But how, asks the parent, shall I show this spirit of love which I acknowledge is the spirit whereby God rules heaven, and Jesus Christ holds, my heart? It seems to me that my children ought to know that 1 love them and be mindful that I provide for them; and if they would only think, they might know that it gives me nothing but pain to punish them.
But, reader, it is very possible that your children do not know as much as they ought to, and it is quite sure that they do not think as much as they ought to; and if they did, they might be very likely to think, for ought they discover, that you punish them in the same spirit in which they seek to enforce their wills among one another. Suppose your Heavenly Father proceeded on a similar assumption in his dealings with you, and with all the family of man. He could surely do it with much more righteousness.
Suppose he had said of this lost race, when he first entertained the thought of displaying his love to effect our redemption — why should I do this? They ought to know that I love them — that I built the earth, and garnished it for their dwelling place — that I up hold them, and give them all they have. If they would only think, they must know that, as I live 1 have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.
This was not the language that was used in heaven. It might all be true and just, but God condescended to show us his love — to declare his pity, and to stoop to our blindness; and Jesus Christ stooped even unto death, in his accommodation to our depravity, that he might convince us — of what was written as plain as noonday, above us, if we would only look — that "God so loved the world." Now we see it; it touches our hearts: the voice of love, speaking from Calvary, awakens our love; and the displeasure qf such love, we cannot endure; we fly every sin that wounds it. It is verily true that we never should have been reclaimed, had not God condescended to our blindness, and wrought out, in blood, the demonstration that he loved us.
Throughout the foregoing remarks, it will be observed that the Heavenly Model of a Christian Family has been kept constantly in view. The author trusts that it has not been consulted in vain; and that the view of it will not fail to be instructive to parents who desire to be followers of God in the duties of their parental relations, as well as in their personal characters.
If what has been said is just, it cannot fail to appear, as a necessary prerequisite to filial obedience, THAT THE AFFECTIONS OF THE CHILD BE CONCENTRATED UPON THE PARENTS ABOVE ALL EARTHLY persons or objects. True obedience must have its origin in love; and as the obedience required in this relation is of the highest earthly nature, so the love subsisting here should be the strongest.
Parents should use every lawful endeavour to cultivate the affections of their children, that leading them in the habits of early filial piety, they may prepare them for a higher piety toward their Eternal Father. And as God cultivates your obedience by appealing to and exciting and strengthening your love; so do to your children. Do something more than provide for their wants; stoop in numberless ways to show them that you love them. Since God accommodates his demonstrations to your criminal blindness; much more should you condescend to the feeble minds of your children. Use every endearment to win them to you. Never turn from them suddenly, or receive them coldly, as they run to greet your approaching footsteps. Teach them, not only that they may, but that you expect them to be joyful at the sound of your coming. Let them caress you; and then, caress them in return. It is unworthy of you, as a parent, to call this trifling business: for it is hard to find many things so important. It is more important than your money. God thus stoops to us; giving us every day some extra to kens of his love; winning us by unexpected, unmerited pains. And when, in like manner, you win your children, and convince them, by demonstrations adapted to their understanding and ad dressing their hearts, that you delight in their love — then, you may expect them to delight in your smiles and to grieve at the tokens of your dis pleasure — then, if, for any misdemeanor, they see, not sternness, but sadness and sorrow clothing your anxious brow, and shrouding its wonted smiles, they will feel the rebuke, and seek not to grieve you again.
It is delightful to witness those families where the tokens of parental displeasure which, per chance, from time to time, are needful, take effect upon the children's hearts, and draw forth tears of child-like, affectionate penitence. Who does not see that such parents have a mighty hold on filial obedience; and that, by a wise culture, they are laying, in these infantile exercises of their children towards themselves, a promising foundation of gospel penitence and contrition, for the full developments of which we may look, with some reasonable expectation, when the child's enlarged and chastened conceptions begin to apprehend its relations to its Heavenly Father?
Remember, then, that with the successful cultivation of the obedience, you must unite the cultivation of the affections of your children. Then your discipline will avail. Whereas, on the other hand, correction will only prove an irksome restraint, of short duration, from which they will violently break loose in future years.
Avoid any words or tones, in addressing your children, but those that are replete with kindness. In this, also, the example of our Heavenly Father instructs us. There is an inexpressible tenderness pervading all his remonstrances against the sins of his people. While he threatens judgments, and sore chastisements, he yet remembers mercy, and promises to return unto them, if they will return unto him. "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson they shall be as wool." Let the parent whose tones of reproof are harsh and forbidding, turn and read the fifty-fourth chapter of Isaiah, and ponder its heavenly spirit, and ask himself for what he would consent that such language be banished from the Bible.
And now, beloved parent, if you would be like God — if you would keep him before your eyes as the great prototype of the parental relation — then guard your words, and let every tone be love. This may be enjoined as an universal rule; whether you are making a requisition, or reproving for disobedience. If you speak, speak pleasantly; speak moderately; for often hasty words are mistaken for angry ones. If you have a requisition to make of a child which you think may be unpleasant, make it with peculiar kindness of tone; if there is a reluctance, and you have to command, look pleasant while you do it; and let your accents, while they are firm, have much of the music of love. If you are compelled to correct, do not be content to say that you are pained, but let it be shown, in the tones and looks of continuing, unchanging love. And let the beginning, and the middle, and the end of the contest find you in the possession of the same love. When the child yields a cheerful obedience, then smile upon it, and stoop to tell it, in its own simple language, how sad you did feel.
"Provoke not your children to wrath;" do not be peevish; do not be fretful; do not be stern with your children. Our Heavenly Father is not so with us. When he corrects us, the Spirit whispers, "Whom he loveth, he chasteneth."
The following anecdote, from the Mother's Magazine, vol. vii. p. 263, is too apposite to be omitted. "Conversing the other day with an interesting little girl, between the ages of six and seven, I took occasion to impress upon her mind the debt of gratitude due from her to her heavenly Parent for bestowing upon her so good and kind a father, whom everybody loves. I was perfectly thunder-struck by her answer. Looking me full in the face with her soft blue eyes, she replied, 'He never speaks kind to me.' Perhaps this Christian father, harassed with the cares of business, was unconscious that he had roughly checked the fond attentions of his child; — but could cares, or the interruptions of his child, excuse unkindness, or a total want of tokens of endearment? Will fathers examine their habits on this point?"
It will aid all parents, who feel, under the first impulse, fretted by the fond and well meant interruptions of an affectionate child, to think, ere they repel the intrusion, of their own childlike relation to an Heavenly Father. The thought will lead them to hear the words, or receive the short caress, and then dismiss the unwitting intruder with a smile of reciprocated love. So we would have our Father do.
Manifest forbearance toward your children; for a relentless spirit is the last that fallen man should exhibit to a fellow creature. Forgive your children, and restore them to your confidence — even as your Father forgiveth you.
Parents, especially fathers, should seek, as much as possible, to be with their children. Remember that home has claims which, in their sphere, are not secondary to the claims of the counting house, or the shop. Some parents are necessarily absent more than others; but all should remember that if they would have their children's affections, they must give those children some of their time and attention. Our Heavenly Father communes with his children.
Thus, by this manifestation of uniform parental tenderness, there is reasonable hope that the affections of the child will be developed, and there will be laid the true and permanent foundation of filial obedience.
But to possess and manifest this uniform spirit of love, requires great vigilance and self-control on the part of the parent. He must seek daily, at the foot of the cross, to be imbued with the spirit of heaven. As an abiding disposition, it is of the grace of God. The father of the house- hold must draw nigh unto the Father of all. And when, christian parents, you do this and discharge your duties in any good measure as they have been described — then you will have indeed introduced into the government of your families, the same great principles and spirit by which the Eternal Father governs his children; — you will have faithfully modeled your family after the heaven above, that it may be, in itself, a little heaven on earth.
Erastus Hopkins Chapter 8 of The Family a Religious Institution, or, Heaven Its Model, Troy, NY, 1840