THE CHRISTIAN MOTHER
by John Abbott, 1833, Worcester, Mass.
Published by the American Tract Society
Very great success has attended the efforts which have
been made to collect children in Sunday schools for religious instruction.
Maternal associations have been of inestimable value. But nothing can
supersede the necessity of effort and instruction at the fire-side. The
mother must collect her little flock around her and take upon herself the
responsibility of their religious education. She may find enjoyment and
improvement in associating with others for prayer; and if she is faithful,
she will see that her children are punctual attendants of the Sunday school.
But she will not regard these as exonerating herself in the least degree
from her parental responsibility. The influence of Sunday schools has
undoubtedly been to awaken more general interest at home in behalf of the
spiritual welfare of children. Still there is danger that some parents may
feel that the responsibility is transferred from themselves to the Sunday
school teachers; and that they accomplish their duty in seeing them
punctually at school with their lessons well learned.
1. It is, however, of the first
importance that home should be the sanctuary of religious instruction.
The mother must be the earnest and affectionate guide to the Savior. She
must take her little ones by the hand and lead them in the paths of piety.
No one else can possibly have the influence which a
mother may possess, or the facilities which she enjoys. She knows the
various dispositions of her children; their habits of thought; their moods
of mind. Thus can she adapt instruction to their needs. She alone can
improve the numberless occurrences which open the mind for instruction, and
give it susceptibility to religious impression. She is with them when they
are in sickness or pain. She can take advantage of the calm of the morning,
and of the solemn stillness of the evening. In moments of sadness she can
point their minds to brighter worlds, and to more satisfying joys. God has
conferred upon the mother advantages which no one else can possess. With
these advantages he has connected responsibilities which cannot be laid
aside, or transferred to another. At home, and by the parents, the great
duty of religious education must be faithfully performed.
The quiet fire-side is the most sacred sanctuary;
maternal affection is the most eloquent pleader, and an obedient child is
the most promising subject of religious impressions. Let mothers feel this
as they ought, and they will seldom see their children leave the paternal
roof unfortified with Christian principles and sincere piety.
2. Parents must have deep
devotional feelings themselves. It is certainly vain to hope that
you can induce your children to fix their affections upon another world,
while yours are fixed upon this present world. Your example will
counteract all the influence of your instructions! Unless Christian feelings
animate your heart, it is folly to expect that you can instill those
principles into the hearts of your children. They will imitate your example.
They confide in your guidance. That little child which God has given you,
and which is so happy in your affection, feels safe in cherishing those
feelings which it sees you are cherishing. And, mother! can you look upon
your confiding child and witness all her fond endearments and warm embraces,
and not feel remorse in the consciousness that your example is
leading her away from God—and consigning her to ceaseless sorrow?
You love your child. Your child loves you, and cannot
dream that you are abusing its confidence, and leading it in the paths of
sin and destruction. How would it be shocked in being told that its mother
is the cruel betrayer of its eternal happiness! O unchristian mother! You
are wedded to the world. You have not given your heart to God. Not content
with being the destroyer of your own soul, you must carry with you to the
world of woe, the child who is loving you as its mother and its friend! O
there is an aggravation of cruelty in this, which cannot be described. One
would think that every smile would disturb your peace; that every proof of
affection would pierce your heart; that remorse would keep you awake at
midnight, and embitter every hour. The murderer of the body can
scarce withstand the stings of conscience. But, O unchristian mother! you
are the destroyer of the soul. And of whose soul? The soul of your
own confiding child!
We cannot speak less plainly on this topic. We plead the
unparalleled wickedness to children—betrayed by a mother's smile and a
mother's kiss. Satan led Adam from Paradise. Judas betrayed his Master. But
here we see a mother leading her child, her own immortal child, far from God
and peace—to the rebellion of worldliness—and to the storms of eternal
retribution. That little child following in your footsteps, is the heir of
eternity! It is to survive the lapse of all coming years; to emerge from the
corruptions of the grave; to expand in spiritual existence, soaring in the
angel's lofty flight—or groping in the demon's gloom! You, O mother! are its
guide to immortality—to heaven's green pastures—or to despair's dreary
wastes. If you go on in unrepented sin, your child, in all probability, will
go with you!
We have heard of a child, upon her dying bed, raising her
eyes to her parents and exclaiming, in bitterness of spirit, "O my parents!
you never told me of death, or urged me to prepare for it; and now," said
she, bursting into an agony of tears, "I am dying, and my soul is lost!" She
died. Her sun went down in darkness. What were the feelings of those
parents! What agony must have torn their hearts! How must the spectre of
their ruined daughter pursue them in all the employments of the day, and
disturb their slumbers by night.
But you must meet your children again. The trumpet of
judgment will summon you to the bar of Christ. How fruitless would be the
attempt to describe your feelings there! That dreadful day will surely come!
The appointed hour makes haste! Death is followed by judgment—and
judgment by eternity! If you are the destroyer of your child, through
eternity you must bear its reproaches. You must gaze upon the wreck of its
immortal spirit, while conscience says that, if you had been faithful,
yourself and your child might have been reposing in heaven. Think not that
you can go in one path, and induce your child to walk in another. You must
not only "point to heaven," but "lead the way."
The first thing to be done, is for a mother to give her
own heart to God. Become a Christian yourself, and then you may hope for
God's blessing upon your efforts to lead your child to the Savior. We do
entreat every mother who reads these pages, as she values her own happiness
and the happiness of her children, immediately to surrender her heart to
God. Atoning blood has removed every difficulty from the way. The Holy
Spirit is ready, in answer to your prayers, to grant you all needful
assistance. Every hour that you neglect this duty, you are leading your
children farther from God, and rendering the prospect of their return more
3. Present religion in a cheerful aspect. There is no
real happiness without piety. The tendency of religion is to make us
happy—both here and hereafter; to divest the mind of gloom, and fill it with
joy. Many parents mistake in this respect. They dwell too much upon the
terrors of the law. They speak with countenances saddened and gloomy.
Religion becomes to the child an unwelcome topic, and is regarded as
destructive of happiness. The idea of God is associated with gloom and
terror. Many parents have, in their latter years, become convinced of the
injudicious course they have pursued in this respect. They have so connected
religious considerations with melancholy countenances and mournful tones of
voice, as to cause the subject to be unnecessarily repugnant.
We may, indeed, err upon the other extreme. The nature of
sin, and the justice of God, and the awful penalty of his law, should be
distinctly exhibited. The child should be taught to regard God as that being
who, while he loves his creatures, cannot look upon sin but with abhorrence.
If we speak to children simply of the Creator's goodness, as manifested in
the favors we are daily receiving, an erroneous impression of God's
character will be conveyed. It is to be feared that many deceive themselves
in thinking they love God. They have in their minds "a poetic idea of an
amiable and sentimental being"—whose character is composed of fondness and
indulgence. Such people are as far from worshipping the true God, as is the
Indian devotee or the sensual Moslem!
God must be represented as he has exhibited himself to us
in the Bible and in the works of nature. He is a God of mercy—and of
justice. He is a God of love—and a consuming fire. He is to be regarded with
our warmest affections—and also with reverence and godly fear. Let,
therefore, children distinctly understand that sin cannot pass unpunished.
But it should also be understood that judgment is God's strange work.
Ordinarily speak of his goodness. Show his readiness to forgive. Excite the
gratitude of the child by speaking of the joys of heaven. Thus let the
duties of religion ever be connected with feelings of enjoyment and images
of happiness, that the child may perceive that gloom and sorrow are
connected only with disobedience and irreligion. There is enough in the
promised joys of heaven to rouse a child's most animated feelings. This
subject has more to cheer the youthful heart than any other which can be
presented. Appeal to gratitude. Excite hope. Speak of the promised reward.
Thus may you most reasonably hope to lead your child to love its Maker, and
to live for heaven.
Reserve the terrors of the law for solemn occasions, when
you may produce a deep and abiding impression. If you are continually
introducing these motives, the mind becomes hardened against their
influence; religion becomes a disagreeable topic, and the inveteracy of sin
4. Improve appropriate occasions.
We all know that there are times when there is peculiar tenderness of
conscience and susceptibility of impression. These changes come over the
mind, sometimes from unaccountable causes. One day the Christian will feel a
warmth of devotional feeling and elevation of spiritual enjoyment, which the
next day he in vain endeavors to attain.
The man whose affections are fixed upon the world, at one
time will be almost satisfied with the pleasure he is gathering. The world
looks bright; hope is animated; and he rushes on with new vigor in his
delusive pursuits. The next day all his objects of desire appear as vain
shadows. He feels the heartlessness of his pleasures; his spirit is sad
within him; and he is almost resolved to be a Christian. With these changes
nearly all are familiar. Sometimes they may be accounted for from known
external causes. At other times the causes elude our search.
A mother should ever be watchful to improve such
occasions. When she sees her child with an unusually tender spirit, with a
pensive countenance and subdued feelings—let her then look to God in fervent
prayer, and with all the persuasions of a mother's love endeavor to guide
her child to the Savior. When the mind is in such a state as this, it is
prepared for religious instruction. It then can be made to feel how
heartless are all joys, but those of piety. Its hold upon the world is
loosened, and it may more easily be led to wander in those illimitable
regions where it may hereafter find its home. O how sweet a pleasure it is
to present the joys of religion to a child whose feelings are thus
chastened; to behold the tear moistening its eye; to see its little bosom
heaving with the new emotions which are rising there! If there be a joy on
earth, it is to be found in such a scene as this. The happy mother thus
guiding her young immortal to its heavenly home, experiences a rapture of
feeling which the world knows not of. Such occasions are frequently arising,
and the mother should endeavor always to have her heart warm with love to
Christ, that in such an hour she may communicate its warmth to the bosom of
There are certain seasons also which are peculiarly
appropriate for guiding the thoughts to heaven. Our feelings vary with
scenes around us. Upon some dark and tempestuous night you lead your little
son to his chamber. The rain beats violently upon the windows. The wind
whistles around the corners of the dwelling. All is darkness and gloom. The
mind of the child is necessarily affected by this rage of the elements. You
embrace the opportunity to inculcate a lesson of trust in God. "My son," you
say, "it is God who causes this wind to blow, and the rain to fall. Neither
your father nor I can cause the storm to cease, or increase its violence. If
God wished, he could make the wind blow with such fury as to beat in all the
windows and destroy the house. But God will take care of you, my son, if you
sincerely ask him. No one else can take care of you. I hope that you will
pray that God will protect you, and your father, and me, tonight. When God
commands, the storm will cease. The clouds will disappear; all will be calm.
And the bright moon and twinkling stars will shine out again."
In some such manner as this the child may be taught his
entire dependence upon God. He cannot fail of obtaining a deep impression of
the power of his Maker. You may say that God is omnipotent, and it will
produce but a feeble impression. But point to some actual exhibition of
God's power, and the attention is arrested, and the truth is felt. When the
mother leaves the room, and her son remains alone and in darkness, listening
to the roar of the storm, will not his mind be expanded with new ideas of
the greatness and the power of his Maker? Will he not feel that it is a
fearful thing to offend such a being? And if he has been rightly instructed
to place his trust in God, the agitation of the elements will not trouble
the serenity of his heart. He will feel that with God for his protector, he
need fear no evil.
Some such simple occurrence as this may often be improved
to produce an impression which never can be forgotten. Such thoughts as
these, introduced to the mind of a child, will enlarge its capacities, give
it maturity, lead it to reflection, and, by the blessing of God, promote its
eternal well-being. One such transient incident has a greater effect than
hours of ordinary religious conversation.
One of the most important duties of the mother is to
watch for these occasions and diligently to improve them. Any parent who is
faithful will find innumerable opportunities, which will enable her to come
into almost immediate contact with the heart of her child. The hour of
sickness comes. Your little daughter is feverish and restless upon her
pillow. You bathe her burning brow and moisten her parched tongue, and she
hears your prayer that she may be restored to health. At length the fever
subsides. She awakes from refreshing sleep, relieved from pain. You tell her
then, that if God had not interposed, her sickness would have increased
until she had died. By pointing her attention to this one act of kindness in
God, which she can see and feel, you may excite emotions of sincere
gratitude. You may thus lead her to real grief that she should ever disobey
her heavenly Father.
A child in the neighborhood dies. Your daughter
accompanies you to the funeral. She looks upon the lifeless corpse of her
little companion. And shall a mother neglect such an opportunity to teach
her child the meaning of death? When your daughter retires to sleep at
night, she will most certainly think of her friend who has died. As you
speak to her of the eternal world to which her friend has gone—of the
judgment-seat of Christ—of the new scenes of joy or woe upon which she has
entered, will not her youthful heart feel? And will not tears of sympathy
fill her eyes? And as you tell your daughter that she too soon must die;
leave all her friends; appear before Christ to be judged; and enter upon
eternal existence—will not the occurrence of the day give a reality and an
effect to your remarks which will long be remembered? There are few children
who can resist such appeals.
A father once led his little daughter into the graveyard,
to show her the grave of a playmate, who, a few days before, had been
consigned to her cold and narrow bed. The little girl looked for some
moments in silence and sadness upon the fresh mound, and then looking up,
said "Papa, I now know what is meant by the hymn, 'I, in the burying place
may see, graves shorter there than I.' My grave would be longer than this."
It is by introducing children to such scenes, and seizing
upon such occasions, that we may most successfully inculcate lessons of
piety. One such incident enters more deeply into the heart than volumes of
You are perhaps riding with your son. It is a lovely
summer's morning. The fields lie spread before you in beauty. The song of
the bird is heard. All nature seems uttering a voice of gladness. As you
ascend some eminence which gives you a commanding view of all the varied
beauties of the scene; of hill and valley, rivulet and forest, of verdant
pastures and lowing herds, can you fail to point the attention of your son
to these beauties, and from them to lead his mind to Him whose word called
them all into being? May you not thus most effectually carry his thoughts
away to heaven? May you not lead his mind to the green pastures and the
still waters, where there is sweet repose forever? May you not introduce him
to that kind Shepherd, who there protects his flock, gathering his lambs in
his arms, and folding them in his bosom? May not a mother's or a father's
tongue here plead with an eloquence unknown in the pulpit?
By carefully improving such occasions as these, you may
produce an impression upon the mind, which all future years cannot remove.
You may so intimately connect devotional feelings with the ever-varying
events and changing scenes of life, that every day's occurrences will lead
the thoughts of your child to God. The raging storm; the hour of sickness;
the funeral procession; the tolling death-bell, will, in later life, carry
back his thoughts to a mother's instructions and prayers. Should your son
hereafter be a wanderer from home, as he stands upon the Alps, or rides upon
the ocean, his mind will involuntarily be carried to Him who rules the
waters and who built the hills. With all those occasions then, which produce
so vivid an effect upon the mind, endeavor to connect views of God and
There is hardly any person so reckless of eternity, so
opposed to piety, who will not at times listen to religious conversation. A
Christian gentleman was once a passenger on board a vessel where his ears
were frequently pained by the profane language of a crude and boisterous
cabin boy. He resolved to watch for some opportunity to converse with him.
One evening the gentleman was lying, wrapped in his cloak, upon the
quarter-deck, with a coil of ropes for his pillow, enjoying the beauties of
ocean scenery. A gentle breeze was swelling the sails and bearing the ship
rapidly over the undulating waters. The waves were glittering with their
phosphorescent fires, and reflected from innumerable points the rays of the
moon. Not a cloud obscured the thousands of lights which were hung out in
"nature's grand rotunda." The cabin boy happened to be employed in adjusting
some ropes near the place where the gentleman was reclining in the rich
enjoyment of his wandering thoughts. A few words of conversation first
passed between them, upon some ordinary topic. The attention of the boy was
then, by an easy transition, directed to the stars. He manifested increasing
interest, as some simple but striking remarks were made upon the facts which
astronomy has taught us. From this the mind of the boy was led to heaven. He
stood gazing upon the stars, as the gentleman spoke of the world of glory
and the mansions which Christ has gone to prepare. He listened with subdued
feelings and breathless attention, as the conversation unfolded to him the
dreadful scene of judgment. By this time his mind was prepared for direct
allusion to his own sins. He was attentive and respectful, while he was
kindly but most earnestly entreated to prepare to meet Christ in judgment.
The effect produced upon the mind of this wicked lad was
evidently most powerful. Whether it were lasting or not, the gentleman had
no opportunity to ascertain. But by taking advantage of the stillness of the
evening, and the impressiveness of the scene, the turbulent spirit of that
boy was, for the time at least, quelled. Religious instruction was
communicated to his willing mind. And probably he will often, while a
wanderer upon the ocean, gaze upon the stars in his midnight watches, and
think of judgment and of heaven.
How often can a mother seize upon some similar occasion,
and instruct, while at the same time she most deeply interests and most
effectually impresses the mind of her child!
5. Avoid introducing religious subjects upon
inappropriate occasions. There are times when serious injury is
done by urging the claims of religion. Your child is angry. His flushed
cheek and violent motions show the sinful irritation of his mind. Shall the
mother now converse with him upon the wickedness of these feelings and God's
displeasure? No! It is unseasonable. It would be as unavailing as to
converse with a madman, or one intoxicated. Punish him for his irritation in
some way which will soothe his feelings and lead him to reflection. But wait
until these passions have subsided before you attempt to reason with him
upon their impropriety, and to lead him to evangelical repentance. Kneel by
his bedside in the silence of his chamber, and in the pensive hour of
evening. When his mind is calm, and passion is not triumphing over reason,
he will hear you, and may be melted to contrition.
When Peter denied his Master, he did it with cursing and
swearing. But when his fears had subsided, and the hour of reflection came,
with a sad heart he entered the hall of Pilate. Then did a single glance
from the Savior pierce his heart, "and he went out and wept bitterly."
A child is highly excited with pleasurable emotions. His
attention is so highly engrossed by the immediate object of his enjoyment,
that it is almost impossible to draw his thoughts to any other subject. If,
under these circumstances, an effort is made to convince him of the
uncertainty of human enjoyments, of his own sinfulness, of the need of a
Savior, the effort will not only, in all probability, be unavailing, but the
subject will be so unwelcome as to excite disgust. There are times when the
mind is prepared with gratitude to receive religious instruction. Let such
occasions be improved. There are others when the mind is so manifestly
engrossed in one all-absorbing subject, that it is in vain to present any
other. If you would not connect religion with unpleasant associations, and
excite repugnance, do not on such occasions intrude spiritual subjects.
If a gunner should enter a forest and walk along loading
and firing at random, he might accidentally get some game, but most
assuredly he would frighten away far more than he would secure. If a parent,
with blind and unthinking zeal, is incessantly throwing out random remarks,
she may by chance produce the desired effect. She will, however, more
frequently excite opposition, and confirm rebellion, than lead to penitence
Guard against long and tedious conversations on religious
subjects. The mind of a child cannot be fixed for any great length of time
upon one subject without exhaustion. Every word that is uttered, after there
are manifestations of weariness, will do more harm than good. If a mother
will exercise her own judgment, and gather wisdom from her own observation,
she will soon acquire that facility in adapting her instructions to the
occasion which will have the best tendency to improve her child. No
rules can supersede the necessity of personal watchfulness and reflection.
6. Make the Bible your text book in the religious
instructions of your children. Few moderns have attained greater
celebrity than Lamartine. As a poet, a statesman, an orator, he has filled
the world with his renown. When a child, his mother was his intellectual
guide, and the Bible the book from which she taught him. She inspired him
with all that is noble in his nature, arousing his affections, enkindling
his mind, guiding his thoughts, forming his tastes. The Bible was her text
book. Under its guidance, she led her noble and ardent boy through the
groves and by the crystal streams of Eden. With her he gathered the
fruit, and plucked the flowers, or listened to the songs of Paradise. He saw
depicted before him Adam and Eve in their innocence and bliss, and in their
condition and history he saw and felt the beauty of holiness.
The Fall came with its gloom and withering curse.
In the howling tempest, the desolation of the garden of Eden, and the weary
wanderings of our first parents when ejected from their early home—he saw
the hatefulness of sin. The Deluge then follows with its blackness of
darkness, and its surging billows overwhelming a struggling world. The heart
of the child throbs in the conception of the dreadful scene as a mother's
lips tell the tale. His mind is expanded, and his whole spirit elevated by
the terrific idea. Babel rises before his eye. The story of Joseph
and his adventurous life inspires him with lofty desires. Daniel, the
heroic and the noble, awakens in his bosom the firm resolve that he also
will be a Christian hero, daring to do and to suffer, though the famished
lion roar, and the heated furnace glow. The Savior, in all the
perfection of moral loveliness, and in all the grandeur of moral sublimity,
becomes the object of his youthful love and admiration. His bosom glows with
lofty emotions at the recital of the eventful lives of the Apostles.
His character is thus formed upon the model of the sacred
heroes. The mother, with the Bible, aided by God's blessing, has ennobled
and saved the boy.
At length, she dies and molders to the dust. Life, with
its tempests, rolls over her son. Temptations crowd around his path in
blooming youth and in vigorous manhood. But there is a guardian angel ever
hovering over him. That gentle and familiar voice which taught him in
infancy never dies upon his ear. That sweet maternal smile never fades from
After long years of toil and conflict have passed away,
Lamartine resolves to visit in person the land to which the instructions of
his mother had so often led his youthful mind. The evening twilight is just
settling down over the hills of Judea as he catches the first dim glimpse of
their outline. The fresh breeze urges the ship over the blue expanse of the
Mediterranean, and the moon rises brightly over Carmel and Olivet and
Lebanon. His mother first guided his spirit to the Holy Land. And now his
thoughts involuntarily turn to her. "My mother," he says, "surely looks down
at such an hour as this upon her happy son." With a soul swelling with
emotion, with eyes swimming in tears, he looks upon the unveiled Heavens
above him and exclaims, "Mother! dear, dear mother! here am I drawing near
to your own loved Jerusalem. I am to weep upon Olivet and upon Calvary. Upon
the shores of the river and the lake I am to tread in the footsteps which
your Savior and my Savior have trodden. Mother, dear mother! I know that you
are with me, and that you sympathize in the joy of your child."
Thus does the spiritual sympathy which binds the heart of
a child to a mother, survive, and continue to exercise its power, long after
that mother has been slumbering in the grave. The Bible is the strongest of
all influences in the creation of that sympathy. There is, in its relations
the union of all that is intellectually exciting, and all that is
spiritually sacred. Its narratives, its imagery, its precepts, its thrilling
and heroic incidents, all more powerfully move the human heart than any
We have not sufficient faith in the potency of the Bible.
It should be to the parent her manual, her armory, a treasury for her of
every blessed influence. The infant mind eagerly listens to the recital of
the biography and the history with which its pages are filled. Tell your
child the stories of Eden—of the Fall, and of the Deluge—of the cities of
the plain, wrapped in fire—of Samuel, and Joseph, and Moses, and David, and
Ruth, and Daniel. Read to them these narratives in the beautiful simplicity
with which the pen of inspiration has recorded them, and you will awaken a
strong and abiding interest in his mind; you will fortify him against the
wiles of infidelity, with arguments more potent than all the demonstrations
of philosophy; and you will ally your name, a mother's name, with the Bible,
with angels, with heaven, with God.
The mother must not surrender the instruction of her
children in the narratives and truths of the Bible, to others—to the
Sabbath-school teacher or her pastor. Grateful as she may be for the Sabbath
school, and the church, and all the kindhearted influences which they
exert—it is her privilege, her peculiar privilege, her inestimable
privilege—a privilege of which no one may deprive her, to take her child by
the hand herself and lead him to the Savior. She must reveal to the tender
and awakened spirit—death and its struggles—the grave and its corruption—the
archangel's trumpet—the morning of the resurrection—the sublimity and the
terror of the final judgment. A mother's loving voice must guide the mind to
the garden of God on high—its blessed mansions—its still waters—its green
pastures—its fullness of never-fading joy. A mother's gentle tones must
reveal all that is dreadful in the retribution of a righteous God—and the
remorse and the despair, which, like an undying worm and a quenchless flame,
must consume the sinner's heart. In doing this, the Bible should ever be the
parent's storehouse of religious influence. It is the mighty power of God.
7. In teaching children from the Scriptures, aim at
interesting them in the moral truths and sentiments which the narratives
In fact, upon a proper use of the sacred volume, a great
deal depends in respect to the success which is to be obtained through its
instrumentality. There are some parts of it which children can at a very
early age understand and appreciate. Others, from their style or subject,
will act efficiently on mature minds alone. From the former, which ought to
be early read and explained, an immediate and most important religious
influence can at once be exerted. Selections from the latter should be fixed
in the memory, to exert an influence in future years.
For the former of these purposes the narrative parts, if
judiciously selected, are most appropriate in early years. But great care
ought to be taken to select those which may be easily understood, and those
in which some moral lesson is obvious and simple. Let it be constantly borne
in mind that the object in view in teaching the Bible to a child, is to
affect his heart—and it would be well for every mother to pause
occasionally, and ask herself, "What moral duty am I endeavoring to
inculcate now? What practical effect upon the heart and conduct of my child
is this lesson intended to produce?"
To ask a young child such questions as, "Who was the
first man?" "Who was the oldest man?" "Who slew Goliath?" may be giving him
lessons in pronunciation, but it is not giving him religious instruction. It
may teach him to articulate, or it may strengthen his memory—but is doing
little or nothing to promote his piety. I would not be understood to condemn
such questions. I only wish that parents may understand their true nature.
If the real or supposed dexterity of the child in answering them is not made
the occasion of showing him off before company—thus cherishing vanity and
self-conceit—it may be well thus to exercise the memory; and some facts
which will be useful hereafter, may be fixed in this way. But it must not be
considered as religious instruction—it has not in any degree the nature of
What, then, is the kind of instruction which is to be
given from the Bible? I will illustrate the method of supposing a case which
may bring the proper principles to view. We will imagine the child to be two
or three years old.
"Come," says its mother, "come to me and I will read you
a story." It is Sabbath afternoon we will suppose; the mind of the child is
not pre-occupied by any other interest.
"Sometimes," continues the mother, "I tell you stories to
amuse you. But I am not going to do that now. It is to do you good. Do you
understand how it will do you good to hear a story?"
"Well, you will see. It is the story of Cain and Abel. Do
you know anything about it?"
"Yes, Cain killed Abel."
"Do you know why he killed him?"
"Because he was wicked."
"No, I mean what did Abel do to make Cain angry with him?
Did you ever see anybody angry? Were you ever angry yourself?"
"And I suppose you had some cause for it. Now I will read
the account, and see whether you can tell what made Cain angry—'And Cain
brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.' Do you know
what the fruit of the ground is?"
"It means anything which grows out of the ground. Cain
was a farmer; he planted seeds and gathered the fruits which grew from them,
and he brought some of them to offer them to God. 'And Abel brought of the
firstlings of his flock.' Do you know what that means?"
The child hesitates.
"Abel did not cultivate the ground like Cain. He had
great flocks of sheep and goats, and he brought some of the best of those to
offer to God. So that you see that Cain and Abel did almost exactly the same
"Now, God does not notice merely what we do—but how we
feel, while we are doing it. If I would ask you to go and shut that door
when you are busy, and if you should go immediately, but feel angry, God
would be displeased. He looks at the heart. Do you ever feel angry when I
wish you to do what you dislike?"
"Now Cain, I suppose, did not feel pleasantly when he
brought his offering—and God was dissatisfied with him. But God was pleased
with Abel's offering, and accepted it. Would you have thought that Cain
would have liked this?"
"No. Did he like it?"
"No, he did not. He was very much displeased; and it is
very remarkable that he was displeased, not only against God, but he was
angry with his brother, who had not done him the least wrong. That is the
way with us all. If you should do wrong, and your sister do right, and I
should blame you, and praise her, you would be tempted to feel angry with
her, just because she had been so happy as to do her duty. How wicked such a
"Cain, however, had that feeling; and little children
have it very often. It shows itself in different ways. Cain being a strong
man rose against his brother in the field and killed him. But young children
who are weak and small would only strike each other—or say unkind things to
one another. Now God is displeased with us when we have these feelings,
whether we show them by unkind words or by cruel violence. There is a
particular verse in the Bible which shows this. Would you like to have me
"I will find it then. It is in Matthew 5:22. Our Savior
says it. It is this, 'Whoever is angry with his brother without a cause,
shall be in danger of the judgment; and whoever shall say, You fool, shall
be in danger of hell-fire.' This is not the whole of the verse. I will
explain the other part some other time."
The reader will perceive at once that the kind of
instruction here exemplified, consists in drawing out the moral lesson which
the passage is intended to teach, and in giving it direct and practical
application to the circumstances and temptations of the child.
The views which are generally entertained of heaven, as
described in the Bible, are far more indefinite than they ought to be. This
home of the blessed is described in the Scriptures with the most magnificent
imagery that nature affords. Heaven is spoken of as having a distinct
locality, like any place on earth. We hear of the splendor of the golden
city, adorned with every beauty with which the hand of Omnipotence can
embellish it; of the mansions glittering with architectural magnificence. We
are informed of the social enjoyments of that world. The Christian is
introduced to the society of angels; converses with them; unites in their
enjoyments; becomes a beloved member of their happy community. We are
informed of the active delights of heaven. Angel bands fly to and fro, the
rejoicing servants of God. They unfold their wings and take their rapid
flight where all the glories of the universe allure their curiosity, and
where no darkness follows the splendor of ceaseless day. The eye gazes full
and undazzled upon the brightness of God's throne. The ear is charmed with
melody. The body of the Christian is to arise from the grave, incorruptible
and immortal. There is the union of soul and body in that happy world. There
we meet our Christian friends; recognize them; rejoice in their love. Thus
we pass our eternity with songs, and everlasting joy upon our heads, where
sorrow and sighing forever flee away.
How vivid and impressive are the views which the pen of
inspiration gives of the Christian's future abode! Yet the very common idea
entertained of heaven is, that it is a vast aerial expanse, where shadowy
and unsubstantial spirits repose in mysterious and indefinable enjoyment.
There is, indeed, with many individuals, an impression that it is wrong to
associate ideas of joy with which we now are familiar, with that celestial
abode. But is it not safe, is it not a duty, to be guided in our
instructions by the Bible? Admitting that the descriptions of the Bible are
figurative—as they of necessity must be—still these are the figures which
God has employed to convey to our minds an idea of the joys of heaven. And
God would surely select the most appropriate figures, and those which most
nearly resemble the enjoyments to be illustrated.
8. It is our privilege and our duty, therefore, to
describe heaven to our children, as God has described it to us.
Thus may we give it vividness in their minds. Thus may we excite in their
youthful bosoms the most intense desire to enter that happy world. And why
has God unfolded its glories—but to allure us to holiness and entice us
home? Your son has an unusual thirst for knowledge. His curiosity is ever on
the alert. He is prying into nature's mysterious movements, and asking
questions which the human mind cannot answer. Tell him that there are no
limits to human improvements; that the grave cannot enchain the energies of
the mind; that time cannot circumscribe its range, that eternity cannot
weary its powers; that it will advance in its acquisitions, and soar in its
flight, long after suns, and moons, and stars shall have waxed old and
decayed. Tell him that in heaven he shall understand all the wonders of
God's works, and experience the most exquisite delight, as he looks into and
comprehends all the machinery of nature. And then you can tell him of the
Savior, who died that he might introduce him to this happy world.
Your daughter has an ear charmed with the melody of
sound. Music is to her a source of exquisite enjoyment. Is there no music in
heaven? Is there no melody in the "chorus of the skies?" Is there nothing
enrapturing to the soul while uniting with angelic choruses in their
hallelujahs? God has thus described heaven to us. Why should we not then
animate our children with the same description?
You may, in familiar language, carry the thoughts of your
daughter away to companies of happy angels, with celestial harps and divine
voices rolling their notes of joy through heaven's wide concave. Thus will
she have some definite idea of the enjoyments to which she is invited. The
joys of heaven will be to her intensely alluring; and she will be led to
inquire more earnestly into the way of salvation, and with more fervor to
implore God's aid to overcome sin and prepare her for a heavenly home.
Your child has an affectionate disposition, a heart open
to receive friendship, and to pour forth its love. Tell him of the love of
heaven, of God, of the angels. Tell him of the love which animates the
bosoms of those noble spirits who have not a single fault to repel
attachment. Tell him of again meeting all his friends who love the Savior,
in that world where an unkind word, or an unkind look, or an unkind thought
is unknown. And as you dwell upon the proofs of a Savior's love, his heart
may be melted.
Is your child passionately fond of nature's scenery? Does
he look with a poet's eye upon the ocean, upon the starry canopy, upon the
gilded clouds of sunset? There surely is magnificence in the scenery of
heaven. There is splendor worth beholding in the visions of angels, the
throne of God, the widespread universe of countless worlds. What is the
ocean but a drop sprinkled from the almighty hand? What is Niagara, to us so
magnificent, but a tiny rivulet rippling over its pebbly channel? Animate
your child with the description of those glories of heaven, before which all
the sublimity of earth sinks to insignificance. Fear not that this will
extinguish in his bosom a taste for nature's beauties. It will, while
increasing the enjoyment which he derives from these sources, refine and
elevate his mind, and give him ardent desires to be prepared for this world
Fear not that this will strengthen in his heart the
principles of selfishness instead of leading him to piety. If God had felt
such fears, he never would have presented us the allurements of heaven, or
the terrors of hell. Present these joys, that your child may be induced by
them to repent of sin, to trust in the Savior, and to consecrate life to his
These descriptions are necessarily in some degree
figurative, and we must so instruct our children. But we must not neglect
the use of these figures, for they convey to the mind the most correct
conception that can be attained of the enjoyment of the future world. The
fact that God has selected them, proves that no other language can be
equally appropriate. They describe, as perfectly as human language can
describe, the nature of heaven's enjoyments. But they do not come up to the
reality—for eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived, the
joys which God has prepared for those who love him.
God knows how to adapt instruction to the human mind. We
must imitate his example. And we must present heaven to our children as God
has presented it to us—crowded with images of delight. The purest and
noblest joys that we experience on earth, will be found again in that
world—only infinitely elevated and refined. And he must adopt singular
principles of interpretation, who does not read in the Bible, that in heaven
we shall find splendor of scenery, harmony of music, congeniality of
companions, ardor of love, delight of activity, mansions of glory, and homes
of never failing bliss. Let us urge these views upon our children until
their hearts are warmed by them. Nothing can have a stronger tendency to
convince them of the folly of laying up treasures upon earth. And this will
lead them to listen with interest to your instructions in order that they
may learn how salvation is to be obtained.
9. Next to the Bible, as a means of religious
influence, we must place the careful culture of our
own hearts. The parent must strive to be herself, just what she
wishes her child to be. She must cherish in her own spirit those virtues and
those graces, which she desires to see as the embellishments of the
character of her child. Our children have more right to expect that we
shall be model parents—than we have to require that they shall be model
children. Their temptations are as severe for them as ours are for us.
We are apt to think their burdens light, because upon our mature minds they
would press with but little weight. And thus most erroneously we excuse
ourselves for defects, which we censure severely in them.
Would you have your children look to God sincerely,
affectionately, cheerfully—as their Father and their friend—their
sympathizer in joy—their comforter in sorrow? Lead them to do this—by your
example. Let them see this spirit in you. When you bend over the cradle of a
dying child—when disaster comes and sweeps away your means of luxury and
even of comforts—when disease takes you from the busy cares of the household
and you languish in debility and pain upon your bed—then is the time in
which to show the loveliness and blessedness of confidence in God. A smile
upon your countenance, a glance of confiding affection in your eye, a word
of calm submission from your full heart, will then go to the hearts of your
observing children, with great and effectual power.
Words alone are air. They fall upon the ear, and are
forgotten. But who ever forgets abiding, consistent, unvarying example?
What child ever ceases to remember the life—the daily life, of its father
The ornaments and graces too, of the natural character as
well as the principles of piety, can best be inculcated upon children
through the influence of example. Would you have your daughter learn
to control her passions, and cultivate a subdued, gentle, and submissive
spirit? Would you have her speak soothingly to her little brother, when he
is irritated, and bear her own little troubles without fretfulness or
complaining? Show her how to do it by your example. When the careless maid
drops the china vase, or spoils the dinner, or breaks the lamp of oil upon
the carpet—then is the time, in which to teach your child how to govern
herself. This is your hour of conflict. Gain the victory yourself, and your
child will gather strength from your success to struggle with her own
temptations and sins.
Say not that the annoyances and trials which you have to
bear, are too great to be always endured with equanimity. God lays upon his
children no intolerable burdens. We need such discipline as these things
bring that we may be able to sympathize with our children in their trials.
And we surely ought not to be surprised to find that our children get vexed
and angry at the disappointments and injuries which befall them, if we lose
our own tempers and resent with ruffled feelings and angry words the acts of
carelessness on the part of others by which we are annoyed.
Parents should never, especially in the presence of their
children, give way to feelings of irritation and anger. Even when a child
does wrong, there should be no expression of resentment or vexation in our
looks or in our words. We may act firmly on such occasions, and reprove
effectually—while yet we maintain throughout, the quiet, gentle, and
peaceful spirit by which the conduct of the Christian ought at all times to
In fact, the efficiency of parental discipline will
depend in a great measure upon the mildness and gentleness of the form it
assumes; while at the same time, by assuming such a character, it makes the
subject of it gentle and mild.
In the same manner, feelings of benevolent regard for the
happiness of others, and all other right moral sentiments of heart, can be
best cultivated through the influence of parental example. Would you cherish
in your child, a heart to feel for others' woes—a generous spirit, active in
the relief of distress? Take your son or your daughter with you, as you
grope through the dismal passageway, to the room of sickness and poverty.
Let him see the scanty furniture, the thin clothing, and the feeble flame
dying on the hearth. Let him carry, himself, the basket which conveys
comforts to the desolate—and the spirit which glows in your bosom, will warm
his also—and the spirit of benevolence which Christ has enkindled in your
bosom, will diffuse its warmth into his youthful heart.
It is a beautiful arrangement of Providence, that
requires that the great work of the formation of the character of children
should be done in the heart of the parent herself. I am to teach my child to
avoid vanity, and pride, and selfishness—by cultivating within myself, with
never-tiring industry, the spirit of lowliness, of humility, of
self-sacrifice. It is thus, more effectually than in any other way, that I
am to reach and influence his heart. So I am to curb the impetuous passions
of my child, mainly by gaining the victory over myself, and bringing all my
own passions under perfect control. It is thus within myself—it is in my own
heart, that I can work most effectually in molding the character of my
children; for in promoting their moral progress I must go before them and
lead the way.
What fearful questions, then, arise in the mind of every
parent? Am I what I wish my child to be? Am I grateful, submissive,
cheerful? Have I conquered my passions, obtained weanedness from the world,
and am I daily, in my life, presenting an example such as my child may
safely imitate? Here lies the great work of parental faithfulness. Here is
to be laid the deep foundations of all salutary family discipline. Thus did
our Savior plead. Such was the influence he wielded. Persuasive as were his
words, infinitely more persuasive was the power of his example.
10. Dwell particularly upon the Savior, in the religious
instruction of children. The Scriptures declare that the
preaching of Christ crucified is the great instrument which God uses in
convincing of sin, and leading the soul to penitence and gratitude. And the
history of the church in all ages has shown that the history of a Savior's
love and death will awaken contrition and melt the heart, when all other
appeals are in vain. Your child will listen, with tearful eye, while you
tell of the Savior's glory in heaven—of his becoming man—of the sufferings
and persecution of his life—and of his cruel death upon the cross. And when
you tell your child that it was 'God' who thus became manifest in the flesh,
and suffered these indignities that he might redeem his sinful creatures
from woe—you will convey to the tender mind such an idea of God's kindness,
and the ingratitude of sinners, as nothing else can produce.
The philosopher may admire the noble conception of the
eternal, incomprehensible, invisible Spirit. But it is God, as manifested in
the compassionate, gentle, and suffering Savior—who attracts the sympathies
of the heart. A definite idea is introduced to the youthful mind, when you
speak of him who took little children in his arms and blessed them. Every
Christian can judge, from the effect produced upon his own heart by the
recital of a Savior's love—of the tendency it has to awaken in the bosom of
a child the deepest emotions of contrition and gratitude. It is very
observable, in all the accounts of youthful piety, that the Savior is the
prominent object of affection.
Any person will be interested, in turning over the pages
of almost any pious child's biography, to witness how strong the impression
which a Savior's love produces upon the heart. Even under the most adverse
circumstances, the youthful heart has found its way to him. Not a few
instances have occurred, in which parents, who have not been accustomed to
give prominency to the Savior in their instructions, have been surprised to
find that Jesus Christ is the sympathizing friend to whom a child, in
sickness and in suffering, has most affectionately clung. God, in Christ,
has attractions which nothing else can have!
When little Nathan Dickerman was asked, "What do you love
to think about most when you are in pain?"
"The Lord Jesus Christ," he answered.
At another time his biographer records—Nathan is very
sick tonight. His heart is beating most violently and rapidly, while the
pulse can hardly be perceived at the wrist. But he says he is more happy
than usual. I asked him why. He replied, "Because my Savior is near."
Being asked which was his favorite hymn; he reflected a
moment, and repeated,
"One there is above all others well deserves the name of
His is love beyond a brother's—costly, free, and knows no
Which of all our friends, to save us, could or would have
shed his blood?
But this Savior died to have us reconciled in Him to
The remembrance of what the Savior suffered sustained him
in all his sufferings. Redeeming love was the theme of his sweetest
One day, someone was mentioning in the room, that his
disease was of such a nature that he would probably die suddenly. Nathan
heard it, and rising up in the bed, clasped his hands together, and repeated
"Jesus can make a dying bed feel soft as downy pillows
while on his bosom I lean my head, and breathe my soul
out sweetly there."
And after sitting a few moments in silence, he added
"Jesus, my God, I know his name, His name is all my
Nor will he put my soul to shame; Nor let my hope be
"Isn't that a good hope, mother?"
We might open to almost any memoir of early piety, in
illustration of this principle. And indeed everyone who is familiar with the
characteristics of devotional feeling, as they are exemplified in the mind
of a child, must have observed the wonderful adaptation of religious truth
to our weakness and frailty.
Let parents, therefore, imitate the apostles, and preach
to their children a suffering Savior. Show them God in Christ, reconciling
the world to himself. This is the simplicity of the Gospel. Indeed, we can
hardly conceive it possible for the affections of a child to cling with
ardor to any object, of which it cannot form some definite conception. Tell
your child of Christ—who created him; of Christ—who became man, and suffered
and died to save him; of Christ—before whose judgment seat he soon must
appear; of Christ—whose praises the Christian will sing in heaven, ages
without end. This is God, if I may so express it, simplified to the
comprehension of the child.
The mother who does not often present this Savior, and
dwell upon the story of his sufferings and death, has not yet learned the
simplicity and power of the gospel. All other motives are feeble,
compared with this. You may search the world of fact and imagination in vain
for any motive calculated to produce so deep an impression upon the mind.
And everything in this astonishing occurrence has a tendency to promote
humility, penitence, and love. I dwell the more earnestly upon this point,
for it appears to me of primary importance. The gospel is the all-availing
instrument which God has given to subdue the power of sin in the heart.
Pray with your children. It is not only the duty of a
mother to pray for her children, but when they are young, to pray with them.
Let them hear your fervent supplications that God will make them his
friends. Let them see that your desires are intense that they may be
preserved from sin—and prepared for heaven. The feelings which animate the
bosom of the mother will, by sympathy, in some degree, be transferred to the
bosoms of the children. These scenes of devotion will long be remembered.
And even if your efforts and your prayers are not answered with the early
evidences of your children's piety, these hours of devotion will leave a
trace upon the memory never to be effaced. Through all succeeding years they
will operate as restraints from plunging into guilty excess, and as
monitions of conscience calling loudly to repentance and virtue.
It is reported of a man, notable for his talents, his
elevated situation in life, and his wicked life—that one evening, while
sitting at the gaming table, he was observed to be unusually sad. His
associates rallied him upon his serious aspect. He endeavored, by rousing
himself, and by sallies of wit, which he had always at command, to turn away
their attention, and throw off the transient gloom. Not many moments
transpired before he seemed again lost in thought, and dejected, by some
mournful contemplations. This exposed him so entirely to the ridicule of his
companions, that he could not defend himself. As they poured in upon him
their taunts and jeers, he at last remarked, "Well, to tell the truth, I
cannot help thinking, every now and then, of the prayers my mother used to
offer for me at my bedside when I was a child. Old as I am, I cannot forget
the impressions of those early years."
Here was a man of highly cultivated mind, and of talents
of so high an order as to give him influence and eminence, notwithstanding
his dissolute life, and yet, neither lapse of years, nor acquisitions of
knowledge, nor crowding cares, nor scenes of vice, could obliterate the
effect which a mother's devotions had left upon his mind. The still small
voice of a mother's prayers rose above the noise of guilty revelry. The
pious mother, though dead, still continued to speak in impressive rebuke to
her dissolute son. Many facts might be introduced illustrating the
importance of this duty. The following is so much to the point, and affords
such cheering encouragement, that I cannot refrain from relating it.
A few years since, a gentleman from England brought a
letter of introduction to a gentleman in this country. The stranger was of
accomplished mind and manners—but in sentiment an infidel. The gentleman to
whom he brought letters of introduction, and his wife, were active Christian
philanthropists. They invited the stranger to make their house his home, and
treated him with every possible attention. Upon the evening of his arrival,
just before the usual hour for retiring, the gentleman, knowing the
peculiarity of his guest's sentiments, observed to him that the hour had
arrived in which they usually attended family prayers; that he would be
happy to have him remain and unite with them, or if he preferred, he could
retire. The gentleman intimated that it would give him pleasure to remain. A
chapter of the Bible was read, and the family all knelt in prayer, the
stranger with the rest. In a few days the stranger left this hospitable
dwelling, and embarked on board a ship for a foreign land. In the course of
three or four years, however, the providence of God again led that stranger
to the same dwelling. But O, how changed! He came the happy Christian, the
humble man of piety and prayer. In the course of the evening's conversation
he remarked that when he, on the first evening of his previous visit, knelt
with them in family prayer, it was the first time for many years that he had
bowed the knee to his Maker. This act brought to his mind such a crowd of
recollections, it so vividly reminded him of a parent's prayers which he had
heard at home, that it completely absorbed his attention. His emotion was so
great that he scarcely heard one syllable of the prayer which was uttered,
from its commencement to its close. And God made this the instrument of
leading him from the dreary wilds of infidelity—to the peace and joys of
piety. His parents, I believe, had long before gone to their rest; but the
prayers that they had offered for and with their son, had left an influence
which could not die. They might have prayed ever so fervently for him, but
if they had not prayed with him, if they had not knelt by his side and
caused his listening ear to hear their earnest supplications, their child
might have continued through life unreconciled to his Maker.
There is efficacy in prayer. God hears and answers our
requests. But he does this in accordance with the laws which he has
established. It is presumption to expect that he will interrupt the harmony
of those laws. He acts through them. And we should endeavor to accommodate
all our efforts to the known habits and laws of mind; to present those
motives which have a tendency to influence. God answered the prayers of
these pious parents; but he did it through the instrumentality of the very
effort which they were making in asking him to bless their son, though their
efforts seemed for a time to lead to no result.
12. Teach your children to pray themselves. It
may be very useful to teach a child the Lord's prayer and other simple
forms. And a child may thus really pray—give utterance to his own feelings
in the language of another. But this cannot supersede the necessity of
teaching him to go himself to thank God for all the nameless enjoyments of
the day, and to ask forgiveness for the various faults he may have
committed. The minds of children dwell upon particulars. They are not in
habits of generalizing. It requires but little feeling to confess that we
are sinners. But to specify individual acts of wickedness demands a much
greater exercise of humility. And a general recognition of God's goodness
affects the mind very differently from the enumeration of particular
mercies. It is therefore important that your child should be taught to
review the events of each day at its close. He should be reminded of the
mercies received, and the faults committed—and be taught to
express gratitude for the one, and implore pardon for the other.
The return of a father from a journey has given your
children an evening of very unusual enjoyment. When they retire for the
night, allude to the happy evening they have passed. Tell them it was God
who preserved their father's life, and returned him safely home. And having
thus excited real gratitude in their hearts, lead them to express this
gratitude in their own simple and artless language.
By thus pointing their attention to prominent facts and
individual blessings, they will not only acquire facility in prayer, but be
most effectually taught their entire dependence upon God.
Care should also be taken not to overlook the ordinary
blessings of life. It is a rainy day. Show God's goodness in sending the
rain. Let them see distinctly that their Father in heaven does it that his
children may have food to eat. It is night. Show them the consequences which
would result if God would never again cause the sun to rise and shine upon
them. They have received some needful clothes. Show them how God makes the
wool grow, that they may be warm. Every mother can easily present to them
such contemplations, which will enlarge their field of thought, increase
their knowledge of God, promote gratitude, and give a facility in prayer
which will be to them a permanent and valuable acquisition.
Let it not be said that to impart such instructions as
these requires a degree of knowledge and skill which but few parents
possess. The chief difficulty to be surmounted is the feeling which so many
parents entertain that they have not time. But the mother who feels the
importance of this subject as it deserves to be felt, will find time to be
faithful with her children, whatever else she may be under the necessity of
neglecting. The same course should be pursued in confession of sin. By
pointing to these mercies you may easily convince your child of its lack of
suitable gratitude. Perhaps he has, during the day, been guilty of
falsehood, or disobedience, or anger. Point to the definite case, and lead
your child to confess it before God, and ask forgiveness. We will suppose
that your son has been irritated, and struck his sister. Before he falls
asleep, you remind him of his sin. Show him how wicked it was, and how
displeased God must be. Tell him when he is asleep he will die—unless God
keeps him alive. Under such instructions, almost every child would
desire to ask forgiveness, and probably would offer some such prayer as
this: "O God, I am very wicked. I struck my sister. I am very sorry, and
will never do so again. O God, forgive me, for Jesus Christ's sake."
This would be prayer, if offered from the heart; and if,
after it had been offered, the mother would kneel by the bedside, and
confess the sin of her child, and pray that God would forgive him, in all
probability the intended effect of prayer would be accomplished. The
offender would be penitent, and the sin forgiven. For these reasons, it is a
most obvious duty to teach children to express their own feelings in their
own language. And the careful mother may make this exercise one of the most
efficient instruments in teaching her child obedience here, and in training
it up for holiness and happiness hereafter.
Parents are apt to smile at the childish expressions
which children make use of in prayer, and sometimes fear that their language
is irreverent. But God looks simply at the sincerity of the petition, at its
importance in the mind of the petitioner. A little child of two and a half
years prayed, "Lord, help me to laugh and not to cry when mother washes me
in the morning." And does not God look with as kind a regard upon the humble
request of this little child, as he does upon the fervent petitions of the
man who implores support under some painful operation, or strength to
overcome an irritable spirit? Such a request, coming spontaneously from the
heart of a child, is genuine prayer, and it shows a state of feeling which
ought at all times to be cherished.
13. Expect that your child will become a Christian.
That heart which is susceptible of sorrow and love—is capable of evangelical
repentance and love to God. No one can doubt but that, at a very early
period in life, a child has all the powers which are employed in the
exercise of true religion. Neither can there be any doubt that at that early
period the mind is more susceptible of impression, the hold of the world is
more feeble, and the current of affection may be more easily turned to God.
And facts do hold forth most abundant encouragement. How many little memoirs
have recently been issued from the press, which have told the affecting tale
of youthful piety! Children of five or six years of age have given the most
gratifying evidence of attachment to the Savior. They have endured pain, and
met death, sustained by the consolations of religion. Such facts have been
too numerous and too decisive to allow unbelief to be longer excusable.
And yet it is to be feared that many parents do not feel
their immediate responsibility. They still cherish the impression that their
children must attain maturity before they can be decidedly penitent for sin,
and the friends of God. But the mother who entertains such feelings as
these, is guilty of the most cruel injustice to her child. It is almost
impossible that she should be vigilant and faithful in her efforts—unless
she expects success. Every mother ought to engage in the duties of religious
instruction, with the confident expectation that God will accompany her
exertions with his blessing. She ought even to feel that, if her child does
not give early evidence of piety, much of the responsibility rests with her.
The Christian experience of the child will undoubtedly
differ from that of the man who has passed many years in sin, whose habits
are firmly fixed, and whose affections have long been flowing in the channel
of worldliness. With such a person the struggle of turning to holiness will
often be great, and the sense of sin distressingly intense. But the period
of your child's conversion may be at so early a stage of its existence as to
leave no trace by which the time of the change can be remembered. The
struggle will be comparatively feeble, and penitence will be manifested by
the tearful eye and the sad heart—and not always by that deep agony of
spirit which not infrequently marks the change of those who have grown old
Much injury is often done by laying stress upon the time
when one becomes a Christian. Past feelings are at best but an uncertain
test of Christian character. The great object of inquiry should be as to
present feelings and conduct. Is the life now in accordance with the
requirements of the gospel? Is the heart now affected with humility, and
patience, and gratitude? Is the resolution now strong to live for God? If
the sun is shining warmly upon us, it is of but little consequence at what
moment it arose. There are many Christians who cannot recollect the time
when they became subjects of the new birth. Be not, therefore, anxious upon
this point. Indeed, by directing the attention of your child to any
particular time when it became a Christian, there is danger of leading the
mind to rely upon the supposed experience of that moment, rather than upon
continued penitence and devotion.
And therefore let every mother do all in her power to
awaken the bosoms of her children emotions of sorrow for sin, and reliance
upon Christ. And when she finds these feelings in the heart, and controlling
the life, let her thank God, and take courage. She must watch with maternal
solicitude, that temptation be avoided, and that the feeble flame burn
brighter and brighter. Christ has entrusted this beloved object to your
guardianship. Why should not a mother confidently expect this result to
follow her efforts? Has not God encouraged her thus to hope, by promising to
aid with his blessing? Has he not encouraged, by again and again crowning
such efforts with success? Away then with unbelief. To doubt is to distrust
the promise of God. Instruct your child, and pray for your child, and look
for an immediate blessing. Thus, in all probability, will your heart be made
glad by the fruits of early piety at your fireside—grateful children will
honor you through life—and the joys of heaven will be magnified by meeting
your loved ones there.
14. Do not speak to others of the piety of your child.
Great injury is thus often done. A child becomes deeply interested in the
subject of religion, and his friends are encouraged to hope that he has
really become a Christian. They speak of it to others. It is soon publicly
known. He receives much attention—he is caressed and flattered. Thus is this
little child thrown at once into the very hottest furnace of temptation. We
might refer to many painful illustrations of this truth in the memoirs of
Says the biographer of little Nathan Dickerman, "His
feelings were often wounded by the injudicious conversation which was
frequently held in his presence."
"Kind friends indulged in perhaps what were well-meant,
but sadly ill-judged remarks in his presence. And it is most deeply to be
regretted that parents and friends so often, inconsiderately no doubt, speak
before children in praise of their persons, in a manner that inevitably
fosters vanity—which injures their usefulness and happiness as long as they
"Nathan's ear was often greeted with—beautiful boy!
Remarkable boy! What a fine countenance! Certainly the most wonderful case I
ever heard of! The half had not been told me."
It is remarkable that, while exposed to such temptations,
real humility could have been preserved. And though the grace of God
sustained this lovely child, but few would have escaped uninjured.
How often is even the Christian minister sensibly
affected by flattery! And can a child safely receive such adulation? An
honest development of facts, upon this subject, would be exceedingly
painful. Humility is one of the cardinal virtues of Christianity. The
moment an impression is conveyed to the mind that there is something
remarkable and meritorious in penitence for sin, and love for God—the heart
is elated with pride. And then things are said, and actions performed, to
attract attention. Prayers are offered, and feelings of piety expressed,
from the love of ostentation—and the child is "spoiled." Preserve your child
from these temptations, by giving no publicity to his feelings. Carefully
cherish at home the flame which is kindled in his bosom. Under your
protection, let him acquire strength of principle and stability of
character. Gradually introduce him to the more public duties of the
Christian life. Teach him humility. Preserve his childlike spirit. In this
manner you may lead him along to be a humble, and, at the same time, an
active and ardent follower of Christ.