Duties of Parents

Richard Baxter

Ungodly parents are the greatest servants of the devil in all the world, and the bloodiest enemies to their children's souls! More souls are damned by ungodly parents, than by all other instruments!

1. Understand and lament the corrupted and miserable state of your children, which they have derived from you.

2. Train them up in exact OBEDIENCE to yourselves—and break them of their own wills. The common course of parents is to please their children so long, by letting them have what they crave, and what they desire, until their wills are so used to be fulfilled, that they cannot endure to have them denied; and so can endure no government, because they endure no crossing of their wills.

To be obedient, is to renounce their own wills, and be ruled by their parents' wills. To allow them therefore to have their own wills, is to teach them disobedience, and harden and train them to a kind of impossibility of obeying. Tell them often and lovingly of the excellency of obedience, and how it pleases God, and what need they have of government, and how unfit they are to govern themselves, and how dangerous it is to children to have their own wills. Speak often with great disgrace of self-willedness and stubbornness—and teach them what has befallen self-willed children.

3. In all your speeches of God, and of the holy Scripture, or the life to come, or of any holy duty—speak always with gravity, seriousness, and REVERENCE—as of the most great and solemn and most sacred things. For before children come to have any distinct understanding of particulars, it is a hopeful beginning to have their hearts possessed with a general reverence and high esteem of holy matters. For this will continually awe their consciences, and help their judgments, and settle them against prejudice and profane contempt, and be as a seed of holiness in them. For the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10; 1:7. The very manner of the parents' speech and demeanor, expressing great reverence to the things of God, has a very great power to leave the similar impression on a child. Most children of godly parents, who later became pious, can tell you this by experience—that from early childhood they learned to reverence holy things—which the speech and demeanor of their parents taught them.

4. Let it be the principal part of your care and labor in all their education, to make HOLINESS appear to them the most necessary, honorable, gainful, pleasant, delightful, amiable state of life; and to keep them from apprehending it either as needless, dishonorable, hurtful, or uncomfortable. Especially draw them to the love of it—by representing it as lovely. The whole skill of parents for the pious education of their children, consists in this—to make them conceive of holiness as the most amiable and desirable life—by representing it to them in words and practice—not only as most necessary, but also as most profitable, honorable, and delightful. "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." Proverbs 3:17.

5. Speak often to them of the brutish baseness and sinfulness of FLESH-PLEASING SENSUALITY; and of the greater excellency of the pleasures of the mind, which consist in wisdom, and in doing good. Your chief care must be to save them from flesh-pleasing; which is not only in general the sum of all iniquity—but that which in particular, children are most prone to. For their flesh and sense are very lively—and they lack not only faith, but clear reason to resist it. And so (besides their natural depravity) the custom of obeying sense (which is in strength) without reason (which is in childhood is almost useless) does much increase this pernicious sin. And therefore continually labor to imprint in their minds an odious dislike of a flesh pleasing life. Speak bitterly to them against gluttony, and drunkenness, and excess of amusements.

6. To this end, and also for the health of their bodies, keep a strict guard upon their APPETITES (which they are not able to guard themselves). Keep them as exactly as you can to the rules of reason, both in the quantity and quality of their food. Yet tell them the reason of your restraint, or else they will secretly strive the more to break their bounds. Most parents are guilty of the great hurt and danger of their children's health and souls, by pleasing and glutting them with food and drink. If I should call them devils and murderers to their own children, they would think I spoke too harshly. They destroy their souls by accustoming them to be ruled by their appetites; which later in life, all the teaching in the world will hardly ever overcome, without the special grace of God. What is all the vice and villainy in the world, but the pleasing of the desires of the flesh? And when they are habituated to this, they are rooted in their sin and misery.

7. For sports and RECREATIONS, let them be such, and so much—as may be needful to their health and cheerfulness. But not so much as may carry away their minds from better things, and draw them away from their books or other duties; nor such as may tempt them to gaming or covetousness. Children must have convenient sport for the health of the body and alacrity of the mind. Such recreations which exercise their bodies, is best. Cards and dice, and such idle games, are every way most unfit, as tending to hurt both body and mind. Their time also must be limited them, that their play may not be more important than their work. As soon as they have the use of any reason and speech, they should be taught some better things, and not left until they are five or six years of age, to do nothing—thus acquiring the habit of wasting all their time in play. Children are very early capable of learning something which may prepare them for more useful things.

8. Use all your wisdom and diligence to root out the sin of PRIDE. And to that end, do not (as is usual with foolish parents) please them by telling them how wonderful they are. But train them to humility and plainness, and speak disgracefully of pride and conceit—to breed an averseness to it in their minds. Cause them to learn such texts of Scripture as speak of God's abhorring and resisting the proud—and of his loving and honoring the humble. When they see other children who are greedy for worldly things, speak of this as their shame—that your children may not desire to be like them. Speak against boasting, and every other way of pride which they are liable to. And yet give them the praise for all that is noble—for that is but their due encouragement.

9. Speak to them disgracefully of the extravagance, and pomp, and riches of the WORLD, and of the sin of selfishness and covetousness; and diligently watch against it, and all that may tempt them to it. When they see great houses, and extravagance, and luxury—tell them that these are the devil's baits, to entice poor sinners to love this world, that they may lose their souls, and the world to come. Tell them how much heaven excels all this; and that the lovers of the world can never go there; but only the humble, and meek, and poor in spirit enter heaven. Tell them of the rich glutton in Luke 16, who was thus clothed in purple and silk, and feasted sumptuously every day; but when he came to hell, could not get a drop of water to cool his tongue; when Lazarus was in the joys of paradise.

Do not do as the wicked do—who entice their children to worldliness and covetousness, by giving them all that they desire, and by speaking highly of all who are rich and great in worldly things. But tell them how much happier a poor believer is; and withdraw all that may tempt their minds to covetousness. All this will be little enough to cure this pernicious sin.

10. Keep them as much as may be from EVIL COMPANY, especially from ungodly play-fellows. This is one of the greatest dangers for the undoing of children in the world. Especially when they are sent to common schools—for there is scarcely any of those schools so good, but has many crude and ungodly ill-taught children in it; who will speak profanely, and filthily, and make their ribald and railing speeches a matter of boasting; besides fighting, and gaming and scorning, and neglecting their lessons. And they will make a scorn of him who will not do as they, if not beat and abuse him.

And there is such tinder in nature for these sparks to flame upon, that most children—when they hear others take God's name in vain, or sing lewd songs, or talk filthy words, or call one another by reproachful names—do quickly imitate them. And even when you have watched over your children at home as closely as you can, they are infected abroad with such beastly vices, as they are hardly ever after cured of.

Therefore let those who are able, either educate their children most at home, or in private and well ordered schools; and those who cannot do so, must be the more exceeding watchful over them, and charge them to associate with the best. Speak to your children of the odiousness of these practices, and the wickedness of those who use them; and speak very disgracefully of such ungodly children. And when all is done, it is a great mercy of God, if they are not undone by the force of the contagion, notwithstanding all your antidotes!

Those therefore who venture their children into profane schools and company—to learn the fashions and customs of the world, upon the pretense that otherwise they will be ignorant of the course of the world, and ill-bred—may think of themselves and their own reasonings as well as they please. But for my part, I would rather make my son a chimney-sweeper, than be guilty of doing so much to sell or betray him to the devil!

11. Teach your children to know the preciousness of TIME, and allow them not to misspend an hour. Be often speaking to them how precious a thing time is, and how short man's life is, and how great his work, and how our endless life of joy or misery depends on this little time. Speak odiously to them of the sin of those who play and idle away their time. Keep account of all their hours, and allow them not to lose any by excess of sleep, or excess of play, or any other way; but engage them still in some employment that is worthy of their time.

Train up your children in a life of diligence and labor, and do not accustom them to ease and idleness when they are young. Many children are taught no calling, nor exercised in any employment, but only such as is fit for nothing but ornament and recreation at the best. Recreation should have but a small proportion of their time. So that by the sin of their parents, many are early engaged in a life of idleness, which afterward is almost impossible for them to overcome. They are taught to live like swine or vermin—which live only to live, and do small good in the world by living. They rise, and dress, and adorn themselves, and go to dinner, and thence to cards or dice, or chat and idle talk, or some play, or idle visit, or recreation; and so to supper, and to chat again, and then to bed. This is the lamentable life of too many who have great obligations to God.

12. Let your own EXAMPLE teach your children that holiness, and heavenliness, and blamelessness of tongue and life—which you desire for them to learn and practice. The example of parents is most powerful with children, both for good and evil. If they see that you live in the fear of God, it will do much to persuade them, that it is the most necessary and excellent course of life, and that they must do so too. But if they see you live a carnal, indulgent, and worldly life—it will greatly embolden them to imitate you. If you speak ever so well to them, they will sooner believe your bad lives, than your good words.

13. Let them perceive that you dearly LOVE them, and that all your commands, restraints, and corrections are for their good, and not merely because you will have it so. If they perceive that you dearly love them, they will obey you the more willingly, and the easier be brought to repent of their disobedience. And they will as well obey you in heart as in outward actions; and behind your back as before your face. And their love for you (which must be caused by your love to them) must be one of the chief means to bring them to the love of all that good which you commend to them; and so to form their wills sincerely to the will of God, and make them holy.

If you are too cold to them, and too harsh, they will only fear you, and not much love you; and then they will love no books, no practices, which you commend to them. Nay, it will tempt them to loathe your government, and all that good which you persuade them to, and make them like birds in a cage, which watch for an opportunity to get away and get their liberty. They will be the more in the company of evil and idle children, because your terror and coldness makes them take no delight in your company. And fear will make them liars—as often as a lie seems necessary to their escape.

Parents who show much love to their children, may safely show severity when they commit a fault. For then they will see, that it is their fault alone, which displeases you, and not their persons; and your love reconciles them to you when they are corrected. Correction from parents who are always cold or angry, and show no tender love to their children—will alienate them, and do no good. Tender love, with severity only when they sin—is the only way to do them good.

If God denies you children, and saves you all this care and labor; do not repine, but be thankful, believing it is best for you. Remember what a deal of duty, and pains, and heart's grief He has freed you from, and how few children become godly—even when parents have done their best. Remember what a life of misery children must here pass through, and how sad the fear of their sin and damnation would have been to you.