By Horace Bushnell
THE ORGANIC UNITY OF THE FAMILY.
IN this lively picture, you have the illustration of a great and momentous truth--the Organic Unity of the Family. If it be an idolatrous family, worshipers of the moon, for example, such is the organic relation of the members, that they are all involved together, and the idol worship is the common act of the house. The children gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, the women prepare the cakes for an offering, and the queen of heaven receives it, as one that is the joint product of the whole family. The worship is family worship; the god of one is the god of all; the spirit of one, the spirit of all.
And so it is with all family transactions and feelings. They implicate ordinarily the whole circle of the house; young and old, male and female, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. Acting thus together, they take a common character, accept the same delusions, practice the same sins, and ought, I believe, to be sanctified by a common grace.
This most serious truth is one that is exceedingly remote from the present age, and from no part of the Christian world more remote than from us. All our modern notions and speculations have taken a bent toward individualism. In the state, we have been engaged to bring out the civil rights of the individual, asserting his proper liberties as a person, and vindicating his conscience, as a subject of God, from the constraints of force. In matters of religion, we have burst the bonds of church authority, and erected the individual mind into a tribunal of judgment within itself; we have asserted free will as the ground of all proper responsibility, and framed our theories of religion so as to justify the incommunicable nature of persons as distinct units. While thus engaged, we have well nigh lost, as was to be expected, the idea of organic powers and relations. The state, the church, the family, have ceased to be regarded as such, according to their proper idea, and become mere collections of units. A national life, a church life, a family life, is no longer conceived, or perhaps conceivable, by many. Instead of being wrought in together and penetrated, to some extent, by historic laws and forces common to all the members, we only seem to lie as seeds piled together, without any terms of connection, save the accident of proximity, or the fact that we all belong to the heap. And thus the three great forms of organic existence, which God has appointed for the race, are in fact lost out of mental recognition. The conception is so far gone that, when the fact of such an organic relation is asserted, our enlightened public will stare at the strange conceit, and wonder what can be meant by a paradox so absurd.
My design, at the present time, is to restore, if possible, the conception of one of these organic forms, viz: the family. For though we have gained immense advantages, in a civil, ecclesiastical, and religious point of view, by our modern development of individualism, we have yet run ourselves into many hurtful misapprehensions on all these subjects, which, if they are not rectified, will assuredly bring disastrous consequences. And nowhere consequences more disastrous than in the family, where they are already apparent, though not fully matured; for the very change of view, by which we have cleared individual responsibility, in our discussions of free will, original sin, and kindred subjects, has operated, in another direction, to diminish responsibility, where most especially it needs to be felt; that is, in Christian families.
What then do we mean by the organic unity of the family? It will be understood, of course, that we do not speak of a physical or vascular connection; for, after birth, there is no such connection existing, any more than there is between persons of different families. In so far, however, as a connection of parentage, or derivation has affected the character, that fact must be included, though it can not be regarded as a chief element in the unity asserted. Perhaps I shall be understood with the greatest facility, if I say that the family is such a body, that a power over character is exerted therein, which can not properly be called influence. We commonly use the term influence to denote a persuasive power, or a governmental power, exerted purposely, and with a conscious design to effect some result in the subject. In maintaining the organic unity of the family, I mean to assert, that a power is exerted by parents over children, not only when they teach, encourage, persuade, and govern, but without any purposed control whatever. The bond is so intimate that they do it unconsciously and undesignedly--they must do it. Their character, feelings, spirit, and principles, must propagate themselves, whether they will or not. However, as influence, in the sense just given, can not be received by childhood prior to the age of reason and deliberative choice, the control of parents, purposely exerted, must be regarded, during that early period, as an absolute force, not as influence. All such acts of control therefore must, in metaphysical propriety, and as far as the child is concerned, be classed under the general denomination of organic causes. And thus whatever power over character is exerted in families one side of consent, in the children, and even before they have come to the age of rational choice, must be taken as organic power, in the same way as if the effect accrued under the law of simple contagion. So too when the child performs acts of will, under parental direction, that involve results of character, without knowing or considering that they do, these must be classed in the same manner.
In general, then, we find the organic unity of the family, in every exertion of power over character, which is not exerted and received as influence; that is, with a design to address the choice on one side, and a sense of responsible choice on the other. Or, to use language more popular, we conceive the manners, personal views, prejudices, practical motives, and spirit of the house, as an atmosphere which passes into all1 and pervades all, as naturally as the air they breathe. This, however, not in any such absolute or complete sense as to leave no room for individual distinctions. Sometimes the two parents will have a very different spirit themselves, though the grace of God is pledged to make the better, if it be truly right, and hindered by no gross inconsistencies, victorious. Sometimes the child, passing into the sphere of other causes, as in the school, the church, neighboring families, or general society, will emerge and take a character partially distinct--partially, I say; never wholly. The odor of the house will always be in his garments, and the internal difficulties with which he has to struggle, will spring of the family seeds planted in his nature.
Having carefully stated thus what I mean by the organic unity of the family, I next proceed to inquire whether any such unity exists? And here it is worth noticing--
1. That there is nothing in this view which conflicts with the proper individuality of persons and their separate responsibility. We have gained immense advantages, in modern times, as regards society, government, and character, by liberating and exalting the individual man. Far be it from me to underrate these advantages, or to bring them into jeopardy. But a child manifestly can not be a proper individual, before he is one. Nothing can be gained by assuming that he is; and, if it is not true, much is sure to be lost. Besides, we are never, at any age, so completely individual as to be clear of organic connections that affect our character. To a certain extent and for certain purposes, we are individuals, acting each from his own will. Then to a certain extent and for certain other purposes, we are parts or members of a common body, as truly as the limbs of a tree. We have an open side in our nature, where a common feeling enters, where we adhere, and through which we are actuated by a common will. There we are many--here we are one.
It is remarkable too how often, without knowing it, and, as it were instinctively, we assume the fact, and act upon it. We do it, for example, as between nations, where it is not so much the moral life as the national that constructs the supposed unity. One nation, for instance. has injured or oppressed another--sought to crush, or actually crushed another by invasion. A century or more afterwards, the wrong is remembered, and the injured nation takes the field, still burning for redress. The history of Carthage and Rome gives us an example. But, suppose it had been said--"This is very absurd in you Carthaginians. The Romans, who did you the injury, are all dead, and those who now bear the name are their children's children. They have done you no injury any more than the people of Britain or India. Neither is it the walls, or streets, or temples of Rome that have injured you. The Roman territory is mere land, and this has not injured you. Why then go to war with the Romans? How absurd to think of redressing your old injuries by a war with men who have done you no harm!" Now it was by just this kind of sophistry that Mr. Jefferson proved that a public debt is obligatory for only one generation, and possibly the Carthaginians might have been speculatively stumbled by such reasonings. Still, they could not have been quite satisfied, I think, of their validity. Against all speculation, they would still have felt that the proposed war was somehow reconcilable with reason. The question is not whether, on Christian principles, they were right, but whether, on natural principles, they were absurd. This probably no reader of the history has ever felt. For, whether it squares with our speculative notions or not, we do all tacitly assume the organic unity of nations. The past we behold, living in the present, and all together we regard as one, inhabited by the common life. How much more true is this (though in a different way) in families, where the common life is so nearly absolute over the members; where they are all inclosed within the four walls of their dwellings, partakers in a common blood, in common interests, wants, feelings, and principles.
2. We discover the organic unity of families, in the fact that one generation is the natural offspring of an other. And so much is there in this, that the children almost always betray their origin in their looks and features. The stamp of a common nature is on them, revealed in the stature, complexion, gait, form, and dispositions. Sometimes we seem to see remarkable exceptions. But, in such cases, we should commonly find, if we could bring up to view the ancestors of remoter generations, that the filmily bond is still perpetuated, only by a wider reach of connection. There are said to be two maiden sisters, the last of a distinguished family, now living in England, who, having no resemblance to any near ancestor, have yet a very striking resemblance to the portrait, still hanging in the family mansion, of an ancestor seven generations back. Indeed, I have myself distinguished, by their looks, the relationship of two persons, connected by a common derivation eight generations back, and who more closely resembled each other in their persons, than either, his nearest kindred. So that, in cases where there seems to be no transmission of resemblances, there is yet a probable transmission, only one that is covert and more comprehensive. Now, strong external resemblances may coexist with marked external differences, and therefore do not prove a coincidence of character. And yet it can not be denied that, as far as they go, they argue a transmission of capacities and dispositions, which enter into character, as remote causes or occasions. Nor does it make any difference, as regards the matter in question, whether souls or spiritual natures come into being through propagation, or not. If they are created, as some fancy, by the immediate inbreathing of God, still they are measured by the house they are to live in, and the outward man is, in all cases, a fit organ for the person within. The dispositions, tempers, capacities--the natural, and, to a great extent, the moral character, have the outward frame, as a fit organ of use and expression. It will even be observed too that, in cases where there is a remarkable change of character, it will be signified, in due time, by a change of manner, aspect, and action.
Besides, it is well understood that qualities received by training, and not in themselves natural, do also pass by transmission. It is said, for example, that the dog used in hunting was originally trained by great care and effort, and that now almost no training is necessary; for the artificial quality has become, to a great extent, natural in the stock. We have also a most ominous example of this fact in the human species. I speak of the Jewish race. The singular devotion of this race to money and traffic is even a proverb. But their ancestors, of the ancient times, were not thus distinguished. They were a simple, agricultural people, remarkable for nothing but their religious opinions, and, in a late period of the commonwealth, for their fanatical heroism and obstinacy. Whence the change? History gives the mournful answer, showing them to view, for long ages, as a hated and down-trodden people, allowed no rights in the soil, shut up within some narrow and foul precinct in the cities, compelled to subsist by some meager traffic, denied every possession but money, and suffered to keep in security not even that, save as they could hide it in secret places, and cloak the suspicion of wealth under a sordid exterior. They have thus been educated to be misers by the extortions and the hatred of Christendom; till finally an artificial nature, so to speak, has been formed in the race, and we take it even as the instinct of a Jew, to get money by small traffic and sharp bargains. So there is little room to doubt that every sort of character and employment passes an effect and works some predisposition in those who come after.
Could we enter into the mental habits of those children, who are spoken of in my text, and trace out all the threads of their inward character and disposition, we should doubtless find some color of idolatry in the fiber of their very being. They are not such as they would be, if their parents, of this and remote generations, had been worshipers of the true God. Their talents, dispositions, propensities are different. The idol god is in their faces and their bones, and his stamp is on their spirit. Not in such a sense that the sin of idolatry is in them--that is inconceivable; for no proper sin can pass by transmission--but that they have a vicious, or prejudicial infection from it, a damage accruing from their historical connection and that of their progenitors with it.
Nor, with these familiar laws of physiology before us, is it reasonable to doubt that, where there is a long line of godly fathers and mothers, kept up in regular succession for many generations, a religious temperament may at length be produced, that is more in the power of conscience, less wayward as regards principles of integrity, and more pliant to the Christian motives. More could be said with confidence, if the godly character were less ambiguous and more thoroughly sanctified.
3. We shall find that there is a law of connection, after birth, under which power over character is exerted, without any design to do it. For a considerable time after birth, the child has no capacity of will and choice developed, and therefore is not a subject of influence, in the common sense of that term. He is not as yet a complete individual; he has only powers and capacities that prepare him to be, when they are unfolded. They are in him only as wings and a capacity to fly are in the egg. Meantime, he is open to impressions from every thing he sees. His character is forming, under a principle, not of choice, but of nurture. The spirit of the house is breathed into his nature, day by day. The anger and gentleness, the fretfulness and patience--the appetites, passions, and manners--all the variant moods of feeling exhibited round him, pass into him as impressions, and become seeds of character in him; not because the parents will, but because it must be so, whether they will or not. They propagate their own evil in the child, not by design, but under a law of moral infection. Before the children begin to gather wood for the sacrifice, the spirit of the idol and his faith has been communicated. The airs and feelings and conduct of idolatry have filled their nature with impressions, which are back of all choice and memory. Go out to them then, as they are gathering faggots for the idol sacrifice, ask them what questions they have had about the service of the god? what doubts? whether any unsatisfied debate or perplexing struggle has visited their minds? and you will probably awaken their first thoughts on the subject by the inquiry itself. All because they have grown up in the idol worship, from a point back of memory. They received it through their impressions, before they were able to receive it from choice. And so it is with all the moral transactions of the house. The spirit of the house is in the members by nurture, not by teaching, not by any attempt to communicate the same, but because it is the air the children breathe.
Now, it is in the twofold manner set forth, under this and the previous head of my discourse, that our race have fallen, as a race, into moral corruption and apostasy. In these two methods also, they have been subjected, as an organic unity, to evil; so that when they come to the age of proper individuality, the damage received has prepared them to set forth, on a course of blamable and guilty transgression. The question of original or imputed sin has been much debated in modern times, and the effort has been to vindicate the personal responsibility of each individual, as a moral agent. Nor is any thing more clear, on first principles, than that no man is responsible for any sin but his own. The sin of no person can be transmitted as a sin, or charged to the account of another. But it does not therefore follow, that there are no moral connections between individuals, by which one becomes a corrupter of others. If we are units, so also are we a race, and the race is one--one family, one organic whole; such that the fall of the head involves the fall of all the members. Under the old doctrines of original sin, federal headship, and the like, cast away by many, ridiculed by not a few, there yet lies a great and momentous truth, announced by reason as clearly as by Scripture--that in Adam all die; that by one man's disobedience many were made sinners; that death hath passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. Not that this original scheme of unity is any disadvantage. I firmly believe and think I could show the contrary even. Enough that so the Scriptures speak, and that so we see, by inspection itself. There can be no greater credulity, than for any man to expect that a sinful and death-struck being, one who has fallen out of the harmony of his mold by sin, should yet communicate no trace of evil from himself, no diseased or damaged quality, no moral discolor, to the gene. rations that derive their existence from him. To make that possible, every law of physiology must be adjourned, and, what is more, all that we see with our eyes, in the eventful era of impressions, must be denied.
I am well aware that those who have advocated, in former times, the church dogma of original sin, as well as those who adhere to it now, speak only of a taint derived by natural or physical propagation, and do not include the taint derived afterwards, under the law of family infection. It certainly can be no heresy to include the latter; and, since it is manifest that both fall within the same general category of organic connection, it is equally manifest that both ought to be included, and, in all systematic reasonings, must be. If, during the age of impressions in the child, and previous to the development of will, a power is exerted over character--exerted necessarily, both as regards the sinful parent and the child, and that as truly as if it fell within the laws of propagation itself-it can not be right to attribute the moral taint wholly, or even principally, to propagation. Until the child comes to his will, we must regard him still as held within the matrix of the parental life; and then, when he is ripe for responsible choice, as born for action--a proper and complete person. Taking this comprehensive view of the organic unity of successive generations of men, the truth we assert of human depravation is not a half-truth exaggerated, (which many will not regard as any truth at all,) but it is a broad, well-authenticated doctrine, which no intelligent observer of facts and principles can deny. It shows the past descending on the present, the present on the future, by an inevitable law, and yet gives every parent the hope of mitigating the sad legacy of mischief he entails upon his children, by whatever improvements of character and conduct he is able to make--a hope which Christian promise so far clears to his view, as even to allow him the presumption that his child may be set forth into responsible action, as a Christian person.
In offering these thoughts, it will be seen that I have not digressed from my subject, but have extended the proof of my doctrine rather, discovering within its scope, the fall of man itself. As a farther proof of the organic unity of the family, I allege--
4. The fact that, in all organic bodies known to us--states, churches, sects, armies--there is a common spirit, by which they are pervaded and distinguished from each other. And we use this word spirit, in such cases, to denote a power interfused, a comprehensive Will actuating the members, regarding also the common body itself, as a larger and more inclusive individual. How different, for example, is the spirit of France from the spirit of England; the spirit of both, from that of the United States; and that, from the spirit of the Spartan or Athenian republic. This national spirit, too, is, as it were, a common power in each, by which the subordinate individual members are assimilated, and made to have a kind of organic character. And so much is there in this, that an Englishman can not make to himself a French character, or any one of us an English character. We can not act the character one of another; for so distant are the feelings, prejudices, and temperaments of each, that they can not even be accurately conceived and reproduced, unless we are actually enveloped in them as an atmosphere.
In the same manner, there is a peculiar spirit in every church Whether you take the larger divisions, the Jewish, the Greek, the Roman, the Episcopal, the Presbyterian, the Baptist, the Congregational, or descend to the particular churches of a given city, you will find something characteristic in each--a common power, which gives a common stamp to the members peculiar to themselves. Or, if you visit a Quaker settlement, where a few men and women are gathered into a kind of church family, you will discover that the members are pervaded, all, by a peculiar spirit, as distinct from the world around them as if they were a new discovered people. And these Quaker settlements; may be taken as a kind of intermediate link between the church-state and the family.
Passing then to families, you are not surprised to discover the same thing. This is specially evident where the family is isolated, and does not mingle extensively with the world. You can scarcely open the door, and take a seat in their house, least of all can you go to their table, or spend a night in their hospitality, without being impressed by the fact. And this family spirit will sometimes be exceedingly opposite to the spirit of goodness. Here it is money, money, written on every face; here it is good living; here show; here scandal and detraction. Sometimes the sense of religion and of spiritual things will seem to be nearly lost, or obliterated. Sometimes a positive hatred of God and all good men and principles will constitute the staple of family feeling. Sometimes a dull and sullen contempt of such things will hold the place of open animosity.
It is very true that the family spirit does not always perfectly master and assimilate all the members You will find a Christian son or daughter, here and there, in spite of the ruling spirit of the house. This, however, because families are to some extent intermingled; in which it comes to pass that children often fall under the power of another spirit, that masters the spirit reigning at home. The children go into other families, where they are visited by other feelings. They go into the church of God, where the church spirit breathes another atmosphere. In the school, they are penetrated by the school spirit. In the shop, or in the transactions of trade, the same is true. Were it not for this, the family spirit might almost uniformly rule the character of the members. Who ever expects that an idolatrous religion, in the house, will not uniformly produce idolaters? So the Mohammedan spirit makes only Mohammedans. In like manner, a thievish house perpetuates a race of thieves. Consider also the ductility and the perfect passivity of childhood. Early childhood resists nothing. What is given it receives, making no selection. To expect therefore that a child will form to himself a spirit opposite to the spirit of the family, without once feeling the power of a counteractive spirit, would be credulous in the highest degree. Doubtless he has a conscience, which is the law of God, in his breast, and he has a will free to choose what his conscience requires. But his passions are unfolded before his discretion, his prejudices bent before he assumes the function of self-government. He breathes the atmosphere of the house. He sees the world through his parents' eyes. Their objects become his. Their life and spirit mold him. If they are carnal, coarse, passionate, profane, sensual, devilish, his little plastic nature takes the poison of course. Their very motions, manners, and voices, will be distinguishable in him. He lives and moves and has his being in them.
I do not say, of course, that he will exactly resemble them in character. Were he to receive a contagious disease, he would, doubtless, be differently handled under it, from the person who gave the infection. I only say, that the moral disease of the family he assuredly will take, and that, probably, without even a question, or a cautious feeling started. If some other spirit, from other families, or the church, or the world, do not reach him, the organic spirit of the house will infallibly shape and subordinate his character.
5. We are led to the same conclusions, by considering what may be called the organic working of a family. The child begins, at length, to develop his character, in and through his voluntary power. But he is still under the authority of the parent, and has only a partial control of himself, in the development of which, he is gradually approaching a complete personality. Now, there is a perpetual working in the family, by which the wills, both of the parents and the children, are held in exercise, and which, without any design to affect character on one side, or conscious consent on the other, is yet fashioning results of a, moral quality, as it were by the joint industry of the house. And these results are to be taken, according to our definition, as included in the organic unity of the family. I except, of course, all the voluntary actings that are designed to influence the child, and are yielded to by him, as consciously right or wrong.
The truth here brought to view is graphically set forth in my text. Whatever working there is in the house, all work together. If the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead the cakes, the children will gather the wood, and the idol worship will set the whole circle of the house in action. The child being under the law of the parents, they will keep him at work to execute their plans, or their sins, as the case may be; and, as they will seldom think of what they do, or require, so he will seldom have any scruple concerning it. The property gained belongs to the family. They have a common interest, and every prejudice or animosity felt by the parents, the children are sure to feel even more intensely. They are all locked together, in one cause--in common cares, hopes, offices, and duties; for their honor and dishonor, their sustenance, their ambition, all their objects are common. So they are trained of necessity to a kind of general working, or coöperation, and, like stones, rolled together in some brook or eddy, they wear each other into common shapes. If the family subsist by plunder, then the infant is swaddled as a thief, the child wears a thief's garments, and feeds the growth of his body on stolen meat; and, in due time, he will have the trade upon him, without ever knowing that he has taken it lip, or when he took it up. If the father is intemperate, the children must go on errands to procure his supplies, lose the shame that might be their safety, be immersed in the fumes of liquor in going and coming, and why not rewarded by an occasional taste of what is so essential to the enjoyment of life? If the family subsist in idleness and beggary, then the children will be trained to lie skillfully, and maintain their false pretences with a plausible effrontery--all this, you will observe, not as a sin, but as a trade.
Nor does what I am saying hold, only in cases of extreme viciousness and depravity. Whatever fire the fathers kindle, the children are always found gathering the wood--always helping as accessaries and apprentices. If the father reads a newspaper, or a sporting gazette, on Sunday, the family must help him find it. If he writes a letter of business on Sunday, he will send his child to the office with the letter. If the mother is a scandal-monger, she will make her children spies and eaves-droppers. If she directs her servant to say, at the door, that she is not at home, she will sometimes be overheard by her child. If she is ambitious that her children should excel in the display of finery and fashion, they must wear the show and grow up in the spirit of it. If her house is a den of disorder and filth, they must be at home in it. Fretfulness and ill-temper in the parents are provocations, and therefore somewhat more efficacious than commandments, to the same. The proper result will be a congenial assemblage, in the house, of petulance and ill-nature. The niggardly parsimony that quarrels with a child, when asking for a book needful for his proficiency at school, is teaching him that money is worth more than knowledge. If the parents are late risers, the children must not disturb the house, but stay quiet and take a lesson that is not to assist their energy and promptness in the future business of life. If they go to church only half of the day, they will not send their children the other half. If they never read the Bible, they will never teach it. If they laugh at religion, they will put a face upon it, which will make their children justify the contempt they express. This enumeration might be indefinitely extended. Enough that we see, in the working of the house, how all the members work together. The children fall into their places naturally, as it were, and unconsciously, to do and to suffer exactly what the general scheme of the house requires. Without any design to that effect, all the actings of business, pleasure, and sin, propagate themselves throughout the circle, as the weights of a clock maintain the workings of the wheels. Where there is no effort to teach wrong, or thought of it, the house is yet a school of wrong, and the life of the house is only a practical drill in evil.
Having sufficiently established, as I think, by these illustrations, the organic unity of families, it remains to add some practical thoughts of a more specific nature. And--
1. It becomes a question of great moment, as connected with the doctrine established, whether it is the design of the Christian scheme to take possession of the organic laws of the family, and wield them as instruments, in any sense, of a regenerative purpose? And here we are met by the broad principle, that Christianity endeavors to make every object, favor, and relation, an instrument of righteousness, according to its original design. What intelligent person ever supposed that the original constitution, by which one generation derives its existence and receives the bent of its character from another, was designed of God to be the vehicle only of depravity? It might as well be supposed that men themselves were made to be containers of depravity. The only supposition that honors God is, that the organic unity, of which I speak, was ordained originally for the nurture of holy virtue in the beginning of each soul's history; and that Christianity, or redemption, must of necessity take possession of the abused vehicle, and sanctify it for its own merciful uses. That an engine of so great power should be passed by, when every other law and object in the universe is appropriated and wielded as an instrument of grace, and that in a movement for the redemption of the race, is inconceivable. The conclusion thus reached does not carry us, indeed, to the certain inference that the organic unity of the family will avail to set forth every child of Christian parents, in a Christian life. But if we consider the tremendous power it has, as an instrument of evil, how far short of such an opinion does it leave us, when computing the reach of its power as an instrument of grace?
Passing next to the Scriptures, we find such reasonings justified, as explicitly as we can desire. I am not disposed to press the language of Scripture, which is popular, to extreme conclusions. But I observe that Christ is called a second Adam and a last Adam: language, to say the least, that suits the idea of a proposed union with the race, under its organic laws--as if, entering into the Christian family, his design were to fill it with a family spirit, which shall controvert and master the old evil spirit. The declaration corresponds, that, as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous--language that measures the grace by the mischief, and shows it flowing in a parallel, but fuller stream. It may not be easy to settle, beyond dispute, the relation of the old covenant to the new; but there can be no question that the church, under Abraham. was measured, in some sense, by the organic unity of the family of Abraham. The covenant was a family covenant, in which God engaged to be the God of the seed, as of the father. And the seal of the covenant was a seal of faith, applied to the whole house, as if the continuity of faith were somehow to be, or somehow might be maintained, in a line that is parallel with the continuity of sin, in the family. Nor was the result to depend on mere natural generation, however sanctified, but on the organic causes also, that are involved in family nurture, after birth. For we are expressly informed, (Gen. xviii. 19,) that God rested his covenant, or engagement, on the conduct of Abraham--"for I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment, that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him." And thus we see that the old church, beyond any possible question, was to have its grounds of perpetuity, in and by the same terms of organic unity, which sin has made the vehicle of depravity. Descending then to the New Testament, Jesus the world's Redeemer is declared to have suffered, "that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles," and the Gentiles are said to be "graffed in." The new "seed," viz., "Christ," are said to be "the seed of Abraham," and "heirs of the promise" made to him. The old rite of proselyte baptism, which made the families receiving it Jewish citizens and children of Abraham, was applied over directly to the Christian uses, and the rite went by "households;" even as the New Testament promise also was--"to you and to your children." Even the old Jewish law, that one Jewish parent made a Jewish child, is brought into the church, and one believing parent "sanctifies" the child. In all of which, it seems to be clearly held that grace shall travel by the same conveyance with sin; that the organic unity, which I have spoken of chiefly as an instrument of corruption, is to be occupied and sanctified by Christ, and become an instrument also of mercy and life. And thence it follows that the seal of faith, applied to households, is to be no absurdity; for it is the privilege and duty of every Christian parent that his children shall come forth into responsible action, as a regenerated stock. The organic unity is to be a power of life. God engages, on his part, that it may be, and calls the Christian parent to promise, on his part, that it shall be. Thus the church has a constitutive element from the family in it still, as it had in the days of Abraham. The church life--that is, the Holy Spirit--collects families into a common organism, and then, by sanctifying the laws of organic unity in families, extends its quickening power to the generation following, so as to include the future, and make it one with the past. And so the church, in all ages, becomes a body under Christ the head, as the race is a body under Adam the head--a living body, quickened by him who hath life in himself, fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth.
2. The theological importance of our doctrine of organic unity, when brought up to this point, is exhibited in many ways, and especially in the fact that it gives the only true solution of the Christian church and of baptism as related to membership. I hardly dare attempt to speak of the "sacramental grace," supposed to attend the rite of baptism, under the priestly forms of Christianity; for I have never been able to give any consistent and dignified meaning to the language, in which it is set forth. That there is a grace attendant, falling on all the parties concerned, is quite evident, if they are doing their duty; for no person, whether laic or priest, can do, or intend what is right, without some spiritual benefit. But the child is said to be "regenerate, spiritually united to Christ, a new creature in Christ Jesus," under the official grace of baptism. Then this language, so full of import, is defined, after all, to mean only that the child is in the church, where the grace of God surrounds him--translated (not internally, but externally) from the sphere of nature into a new sphere, where all the aids of grace, available for his salvation, are furnished. Sometimes it is added that his sins are remitted, though no man is likely to believe that he has any sins to remit; or, if the meaning be that the corrupted quality, physiologically inherent in his nature, is washed away, he will show in due time that it is not; and no one, in fact, believes that it is. Then if it be asked, whether the new sphere of grace will assuredly work a gracious character? "no," is the answer. "If the child is not faithful, or hinders the grace, he will lose it"--that is, he will not stay regenerate. And then as the child, in every case, is sure, in some bad sense, not to be faithful, he is equally sure to lose the grace, and be landed in a second state that is worse than the first. And thus it turns out, after all, as far as I can see, that the grace magnified in the beginning, by words of so high an import, is a thing of no value--it is nothing. It is, in fact, one of our most decided objections to this scheme of sacramental grace, (paradoxical as it may seem,) that, really and truly, there is not enough of import in it to save the meaning of the rite. The grace is words only, and an air of imposture is all that remains, after the words are explained. The rite is fertile only in maintaining a superstition. Practically speaking, it only exalts a prerogative. By a motion of his hand, the priest breaks in, to interrupt and displace all the laws of character in life--communicating an abrupt, ictic grace, as much wider of all dignity and reason, than any which the new light theology has asserted, as the regenerative power is more subject to a human dispensation. A superstitious homage collects about his person. The child looks on him as one who opens heaven by a ceremony! The ungodly parent hurries to him, to get the regenerative grace for his dying child. The bereaved parent mourns inconsolably, and even curses himself, that he neglected to obtain the grace for his child, now departed. The priest, in the eye, displaces the memory of duty and godliness in the heart. A thousand superstitions, degrading to religion and painful to look upon, hang around this view of baptism. Not to produce them, the doctrine must yield up its own nature.
In all this, I speak constructively, as reasoning from the doctrine asserted, and as I am able to understand it. Constructive results are never more than partially verified by historic facts; for great truths, blended with the error, qualify and mitigate its effects.
Now the true conception is, that baptism is applied to the child, on the ground of its organic unity with the parents; imparting and pledging a grace to sanctify that unity, and make it good in the field of religion. By the supposition, however, the child still remains within the known laws of character in the house, to receive. under these, whatever good may reach him; not snatched away by an abrupt, fantastical, and therefore incredible grace. He is taken to be regenerate, not historically speaking, but presumptively, on the ground of his known connection with the parent character, and the divine or church life, which is the life of that character. Perhaps I shall be understood more easily, if I say that the child is potentially regenerate, being regarded as existing in connection with powers and causes that contain the fact, before time and separate from time. For when the fact appears historically, under the law of time, it is not more truly real, in a certain sense, than it was before. And then the grace conferred, being conferred by no casual act, but resting in the established laws of character, in the church and the house, is not lost by unfaithfulness, but remains and lingers still, though abused and weakened, to encourage new struggles.
Thus it will be seen that the doctrine of organic unity I have been asserting, proves its theologic value, as a ready solvent for the rather perplexing difficulties of this difficult subject. Only one difficulty remains, viz, that so few can believe the doctrine.
3. It is evident that the voluntary intention of parents, in regard to their children, is no measure, either of their merit or their sin. Few parents are so base, or so lost to natural affection, as really to intend the injury of their children. However irreligious, or immoral, they more commonly desire a worthy and correct character for their children, often even a Christian character. But, in the great and momentous truth now set forth, you perceive it is not what you intend for your children, so much as what you are, that is to have its effect. They are connected, by an organic unity, not with your instructions, but with your life. And your life is mole powerful than your instructions can be. They might be jealous of intended corruption, and withstand it: but the spirit of the house, which is your spirit, the whole working of the house, which is actuated by you, is what no exercise of will, even if they had more of it than they have, could well resist. Therefore, what you are, they will almost necessarily be; and then, as you are responsible for what you are, you must also be responsible for the ruin brought on them. And, if you desired better things for them, as you probably say, the more guilty are you that, knowing and desiring better things, you thwarted your desires by your own evil life.
So there are Christians who intend and do many things for their children, and thus acquit themselves of all blame in regard to their character. Here, alas! is the perpetual error of Christian parents, so called, that they endeavor to make up, by direct efforts, for the mischiefs of a loose and neglectful life. They convince themselves that teaching, lecturing, watch, discipline, things done with a purpose, are the sum of duty. As if mere affectations and will-works could cheat the laws of life and character ordained by God! Your character is a stream, a river, flowing down upon your children hour by hour. What you do here and there to carry an opposing influence is, at best, only a ripple that you make on the surface of the stream. It reveals the sweep of the current; nothing more. If you expect your children to go with the ripple, instead of the stream, you will be disappointed. I beseech you then as you love your children, to admit other and worthier thoughts, thoughts more safe for them and certainly for you. Understand that it is the family spirit, the organic life of the house, the silent power of a domestic godliness, working, as it does, unconsciously and with sovereign effect--this it is which forms your children to God. And, if this be wanting, all that you may do beside, will be as likely to annoy and harden as to bless.
4. It seems to be a proper inference from the doctrine I have exhibited, that Christian parents ought to speak freely to their children, at times, of their own faults and infirmities. If they are faithful, if they live as Christians, if the spirit of Christ bears rule in the house, they will yet have faults, and they ought to make no secret of the fact. The impression should be made, that they themselves are struggling with infirmities; that they are humbled under a sense of these infirmities; that there is much in them for God to pardon, much for their children to overlook, or even to forgive; and that God alone can assist them to lead themselves and their family up to a better world. Instead of lecturing their children, always, on their peccadilloes and sins, it would be better, sometimes, to give a lecture on their own. This, if rightly done, would attract the friendly sympathy of their children, guard them against the injurious impressions they make when they trip themselves, and unite the whole family in a common struggle heavenward. There is no other way to correct the mixture of evil you will blend with the family spirit, but to deplore it, and make it an acknowledged truth, that you, too, are only a child in goodness. But if you take a throne of papal infallibility in your family, and endeavor to fight out, with the rod, what you fail in by your misconduct, you may make your children fear you and hate you, but you will not win them to Christ. Alas! there are too many Christian families that are only little popedoms. The rule itself is tyranny--infallibility assumed, then maintained, by the holy inquisition of terror and penal chastisement! God will not smile on such a kind of discipline.
5. It is evident what rule should regulate the society and external intercourse of children. It is a very great mercy, as I have said, that the children of a bad or irreligious family are sometimes permitted to be inmates elsewhere; to go into virtuous and Christian families, where a better spirit reigns. There they see, perhaps, the genuine demonstrations of order, of purity, and of good affections; they hear the voice of prayer, they come where the spirit of heaven breathes. It is a new world, and they are filled with new impressions. So, if a child may go to a school where order, right principle, virtuous manners, and the love of knowledge reign, and find a respite there from the shiftlessness, vice, and brutality at home, how great is the privilege. In this view, a good school is almost the only mercy that can be extended to the hapless sons and daughters of vice. Their good--most dismal thought!--is to be delivered from their home; to escape the spirit of hell that encompasses their helpless age, and fee], though it be but a few hours a day, the power of another spirit!
But I was speaking of the rule to be observed in the society of children. Let every Christian beware how he makes his children inmates in an irreligious family. It will do, sometimes, to allow the children of an irreligious family to be inmates, temporarily, in your own. You may do it for their advantage; and if you can en list the hearts of your children in the merciful intentions you cherish, it may even be a good exercise for them. But it is a very different thing to place your children within the atmosphere of another house. Send them not where the spirit of evil reigns. Understand how plastic their nature is, how easily it receives the contagion of another spirit. You yourselves may have intercourse with ungodly persons; it may be your duty to seek it for their benefit; but you may well be cautious how far you subject your children, especially in early years, to the intercourse of irreligious families
And what shall I say to parents, who are themselves irreligious? Perhaps you make it your boast that you give your children their liberty; that you mean to allow them to be just as religious as they please. And is that enough, do you think, to discharge your duties to them? Is it enough to breathe the spirit of evil and sin into them and around them every hour, to give them no Christian counsel, to train them up in a prayerless house, drill them into conformity with all your worldly ways, and then say that you allow them full liberty to be Christians? Having them under your law, determining yourselves that organic spirit, which is to be the element, the very breath of their moral existence, will you then boast that you mean to allow them to be as virtuous as they please? Ah, if there be any argument, which might compel you to be Christians yourselves, it is these arguments of affection that God has given you. But if you will not be Christians yourselves, then, at least, show your children some degree of mercy, by delivering them, as much as possible, from yourselves! Send them, as often as you may, where a better spirit reigns. Make them inmates with Christian families, as you have opportunity. Let them go where they will hear a prayer and see a Christian Sabbath. Send them, or take them with you, to the church of God, and the Sabbath-school. Give them a respite often from the family spirit and the organic law of the house. If you yourselves will not fashion them for the skies, let others, more faithful than you, and more merciful, do it for you.