Do Not Sin Against the Child!
Archibald G. Brown, April 10th, 1870, Stepney Green Tabernacle
"Do not sin against the child!" Genesis 42:22
Moses proclaimed a great truth in the ears of the Israelites, when he warned them to be sure their sin would find them out. However long the period after the committal of the crime — the hour is sure at last to come when the sinner and his sin will be brought face to face. Days, weeks, months, yes, even years, may glide by, until the sin itself almost becomes forgotten — when lo, some unlooked for and unforeseen circumstance calls up the crime from the oblivion of the past, and makes the guilty sinner tremble in its presence.
We have an illustration of this truth in the chapter from which I have selected my text. Full twenty years had passed since the lad Joseph was sold by his cruel brothers to the passing Ishmaelites. During those years the stingings of conscience which at first followed the unnatural deed had doubtless grown less and less, until by oft repetition of the lie, they had almost become persuaded it was true that "one of them was not." His death was taken for granted, and considered a certainty, and the whole matter had for a long time ceased to occupy their thoughts.
But now that the twenty years have passed away, there comes a grievous famine in the land of Canaan. In utter despair, "they look one upon another" as men bereft of all energy, and without the heart to put forth any fresh efforts for help. Just at this juncture, the news reaches them that there is "grain in Egypt." At the earnest request of their aged father, they lose no time in journeying there, only too glad of having a chance to exchange some of the patriarch's wealth for the golden grain.
Entering into an Egyptian palace, they are introduced to Joseph, the governor. Humbly they prostrate themselves before him, and give him deepest homage. Their overtures are received in an apparently ungracious manner, and rough words are all they receive. Charged with being spies, they are all placed in prison for three days, and then only permitted to depart by leaving one of their number as a hostage. This stern discipline is beneficial to them, and awakens their sleeping consciences to the crime long since committed. There rises up into their view a poor, pale youthful face, convulsed with the agony of fear as it descends into the darkness of the pit. Again there rings in their ears the childish cry of terror as the boy, after a short but desperate struggle, is dragged off by the ferocious-visaged slave dealers. The whole scene passes before them like a panorama, and with the vividness of a yesterday's transaction.
Their sin has found them out, and trembling with self-condemnation, they confess, "we are truly guilty concerning our brother in that we saw the anguish of his soul when he begged us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us." Gen 42.21. Their sense of guilt is now increased by Reuben reminding them that they had sinned, in spite of his entreaty and warning, "Did I not speak to you," saying, 'Do not sin against the child!' and you would not hear? Therefore, behold, his blood also is required."
Perhaps there are some of you now thinking, "What has this subject to do with our Sunday School Anniversary?" I answer, much, and for this reason. There are many ways of sinning against a child, besides letting him down into a pit, or selling him to passing Ishmaelites. My desire is not so much to speak this morning to the dear little ones in the galleries (they will have their turn in the afternoon) as to those of you who are parents and teachers, or have any influence whatever over children. To such the text should come home with power, "Do not sin against the child!"
We will try and look at this subject in two ways, namely:
Several ways in which we may sin against a child,
and secondly — Special reasons why we should not.
I. HOW may we sin against a child?
We may sin against a child first of all by spoiling him. This great mistake is to be as much dreaded as over-severity, for it would, I think, be a difficult matter to determine which of the two evils has produced the greatest amount of sorrowful fruit — foolish indulgence, or excessive severity. Certainly the former sin is the one most easily fallen into. All the instincts of a father's and mother's heart give a bias toward it. It is so natural to see nothing wrong in our own children — so easy to be lenient to our own flesh and blood. For the sin we so readily condemn in the children of others — we make a thousand excuses when beheld in our own.
Nothing is harder than to say, "No," to the request of the little lips that press our own, or to reprove and restrict the darling who has entwined round about his little form, our tenderest heart-strings.
To continually clip the tree is doubtless a bad thing for its full development. But to leave it untouched, and allow it to straggle any and every way in wild luxuriance, is just as great if not a greater evil.
I will use another illustration that I think many of our little friends in the gallery will understand. If the peach trees and plum trees that are nailed to the garden walls by a hundred little pieces of cloth could but think and speak, they might very likely say to the gardener so busily at work with the hammer, "Why fasten us up like this, and forbid our beautiful branches from running on the ground or playing in the breeze? How unkind it is to put so many restraints upon us — and leave us so little liberty; let us just for this season run over the wall, along by the wall, or away from the wall, or any way we please." But the gardener with a smile would reply, "It is out of kindness that I do it, not from mere caprice. Wait until the spring has glided into summer, and all your branches are decked with snowy bloom. Wait until the summer has mellowed into autumn; and then when your boughs are laden with fruit, which they could never have borne except for these restrictions — then you will see that all has been done for your good, and to make your fruit the richer."
Just so, beloved parents, out of very kindness to the child you must sometimes say, "No," and place restrictions on him. The child untrained in its springtime, will bear but little fruit in the autumn of its life. It is no true love to allow its autumn to be blasted, in order to satisfy the whims of its foolish spring.
Multitudes of children who might have grown up to be solaces to the heart of their mother and the joy of their father, have been utterly sacrificed at the altar of this sentimental idol. Scripture abounds with examples of this sin against the child.
Look at Eli, the kindhearted high priest. Who would dare to question his piety or doubt the genuineness of his love to his children? He loved them, if not too well — yet too foolishly, for "he did not restrain his sons." 1Sam 3.13. What was the consequence? The priesthood was forever wrested from his family — his sons met with an untimely death, and the fond parent with broken heart fell down and broke his neck!
Behold another sorrowful example in David, the "man after God's own heart." 1 Kings 11.4. He who in his youthful days could meet a Goliath with unfearing heart — who all his lifetime was a man of war, and ruled a turbulent nation with masterly hand — was yet unable to rule his own family. The indulgent King allowed his children to run as wild as the flowing locks of his favorite son, and the result was as fatal. View him as with staggering steps he ascends that turret staircase, crying out in the bitterness of his heart. "O Absalom, my son, my son Absalom, would to God I had died for you, O Absalom, my son, my son." 2 Samuel 18.33. That anguish of the monarch's heart may all be traced back to the fact that in foolish indulgence he had sinned against the child. Truer words were never uttered than those of Solomon's: "A child left to himself brings his mother to shame." Pro 29.15
There is a second way in which you may sin against a child, the very reverse of that just mentioned, and it is by harshness. There is no need to say to some parents "do not spoil the child," if you mean by the word "spoil" over-indulgence. Over-indulge a child! Not they, for they never indulge him at all. Spoil him through excessive liberty! No chance of that, for the poor little thing has never learned what liberty means. Its only idea of a parent is that of a walking iceberg — a being who never opens its lips except to assert its authority or maintain its dignity — a being whose sole powers of oratory consist in saying with a harsh grating voice that sets the heart of the little one on edge.
"He means to be master in his own house." If such a deluded specimen of parental love is here this morning, I would say to him, "My friend, you may sin just as much against your child by your wicked harshness — as the other by his foolish indulgence. And there is this to be said about his sin which cannot he said of yours: it is a natural one."
There are many of childhood's ways which though troublesome to us, are not sinful in them. The very buoyancy of health and spirits is often the only crime, and it does seem hard to condemn the little one for that. Who among us does not now have rising into view some chubby-faced, rosy-cheeked, laughing-eyed youngster, who always seems to choose the moment of our greatest depression for his most riotous exhibition of fun — the little one who in reckless glee will force his way into our study or private room, turn somersaults over our books, kick our well assorted papers to the four points of the compass, and then turn special pleader, and defend his case, and like an April day, take turns to smile and cry?
Why we have all seen some such happy, troublesome little creature — and many of us have him. How are we to treat his wild escapades? Are we to lecture him and frown at him as if he had broken all ten commandments in ten minutes? Yes, if we wish to sin against the child — but not otherwise. God never meant little children to walk demurely about in straight-jackets. You may perhaps succeed in placing on very young shoulders, a very old and a very silly head — but in so doing, you will in all probability give the child a heart disease for life.
Let their young spirits alone, so long as there is no actual sin involved. You may break a child's spirit — but there is one thing you can never do, and that is mend it! You may by over harshness crush the bounding heart; but believe me, the day will come when you would be willing to give anything to restore the elasticity of soul that once annoyed you so. Guide the sparkling foaming torrent if you will, and turn it in a right direction; but if you have any love for your child, do not dam it up. Never mind if their noise does "go through your head;" it will come out the other side. And if it remains there — that is better than to have your frown abide in their heart.
A third way of sinning against a child is by bad example. The ancient Romans had a custom which I think in many respects was a good one. They placed the busts of their distinguished ancestors in the vestibules of their houses in the hope that their children, by often gazing at them, might have an ambition fired in their breast to follow the virtues for which they were celebrated. We do not have the marble busts of departed ones in our halls — but we have what is far more potent over children — the characters of the parents are carefully watched and imitated by their children. One remarks that "any fault in a parent, any inconsistency, any disproportion between profession and practice, or precept and practice — falls upon the child's eye with the force and precision of sunbeams on a photograph!"
On what other ground can you account for the awful proficiency in sin which you find in many a little one? Have you never had your heart made to ache as you walked some of our streets and heard "little tots" bring out a curse as big as themselves? Where did they learn it? Is it natural to a child to swear? The answer is, they learn the vile art in their own homes. They are only the tiny echoes of their father's voice — and he has sinned against the child. We need not only to repent of our own sins — but also of those committed by others through our example.
Good Thomas Fuller often used to utter the following quaint but admirable prayer, "Lord, I trust You have pardoned the bad examples I have set before others; be pleased also to pardon me the sins which they have committed by my bad examples. If You have forgiven my own sins, the children of my corrupt nature forgive me, and my grandchildren also. Do not let the transcripts remain, since you have blotted out the original."
You profess, dear friend, to be a Christian, and your child knows you are a member of this church. He has seen you partake of the Lord's supper — and then, when you have gone home, he has in a moment detected the discrepancy between your behavior at church — and your daily life of the home. The angry temper — the selfish spirit — the worldly conversation — all these have been so many sins against the child!
Oh, how dreadful the thought, that by our own hypocritical lives we may be sinning against the little darlings we often feel we could die for. God forbid, that at the last great day, any of our children should turn to us with blanched cheek and say, "Father and mother, if I am damned — it is by copying the example you placed before me!"
There is a fourth way of sinning against a child, which I do not for a moment suppose is followed by any present. But as this discourse will in all probability reach a far larger congregation than the one assembled here, I will just indicate it. It is by selling a child for gain. Would that my Master might enable me to express in language strong enough, the indignant thoughts that burn within my breast concerning this miserable traffic in children's souls. Joseph is not the only child that has been sold for a few pieces of silver.
In free and freedom loving England, children are as relentlessly knocked down to the highest bidder as ever they were in the slave states of America. Do you ask me what I mean and to what I refer? I answer, to the thoughtless wicked practice of setting the child to any kind of work, and placing him amidst any kind of companionship — so as to have the benefit of the few pence he may earn. Better starve without it — than live by it, for it is nothing less than blood money.
Have you never seen the child that is scarcely more than an infant trotted up and down our streets to gather a few pennies by singing some sweet hymn of Heaven? Have you ever marked the sanctimonious face of the parent as every few minutes he pockets the coppers brought him by the little one? A pretty school indeed for a young heart. No wonder if in years to come he makes hypocrisy his trade — he was apprenticed to it. He has been as deliberately sold as ever Joseph was.
But there are more polite ways of doing the same thing. It is a crying sin against a child to place him in some hotbed of temptation in order to "get him off our hands." It is a cruel act to allow the little one to dwell from morning to night in an atmosphere that reeks with vice, in order to pocket the paltry pittance earned by its tiny fingers. Do not let the money tempt you; your child's innocence is worth more than that. Rather go without the crust, than purchase it at the cost of your child's soul!
Our next point is one that will, I do not doubt, include many present. You may sin against the child by neglecting the means of its salvation. Do you PRAY for the conversion of your children with the same intensity of desire as when you ask for their temporal well-being? When last summer your little one was laid low with fever, and you feared that only the icy hand of death would ever cool its burning brow — how you prayed then — why the drops stood on your face like beads through the anguish of your soul. Have you ever prayed like that for its salvation, or do you have to confess before the Lord, that the eternal interests of your children find but a small space in your prayers? O do not sin so against the child — he is worth praying for.
What are you DOING to try and bring them to Jesus? Do you ever, with the tear in your eye, tell them of the love of Jesus, or do you think they are too young for that? Have you ever tried to show them their need of a Savior, and pointed them to Him who said, "Let the little children to come to me?" These are solemn questions, for I say to you dear parents in all love and from the very depths of my heart, "If you neglect the means for bringing your little ones to Christ, you are sinning against the child — and his blood will be required of you!"
O friends, it is a crying shame, that in our prayer meetings there are to be found men who pray as if they were dying to see the world converted — and yet never pray for their own children! It is a sad, sad fact that there are many who seem wondrously in earnest about the conversion of strangers — who yet let their own children go to Hell without a warning or entreaty!
"But," one replies, (and it is a very general answer) "I mean to teach my children when they have attained to years of discretion." That is what a lady once said in self-defense to Rev. Sharpe. "Madam," replied the shrewd prelate. "If you do not teach them — the devil will." The devil begins at dawn of day to sow his tares; do not be behind him in scattering the seed of the kingdom.
Try all means, at all times, in all ways, for their conversion, lest by neglect, you sin against the child.
There are many other ways of sinning against a child beside those we have already mentioned — but we forbear mentioning them as time warns us. So let us go to the second point.
II. There are many REASONS why we should not sin against the child.Do not sin against him, because he is a child. If you must sin against someone, sin against one of your own size and strength; but it is a dastardly thing, and cowardly, to sin against a child. The little thing's weakness should prove its protection. If white locks call for reverence — then little ringlets also demand respect; and you will generally find that by all great minds it is willingly given.
Nearly four hundred years ago there lived in Germany a worthy schoolmaster whose name was John Trebonius; he was rather an eccentric character, and he had, among other eccentricities, the strange custom of always raising his hat when he entered the school room, and teaching the boys bare-headed for, he said, "Who can tell what may yet rise up from amid these youths. There may be among them in the bud, future learned doctors, sage philosophers, indeed, even princes of the empire." Far-seeing teacher he was! And high was the honor that God placed on him; for among the lads there was one named Martin Luther, who in later years was known as "the solitary monk that shook the world." Because you do not know what the child may become, let his very childhood say to you, "do not sin against him."
Do not sin against the child, because by so doing so you may blast his whole life. We have but one life here in this present world, and it is a melancholy thing for that to be a blasted one. Who of us that are parents can dare to contemplate the lives of any of our children being useless and withered? As much as we love them, we would rather follow them in their infancy to the open grave. And yet such a thing is possible. By some evil example seen by them in early life, an impression may be made upon their souls, the effects of which will remain to their dying day — and beyond!
You may with your foot so alter the course of that tiny little mountain rivulet, that instead of flowing gently down and widening as it goes until it glides through the smiling valley refreshing thirsty man and beast, it leaps from rock to rock, from crag to crag, falling at last with a hideous roar down some black precipice. Oh, the fatal result of turning its course so near the spring. Let us remember beloved that a look, a word, an action may have the same effect on any of the little streamlets beneath our roofs.
Let us indeed beware lest in any way we sin against a child. May the Lord bless this discourse to all parents, teachers, and friends of children, for his name's sake. Amen.