On this, one of the gravest of questions, the teaching of the word is unusually full and explicit, and may be grouped under four heads:
1. The Divine origin, institution, ideal and object of marriage, in Eden;
2. The Scriptural laws and limitations, governing marital selection;
3. The Prenatal influences that should shape the character of offspring;
4. The proper administration of Household law, life, and habits.
Under each of these groups, a few representative passages may be chosen.
“The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and he slept: and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof: and the rib which the Lord God had taken from man, made He a woman, and brought her unto the Man; and Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called woman because she was taken out of man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:21–24.)
“Thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I dwell: but thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac.” (Genesis 24:3, 4.)
“She is at liberty to be married to whom she will—only in the Lord.” (1 Corinth. 7:39.)
“Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord; and the fruit of the womb is his reward.” (Psalm 127:3.)
“For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him, therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshipped the Lord there.” (1 Samuel 1:27, 28.)
“The unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice.” (2 Timothy 1:5.)
“In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab, and their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but accordingly to the language of each people.” (Nehemiah 13:23, 24.)
“I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” (Genesis 18:19.)
“I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.” (1 Samuel 3:13).
“Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, I will be king; and he prepared him chariots and horsemen and fifty men to run before him, and his father had not displeased him at any time in saying, Why hast thou done so?” (1 Kings 1:5, 6.)
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.” (Deut. 6:4–9.)
“Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou has learned them. And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:14, 15.)
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor thy father and mother (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nature and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:1–4.)
These important scripture quotations serve to indicate the rich veins of biblical teaching which reward the careful student. We are here led back to the Edenic origin of marriage and the family, and confronted with the divine ideal. Then we are reminded of the fundamental importance of choosing for such life partnership only such as are fitted to enter into it in God’s faith and fear. Then the question of offspring is put before us, and the fact that prenatal influences in the parental character and life predispose to good or evil; and finally that children are to be carefully and prayerfully taught and trained in all godly habits.
Here the cardinal points of the whole subject are definitely fixed, so that all minor details which fall within the whole circle of the horizon of the theme may from them be readily determined; somewhat as a traveler in an unknown country, when once he has with accuracy settled the four points of the compass, may with but little difficulty calculate and measure all intermediate angles of direction. No candid scripture student need, with such clear leading as to essentials, long hesitate as to the lesser problems and perplexities arising in family life. But the moment that, in any of these great particulars, we depart from or disregard the divine pattern, we are like those who lose their way and at every step are in danger of plunging into deeper darkness and difficulty.
To begin at the beginning then, marriage is a divine institution, and this especially stamps it with dignity and sanctity. God’s crowning creative act was the making of woman. At the close of each creative day, it is formally recorded that “God saw what He had made, that it was good.” But, when Adam was made, it is explicitly recorded that “God saw that it was not good, that the man should be alone.” As to man the creative work lacked completeness, until, as all animals and even plants had their mates, there should be found for Adam also an help, meet for him—his counterpart and companion. Not till this want was met did God see the work of the last creative day also to be good.
This is the first great scripture lesson on family life, and it should be well learned. Two relics of Edenic Life, alone, survive the Fall, the Sabbath and marriage, and they must be somehow fundamental to Edenic Ideals. The former teaches man not only to hallow one seventh of time as sacred to God, but to consecrate all time. The weekly recurrence of the day of Rest is a frequent reminder of God’s right to our time as the setting apart of the tithe reminded of His proprietorship in all things and of our stewardship. Before one Sabbath had ceased to exercise its restraint and constraint, the approach of another renewed the hallowing influence. The latter, the Divine Institution of Marriage, teaches that the Ideal state of both man and woman is not in separation but in union, that each is meant and fitted for the other; and that God’s ideal is such union, based on a pure and holy love, enduring for life, exclusive of all rivalry or other partnership, and incapable of alienation or unfaithfulness because it is a union in the Lord—a holy wedlock of soul and spirit in mutual sympathy and affection.
This is a proper place to correct a current and erroneous conception of the narrative in Genesis.
“And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help, meet for him.” God saw that man could not reach an ideal state in solitude. Quite apart from the peopling of the earth, there was the question of man’s own need and welfare. “And God said, I will make him an help, meet for him.”
Observe this is not a compound word—help-meet. This may seem a small matter, but in part, upon a mistaken and mischievous conception of this text, has been built up a system of domestic tryanny and injustice that lasted for ages, on one hand developing in the man marital despotism, and on the other, wifely subjection and servitude, and the degradation of woman.
What God did say was, literally, “one, over against him,” that is his counterpart, correspondent, his other half. No superiority on his part, nor inferiority on her part, is necessarily implied. There is indeed a marital headship, entrusted to the husband and emphasized in the New Testament as well as the Old; but it is a headship not to be held in wilfulness or selfishness, nor exercised in arbitrary authority but in unselfish devotion, provision and protection, leadership and love. “The husband is head of the wife even as Christ is the Head of the church.”
The practical inference, too often gathered from the record in Genesis, is that man was created as woman’s lord and master—his imperial majesty, the man, to be Lord of Creation; and woman—God’s last and best creative product, to be, if not his lackey, at best his servant, to bow at his feet, wait on him, do his bidding, without any way or will of her own, to sink alike her individuality and independence in his pleasure and caprice. And, under the sanction of this perverted notion, woman has been degraded for centuries and milleniums into a slave of man’s despotism, a victim of his tyranny, and even a tool of his passions, when God meant her to be his companion and equal, his helper and counsellor. The historic outcome of such perversion has been a long history of social wrong—polygamy with its harem and seraglio; domestic and social seclusion and exclusion, with its zenana; capricious divorce with its companion and consequence—adulterous unions, and a whole brood of kindred curses and crimes.
Man is no doubt in some respects superior to woman, in capacity for leadership, active and aggressive enterprise; and he has proved historically to surpass her in inventive genius and public achievement. But he is also inferior in heart qualities, in moral intuition, in affectional depth, in emotional sensibility, in capacity for suffering and sacrifice. Each has proficiencies and deficiencies. What one has, the other lacks, and conversely. Comparisons are often invidious because unfair. When things are not alike each must be looked at apart from the other; and so man and woman must be studied, in order to understand how each is, in a higher sense a part of the other, or rather a part of the perfect whole.
We all know what a triumph of invention is the achromatic lens. The varying degrees of refraction, producing all the colors of the rainbow on the double convex lens, interfered fatally with astronomic and microscopic observation. Hall and Dolland discovered the mode of constructing lenses, free from chromatic dispersion, by using two lenses of two different kinds of glass, crown and flint glass, closely joined together. God, in infinite wisdom, saw that by intimately uniting the man and the woman, in a partnership of love so closely that they ceased to be longer twain and became one flesh, the deficiencies of each could so be met by the proficiencies of the other that the unit would be as near as possible a perfect humanity and it is this which is so finely expressed in the original story of creation.
There is no doubt that in a true marriage each party helps the other equally. The Earl of Shaftesbury quaintly said, that if the pope had been married he would have soon discovered that he was not infallible!
Inasmuch as God saw that for the man to be alone was not good, those who venture to hold and teach any other doctrine or philosophy join issue with God.
This does not imply a universal rule that every man and woman is obligated to enter matrimonial ranks; for there may be the highest motives, both prudential and pious, for abiding alone—sufficient reasons for celibacy, physical and moral, domestic and social. But a single life should be regarded and treated as abnormal and exceptional, rather than ideal. Any teaching that leads men and women to think of the marriage bond as the sign of bondage, and the sacrifice of all independence; to construe wifehood and motherhood as drudgery, and interference with woman’s higher destiny; any tendency of society to cultivate celibacy as more desirable, preferable and honorable, or to substitute anything else for marriage and home, not only invades God’s order, but opens the door to nameless crimes and threatens the very foundations of society.
Those who watch the signs of the times must see certain alarming signals at different points of the horizon like the lightning flashes that hint the coming storm.
Among these threatening forecasts of disaster, none is more perilous than the doctrine of Marital Affinity. It teaches that every man and woman has some special inborn or inbred fitness for some other, and the great secret of happiness is to find one’s counterpart; and that this is so important that, if unsuccessful at first, another experiment is the only resort with hope of a better result. This is the theory put into as delicate language as its viciousness permits; and of all the perils that menace domestic and social life, none is more serious. Even if for the moment considered as a possible remedy for some existing evils, it introduces more than it relieves. It encourages hasty and ill-assorted marriages in suggesting a ready cure for marital blunders and mistakes. It justifies capricious divorce, separating husband and wife for causes absolutely disallowed by Scripture, and so fosters nuptial discord and unrest, by justifying the sundering of sacred ties on the ground of supposed incompatibility of mind and temper, or some caprice of fancy that some new connection would be more acceptable and agreeable.
God who instituted marriage made it a life bond, a partnership between one man and one woman, the most intimate known to humanity—the twain becoming one flesh—a partnership whose only sanction is love, and whose only dissolution is by death, or by that other death of love through the allowance of a rival love that by its very existence destroys the previous and purer bond.
In making the tie thus permanent, He evinced His perfect wisdom. He foresaw that the easier the dissolution of the bond, the less motive for forbearance and mutual and resolute effort to promote agreement and harmony. He would have all who take such a step, count the cost and understand that it is irrevocable, so that they may enter into wedlock “soberly, advisedly and in the fear of God.”
Notwithstanding these plain Scriptural teachings, and their abundant vindication in human experience, before the legislature of the State of Colorado, a bill was presented, intended to provide for and legalize trial marriages, and authorizing a marriage contract “for a limited term, not less than three, nor more than ten years, and for any term of years between these terms of three and ten.
“If, after six months of any limited marriage contract have expired, should said parties desire, they may appear before the said officer, if alive and in office, and if not, before any other proper officer, and, delivering up the limited contract aforesaid, may make another and new contract, which shall in all cases be a contract for life, and not for another term of years.”
Not only so, but a woman of prominence has lately published a book in which are suggested, if not advocated, such experimental marriages, as a possible solution to existing estrangements in married life. Meanwhile, in one of the worst criminal trials on record, the disgusting details of fashionable debauchery and adultery have been unblushingly paraded in print, and respectable women clamored for entrance into the courtroom, showing how public sentiment finds in marital infidelities a carcass upon which to feed as with the voracity of a vulture.
Another sign of the low level of ideas of marriage is seen in the matches of convenience that so largely displace the wedlock of love, turning into sacrilege what ought to be a sacrament. How shocking is it that human beings should barter virtue for a price, paid in money, title, or social rank, dignifying by the name of marriage, what in God’s vocabulary bears quite a different designation, and allowing mercantile motives to crowd aside moral considerations!
All this reminds us that the best is always capable of being perverted to the worst; and, as the inverted images in water project as deep downward as the objects reflected rise upward, so what God designs as the highest blessing may become by human perversity the greatest curse.
Moreover, all marital crimes are mutual. Some sins are individual; they involve others as suffering victims, but not participators. Not so here. Whatever involves the family in ruin by such unlawful relations, implies participation in crime and guilt. Nor must it be forgotten what fearful harvests of sin and crime come by geometrical progression from such sowing to the flesh. What ultimate possibilities of good or evil lie germinally in every family! Jacob entered Egypt with seventy souls; at the Exodus they had multiplied over eight thousand five hundred times. In the light of such considerations as these must our studies be conducted into the Problem of the Family.
We cannot lay too heavy stress on the Scripture idea and ideal of the family, because nothing is just now in greater peril. The same tidal wave of practical infidelity that is beating wildly against the Gibraltar of Holy Scripture is actually sweeping away the whole fabric of marriage with all that it involves in the family and home.
Rev. Dr. Charles H. Parkhurst, of New York, a mighty agitator for both political and moral or ethical reform, has recently thundered out a noble remonstrance against modern laxity in the whole notion and practice as to the family life.* He is not opposed to progress, but believes some progress is backward. He accepts the ramification of fresh branches and the unfolding of new blossoms, but he stands by the truth and swears by the root, and believes that there are some things “so inherently true that they will continue to be true till eternity ends and God dies.”
The family is one of the few institutions that has an unchanging ideal in the mind of God and Word of God, and no hand of man can improve it, and God never will alter it. It belongs to a sinless Eden and partakes of the perfect moral order that antedates sin and the fall. It partakes of God’s immutability and the solidity and stability of His eternity. Man is not to attempt with his crowbar to loosen and lift the everlasting mountains or even question what God has settled. God’s ideal of family life is something stable that does not crawl about on legs or wander about on wheels. Any club life or hotel life that displaces home life is a curse to the community. What upsets home is sacrilegious; it profanes a sanctuary. What breaks up the unity of home life is ruinous to church and state—“for the unit of society it substitutes a lot of vulgar fractions.”
What wonder if, about marriage with such issues hanging upon it, restrictions are placed. Believers are left at liberty to marry whom they will, “only in the Lord.” That sacred phrase, one of the mystic symbols of the New Testament, must not be construed to mean, “only with a fellow believer or a church member.” Throughout the Epistles, it means a sphere of life, an element in which we live and move and have our being. Believing on Christ we so enter into His life as to be identified with Him; and henceforth what cannot be done in Him is not to be done at all. A union in the Lord is not only one approved and appointed of Him, but constituted in Him, as the sphere of its sanctity, authority, activity, fertility. Each party, by faith one with the Lord, in Him by love becomes one with the other. Such a union not only bars out an ungodly, unbelieving partner, but makes impossible wedlock between a spiritual, and a nominal, carnal disciple, leading those who truly live in Christ to demand in a companion similar devotion to Him.
The writer recalls an instance of a young woman, brought to Christ under his ministry, who, while herself alien from God, had pledged herself to an infidel, but who came for counsel, declaring that she could not marry such a man, because she was “already the bride of Christ” and it would be infidelity to Him; and she pleaded with God to show her the way to an honorable release from a pledge that had become abhorrent to her.
Issues so vast, not only for the parties themselves, but for generations to come, hang on godly marriages, that it seems strange that any true disciple can even entertain the thought of such union with another who is not in hearty spiritual accord, however in sympathy in lesser things.
The precepts of the Levitical code typically hint the principles explicitly laid down in the New Testament.
“Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinth. 6:14) unmistakably points back to the precept, “Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together” (Deut. 22:10). One was an unclean beast, never laid on God’s altar; the other, clean, and a sacrificial victim. God would not have under one yoke, harnessed to one plow, two animals of such different class, thereby hinting that a believer and servant of God He would not have closely yoked up with an unbeliever and servant of Satan.
When we read, “Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind” (Levit. 19:19) and find the Hebrews forbidden even to mix woolen and linen in a garment, or sow a field with mixed seed, we cannot but see another hint as to the impropriety of mixed marriages.
God’s original ideal then must be kept before us: One man and one woman, mutually in sympathy, intellectually, morally and religiously, united in a partnership whose association is more intimate and tender, perfect and permanent than any other, displacing even filial and fraternal ties, so that a man shall leave father and mother and cleave unto his wife, they being no more twain, but one flesh, losing almost individuality and duality in a higher and sacred mutuality and unity.
It must also be borne in mind that God’s ultimate object in marriage is offspring. To our first parents, while yet in a sinless Eden, He said, “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it”—multiplication of the higher forms of intelligence and life in order to subjugation of the lower, that the material and animal creation should be ruled by man, by brain rather than brawn, by intelligence and integrity rather than brute force.
Here is a goal indeed—increase and multiplication, not in money or material possessions, but in humanity itself, an investment of the capital of character for the sake of a like interest, character—profit and property realized in offspring bearing the parental likeness. Man being made in God’s image, multiplying reflections and reproductions of that image. Here is a business that trades in being, subduing lower forms of life by propagating the higher!
The natural increase of the family is itself a problem of grand importance.
Few appreciate the immense opportunity and responsibility involved in such natural and normal growth. Nature hints that wedlock shall not take place before physical maturity, or what is known as majority—say about twenty-one years of age. Curiously, in the healthy body, the years of fruitfulness average another equal period, and if children are given only once in three years it allows an average of seven to a normal family life. Allowing for average mortality this would make possible a rate of increase that seems incredible. It has been estimated that, were there now no more families on earth than emerged from the ark, and each family multiplying its numbers but fourfold every forty years, in less than six hundred years, at this rate of geometrical progression, the earth might have as large a population as now. It was similar numerical calculations to these that led Malthus to fear that in time, the earth could not sustain its own inhabitants. He observed that, while the race increased by geometrical progression, the increase of agricultural products, taking into account waste, etc., was only in arithmetical ratio, and hence population would soon surpass the means of subsistence. So it would be, but for the ravages of pestilence, famine, disease and war. But Malthus thought further checks should be put upon the increase of the race, by preventive measures, such as forbidding marriage until a proper age, with physical fitness and capacity to support a family. The poor law reform of logos4-command:UniversalTimeline%7CSavedDate%3Ddate.18341834 was one fruit of his researches, and many economists who did not accept his estimates, were influenced by his ideas.
All other problems concerning marriage therefore are outranked in importance by the question, How may we secure generations of upright and godly offspring?
Three facts face us: First, in thousands of Christian families there are unconverted children, some of whom are profligate; again, unless there is a reasonable ground of confidence that children will be godly, it is presumption, if not crime, to dare parenthood; and, yet again, God’s command that parents shall “bring up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” implies the possibility and ability, for every commandment is an enablement. If God says I ought, He implies I can.
Remarkable contrasts exist in family history extending through generations, which cannot be wholly accounted for by natural causes, and seem to confirm and illustrate God’s own words:
“I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”
Jonathan Edwards was the son of a most godly sire. His father was a preacher and before him his mother’s father. Some pains have been taken to trace the history of the descendants of this singularly separated man. More than four hundred of them have been thus traced, and they include fourteen college presidents, and one hundred professors; one hundred of them have been ministers of the gospel, missionaries and theological teachers. More than a hundred of them lawyers and judges. Out of the whole number sixty have adorned the medical calling and as many more known as authors of high rank, or editors of journals. In fact almost every conspicuous American industry has had as its promoters one or more of the offspring of the Edward’s stock since the remote ancestor was married in the closing half of logos4-command:UniversalTimeline%7CSavedDate%3Ddate.1601%2B100the seventeenth century.
On the contrary, there has been careful search into the history of one criminal family known as the Jukes, and it is equally conspicuous as a long record of pauperism and profligacy, imbecility and insanity. Twelve hundred descendants have been traced of this prolific family tree. Four hundred of these were physical self-wrecked; three hundred and ten professional paupers, one hundred and thirty convicted criminals, sixty habitual thieves and pickpockets, and seven murderers; while out of the whole twelve hundred only twenty ever learned a trade, and of these half of them owed it to prison discipline.
The author has been greatly interested in a letter from a remote relative who has taken pains to trace to some extent the children of our common ancestry. He writes: “The Pooles and Piersons are the descendants of Hannah Standwick, born in logos4-command:UniversalTimeline%7CSavedDate%3Ddate.1601%2B100the seventeenth century, about the middle, at Broadway County, Somerset, who married George Poole, of the same place. The second son of Mr. Poole’s nephew, Joel Standwick, was a pre-eminently holy man; and one characteristic of his family prayers, and I believe of such as were offered in public (although prayer meetings were a comparative rarity in those days), was his never failing to intercede for unborn generations, especially among his own kin. Now I may add that the result is very significant. I know hardly one in all the families which have the Standwick blood, and I knew them extensively, who is or was an irreligious person; nearly all were professors of religion, while many, if not the bulk of them, have adorned the gospel they were not ashamed to confess, and many have served as ministers and office bearers both in Britain and in the States.”
All these principles which demand a godly union in wedlock have tenfold force when it is remembered that the marital relation is bound up with the parental. Either party may be left by the death of the other to the sole charge of a family of children, and what if in the surviving parent there be no root principles of piety to germinate in godly nurture and admonition, Scripture teaching and prayer habits!
The Word of God counsels that where such alliance has been formed before conversion, the believer shall seek with intense earnestness to save the other. But to those, as yet only contemplating wedlock, there is no doubt that the Spirit’s counsel and command are rather to abide alone than enter into such a union without the basis of a godly fellowship.*
Only those whose long experience gives them a lofty point of view can appreciate the reasons for such emphatic Scripture teachings. When all outward charms fade and worldly advantages fail; when age comes on and youth and beauty flee; when health and wealth are gone; when a family has been reared and character is beyond parental shaping; when crises throng where nothing can avail but a love whose corner stone is piety; then in the review, is seen the immense importance of having made a right choice, and that, next to the espousal of Christ as Saviour, stands a godly marital union. How many, at a dying bed or open grave, with a broken heart, bewail the mistakes that can never be undone. There comes an hour when riches, rank, personal attractions and even intellectual culture become apples of Sodom, turning to ashes when there is need of a comfort and consolation that only such love can supply as has grown ripe on the Tree of Life!
If godliness in offspring can be assured at all, the most vital condition is a holy Parental character.
The whole teaching of the Bible implies a definite aim and purpose in the Christian parent to bear and rear offspring for God. Hence that remarkable language, “Children are an heritage of the Lord; “And the fruit of the womb is His reward” (Psa. 132:3).
God counts them as His inheritance and as the reward of His toil as though in procreation when it is what it ought to be the Creator is claiming His own, both by right of creative power and gracious covenant.
This suggests that even the right to assume parenthood may rest on Covenant relations with God. For how can any one not in covenant with Him form the holy partnership wherein a disciple undertakes to bear and rear, nurse and nurture, train and develop children for God! How would such a sacred conception of wedlock and such a holy purpose in wedlock lift all marital and parental relations to a wholly new plane! And how could it fail to ennoble the whole character of offspring!
Nothing is more indisputable than the prenatal influences that mould offspring, reaching back especially to the mother’s whole attitude of mind and heart, as well as body, her attitude becoming in her unborn child an aptitude. Hannah prayed for Samuel and from the time of that prayer, he was lent to the Lord in advance. Had that nothing to do with the character and career of that child in whom the open prophetic vision was restored after a long silence? In Timothy, Paul traced a faith that dwelt first in the mother Eunice and back of her in the grandmother Lois Here is something which comes near to being a hereditary faith!
The character of the parents must, in some degree, and may in a very large degree, be reproduced in offspring. “Adam begat a son after his own likeness (Gen.5:3), after his image” (comp. 1:26). If attributes are not inherited, aptitudes are—dispositions, tastes and tendencies toward good or evil. And it is impossible to say either how much evil may be the legacy of parent to child or how much good. If some children go astray, as soon as they be born speaking lies, there was on the contrary a Samuel that from his birth was given to the Lord, and a John that from his mother’s womb was filled with the Holy Ghost—instances left on record to remind us of parental possibilities.
Hence the Family is the supreme problem: it is the mould of the individual, the norm of society, alike of church and state, and the factor of the future. Catharine Booth felt so intensely the responsibility of motherhood that she boldly said to God, “I will not have a godless child!” Can we imagine God as indifferent to a vow, which showed at once such godly determination and such trust in Him as One who had called her to the sacred office and function of maternity! Not much risk of such a household falling into the category of the families that call not on Thy name (Jer. 10:25). It was this modified heredity of character that led Dr. Bushnell to the bold position* that every child should be trained as presumptively a child of God and an heir of heaven. Certainly thousands of children of believers have been born with aptitudes so markedly religious that they have grown up Christians, without any conscious and definite change such as is called conversion.
There is also great need of authority in the family.
Godly restraint is a necessary factor in every well-regulated home. Gladstone has connected with all the weak concessions to a child’s caprices, whereby wilfulness and selfishness are so often encouraged, the telling phrase—“depraved accommodations.”
CHILDREN ARE THE HERITAGE OF THE LORD
By an exhaustive study of the parentage of every person born since the Reformation whose name appears in the British Dictionary of National Biography, Bishop Weldon has compiled some interesting facts and figures as to the sons of ministers of the gospel. In logos4-command:UniversalTimeline%7CSavedDate%3Ddate.1801%2B100The Nineteenth Century he points out that among those who had attained distinction in various departments of the national life, 1,270 were the sons of ministers, 510 the sons of lawyers, and 350, of doctors. “It is to be set down to the honor of ministerial homes,” says The Presbyterian (Toronto), “that no other source has made so large a contribution to the learning, energy and honor of Great Britain.”
Similar facts were long ago ascertained by the careful investigations of Dr. Wm. B. Sprague, who wrote his voluminous “Annals of the American Pulpit.” But such encouraging family records are even more abundant in the history of missionaries. Witness the remarkable family of John Scudder, the missionary physician of Ceylon, whose nine children were all missionaries in Southern India, and the missionary blood did not run out in the second generation. We know no better examples of the heredity of aptitudes for duty and service than in missionary families, another illustration of which is now before us in the Labaree family and many more like them of our own day—such as Hudson Taylor’s, Dr. Grattan Guinness’s, whose names are synonyms of missionary heroism. May this not be one way of God’s reward and recognition of missionary consecration?
Prenatal aptitudes, however, must be developed by postnatal nurture. Hence the injunction to train up our children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
What is this nurture?
It means, first of all, making the supreme aim of all family life, household piety, everything else being subordinated thereto.
This implies authority—pre-eminently the proper reign of law. “I know him that he will command his children and his household after him,” etc. There can be no Christian nurture without household government—authority supported by penalty. The command, “Honor thy father and thy mother,” stands first in the second table—the leading place, as the command, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me,” stands in the first, and for a reason. It heads the second table because for some years of the child’s life the parent stands to him in the place of God—all the God he knows. If he is taught to love and obey his earthly father, it is both easy and natural, when the idea of a Father in heaven dawns on his consciousness, for him to transfer love and obedience to the Higher Authority. But, if the child habitually rebels against the human parent, it is most natural that when he comes to know there is a God, he should transfer to Him his lawlessness.
In this matter of family life, neither husband nor wife can throw on the other all the responsibility for the religious character of the home. It is a very conspicuous fact that men are, as a rule, far less religious than women. Dr. John Hall said that many men in his congregation were only “brothers-in-law”—their wives being church members, but they not. And there is a lesson in the merchant’s dream, who thought he was refused entrance to heaven, as himself a stranger at the gates; and, when he apologized for his neglect of sacred things, saying that he attended to worldly things and his wife went to church and prayer meeting for both, the answer was, “Well, your wife has gone in for you both!”
This “nurture and admonition of the Lord” is both negative and positive. In Colossians 3:21 Paul says: “Provoke not your children to anger,” and adds, “lest they be discouraged.” They may be excited and enraged in various ways, such as by hastiness of temper, by punishing instead of correcting, by indulging a severity of spirit instead of kindness and love, by threatenings which it is not intended to execute, and promises it is not meant to perform. Rash actions and angry words may provoke to wrath and discourage all efforts at obedience, or, worse still, lead to studied habits of deceit, doing wrong on the sly or hiding wrong when done; thus changing entirely the field of effort, so that, instead of trying to obey, the one endeavor will be to avoid the excessive anger and punishment which even petty offences excite.
The positive side of this precept is, “Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”—that is, such education and discipline as is required by God, and such as God Himself administers as a Father to His children. We are to study His fatherly corrections and educative measures if we would learn how children should be treated. The Greek word—paideia—manifestly includes all family and relative duties, such as love, respect, obedience to parents; all doctrines and duties, moralities and self-denials, owed in church life; and even those honest trades and honorable professional callings which make a child a respectable, self-supporting and helpful member of society, for, as the Jewish maxim reads, “He who teaches his son no trade, teaches him to steal.” This word is very inclusive—it embraces all that a child ought to be taught to make him understand and be able to discharge his duties in the family, church and state.
But discipline in its proper sense (nouthesia) must accompany such education. This is the right disposing of the mind or nous, training it to right habits of thought, and noble resolve—this teaches self-restraint, moral control. Such discipline alone can make education effective for good, for it teaches how to turn education to a good purpose. To be well informed is good, but to be well controlled is better. An ideal family training aims at both, and especially puts the knowledge of the Lord and obedience to Him at the very front.
These are the basal hints on family training in this conspicuous teaching in Ephesians and Colossians, and it is very noticeable that in these companion passages, where so many similar exhortations occur, a strikingly similar injunction precedes: in one case, Be filled with the Spirit, and in the other, Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom. No such nurture and admonition of the Lord is possible except where the parents are filled with the Word and the Spirit. All parents should be sustained by the recollection that when God made His representative covenant with Abram the central and permanent provision was this, “I will be a God to thee and to thy seed after thee.” The other provisions concerning the land, a numerous seed, etc., and the special rite of circumcision, belonging to the Hebrew people and were more or less transient; but the central promise was universal and perpetual: “I will be a God to thee and to thy seed after thee.”
Godly “nurture and admonition” seem to include such elements as the following: Habitual instruction in the Word of God, as the authoritative law of life; constant recognition of God as the supreme Father and household Head; a prayerful atmosphere pervading home life, and breathed by all who share it; a cherishing and exalting of scriptural ideals of character and conduct; a kind but firm oversight of companionships, occupations and amusements; a study to make home attractive, so that its associations are a delight. But, above all, the centrality of the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Careful parents will not overlook even the unconscious influence of a child’s surroundings. The books, papers and periodicals that find their way into a home; the pictures that hang on the walls; the occasional guests that sit at the table—these and a thousand other quiet and subtle forces give shape to character. A prominent sea captain once declared that the marine paintings in his home sent him to sea, and an Indian missionary said that the life of Harriet Newell sent her abroad.
Family Unity is of momentous importance. The household force should be centripetal, not centrifugal, if children are not to break loose from its solar system and become wandering stars. The ideas and ideals of the household should be one, especially on moral and religious subjects, and as far as may me, on intellectual. In a sense, every true family should be exclusive and seclusive. The most abundant hospitality should not turn a home into a hotel. Some elements are often, in a bad sense, “foreign.” The holy Scriptures quaintly record how “outlandish women caused Solomon to sin”—women from outside the land who came into his harem bringing notions and customs foreign to the life and habits of Israel, idolatrous, irreligious, un-Jewish. A prudent mother, whose success in household training was unusual, would not allow her children to spend a night among strangers, not knowing what family heresies, wrong notions or practices they might learn. It involves risk to encourage outsiders to make free at all times with the home; visits should be rare, invited and select. God never meant the sacred precincts of home to be a sort of free runway for indiscriminate waifs from the street or from other houses. The intimacies of children may determine their whole future. Parents carelessly let people have free access to their children, who undermine their authority, overturn their ideals, and sow the seeds of frivolity if not iniquity before they are aware. In a sense, every household is to be a little church with “close communion.”
So far as the family is one, much depends on keeping it one. Children should be taught, while under the parental roof, dependent on the parents and forming part of the family life, not to bring into it discordant elements, to introduce new ideas and practices. The intimacies of children should be guarded, for it is easy for members of another family, brought up in a totally different school or none at all, to bring in what is essentially a foreign speech and notions utterly repugnant to the parent.
It is questionable whether children should be permitted to attend places of worship where they hear doctrines or witness practices which are opposed to parental convictions. When they get old enough to think for themselves, should they come deliberately and conscientiously to a new conviction concerning church matters, wise parents will help them to follow convictions. But ordinarily wanderers to other church folds are moved not by conscientious convictions, but by unreasonable and childish caprices which should be suppressed.
The main elements that, together, make up an ideal household, according to the Scriptural pattern, are Law, Love, Liberty, Life, Unity, Sanctity and Ministry; in other words, authority, affection or sympathy, a living example, freedom of action, a common aim, a holy atmosphere, and a training for unselfish service. Without any of these there is a serious if not fatal defect, and the highest results are forfeited.
There must be authority in order to any true unity. No family can be properly brought up without household law asserted and enforced. Law implies sanctions, reward and punishment, and these are especially important in early childhood, when as yet moral character is unformed and moral motives not fully understood or appreciated. Rules should be simple, clear, reasonable and inflexible, like the ten commandments—a few great moral rules, instead of a multitude of petty restrictions. One way of needlessly provoking children to wrath is to hamper them with a thousand trifling restraints and minute regulations that are capricious and are due to a fastidious temper in the parent. These sometimes constitute a yoke that neither our fathers nor we were able to bear, such as must have constrained a little girl in America, when her teacher asked her full name, to answer, “Mamma always calls me Mary Don’t!”
As to punishment and reward, a small recognition may be as effective as a much greater one, if associated with the idea of reward, and a slight punishment, if it invariably follows an offence, as effective as a severer penalty that is uncertain and capricious. But punishment should always be administered calmly and deliberately and lovingly, and not passionately, hastily and angrily. The spirit and temper of the parent in chastisement will be likely to awaken a similar spirit in the child—if impatient, or angry, or resentful, or harsh, it kindles its like; if a punishment is inflicted in sorrow and love it is apt to soften and subdue and often draws the child closer to the parent. It should always be plain that the punishment costs more to the parent who inflicts it than to the child who suffers. Here lies the great power of the cross: it shows the Love of God. It was a visitation of penalty upon sin that cost God everything and cost the sinner nothing. The Lawgiver took the punishment on Himself!
But authority there must be, and it must be maintained.
“For I know him, that he will command his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” Notice, “he will command”—there was simple authority, but it concerned the greatest matters—the gravest issues—to keep the way of the Lord, etc., fidelity to God and man—and this fidelity on Abraham’s part was the necessary condition of the blessing God had promised to his house.
As we have seen, the second table of the Law puts submission to parental authority supreme among all human obligations, as in the first table, the worship and service of the One God; because obedience to parents is paramount, not only the basis of all human society and welfare, but the basis of piety towards God; for it is a basal fact and truth that there is a period in child life, when as yet he has no idea of God, when the parent stands to him in the place of God. As, therefore, he is taught and learns to treat his earthly father he will be likely to treat his heavenly Father when old enough to apprehend the fact of His existence and claims.
Great importance attaches also to household habits, which may create an atmosphere in which morality and piety thrive and vice and unbelief are stifled.
In Deuteronomy 6:4–9 is pictured a family life, where Jehovah is supremely loved by the parents, where His law is written on the fleshly tablets of the heart, and out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. God’s commands are a habitual subject of conversation and guide to conduct, whether seated in the house or walking by the way, when lying down or rising up; bound for a sign on the hand and worn as frontlets between the eyes; written upon the door posts of the house and the gates. Such figures of speech plainly imply that, whether resting or moving, beginning or ending the day, thinking or working, God’s name and word are to be supreme, and even strangers going in and out are to see and feel this supremacy of God.
Nothing tells on the child like this general Life of the home. Teaching that reaches no further back than the lips will commonly pierce no further in than the ear. What teaches most is character—character that stands like a grand oak of Bashan or cedar of Lebanon in the crises of storm—a faith that trusts in promises when human props give way, a courage that dares to follow in face of danger, an unselfishness that both lives and gives to the point of real self-sacrifice, an integrity that can stand firm before seductive temptation. What parents do and are in the Crises of Life—that is what most teaches and impresses children.
Arthur T. Pierson, The Bible and Spiritual Life (New York: Gospel Publishing House, 1908).