By Horace Bushnell
THE OSTRICH NURTURE.
I CITE this comparison for the sake of the comparison itself, and not to make an example of the mothers of Israel represented in it. They are not to be blamed, if, in the terrors of the siege and the wild feverings of starvation, the voice of nature has been stifled in their bosom. Indeed, it is the wonder of the prophet himself that, while the coarse sea-monsters draw out the breast and faithfully nurse their young, the human mother, so much tenderer and more loving, can be so maddened by distress as to become like the ostrich, and forget the cries of her children.
The ostrich, it will be observed, is nature's type of all unmotherhood. She hatches her young without incubation, depositing her eggs in the sand to be quickened by the solar heat. Her office as a mother-bird is there ended. When the young are hatched, they are to go forth untended, or unmothered, save by the general motherhood of nature itself. Hence the ostrich is called sometimes the "wicked," and sometimes the "stupid" bird. Job describes her with a feeling of natural dislike--"Which leaveth her eggs in the earth, and warmneth them in the dust, and forgetteth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild beast may break them. She is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers, her labor is in vain without care, [in our version, "without fear."] Because God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither hath he imparted unto her understanding." In other words, she is both heartless and senseless; too heartless to care for her young, and too senseless to maintain a motherhood as genial even as that of the sand.
Now there is no human mother, unless it be in some terrible stress of siege and starvation, when the mind itself is unsettled by the wild instigation of suffering, who will cease from the bodily care and feeding of her children. And yet there are many forms of nurture for the mind and character of children, that are so far resembled to the ostrich nurture, as to be fitly represented under that type. Practices are adopted, opinions accepted, theories of church life and conversion taught, that make a true Christian parentage virtually impossible, and leave the child, in fact, to a kind of nurture in the sands.
What I propose, accordingly, at the present time, is to characterize these modes of ostrich nurture, miscalled Christian, showing what they are, and the real, though doubtless undesigned, cruelty of them.
As a curious illustration of the looseness and the un settled feeling of the times, in regard to this great subject, it is just now beginning to be asserted by some, that the true principle of training for children is exactly that of the ostrich, viz: no training at all; the best government, no government. All endeavors tc fashion them by the parental standards, or to induct them into the belief of their parents, is alleged to be a real oppression put upon their natural liberty. It is nothing less, it is said, than an effort to fill them with prejudices, and put them under the sway of prejudices, all their lives long. Why not let the child have his own way, think his own thoughts, generate his own principles, and so be developed in the freedom and beauty of the flowers? Or, if he should sometimes fall into bad tempers and disgraceful or uncomely practices, as flowers do not, let him learn how to correct himself, and be righted by his own discoveries. Having thus no artificial conscience formed to hamper his natural freedom, no religious scruples and superstitions inculcated to be a detention, or limitation, upon his impulses, he will grow up as a genuine character, stunted by no cant or affectation; a large-minded, liberal, original, and beautiful soul.
This kind of nurture supposes, evidently, a faith in human nature that is total and complete. As the mother ostrich might be supposed to reason, that her eggs are ostrich's eggs, and must therefore produce genuine ostriches and nothing else, so it assumes that human children will grow up, left to themselves, into the most genuine, highest style of human character. Whereas, it is the misery of human children that, as free beings, answerable for their choices and their character, and already touched with evil, they require some training, over and above the mere indulgence of their natural instincts. They can not be left to merely blossom into character; or, if they are, it will most assuredly be any sort of character but that which parental love would desire. What they most especially want is, what no ostrich or mere animal nurture can give; to be preoccupied with holy principles and laws; to have prejudices instilled that are holy prejudices; and so to be tempered beforehand by moderating and guiding influences, such as their perilous freedom and hereditary damage require.
The question here at issue does not really need to be discussed, but it will greatly instruct and impress those parents who allow their minds to fluctuate in such looseness as quite unsettles the feeling of their obligation, just to notice the immense distinction between the relationship of human parents to their offspring, and that of the animals to theirs. It is not given to the animals, they will perceive, as to men, to pass any results matured by their own experience, to their posterity. They prepare no inventions, create no institutions for their offspring; produce no sciences, write no histories, preserve no records, accumulate no property or wealth that is to be transmitted; even their thoughts they can perpetuate in no literary treasures. Hence, there is no progress among them, over and above that small physiological improvement that may pass by the laws of natural propagation. So far they are all ostriches. All they can de is to follow their instincts, and leave their posterity to follow them over again, in the same manner, beginning at the same point. But with men, as creatures of reason, it is far otherwise. They are creators, all, for them that are to come after. What they can discover, build, produce, acquire, learn, think, enjoy, they are to transmit; giving it to them that come after to begin at the point where they cease, and have the full advantage of their opinions, works, and character. One of their first duties, therefore, is to educate and train their offspring, transmitting to them what they have known, believed, and proved by their experience. If they sometimes transmit their low thoughts, and narrow opinions, and mistaken principles, and so far give their children a great disadvantage, that is but a necessary evil which is incidental manifestly to a system otherwise beneficent, and for that they are of course responsible. If nothing were to pass but mere instincts, the disadvantage would be far greater, and the whole scale of existence lower. How unnatural and monstrous, therefore, is that scheme of nurture which requires it of parents to pass nothing, or as little as possible, to their children. If they have learned wisdom, they are not to inculcate that wisdom, lest it should create a prejudice! If they have found their conscience and the principles of virtue, to be their truest friends aid the best guardians of their life, they are not to hamper their children by subjecting them to the same! If they have found the principal joys that freshen life, in God and the faith of his Son, they are still to let their children find their own sources of strength and joy for themselves, and not to train them, or indoctrinate them in such ways of blessing, lest perchance they be not sufficiently original and free in their development! Why, if they were to discover mines and hide the discovery forever, or acquire immense treasures of property appointing them by their will to be sunk in the sea, leaving their children in utter destitution, they would not be as false to their office of parentage! God has given it to them, as rational creatures, to transmit all possible benefits to their offspring. And what shall they more carefully transmit than what is valuable above every thing else, their principles and their piety?
We find, then, a most solid ground for the obligations of Christian nurture. It is one of the grand distinctions of humanity that it has such a power to pass, and is set in such a duty of passing, its gifts, principles, and virtues, on to the ages that come after. Happily, few will need to be convinced of this; and yet there awe a great many, we shall find, who manage, even under what they regard as truly Christian pretexts, to maintain schemes of nurture so nearly unparental and unnatural, as to have a much closer affinity with the ostrich nurture than they suspect themselves.
We have many, for example, who have taken up notions of liberty, or free moral agency, in religion, that separate them effectually from the true sense of their power and privilege in regard to their children. Assuming the unquestionable first truth that religious virtue, or piety, is a matter strictly personal, the free will offering of obedience and duty to God, they sub side into the impression that they are of course absolved from any close responsibility for that which lies so en tirely in the choices of their children themselves. They may not take their absolution by any formal inference, and may not even be aware that they have taken it at all; but the distinction between manhood and childhood is so far hidden, or slurred over, under their supposed principle of responsibility grounded in free agency, that their self-indulgence is accommodated, by the pretext, more easily than they know. Sometimes the inference will be half uttered in their feeling; as when they ask, only not aloud--"after all, must not our children answer for themselves?" So they submit resignedly, to the supposed necessity, and do it with so much less of compunction, because they consciously have so tender a feeling for their children, and are so much pained by the sense of their religious perils. But the submission they fall into, in this pious way, amounts, in fact, to a real absolution, not seldom, from all the finest, tenderest, most faithful, most unworldly cares of their parental office. They subside thus into a habit of remissness and religious negligence, and their way of nurture becomes unparental even as that of the ostriches.
Their blame in such defections from duty is greater than they know. For God has probably instituted the reproductive order of existence, including the parental and filial relation, with a special design to mitigate the perils of free agency. One generation is to be ripe in knowledge and character, and the next is to be put in charge of the former, in the tenderest, most flexible, most dependent state possible, to be by them inducted into the choices where their safety lies. Furthermore, they are bound to fidelity in their charge, by the fact, that, as they have given existence to the subjects of it, so they have also communicated the poison of their own fallen state, to increase the perils of existence. In this manner, God has put it upon them to be the more strenuous in their charge, because of these perils, and expects, by means of their fidelity, to reduce the otherwise disastrous results of free agency to the smallest possible measure. Their responsibility in the parental office is not diminished, but increased even a hundred fold, by the personal liberty and strict individuality of their children. It would be far less cruel to be negligent of their bodily wants; for the body will maintain its growth, and will even manage to increase in robustness, when it is poorly clad and fed upon the coarsest fare. But the mind, or soul, born to greater perils than want or the weather, even the tremendous perils of untaught liberty, and principles unfixed, waits, at the point of its magnificent infancy, to be led into the choices, tastes, affinities, and habits, that are to be the character of its eternity. Tenderness every where else, and remissness here, is only the mockery of kindness. Let the first want be first, and the highest nature have the promptest care; and if any thing is left to the nurtire of the sands, let it be the body, where the crime of the desertion will be less and will certainly not be hid.
Many true Christians, again, fall of, unwittingly, from the humanly parental modes of nurture, in taking up notions of conversion that are mechanical, and proper only to the adult age. They make a merit of great persistency and firmness, in asserting the universal necessity of a new spiritual birth; not perceiving under what varieties of form that change may be wrought. The soul must be exercised, they think, in one given way, viz: by a struggle with sin, a conscious self-renunciation, and a true turning to Christ for mercy, followed by the joy and peace of a new life in the Spirit. A child, in other words, can be born of God only in the same way as an adult can be. There is no quickening grace, or new creation of the Spirit, proper to him as a child. If he dies in infancy, God may, it is true, find some way, possibly, to save him, but if he stays among the living, he can not be a Christian till he is older. He is therefore left, in this most tender and beautiful and pliant age, in a condition most of all unprivileged, and most sadly unhopeful. The necessity of a great spiritual change is upon him, and yet he is wholly incapable of the change! What other being has the good Lord and Father of the world left in a condition as pitiful as this of a human child? Even the most wicked and hardened of men has, at least, the gate of conversion left open. And yet there are many Christian parents, living an outwardly decent and fair life, who consent, without difficulty, and with a kind of consciously orthodox merit, to this very unnatural and truly hard lot of childhood, and fall into easy conformity with it. Their practically accepted notion of Christian nurture, in which they mean to bc piously faithful is, that they are to bring up their children outside of all possible acceptance with God, till such time as their conversion may be looked for in a church-wise form. And their whole scheme of treatment corresponds. They indoctrinate them soundly in respect to their need of a new heart; tell them what conversion is, and how it comes to pass with grown people; pray that God will arrest them when they are old enough to be converted according to the manner; drill them, meantime, into all the constraints, separated from all the hopes and liberties of religion; turning all their little misdoings and bad tempers into evidences of their need of regeneration, and assuring them that all such signs must be upon them till after they have passed the change. Their nurture is a nurture, thus, of despair; and the bread of life itself, held before them as a fruit to be looked upon, but not tasted, till they are old enough to have it as grown people do, finally becomes repulsive, just because they have been so long repelled and fenced away from it. And so religion itself, pressed down upon them till they are fatally sored by its impossible claims, becomes their fixed aversion. How plain is it that such kind of nurture is unnatural and, though it be not so intended, unchristian. It makes even the loving gospel of Jesus a most galling chain upon the neck of childhood!--this and nothing more. For so long a time, and that the most ductile and hopeful, as regards all new implantings of good, it really proposes nothing but to have the depravated nature grow, and the plague of sin deepen its bad infection.
Meantime, it will be strange, if the parents themselves do not fall away from all that is necessary to their Christian power, when the conversion of their children is postponed, in this manner, by the merely adult possibilities of their gospel. Why should they live so as to gain their children, when their children are not to be gained? Were they really to live so as to make their house an element of grace, the atmosphere of their life an element, to all that breathe it, of unworldly feeling and all godly aspiration, their mechanical doctrine of conversion would scarcely suffice to keep away the saving mercies of God from their children. Their children would still be converted even before the permissible time, and burst up through the poor detentions of their bad doctrine, to cover it with blessed confusion. But alas! it requires but a very little of genuine, living godliness in the house, to bring up children for a future conversion! This kind of ostrich nurture can be cheaply maintained, and with a very small expenditure of piety. To keep the drill on foot, as a mere legal indoctrination; to phrase a hope or desire of conversion, in the family prayers; to be exact, stern, stiff in all church practices, requires no faith; or, living by faith, no sanctification of the life. A busy, worldly, hard-natured father, a vain, irritable, captious, fashion-loving mother, a house orthodoxly bad and earthly in all the reigning practices, is yet a good enough school to prepare the necessity of a future conversion for the children! How different the kind of life that is necessary to bring them up in conversion and beget them anew in the spirit of a loving obedience to God, at a point even prior to all definite recollection. This is Christian nurture, because it nurtures Christians, and because it makes an element of Christian grace in the house. It invites, it nourishes hope, it breathes in love, it forms the new life as a holy, though beautiful prejudice in the soul, before its opening and full flowering of intelligence arrives. "Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not" translates the very economy of the house, and has, in that economy, its living verification. And the promise, "for of such is the kingdom of heaven," wears no look of violence; for the kingdom of heaven is there. The children grow up in it, as being configured to it. The family prayers have a sound of gladness, and they sing the family hymn with glad voices. The worldliness of the glittering bad world without is set off and made fascinating by no doom of repression within. A firm administration is loved because, like God's, it is felt to be the defense of liberty. Truth, purity, firmness, love to Jesus, all that belongs to a formal conversion and more, is centralized thus in the soul, as a kind of ingrown habit. The children are all converted by the converting element of grace they live in. And so it is proved that there is a conversion for children, proper and possible to their age. They are not excluded, walled away from Christ by a mechanical enforcement of modes proper only and possible to adults. The house itself is a converting ordinance.
Again there is another and different way in which parents, meaning to be Christian, fall into the ostrich nurture without being at all aware of it. They believe in what are called revivals of religion, and have a great opinion of them as being, in a very special sense, the converting times of the gospel. They bring up their children, therefore, not for conversion exactly, but, what is less dogmatic and formal, for the converting times. And this they think is even more evangelical and spiritual because it is more practical; though, in fact, much looser and connected, commonly, with even greater defections from parental duty and fidelity. To bring up a family for revivals of religion requires, alas! about the smallest possible amount of consistency and Christian assiduity. No matter what opinion may be held of such times, or of their inherent value and propriety as pertaining to the genuine economy of the gospel, any one can see that Christian parents may very easily roll off a great part of their responsibilities, and comfort themselves in utter vanity and worldliness of life, by just holding it as a principal hope for their children, that they are to be finally taken up and rescued from sin, by revivals of religion. As it costs much to be steadily and uniformly spiritual, how agreeable the hope that gales of the Spirit will come to make amends for their conscious defections. If they do not maintain the unworldly and heavenly spirit, so as to make it the element of life in their house, God will some time have his day of power in the community, and they piously hope that their children will then be converted to Christ. So they fall into a key of expectation that permits, for the present, modes of life and conduct, which they can not quite approve. They go after the world with an eagerness which they expect by and by to check, or possibly, for the time, to repent of. The family prayers grow cold and formal, and are often intermitted. The tempers are earthly, coarse, violent. Discipline is ministered in anger, not in love. The children are lectured, scolded, scorched by fiery words. The plans are all for money, show, position, not for the more sacred and higher interests of character. The conversation is uncharitable, harsh, malignant, an effusion of spleen, a tirade, a taking down of supposed worth and character by low imputations and carping criticisms. In this kind of element the children are to have their growth and nurture, but the parents piously hope that there will some time be a revival of religion, and that so God will mercifully make up what they conceive to be only the natural infirmity of their lives. Finally the hoped for day arrives, and there begins to be a remarkable and strange piety in the house. The father chokes almost in his prayer, showing that he really prays with a meaning! The mother, conscious that things have not been going rightly with the children, and seeing many frightful signs of their certain ruin at hand, warns them, even weeping, of the impending dangers by which she is so greatly distressed on their account; adding also bitter confessions of fault in herself. The children stare of course, not knowing what strange thing has come! They can not be unaffected; perhaps they seem to be converted, perhaps not. In many cases it makes little difference which; for if all this new piety in the house is to burn out in a few days, and the old regimen of worldliness and sin to return, it will be wonderful if they are not converted back again to be only just as neglectful, in the matter of Christian living, as they were brought up to be. Any scheme of nurture that brings up children thus for revivals of religion, is a virtual abuse and cruelty. And it is none the less cruel that some pious-looking pretexts are cunningly blended with it. Instead of that steady, formative, new-creating power that ought to be exerted by holiness in the house, it looks to campaigns of force that really dispense with holiness, and it results that all the best ends of Christian nurture are practically lost.
Again, there is another form of the unchristian nurture, over opposite to these just named, which is quite as wide of the true character. I speak of that lower and merely ethical nurture, which undertakes, with great assiduity it may be, to form and whittle the age of childhood into character, by a merely pruning and humanly culturing process. It is a kind of nurture that stops short of religion; and atones for the conscious defect, by a drill more or less careful in the moralities. The reason of this defect commonly is that the parents are too far decayed in piety and too much under the world, to put forth any really religious endeavor; but it is to their children as if no such interest of religion had existence. They are corrected on this side and on that, by human standards and methods, taught to consider what is respectable, or what people will think of them, how to win the honors of character among men, lectured on the wisdom of conduct, and the resulting happiness of a right behavior, but the fact of their relation to God, and the standards and motives furnished by religion are wholly passed by, or omitted. The cruelty of this sort of nurture is that, however delicate and careful it may be of that which lies in mere social character and standing, it exactly copies the ostrich nurture in all that relates to the higher and properly religious life. The world-ward nature is cared for, but the religious, that which opens God-ward, that which aspires after God, and, occupied by his inspiring impulse, mounts into all good character, as being even liberty itself; that which consummates and crowns the real greatness and future eternity of souls, is virtually ignored, left to the wild, dry motherhood of the sands.
Children trained in this mere ethical nurture, are inducted into no way of faith or dependence on God. They are taught to look for no spiritual transformation. The virtue they practice is to be prayerless virtue. They grow up thus on the roots of their natural pride and selfishness, bred into the habit of testing their goodness by their appearances, and their merit by their works. That they should be molded in this manner to a Christian life would be wonderful. Their pareiits may be nominally Christian, but they have, in fact, agreed to omit religion in the training of their children; and it would be strange if they should compliment their only nominally Christian parentage, by unfolding a really Christian life. It will be well if they have any genuine respect for religion, or even sense of what it is. Trained to have no religious conscience, and to practice a virtue unblessed by the nobler impulsions of religious inspiration, it will be strange if they maintain evon correctness of life; and more so if their heart, undeveloped by religion, does not canker itself away in the sordid vices of meanness, or burn itself out, as regards all worthy and great feelings, in the general hatred of God and his truth. There may be many decencies, or even delicacies, in this kind of nurture; and yet, in the complete oversight or neglect of the religious nature, it becomes profoundly and even cruelly unnatural.
There is yet another and widely prevalent misconception of childhood which, to a certain extent, involves Christianity itself in the same unnatural methods that are adopted by men. I speak here more especially of the assumed fact that Christ allows no place in the church for such as are only children. Is not the church to be composed of such as really believe? And what kind of faith can children have who are not yet arrived at the age of intelligence? Hence there is supposed to be a kind of necessity that children, up to that period of advancement and personal maturity when they are able to choose and believe for themselves, and become the subjects of a genuine Christian experience, should be excluded from the Christian church. It signifies nothing that the seal of faith was anciently applied to children only eight days old, as being presumptively in the faith of their parents, and included with them in the bonds of their covenant. As little does it signify that Christ says "let them come, forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." Still they can not believe--are not old enough to believe--how then can they come into the church, or in any conceivable way be included in it? Is not the church of God assumed to be made up of them that believe? What then is left for children but to stay without till they are old enough to be intelligently converted, and entered into a new life by their own deliberate choice? Hence the Baptist brethren conceive it to be a matter perfectly final, as regards the question of baptism, that infants can not believe, and can not therefore have any fit plan among believers in the church. Does not the Scripture say--"Believe and be baptized?" And how is confession to be made with the mouth, except when the heart believeth unto righteousness?
The result of such arguments and inferences is, that children have no place given them in the church, however modified, to suit the conditions of their age. Theil parents are called by Christ to live within and they themselves are left without. There is no church nurture for them proper to their tender years; they can not be in the church till they are sufficiently grown to believe. And so it is settled that there is no church mercy for them. The church turns her back and leaves them, separated even from their parents, to try their fortunes, like the wild ostriches, in the desert sands without.
It would seem that the hardness and the monstrous unnaturalness of such conceptions must revolt the mind of almost any thoughtful person. If the grace of our salvation took the ingenuous children away from their sinning, unbelieving parents, and gathered them into the heavenly fold by themselves, we should have less reason to be shocked by the severity. But instead of this, calling home the penitent fathers and mothers and carefully folding them in the church of God's protection, Jesus their shepherd shuts away the lambs, we are told, and forbids them to come in! The cruelty of such an opinion, or doctrine, is evident, and the cruel effects it must have, in making even childhood feel itself to be an alien from God's mercies, are even more so. It has no conception that there can be a Saviour and salvation for all ages and stages of life; Christ is the Saviour of adults only! No! Christ is a Saviour bounded by no such narrow and meager theories--a Saviour for infants, and children, and youth, as truly as for the adult age; gathering them all into his fold together, there to be kept and nourished together, by gifts appropriate to their years; even as he himself has shown us so convincingly, by passing through all ages and stages of life himself, and giving us, in that manner, to see that he partakes the want and joins himself to the fallen state of each. Having been a child himself, who can imagine, even for one moment, that he has no place in his fold for the fit reception of childhood? Dreadful insult, both to him and to childhood, and the greater insult, that the gospel even of heaven's love is narrowed to this, by a supposed necessity of evangelism! What a position is given thus to children, growing up to look on an adult church, instructed into the opinion that what they look upon--Christ, ordinances, covenant vows--is only for adult people!
I ought perhaps to add, in bringing this argument to a close, that the harsh imputations I may seem to some of you to have indulged, must not be hastily disallowed. Almost all parents are tender, consciously tender of their children. What will not most of you do, to clothe and feed, and educate, and, in all respects, make duo provision for your children? Sacrifices here are nothing. Health, rest, ease, comfort, you gladly renounce for their sake, and some of you would not spare the sacrifice even of your soul to serve them. Are you then to be justly charged with a mode of nurture so unnatural as to be fitly resembled to that of the ostriches? Of what are you more deeply conscious than of your willingness even to die for your children? All your tenderest movings are toward them; all that you plan, or think; or do, is for them. Yes, doubtless, it is even so, as regards their nurture and comfort in this world--all your tenderest cares and studies center here. Of this there is no question, and far be it from me to suggest a doubt of you here.
No, this defection from nature, of which I have been speaking, relates to a different matter--in quite another field. Doing you full honor as a careful provider, a most faithful and loving guardian, a disinterested, self-sacrificing contriver and laborer for your children's good; the question is whether you do not after all put them off with a mere ostrich nurture in the matter of the soul? whether you do not let in some one or more of these very misconceptions I have named, tc control all your modes of conduct and discipline to ward them? Do you never throw off your own Christian responsibilities for them by allowing, as a pretext, the fact of their liberty and personal responsibility for themselves? Are you never let down in the sense of your most sacred obligations, by simply allowing yourself to think it enough, that your children are brought up for conversion? Do none of you subside even to, lower point, and bring up your children only for revivals of religion? Are there none of you that make it your whole care to form your children by the mere ethical standards, and finish them in the graces of a mere human culture? Have none of you theories of salvation and of Christ's way respecting it, such as leave no place for children in the church, however qualified to meet their age? Little now does it signify that you love your children, or do even slave both body and mind to get a footing of society and comfort for them in this life--even beavers and bears will do as much as that. In giving existence to your child you have set him forth into perils that include his immortality, and you have therefore no right to handle him neglectfully in this great concern. On the contrary, you are to accept his immortality, and in a seriously Christian sense. take it on yourself, as being in Christ's name responsible for it; responsible, that is, for making your house itself such an element of piety, love, faith, unworldly and beautiful living, that your children shall grow up in it, as in the nurture of the Lord. Take no credit to yourselves for any thing which falls short of this. You may be very tender in what falls short, but it is no Christian tenderness. You can not live in a worldly house, you can not make yourself a family drudge to serve a mere family ambition, can not piously hope that God will somehow convert your children after they have got by you and become adults, without being justly chargeable with giving their souls a mere nurture of the sands, in which the genuine Christian grace has no part whatever. And be not surprised if these children when they meet you before the Judge of your and their life, have a more severe witness to give against you than if you had merely neglected their bodies.
Probably enough there may be some of you that, without being Christians yourselves, are yet careful to teach your children all the saving truths of religion, and who thus may take it as undue severity to be charged with only giving your children this unnatural, ostrich nurture of which I have spoken. But how poor a teacher of Christ is any one who is not in the light of Christ, and does not know the inward power 9f his truth, as a gospel of life to the soul. You press your child, in this manner, with duties you do not practice, and promises you do not embrace; and if you do not succeed, it only means that you can not impose on him to that high extent. A mother teach by words only? No! but more, a great deal more, by the atmosphere of love and patience she breathes. Besides, how easy is it for her to make every thing she teaches legal and repulsive, just because she has no liberty or joy in it herself. What is wanted therefore is not merely to give a child the law, telling him this is duty, this is right, this God requires, this he will punish; but a much greater want is to have the spirit of all duty lived and breathed around him; to see, and feel, and breathe, himself, the living atmosphere of grace. Therefore it is vain, let all parents so understand, to imagine that you can really fulfill the true fatherhood and motherhood, unless you are true Christians yourselves. I am sorry to discourage you in any good attempts. Rightly taken, what I say will not discourage you, but will only prompt you by all that is dearest to you on earth, to become truly qualified for your office. By these dear pledges God has given you, to call you to himself, I beseech you turn yourselves to the true life of religion. Have it first in yourselves, then teach it as you live it; teach it by living it; for you can do it in no other manner. Be Christians yourselves, and then it will not be difficult for you to do your true duties to your children. Until then it is really impossible.
I have only to add in the conclusion of this subject--just what is made plain by it--that there is really no great wonder, in the fact often spoken of as a subject of wonder, that Christian parents are so frequently disappointed in their children. Why is it that such correct and apparently Christian people see their children grow up unaffected by religion, or even hostile to its sacred claims, falling possibly into a character of vice and complete moral abandonment? The answer is, alas! too easy. I will not say that, in every case, the result accuses them of crime; it may be the effect sometimes of their mistaken, or faulty conceptions of parental duty. But no one, it seems to me, can once distinguish these bad faults of nurture, and note the very wide prevalence they have in the Christian homes, without even expecting worse and more fatal results of mischief than actually appear. Sometimes it seems to be imagined that nothing but some dark hindrance of divine sovereignty can account for such results. The less we have to say in that strain the wiser we shall be, and as much less irreverent to God. No, there is reason enough for all such miscarriages without charging them to God. I could not express myself as the truth requires, my brethren, if I did not say, that when I observe the wide-spread delusions of nominally Christian parents, their false aims, their worldly pretexts, their habitual separation from any living faith in God, in the ends, plans, practices, and spirit of their administration, I rather wonder that results a great deal worse do not appear. It would even be a fit subject of wonder, if children trained in this manner, should not turn out badly. If indeed they are so much as converted afterwards, saying nothing of their growing up in a sanctified character, it is well--more than could be rightly expected.
No, my friends, these mistaken modes of nurture ought not to make Christians; they must even falsify their own nature to do it. Let us be just to God, and lay our griefs no longer to his charge. If we can not come into his way in the training of our families, let us not complain that we do not succeed in ways of our own. After all, there is no cheap way of making Christians of our children. Nothing but to practically live for it makes it sure. To be Christians ourselves--ah! there is the difficulty. How can an unchristian, or only non-christian spirit reigning in the house, quicken the spirit of life and holiness in the hearts subjected to its sway? Even if our false modes of nurture are mistakes, who can expect that mistakes will be as good as verities? O, thou, blessed Son of God, advocate and friend of the little ones, rid us of our falsities, and set us in thy own true spirit, that we may fitly discharge these most sacred and tenderest duties!