[Paper read before the Presbytery of Central Mississippi, and published at its request.]
By Prof. J.A. Sanderson.
That it should be necessary to advance arguments in support of so important a duty, or even to use exhortation to encourage its performance, is a most remarkable thing. It seems almost a travesty on our religion–an insult to our Christian intelligence. It is certainly not from want of knowledge. The Bible is clear and full on this point. We have the testimony of thousands of good men in every generation, expressing the debt of gratitude they owe to their parents for faithful instruction given in childhood. Every time parents present a child for baptism, they take a solemn obligation to instruct it in the Bible and Catechism. Yet, as a matter of fact, there is an alarming and increasing dereliction on the part of parents in this matter. Taking things, therefore, as they are, we will proceed to some thoughts on the line indicated.
Parents should instruct their children in the Bible—first, because God has plainly enjoined it upon them. Do we really accept the Bible as God’s word? Do we look upon it as an inspired and hence an infallible guide for our conduct? Then we cannot evade the force of its plain teachings.
Deut. xi. 18, 19, says: “Therefore, shall ye lay up these my words in your heart; * * and ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” Psalm lxxviii. 5: “For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children.” Prov. xxii. 6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Strong as this language is, yet, like many other great moral truths, this duty is even more strongly taught inferentially.
Secondly, there are considerations founded in reason and common sense, and abundantly attested by observation and experience, to prove advisability and utility. The child’s faith in its parents is implicit. In his sight, the parent is a god—omnipotent, omniscient, infallible. His word is taken implicitly.
Again, the child’s mind is thoroughly receptive and open to conviction. Like the highly sensitive place of the photographer, responding to the least ray of light. Impressions made at this period are most lasting. I once heard a wise and experienced parent say, that if a child did not learn the principles of obedience before it was two years old, it never would properly imbibe them.
Again, the parent alone has access to the child at the tender age when these instructions should begin. Nature, as well as Revelation, designates him as the proper one for this task. He alone is clothed with the authority necessary to enforce attention and application necessary to acquire knowledge. Ask the Sabbath-school teachers why, after their most earnest efforts, there is so little real study and positive acquisition. They will tell us that it is because they have no coercive authority. It would doubtless be the testimony of most of those in this audience who have committed the Catechism or considerable portions of Scripture or hymns, that the work was done almost entirely under the gentle but firm compulsion of a Christian mother.
Again, instructive parental love is a powerful auxiliary in the proper training of children. The teacher who instructs children not her own, either for remuneration or from duty, may tire and flag over a dull pupil; but parental love inspires to perseverance, or even family pride will impel to untiring efforts to train the child for stations of honor and usefulness.
Again, the parent has a larger period of contact with the child than any one else, during which so many kinds of opportunities occur for naturally and pleasantly instilling religious instruction, and making deep and practical impressions.
Do not these considerations throw a great responsibility upon parents? It is so recognized in the matter of secular education. Why not in that of religious instruction? Is it that the one is prized more highly than the other—our children’s temporal welfare more than their eternal? Or, is it than, recognizing the importance, we shrink from the duty, and endeavor to shift the task, indulging the vain and illusive idea that the pastor, or the Sabbath-school teacher, can perform it better than we can. I think I will be borne out by universal experience and observation, that if the Catechism is not learned in early life, it will not be learned at all; and the same may be said of committing Scripture and learning hymns. The responsibility cannot be shifted.
But, along with these responsibilities, there are some rewards to faithfulness. Is there not a great reward involved in Solomon’s injunction, already quoted: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” It is certainly a joy to any right-minded parent to see his children growing up into intelligent Christian men and women, known and honored of all men for truth and piety, adorning the church with the graces of the Spirit—each new home a centre of Christian influence—the salt to save, a light to lighten the world. Should not the prospect of such a fruition stimulate every parent to more faithfulness?
In conclusion, I will draw a contrast. There are two homes. We will examine them. As we approach the first, the exterior is inviting, if not elegant. Within we find many devices to beguile time. Perhaps a deck of cards lies convenient. The daily paper is conspicuous, though the father thinks he cannot afford the church paper. There are few, if any, religious books. The Bible is a family relic kept on the parlor centre-table, where the children must not go for fear of injuring the furniture. The voice of prayer is never heard, nor hymns of Zion, but, in their place, voluptuous music, and the dance trips merrily. But Sunday comes. These are church people. It is respectable to be. It is good form to attend service—that is, morning service. After a late breakfast the children are hustled off to Sabbath-school, without even a thought for their lessons, to get them out of the way while the mother gives the house an extra cleaning, to atone for the neglects of the past six days, and prepares an elaborate toilet [i.e, grooming or dressing] for appearance at service. Children may stay to service or not; sit where they want to, whether inside or out, on ground floor or in gallery. Afternoon finds mother fagged out with household duties or society demands, and she must rest; no time to drum at children and Catechisms and Sabbath-school lessons. Father is engrossed with his forty-page Sunday paper and cannot be annoyed. Children want out in search of amusement. So the days and months go by, and no seeds have been sown but those of worldliness and sin.
It is scarcely necessary to draw the other picture; even a dull imagination may supply it. Night and morning prayer ascends from the family altar. The little tot at his mother’s knee is taught to lisp his little prayer. Almost his first budding thoughts are directed to God and heaven. The mother’s heart is full of solicitude for her children’s spiritual welfare. Pleading with God to help her train them, she will spare no pains to help God. Sunday finds her house in order. She has found time to assist the children with the Sabbath-school lessons. All attend worship, and all occupy the family pew together. After a frugal meal, prepared mostly on the day before, all assemble in the sitting-room. Mother and father vie with each other in making home pleasant and profitable for the children. With stories from the Sabbath-school library or the religious newspaper, or from the Bible itself, with Scripture texts and Catechism committed, interspersed with hymns, the whole seasoned with love and anon with gentle but firm parental authority, the time is only too short. These are the parents that bind their children to them with bands of steel. These are the occasions which, embalmed in memory, stand out as a perpetual barrier against the machinations of Satan.
From which of these homes, think you, are more likely to come gamblers, pilferers of money-drawers, forgers, defaulters, train-robbers, profaners, Sabbath-breakers, murderers, etc.? Or from which will come those men and women who are the salt of the earth, the pillars of the Church, who stand prominent among men for veracity, honor and all noble virtues, who are the pride and stay of their parents in their declining days, and finally go down to their graves followed by the benedictions of mankind, and are received into mansions prepared? To ask the question is to answer it.
[excerpted from The Southwestern Presbyterian 27.39 (17 October 1895): 2, cols. 4-6.]