“MOTIVATING CHRISTIAN FATHERS TO GOVERN THEIR CHILDREN”
Today is Father’s Day, so I would like to speak especially to you fathers, you grandfathers, and those of you who hope to someday be fathers. The text I have chosen is the first half of Proverbs 1.8, so please locate that verse and then stand for the reading of our text for today: “My son, hear the instruction of thy father.”
Is it not interesting that most guys think they know what fatherhood is, and also think that they know what is necessary to be a father to a child? Not sire an offspring, mind you, but be a father to a child. Never mind that most guys give no thought to the subject of being a dad, have never studied the issue, and in all likelihood were not raised by men who had any real idea what they were doing. They still have this crazy notion that they know what they are doing, or assume that they will know what to do when the time comes.
How wrong such thinking is. I remember when I came to Calvary Road Baptist Church many years ago. I found in this Church many dads who knew nothing about fathering children. There has been much progress in the intervening years, but I was astonished upon my arrival at how little was known and practiced. The men and boys in this Church had been taught virtually nothing about the complexities of fatherhood.
You women who are here, whether you be moms or moms to be, need to understand the stakes that are involved in fatherhood. Despite the key role that fathers necessarily play in the rearing of their children, a child who is who is left to himself, which is to say a child who is not properly raised, shames his parents. But such a child shames his mother more than his father. Proverbs 29.15: “. . . a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.” So, mothers have an obvious and vital interest in the rearing of their children, because what a father does in the child’s life can result in a mother’s great joy or in a mother’s great shame.
There are several possible ways of looking at this entire issue of fatherhood on Father’s Day. We can look at fatherhood from the perspective of what seems most satisfying and beneficial to the guy, from the perspective of what seems most satisfying and beneficial to the mom, or what seems most satisfying and beneficial to the kid. Let me, during this exposition time, speak about fatherhood from the perspective of what seems most beneficial for the child. After we sing another song, my sermon will focus on something special I have found for you guys by way of motivations and incentives to be great and godly fathers.
Men, allow me to establish four hypothetical scenarios for you, in three main points, as you either do relate to, or could potentially relate to, a mother and kids someday. I will assume, during this exposition, that the guys I am referring to hypothetically are genuinely born again Christian men.
First, THERE IS WHAT WE WILL CALL THE BACHELOR GUY
This is a guy who is single and as yet unprepared to get married. Listen carefully, girls. How do you know he is unprepared to get married? Easy. He has not yet completed his education, or does not yet make enough money as the breadwinner to support a home maker wife. Before any intelligent woman would even consider marrying such a fellow she would want to know several things about him, things she could find out by getting his permission to talk to his pastor, with the understanding that there would be full disclosure by the pastor regarding his fitness and readiness to enter into a marriage. First, does his pastor really think he is converted, or does the pastor have some fears that he may not be converted? Such fears would be related to stubbornness, extravagant spending habits, extreme selfishness, and self-worship and other troublesome issues. Second, is this a man who seeks the counsel of those more mature and godlier than he is, or is he a know-it-all who only wants what he wants, no matter who may be harmed in the process of getting what he wants? Third, is this man mature enough in his own Christian life to be a spiritual leader to a woman and, eventually, to children? Alternatively, is he, like so many men these days, just an overgrown kid? Fourth, is this man a good enough provider that his wife would be able to forego working an outside job so she could devote the majority of her time to being a good wife and mother, or would she have to be a wife and mother in addition to working a full time out of the house job?
Please do not misunderstand me. There are many good Christian men who are wonderful fathers, yet they are not the sole providers for their families. But such men are almost always fellows who married before their conversion and simply did not know how best to approach marriage and raising a family. God certainly loves these guys, and so do I. Let us make no mistake about that. However, the bachelor guy is different from these guys, because God has so blessed him by saving him while he was still single. It is only hoped that he is wise enough, that he is humble enough, that he has a teachable spirit, so that he will properly prepare himself for marriage before rushing in like a fool, bent only on satisfying his own fleshly appetites. The wise bachelor guy will be careful, will allow his pastor to prepare him for marriage, will prepare himself vocationally and educationally for marriage, and will only enter into a proper courtship arrangement that could lead to marriage when he is spiritually, educationally, and financially prepared to properly husband his wife and father children.
Second, THERE ARE WHAT ARE CALLED THE NEARBY GUY AND THE STEP DAD
I read some excerpts from Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, by David Blankenhorn:
The Stepfather and the Nearby Guy are substitute fathers. They are not fathers, but they serve as what are frequently called father figures—nonfathers who help to raise other men’s children. In this respect, they are the polar opposite of the Sperm Father. For him, paternity is strictly biological. There is no social component. For the Stepfather and the Nearby Guy, paternity is strictly social. There is no biological component.
Growing numbers of biological fathers—Deadbeat Dads, Visiting Fathers, and Sperm Fathers—do not live with their children and have discontinued the parental alliance with their children’s mother. The Stepfather and the Nearby Guy are expected to fill the fatherhood vacuum created by their absence. As cultural models, they are viewed essentially as replacement fathers, perhaps able to offer the functional equivalent of fatherhood to children whose fathers have departed.
In this sense, the Stepfather and the Nearby Guy constitute two natural consequences, twin by-products, of the trend toward fatherlessness. As fathers disappear, these men appear, offering not fatherhood but a simulation of fatherhood. Their ranks are swelling. Increasingly, these are the men who raise the children.
There are important differences between the Stepfather and the Nearby Guy. Because the Stepfather is married to the mother, his commitment to her—and thus indirectly to her children—is much more formal and probably deeper and more enduring. The most common example of a Nearby Guy is a mother’s boyfriend. Almost by definition, his commitment to the mother is ambivalent, sporadic, and contingent. From the child’s perspective, especially compared to either fathers or stepfathers, boyfriends often come and go without leaving much of a trace.
A Nearby Guy can also be a family friend, a neighbor, a teacher, a Little League coach, a Scout leader, a Big Brother, a Sunday School teacher, a school principal or counselor, a social worker, or the father of a class mate—any adult male who is willing and able to take a fatherly interest in a child growing up without a father. Such relationships, of course, are highly diverse and have impacts ranging from good to bad, profound to fleeting.
Yet the differences between the Stepfather and the Nearby Guy are outweighed by three underlying similarities. First, both the Stepfather and the Nearby Guy are biologically and legally unrelated to the children they help to raise. . . . As a result, almost all human societies accept the principle that “childrearing by nonrelatives is inherently problematic.” For this reason, family law . . . typically does not recognize nonrelatives as parental figures or as members of a child’s family.
Second, both the Stepfather and the Nearby Guy embody a model of fatherhood born of loss and defined by ambiguity, complexity, and frequent change. In both cases, one man’s fatherly acts spring from, and are made necessary by, another man’s abandonment of his child. Especially for the child, then, emotions are always mixed, loyalties always divided. If I call this guy “Dad,” or even think of him as a father, am I being disloyal to my real father? Am I happy that my mother found someone new, or angry that she replaced my father? What makes this new person any better than my father?
In both cases, relationships and living arrangements tend to change often. Some boyfriends and other friends stay around for a while, but most do not. William R. Beer describes a stepfamily as “like a trolley car that rolls along the tracks, with people getting on and off.” In both cases, things tend to get very complicated, in part simply because more people are involved, but, more important, because the people involved have divergent family histories and inherently conflicting commitments—many of which surface as real or symbolic conflicts between the substitute father and the biological father.
Accordingly, even the word father can acquire an unclear meaning. In one sense, a child in this situation does not have a father. However, in another sense, this child has at least two—and sometimes three or four or more— “fathers”: men who agree at certain points to perform certain fatherly tasks. As a result, even the most basic question—Who is this child’s father?—can become difficult to answer.
Third, both the Stepfather and the boyfriend version of the Nearby Guy are cultural models premised not on fatherhood but on the search for adult companionship. Both of these identities emerge essentially from . . . second chances—new opportunities for adults to find mates. Put simply, for both of these replacement fathers, the main object of desire and commitment is the mother, not the child.
“Most studies show that children in stepfamilies do not do better than children in single-parent families; indeed, many indicate that on average children in remarriages do worse.” Though there are no in depth studies of the impact of a boyfriend Nearby Guy on a child, common sense causes questions to arise. If the Nearby Guy moves out of the child’s life there is obvious potential for hurt and for confusion. But if the Nearby Guy becomes the Stepfather, it could become even worse, as studies show.
What is the solution? The solution for most Christian men is to not allow yourself to become the Nearby Guy boyfriend of a single mom. It is too often bad for the child, however the situation turns out. If the boyfriend breaks off the relationship he may break the child’s heart. If the boyfriend does not leave or marry the mom, he will almost certainly end up committing sexual sin and providing a horrible example. If the boyfriend ends up marrying the single mom, unless he is an exceptional fellow, studies show that he will probably harm the child in other ways.
“But does not God’s Word encourage young women to marry, pastor?” Yes, it does. That is in First Timothy 5.14, a verse that specifically addresses the situation a young widow finds herself in. Though I think that verse can be applied to any young mother who has never married, or who has divorced on Scriptural grounds.
So, there are cases in which it is God’s will for a single mom to marry, and she has to marry someone. But that does not mean her marriage will always turn out well for her or for her child, unless the guy she marries is especially gifted to cope with the difficulties that are particularly associated with being a stepfather. Most guys are not especially gifted to cope with those difficulties, despite their own tendencies and their girlfriend’s tendencies toward wishful thinking.
I would urge any woman to be extremely careful about having a Nearby Guy boyfriend, because those guys are typically not suitable as Stepfathers. My advice for a young mother would be to get into Church, serve God faithfully, and don’t go looking for anything to happen. Instead, pray and ask God to make something happen that is so obviously of God that the woman, her pastor, and those who love and know her, are in favor of her beginning a courtship with a very special Christian man.
As for most single Christian guys, I would urge you to avoid becoming a Nearby Guy boyfriend. That way you will not become a Stepfather unless God particularly moves in your life. Just be patient. Prepare yourself educationally, financially, and spiritually, and then pray and ask God to bring that special woman for you to properly court and marry.
Finally, THERE ARE WHAT ARE CALLED THE FATHER GUYS
The importance of the father in the home and to the child cannot be overstated. Though moms spend more hands on time with a child early on, the father is crucial to raising children in at least three distinct and important ways: First, the father actually presides over the family, representing, in his personal ministry to both his wife and his children, God, the Father. Where there is no father in the home a child’s concept and comprehension of God, and his relationship to God, must somehow come by other means. For the kid who grows up in Church those other means are the pastor and good men of the Church. Second, the father is most responsible for modeling manhood to his son. Though there are many fine Christian men, who had no father or who did not have a good dad when growing up, God’s primary means of raising up good and godly men has always been by providing to young boys good and godly dads. For the boy raised by his mom in Church there, again, is the pastor and godly men in the Church who model Christian manhood. Third, the father is most responsible for exemplifying the kind of man his daughter should and will want to marry, should he not sabotage his own efforts by inattention or hypocrisy, thereby causing her to rebel and seek for a husband a man with different values than her father, or a man her father otherwise disapproves of. Again, girls raised by their single moms gain a great deal by being in the house of God.
Yet, as important as fathers obviously are, most dads either underestimate their own importance, or make wildly inaccurate assumptions about the importance of and difficulty of good fathering. Some fathers make no assumptions at all, merely assuming that having a man in the house is good enough to properly raise children, and that they will just turn out all right.
Dads, let me disabuse you of that notion. Notice our text, Proverbs 1.8. Do you realize that this verse is just the beginning of a section that runs through Proverbs 9.18? And in those almost nine chapters, Solomon is a father who is engaged in persuading his son to attend to his instruction, to hunger for his wisdom, to listen to his admonitions. Nine chapters of Proverbs given over to persuading a son to pay attention! to listen! to appreciate the value of his father’s instruction! Are you prepared to invest the kind of time and energy to deal with your children in a way that is suggested by these nine chapters in Proverbs?
And that isn’t even instructing your child. That is only persuading your child to be instructed! The actual fatherly instructional portion of Proverbs extends from Proverbs 10.1 to Proverbs 22.16! Is that not incredible? To me it is astounding. Being a good father, then, requires an investment of time, an investment of study, an investment of attention to detail, an investment of prayerful and loving concern for your children, and the development of skills that few fathers are willing to commit to, that far fewer stepfathers are willing to commit to, and that only a foolish mother will think a guy not married to her is likely to commit to.
May I summarize my thoughts at this point? Some stepfathers are tremendous blessings to a child, but there are not many such stepfathers. I praise God for the men who are so blessed by God that they succeed as stepfathers, while at the same time I want to urge single moms to be extremely careful about marriage. This is one of those kinds of situations where pastoral insight can be very helpful.
Second, you guys who are dads, and you guys who may someday be dads, need to realize that being a father is a complex and difficult task, requiring divine enablement to get the job done correctly. In order to be a good dad, in order to be a truly successful father, you will have to be highly motivated to not only focus on fathering your children, but also governing your entire household the way a godly man should. Fathers cannot be good fathers who do not rule their households well. So, you must not only be good with kids to be a good dad, but your wife must also be properly ruled. And a woman who objects to being ruled by a husband is a woman no man should consider marrying. It is simply not worth the grief.
At the conclusion of this sermon our ushers will have for you a copy of two chapters that I have copied from Richard Baxter’s book titled A Christian Directory, called “the greatest manual on biblical counseling ever produced.” Before I give that to you, however, I want to lift from those two chapters 18 motives for being the husband, for being the dad, you ought to be before God, the motives that should propel you who are not dads to get ready for marriage and fatherhood.
Guys, as I said before, you cannot separate good husbanding from good fathering, and there is no effort to do that here. These 18 motives are incentives to persuade you to be both a good husband and a good father. So, to you who ask yourself, “Why should I change what I am now doing? Why should I care? Why should I put forth the effort to do it the right way?” here are some answers.
Motive #1: There is a struggle going on in this world between God and the Devil, and between those that represent God and those that represent the Devil. If you do not properly govern your family in a good and godly way, sir, then you will by default have surrendered your family to the rule of Satan, the god of this world.
Motive #2: A family that is not governed by a godly man is as powerful an incentive for the children to grow up and continue on their way to Hell, as a godly family is a powerful incentive for the children to come to Christ and grow up godly. Recognize that in a disciplined army a coward is far less likely to break ranks and run than he is in a loosely run and undisciplined unit. Therefore, it is in a family that is governed by a committed and spiritual father, where the incentives to godliness are present and the temptations to commit sin are minimized.
Motive #3: Life is easier in a well-ordered Christian home than in a house that is not centered on Christ. To live in a home where God is honored and parents are obeyed is much to be preferred to a house where profanity, chaos, and godless indifference are the rule. What is to be preferred, a home in which the father comes home from work and is greeted by a loving wife and devoted children? Or a house of confusion in which the father is taken for granted by insolent children and an obnoxious wife, and is neither appreciated nor recognized as God’s representative to his family?
Motive #4: What will you leave behind as your legacy? It is far better to sire and raise no children than to sire and raise children who will spend eternity in Hell after they have spent their lives serving the Devil. Satan already has the advantage with your children, because of their sinful nature. Therefore, it is in your best interest to start as soon as you can to influence your children as young as you can, before sinful experiences take too deep a root in your children’s hearts. Your children are your gifts to your grandchildren. What kind of parents will you give to your grandchildren?
Motive #5: A holy and well-governed family is vital for a holy and well-governed Church. Imagine what can happen in a congregation in which fathers rule and raise their children properly. What greatness and what godliness can be expected of those children when they are grown. And what helpers in every way to the pastor these will be, as others from non-Christian homes are brought in, who will then learn by associating with those who have a lifetime’s training in God’s ways in both the Church and family. Baxter rightly observes that “pastors are discouraged, the churches defiled, religion disgraced, and infidels hardened through the impious disorder and negligence of families.” So, vital to this Church becoming a great Church are fathers who govern their homes in godly fashion.
Motive #6: Well-governed families result in responsible and effective citizens. Is it not amazing for your children to discover how little of their country’s heritage is known by those whose parents are not godly, how little they are aware of, and how infrequently they appreciate the important issues of our time? However, the godly man who governs his family has some interest in politics, some interest in history, some interest in foreign affairs, and some interest in pressing social issues. Why? Because they affect his family and his family’s future. Such a man, who governs his family in holy fashion, tends to raise children who are aware, who are not easily deceived by mass media propaganda, and who have an impact on those around them who are less well informed and less well grounded. The godly man who speaks to his children about abortion will raise children who will speak out against abortion. The man who backs the state of Israel will raise children who will stand up for God’s chosen people. And so it goes.
Motive #7: There will come a day when this Church will have another pastor. And after my successor, there will be yet another pastor. What is to happen to this congregation if a subsequent pastor is weak on God’s Word? What if he shows that he is inclined toward decisionism? What will happen if he becomes unqualified by divorce but insists on continuing as the pastor? So you see, the long health and welfare of your Church will be greatly influence by the quality and character of the children you raise up as a father. I am not suggesting that you raise children to rebel against a pastor. But I am suggesting that you raise up children who will resist anyone removing the ancient landmarks that we in our generation are only recently rediscovering. We have a whole host of wonderful men in our Church. But very few of them grew up in godly homes and in strong Churches. Imagine what God has in store for this Church if the next generation of men who support and pray for subsequent pastors are a core group of men raised up by godly and committed Christian dads who governed their homes, and not just dads who happened to go to Church three times a week.
Motive #8: It will be easier for you to properly govern your own home than it will be to properly minister to those who are not in your family. It may seem easier to minister outside the home than within the home, but that is only the case when a man is either not truly godly himself (and his family is resisting his hypocrisy), or he is not aware of what true ministry to those outside his family really is. Want to have an impact for the cause of Christ? You will have it easier at home than anywhere else, as a rule, so go for it.
Motive #9: Well-governed families are a delight for others to experience, even those who are not Christians. Who would object to respectful and obedience children, and a husband and wife who are compatible and cooperative? “A worldly, ungodly, disordered family, is a den of snakes, a place of hissing, railing, folly, and confusion: it is like a wilderness overgrown with briers and weeds; but a holy family is a garden of God; it is beautified with his graces, and ordered by his government, and fruitful by the showers of his heavenly blessing.” Do you want others to enjoy your family, to like your family, to appreciate your family? Then don’t raise little animals who are riotous, lazy and disrespectful. And don’t put up with a loud and contentious wife. Govern your home in a godly fashion.
Motive #10: Consider, that holy, well-governed families are blessed with the special presence and favor of God. They are places where He is worshipped, temples wherein He dwells. In such families God is engaged by both His love and His promise to bless, to protect, and to prosper them. A man that will govern his family in godly fashion “shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”
The first ten were motives for governing your entire family in godly fashion. These next eight deal more specifically with your children.
Motive #11: These are not dogs and cats that you have brought into the world, but children with eternal and undying souls. Therefore, by what right do you neglect their instruction in the ways of the gospel and ignore their eternal destiny? There will be some things that they will learn naturally, just as birds teach their young to fly and wolves teach their young to hunt. But your children are neither birds nor predators. They are sinners who need to be reconciled to God. Therefore, if you do not teach them how to know God, how to serve God, how to be saved, you do worse than teach them nothing at all . . . for your neglect will persuade them that these most important things are unimportant. “It is in your hands to do them the greatest kindness or cruelty in all the world: help them to know God and to be saved, and you do more for them than if you helped them to be lords or princes: if you neglect their souls, and breed them in ignorance, worldliness, ungodliness, and sin, you betray them to the devil, the enemy of souls, even as truly as if you sold them to him; you sell them to be slaves to Satan; you betray them to him that will deceive them and abuse them in this life, and torment them in the next. If you saw . . . the flames of hell, would you not think that man or woman more fit to be called a devil than a parent that could find in their hearts to cast their child into it, or to put him into the hands of one that would do it? What monsters then of inhumanity are you, that read in Scripture which is the way to hell, and who they be that God will deliver up to Satan, to be tormented by him; and yet will bring up your children in that very way, and will not take pains to save them from it! What a stir do you make to provide them food and raiment, and a competent maintenance in the world when you are dead! and how little pains take you to prepare their souls for the heavenly inheritance! . . . If you love them, show it in those things on which their everlasting welfare depends. Do not say you love them, and yet lead them unto hell.”
Motive #12: Your children do not belong to you so much as they belong to God. They have been placed into your temporary care for proper rearing and training. And what is the end to which each and every child is to be raised? That they would walk worthy of God, First Thessalonians 2.12. Therefore, do not in effect steal them from God by neglectfully delivering into the Devil’s hands by not raising them up in godly fashion.
Motive #13: When that child was born, did you dedicate him to God? Did you feel any holy obligation to raise that child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Then do not neglect to fulfill your vow now. Do not think it wise if you fail to do your duty toward God for the child now.
Motive #14: There are only two influences in any child’s life, the influence of his nature and the influence of God’s grace. Your child’s nature is sinful, wicked, inclined against God, directed toward Hell. How is grace to come into your child’s life, if not by you? You should minister grace to your child by your speaking and by your correction and by your tender care. And the earlier you begin ministering grace to your child the sooner grace can begin to catch up to the head start of your child’s sinful nature. Recognize your role in the child’s life. If you do not provide religious instruction in your home, who is to provide it? Our text reads, “Hear the instruction of thy father.”
Motive #15: Consider the advantages you have over anyone else in providing spiritual training to your child: 1. Your children will realize your love for them by means of this instruction than by any other means. 2. Your love prepares you for success, since they will listen more to one who loves them greatly than they will listen to anyone else. 3. You have the opportunity to begin teaching them and training them before false teachers have access to them. 4. Your kids are totally dependent upon you for their survival, therefore they are much more likely to listen to you than anyone else. 5. You have authority over your children given to you by God and unquestioned by anyone else. 6. You only have the right to correct your children with the rod to reinforce your teaching. 7. You know your children better than anyone else does. 8. You have more opportunity to supervise them than anyone else, seeing what progress they are making with your instruction. 9. You have better opportunity to speak to them individually and intimately than any preacher. 10. You have the best opportunity to repeat your instructions, driving important points home in their minds and hearts by needful repetition. 11. You have the best opportunity to alter their circumstances to remove them from bad influences. 12. Your example is so near to them that, if you are godly, they can follow your example. The task is awesome, but the opportunities are great.
Motive #16: Have you ever thought about how fulfilled you will be in your old age if you have raised your children in godly fashion? You will love them more because they will be more lovely. You will have rest in your heart, knowing that your children are heaven-bound. You won’t be bothered by the reckless behavior the parents of ungodly kids are troubled with, bailing them out of jail, bearing the financial burdens caused by neglect and sin, seeing the heartache of your grandchildren’s troubled lives. The golden years are supposed to be the golden years. Make them so by being a godly father who raises his children in a fashion that God is pleased with.
Motive #17: Remember that your children’s sinful nature came to them by you. They inherited their spiritual disposition from you. Therefore, you owe it to them, it is a holy obligation, for you to raise them in such a way that they are more likely to come to Christ and be forgiven of their sins. Making sure they are in Church faithfully is certainly a beginning, but it is far from enough.
Motive #18: Finally, consider your children’s great need. Your children, who I suppose you claim to love, are in desperate need of Jesus Christ. They need their sins forgiven. They need to know God and to be known of God. They need the indwelling Spirit of God. They need a heavenly Father. If, for no other reason than their great need, duty demands that you provide for your children a holy and careful education. Love your children enough to be a godly father and husband.
Awesome are the duties and obligations of a father. Impossible is the task of being a good father . . . unless you are a Christian dad who can appropriate the grace of Almighty God to accomplish the task. In other words, dad, your kids have almost no chance unless you yourself become a Christian. Come and talk to me, or call for an appointment, so we can talk about what steps are to be taken to become a real Christian.
Note: Following are the two chapters from Richard Baxter’s A Christian Directory.
SPECIAL MOTIVES TO PERSUADE MEN TO THE HOLY GOVERNING OF THEIR FAMILIES.
IF it were but well understood what benefits come by the holy governing of families, and what mischiefs come by its neglect, there would few that walk the streets among us, appear so odious as those careless, ungodly governors that know not nor mind a duty of such exceeding weight. While we lie all as overwhelmed with the calamitous fruits of this neglect, I think meet to try if, with some, the cause may be removed, by awakening sluggish souls to do their undertaken work.
Motive I. Consider that the holy government of families, is a considerable part of God’s own government of the world, and the contrary is a great part of the devil’s government. It hath pleased God to settle as a natural, so a political order in the world, and to honour his creatures to be the instruments of his own operations; and though he could have produced all effects without any inferior causes, and could have governed the world by himself alone without any instruments, (he being not as kings, constrained to make use of deputies and officers, because of their own natural confinement and insufficiency,) yet is he pleased to make inferior causes partakers in such excellent effects, and taketh delight in the frame and order of causes, by which his will among his creatures is accomplished. So that as the several justices in the countries do govern as officers of the king, so every magistrate and master of a family doth govern as an officer of God. And if his government by his officers be put down or neglected, it is a contempt of God himself, or rebellion against him. What is all the practical atheism, and rebellion, and ungodliness of the world, but a rejecting of the government of God? It is not against the being of God in itself considered, that his enemies rise up with malignant, rebellious opposition; but it is against God as the holy and righteous Governor of the world, and especially of themselves. And as in an army, if the corporals, sergeants, and lieutenants, do all neglect their offices, the government of the general or colonels is defeated and of little force; so if the rulers of families and other officers of God will corrupt or neglect their part of government, they do their worst to corrupt or cast out God’s government from the earth. And if God shall not govern in your families, who shall? The devil is always the governor where God’s government is refused; the world and the flesh are the instruments of his government; worldliness and fleshly living are his service: undoubtedly he is the ruler of the family where these prevail, and where faith and godliness do not take place. And what can you expect from such a master?
Motive II. Consider also that an ungoverned, ungodly family is a powerful means to the damnation of all the members of it: it is the common boat or ship that hurrieth souls to hell; that is bound for the devouring gulf: he that is in the devil’s coach or boat is like to go with the rest, as the driver or the boatman pleaseth. But a well-governed family is an excellent help to the saving of all the souls that are in it. As in an ungodly family there are continual temptations to ungodliness, to swearing, and lying, and railing, and wantonness, and contempt of God; so in a godly family there are continual provocations to a holy life, to faith, and love, and obedience, and heavenly-mindedness: temptations to sin are fewer there, than in the devil’s shops and workhouses of sin; the authority of the governors, the conversation of the rest, the examples of all, are great inducements to a holy life. As in a well ordered army of valiant men, every coward is so linked in by order, that he cannot choose but fight and stand to it with the rest, and in a confused rout the valiantest man is borne down by the disorder, and must perish with the rest; even so in a well-ordered, holy family, a wicked man can scarce tell how to live wickedly, but seemeth to be almost a saint, while he is continually among saints, and heareth no words that are profane or filthy, and is kept in to the constant exercises of religion, by the authority and company of those he liveth with. Oh how easy and clean is the way to heaven, in such a gracious, well-ordered family, in comparison of what it is to them that dwell in the distracted families of profane and sensual worldlings! As there is greater probability of the salvation of souls in England where the gospel is preached and professed, than in heathen or Mahometan countries; so there is a greater probability of their salvation that live in the houses and company of the godly, than of the ungodly. In one the advantages of instruction, command, example, and credit, are all on God’s side; and in the other they are on the devil’s side.
Motive III. A holy, well-governed family tendeth not only to the safety of the members, but also to the ease and pleasure of their lives. To live where God’s law is the principal rule, and where you may be daily taught the mysteries of his kingdom, and have the Scriptures opened to you, and be led as by the hand in the paths of life; where the praises of God are daily celebrated, and his name is called upon, and where all do speak the heavenly language, and where God, and Christ, and heaven are both their daily work and recreation; where it is the greatest honour to be most holy and heavenly, and the greatest contention is, who shall be most humble, and godly, and obedient to God and their superiors, and where there is no reviling scorns at godliness, nor any profane and scurrilous talk; what a sweet and happy life is this! Is it not likest to heaven of any thing upon earth? But to live where worldliness, and profaneness, and wantonness, and sensuality bear all the sway, and where God is unknown, and holiness and all religious exercises are matter of contempt and scorn, and where he that will not swear and live profanely doth make himself the hatred and derision of the rest, and where men are known but by their shape and speaking faculty to be men; nay, where men take not themselves for men but for brutes, and live as if they had no rational souls, nor any expectations of another life, nor any higher employments or delights than the transitory concernments of the flesh; what a sordid, loathsome, filthy, miserable life is this! made up by a mixture of beastly and devilish. To live where there is no communion with God, where the marks of death and damnation are written, as it were, upon the doors, in the face of their impious, worldly lives, and where no man understandeth the holy language; and where there is not the least foretaste of the heavenly, everlasting joys; what is this but to live as the serpent’s seed, to feed on dust, and to be excommunicated from the face and favor of God, and to be chained up in the prison of concupiscence and malignity, among his enemies, till the judgment come that is making haste, and will render to all men according to their works.
Motive IV. A holy and well-governed family doth tend to make a holy posterity, and so to propagate the fear of God from generation to generation. It is more comfortable to have no children, than to beget and breed up children for the devil. Their natural corruption is advantage enough to Satan, to engage them to himself, and use them for his service: but when parents shall also take the devil’s part, and teach their children by precepts or example how to serve him, and shall estrange them from God and a holy life, and fill their minds with false conceits and prejudice against the means of their salvation, as if they had sold their children to the devil; no wonder then if they have a black posterity, that are trained up to be heirs of hell. He that will train up children for God, must begin betimes; before sensitive objects take too deep possession of their hearts, and custom increase the pravity of their nature. Original sin is like the arched Indian fig tree, whose branches turning downwards and taking root, do all become as trees themselves: the acts which proceed from this habitual viciousness, do turn again into vicious habits: and thus sinful nature doth by its fruits increase itself: and when other things consume themselves by breeding, all that sin breedeth is added to itself; and its breeding is its feeding, and every act doth confirm the habit. And therefore no means in all the world doth more effectually tend to the happiness of souls, than wise and holy education. This dealeth with sin before it hath taken the deepest root, and boweth nature while it is but a twig: it preventeth the increase of natural pravity, and keepeth out those deceits, corrupt opinions, and carnal fantasies and lusts, which else would be serviceable to sin and Satan ever after: it delivereth up the heart to Christ betimes, or at least doth bring him a disciple to his school to learn the way to life eternal; and to spend those years in acquainting himself with the ways of God, which others spend in growing worse, and learning that which must be again unlearned, and in fortifying Satan’s garrison in their hearts, and defending it against Christ and his saving grace. But of this more anon.
Motive V. A holy, well-governed family is the preparative to a holy and well-governed church. If masters of families did their parts, and sent such polished materials to the churches, as they ought to do, the work and life of the pastors of the church would be unspeakably more easy and delightful; it would do one good to preach to such an auditory, and to catechize them, and instruct them, and examine them, and watch over them, who are prepared by a wise and holy education, and understand and love the doctrine which they hear. To lay such polished stones in the building is an easy and delightful work; how teachable and tractable will such be! and how prosperously will the labours of their pastors be laid out upon them! and how comely and beautiful the churches be, which are composed of such persons! and how pure and comfortable will their communion be! But if the churches be sties of unclean beasts; if they are made up of ignorant and ungodly persons, that savour nothing but the things of the flesh, and use to worship they know not what, we may thank ill-governed families for all this. It is long of them that ministers preach as to idiots or barbarians that cannot understand them; and that they must be always feeding their auditors with milk, and teaching them the principles and catechizing them in the church, which should have been done at home: yea, it is long of them that there are so many wolves and swine among the sheep of Christ, and that holy things are administered to the enemies of holiness, and the godly live in communion with the haters of God and godliness; and that the Christian religion is dishonoured before the heathen world, by the worse than heathenish lives of the professors; and the pollutions of the churches do hinder the conversion of the unbelieving world; whilst they that can judge of our religion no way but by the people that profess it, do judge of it by the lives of them that are in heart the enemies of it. When the haters of Christianity and godliness are the Christians by whose conversations the infidel world must judge of Christianity, you may easily conjecture what judgment they are like to make. Thus pastors are discouraged, the churches defiled, religion disgraced, and infidels hardened through the impious disorder and negligence of families! What universities were we like to have, if all the grammar schools should neglect their duties, and send up their scholars untaught as they received them! and if all tutors must teach their pupils first to spell and read! Even such churches we are like to have, when every pastor must first do the work, which all the masters of families should have done, and the part of many score, or hundreds, or thousands, must be performed by one.
Motive VI. Well-governed families tend to make a happy state and commonwealth; a good education is the first and greatest work to make good magistrates and good subjects, because it tends to make good men. Though a good man may be a bad magistrate, yet a bad man cannot be a very good magistrate. The ignorance, or worldliness, or sensuality, or enmity to godliness, which grew up with them in their youth, will show itself in all the places and relations that ever they shall come into. When an ungodly family hath once confirmed them in wickedness, they will do wickedly in every state of life: when a perfidious parent hath betrayed his children into the power and service of the devil, they will serve him in all relations and conditions. This is the school from whence come all the injustice, and cruelties, and persecutions, and impieties of magistrates, and all the murmurings and rebellions of subjects: this is the soil and seminary where the seed of the devil is first sown, and where he nurseth up the plants of covetousness, and pride, and ambition, and revenge, malignity, and sensuality, till he transplant them for his service into several offices in church and state, and into all places of inferiority, where they may disperse their venom, and resist all that is good, and contend for the interest of the flesh and hell, against the interest of the Spirit and of Christ. But oh! what a blessing to the world would they be, that shall come prepared by a holy education to places of government and subjection! And how happy is that land that is ruled by such superiors, and consisteth of such prepared subjects, as have first learnt to be subject to God and to their parents!
Motive VII. If the governors of families did faithfully perform their duties, it would be a great supply as to any defects in the pastor’s part, and a singular means to propagate and preserve religion in times of public negligence or persecution. Therefore Christian families are called churches, because they consist of holy persons, that worship God, and learn, and love, and obey his word. If you lived among the enemies of religion, that forbad Christ’s ministers to preach his gospel, and forbad God’s servants to meet in church assemblies for his worship; the support of religion, and the comfort and edification of believers, would then lie almost all upon the right performance of family duties. There masters might teach the same truth to their households, which ministers are forbidden to preach in the assemblies: there you might pray together as fervently and spiritually as you can: there you may keep up as holy converse and communion, and as strict a discipline, as you please: there you may celebrate the praises of your blessed Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, and observe the Lord’s day in as exact and spiritual a manner as you are able: you may there provoke one another to love and to good works, and rebuke every sin, and mind each other to prepare for death, and live together as passengers to eternal life. Thus holy families may keep up religion, and keep up the life and comfort of believers, and supply the want of public preaching, in those countries where persecutors prohibit and restrain it, or where unable or unfaithful pastors do neglect it.
Motive VIII. The duties of your families are such as you may perform with greatest peace, and least exception or opposition from others. When you go further, and would be instructing others, they will think you go beyond your call, and many will be suspicious that you take too much upon you; and if you do but gently admonish a rout of such as the Sodomites, perhaps they will say, “This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge,” Gen. 19.9. But your own house is your castle; your family is your charge; you may teach them as oft and as diligently as you will. If the ungodly rabble scorn you for it, yet no sober person will condemn you, nor trouble you for it (if you teach them no evil). All men must confess that nature and Scripture oblige you to it as your unquestionable work. And therefore you may do it (among sober people) with approbation and quietness.
Motive IX. Well-governed families are honourable and exemplary unto others. Even the worldly and ungodly use to bear a certain reverence to them; for holiness and order have some witness that commendeth them, in the consciences of many that never practised them. A worldly, ungodly, disordered family, is a den of snakes, a place of hissing, railing, folly, and confusion: it is like a wilderness overgrown with briers and weeds; but a holy family is a garden of God; it is beautified with his graces, and ordered by his government, and fruitful by the showers of his heavenly blessing. And as the very sluggard, that will not be at the cost and pains to make a garden of his thorny wilderness, may yet confess that a garden is more beautiful, and fruitful, and delightful, and if wishing would do it, his wilderness should be such; even so the ungodly, that will not be at the cost and pains to order their souls and families in holiness, may yet see a beauty in those that are so ordered, and wish for the happiness of such, if they could have it without the labor and cost of self-denial. And, no doubt, the beauty of such holy and well-governed families hath convinced many, and drawn them to a great approbation of religion, and occasioned them at last to imitate them.
Motive X. Lastly, consider, that holy, well-governed families are blessed with the special presence and favour of God. They are his churches where he is worshipped; his houses where he dwelleth: he is engaged both by love and promise to bless, protect, and prosper them, Psal. 1.3; 128. It is safe to sail in that ship which is bound for heaven, and where Christ is the pilot. But when you reject His government, you refuse his company, and contemn his favour, and forfeit his blessing, by despising his presence, his interest, and his commands.
So that it is an evident truth, that most of the mischiefs that now infest or seize upon mankind throughout the earth, consist in, or are caused by, the disorders and ill-governedness of families. These are the schools and shops of Satan, from whence proceed the beastly ignorance, lust, and sensuality, the devilish pride, malignity, and cruelty against the holy ways of God, which have so unmanned the progeny of Adam. These are the nests in which the serpent doth hatch the eggs of covetousness, envy, strife, revenge, of tyranny, disobedience, wars, and bloodshed, and all the leprosy of sin that hath so odiously contaminated human nature, and all the miseries by which they make the world calamitous. Do you wonder that there can be persons and nations so blind and barbarous as we read of the Turks, Tartarians, Indians, and most of the inhabitants of the earth? A wicked education is the cause of all, which finding nature depraved, doth sublimate and increase the venom which should by education have been cured; and from the wickedness of families doth national wickedness arise. Do you wonder that so much ignorance, and voluntary deceit, and obstinacy in errors, contrary to all men’s common senses, can be found among professed Christians, as great and small, high and low, through all the papal kingdoms, do discover? Though the pride, and covetousness, and wickedness of a worldly, carnal clergy, is a very great cause, yet the sinful negligence of parents and masters in their families is as great, if not much greater than that. Do you wonder that even in the reformed churches, there can be so many unreformed sinners, of beastly lives, that hate the serious practice of the religion which themselves profess? It is ill education in ungodly families that is the cause of all this. Oh therefore how great and necessary a work is it, to cast salt into these corrupted fountains! Cleanse and cure these vitiated families, and you may cure almost all the calamities of the earth. To tell what the emperors and princes of the earth might do, if they were wise and good, to the remedy of this common misery, is the idle talk of those negligent persons, who condemn themselves in condemning others. Even those rulers and princes that are the pillars and patrons of heathenism, Mahometanism, popery, and ungodliness in the world, did themselves receive that venom from their parents, in their birth and education, which inclineth them to all this mischief. Family reformation is the easiest and the most likely way to a common reformation; at least to send many souls to heaven, and train up multitudes for God, if it reach not to national reformation.
MORE SPECIAL MOTIVES FOR A HOLY AND CAREFUL EDUCATION OF CHILDREN
BECAUSE the chief part of family care and government consisteth in the right education of children, I shall adjoin here some more special motives to quicken considerate parents to this duty; and though most that I have to say for it be already said in my “Saints’ Rest,” part iii. chap. 14. sect. 11, &c. and therefore shall be here omitted, yet something shall be inserted, lest the want here should appear too great.
Motive I. Consider how deeply nature itself doth engage you to the greatest care and diligence for the holy education of your children. They are, as it were, parts of yourselves, and those that nature teacheth you to love and provide for, and take most care for, next yourselves; and will you be regardless of their chief concernments? and neglective of their souls? Will you no other way show your love to your children, than every beast or bird will to their young, to cherish them till they can go abroad and shift for themselves, for corporal sustenance? It is not dogs or beasts that you bring into the world, but children that have immortal souls; and therefore it is a care and education suitable to their natures which you owe them; even such as conduceth most effectual to the happiness of their souls. Nature teacheth them some natural things without you, as it doth the bird to fly; but it hath committed it to your trust and care to teach them the greatest and most necessary things: if you should think that you have nothing to do but to feed them, and leave all the rest to nature, then they would not learn to speak; and if nature itself would condemn you, if you teach them not to speak, it will much more condemn you, if you teach them not to understand both what they ought to speak and do. They have an everlasting inheritance of happiness to attain; and it is that which you must bring them up for. They have an endless misery to escape; and it is that which you must diligently teach them. If you teach them not to escape the flames of hell, what thanks do they owe you for teaching them to speak and go? If you teach them not the way to heaven, and how they may make sure of their salvation, what thanks do they owe you for teaching them how to get their livings a little while in a miserable world? If you teach them not to know God, and how to serve him, and be saved, you teach them nothing, or worse than nothing. It is in your hands to do them the greatest kindness or cruelty in all the world: help them to know God and to be saved, and you do more for them than if you helped them to be lords or princes: if you neglect their souls, and breed them in ignorance, worldliness, ungodliness, and sin, you betray them to the devil, the enemy of souls, even as truly as if you sold them to him; you sell them to be slaves to Satan; you betray them to him that will deceive them and abuse them in this life, and torment them in the next. If you saw but a burning furnace, much more the flames of hell, would you not think that man or woman more fit to be called a devil than a parent, that could find in their hearts to cast their child into it, or to put him into the hands of one that would do it? What monsters then of inhumanity are you, that read in Scripture which is the way to hell, and who they be that God will deliver up to Satan, to be tormented by him; and yet will bring up your children in that very way, and will not take pains to save them from it! What a stir do you make to provide them food and raiment, and a competent maintenance in the world when you are dead! and how little pains take you to prepare their souls for the heavenly inheritance! if you seriously believe that there are such joys or torments for your children (and yourselves) as soon as death removeth you hence, is it possible that you should take this for the least of their concernments, and make it the least and last of your cares, to assure them of an endless happiness? If you love them, show it in those things on which their everlasting welfare doth depend. Do not say you love them, and yet lead them unto hell. If you love them not, yet be not so unmerciful to them as to damn them: it is not your saying, God forbid, and we hope better, that will make it better, or be any excuse to you. What can you do more to damn them, if you studied to do it as maliciously as the devil himself? You cannot possibly do more, than to bring them up in ignorance, carelessness, worldliness, sensuality, and ungodliness. The devil can do nothing else to damn either them or you, but by tempting to sin, and drawing you from godliness. There is no other way to hell. No man is damned for, any thing but this. And yet will you bring them up in such a life, and say, God forbid, we do not desire to damn them? but it is no wonder; when you do by your children but as you do by yourselves. Who can look that a man should be reasonable for his child, that is so unreasonable for himself? or that those parents should have any mercy on their children’s souls, that have no mercy on their own? You desire not to damn yourselves, but yet you do it, if you live ungodly lives: and so you will do by your children, if you train them up in ignorance of God, and in the service of the flesh and world. You do like one that should set fire on his house and say, God forbid, I intend not to burn it: or like one that casteth his child into the sea, and saith, he intendeth not to drown him; or traineth him up in robbing and thievery, and saith, he intendeth not to have him hanged; but if you intend to make a thief of him, it is all one in effect, as if you intended his hanging; for the law determineth it, and the judge will intend it. So if you intend to train up your children in ungodliness, as if they had no God nor souls to mind, you may as well say, you intend to have them damned. And were not an enemy, yea, is not the devil more excusable, for dealing thus cruelly by your children, than you that are their parents, that are bound by nature to love them, and prevent their misery? It is odious in ministers that take the charge of souls, to betray them by their negligence, and be guilty of their everlasting misery; but in parents it is more unnatural, and therefore more inexcusable.
Motive II. Consider that God is the Lord and Owner of your children, both by the title of creation and redemption: therefore in justice you must resign them to him, and educate them for him. Otherwise you rob God of his own creatures, and rob Christ of those for whom he died, and this to give j them to the devil, the enemy of God and them. It was not the world, the flesh, or the devil that created them, or redeemed them, but God; and it is not possible for any right to be built upon a fuller title, than to make them of nothing, and redeem them from a state far worse than nothing. And after all this, shall the very parents of such children steal them from their absolute Lord and Father, and sell them to slavery and torment?
Motive III. Remember that in their baptism you did dedicate them to God; you entered them into a solemn vow and covenant, to be wholly his, and to live to him. Therein they renounced the flesh, the world, and the devil; therein you promised to bring them up virtuously, to lead a godly and christian life, that they might obediently keep God’s holy will. and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of their lives. And after all - this, will you break so solemn a promise, and cause them to break such a vow and covenant, by bringing them up in ignorance and ungodliness? Did you understand and consider what you then did? how solemnly you yourselves engaged them in a vow to God, to live a mortified and a holy life? And will you so solemnly do that in an hour, which all their life after with you, you will endeavour to destroy?
Motive IV. Consider how great power the education of children hath upon all their following lives; except nature and grace, there is nothing that usually doth prevail so much with them. Indeed the obstinacy of natural viciousness doth often frustrate a good education; but if any means be like to do good, it is this; but ill education is more constantly successful, to make them evil. This cherisheth those seeds of wickedness which spring up when they come to age; this maketh so many to be proud, and idle, and flesh-pleasers, and licentious, and lustful, and covetous, and all that is naught. And he hath a hard task that cometh after to root out these vices, which an ungodly education hath so deeply radicated. Ungodly parents do serve the devil so effectually in the first impressions on their children’s minds, that it is more than magistrates and ministers and all reforming means can afterwards do to recover them from that sin to God. ‘Whereas if you would first engage their hearts to God by a religious education, piety would then have all those advantages that sin hath now. Prov. 12.6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart. from it.” The language which you teach them to speak when they are children, they will use all their life after, if they live with those that use it. And so the opinions which they first receive, and the customs which they are used to at first, are very hardly changed afterward. I doubt not to affirm, that a godly education is God’s first and ordinary appointed means, for the begetting of actual faith, and other graces, in the children of believers: many may have seminal grace before, but they cannot sooner have actual faith, repentance, love, or any grace, than they have reason itself in act and exercise. And the preaching of the word by public ministers is not the first ordinary means of grace, to any but those that were graceless till they come to hear such preaching; that is, to those on whom the first appointed means hath been neglected, or proved in vain: that is, it is but the second means, to do that which was not done by the first. The proof is undeniable; because God appointeth parents diligently to teach their children the doctrine of his holy word, before they come to. the public ministry: parents’ teaching is the first teaching; and parents’ teaching is for this end, as well as public teaching, even to beget faith, and love, and holiness; and God appointeth no means to be used by us, on which we may not expect his blessing. Therefore it is apparent, that the ordinary appointed means for the first actual grace, is parents’ godly instruction and education of their children. And public preaching is appointed for the conversion of those only that have missed the blessing of the first appointed means. Therefore if you deny your children religious education, you deny them the first appointed means of their actual faith and sanctification; and then the second cometh upon disadvantage.
Motive V. Consider also how many and great are your advantages above all others for your children’s good. As, 1. Nothing doth take so much with any one, as that which is known to come from love: the greater love is discerned in your instruction, the greater success may you expect. Now your children are more confident of their parents’ love, than of any others; whether ministers and strangers speak to them in love, they cannot tell; but of their parents’ love they make no doubt. 2. And their love to you is as great a preparative to your success. We all hearken to them that we dearly love, with greater attention and willingness than to others. They love not the minister as they do their parents. 3. You have them in hand betimes, before they have received any false opinions or bad impressions; before they have any sin but that which was born with them: you are to make the first impressions upon them; you have them while they are most teachable, and flexible, and tender, and make least resistance against instruction; they rise not up at first against your teaching with self-conceitedness and proud objections. But when they come to the minister, they are as paper that is written on or printed before, unapt to receive another impression; they have much to be untaught, before they can be taught; and come with proud and stiff resistance, to strive against instruction, rather than readily to receive it. 4. Your children do wholly depend on you for their present maintenance, and much for their future livelihood and portions; and therefore they know that it is their interest to obey and please you; and as interest is the common bias of the world, so is it with your children; you may easilier rule them that have this handle to hold them by, than any other can do that have not this advantage. They know they serve you not for nought. 5. Your authority over your children is most unquestionable. They will dispute the authority of ministers, yea, and of magistrates, and ask them who gave them the power to teach them, and to command them? But the parents’ authority is beyond all dispute. They will not call you tyrants or usurpers, nor bid you prove the validity of your ordination, or the uninterruptedness of your succession. Therefore father and mother, as the first natural power, are mentioned rather than kings or queens in the fifth commandment. 6. You have the power of the rod to force them. Prov. 12.15, “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” And your correction will be better understood to come from love, than that of the magistrate or any other. 7. You have best opportunity to know both the diseases and temperature of your children; which is a great advantage for the choosing and applying of the best remedy. 8. You have opportunity of watching over them, and discerning all their faults in time; but if a minister speak to them, he can know no more what fault to reprehend, than others tell him, or the party will., confess. You may also discern what success your former exhortations had, and whether they amend or still go on in sin, and whether you should proceed to more severe remedies. 9. You have opportunity of speaking to them in the most familiar manner; which is better understood than the set speech of a minister in the pulpit, which few of them mark or understand. You can quicken their attention by questions which put them upon answering you, and so awaken them to a serious regard of what you say. 10. You are so frequently with them, that you can repeat your instructions, and drive them home, that what is not done at one time, may be done at another; whereas other men can seldom speak to them, and what is so seldom spoken is easily neglected or forgotten. 11. You have power to place them under the best means, and to remove many impediments .out of their way which usually frustrate other men’s endeavours. 12. Your example is near them and continually in their sight, which is a continual and powerful sermon. By all these advantages God hath enabled you, above all others, to be instruments of your children’s good, and the first and greatest promoters of their salvation.
Motive VI. Consider how great a comfort it would be to you, to have your children such as you may confidently hope are the children of God, being brought to know him, and love, and serve him, through your own endeavours in a pious education of them. 1. You may love your children upon a higher account than as they are yours; even as they are God’s, adorned with his image, and quickened with a divine celestial life; and this is to love them with a higher kind of love, than mere natural affection is. It would rejoice you to see your children advanced to he lords or princes; but oh how much greater cause of joy is it, to see them made the members of Christ, and quickened by his Spirit, and sealed up for life eternal! 2. When once your children are made the children of God, by the regeneration of the Spirit, you may be much more free from care and trouble for them than before. Now you may boldly trust them on the care of their heavenly Father, who is able to do more for them than you are able to desire: he loveth them better than you can love them; he is bound by promise to protect them, and provide for them, and to see that all things work together for their good. He that clotheth the lilies of the fields, and suffereth not the young. lions or ravens to be unprovided for, will provide convenient food for his own children (though he will have you also do your duty for them, as they are your children). While they are the children of Satan, and the servants of sin, you have cause to fear, not only lest they be exposed to miseries in this world, but much more lest they be snatched away in their sin to hell: your children, while they are ungodly, are worse than among wolves and tigers. But when once they are renewed by the Spirit of Christ, they are the charge of all the blessed Trinity, and under God the charge of angels: living or dying they are safe; for ‘the eternal God is their portion and defence. 3. It may be a continual comfort to you to think what a deal of drudgery and calamity your child is freed from: to think how many oaths he would have sworn, and how many lies and curses he would have uttered, and how beastly and fleshly a life he would have lived, how much wrong he would have done to God and men, and how much he would have pleased the devil, and what torments in hell he must have endured as the reward of all; and then to think how mercifully God bath prevented all this; and what service he may do God in the world, and finally live with Christ in glory: what a joy is this to a considering, believing parent, that taketh the mercies of his children as his own! 4. Religion will teach your children to be more dutiful to yourselves, than nature can teach them. It will teach them to love you, even when you have no more to give them, as well as if you had the wealth of all the world: it will teach them to honour you, though you are poor and contemptible in the eyes of others. It will teach them to obey you, and if you fall into want, to relieve you according to their power: it will fit them to comfort you in the time of your sickness and distress; when ungodly children will be as thorns in your feet or eyes, and cut your hearts, and prove a greater grief than any enemies to you. A gracious child will bear with your weaknesses, when a Ham will not cover his father’s nakedness: a gracious child can pray for you, and pray with you, and be a blessing to your house; when an ungodly child is fitter to curse, and prove a curse, to those he lives with. 5. And is it not an exceeding joy to think of the everlasting happiness of your child? and that you may live together in heaven for ever? ‘when the foreseen misery of a graceless child may grieve you whenever you look him in the face. 6. Lastly, it will be a great addition to your joy, to think that God blessed your diligent instructions, and made you the instrument of all that good that is done upon your children, and of all that good that is done by them, and of all the happiness they have for ever. To think that this was conveyed to them by your means, will give you a larger share in the delights of it.
Motive VII. Remember that your children’s original sin and misery is by you; and therefore, in justice, you that have undone them, are bound to do your best to save them. If you had but conveyed a leprosy, or some hereditary disease, to their bodies, would you have not done your best to cure them? Oh that you could do them but as much good as you do them hurt! It is more than Adam’s sin that runneth down into the natures of your children, yea, and that bringeth judgments on them; and even Adam’s sin cometh not to them but by you.
Motive VIII. Lastly, Consider what exceeding great need they have of the utmost help you can afford them. It is not a corporal disease, an easy enemy, a tolerable misery, that we call unto you for their help; but it is against sin, and Satan, and hellfire. It is against a body of sin; not one, but many; not small, but pernicious, having seized on the heart; deep-rooted sins, that are not easily plucked up. All the teaching, and diligence, and watchfulness that you can use, is little enough, and may prove too little. They are obstinate vices that have possessed: them; they are not quickly nor easily cast out; and the remnants and roots are apt to be still springing up again, when you thought they had been quite destroyed: oh then what wisdom and diligence is requisite to so great and necessary a work!
And now let me seriously speak to the hearts of those careless and ungodly parents, that neglect the holy education of their children: yea, and to those professors of godliness, that slubber over so great a work with a few customary formal duties and words, that are next to a total omission of it. Oh be not so unmerciful to the souls that you have helped to bring into the world! Think not so basely of them, as if they were not worth your labour. Make not your children so like your beasts, as to make no provision but only for their flesh. Remember still that it is not beasts, but men, that you have begotten and brought forth: educate them then and use them as men, for the love and obedience of their Maker: oh pity and help the souls that you have defiled and undone! Have mercy on the souls that must perish in hell, if they be not saved in this day of salvation! Oh help them that have so many enemies to assault them! Help them that have so many temptations to pass through; and so many difficulties to overcome; and so severe a judgment to undergo! Help them that are so weak, and so easily deceived and overthrown! Help them speedily while your advantages continue; before sin have hardened them, and grace have forsaken them, and Satan place a stronger garrison in their hearts. Help them while they are tractable, before they are grown up to despise your help; before you and they are separated asunder, and your opportunities be at an end. You think not your pains from year to year too much to make pro vision for their bodies: oh be not cruel to their souls! Sell them not to Satan, and that for nought! Betray them not by your ungodly negligence to hell. Or if any of them will perish, let it not be by you, that are so much bound to do them good: the undoing of your children’s souls is a work much fitter for Satan, than for their parents. Remember how comfortable a thing it is, to work with Christ for the saving of souls. You think the calling of ministers honourable and happy; and so it is, because they serve Christ in so high a work: but if you will not neglect it, you may do for your children more than any minister can do. This is your preaching place.; here God calleth you to exercise your parts, even in the holy instruction of your families: your charge is small in comparison of the minister’s, he hath many hundred souls to watch over, that are scattered all abroad the parish; and will you think it much to instruct and watch over those few of your own that are under your roof? You can speak odiously of unfaithful, soul-betraying ministers’; and do you not consider how odious a soul-betraying parent is? If God intrust you but with earthly talents, take heed how you use them, for you must be accountable for your trust; and when he hath intrusted you with souls, even your children’s souls, will you betray them? If any rulers should but forbid you the instructing and well-governing of your families, and restrain you by a law, as they would have restrained Daniel from praying in his house, Dan. vi. then you would think them monsters of impiety and inhumanity; and you would cry out of a satanical persecution, that would make men traitors to their children’s souls, and drive away all religion from the earth. And yet how easily can you neglect such duties, when none forbid them you, and never accuse yourselves of any such horrid impiety or inhumanity? What hypocrisy and blind partiality is this! Like a lazy minister that would cry out of persecution, if he were silenced by others, and yet will not be provoked to be laborious, but ordinarily by his slothfulness silence himself, .and make no such matter of it. Would it be so heinous a sin in another to restrain you? and is it not as heinous for you, that are so much obliged to it, voluntarily to restrain yourselves? O then deny not this necessary diligence to your necessitous children, as you love their souls, as you love the happiness of the church or commonwealth, as you love the honour and interest of Christ, and as you love your present and everlasting peace. Do not see your children the slaves of Satan here, and the firebrands of hell for ever, if any diligence of yours may contribute to prevent it. Do not give conscience such matter of accusation against you, as to say, All this was long of thee! If thou hadst instructed them diligently, and watched over them, and corrected them, and done thy part, it is like they had never come to this. You till your fields; you weed your gardens; what pains take you about your grounds and cattle! and will you not take more for your children’s souls? Alas, what creatures will they be if you leave them to themselves! how ignorant, careless, rude, and beastly! Oh what a lamentable case have ungodly parents brought the world into! Ignorance and selfishness, beastly sensuality, and devilish malignity, have covered the face of the earth as a deluge, and driven away wisdom, and self-denial, and piety, and charity, and justice, and temperance almost out of the world, confining them to the breasts of a few obscure, humble souls, that love virtue for virtue’s sake, and Took for their reward from God alone, and expect that by abstaining from iniquity they make themselves a prey to wolves, Isa. 59.15. Wicked education bath unmanned the world, and subdued it to Satan, and make it almost like to hell. O do not join with the sons of Belial in this unnatural, horrid wickedness!
David Blankenhorn, Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1995), pages 185-187.
Frank F. Furstenburg, Jr., “History and Current Status of Divorce in the United States,” The Future of Children 4, no. 1(Los Altos, California: Center for the Future of Children, spring 1994), page 37.
See footnote for Proverbs 1.8 in John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 877.
Dust cover citation of Dr. Timothy Keller, Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory, (Morgan, Pennsylvania: Soli Deo Gloria, 1846)
Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory, (Morgan, Pennsylvania: Soli Deo Gloria, 1846), pages 427-428.
Richard Baxter, A Christian Directory, (Morgan, Pennsylvania: Soli Deo Gloria, 1846), pages 424-431.