Behold, ye are all children of Israel; give here your advice and counsel.—Judges 20.7.

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PARENTAL INSTRUCTION.

Excerpted from:

THE

REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN.

VOL. III.

FEBRUARY, 1840.

No. XII.

It is often said that the children of professors of religion are not better than others; and particular instances are referred to, of the immoral character of such.  The design of such common-place remarks is to reproach Christianity; and their obvious tendency is to discourage the application of christian principle to domestic instruction.  Such sentiments should receive no countenance from the friends of truth; they are at variance with moral principle, and contradicted by the sacred writings.  “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,” is an aphorism sanctioned by the Spirit of God. [Prov. 22.6.]  This scripture contains a great moral principle which will be verified in proportion to the correctness and extent of its application in the instruction of children.  It is not denied, that the children of professors of religion, of even pious parents, sometimes become profligate; but we are not prepared to admit such cases as objections to the principle laid down in the text.  Instead of questioning this, it would be wiser as well as safer to question the faithfulness of its application.  The course of domestic education pursued by many parents is badly calculated for training children in the way they should go.  It is often exceedingly inefficient as to plan; and more frequently still it is neglected in the application of its details,—a lifeless body, destitute of the animating principle of christian earnestness and energy.  At other times and in other hands it fails, because of the harsh and rigid manner of its application.  In the one case, the parent {354} falls short of his duty; in the other, he over-does it.  Domestic education should be made to bear on the different constituent parts of our nature,—the understanding, the will, and the affections.  These powers of the mind have all felt the depraving influence of sin; the understanding is darkened, the will is perverse, and the affections are alienated from God: they need to be corrected and trained by suitable education.

1. The intellectual powers of children should be cultivated.  The general improvement of the mind is of vast importance: education constitutes the difference between civilization and barbarism; and gives to the civilized immense advantages over barbarians.  “Knowledge is power,” said the illustrious Bacon.  General knowledge, of every kind, tends to the development and enlargement of the mental powers; the more it is cultivated the better.  But mere literary and scientific knowledge by no means constitutes the mental instruction included in training “a child in the way in which he should go.”  General knowledge, other things being equal, will always give an advantage in the acquisition of that which is religious; but there may be, as there often is, a large share of mere mental education, where there is little or perhaps no religious education.  There can be no difficulty in giving a preference in such circumstances; the humblest and most illiterate christian, who only knows his Bible, possesses a knowledge that is infinitely superior to that of a Voltaire or a Hume.  While the general instruction of a child is not to be overlooked, but on the contrary should be as enlarged and liberal as the means and opportunities of a parent will admit, it is only a secondary consideration compared with its religious instruction.  Indeed, the great value of the former is its subserviency to the moral and spiritual interests of mankind; otherwise, “knowledge puffeth up.” [1 Cor. 8.1.]  The Scriptures give us a painful view of the necessity of early religious instruction: “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies,”—“having the understanding darkened.” [Psalm 58.3; Eph. 4.18.]  Man is ignorant of himself, of God, and of his duty.

A child should be instructed in relation to himself; that he is a guilty and depraved creature, and therefore entirely disposed to go astray, and liable to the Divine displeasure.  Self-knowledge is of the very last [final] importance; to obtain it, the work must be early begun, by sowing the good seed of {355} Scripture truth in the mind, and in due time it will bring forth the fruits of righteousness.  However profound the doctrine of original sin may be, the statements of Scripture asserting the fact are within the comprehension of even a child, and ought, at an early age, to be impressed on the mind.  The early impression of this truth will, on the one hand, tend to the suppression of evil, and on the other to the encouragement of good dispositions.  It will weaken the rising feeling of pride, and cherish the lowly grace of humility.

The character of God, too, merits particular attention as a part of early education—the perfections of God,—his power, his wisdom, and especially his moral perfections, his holiness, his justice, his goodness, and his faithfulness.  There is, in these views of God, opened up a most extensive field of inquiry.  A child should be made to understand that the holiness and justice of God’s nature make him displeased with sin and with sinners; that he is angry with ill men every day; that his justice dictates the infliction of punishment, which sooner or later overtakes the impenitent.  In connexion with this, the mercy of God should be inculcated on the youthful mind; but it should be shown to be mercy in harmony with the other Divine perfections: that while God pardons sin, it is through the perfect righteousness of Christ, the only way of salvation.  The practical duties which man owes to God should also form a prominent part of parental instruction.  “These words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children.” Deut. 6.6-7.  These are the duty of obedience to the law of God, and dependence upon his promises.

There is a popular but dangerous sentiment entertained respecting the instruction of children in the knowledge of gospel truth, which every pious parent will avoid: namely—that their minds should be left unoccupied by this subject till they can judge and determine for themselves.  The professed reason given for this extraordinary sentiment is, lest the minds of children become prejudiced; but the real reason is a hatred of Divine truth; it is infidelity thrusting itself forward disguised with the mask of assumed candor.  The thing is impracticable; but were it practicable it ought not to be attempted.  It is impossible to keep the minds of children unoccupied; if they are not filled with truth they will be with error.  As an uncultivated garden is soon overrun with noxious weeds, so a mind, where the culture of truth is {356} neglected, is soon blinded by falsehood.  If truth is not planted by the hand of education, error will spontaneously spring up.  And were it possible to keep the youthful mind unoccupied in relation to religious subjects, it would be criminal to make the attempt.  Children have a right to such instruction, and parents are bound by the law of God and the dictates of common sense to furnish them with the means of obtaining it.

2. The improvement of the heart and affections demands particular attention.  The testimony of God is, that “every imagination of the heart is only evil continually.  The heart of man is deceitful and desperately wicked, who can know it?” [Gen. 6.5; Jer. 17.9.]  It is necessary, therefore, to press with the utmost assiduity upon the minds of children a love of moral excellence; and the indispensable necessity of their being sanctified by the power of the Holy Spirit.  They should be early taught to discriminate between right and wrong; to love the one and hate the other:—that “whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, to think on these things.” [Phil. 4.8.]  Love to God should be particularly urged, and his infinite excellence pointed out as the ground of his claim upon their affections.  That they should love him because he is holy, just, and good; holy in all his ways and righteous in all his works.  Children do not naturally love God; they very early manifest the enmity of their hearts; and if this enmity is left unsubdued by moral culture, it must become settled and determined hostility, in subsequent life, to God and every thing that is good.  “As the twig is bent the tree’s inclined.”  If the improvement of the heart is neglected in the spring of youth, it will be over-run with the most disgusting vices in the summer and autumn of life.  A parent’s care should then be to nip the hurtful growth in its first buddings, by teaching his child a love of moral excellence.  In connexion with love to God, children should be taught love to man, and encouraged in the exercise of kindness and affection to all around them.  And that if they are offended, or even injured, they ought not to retaliate by rendering evil for evil, but to be of a forgiving disposition towards all men.  Pride, turbulence, cruelty and avarice should be carefully repressed.  These dispositions, if not checked in childhood, will grow and strengthen with the growth of the individual; in after life they will destroy his peace of mind, make him a hurtful, if not a dangerous member of society; and, it may be, bring him to {357} an ignominious death.  If parents would but seriously ponder the awful havoc which unrestrained passions make in society, they would be more careful and conscientious in cultivating the hearts of their children, that they may be sanctified by the truth of God.

3. Domestic instruction, to be successful, must be supported by suitable government.  Neither domestic nor national society can exist without this.  Experience teaches man the use of government; but God has not left us to find it out in this way; he has instituted it and revealed it in the Scriptures.  It is not then a human device, growing out of the necessity of the case, and dictated only by prudential considerations.  It is an appointment of heaven.  There are important principles by which a parent should be guided in the exercise of domestic government, and without which domestic education can never be communicated with success; the practical value of instruction will depend, in a great measure, upon the system of domestic government.  Parents do not generally reflect upon the cause of their frequent disappointment regarding domestic instruction.  They have frequently to mourn over blasted hopes and highly cherished expectations of their children, which may be evidently traced, by others, back to an ill regulated domestic management,—to a state of things which it would be a gross misnomer to call government.  What a spectacle to see a professedly christian family over which the parents have no other control than what is conceded by the condescension of the children!  A favor which parents are permitted to possess only by a kind of sufferance!  To verify the truth of this, and satisfy our readers that such a state of things prevails in society, we ask them to open their eyes and just look at many families as they really are; perhaps the reader may do well to look at his own first, and see that it is well governed before he makes an application of our remark to those of his neighbors.

Domestic government should be firm and decisive.  Parents ought never to permit their authority to be questioned; if they do, it will soon be despised and trampled upon.  The law of God requires children to obey their parents, and it commands parents to rule their households in the fear of God.  But if authority is disputed, then both government and submission are at an end.  The parent that holds the reins of government with an unsteady hand is soon eased of his burden; soon are they wrenched from his vacillating grasp {358} and shared in common with the little tyrants of the domestic circle, while the dethroned parent must satisfy himself with an unmeaning approval of their caprice.

Domestic government should be kind and affectionate.—Harshness and violence are incalculably injurious, because they defeat the object of government.  Children are sagacious enough to observe the disposition under the influence of which parents act; and if they have reason to think it is that of passion, they feel themselves excused from obedience.  There should then be the fixed impression produced on the minds of children that government is exercised for their good,—that it is dictated by love and not by passion.  But this can be done only by a uniform manifestation of kindness,—thus persuading a child of the parent’s interest in its welfare.

Parents should exercise self-denial.  Feeling ought never to be a directing principle in the exercise of domestic government;—mere feeling must be sacrificed to the future good of a child.  Present indulgence frequently becomes the cause of future wretchedness.  The thing enjoined may be very disagreeable to a child, and it may be very unpleasant for a parent to compel obedience; but the present and future good of the child requires it.  The man who, in childhood, had always been humored, whose desires had always been gratified, and whose will had always been indulged, is but ill prepared to submit to either Divine or human laws.

Domestic government should be vigilant.  A parent cannot be too watchful: vigilance will often prevent the necessity of further action.  The negligence of parents is often the cause of the faults of children; they are neglected, perhaps, as it respects both instruction and government, till some very glaring fault is committed, and then they are sorely punished; while probably a moderate share of attention would have prevented the existence of the evil.

Finally—Domestic government should be corrective.—“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.”[Prov. 22.15.]  If gentle admonition will not correct an evil, then the rod must be applied; such is the will of God.  The parent who neglects this despises a Divine institution: but he does it at the risk of the child’s ruin.  “He that spareth the rod, hateth the child.” [Prov. 13.24.]  This part of domestic government is perfectly consistent with the exercise of the utmost affection to the object of discipline,—for it is the good of the child that is designed.  “Whom God loveth he chasteneth.” [Heb. 12.6.] {359}  So, also, every wise parent will manifest his love by correcting the folly of his child.  Success here does not depend upon the amount of correction, but on the manner it is applied, and the known certainty of its application if required.

Parental instruction and government, to be successful, must be sustained by a becoming example.  It will prove a fruitless task to attempt the enlightenment of the head and the purifying of the heart if example is not added to precept.—For a parent to teach his child to pray and love God, while he does neither himself; to urge the culture of the heart, and yet live in the indulgence of enmity and passion; to demand filial obedience, and yet live in disregard of the Divine law—are an outrage upon consistency that must paralyze all his efforts.  When the pious parent has done his utmost his reliance is on God, and in faith of this he will make it the subject of daily and earnest prayer.