A general view has been taken, in the preceding chapter, of parental duties and responsibilities. The parent has been urged to be mindful of the object for which he is appointed to his station — of the high importance of that object — and the duty incumbent on him to administer his lesser government, upon those principles which he finds prevalent in that heavenly model after which his family is fashioned.
In speaking upon the latter topic, the duty of maintaining parental authority was specially enforced. But there arises here a question of great importance, a question concerning the mode of CULTIVATING FILIAL OBEDIENCE.
In answering this, let your attention be still directed to that family after which yours is to be modeled — that great family in heaven, where God is the Father, and where all the children, from the highest angel, down to the least of the redeemed, are obedient, and are styled "angels that do his pleasure." God requires of them obedience; but in the exercise of what spirit does he require it? Does he utter his stern mandate, and make heaven tremble? Does he gather thunder, and make the universe shake with fear, as he communicates his will? By no means. "God is love;" and he governs heaven by love: he administers all its concerns in the unvarying exercise of a spirit, beaming with kindness. The thunder of his power and the terror of his majesty, are for the lawless and disobedient; on whom they operate for restraint, or punishment. It would be absurd to suppose the obedience of heaven to be secured by the chief agency of these divine attributes. It would be the spurious obedience of fear, which could neither please God, or give joy to the creature — and not the genuine obedience of love. God secures the obedience of heaven by displaying his goodness and holiness — his equity and wisdom, and thus diffusing love and adoration of his character, in the hearts of all around him. They obey, because they love him; and this is what gives an acceptable savour to all creature-offerings — that they come from the heart.
In precisely the same way does God display himself to man in the dispensations of his grace. He reveals his love. True — He has exhibited to us many things which operate on our fears; but it is not by these things that he aims to gain our obedience. They are manifested for the sole purpose of restraining us from greater and hazardous lengths in disobedience — to make us pause, and tremble, and cry out, "What shall I do to be saved?" The obedience which we might be led to yield, under the influence of such displays, is merely of that fitful and transitory nature, which many have yielded for a little while, when con science has arisen in its power.
On Sinai, God displayed his awful attributes. But, why? It was because he came there as a Lawgiver to the disobedient, for whom, and for whom alone, the Law was ever reduced to statute form. He came not to call forth love; but to impress sinners with the truth, that it was a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God he came to promulge his violated law, and to engrave it before the eyes of a rebellious people. Hence it was, that not even so much as a beast should touch the mountain lest he die! And it is for a corresponding effect, in impressing with fear the lawless and the disobedient, that the solemn threatenings of God's word are written.
But different are those dealings which are appropriately termed, the dealings of his grace — different his manifestations when he determined to reclaim a people from among the children of men. He wins those that are his, by love; and he governs them by love. He speaks to them in ac- cents of kindness, of invitation, of forbearance: instead of threatening, he gives them promises: in- stead of terror, he shows them tenderness. He had this design when he went to guilty Adam, and promised him a Saviour; he had this design in all his promises to the patriarchs; he had this design — and it then shone forth the brightest — when he gave his only begotten Son, and caused his own glories to be displayed to human vision, in the per- son of the man Christ Jesus.
Thus, an unceasing and glorious manifestation of the loveliness of his own character, in all these displays and provisions of his grace, is what we plainly behold as that upon which he depends, instrumentally, to reclaim us to a spirit of accept able obedience. And, accordingly, we find, in the experience of the earthly church, that men may behold the terrors of the Almighty, till their spirits are well nigh crushed — but they are no better. It is not, until they behold the wonderful love of God, in Christ, and forget themselves in contemplating it, and experience the mysterious, but joy-giving sensations of corresponding love, that they enter, fully, the family of the redeemed. Love has won them, and they obey, they devote themselves cheerfully and forever to God. They were melted down under the invitation, "Come unto me, ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;" and they find their love kindled still more, as they read, "In my Father's house there are many mansions," &c.
Now is it not manifest from this brief glance at the way in which God rules his family in heaven, and his family on earth, that he aims to secure, and that he actually does secure their obedience, only by love? — and that he, therefore, displays his glories to them to excite their love? In heaven, there are no terrors around him; on earth, where he has purposes of mercy, his love is preeminently displayed; while, in hell, only, where there is no hope, do his frowns and terrors dwell.
If, then, wherever he would perpetuate, or cultivate obedience, our great Father makes preeminent displays of love, in order to win that obedience as a cheerful offering; are not earthly pa- rents taught, thereby, the spirit, in the exercise and manifestation of which, they should govern their households? Do they desire to cultivate a spirit of cheerful, acceptable obedience — let them win it by love. The one that is to be obeyed must always be the one to be loved. It is so with our heavenly Father, and it should be so with every earthly father" If your children love you, they will delight to' please you, and they will feel sorrowful when they displease.you. This is the way that we should all feel toward God; and this is the way that you should train your little children to feel toward you.
Fathers, upon you especially rests the government of your families. You are supreme there, and you give a tone to all within. Your authority is the law in a higher sense than that of the mother. And, therefore, it is that a preeminent benignity should mark your deportment. If you would have yourselves obeyed chiefly, you must render yourselves loved, at least equally, by your children.
That maternal influence is generally greater than that of the father, is not questioned, as a fact — though it may be questioned as a necessary, and a reasonable fact; where such influence is greater, it is because the manifestation of maternal love is greater. But why should this be? If the father is actually constituted chief in authority, is it consistent that any other one should be constituted chief in filial affections? Does not actual supremacy in authority necessarily imply that no other one rises above an equality in dominion over the affections of the governed? How can the father be supreme in the former, while the mother surpasses him in the latter? Such an unequal proprietorship in filial affections, (as is very common) — and such an ascendant influence on the part of the mother, as necessarily follows, was never designed; it wars with the intended constitution of the family, and is therefore unnecessary. Fathers may be equally loved by their children, and they should guard against that ascetic influence of their avocations, by which they too often forfeit their appropriate share of ardent, filial affection.
It will always be observed, in consistency with the foregoing remarks, that where the power of affection is diminished, the power of control is diminished also. In a loosely governed family, though extravagant indulgences are lavished, there are fewer bonds of affection; while a regulated, disciplined household, where wholesome and painful correction has been wisely administered, is the one around which the bonds of filial and parental love are most securely fastened. Indeed affection, and a wise authority, are so inseparably wedded, by Him who has ordered tho constitution of all things, that the state of the one affords a remarkably sure indication of the state of the other.
It is not only true of fathers, but, frequently, of mothers also, that they fail to hold that high place in filial affection that they should; and many such parents wonder why their children are so disobedient. You are sure that you have commanded enough — watched enough — corrected enough; and it is very possible that your children will affirm each of these particulars; — but still your children remain unruly, and they pay nothing like an appropriate attention to your wishes. If it is so, then, in applying the foregoing principles to your case, it is evident that they do not love you as they ought; for if they felt their hearts full of love, and tenderness, and every filial feeling, they would not — they could not do so.
How has it occurred in your case? — that you have failed of winning filial affections. Perhaps you have mistaken the end of punishment, and, because Solomon has enjoined the rod, you have freely used it. It is, by no means, to be said, that the rod is never to be used; but it is of the high est importance that the physician wisely administer his remedies: it is not safe to administer the same medicine in all diseases, or in all stages of the same disease, merely because the medicine is known to be indispensable to the profession. So the rod, while indispensable in all spheres of human control, is not blindly to be seized as the ever suitable means. It frequently affords the shortest and most summary process, whereby to obtain an immediate result; and it is to be regretted that so many seem inconsiderately to use it for its labor saving advantages. But those disciplinarians will reap but little success, who aim to save labor in their early work. We must learn to be patient, and pains-taking, and always, while we seek to enforce present, have an eye to future obedience. And since every remedy, in proportion to the efficiency of its action, requires wisdom in its administration, the rod should be applied with care, and with a right apprehension of its appropriate effects.
By the rod, is understood to be signified correction, without any limit as to the mode; which may be either physical, or moral. Its immediate and legitimate operation is in checking and restraining disobedience, and it can operate, therefore, only negatively in producing genuine obedience. For all the inherent virtue it possesses, it can no more be relied on to cultivate a spirit of positive obedience, and to advance the great end of education, than the punishment of the lost can be expected eventually to purge away their dross and prepare them for heaven. Reliance is to be placed, in cultivating the obedience of your children, upon an entirely different instrumentality — upon the unvarying display of your kindness, mildness, equity and love. If this fails to beget, with the blessing of God, a corresponding love in your child to you, and thus to secure his cheerful obedience, as God secures angels' and as Christ secures yours — then your child is, to present appearance, as verily lost, as is the sinner who will not be won by the dis plays of redeeming love. The rod, and the pri son, while they may yet be of use in restraining and hedging in his disobedience, can no more re claim him than hell can reclaim the incorrigible.
But still there is an advantage in using the rod. This advantage, however, is found among its secondary effects. In perfect consistency with the previous statements, it may be maintained, that when applied by our heavenly Father to his earthly children, for their benefit, it has no inherent efficacy in reclaiming them. The benefit of the chastisement flows from the love that administers it. The rod causes God's people to smart — and they pause — and here all would end; but they look and see their Father's love — they think of the tears of Jesus as he wept over refractory Jerusalem, and this recognition of the tenderness of their Father is that which reclaims them to obedience. The rod would never do it; but it reveals the love which lies behind it, and speaks through it; for it is not, in itself, a means of grace, any more than is everlasting punishment.
Punishment, then, is efficacious in two respects. It is a salutary and effectual restraint upon those who trample under foot all the remonstrances of love — and it is a needful token of paternal dis pleasure, to touch the hearts of those who are generally obedient. For the former end, it is used by God, and may be freely used by us for the utterly incorrigible, who must be kept in chains of suffering and fear; while for the latter purpose, God employs it for the benefit of his people; and parents, in imitation of the great Father's exam- pie, may, in like manner, use it for their hopeful and affectionate children. But let it not be forgot ten that punishment, whenever resorted to, in hopeful cases, is to be used only as an emblem of painful displeasure. So that, really, the efficacy of all your corrections and discipline must depend up on the love which your child bears you. If he so loves you that he cannot bear your displeasure, then the needed correction will touch his little heart. But if he loves you not at all, or but little, the benefit of your discipline will be proportionate. Thus it is all-important that your child should entertain for you a supreme and ardent affection; else, all that you do toward cultivating obedience in early life will be of little avail.
In too many lamentable instances this seems to be overlooked, and parents who are truly anxious, and conscientious seize the rod, and forget that, as certain kinds of evil spirits go out only by prayer and fasting, so disobedience can be effectually driven from the heart of a child only by love: arid they ply the rod; and they speak in tones of sternness and severity, and the mandate goes forth with an accent that makes every infant heart tremble. And it is very possible that the parent does all this without an angry feeling, but merely under the influence of a commendable determination that his authority be sustained. But he errs in executing his purpose; the child feels the rod, but he does not see the love. The parent may be conscious of its real indwelling, but he does not reveal it. Sinai, in its influence upon our lost race, effects nothing in cultivating obedience, until we read the same laws, shedding a milder radiance from Calvary.
Erastus Hopkins Chapter 8 of The Family a Religious Institution, or, Heaven Its Model, Troy, NY, 1840