by William Bacon Stevens
"Let me not see the death of the child!" Genesis 21:16
Thus spoke an Egyptian mother in the day of her hopeless sorrow. Moved by the jealousy of Sarah, and directed also by the Lord; Abraham, on the complaint of his wife that Ishmael, the son of Hagar, was mocking Isaac, rose up early in the morning, and took bread and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, and sent her away; and she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-Sheba. It was a sad morning to her, when she was thus cast out from the patriarchal dwelling, and forced not only to leave a home where most of her life had been spent — but also to seek now with her only boy a new lodging place, a new master, and a new country.
Her aim, most likely, was to return to Egypt — but after entering the wilderness of Beer-Sheba she soon became entangled in its depths, and lost her way. The bottle of water which she bore upon her shoulder served but a short time to slake the thirst of herself and son; and now that it was all gone, and no means at hand of refilling the empty cruse, her heart fainted within her. The heat of a Syrian sun, the toils of a Syrian wilderness, the pains of gnawing hunger, the cravings of a tongue, and mouth, and lips parching with thirst, broke down their spirits and their strength, and the poor mother, placing her feeble dying son under the shelter of one of the shrubs of the desert, left him there, and "went a great way off, for she said: Let me not see the death of the child: and she sat about a bowshot away, and lifted up her voice, and wept."
Bond-woman though she was, she loved her son, and when she saw him failing through toil, and wilting with heat, and parching with thirst, and dying for lack of bread and water; her maternal feelings became so strong that she turned away from beholding the last scene of her son's agony, saying in the bitterness of her soul, "Let me not see the death of the child."
In this sentence, Hagar spoke as nearly every parent would speak. Let one of our children become sick, let his case wax more and more doubtful, let medicine be of no avail, let the skill of the physician be at a stand, let life seem to be ebbing away, and the post of observation grow darker every hour; at such a time what father, what mother would not utter the impassioned cry, "Let me not see the death of the child!"
There is no position of peril in which one of our
children can be placed that will not at once awaken anxious thought, and
call out deep solicitude. We are keenly alive to all their physical
suffering and exposure, and leave nothing undone to secure their health and
comfort. For our children's good, we will . . .
suffer almost any pain,
endure any hardship,
labor with unflagging zeal,
bear any trials;
and we consider . . .
no effort too great,
no sacrifice too costly,
no toil too drudging,
no exposure too reckless —
if we can thereby serve their interests and secure for them honor, and competence, and health. It is right that we should feel thus. It is the natural outgrowth of those ties which God has linked with our inmost affections; and we can almost as soon forget ourselves, or be indifferent to the needs of our own bodies — as forget and be indifferent to, our beloved children.
But though we all sympathize with Hagar in the disconsolate outburst of her soul, "Let me not see the death of the child," though we all acknowledge the intense interest which we feel in our child's welfare — yet many of us are, after all, doing that to and for our child which is not merely sitting by, and seeing him die — but which is helping on his death, and making ready his grave!
This may seem severe language, and sensitive minds may
shrink from its roughness — but it is nevertheless true; and my duty, as a
watchman on the walls of Zion, is to sound this truth in the ears of
parents, if so be, God blessing me, I can make them sensible of . . .
the danger of our children,
the responsibility for that danger which rests upon us,
and the means which we should at once put in operation to avert the threatened evil, and secure the promised blessing.
The proposition that I lay down is this. That a large number of parents in Christian lands are pursuing with their children, a course of conduct that must inevitably work out their spiritual death! While they shrink with horror from doing that which would cause them to see the physical death of their child — they are doing that which, unless checked, will procure the spiritual death of the child. So grave a charge must needs be sustained by ample proof. Alas! the proof is too startling and overpowering to be either gainsaid or set aside.
The infinite superiority of the soul to the body, and of eternity to time, being acknowledged — I proceed to remark, that the first way in which parents, who cry out in view of physical dissolution, "Let me not see the death of the child," are yet accomplishing their child's spiritual death, is — by showing the child, that they regard the body more than the soul. Every parent is anxious to secure for his child sound health, and they will put themselves to much trouble and expense to preserve this health or recover it if lost. At the first threatening of disease, they apply the most effective remedies, call in the best medical advice, and cease not in their remedial efforts — until health returns, or death supervenes.
Each parent also is desirous of giving his child proper food, and so unnatural is it for one to do otherwise, that our Savior bases on this impossibility, one of His strongest reasons why men should trust their heavenly Father. "For what man of you," He says, "whom if his son ask bread — will he give him a stone? or if he ask an egg — will he give him a scorpion? or if he ask a fish — will he give him a serpent?" Such a course of action is so unnatural, that instances of it cannot be found in well-regulated parental feelings. We restrain our children from partaking of that food which we fear will be injurious, we urge them to eat that which is wholesome, and no affectionate father and mother is wholly indifferent as to the diet of their child.
Parents are also desirous to clothe their children in a befitting manner — and how much pride, and display, and money, and folly — is expended on the garments that are to cover them. These are objects of constant parental thought, occupying hours and days, taxing mind and strength, and purse and time, to an extent we little imagine, until we seriously attempt to estimate the sum.
Parents also are desirous of making their children lovely and attractive. To this end they are particular in checking any clumsy habits or evil propensities; and they aim to remove every little personal defect, or develop every personal grace — subjecting to their scrutiny their walk, their posture, their complexion, their carriage, their whole system of habits; pruning the exuberance of this idiosyncrasy, stimulating the undergrowth of that virtue; curbing this trait, and spurring on that sluggish excellence; leaving nothing undone to give them beauty of features, grace of form, attractiveness of demeanor; instilling these things by repeated lessons and perpetual superintendence.
This is what most parents will do for their children; and, to a reasonable extent — what they ought to do. But in doing this, we too often do it so as to impress the child with the superiority of the body to the soul, and in a large majority of cases, the soul is thrust out of view as if it were a thing of no importance.
I proceed to remark, secondly, that we are procuring the spiritual death of our child — by showing that child that we regard the things of time more than the things of eternity. This superior regard for temporal over eternal things, is evidenced by the fact that we lay our plans so much for time — and few or none, perhaps, for eternity. The ends and aims that we seek for our children, and which we teach them to seek also — are mostly earthly: the getting of money, or a name, or high place, or literary renown, or social pre-eminence. And to the securing of these, we toil and drudge through weary years in the hope that our child will reward all our efforts by one day gaining the coveted and sought-for blessing.
The same thing is also shown by the sedulous manner in
which we cultivate our temporal interests. Whatever concerns our earthly
state and condition, whatever affects our business or profession, whatever
influences our relations to our family, and social circle, and the
neighboring community — is a subject of great interest; and we manifest our
interest by thinking deeply, and plotting wisely, and acting judiciously,
taxing all the faculties of mind, and all the powers of the body to advance
these interests. Our children are daily and almost hourly witnesses of our
absorption in the things of time and sense. They hear our
conversation, they perceive our changes of feeling, they note our devotion
to business, to our profession, to politics, to pleasure; and . . .
their young hearts enter with zest into many of our schemes,
they catch the infection of our worldliness,
they grow up in the same earthiness of mind, and
the present, and the worldly, and the temporal, engross the soul!
Our children rarely hear us speak of religion, unless indeed to criticize a sermon, or the conduct of some lax member of the Church. We do not, as we should, aim to draw off their hearts, too readily, alas, linked with carnal views — from the scenes around, and fasten them on things above. We do not, as we ought, strive to win them to Christ, or to secure for them a crown of righteousness. What these children shall be after death and throughout eternity — seldom employs our thoughts, and if circumstances force it upon our minds, it is too often thrown out as unwelcome. The horizon of our thoughts, and plans, and hopes reach only to this present world; thus excluding from their minds as far as our precept and example go — the outlying interests of the soul which are to occupy the whole field of eternity.
Thus, those who would in view of physical danger, cry out in agony, "Let me not see the death of the child!" are doing that which will necessarily lay the soul of the child in the winding-sheet of eternal death!
How many budding hopes that might have bloomed in Heaven — lie blasted beneath the golden sandal of wealth! How many eternal interests are stranded by the courted gale of popular renown! How many a soul has been made to sell its immortal birthright, for some earthly bowl of pottage, a respectable marriage, or a fashionable establishment!
And when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed at the judgment seat — what amazing revelations will then be made, of the sacrifices of children's souls which parents were willing to make, in order to gain some present end or some worldly advantage!
A third way in which parents accomplish the spiritual death of their children, is by showing them that they regard the favor and opinions of men, more than the favor and Word of God. We are very careful to instruct our sons and daughters in all the proprieties and conventional rules of good society. We teach them to shun whatever is not in accordance with the spirit and regulations of the fashionable world. We aim to make them favorites in their respective circles, and to win the good opinions of their fellows. In all this, we are governed by the opinions of the people among whom we move; we catch up their views and spirit, and shape our own and our children's views accordingly.
The child soon learns that these are our standards; he adopts our ways of thinking, looks to these alone as rules of conduct; and as in the education of the child, all reference to God's law and favor, is well near excluded — so the child excludes God, and Heaven, and Hell from his thoughts and plans, and he contracts his soul within the pent-up lines of an earthly existence, and makes his immortal spirit which might dwell and shine among angelic beings in glory — drudge as a menial in the service of a dying body — and all through the precepts and examples which we perhaps have, year by year, brought to bear upon his mind and heart!
What a Moloch is human opinion! How many thousands of children are cast into its burning arms, and sacrificed to the favor or frowns of a deceitful world, while the deafening din of fashion's giddy throng drowns the shrieks of agony which burst from their spirits as they die without hope, without pardon, without Christ! The judgment day will reveal that through timidity in braving the opinions of godless friends; or through fear of losing the favor of fashionable associates; or through dread of being put under the ban of some particular clique or circle — the soul of many a child has been left by its parents to perish forever!
Lastly: We aid and abet the spiritual death of our children by our irreligious example — both in doing that which is positively wrong, and in neglecting to do what is as positively required. As young as our child is — it has learned to join together precept and practice. And if we are professors of religion, it has put along side of this profession — our daily walk and conversation, and is perpetually drawing inferences from the one to the other, either for, or against, the truth which we profess.
Uncurbed tempers, ill-governed passions, unbridled
tongues, uncharitable words;
lack of meekness, and gentleness, and truth;
lack of sobriety of mind, and kindliness of heart;
the absence of that strict conscientiousness which should mark all our actions;
neglect of the Bible and of prayer;
disregard of the means of grace;
irrepressible worldliness, in ever dwelling upon "what shall we eat, and what shall we drink, and with what shall we be clothed?"
— are leaving indelible impressions upon the minds of our offspring! So that, copying our habits of thought, speech, and action — our child's character in its essential characteristics, may be formed for eternity; before its mind is able to receive the precepts which, for consistency's sake, perhaps we occasionally teach.
And not only are the positive errors and influences working out the child's death — many are still further aiding their destruction, by neglecting altogether to teach the child the way of salvation. There are multitudes of parents whose children would never even know that they are professors of religion — did they not see them now and then at church. They never think of taking their children into their closets, and there kneel down with them before God, and give them to Jesus Christ. They never think of urging upon them the necessity of now making their peace with God. They are voluble on all other topics — but silent on this! They are alive to all other interests of their children — but dead to this. And the child sees the difference, and sets down all religion as being like its father's or its mother's religion — a thing to put on on Sundays — a garb to be worn in certain society, and under solemn circumstances — and then to be put off as an absolutely useless robe, in daily private life.
Could we who are parents take any one day of our lives, and carefully recalling all our acts — trace out the influence of each one on the moral character of our child, marking how each left its indelible impress for good or evil; and could we go a step further and observe how our omissions of duty respecting them — our neglecting to pray with and for them, to talk to them, to lead them to Jesus — left as fearful ravages as our positive misdeeds — we would be amazed at the molding power which, insensibly to ourselves, we put forth; and we would at the same time cease to wonder that so few children grew up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
On the contrary, each child snatched by the Holy Spirit as a brand from the burning, would be an astounding miracle of grace, all the more marvelous because of the immense counteracting influences of parents and home!
I believe that the moral character of children, to
a great extent, depends on parents. God has placed us at the head-springs of
their minds. The responsibility of this position, even an angel might
shrink from. Yet there we are. Our child is given to us with a blank and
unformed mind — that it may bear our inscriptions and our shaping. The
babe of days . . .
grows up a child of months;
passes through a youth of changing seasons;
develops into a man of years —
and through all these plastic periods is . . .
molded by our example,
instructed by our precepts, and
made to take on its eternal character!
For it is a startling fact that the great majority of conversions to Christ, take place before the time of manhood; so that each year from that point of time, lessens the probabilities of their ever becoming Christians.
Suppose that you gain all that you desire for your children; they have wealth, health, honor, happiness, and all desirable earthly good. You feel satisfied that your labor has not been in vain, and that you have not spent your strength for nothing. Is this worth the sacrifice you have made? In giving an immortal soul as the price of such earthly ends — have you not paid too dearly for your temporal and carnal gains? Is it not like Judas's thirty pieces of silver, "the price of blood" — the shekels of a soul's betrayal to its fiendish adversary? And will not the time soon come, when houses, money, fashion, rank — everything that earth has given in exchange for the child's soul — will be cast from you as Judas did his cursed coins, saying as he did so, "I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood!"
Father, mother, parents! What is it in your child, that you love?
Is it beauty? Time will erase it.
Is it grace of person? Age will bow that form, and wither those limbs.
Is it accomplishment of mind and heart? One touch of the finger of mania will unseat that mind; one stroke of sickness will still that heart!
And is it so, that we only love that which is ephemeral
and perishing? and that all our parental affections are clasping themselves
like the ivy around the crumbling and decaying flesh and blood of our
offspring? Do we love in them, that which will never die — that which
constitutes their highest claim upon our care — their souls? Our lips
say yes — but our lives, alas! too often say no! Oh! before it is too
late, let us aim to look at our child as an immortal being, and teach him .
that he has a soul,
that there is an eternity,
that he is a sinner,
that there is a Savior, and
lead him to that Savior for pardon and peace.
Teach him . . .
to love his Bible,
to use God's means of grace,
to consecrate himself and all that he has to Christ.
Teach him these things by your . . .
personal example of weanedness from the world,
personal holiness of life,
daily precepts distilling in the heart, like the gentle dew.
Let every hour of our life, and every act of our life, proclaim aloud, that we regard the salvation of our child's soul as the first great aim and object of his existence.
Then, God blessing us, though we may be called to see "the child die" — the death that must pass on all the living; we will not be called to see him die that other and infinitely more dreadful death — the second death; but will be enabled to rejoice that our child when it passes from its earthly home and its earthly parents; has entered on its new life — that it has left forever a region of sin and woe, and gone to dwell forever in a land of holiness and love in Heaven!