by John Abbott, 1833, Worcester, Mass.
Published by the American Tract Society


"Be an example . . . in speech, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity." 1 Timothy 4:12

"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." Proverbs 22:6

A few years ago, some gentlemen who were associated in preparing for the ministry, felt interested in ascertaining what proportion of their number had pious mothers. They were greatly surprised and delighted in finding that out of one hundred and twenty students, over a hundred had been borne by a mother's prayers, and directed by a mother's counsels, to the Savior. Though some of these had broken away from all the restraints of home, and like the prodigal, had wandered in sin and sorrow, yet they could not forget the impressions of childhood, and were eventually brought to the Savior, to be a mother's joy and blessing. Many interesting facts have, within a few years, drawn the attention of Christians to this subject.

The efforts which a mother makes for the improvement of her child in knowledge and virtue, are necessarily retired and unobtrusive. The world knows nothing of them; and hence the world has been slow to perceive how powerful and extensive is this secret and silent influence. But circumstances are now directing the eyes of the community to the nursery, and the truth is daily coming more distinctly before the public, that the influence which is exerted upon the mind during the first eight or ten years of existence, in a great degree guides the destinies of that mind for time and eternity! And as the mother is the guardian and guide of the early years of life, from her goes the most powerful influence in the formation of the character of man. And why should it not be so? What impressions can be more strong, and more lasting, than those received upon the mind in the freshness and the susceptibility of youth? What instructor can gain greater confidence and respect than a mother? And where can there be delight in acquiring knowledge, if not when the little flock cluster around a mother's knee to hear of God and heaven?

"A good boy generally makes a good man." Said the mother of Washington, "George was always a good boy." Here we see one secret of his greatness. George Washington had a mother who made him a good boy, and instilled into his heart those principles which raised him to be the benefactor of his country, and one of the brightest ornaments of the world. The mother of Washington is entitled to a nation's gratitude. She taught her boy the principles of obedience, and moral courage, and virtue. She, in a great measure, formed the character of the hero, and the statesman. It was by her own fire-side that she taught her playful boy to govern himself; and thus was he prepared for the brilliant career of usefulness which he afterward pursued. We are indebted to God for the gift of Washington; but we are no less indebted to him for the gift of his inestimable mother. Had she been a weak, and indulgent, and unfaithful parent, the unchecked energies of Washington might have elevated him to the throne of a tyrant; or youthful disobedience might have prepared the way for a life of crime and a dishonored grave.

Byron had a mother just the reverse of lady Washington; and the character of the mother was transferred to the son. We cannot wonder then at his character and conduct, for we see them to be the almost necessary consequence of the education he received, and the scenes witnessed in his mother's parlor. She would at one time allow him to disobey with impunity; and at another time, she would fly into a rage and beat him. She thus taught him to defy all authority, human and divine; to indulge, without restraint, in sin; to give himself up to the power of every maddening passion. It was the mother of Byron who laid the foundation of his pre-eminence in guilt. She taught him to plunge into that sea of profligacy and wretchedness, upon whose agitated waves he was tossed for life. If the crimes of the poet deserve the execration of the world—the world cannot forget that it was the mother who fostered in his youthful heart those passions which made the son a curse to his fellow-men.

There are, it is true, innumerable causes incessantly operating in the formation of character. A mother's influence is by no means the only influence which is exerted. Still it may be the most powerful; for, with God's ordinary blessing, it may form in the youthful mind the habits, and implant the principles, to which other influences are to give permanency and vigor.

A pious and faithful mother may have a dissolute child. He may break away from all restraints, and God may leave him to "eat the fruit of his own devices." The parent, thus afflicted and broken-hearted, can only bow before the sovereignty of her Maker, who says, "be still, and know that I am God." The consciousness, however, of having done one's duty, divests this affliction of much of its bitterness. And beside, such cases are rare. Profligate children are generally the offspring of parents who have neglected the moral and religious education of their family. Some parents are themselves profligate, and thus not only allow their children to grow up unrestrained, but by their example lure them to sin. But there are others, who are very upright, and virtuous, and even pious themselves, who do, nevertheless, neglect the moral culture of their children; and as a consequence, they grow up in disobedience and sin. It matters but little what the cause is which leads to this neglect. The neglect itself will ordinarily be followed by disobedience and self-will.

Hence the reason that children of eminent men, both in church and state, are not unfrequently the disgrace of their parents. If the mother is unaccustomed to govern her children, if she looks to the father to enforce obedience, and to control; when he is absent, all family government is absent, and the children are left to run wild—to learn lessons of disobedience; to practise arts of deception; to build, upon the foundation of contempt for a mother, a character of insubordination and iniquity. But if the children are under the efficient government of a judicious mother, the reverse of this is almost invariably the case. And since, in nearly every instance, the early years of life are entrusted to a mother's care, it follows that maternal influence, more than any thing else, forms the future character.

The history of John Newton is often mentioned as a proof of the deep and lasting impression which a mother may produce upon the mind of her child. He had a pious mother. She often retired to her closet, and placing her hand upon his youthful head, implored God's blessing upon her boy. These prayers and instructions sunk deep into his heart. He could not but revere that mother. He could not but feel that there was a holiness in such a character, demanding reverence and love. He could not tear from his heart, in after life, the impressions then produced. Though he became a wicked wanderer, though he forsook friends and home, and every virtue; the remembrance of a mother's prayers, like a guardian angel, followed him wherever he went. He mingled in the most evil and disgraceful scenes of a sailor's life, and while surrounded with guilty associates, in midnight revelry, he would fancy he felt the soft hand of his mother upon his head, pleading with God to forgive and bless her boy. He went to the coast of Africa, and became even more degraded than the savages upon her dreary shores. But the soft hand of his mother was still upon his head, and the fervent prayers of his mother still thrilled in his heart. And this influence, after the lapse of many guilty years, brought back the prodigal, a penitent and a child of God; elevated him to be one of the brightest ornaments of the Christian church, and to guide many sons and daughters to glory. What a forcible comment is this upon the power of maternal influence! And what encouragement does this present to every mother to be faithful in her efforts to train up her child for God! Had Mrs. Newton neglected her duty, had she even been as remiss as many Christian mothers, her son, to all human view, might have continued in sin, and been an outcast from heaven. It was through the influence of the mother that the son was saved. Newton became afterward a most successful preacher of the Gospel, and every soul which he was instrumental in saving, as he sings the song of redeeming mercy, will, through eternity, bless God that Newton had such a mother.

The influence thus exerted upon the mind, in early childhood, may, for many years, be apparently lost. When a son leaves home, and enters upon the busy world, many are the temptations which come crowding upon him. If he leaves home without established principles of religion and self-control, he will most assuredly fall before these temptations. He may indeed fall, even after all a mother has done, or can do; and he may become deeply involved in guilt.

But he may apparently forget every lesson he learnt at home, while the influence of a mother's instructions, and a mother's prayers, is yet working powerfully and effectually in his heart. He will think of a mother's tears, when remorse keeps him awake at midnight, or when danger threatens him with speedy arraignment at the bar of God. The thoughts of the sacredness of home will often throw bitterness into his cup of guilty pleasure, and compel him to sigh for the virtue and the peace he has forsaken. Even though far away, in abodes of infamy, degraded and abandoned, he must occasionally think of a broken-hearted mother. Thus may he, after many years, perhaps long after she has gone down to the grave, be led, by the remembrance of her virtues, to forsake his sins.

A short time since, a gentleman, in one of our most populous cities, was going to attend a seaman's meeting in the mariner's chapel. Directly opposite the chapel there was a sailor's boarding house. In the door-way sat a hardy, weather-beaten sailor, with arms folded, and puffing a cigar, watching the people as they gradually assembled for the meeting. The gentleman walked up to him and said, "Well, my friend, won't you go with us to meeting?" "No!" said the sailor, bluntly. The gentleman, who, from the appearance of the man, was prepared for a repulse, mildly replied, "You look, my friend, as though you had seen hard days; have you a mother?" The sailor raised his head, looked earnestly in the gentleman's face, and made no reply.

The gentleman continued—"Suppose your mother were here now, what advice would she give you?" The tears rushed into the eyes of the poor sailor; he tried for a moment to conceal them, but could not; and, hastily brushing them away with the back of his rough hand, rose and said, with a voice almost inarticulate through emotion, "I'll go to the meeting." He crossed the street, entered the door of the chapel, and took his seat with the assembled congregation.

What afterward became of the man is not known. It is however almost certain that he must have had a mother who had given him good instruction; and when the gentleman appealed to her, hardened as the sailor was, his heart melted. It is by no means improbable that this interview may have checked this man in his sins, and led him to Christ. At any event, it shows the strength of maternal influence. It shows that years of wandering and of sin cannot erase from the heart the impression which a mother's instructions and a mother's prayers have left there.

It is a great trial to have children undutiful when young; but it is a tenfold greater affliction to have a child grow up to maturity in disobedience, and become a dissolute and abandoned man. How many parents have passed days of sorrow and nights of sleeplessness in consequence of the misconduct of their offspring! How many have had their hearts broken, and their gray hairs brought down with sorrow to the grave, solely in consequence of their own neglect to train up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord! Your future happiness is in the hands of your children. They may throw gloom over all your prospects, embitter every enjoyment, and make you so miserable, that your only prospect of relief will be in death.

That little girl whom you now cuddle upon your knee, and who plays, so full of enjoyment, upon your floor, has entered a world where temptations are thick around. What is to enable her to resist these temptations, but established principles of piety? And where is she to obtain these principles, but from a mother's instructions and example? If, through your neglect now, she should hereafter yield herself to temptation and sin, what must become of your peace of mind? O mother! little are you aware of the wretchedness with which your beloved daughter may hereafter overwhelm you!

Many illustrations of the most affecting nature might be here introduced. It would be easy to appeal to a vast number of living sufferers, in attestation of the woe which the sin of the child has occasioned. You may go, not only in imagination, but in reality, to the darkened chamber, where the mother sits weeping, and refusing to be comforted, for a daughter is lost to virtue and to heaven. Still, no person can imagine how overwhelming the agony which must prey upon a mother thus dishonored and broken-hearted. This is a sorrow which can only be understood by one who has tasted its bitterness and felt its weight. We may go to the house of piety and prayer, and find the father and mother with countenances emaciated with suffering; not a smile plays upon their features, and the mournful accents of their voice tell how deeply seated is their sorrow. Shall we inquire into the cause of this heart-rending grief? The mother would only reply with tears and sobs. The father would summon all his fortitude, and say, "my daughter"—and say no more. The anguish of his spirit would prevent the farther utterance of his grief.

Is this exaggeration? No! Let your lovely daughter, now your pride and joy, be abandoned to infamy, be an outcast from society, and you must feel what language cannot express.

This is a dreadful subject; but it is one which the mother must feel and understand. There are facts which might here be introduced, sufficient to make every parent tremble. We might lead you to the dwelling of the clergyman, and tell you that a daughter's sin has shattered the mother, and sent paleness to the cheek, and trembling to the frame, and agony to the heart of the aged father. We might carry you to the parlor of the rich man, and show you all the elegance and the opulence with which he is surrounded; and yet he would tell you that he was one of the most unhappy of the sons of affliction, and that he would gladly give all his treasures if he could purchase back a daughter's virtue; that he could gladly lie down to die, if he could thus blot out the remembrance of a daughter's infamy.

No matter what your situation in life may be, that little child, now so innocent, whose playful endearments and happy laugh awaken such thrilling emotions in your heart, may cause you years of most unalleviated misery!

And mother! look at that drunken vagrant, staggering by your door. Listen to his horrid imprecations, as bloated and ragged he passes along. That wretch has a mother. Perhaps, widowed and in poverty, she needs the comfort and support of an affectionate son. You have a son. You may soon be a widow. If your son is dissolute, you are doubly widowed; you are worse, infinitely worse than childless. You cannot now endure even the thought that your son will ever be thus abandoned. How dreadful then must be the experience of the reality!

I once knew a mother who had an only son. She loved him most ardently, and could not bear to deny him any indulgence. He, of course, soon learned to rule his mother. At the death of his father, the poor woman was left at the mercy of this vile boy. She had neglected her duty when he was young, and now his ungovernable passions had become too strong for her control. Self-willed, turbulent, and revengeful, he was his mother's bitterest curse. His fits of rage at times amounted almost to madness. One day, infuriated with his mother, he set fire to her house, and it was burned to the ground, with all its contents, and she was left in the extremest state of poverty. He was imprisoned as an incendiary, and, in his cell, he became a maniac, if he was not such before, and madly dug out his own eyes. He now lies in perpetual darkness, confined by the stone walls and grated bars of his dungeon, an infuriated madman.

O how hard it must be for a mother, after all her pain, and anxiety, and watchings, to find her son a demoniac spirit, instead of a guardian and friend!

You have watched over your child, through all the months of its helpless infancy. You have denied yourself, that you might give it comfort. When it has been sick, you have been unmindful of your own weariness, and your own weakness, and through many nights you have watched at its cradle, administering to all its needs. When it has smiled, you have felt a joy which none but a parent can feel, and have pressed your much loved treasure to your bosom, praying that its future years of obedience and affection might be your ample reward. And now, how dreadful a requital, for that child to grow up to hate and abuse you; to leave you friendless, in sickness and in poverty; to squander all his earnings in haunts of iniquity and degradation!

How entirely is your earthly happiness at the disposal of your child! His character is now, in an important sense, in your hands, and you are to form it for good or for evil. If you are consistent in your government, and faithful in the discharge of your duties, your child will probably through life revere you, and be the stay and solace of your declining years. If, on the other hand, you cannot summon resolution to punish your child when disobedient; if you do not curb his passions; if you do not bring him to entire and willing subjection to your authority; you must expect that he will be your curse. In all probability, he will despise you for your weakness. Unaccustomed to restraints at home, he will break away from all restraints, and make you wretched by his life, and disgraceful in his death.

But few parents think of this as they ought. They are not conscious of the tremendous consequences dependent upon the efficient and decisive government of their children. Thousands of parents now stand in our land like oaks blighted and scathed by lightnings and storms. Thousands have had every hope wrecked, every prospect darkened, and have become the victims of the most agonizing and heart-rending disappointment, solely in consequence of the misconduct of their children. And yet thousands of others are going on in the same way, preparing to experience the same suffering, and are apparently unconscious of their danger.

It is true that there are many mothers who feel their responsibilities perhaps as deeply as it is best they should feel them. But there are many others—even of Christian mothers—who seem to forget that their children will ever be less under their control than they are while young. And they are training them up, by indecision and indulgence, soon to tyrannize over their parents with a rod of iron—and to pierce their hearts with many sorrows!

If you are unfaithful to your child when he is young, he will be unfaithful to you when he is old. If you indulge him in all his foolish and unreasonable wishes when he is a child, when he becomes a man he will indulge himself; he will gratify every desire of his heart; and your sufferings will be rendered the more poignant by the reflection that it was your own unfaithfulness which has caused your ruin. If you would be the happy mother of a happy child, give your attention, and your efforts, and your prayers, to the great duty of training him up for God and heaven.