Saturday, March 18, 2017

Parental Responsibilities in Light of Original Sin

And, first, the urgency of parental responsibility appears in a solemn, and even an awful manner, from the nature of the parental relation itself. Perhaps we fail to appreciate its momentous nature by reason of its very commonness and of our familiarity with it. Wherever human society is, there the parent is. Every man was once a child; every human existence begins in a parental relation. Our perpetual familiarity with the light of the sun disqualifies to appreciate its glory and beauty as we would, were we to behold it but once before entering on a life of blindness. Thus, we are so accustomed to see the child proceeding from the parent, that we are incompetent to perceive the solemn nature of the relation. Let us seek to gain a juster view by comparing the human race with that order of angels than which man was made a little lower. It is every way probable that to the angels the power of reproduction, bestowed on Adam and Eve in paradise, appeared the most marvellous and splendid part of this new creation of the Almighty. For the bliss and glory of the elect angels there is no multiplication. The only increase within their reach is that arithmetical addition which may arise out of their individual progress in knowledge, love and happiness. The eternal adoption of Gabriel is assured against all the powers of hell and accidents of time. But Gabriel cannot multiply his happiness and transmit it to beloved offspring of his own likeness. Except as he has communion with his fellow-angels who began their career with him, he remains solitary in his blessedness. But the glory of the Divine beneficence towards the human race appears in this, that the parents, without alienating anything of their own immortality, are able to multiply immortalities in ever-widening and progressive numbers. Thus, by the multiplications of the generations of men, the field of the Divine love and benevolence is widened as time flows on, until the subjects of the Divine bene factions and instruments of the Divine glory on earth unspeakably surpass in number the heavenly hosts. It may be beyond our skill, as it is unnecessary to this argument, to distinguish and allot the several parts of the agency which belong to God and to the human instruments in the origin of a new human soul. It is enough for us to know that God, by his mysterious works of creation and providence, does empower human parents for this amazing result — the origination, out of nothing, of a new being — and that a rational, immortal spirit. How solemn, how high, this prerogative! It raises man nearer the almighty Creator, in his supreme prerogative as Master of all things, than any thing else that is done by creatures on earth or in heaven. Angels are not thus endued. The responsibility of this relation is not fully seen by merely regarding the infant as a beautiful animal, organized, in miniature, after the kind of the parents. It is the mysterious propagation of a rational soul that fills the reflecting mind with awe. The parent looks upon the tender face which answers to his caress with an infantile smile; he should see beneath that smile an immortal spark which he has kindled, but can never quench. It must grow, for weal or for woe; it cannot be arrested. Just now it was not. The parents have mysteriously brought it from darkness and nothing. There is no power beneath God's throne that can remand it back to nothing, should existence prove a curse. Yes; the parents have lighted there an everlasting lamp, which must burn on when the sun shall have been turned into darkness and the moon into blood, either with the glory of heaven or the lurid flame of despair.

The command to the first pair to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth was given as a blessing of paradise, and while man was unfallen. To understand it, we must remember that covenant which was made with Adam as the representative of the race. God gave him an easy law to keep, with the implied promise that, by keeping this command, he should 'enter into life.' Had Adam stood his probation successfully, he would have been lifted from his mutable position into a permanent adoption of life, making both his holiness and his happiness indefectible. And we have every reason for believing that he would have raised all his posterity to that state along with himself. He stood as their representative. When he transgressed, 'they sinned in him, and fell with him.' It is hard to believe that God would have broken that representative union when about to result in the glorification of the race which he had established, and which he inexorably maintains when it issues in universal ruin and condemnation. Neither his goodness nor equity would prompt such unequal dealing. Had Adam been confirmed in glory, the law would doubtless have held by which 'he begat Seth in his own likeness after his image.' All his posterity would have been holy and happy. Cain would have lived a saint, innocent of his brother's blood, and Abel would never have felt the murderer's blow. As the successive generations of men extended, parentage would have extended and multiplied immortal happiness until earth surpassed heaven. Such is the magnificence of that plan which the Creator proposed to execute through man's parental relation.

But the amazing plan was marred. The malice of Satan saw in this feature also his opportunity to execiate a mischief as much more gigantic than the seduction of his brother-angels, as the aggregate of the whole series of human generations is greater than the number of the devils. It was, indeed, the infinite refinement of malice which he taught one of his heathen servants to cherish, when he inspired the Roman despot to wish that all the people of Rome had but one neck, that he might decapitate all at one stroke. Thus Satan saw that humanity had then but one head. By poisoning this, he would taint all the vast future body with spiritual death. Thus he vainly hoped he would usurp that very power, the power of parentage, which God had bestowed to be the instrument of multiplying blessedness, and he would turn it into an inlet of spreading and boundless sin and misery. By poisoning the spring-head, he would at once poison the whole stream in all its widening course, until it disembogued its innumerable drops — each drop in the flood a lost soul — into the ocean of eternity. Thus it is that we owe to this malignant perversion of God's plan of benevolence, that every parent now transmits to the child he loves, along with the gift of existence, the deadly disease of sin.

These, then, are the two facts which give so unspeakable a solemnity to the parent's relation to his children. He has conferred on them, unasked, the endowment of an endless, responsible existence. He has also been the instrument— if the unwilling, yet the sole instrument — of conveying to this new existence the taint of original sin and guilt. Can the human mind conceive a motive more tender, more dreadful, more urgent, prompting a parent to seek, for the beloved souls he has poisoned, the aid of the great Physician? And if this parent professes to have felt his blessed skill in his own soul, to be rejoicing in the Divine cure, and is yet callous to the ruin he has transmitted to his own child, he is a monster, with a heart harder than a wild beast's. There are hereditary diseases of the body. Their indications pierce the parent's heart like barbed arrows, even when suspected in the beloved child. To see, beneath the hectic glow of the cheek, else so beautiful, the fatal sign of the worm at the root of life; to remember that it was from your own blood the sufferer drew the poison — this awakens the pity and love of the father to all its depths. There is an authentic illustration in the last days of the first Napoleon. As his life was consumed upon the gloomy rock of St. Helena by that fearful malady, cancer of the stomach, one of the few alleviations allowed him by his jailers was the presence of a skillful Italian physician, Dr. Automarchi. The French officers near him relate that, when death was recognized as certain, the emperor laid his dying commands on his compatriot to return to Italy, visit his only son, watch over his health, and endeavor by every resource of his art to ward off the dire inheritance of his father's disease. Thus spoke the parent's heart in this man so ruthless and hard, who had reared his throne upon a pyramid of human skulls, and ground the nations of Europe under the chariot-wheels of his ambition! How could it speak otherwise, cruel though that heart was to others? How can you, O Christian! fail to bring your child to the great Physician of souls, to be healed of the deadly contagion you have conveyed into him?” - R.L. Dabney, Parental Responsibilities, Discussions: Volume 1

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