A Talk with Fathers and Mothers
George Everard, 1878
There is great advantage in speaking from experience. A sailor can give a better opinion as to seafaring life, than a landsman. A farmer can give a better opinion with respect to the cultivation of land, than one engaged in merchandise. And so a Parent can speak better to Fathers and Mothers, than those who have never known the comfort and the concern that belongs to a flock of little ones around the fireside.
Perhaps I may add that a parent who has had the bitter grief of parting with those dearly loved, has another claim to be heard. For sorrows like these make us look at our homes with a different eye, and lead us more than anything to desire for our children the best and most lasting happiness. So I hope, dear reader, you will bear with me. I am speaking to myself while I speak to you; and I write these lines with sorrowful and yet blessed recollections crowding upon me.
First of all, let us talk together of our mutual responsibilities, and how great is the charge committed to us when the Good Shepherd gives into our care the lambs so dear to Him!
A little child — what is it? That little boy or girl lately born, and now lying so helpless on a mother's lap — or that little one just reaching its third or fourth summer, and whom you love to take on your knee when you have a few minutes leisure — what is it? Whence its origin? What its value? What its destiny?
We all know how precious is a child to its parents, except in the case of those who, through some degrading vice, are dead to all natural affection.
"I am worth many thousand pounds," said a poor man once; "for I have many children, and not one of them would I part with for a thousand pounds."
Yet after all, do we reckon their value as high as we should? Do we not often regard them in a wrong light?
A child — what is it? Not a superior kind of animal, raised just a shade above the rest of the animal creation, as some would seem to teach us.
Neither is it a mere toy or plaything which is to please and amuse us, and occupy our thoughts while as yet it is young, and then to be turned adrift to do the best it can for itself.
Nay, friends, it is far otherwise. That little child has been made for immortality; it is created to shine in the image of God, and must live on as long as God Himself. Its life has had a beginning, but will never have an end; I mean its true and real existence, which lives on in spite of death.
Think of the child with reference to the body. It grows on and develops with increasing years. First we see it so utterly helpless that it is wholly dependent on a mother's care. Then we see it as the little child just beginning to run, and then to speak. Then we trace the course of life as we see the schoolboy with his satchel and books, or the schoolgirl with her young companions, learning day by day something needful for life's duties. And then we mark its progress — the youth, the maiden passing into full age; and after awhile following those who have gone before to the silent grave.
But this is only the outer life. The child has an immortal soul, a mysterious principle, a ray of eternity, that which no waters can quench, no power destroy, no possibility of events ever annihilate! Yes! when your home has long been leveled in the dust — when the busy toil of life has ceased its perpetual whirl — when yon glorious sun has ceased to shine — when the present scene has given place to "the new heavens and the new earth," your child will still live, and will live on forever.
But how and where? God is Just and True. His Word cannot fail. And while He has opened wide the doors of His kingdom to all who trust in His dear Son — yet the unbelieving sinner must reap sin's wages, and those who choose sin here must receive the sinner's doom by and-by. Yes, friend, it must be Heaven or Hell for each of our children, as they are prepared for one or the other by their life here.
What a thought is this! My child must live forever in the fair world of glory — or must forever be cast away into the region where hope never enters! How it should stimulate us to make our children the objects of our prayers, to watch over them, and try by all means to train them in God's fear!
Sin has a vast hold of our poor fallen nature. A child is not like a sheet of white paper on which you can easily write what you will. It is not the mere child of example, as easily copying the good as the evil. "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child." It is bound up with it from its very birth. What anger, what selfishness, what strife, yes, what deceit and pride also — do we see in very young children! Watch the rising of temper, the cry of passion, the dark, scowling look, the refusal to obey, the tiny hand uplifted. Who that has watched children, but must believe that we go astray even from the womb!
And there is the power of evil around, to increase and draw forth the evil within the child. The whole world lies in wickedness, and the Tempter is ever at hand to lead us into sin. Multitudes are hurrying along the broad way; lying, and profanity, and ungodliness of every kind stalk abroad — and all this increases a hundred-fold the peril in which the child is placed.
"A child left to himself brings his mother to shame." Had Moses been left to himself by the river-side, and no friendly hand been stretched out to save him, soon would he have perished by the venomous reptiles that abound there. But your child is in more peril than Moses by the river. Perils infinitely greater are around to destroy both body and soul! Father, mother — watch over your child!
Were a garden left unsown, uncultivated, without the continued care which is needful to free it from noxious weeds — what would be its produce? What would you find there, but an upgrowth which was utterly worthless? A child's heart is a prolific garden. It is full of thoughts and desires and feelings; but if untended, unwatched — then no pleasant fruits, no holy thoughts, no right feelings will grow there. Father, mother — watch over your child!
A mother goes to see her son who has been condemned to death for a cruel murder. For awhile he looks at her in silence. Then he addresses her: "Mother, if it had not been for you, I would never have been here."
"How can you say so?" was her reply. "I am sure I never taught you any harm."
"I am sure," he said, "you never taught me any good."
We may be sure of this, that neglect is ruin. I need not teach my child evil; if I but leave him to himself, if I neglect to teach him how to overcome sin, if I neglect to implant in his mind right principles and right motives — Satan and the world and his own corrupt heart will soon teach him enough to bind him down, it may be, to a life-long bondage of evil.
Fathers, mothers, will you remember that the greatest power to influence your child in the right or wrong direction, must be the home training? It must be so. As a rule, nothing can equal the effects of a parent's example, and the every-day life that a child sees. I am quite aware that God does often touch the heart by the faithful preaching of the Word, or by the loving instruction of the Sunday-school, when the home influence is in an opposite direction; but for the most part it is the work and prayer and life of the Christian parent, which are the means that God employs for the conversion and salvation of children.
Fathers, mothers, you love your children; you would guard them carefully from fire, from any dangerous precipice, from any fierce animal that might harm them — will you permit me to warn you against a few special dangers that are likely to prove injurious to your little ones?
(1) Drink. What an injury is this to tens of thousands of helpless, unoffending little boys and girls, who but for this might grow up happy, useful members of society! The money which should go for the food and clothing and instruction of the little flock which God has given — is all wasted and squandered, and the children are left in rags and misery!
In the story of George and the Dragon, we read of a fearful dragon lying in a marsh at the gate of a city, and laying hold day by day of one or two of the children of the city. A still more fearful dragon is STRONG DRINK, which is daily ruining — body and soul — men, women, and children, and hurrying them along the path of hopeless misery. Fathers, mothers; watch against this danger for yourselves and your children. Bring up your children never to touch it — and they will never require it. And if you feel there is the very least danger to yourself, seeing the greatness of the peril, abstain altogether. However great the sacrifice at first, it is far wiser and safer to bear it than to risk the awful possibility of a drunkard's home.
(2) Beware of ever using language that you would not wish your children to copy. A year or two ago, a poor little girl about six years of age was brought into our Hospital after being fearfully burnt. She died after a few days, but meanwhile her lips were filled with awful curses and blasphemies. But where had she learned them? Who was responsible? Was it not the parents, from whose lips she had learned them, or who had permitted her to use such language unchecked?
Oh, parents! never use language you would not wish a child to use in a dying hour! Great was the contrast between this child and another little girl who died in the parish of which I had charge in Suffolk, from the same cause. In her sufferings she was continually repeating the hymn that her mother had taught her. Her last words were:
"None but Jesus, none but Jesus,
Can do helpless sinners good."
(3) Beware alike of harshness and false kindness. Many children grow up from their earliest days in an atmosphere where all better feelings are nipped and checked by constant sternness or unkindness. They are continually chilled and frozen by harsh looks and speeches, accompanied very often by rough blows. Sometimes the cause is that the mother is unwell or unhappy, and so is irritable, and worried by a variety of little trials; and it all comes down upon the head of the poor children, who need all the forbearance and kindness that a mother can show.
"I've beaten my boy until he's black and blue. I'm always scolding him, but he's no better for it."
Nor is it the least likely he should be. If anything is certain to make a bad boy worse, or to turn a good one into a bad one — it is this wretched system of perpetual scolding and beating.
I am not recommending you to let your child have his own way, or never to punish him. By all means punish your child in due measure for a lie or for a serious fault, especially if it is repeated. When you say anything, stick to it — though be careful how you threaten. Be as firm as a rock, so that a fit of pettishness and crying shall not lead you to depart from what you have said. Let there be no taking contrary sides, so that if a mother punish a child, the father comes home and takes its part. Both pull the same way, if you wish to benefit your children. If father or mother thinks that the other has made a mistake, speak of it afterwards, but let not the child see any dispute in the matter.
Never punish hastily or in anger. Be careful to weigh the character of a child's faults. Do not give a severe punishment for something which may be only an accident, because it may very much annoy you — while you let a real sin pass by without notice. Be wise, be just, be gentle, be forbearing. Chasten as God does, to make His children better and holier, and with love and pity in the heart, while there is a rod in the hand. "Your loving correction shall make me great."
There are a few other points on which I should like to add a word or two.
Make home a happy place. Nothing has a greater influence for good on the lives of the young, than the remembrance that they were happy when young at their own fireside. It is said that a house cannot be healthy if the sun never shines upon it; and I am sure a home cannot be good for old or young, unless the sunshine of happiness and peace and kindness is found there.
Some people have such an unfortunate way of driving happiness out of a house. There may be good points in them in other respects, but they are always suspicious, or grumbling, or they give the worst reason for the conduct of others, or always look as if every one were wronging them — so that there is no rest. The children and others, cannot help feeling that there is no real happiness in that home. But for the welfare of your children, be sure this is not the case in your house. You may have trials and difficulties; but do your best under the circumstances, and let your countenance, at least, always bring a ray of Heaven's sunshine wherever you go.
Make Sunday a profitable day. The way in which Sunday is spent has, no doubt, an influence on the whole week. And I can imagine nothing a means of greater blessing to a family growing up than father and mother, and all who are old enough, going together to God's house. And then, at home, joining together in singing hymns, or reading Scripture, or some helpful book or magazine, and thus each Sunday pointing them onwards to the blessed Sabbath which remains for the people of God.
Be careful about the young ones being taught carefully in the Word of God. Send them to such schools, week-day and Sunday, where they will be earnestly instructed in the best of all knowledge. A parent should value all knowledge for his children: but, for my part, I reckon that knowledge far above all the rest, which will give my children . . .
strength to resist the temptations which surround them,
comfort and solace in the sorrows which befall them,
and a blessed hope when the hour of death comes.
If other knowledge is silver — this is golden; yes, more, each truth indeed learned out of God's Word, is as a precious ruby or diamond, which we shall be able to carry with us as a treasure into the future world.
Name your children daily before God in prayer, and beg Him to bestow His grace on each.
Be not content to pray only in general terms, but pray for your children by name. Mention each one — John, Arthur, Ernest, or Annie, Jane, Gertrude, etc.; and ask, for Christ's sake, that each one may be saved and guided into the way of life.
The prayers of parents are most acceptable to God. In the life of Christ we have more examples of the prayers of parents for their children, than of any other supplicants. And not one was rejected. And remember Christ is ever the same, delighting now as then to hear prayers on behalf of our children.
Then, one other point, and it is one of the most important, Let us be careful to live consistent lives.
Let us give our children an education, a Bible, our prayers, and the benefit of a holy example — and we have done all we can for them.
"I wish you would walk straight," said the crab, in the fable, to her young one. "Why do you go sidling along in that awkward fashion?"
"When I see you walk straight, mother, I will do the same," said the young one.
The lesson is a needful one. Example is better than precept. It is here we should be most on our guard. The daily home-life of the parent will be copied in the life of the child years afterwards, perhaps when the parent has long been lying in the grave.
Fathers, mothers, let us endeavor, by God's grace, to walk before our children as the true servants of the Most High God. Let us walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Let us be careful in little things. Let us often seek help from above.
"Oh help me, Jesus, from on high;
I know no help but Thee;
Oh help me so to live on earth
As Yours in Heaven to be."