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The Church's Duty to Parents

NOTES.
The Church's Duty to Parents.

ASHOET account of the origin of this book may not be without its interest, and may be the best explanation of its object.

When first I entered the ministry, thirty-six years ago, I was placed in charge of the whole of what is now the Orange Free State. As the neighbouring territory of the Transvaal was at that time also without a minister,.I had to supply its wants too. With a large population, so widely scattered, each of the separate congregations could only be visited at distant intervals. When services were held there always was a large gathering, with very large numbers of children to be baptized; in the Transvaal I repeatedly baptized a hundred and upwards on each of several consecutive Sabbaths.

In some of the congregations of our Church the custom existed of meeting the parents, when they applied for the baptism of their children, to explain the meaning of the ordinance, and to insist upon earnest preparation for a believing reception of it, as well as for the duties undertaken in it. In the course of these conversations I became deeply impressed with the ignorance prevailing as to the object of the ordinance, and the large extent to which it had become a mere religious ceremony. And I was almost involuntarily led, in connection with every baptism service, to make parental duty the subject of the sermon. I began to realize very painfully of how little value infant baptism could be apart from the parent's believing apprehension of God's promise, and his faithful fulfilment of parental duty.

In the course of my further ministerial labours in my own congregation these convictions were deepened. In the effort to encourage parents to seek religious instruction for their children, it became manifest how much labour in this direction was lost because the foundation which God had meant should be laid, in parental instruction, was wanting. I saw that God would not allow even a faithful minister to usurp the place or do the work destined by Him for the parent. It became plain that, in the threefold cord of home, school, and Church instruction, the home had the first and in some respects the most important place. If the Church would do her work successfully, she must direct to the training of parents her first and best efforts. Through these she would reach the children far more effectually than by any other methods.

I looked around to see how the Christian Church elsewhere was combating the evil. I heard some voices crying in great earnestness that the children are the Church of the future, and that they ought to have a larger place in her care than hitherto. I saw that Sunday schools, and, later on, children's services, were wakening large interest; that faith in children's conversion and in revival work among them was gaining ground. And yet there appeared to me to be something lacking. I listened to hear whether I could hear a clear and distinct witness in the Church in regard to the parents' place, their inalienable right, their incomparable influence as the ministers of God's grace to the children. I fancied I did not. The truth was acknowledged by all, but little insisted on. In but few cases could I hear of systematic attempts, on the part of the Church, to instruct and encourage parents by the full exposition of their duties and God's promises.

A little thought will convince us that this is a fatal mistake. One of the marks of men who have succeeded in influencing and ruling their fellowmen, and one of the secrets of their success, has ever been the gift of enlisting and inspiring the service of others. This is what the Church must study to do, not only with regard to those who are ordinarily called Christian workers, but specially with that band of God's own workers, the parents there are in every congregation, to whom its children are entrusted. Teach, train, stir up, encourage these to their work, and there is hope, there is more than hope, there is assurance for the future. Let the minister, instead of preaching almost solely to individuals, whether it be conversion or sanctification, for a season, or at stated intervals, make it his special object to guide the parents of his congregation; he will stir and strengthen one of the mightiest agencies in the service of God's kingdom. The work of a parent is one of extreme solemnity and difficulty. It needs great wisdom and patience, much self-control and prayer and faith. As we do not expect a believer to advance in the Christian life without the teaching of the Word, much less must we look for a parent to be able to do his work aright without instruction and encouragement.

It was under the impression of thoughts such as these that I was led, when other ministers took part of the work from me, and I could devote myself to my own congregation, to appoint one Sunday in every month for the celebration of baptism, and to arrange that the whole service — singing, reading, prayer, and preaching — should have reference to the one thing: God's purpose with the family, and the way in which parents had to fulfil it. It cannot but strike any but the most thoughtless observer what a difference is ordinarily made between the two sacraments instituted by our Saviour. With the Lord's Supper, how much solemnity, what earnest preparation, how much of teaching and preaching and praying to make it profitable. With baptism, on the contrary, what haste, what absence of teaching, what irreverence often where it is performed at the close of a service or in the house. With the Lord's Supper, how much definite promise and expectation of blessing; with baptism, how little. And yet the two sacraments are equally sacred; they equally represent the precious blood and the new covenant of which it is the seal; they equally claim the faith and the surrender of the heart. The attempt on the part of the Church to connect baptism more definitely with the faith and the duty of parents, to let them feel more deeply how it was to their faith that the promise of the covenant for their child was given, and to their faithfulness that its training was committed, would most assuredly bring a blessing.

I soon found that baptism-Sunday was looked forward to with special interest. One might have thought that for ordinary hearers the subject would be less attractive; on the contrary, no sermons were listened to with greater attention. Brethren in the ministry have asked whether the supply of texts was not speedily exhausted: experience has taught here, as in other matters, that when once God's Word is searched with a special object in view, words and histories, which were never noticed before, become luminous with a new meaning. In illustrating the lives and characters of the parents and children of the Bible, in setting forth all God's teachings and dealings with reference to them, abundance of the richest matter was found. In dealing with the special sins of children, or inculcating children's virtues, in setting forth the wondrous nature of the being entrusted to them, and some of the laws by which his conduct is actuated, it was found that often the teaching given for the control of children was the most profitable that could be found for those who wanted help in their own moral self-culture.

It is now more than twenty years since the original of the present volume was published in Dutch, in meditations for a month, each containing a short summary of some sermon that had been preached on such occasions. Since that time many a new subject has been treated, and I have been led now to prepare a series of fifty-two— one for each week. I have done this in the hope that some Christian parents, who feel the need of such help, perhaps young parents, may be led once a week, on the Sunday afternoon or evening, or at some other time, to read and meditate and pray together over some of the precious words of God with regard to their calling. In these God has revealed His loving purpose towards our children, and abundantly promises us the grace we need to make us truly and surely a blessing to them. Such a use of it need not hinder the perusal day

by day for those who prefer this. I hope very specially, that to more than one young mother, in that sacred period, when, as she bides her time, and waits to receive her little one from the Lord, and then after its birth is kept in weakness and solitude to think of the precious little life that has been entrusted to her, and prays for grace to do it aright, this little book may be God's messenger to encourage and guide to that entire consecration to God, in which alone a godly education can find its strength.

But it is not only to parents that I would offer this work, but very specially to my brethren in the ministry, in the hope that, where they have not already done it, they may make their duty, and the duty of the pulpit, towards parents matter of earnest prayer and study. They may be sure that the time, and energy, and preaching devoted to parents will bring a double reward. It may be doubted whether God teaches and blesses children more through their parents, or parents through their children. Spiritual efforts for the parents are a blessing to parents and children both. Let us carefully notice how much of the Bible, and of God's dealings with believers, has reference, not to individuals, but to parents for the sake of their children. Let us try and realize how deep, in God's people, the foundations of the kingdom were laid in parental instruction and family religion. With Israel at the Passover, in the laws of Moses, in the Psalms, how much more mention is made of the teaching of the parents than of the priests. To elevate the standard of thought, and faith, and duty among the parents, is one of the highest tasks a Church can have.

And a Church that believes in infant baptism has in this ordinance the most wonderful opportunity of coming into contact with parents. With each child, baptized publicly, not only its own parents, but the whole assembly of parents, are reminded of God's covenant engagement with them, and theirs with God. What an opportunity (especially if a fixed Sabbath could every month be devoted to it) to let the light of God's Word shine into the home and the family life, to discover shortcomings and unfaithfulness, to teach and to help, and to stir up to faith and prayer.

If there is one subject on which systematic Bible teaching is needed, it is this. The training of children is one of the most important and difficult tasks that can be undertaken. The welfare of society and the Church depend upon it. God's Word gives abundant teaching on the subject; but the Church has hardly yet given herself to the systematic effort of teaching and training parents for their holy work. One of our modern philosophers has expressed so well the utter folly of thinking that parents can perform their duties without preparation, and the need of providing for instruction in parental duties, that I give the passages at length :1

'We now come to the third great division of human activities—those which have for their end the rearing and discipline of offspring—a division for which no preparation whatever is made. If, by some strange chance, not a vestige of our literature descended to the remote future save a pile of our schoolbooks, we may imagine how puzzled the antiquary would be on finding in them no sign that the learners were ever to be parents. "This must have been the curriculum for their celibates: I find no reference whatever to the bringing up of children. They could not have been so absurd as to omit all training for the gravest of responsibilities." Seriously, is it not an astonishing fact, that though on the treatment of offspring depend their lives or deaths, and their moral welfare or ruin, yet not one word on the instruction of offspring is ever given to those who will by-and-by be parents? If a merchant commence business without any knowledge of arithmetic, we should exclaim at his folly, and look for disastrous consequences. But that parents should begin the difficult task of rearing children, without having ever given a thought to the prin

'Education: Intellectual, if oral, and Physical. By Herbert Spencer.

ciples which ought to guide them, excites neither surprise at the action, nor pity for their victims. . . . We find the facts to be such as might have been inferred a priori: the training of children —physical, intellectual, moral—is dreadfully defective. And in great measure it is so, because parents are devoid of that knowledge by whicli their training alone can rightly be guided. What is to be expected when one of the most intricate of problems is undertaken by those who have scarcely given a thought to the principles on which its solution depends? For shoemaking or housebuilding a long apprenticeship is needful. Is it then that the unfolding of a human being in body and mind is so comparatively simple a process, that any one may superintend and regulate it with no preparation whatever? If not,—if the process is, with one exception, more complex than any in Nature, and the task of ministering to it one of surpassing difficulty,—is it not madness to make no provision for such a task 1 . . .

'The greatest defect in our programme of education is entirely overlooked. While much is being done in the detailed improvement of our system, the most pressing desideratum has not yet been even recognised as a desideratum. To prepare the young for the duties of life, is tacitly admitted to be the end which parents and schoolmasters have in view; yet no care whatever is taken to fit them for the position of parents. While it is seen that for the purpose of gaining a livelihood, an elaborate preparation is needed, it appears to be thought that for the bringing up of children no preparation whatever is needed. While years are spent by a boy in gaining knowledge, of which the chief value is that it constitutes the education of a "gentleman," not an hour is spent in preparation for that gravest of all responsibilities, the management of a family. Is it that this responsibility is but a remote contingency? On the contrary, it is sure to devolve on nine out of ten. Is it that the discharge of it is so easy? Certainly not; of all functions which the adult has to fulfil, this is the most difficult. Is it that by self-instruction each may be trusted to fit himself for the office of parent? No; not only is the need for such self-instruction unrecognised, but the complexity of the subject renders it the one of all others in which selfinstruction is least likely to succeed. Whether as bearing on the happiness of parents themselves, or whether as affecting the character and lives of their remote descendants, we must admit that a knowledge of the right methods of juvenile culture—physical, intellectual, and moral—is a knowledge of extreme importance. The topic should be the final one in the course of instruction passed through by each man and woman. As physical maturity is marked by ability to produce offspring; so mental maturity is marked by the ability to train their offspring. Tlie subject which involves all other subjects, and therefore the subject in which education should culminate, is the Theory and Practice of Education'

Many will doubt the wisdom or the possibility of the proposal to make the art of educating children part of ordinary education. Education requires practice, exercise in the art that is being taught. When people are parents they can no longer go to school again. There is but one way out of the difficulty. The Church has the solution of the problem in her hands. In God's Word, with its wonderful lessons as to parents and her children, she has a Divine class-book. In the Church gathered at the sacrament of baptism she has her class. In the feeling of parental responsibility and affection, in the experience of the difficulty of training the children aright on the consciousness of failure, there is a stimulus to learn, which no class in the mere art of educating children ever can have. Could the Church, with her views of the power of sin and the power of grace, with her faith in God's Word and God's Spirit, but realize the absolute need, the infinite importance, the rich blessing of training her parents for their work, how speedily ways and means for having it done could be found. I am persuaded that a monthly baptismal service would, in course of time, be welcomed by many parents as a boon of unspeakable value.

Where this is not possible, other arrangements might be made. Mothers' meetings already exist in many places: these might be utilized for giving more distinct instruction. And is there not as much need of fathers' meetings? We have Bible-classes for the young: a parents' class, with the pastor leading and teaching, could in some cases be organized, even were it but for a short course. Parents would gradually become conscious of their high calling, and themselves seek the help they need. If the Church is content, let us not wonder that parents are content too. The misapprehension, by which parents expect from the public teaching of the Church more than from their own training, is a very fatal one, and no effort ought to be spared to dispel it. A writer on this subject has well said: 'What can be more strangely wide of all just apprehension than the immense efficacy imputed by most parents to the Christian ministry, compared with what they take to be the almost insignificant power conferred on them in their parental charge and duties? Why, if all preachers could have their hearers for whole months and years in their own will, so as to move them by a look, a smile, a frown, and act their own emotions and sentiments over in them at pleasure; if, also, a little further on, they had them in authority to command, direct, regulate their pleasures, their company, and call them to prayer every morning and evening,—who could think it impossible, in the use of such a power, to produce almost any result? Should not such a ministry be expected to fashion all who come under it to newness of life? Let no parent, shifting off his duty to his children, think to have his defects made up, and the consequent damages mended afterwards, when they have come to maturity, by the comparatively slender, always doubtful, efficacy of preaching.'1

The Church does much of her work through the press: a parent's Manual of Education would supply a real want. We have a great number of handbooks of education and school-management, in which a summary of what a teacher requires to know of is presented; in these parents would find much that is suggestive in some of the chapters. Various religious works exist, with valuable hints on parts of a parent's work. But what is required is a work in the spirit of Christian Science, in which what the science of

1 Christian Nurture. By Horace Buslmell. A most suggestive volume. Though lie may find thoughts or expressions he may not agree with, every minister, who wishes to realize his duty to the parents of his flock, will find himself well rewarded for the study of this work.

psychology teaches of the wonderful nature of the being that has to be trained, and what the science of education of the laws under which its powers can best be developed, and what the science of ethics of the principles by which the child's powers can be ruled and guided aright, and what Scripture of the wondrous work that grace will do in sanctifying all this, is presented in popular and practical form.

But, in whatever way the work is to be done, only let it be done. Let the Church, the teacher of the nations, the messenger of God to His people, lift up her voice and secure the aid of the hundreds of thousands of parents that belong to her to train the coming generations for God. Let the ministry hold forth God's Word to dispel the ignorance, to shame the indifference, to banish the unbelief that hinders, and to make the family again what God meant it to be: His first and mightiest means of grace for the maintenance of His kingdom among His people.

Meantime, I trust the present work may be accepted of the Lord and of His people, and be blessed to bring to some parents words of guidance and encouragement. All the teaching clusters round the four great central thoughts of God with regard to the family: God, as its Creator, its Redeemer, its Sanctifier, its Covenant God; Faith, as the one condition for bringing parent and child into relation with God, and making both partakers of its covenant - promise and blessing; Parental faithfulness in life and training as the path in which the blessing apprehended by faith is appropriated and brought down upon the home and the child; the Children, God's property, to be trained for His glory and service.