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