by Edward Bickersteth
"These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. You
shall teach them diligently to your children. Talk about them when you sit
at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get
up." Deuteronomy 6:6-7
"The Lord's curse is on the house of the wicked, but he
blesses the home of the righteous." Proverbs 3:33
The republication of Legh Richmond's "Domestic
Portraiture" is a favorable opportunity for prefixing a few remarks on
Christian education, a most important part of every parent's duty,
and the root of innumerable future blessings. In doing this, the writer
hopes, in some measure, to concentrate within a short compass, the many
truly valuable exhortations and pressing entreaties to his children, by his
honored and beloved friend, Mr. Richmond, which this volume contains.
It is common to hear complaints, that the children of
pious parents disappoint the expectations which are usually and naturally
formed; and it is true that this is too often the case; and that in some
instances children piously educated, will, when they break through the
restraints of education and habit, become excessively
wicked—and they may, even like Eli's and David's children, perish in their
wickedness. In these extreme cases, there has probably been either some
serious neglect of parental duty, or the formation of unhappy
friendships with others. At least, every Christian parent is mute before God
under such awful dispensations, and is feelingly alive to the conviction of
his own sinfulness.
But, after all, the mass of Christian piety in a country
will be found to be in the generation of the pious; and though God shows his
own sovereignty in sometimes raising up an eminent instrument of good from
among the most wicked, he also shows the riches and the faith fullness of
his own promises: "The generation of the upright is blessed." "Train up a
child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from
It may be of use, briefly to notice some causes of
lack of success, and also to touch upon the means of a successful
In considering the causes of lack of success,
we must first notice the disregard of one of the most important religious
principles—a due knowledge of which lies at the root of all success in this
work—that all children are by nature born in sin, and are children of wrath.
They inherit from their parents, a carnal mind, which is enmity against God.
However pious the parent, his nature is corrupt, and descends to his
children. From us they derive that nature, and all success in education must
be owing to God's blessing our efforts, and giving them his grace, that they
may gain dominion over their natural and inbred corruption.
The Christian parent will ever be watchful to detect the
workings of this corruption, even in those things which may appear to the
eye of the world, pleasing and delightful. That alone which is the fruit of
the Spirit—that alone which is superior to nature, will satisfy him. While
he will forward and cultivate whatever is lovely and of good report, he will
be, above all, anxious, that everything of this kind should proceed from
Christian principle, and not from the mere love of human praise.
The indulgence of parents, proceeding from an
idolatry of their children, is one of the most common sources of
ill-success. This was the ruin of Eli's and of David's children, and it is a
cause which is constantly operating in a vast variety of forms; such as
indulgence in appetite, in dress, in pleasures, in yielding to any obviously
improper requests, and in seeking rather to gratify their present wishes,
than to secure their future, their spiritual, and their highest good.
The inconsistencies of Christian parents in their
conduct and conversation, have a most pernicious influence over their
children. The spirit of the world, the lust of the flesh, the
lust of the eye, and the pride of life, manifested by a
parent—are eagerly and most naturally imbibed by children. They are
creatures of imitation in all things—but they have a natural aptitude
in imitating whatever is wrong. The bad tempers, the haughtiness, the
self-will of the parents—are very soon indeed, copied by the child. Their
admiration of riches, or rank, or talent—naturally engenders similar
inordinate views and feelings in their children. Thus, our sins punish us in
Improper friendships which children are allowed to form
with others, whether of a similar, or of an older age, but especially of the
latter—often ruin the best laid plans for education. Children are so soon
captivated by delusive and spurious appearances of superior wisdom, and by
the vain promises of liberty and pleasure; that one evening spent amidst the
fascinations of worldly society, may unsettle and permanently injure
their young and inexperienced minds.
Amid the common complaints of lack of success in the
bringing up of children, complaints which are often heard from Christian
parents—it is pleasant to contemplate those instances which sometimes occur,
as in the families of Mr. Richmond, where more gratifying results have been
The inquiry is most interesting, and most important—whence
arises this difference?
A customary resource for consolation, and almost for
justification, in cases of an unhappy description, is the doctrine of
the sovereignty of God.
Often, however, this great and solemn doctrine is brought
in as an excuse for parental neglect, when it would be just as
reasonable to assign it as an excuse for exposing your child to a
pestilence, or for leaving him, in sickness, without medical aid.
The cases above alluded to, and others quite numerous
enough to form a rule, and not an exception, show that when certain means
are used—the corresponding results may be expected to follow; and that
the failure of the parent's hopes—may generally be traced to their
own deficiency in their conduct.
In speaking however of means—a word perhaps
inadequate—it is desirable to use that word in its utmost extent—to look
upon it not merely as comprehending a certain routine of duties, but as
embracing the whole obligation of the parent to the child.
The first and main obligation is Love. It is to be
feared that the real root of the mischief of which we are speaking, little
as it may be suspected, lies in a deficiency here.
Parents are lacking in a deep sense of the real worth
and danger of their children's souls! They wish and hope
that they may be serious and godly; but it is a sort of faint, ineffectual
wish; not that ardent desire, that unceasing anxiety which filled Mr.
Richmond's mind; not that love which made Paul exclaim, "My little children,
of whom I travail in birth again, until Christ is formed in you."
From these feeble hopes and languid wishes, flow cold and
formal prayers, offered as a duty—not as the inmost desire of the soul.
There is no wrestling for the children, with the "I will not let you go
except you bless me!" of Augustine's mother. Nor are these the prayers of
faith; nor can they be expected to bring down blessings—since the promise
is, "Whatever you shall ask, believing, you shall receive." They are
often offered up from a mere sense of duty, without any expectation, and
almost without any sincere desire, that they should be answered. With such
weak and faint impressions of heavenly concerns, we may expect to
find their children clinging firmly to the world. Just in proportion as the
one is undervalued, the other is sure to be overestimated. The interests of
the present life are eagerly sought after, the affairs of eternity
postponed: hence all manner of temptations creep in.
A Christian parent had once, led by prospects of worldly
advancement, placed his son beyond the reach of the public means of grace,
and in the midst of manifold temptations. The son was shortly after on a
visit to his father; and the parent prayed, in his family worship, that the
boy might be preserved, amidst the various perils of his situation. The
youth reflected, "Why does my father put me into the devil's mouth—and
then pray to God that the devil may not be allowed to swallow me up?"
Surely to have occasioned such a reflection from a child, must have been
very painful to the parent?
The result of this line of conduct, half-Christian,
and half-worldly, is to bring up a race of young people acquainted
with the truths of religion, but without any effectual feeling of its
power. They are thus in a worse situation than even the more
ignorant—since the sound of the gospel can hardly reach the latter without
some awakening of the conscience—whereas on the former everything that can
be said falls as a mere repetition of what had been fully known for years,
but never deeply or effectually felt.
The spirit of Mr. Richmond, then—his fervent love for his
children's souls, his never-ceasing concern, his constant watchfulness, his
daily and hourly prayers, not of form but of faith—furnish
unitedly a model, to which the attention of Christian parents may be most
Resting in the form of godliness without its life
and power—is one of the great dangers to which the church is
peculiarly exposed in this day of general profession. And parents had need
be very watchful that they do not unawares foster the most dangerous
self-deception in their children, by giving them credit for genuine
regeneration and conversion, where there has been nothing more than
excited natural feelings without any real spiritual change. When the
young possess nothing more that what naturally amiable dispositions under
religious culture may easily produce, they are soon overset in the rough
sea of this world's trials and temptations. Let parents beware of too soon
speaking peace and rest to an awakened mind, or a troubled
The NATURE of a successful Christian education
is next to be noticed. And we would not here
dwell on subjects which are generally acknowledged, such as prompt
obedience and the honoring of parents—but would rather point out things
which are too often neglected.
1. The first thing is rightly to know the true
foundation of our hopes of success. This is nothing less solid than the
sure promises of God's Word, many of which are very precious to a Christian
parent's heart. To know rightly this foundation, and humbly and simply to
build upon it in the acting out of these promises, which through faith, and
prayer, and consistent conduct, patiently waiting on God to fulfill them in
his own time—constitute an important first step to successful education.
2. We must join with this a clear view of the only
governing cause of success; the free and rich grace of God our
Father. All his children are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the
flesh, nor of the will of man—but of God. Here is the origin, here is the
maintaining and continuing strength, here is the final triumph of all our
efforts; and to cultivate a habit of constantly looking to, and habitually
depending upon God, in daily prayer, in every instruction, and in every
plan, formed for our children—is a main principle for obtaining their
spiritual good. The faith and prayers of a parent are specially prevalent
with our gracious Redeemer—Mark 9. 23, 24.
3. Another important point is, to let our eye be
single in seeking primarily their spiritual welfare. An all-directing
and controlling principle in education should be, to seek first the kingdom
of God and his righteousness, for our children. This should influence us, as
to the place in which we fix them, the company to which we
introduce them, the books we wish them to read, the situation
we desire for them, and in short, as to everything we do concerning them.
4. The diligent and right use of the means of grace,
is a most important help for children—such as daily reading the scriptures,
prayer, habits of self-examination, regular attendance on public worship.
But besides all these means, the most important, perhaps, is that
constant inculcation of divine truth, to which we are so plainly
directed in the scriptures, "These commandments that I give you today are to
be upon your hearts. You shall teach them diligently to your children. Talk
about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you
lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind
them on your foreheads. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on
your gates." Deuteronomy 6:6-9
Particular instruction of the children by themselves, and
a mother's private and individual conversation with them, are also of great
5. Discipline is a matter of constant necessity. A
well-disciplined child is the best gift which a parent can bestow on his
country. While children left to themselves, and with no settled habits of
patient and steady application, are likely to be sources of much trouble to
their fellow-creatures. Discipline will seek constantly to restrain, check
and subdue all that is wrong—or leading to wrong—and to animate and
encourage all that is right. Every day brings fresh occasion for its
exercise, with regard to appetite, pleasures, temper, coveting the things of
others, neglecting duties, disorderly practices, and indeed all the varied
events of life.
6. Punishment must not be withheld—but must be
varied according to the degree of fault. It is important also that the scale
by which we measure the degrees of wrong should be Scriptural. Sins
directly against God, and moral faults, such as falsehood, passion, and
taking anything that does not belong to them—call for the severest
punishment, and should never be passed by without chastisement. While
accidents from carelessness, though they may occasion us a serious
injury—yet should be visited with a lighter penalty, as not being
intentional faults. On the mode of punishment, the reader will find
valuable remarks in this volume.
7. Foster and encourage, by wise and Christian
approbation, everything that is lovely and excellent. Much may be done in
forming the character, by due attention to this—all truth, sincerity,
generosity, self-denial, and love to others; all diligence and application
in good pursuits—should have the parental smile of favor—as all those things
which are opposite to these, should be discouraged by marks of
8. Earnestly watch against seeking great things
for your children. Oh! the inexpressible folly of aiming to gain for them,
high connections, in classes of society above them; and for this end placing
them in situations of danger, that they may form associations with their
superiors! What havoc has this made among the children of pious parents!
"Do not seek great things" should be our plain rule. "Should you seek
great things for yourself? Seek them not!" Jeremiah 45:5.
May God give us grace to attend to these clear directions
of his Word. If we trust him, his providence will call our children to those
scenes in which they may safely and honorably serve others, and glorify his
name; and we shall be preserved from the anguish of seeing them bring
reproach on the gospel of Christ.
9. The last thing that I would notice, is our own
consistency of conduct, as essential to the full effect of a Christian
education. If Christian parents act inconsistently with their blessed
principles—if they are irritable, selfish, proud, disorderly, passionate,
and covetous, what can be expected—but similarly evil tempers in their
children! But if they are poor in spirit, meek, mourning for sin, and
hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and possess and manifest the
other graces of a Christian, it is an immense auxiliary to all their
religious instruction. In fact, it is one just retribution of our
evil ways—that our children soon manifest similar evil ways. While on the
other hand, an exhibition of holy conduct enforces every pious
exhortation, and strengthens every solid principle, which we endeavor to
communicate to them.
The Editor adds a little sketch of
principles of education,
by which he has desired and endeavored that his own conduct should be
Points to be kept in view, in a Christian education.
I. SPIRITUAL Health.
1. Pray for them.
2. Continually instill Christian principles.
3. Act in the spirit of the gospel towards them.
4. Watch over their friendships with others.
5. Teach them to govern their tempers.
6. See that they diligently attend the means of grace.
7. Remember the incessant activity and subtlety of
II. PHYSICAL Health.
1. Exercise is to be regularly taken.
2. Temperance in diet is to be observed.
3. Things injurious to health, are to be avoided.
4. Early in bed—and early to rise.
III. MENTAL Cultivation.
1. Their minds should not to be too much pressed.
2. Their minds should be strengthened by reading solid
3. Habits of reflection should be formed and
4. See that they understand their lessons.
5. Habits of self-denial should be formed.
6. Useful things should be especially attended to.
1. Kindness is to run through everything they do:
their morals, school, play, walks, behavior to other children and adults.
2. Kindness is to have its true foundation in
3. Kindness to others, is a victory over our
4. Endeavor to promote the happiness of all around us.
V. TALENTS and Accomplishments.
1. Talents are of a secondary value.
2. Talents should be a means of relaxation.
3. Talents should commend piety to others.
4. Be sure that talents are innocent.
5. Guard against those talents, which will lead them into
VI. The SAVIOR is all in all.
1. In every point—show them Christ. He is the root of
spiritual prosperity. He is the Physician of body and soul. He is the Giver
of all of our blessings. He is altogether lovely in all his ways. He is full
of gifts and full of grace.
2. Let everything turn the mind to Jesus. In every walk,
in every lesson, in every event, in every sin, in every mercy—speak of
3. Let Christ be the sun and the glory of every day.
1. "My grace is sufficient for you."
2. "He will give his Holy Spirit to those who ask."
3. "I am your God, I will strengthen you, yes, I will
uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness."