It lies at the foundation of all correct apprehension and discharge of parental responsibilities, that parents take the right view of the principles, on which the family is constituted, and the model, if any, after which it is fashioned. When this view is once clearly taken, the great end of the family, as a religious institution, will be more apparent, and the sphere assigned to each member of it will be more distinctly defined. It surely harmonizes with the similes frequently used in the holy Scriptures, and pre-eminently sanctioned by our Saviour, that Heaven should be adduced as the Model of a Christian Family. And we shall find that the more prominent relations, there subsisting between God and his creatures, have their counterparts in this miniature earthly institution. This being true, we are only to inspect the principles, on which the order and happiness of heaven are based, that we may dis cover those which should be the rule of our earthly households. And the parent is to look at the great principles which control the conduct of God to his creatures, as those, the like of which, are to direct him, in the administration of his lesser and deputed dominion.
God styles himself our Father. We are prone to regard this relation as rather nominal — as a title that he has borrowed from the endearing relations of this life. But we should rather regard him as the one, to whom the title originally be longs. God is our Father, and he is our only real Father. Are we the offspring of an earthly father? — are we guarded by the love of an earthly parent? — and is our infant dependence upon him? These things are true only in a secondary sense. But, of our Heavenly Father, it may be said, in a higher and truer sense, than it ever can be of mortals, that we are the offspring of His power — the protegees of His love, and that we are dependent upon Him for our daily existence, and our daily blessings. So that all the natural, lawful relations which subsist between earthly parents and their children, subsist, on ampler and unchanging grounds, between those very children, and their Heavenly Father. As the great prime Author of our existence, God is our Father — as the One whose care of us and compassion toward us is of old and unchangeable, he is our Father — as the One unto whom we are allied by an inti mate and eternal dependence, he is our Father.
In the relation, then, of God to us, we have the first, great idea of a Parent — not that idea of the relation first acquired by us, but its original model.
Is it not, therefore, the reverse of the truth to suppose that God, after he had instituted the relations of this life, and beheld the endearments of the family circle, borrowed from it the title of Heavenly Father, and assumed it as a symbol of his compassion? Does he not wear the title as originally his, and has he not modelled the parental relation after his own relation to his creatures; so that parents, at the head of their households, borrow the title of Father from God, and are not only fashioned after his image, as to the natures they possess, but also as to the sphere in which they move, and the duties which devolve upon them?
We discover, then, this leading principle of the family constitution, that the father is deputed of God to hold that relation to his household — more especially to his children — which is a miniature of the relation subsisting between Jehovah and his creatures. As God is the creator of all, so he has made the father, in a secondary sense, the author of his children's being; and thus he be comes their nominal, while God is their real Father.
Is God a creator of infinite benevolence, who delights in watching over, and securing the interests of every creature he has made ? See how, in the strength of parental affection, he has made a deep impress of this, his image, on the father's spirit. All his love and unwearied diligence for his little ones are the manifestations of this image; and they are, therefore, rightfully, and with a transcendent sweetness, appealed to by our Saviour, and the New Testament writers, as but the feeble illustrations of our heavenly Father's love. "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him."
And to complete the parental image, God has given the father authority over his household. Both by the laws of God and man, this authority is confirmed; and, within certain wholesome limitations, it is absolute; and there is implanted in the hearts of his little children, a sense of its rightfulness and propriety. And thus it is that the father is deputed of God to hold a relation to his household analogous to that which the great Father holds to the great family of man.
Look, then, and see how completely, and with what infinite wisdom, God has constituted the family. It is a small circle. But it is a complete and a perfect nursery for a future and a happy existence. Here, in the apparent father, is the representative of the real Father in heaven, and the children look upon him as the author of their existence — as the one, bone of whose bone, and flesh of whose flesh, they are made. From this apparent father, they receive protection — they receive their daily bread — their shelter from the storm — their attention in sickness — their counsel in health — their sympathy in troubles, while all these gifts are only through this father, and from God. Still so God dispenses them. And why? Why! that all the embryo relations of future and growing existence may be compressed into a circle fitted to the infant powers of the new born intellect, and to the forming habits of the new-created spirit!
The little child is born, but he cannot under stand who gave him being, who causes the ravishing sensations of a healthful physical existence, to rush in upon his wondering and his gazing spirit. But soon it knows its mother, and learns to leap with joy at the sound of its father's foot steps. They become the first, rightful objects of his affections and his confidence. Ho regards them as possessing all things, and his infant eyes wait upon them for the supply of every need. And thus the child exercises towards them those feelings which, for a season, are right; but which, as its infant powers expand, should be hereafter transferred to God. They stand as the representatives of God to the child; being constituted the stewards of its affections, its habits, and its energies. They receive from it love, obedience, devotedness; not as the matters of their proprietor ship, but as tributes which, like faithful stewards, they are to transfer to God; that they may enter heaven, saying, "Behold I, and the children whom the Lord hath given me."
The constitution, then, of the earthly family being so precisely similar to that of which God is the Father, it is both reasonable and scriptural to suppose, that there must be an equally striking harmony between the ends they contemplate, and the principles, or rules, on which their government is to be administered. And thus the lesser family appears to be, in the relations and dispositions it should cherish, an embryo of the greater: the traits that should and may be there cultivated, are the very traits which will fit us to be the affectionate and dutiful children of God.
How sweetly and fully has God provided for the security of every portion of our existence! The family is the constituted sanctuary of our in fancy and childhood; and when we begin to ripen in understanding, the church stands, with its open arms, to acknowledge, guard, and cherish us; and when death removes, it but translates us to the sinless and eternal church, whose foundation is immovable, whose walls are salvation, and whose gates are praise. God is the ruler in heaven; Christ is the head of the church, and the father is the head of the family. And while there is a close relation, and intimate correspondence between the institutions, their designs and their laws, there is also a like relation and correspondence between their presiding officers. In short, the institutions are the same, under different phases. So that we have the church in the family — the church in the world, and the church redeemed! What a perfect and harmonious gradation ! How sweetly and tenderly has God adapted the relations of this life to fit us, by a right training and development, for the relations of the life to come!
From, The Family, A Religious Institution, by Erastus Hopkins, Troy, NY (1840)