue and vice, not to spiritual life, the Old Testament, I reply, does not raise that distinction, as it is raised in the New. It puts all good together, all evil together, and regards a child trained up in the way he should go, as going in all the ways, and fulfilling all the ideas of virtue. The phraseology of the New Testament carries the same import. "Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord," a form of expression, which indicates the existence of a Divine nurture, that is to encompass the child and mold him unto God; so that he shall be brought up, as it were, in Him.
4. A time is foretold, as our churches generally believe, when all shall know God, even from the least to the greatest; that is, shall spiritually know him, or so that there shall be no need of exhorting one another to know him; for intellectual knowledge is not carried by exhortation. If such a time is ever to come, then, at least, children are to grow up in Christ. Can it come too soon? And, if we have the opinion that any such thing is impossible, either we, or those who come after us, must get rid of it. A principal reason why the great expectations of the future, that we, in this age, are giving out so confidently, seem only visionary and idle dreams to many, is that we are perpetually assuming their impossibility ourselves. Our very theory of religion is, that men are to grow up in evil, and be dragged into the church of God by conquest. The world is to lie in halves, and the kingdom of God is to stretch itself side by side with the kingdom of darkness, making sallies into it, and taking captive those who are sufficiently hardened and bronzed in guiltiness to be converted!
Thus we assume even the absurdity of all our expectations in regard to the possible advancement of human society and the universal prevalence of Christian virtue. And thus we throw an air of extravagance and unreason over all we do. Whereas there is a sober and rational possibility, that human society should be universally pervaded by Christian virtue. The Christian scheme has a scope of intention, and instruments and powers adequate to this: it descends upon the world to claim all souls for its dominion--all men of all climes, all ages from childhood to the grave. It is, indeed, a plan which supposes the existence of sin, and sin will be in the world, and in all hearts in it, as long as the world or human society continues; but the scheme has a breadth of conception, and has powers and provisions embodied in it, which, apart from all promises and predictions, certify us of a day when it will reign in all human hearts, and all that live shall live in Christ. Let us either renounce any such confidence, or show, by a thorough consistency in our religious doctrines, that we hold it deliberately and manfully.
5. We discover in the Scriptures that the organic law, of which I have spoken, is distinctly recognized, and that character in children is often regarded as, in some very important sense, derivative from their parents. It is thus that "sin has passed upon all men." "By the offense of one, judgment came upon all." Christian faith is also spoken of in a similar way--"The unfeigned faith, which dwelt first, in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice, and, I am persuaded, that in thee also." Not that, in the bald and naked sense, it had descended thus through three generations. But the apostle conceives a power, in the good life of these mothers, that must needs transmit some flavor of piety. In like manner, God is represented as "keeping covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations;" which, if it signifies any thing, amounts to a declaration that he will spiritually own and bless every succeeding generation, to the end of the world, if only the preceding will live so as to be fit vehicles of his blessing; for it is not any covenant, as a form of mutual contract, which carries the divine favor, but it is the loving Him rather, and keeping His commandments, by an upright, godly life, which sets the parents on terms of friendship with God, and secures the inhabitation of his power.
Declarations like those in the eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel, "the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father,"--"the soul that sinneth, it shall die,"--are hastily applied by many, not to show that the child is to be punished only for his own sin, which is their true import, but, as if it were the same thing, to disprove the fact of an organic connection, by which children receive a character from their parents. Whereas this latter is a truth which we see with our eyes, and one that is constantly affirmed in the Scriptures, both in respect to bad character and to good. "God layeth up the iniquity of the wicked for his children,"--"Visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation." By which we are to understand, what is every day exhibited in actual historic proof, that the wickedness of parents propagates itself in the character and condition of their children, and that it ordinarily requires three or four generations to ripen the sad harvest of misery and debasement. Again, on the other side, "he hath blessed thy children with thee,"--"For the good of them and their children after them,"--"For the promise is to you and to your children." The Scriptures have a perpetual habit, if I may so speak, of associating children with the character and destiny of their parents. In this respect, they maintain a marked contrast with the extreme individualism of our modern philosophy. They do not always regard the individual as an isolated unit, but they often look upon men as they exist, in families and races, and under organic laws.
Something has undoubtedly been gained to modern theology, as a human science, by fixing the attention strongly upon the individual man, as a moral agent, immediately related to God, and responsible only for his own actions; at the same time there was a truth, an important truth, underlying the old doctrine of federal headship and original or imputed sin, though strangely misconceived, which we seem, in our one-sided speculations, to have quite lost sight of. And how can we ever attain to any right conception of organic duties, until we discover the reality of organic powers and relations? And how can we hope to set ourselves in harmony with the Scriptures, in regard to family nurture or household baptism, or any other kindred subject, while our theories exclude, or overlook precisely that which is the base of their teachings, and appointments? This brings me to my--
Last argument, which is drawn from infant or household baptism--a rite which supposes the fact of an organic connection of character between the parent and the child; a seal of faith in the parent, applied over to the child, on the ground of a presumption that his faith is wrapped up in the parent's faith; so that he is ac counted a believer from the beginning. We must distinguish here between a fact and a presumption of fact. If you look upon a seed of wheat, it contains, in itself presumptively, a thousand generations of wheat, though by reason of some fault in the cultivation, or some speck of diseased matter in itself, it may, in fact, never repro duce at all. So the Christian parent has, in his character, a germ, which has power, presumptively, to produce its like in his children, though by reason of some bad fault in itself, or possibly some outward hindrance in the Church, or some providence of death, it may fail to do so. Thus it is that infant baptism becomes an appropriate rite. It sees the child in the parent, counts him presumptively a believer and a Christian, and, with the parent, baptizes him also. Furthermore, you will perceive that it must be presumed, either that the child will grow up a believer, or that he will not. The Baptist presumes that he will not, and therefore declares the right to be inappropriate. God presumes that he will, and therefore appoints it. The Baptist tells the child that nothing but sin can be expected of him; God tells him that for his parents' sakes, whose faith he is to follow, he has written his own name upon him, and expects him to grow up in all duty and piety.
I have no desire to press the passages in which mention is made of household baptism beyond their true import. When Paul is said to have "baptized the household of Stephanas," our Baptist friends reply that the text proves nothing, in respect to infant baptism, because it can not be shown that there were any children in the household; and some, who practice infant baptism, have conceded the sufficiency of the objection. But the power of this proof-text does not depend, in the least, on the fact that there were children in the household of Stephanas, but simply on the form of the language. Indeed, it has always seemed to me that the argument for infant baptism is rather strengthened than weakened, by the supposition that there were, in fact, no infants or children in this household; for a household generally contains children, and a term so inclusive in its import, could never come into use, unless it was the practice for baptism to go by households. Under a practice like that of our Baptist brethren, what preacher would ever be heard to speak, in this general inclusive way, of having baptized a household? In the case of the jailor, too, the same reasoning holds. Here, however, our Baptist brethren go farther, endeavoring to show positively, from the language used, that there were no infants or children in the household; for when it is said that the jailor "rejoiced, believing in God with all his house," it is argued that, inasmuch as infant children are incapable of believing, there could have been no infants in the family. Admitting the correctness of the translation, which some have questioned, the argument seems rather plausible as a turn of logic, than just and convincing; for, if we consider the more decisive position held in that age by the heads of families, and how, in common speech, they were supposed to carry the religion of the family with them, we shall be convinced that nothing was more natural than the very language here used. It was taken for granted, as a matter of common understanding, that, in a change of religion, the children went with the parents: if they became Jews, that their children would be Jews; if Christian believers, that their children would be Christians. Hence all the terms used, in reference to their religion, took the most inclusive form. If one believed in God, he believed with all his house: the change he suffered, in the common understanding of the age, carried the house with him; and it occurred to no one to question the literal exactness of such like inclusive terms.
It has been a fashion, with many modern critics, to surrender both these passages as proofs of infant baptism, and they certainly do not prove it, in just the way in which many have used them as proof-texts. But if any one will seek a point of view, whence he may be able to give a natural and easy interpretation to the language used, or if he will ask, on the simple doctrine of chances, what chance there was that these two households should include no children, and moreover what chance that, in the only three cases of household baptism mentioned in the Scripture, the households should have been distinguished by this singularity, he will be as little likely as possible, to concede the fact that infant baptism is not adequately proved by these passages.
But the true idea of these passages, and also of the rite itself, is seen most evidently in the history of its establishment by Christ, in the third chapter of John. The Jewish nation regarded other nations as unclean. Hence, when a Gentile family wished to become Jewish citizens, they were baptized in token of cleansing. Then they were said to be re-born, or regenerated, so as to be accounted true descendants of Abraham. We use the term naturalize, that is, to make natural born, in the same sense. But Christ had come to set up a spiritual kingdom, the kingdom of heaven; and finding all men aliens, and spiritually unclean, he applies over the rite of baptism, which was familiar to the Jews, ("art thou a Master in Israel, and knowest not these things?") giving it a higher sense. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter the kingdom of heaven." But the Gentile proselyte, according to the custom here described--here is the point of the argument--came with his family. They were all baptized together, young and old, all regenerated or naturalized together; and therefore, in the new application made of the rite to signify spiritual cleansing and regeneration, it is understood, of course, that children are to come with their parents. To have excluded them would have been, to every Jewish mind, the bight of absurdity. They could not have been excluded, without express exception, and no exception was made.
Some have questioned whether proselyte baptism existed at this early age; but of this the third chapter of John is itself conclusive proof; for how else was baptism familiarly known to the Jews as connected with regeneration; that is, civil regeneration? There is always a historic reason for religious rites and for usages of language; and you will find it impossible to suppose that Christ appointed baptism, and set the rite in connection with spiritual regeneration, by any mere accident, or without some historic basis, answering to that which I have just described. In this manner, all his language, in the interview with Nicodemus, becomes natural and easy.
It follows that the children of Christian disciples, being baptized with their parents, as the children of Gentile proselytes were baptized with theirs, would be taken or presumed by the church to be spiritually cleansed, in the same manner. Accordingly, just as the children of Jews were accounted Jews, and not as unclean, when one of the parents was a Jew, so Paul tells us, that in the church of God, the believing party sanctifies the unbelieving, "else were your children unclean, but now are they holy;" showing that the Jewish analogies, in regard to children, were in fact translated, or passed over to the church, and adopted there--a translation that naturally followed. from the reapplication of proselyte baptism.
Then passing into the early history of the church, we hear Justin Martyr saying: "There are some of us, eighty years old, who were made disciples to Christ in their childhood;" that is, in the age of the apostles, and while they were yet living; for it was now less than eighty years since their death. And in the expression "made disciples," taken in connection with the baptismal formula, "Go disciple all nations, baptizing," &c., we see that he alludes to baptism; for baptism was the rite that introduced the subject into the Christian school as a disciple; and what so natural as that the children of disciples should be disciples with them?
Then again, Ireneus, who lived within one generation of the apostles, gives us the second mention of this rite which appears in history, when he says: "Christ came to save all persons through himself; all, I say, who through him are regenerated unto God: infants and little ones, and children and youth, and the aged." Which phrase, "regenerated unto God," applied to parents and little ones, alludes to baptism: showing that a notion of baptism, as connected with regeneration, coincident with that which we found in the third chapter of John, was then current in the church.
I have been thus full upon the rite of baptism, not because that is my subject, but because the rite involves, in all its grounds and reasons, the same view of Christian education which I am seeking to establish. One can not be thoroughly understood and received without the other. And it is precisely on this account that we have so great difficulty in sustaining the rite of infant baptism. It ought to be difficult to sustain any ite, after the sense of it is wholly gone from us. You perceive, too, in this exposition, that the view of Christian nurture I am endeavoring to vindicate, is not new, but is older, by far, than the one now prevalent--as old as the Christian church. It is radically one with the ancient doctrine of baptism and regeneration, advanced by Christ, and accepted by the first fathers.
We have much to say of baptismal regeneration as a great error, which undoubtedly it is, in the form in which it is held; but it is only a less hurtful error than some of us hold in denying it. The distinction between our doctrine of baptismal regeneration, and the ancient Scripture view, is too broad and palpable to be mistaken. According to the modern church dogma, no faith, in the parents, is necessary to the effect of the rite. Sponsors, too, are brought in between all parents and their duty, to assume the very office which belongs only to them. And, what is worse, the child is said to be actually regenerated by the act of the priest. According to the more ancient view, or that of the Scriptures, nothing depends upon the priest or minister, save that he execute the rite in due form. The regeneration is not actual, but only presumptive, and every thing depends upon the organic law of character pertaining between the parent and the child, the church and the child, thus upon duty and holy living and gracious example. The child is too young to choose the rite for himself, but the parent, having him as it were in his own life, is allowed the confidence that his own faith and character will be reproduced in the child, and grow up in his growth, and that thus the propriety of the rite as a seal of faith will not be violated. In giving us this rite, on the grounds stated, God promises, in fact, on his part, to dispense that spiritual grace which is necessary to the fulfillment of its import. In this way too is it seen that the Christian economy has a place for persons of all ages; for it would be singular if, after all we say of the universality of God's mercy as a gift to the human race, it could yet not limber itself to man, so as to adapt a place for the age of childhood, but must leave a full fourth part of the race, the part least hardened in evil and tenderest to good, unrecognized and unprovided for--gathering a flock without lambs, or, I should rather say, gathering a flock away from the lambs. Such is not the spirit of Him who said, "forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven." Therefore we bring them into the school of Christ and the pale of his mercy with us, there to be trained up in the holy nurture of the Lord. And then the result is to be tested afterwards, or at an advanced period of life, by trying their character in the same way as the character of all Christians is tried; for many are baptized in adult age, who truly do not believe, as is afterwards discovered. And yet our Baptist brethren never rebaptize them, notwithstanding all they say of faith as the necessary condition of baptism.
But there are two objections to this view of Christian nurture, which, if they are not removed, may even suffice to break the force of my argument.
1. A theoretical objection, that it leaves no room for the sovereignty of God, in appointing the moral character of men and families. Thus it is declared that "all are not Israel who are of Israel," and that God, before the children Jacob and Esau had done either good or evil. professed his love to one, and his rejection of the ether. But the wonder is, in this case of Rebecca and her children, that such a mother did not ruin them both. A partial mother, scorning one child, teaching the other to lie and trick his blind father, and extort from a starving brother his birthright honor, can not be said to furnish a very good test of the power of Christian education. But show me the case, where the whole conduct of the parents has been such as it should be to produce the best effects, and where the sovereignty of God has appointed the ruin of the children, whether all, or any one of them. The sovereignty of God has always a relation to means, and we are not authorized to think of it, in any case, as separated from means.
2. An objection from observation--asking why it is, if our doctrine be true, that many persons, remarkable for their piety, have yet been so unfortunate in their children? Because, I answer, many persons, remarkable for their piety, are yet very disagreeable persons, arid that too, by reason of some very marked defect in their religious character. They display just that spirit, and act in just that manner, which is likely to make religion odious--the more odious, the more urgently they commend it. Sometimes they appear well to the world one remove distant from them, they shine well in their written biography, but one living in their family will know what others do not; and if their children turn out badly, will never be at a loss for the reason. Many persons, too, have such defective views of the manner of teaching appropriate to early childhood, that they really discourage their children. "Fathers provoke not your children to anger," says one, "lest they be discouraged;" implying that there is such a thing as encouraging, and such a thing as discouraging good principle and piety in a child. And there are other ways of discouraging children besides provoking them to an angry and wounded feeling by harsh treatment.
I once took up a book, from a Sabbath-school library, one problem of which was to teach a child that he wants a new heart. A lovely boy (for it was a narrative) was called every day to resolve that he would do no wrong that day, a task which he undertook most cheerfully, at first, and even with a show of delight. But, before the sun welt down, he was sure to fall into some ill-temper or be overtaken by some infirmity. Whereupon, the conclusion was immediately sprung upon him that he "wanted a new heart." We are even amazed that any teacher of ordinary intelligence should not once have imagined how she herself, or how the holiest Christian living, would fare under such kind of regimen; how she would discover every day, and probably some hours before sunset, that she too wanted a new heart? And the practical cruelty of the experiment is yet more to be deplored, than its want of consideration. Had the problem been how to discourage most effectually every ingenuous struggle of childhood, no readier or surer method could have been devised.
Simply to tell a child, as he just begins to make acquaintance with words, that he "must have a new heart before he can be good," is to inflict a double discouragement. First, he can not guess what this technical phraseology means, and thus he takes up the impression that he can do or think nothing right, till he is able to comprehend what is above his age--why then should he make the endeavor? Secondly, he is told that he must have a new heart before he can be good, not that he may hope to exercise a renewed spirit, in the endeavor to be good--why then attempt what must be worthless, till something previous befalls him? Discouraged thus on every side, his tender soul turns hither and thither, in hopeless despair, and finally he consents to be what he must--a sinner against God, and that only. Well is it, under such a process, wearing down his childish soul into soreness and despair of good, sealing up his nature in silence and cessation as regards all right endeavors, and compelling him to turn his feelings into other channels, where he shall find his good in evil--well is it, I say, if he has not contracted a dislike to the very subject of religion, as inveterate as the subject is impossible.
Many teach in this way, no doubt, with the best intentions imaginable; their design is only to be faithful, and sometimes they appear even to think that the more they discourage their children, the better and more faithful they are. But the mistake, if not cruelly meant, is certainly most cruel in the experience; and it is just this mistake, I am confident, which accounts for a large share of the unhappy failures made by Christian parents, in the training of their children. Rather should they begin with a kind of teaching suited to the age of the child. First of all, they should rather seek to teach. a feeling than a doctrine; to bathe the child in their own feeling of love to God, and dependence on him, and contrition for wrong before him, bearing up their child's heart in their own, not fearing to encourage every good motion they can call into exercise; to make what is good, happy and attractive, what is wrong, odious and hateful; then as the understanding advances, to give it food suited to its capacity, opening upon it, gradually the more difficult views of Christian doctrine and experience.
Sometimes Christian parents fail of success in the religious training of their children, because the church counteracts their effort and example. The church makes a bad atmosphere about the house, and the poison comes in at the doors and windows. It is rent by divisions, burnt up by fanaticism, frozen by the chill of a worldly spirit, petrified in a rigid and dead orthodoxy. It makes no element of genial warmth and love about the child, according to the intention of Christ ill its appointment, but gives to religion, rather, a forbidding aspect, and thus, instead of assisting the parent, becomes one of the worst impediments to his success. What kind of element the world makes about the child is of little consequence; for here there is no pretence of piety. But when the school of Christ makes itself an element of sin and death, the child's baptism becomes as great a fiction as the church itself, and the arrangements of divine mercy fail of their intended power. There are, in short, too many ways of accounting for the failure of success, in the family training of those who are remarkable for their piety, without being led to doubt the correctness of my argument in these discourses.
To sum up all, we conclude, not that every child can certainly be made to grow up in Christian piety--nothing is gained by asserting so much, and perhaps I could not prove it to be true, neither can any one prove the contrary--I merely show that this is the true idea and aim of Christian nurture as a nurture of the Lord. It is presumptively true that such a result can be realized, just as it is presumptively true that a school will forward the pupils in knowledge, though possibly sometimes it may fail to do it. And, without such a presumption, no parent can do his duty and fill his office well, any more than it is possible to make a good school, in the expectation that the scholars will learn something five or ten years hence, and not before.
To give this subject its practical effect, let me urge it--
1. Upon the careful attention of those who neglect, or decline, offering their children in baptism. Some of you are simply indifferent to this duty, not seeing what good it can do to baptize a child; others have positive theological objections to it. With the former class I certainly agree, so far as to admit that baptism, as an operation, can do no good to your child; but, if it has no importance in what it operates, it has the greatest importance in what it signifies; and, what is more to be deplored by you, the withholding it signifies as much, viz: that you yourselves have no sense of the relation that subsists between your character and that of your child, and as little of the mercy that Christ intends for your child, by including him with you in his fold, to grow up there by your side in the same common hopes. Had you any just sense of these things, you would look upon the baptism of your child as a rite of as great importance and spiritual propriety as your own; for, in neither case, has the form any value beyond what it signifies. The other class among you suffer the same defect; for it is my settled conviction that no man ever objected to infant baptism, who had not at the bottom of his objections, false views of Christian education--who did not hold a notion of individualism, in regard to Christian character in childhood, which is justified, neither by observation nor by Scripture.
It is the prevalence of false views, on this subject, which creates so great difficulty in sustaining infant baptism in our churches. If children are to grow up in sin, to be converted when they come to the age of maturity, if this is tie only aim and expectation of family nurture, there really is no meaning or dignity whatever in the rite. They are even baptized into sin, and every propriety of the rite as a seal of faith is violated. And it is the feeling of this impropriety which lies at the basis of all your objections. Returning to the old Scripture doctrine of an organic law, connecting the child morally with the parents, so that he is, as it were, included in them, to grow up in their life; perceiving then that he is a kind of rudimental being, coining up gradually into a separate and complete individuality, having the parental life extended to him, first, with an almost absolutely controlling power, then less and less, till he takes, at length, the helm of his own spirit--every difficulty that you now feel vanishes, and the rite of infant baptism becomes one of the greatest beauty, and perfectly coincident with the spirit and the rules of adult baptism. The very command, "believe and be baptized," of which so much is made, is exactly met, and with no modifications, save what are necessary to suit the peculiar state and age of childhood: for the child, being included as it were in the parental life, is accounted presumptively one with the parents, and sealed with the seal of their faith.
And it would certainly be very singular if Christ Jesus, in a scheme of mercy for the world, had found no place for infants and little children: more singular still, if he had given them the place of adults; and worse than singular, if he had appointed them to years of sin as the necessary preparation for his mercy. But if you see him counting them one with you, bringing them tenderly into his fold with you, there to grow up in him, you will not doubt that he has given them a place exactly and beautifully suited to them. And is it for you to withhold them from that place? Is it worthy of your tenderness, as a Christian parent, to leave them outside of the fold, when the gate is open, only taking care to go in yourself? I will not accuse you of intended wrong, but I am quite sure your thoughts are not as God's thoughts, and I ask you to study this question again, and more deeply. You are giving your children, as they grow up, impressions that will assuredly be very injurious to them, and robbing them of impressions that would have great power and value to their minds. What can be worse, what can make them aliens, more sensibly, from Christ's sympathies, what can more effectually discourage and chill them to all thoughts of a good life, than to make them feel that Christ has no place for them till their sins are ripe, and they are capable of a grace that is now above their years? What more persuasive, than to know that he has taken them into his school already, to grow up round him as disciples? And if God should call you to himself, what will draw upon their hearts more tenderly than to remember that the father and mother whose name they revere, brought them believingly in with themselves, to be owned in that general assembly of the just which occupies both worlds, and become partakers with them there, in the grace which is now their song?
You rob yourselves too of an influence which is necessary to a right fulfillment of your duty. Their character, you say, is their own; let them believe for themselves and be baptized when they will. You have never the same genial feeling that you would, if you regarded them as morally linked to your character and drawing from you the mold of their being. You are not kept in the same state of carefulness and spiritual tenderness. No matter if you are cold to them, at times, and do not always live Christ in the house, they are growing up to be converted, and almost any thing is good enough for conversion! Christ himself, too, has no such relation to you, in your family, as to make your piety a domestic spirit. He has not gathered your children round you, as a flock of young disciples, pouring all his tenderness into your family ties, to make them vehicles of mercy and blessing. Once more I ask you to consider whether God is not better to you than you yourselves have thought, and whether, in withholding your children from God, you are not like to fall as far short of your duty, as you do of the privilege offered you.
2. What motives are laid upon all Christian parents, by the doctrine I have established, to make the first article of family discipline a constant and careful discipline of themselves. I would not undervalue a strong and decided government in families. No family can be rightly trained without it. But there is a kind of virtue, my brethren, which is not in the rod--the virtue, I mean, of a truly good and sanctified life. And a reign of brute force is much more easily maintained, than a reign whose power is righteousness and love. There are, too, I must warn you, many who talk much of the rod as the orthodox symbol of parental duty, but who might really as well be heathens as Christians; who only storm about their house with heathenish ferocity, who lecture, and threaten, and castigate, and bruise, and call this family government. They even dare to speak of this as the nurture of the Lord. So much easier is it to be violent than to be holy, that they substitute force for goodness and grace, and are wholly unconscious of the imposture. It is frightful to think how they batter and bruise the delicate, tender souls of their children, extinguishing in them what they ought to cultivate, crushing that sensibility which is the hope of their being, and all in the sacred name of Christ Jesus. By no such summary process can you dispatch your duties to your children. You are not to be a savage to them, but a father and a Christian. Your real aim and study must be to infuse into them a new life, and, to this end, the Life of God must perpetually reign in you. Gathered round you as a family, they are all to be so many motives, strong as the love you bear them, to make you Christ-like in your spirit. It must be seen and felt with them that religion is a first thing with you. And it must be first, not in words and talk, but visibly first in your love--that which fixes your aims, feeds your enjoyments, sanctifies your pleasures, supports your trials, satisfies your wants, contents your ambition, beautifies and blesses your character. No mock piety, no sanctimony of phrase, or longitude of face on Sundays will suffice. You must live in the light of God, and hold such a spirit in exercise as you wish to see translated into your children. You must take them into your feeling, as a loving and joyous element, and beget, if by the grace of God you may, the spirit of your own heart in theirs.
This is Christian education, the nurture of the Lord. Ah, how dismal is the contrast of a half-worldly, carnal piety; proposing money as the good thing of life: stimulating, ambition for place and show; provoking ill-nature by petulance and falsehood; praying, to save the rule of family worship; having now and then a religious fit, and, when it is on, weeping and exhorting the family to undo all that the life has taught them to do; and then, when the passions have burnt out their fire, dropping down again to sleep in the embers, only hoping still that the family will sometime be converted! When shall we discover that families ought to be ruined by such training as this? When shall we turn ourselves wholly to God, and looking on our children as one with us and drawing their character from us, make them arguments to duty and constancy-duty and constancy not as a burden, but, since they are enforced by motives so dear, our pleasure and delight? For these ties and duties exist not for the religious good of our children only, but quite as much for our own. And God, who understands us well, has appointed them to keep us in a perpetual frame of love; for so ready is our bad nature to kindle with our good, and burn with it, that what we call our piety, is, otherwise, in constant danger of degenerating into a fiery, censorious, unmerciful and intolerant spirit.
Hence it is that monks have been so prone to persecution. Not dwelling with children as the objects of affection, having their hearts softened by no family love, their life identified with no objects that excite gentleness, their nature hardens into a Christian abstraction, and blood and doctrine go together. Therefore God hath set Israel in families, that the argument to duty may come upon the gentle side of your nature, and fall, as a baptism, on the head of your natural affections. Your character is to be a parent character, infolding lovingly the spirits of your children, as birds are gathered in the nest, there to be sheltered and fed, and got ready for the flight. Every hour is to be an hour of duty, every look and smile, every reproof and care, an effusion of Christian love. For it is the very beauty of the work you have to do that you are to cherish and encourage good, and live a better life into the spirits of your children.
3. It is to be deeply considered, in connection with this view of family nurture, whether it does not meet many of the deficiencies we deplore in the Christian character of our times, and the present state of our churches. We have been expecting to thrive too much by conquest, and too little by growth. I desire to speak with all caution of what are very unfortunately called revivals of religion; for, apart from the name, which is modern, and from certain crudities and excesses that go with it--which name, crudities, and excesses are wholly adventitious as regards the substantial merits of such scenes--apart from these, I say, there is abundant reason to believe that God's spiritual economy includes varieties of exercise, answering, in all important respects, to these visitations of mercy, so much coveted in our churches. They are needed. A perfectly uniform demonstration in religion is not possible or desirable. Nothing is thus uniform but death. Our exercise varies every year and day from childhood onward. Society is going through new modes of exercise in the same manner, excited by new subjects, running into new types of feeling, and struggling with new combinations of thought. Quite as necessary is it that all holy principle should have a varied exercise--now in one duty, now in another; now in public aims and efforts, now in bosom struggles; now in social methods, now in those which are solitary and private; now in high emotion, now in deliberative thought and study. Accordingly the Christian church began with a scene of extraordinary social demonstration, and the like, in one form or another, may be traced in every period of its history since that day.
But the difficulty is with us that we idolize such scenes, and make them the whole of our religion. We assume that nothing good is doing, or can be done at any other time. And what is even worse, we often look upon these scenes, and desire them, rather as scenes of victory, than of piety. They are the harvest-times of conversion, and conversion is too nearly every thing with us. In particular we see no way to gather in disciples, save by means of certain marked experiences, developed in such scenes, in adult years. Our very children can possibly come to no good, save in this way. Instrumentalities are invented to compass our object, that are only mechanical, and the hope of mere present effect is supposed to justify them. Present effect, in the view of many, justifies any thing and every thing. We strain every nerve of motion, exhaust every capacity of endurance, and push on till nature sinks in exhaustion. We preach too much, and live Christ too little. We do many things which, in a cooler mood, are seen to hurt the dignity of religion, and which somewhat shame and sicken ourselves. Hence the present state of religion in our country. We have worked a vein till it has run out. The churches are exhausted.1 There is little to attract them, when they look upon the renewal of scenes through which many of them have passed. They look about them, with a sigh, to ask if possibly there is no better way, and some are ready to find that better way, in a change of their religion. Nothing different from this ought to have been expected. No nation can long thrive by a spirit of conquest; no more can a church. There must be an internal growth, that is made by holy industry, in the common walks of life and duty.
Let us turn now, not away from revivals of religion, certainly not away from the conviction that God will bring upon the churches tides of spiritual exercise, and vary his divine culture by times and seasons suited to their advancement; but let us turn to inquire whether there is not a fund of increase in the very bosom of the church itself. Let us try if we may not train up our children in the way that they should go. Simply this, if we can do it, will make the church multiply her numbers many fold more rapidly than now, with the advantage that many more will be gained from without than now. For she will cease to hold a mere piety of occasions, a piety whose chief use is to get up occasions; she will follow a gentler and more constant method, as her duty is more constant, and blends with the very life of her natural affections. Her piety will be of a more even and genial quality, and will be more respected. She will not strive and cry, but she will live. The school of John the Baptist will be succeeded by the school of Christ, as a dew comes after a fire. Families will not be a temptation to you, half the time hurrying you on to get money, and prepare a show, and the other half, a motive to repentance and shame, and profitless exhortation; but all the time, an argument for Christian love and holy living.
Then also the piety of the coming age will be deeper, and more akin to habit than ours, because it began earlier. It will have more of an air of naturalness, and will be less a work of will. A generation will come forward, who will have been educated to all good undertakings and enterprises--ardent without fanaticisinm, powerful without machinery. Not born, so generally, in a storm, and brought to Christ by an abrupt transition, the latter portion of life will not have an unequal war to maintain with the beginning, but life will be more nearly one, and in harmony with itself. Is not this a result to be desired? Could we tell our American churches, at this moment, what they want, should we not tell them this? Neither, if God, as many fear, is about to bring upon his church a day of wrath and stormy conflict, let any one suspect that such a kind of piety will want vigor and nerve to withstand the fiery assaults anticipated. See what turn the mind of out apostle took when he was arming his disciples for the great conflict of their age. Children, obey your parents--Fathers, provoke not your children--Servants, be obedient to your masters--Masters, forbear threatening--Finally, to include all, put on the whole armor of God. As if the first thought, in arming the church for great trials and stout victories, was to fill common life and the relations of the house with a Christian spirit. There is no truer truth, or more sublime. Religion never thoroughly penetrates life, till it becomes domestic. Like that patriotic fire which makes a nation invincible, it never burns with inextinguishable devotion till it burns at the hearth.
4. Parents who are not religious in their character. have reason, in our subject, seriously to consider what effect they are producing, and likely to produce, in their children. Probably you do not wish them to be irreligious; few parents have the hardihood or indiscretion to desire that the fear of God, the salutary restraints of religion, should be removed from their children. Possibly you exert yourselves, in a degree, to give them religious counsel and instruction. But, alas! how difficult is it for you to convince them, by words, of the value of what you practically reject yourselves. Have I not shown you that they are set in organic connection with you, to draw their spirit, and principles and character from yours? What then are they daily deriving from you, but that which you yourselves reveal, in your prayerless house, and at your thankless table? Is it a spirit of duty and Christian love, a faith that has its home and rest in other worlds, or is it the carnal spirit of gain, indifference to God, deadness to Christ, love of the world, pride, ambition, all that is earthly, nothing that is heavenly?
Do not imagine that you have done corrupting them when they are born. Their character is yet to be born, and, in you, is to have its parentage. Your spirit is to pass into them, by a law of transition that is natural, and well nigh irresistible. And then you are to meet them in a future life, and see how much of blessing or of sorrow they will impute to you--to share their unknown future, and look upon yourselves as father and mother to their destiny. Such thoughts, I know, are difficult for you to meet; difficult because they open real scenes, which you are, one day, to look upon. Loving these your children, as most assuredly you do, can you think that you are fulfilling the office that your love requires? Go home to your Christless house, look upon them all as they gather round you, and ask it of your love faithfully to say, whether it is well between you? And if no other argument can draw you to God, let these dear living arguments come into your soul, and prevail there.
 This was written, I believe, in the year, A.D., 1846.