by John Angell James
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother"—which is the first commandment with a promise—"that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. Ephesians 6:1-3
"My son, obey your father's commands, and don't neglect your mother's teaching. Keep their words always in your heart. Tie them around your neck. Wherever you walk, their counsel can lead you. When you sleep, they will protect you. When you wake up in the morning, they will advise you." Proverbs 6:20-22
"The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son delights in him. May your father and mother be glad; may she who gave you birth rejoice!" Proverbs 23:24-25
Perhaps there is no duty the obligations of which are more generally acknowledged than filial piety; none which in the performance yields greater pleasure; nor which, if neglected brings a more severe or righteous retribution. All nations, however sunk in barbarism or elevated by science, have admitted the strength and justice of parental claims; and the unhappy youth who resists them, stands convicted, condemned and reprobated before the tribunal of the world. On the other hand, an eminently dutiful child is an object of delight, admiration and esteem, to all who have an opportunity of witnessing his conduct; he goes through society surrounded by a glory purer than that of fame, and far more conducive to his own comfort; he is a blessing to his parents, and is blessed himself.
Children, may all of you be such—and for that purpose, I ask your fixed attention to the statement of your duties, as set before you in this chapter. The obligations of family life are reciprocal. If your parents owe to you all that I have enjoined upon them, how much do you owe to your parents? I have been your advocate with them, I now become theirs with you.
Consider well the relationship you sustain to your parents. There is a natural relationship between you, inasmuch as they are the instruments of your very existence—a circumstance which of itself seems to invest them, as I have already said, with an almost absolute authority over you. The commonness, the universality of the tie, takes off the mind from contemplating its closeness, its tenderness, its sanctity. You are literally parts of your parents, and cannot dwell for a moment upon your origin, without being struck, one would think, with the amazing and solemn weight of obligation that rests upon you towards a father and a mother.
But consider, there is not only a natural, but in reference to duty, an instituted relationship between you; Jehovah himself has interposed, and uniting the language of revelation with the dictates of reason; the force of authority, to the impulse of nature; has called you to filial piety, not only as a matter of feeling, but of principle. Study then the relationship, look narrowly and seriously at the relationship existing between you. Weigh well the significance of the word PARENT; think how much is employed in it towards its appropriate object, how many offices it contains in itself—guardian, ruler, teacher, guide, benefactor, provider—WHAT THEN MUST BE THE OBLIGATIONS OF A CHILD?
The following is a brief summary of filial duties—
1. You Ought to Love Your Parents.
LOVE is the only state of mind from which all the only other duties that you owe them, can arise. By love, we mean affection; and surely this is due to a father and mother. The very relation in which you stand to them demands this. If you are destitute of this, if you are without any propensity of heart towards them, you are in a strange and guilty state of mind. Until you are married, or are in prospect of it, they ought, in most cases, to be the supreme objects of your earthly affections. It is not enough for you to be respectful and obedient, and even kind; but, where there exists no reasons for alienating your heart, you should be fond of them. It is of infinite importance that you should watch over the internal state of your mind, and not allow dislike, alienation, or indifference, to extinguish your love towards your parents. Do not take up a prejudice against them, nor allow an unfavorable impression to be made upon your mind. Respect and obedience, if they do not spring from love, are valueless in their nature, and very precarious in their existence.
If you love them, you will delight to be in their company, and take pleasure in being at home with them. It is painful to them to see that you are happier anywhere than at home, and fonder of any other society than theirs. No companion should be so valued by you as a kind father or mother.
If you love them, you will strive in all things to please them. We are always anxious to please those whom we love, and to avoid whatever would give them pain. If we are careless whether we please or displease any particular person, it is obviously impossible that we can have any affection for that person. The essence of piety towards God is a deep solicitude to please him; and the essence of filial piety, is a solicitude to please your parents. Young people, dwell upon this single simple thought, A CHILD'S PLEASURE SHOULD BE TO PLEASE HIS PARENTS. This is love, and the sum of all your duty. If you would adopt this rule, if you would write this upon your heart, if you would make this the standard of your conduct, I might lay down my pen, for it includes everything in itself.
O that you could be brought to reason and to resolve thus—"I am bound by every tie of God and man, of reason and revelation, of honor and gratitude, to do all I can to make my parents happy, by doing whatever will give them pleasure, and by avoiding whatever will give them pain. By God's help, I will from this hour study and do whatever will promote their comfort. I will make my will to consist in doing theirs, and my earthly happiness to arise from making them happy. I will sacrifice my own desires, and be satisfied with their choice." Noble resolution, and just and proper! Adopt it, act upon it, and you will never be sorry. Do not have any earthly happiness that is enjoyed at the expense of theirs.
If you love them, you will desire their good opinion. We naturally value the esteem of those to whom we are attached—we wish to be thought highly of by them; and if we are quite careless about their respect for us, it is a sure sign we have no love for them. Children should be desirous and even anxious to stand high in the opinion of their parents; and nothing can be a more decisive proof of a bad disposition in a son or a daughter, than their being quite indifferent what their parents think of them. All love must be gone in such a case as this, and the youth is in the road to rebellion and destruction—commendation has lost its value, censure its efficacy, and punishment its power.
2. You Ought to Respect your Parents.
"Honor," says the commandment, "your father and mother." This respect has respect to your feelings, your words, and your actions. It consists in part of an inward consciousness of their superiority, and an endeavor to cherish a reverential frame of mind towards them, as placed by God over you. There must be high thoughts of their superiority, both natural and instituted, and a submission of the heart to their authority, in a way of sincere and profound respect. Even your love must be that which is exercised and expressed towards a superior. If there be no respect of the heart, it cannot be expected in the conduct. In all virtue, whether it be that higher kind which has respect to God, or that secondary kind, which relates to our fellow creatures, we must have a right state of heart; for without this, virtue does not exist.
Your words should correspond with the reverential feelings of the heart. When speaking to them, your address, both in language and in tones, should be modest, submissive, and respectful; not loud, boisterous, impertinent, or even familiar—for they are not your equals, but your superiors. If at any time you differ from them in opinion, your views should be expressed, not with the flippancy and pertinaciousness of disputants, but with the meek inquisitiveness of pupils. Should they reprove you more sharply than you think is due, you must lay your hand upon your mouth, and neither answer them back, nor show resentment. Your respect for them should be so great, as to impose a considerable restraint upon your speech in their company; for much is due to the presence of a parent.
It is exceedingly offensive to hear a pert, clamorous, talkative young person, unchecked by the countenance of a father or mother, and engaging much of the conversation of a party to himself. Young people should always be modest and retiring in company, but more especially when their parents are there. You should also be careful about the manner of speaking of them to others. You should never talk of their faults, for this is like Ham's uncovering the nakedness of his father. You must not speak of them in a jocose or familiar manner, nor say anything that would lead others to think lightly, or to suppose that you thought lightly of them. If they are attacked in their reputation, you are with promptitude and firmness, though with meekness, to defend them, so far as truth will allow; and even if the charge be true, to make all the excuses that veracity will permit, and protest against the cruelty of degrading your parents in your presence.
Respect should extend to all your behavior towards your parents. In all your conduct towards them, give them the greatest honor; let it be observed by others that you pay them all possible respect, and let it also be seen by themselves, when there is no spectator near. Your conduct should always be under restraint, when they are within sight; not the restraint of dread, but of esteem. How would you act if the king were in the room? Would you be as free, as familiar, as noisy, as before he had entered? I am of opinion, that parents let down their dignity, and undermine their authority, by allowing the same crude and boisterous behavior in their presence, as in their absence. This should not be. When reason is expanding in children, they should be made to understand and feel the truth of what I have already affirmed, that there is an outward respect due to the very presence of a parent. All crude and noisy rushing in and out of a father or mother's company is improper. It is the etiquette of our court, that no one shall enter the royal presence, when the king is upon his throne, without honor; nor in retiring, turn his back upon the throne. I do not ask for the same formalities in families, but I ask for the principle from which it arises—a respectful deference for authority.
3. You Ought to Obey Your Parents.
"Children obey your parents," says the apostle in his epistle to the Colossians. This is one of the most obvious dictates of nature; even the irrational creatures are obedient by instinct, and follow the signs of the parent animal, or bird, or reptile. Perhaps there is no duty more generally acknowledged than this. Your obedience should begin early—the younger you are, the more you need a guide and a ruler.
Obedience should be universal—"Children obey your parents," said the apostle, "in all things." The only exception to this, is when their commands are, in the letter or spirit of them, opposed to the commands of God. In this case, as well as in every other, we must obey God, rather than man. But even here your refusal to comply with the sinful injunction of a parent, must be uttered in a meek and respectful manner, so that it shall be manifest you are actuated by pure, conscientious motives, and not by a mere rebellious resistance of parental authority. Your obedience should have no other exception than that which is made by conscience.
Your personal inclinations and tastes are out of the question—both must be crossed, opposed, and set aside, when opposed to parental authority.
Obedience should be prompt. As soon as the command is uttered, it should be complied with. It is a disgrace to any child that it should be necessary for a father or a mother to repeat a command. You should even anticipate, if possible their injunctions, and not wait until their will is announced in words. A tardy obedience loses all its glory.
Obedience should be cheerful. A reluctant virtue is no virtue at all. Constrained and unwilling obedience, is rebellion in principle; it is vice clothed in the garment of goodness. God loves a cheerful giver, and so does man. A child retiring from a parent's presence, muttering, sullen, and murmuring, is one of the ugliest spectacles in creation—of what value is anything he does, in such a temper as this?
Obedience should be self-denying. You must give up your own wills, and sacrifice your own desires, and perform the things that are difficult, as well as those that are easy. When a soldier receives a command, although he may be at home in comfort, and he is required at once to go into the field of danger, he hesitates not, he considers he has no option. A child has no more room for the gratification of self-will than the soldier has—he must obey.
Obedience should be uniform. Filial obedience is generally rendered without much difficulty when the parents are present, but not always with the same unreservedness, when they are absent. Young people, you should despise the baseness, and abhor the wickedness, of consulting the wishes, and obeying the injunctions of your parents, only when they are there to witness your conduct. Such hypocrisy is detestable. Act upon nobler principles. Let it be enough for you to know what is the will of a parent, to ensure obedience, even though oceans rolled between you and your father. Carry this injunction with you everywhere; let the voice of conscience be to you, instead of his voice, and the consciousness that God sees you be enough to ensure your immediate compliance.
How sublimely simple and striking was the reply of the child, who upon being pressed in company to take something which his absent parents had forbidden him to touch; and who, upon being reminded that they were not there to witness him, replied, "very true, but God and my conscience are here." Be it your determination, to imitate this beautiful example of filial piety, and obey in all things even your absent parents.
4. Submission to the family discipline and rule is no less your duty than obedience to commands.
In every well ordered family there is a rule of government; there is subordination, system, discipline, reward, and punishment; and to these, all the children must be in subjection. Submission requires, that if at any time you have behaved so as to render parental chastisement necessary, you should take it patiently, and not be infuriated to anger, or excited to resistance. Remember that your parents are commanded by God to correct your faults, that they are actuated by love in performing this self-denying duty, and that it costs them more pain to inflict it, than it does you to endure it. Sincerely confess your faults, and submit to whatever punishment their authority and wisdom may appoint.
One of the loveliest sights in the family economy, next to that of a uniformly obedient child, is a disobedient one brought to a right sense of his misconduct, and quietly submitting to the penalty he has incurred. It is a proof both of strength of mind and of good disposition of heart, to say, "I have done the wrong, and it is proper that I should bear the chastisement."
In the case of elder children, all other correction than that of rebuke, and the expression by language of parental displeasure, is of course out of the question; but where this is necessary, such young people as have merited it, should exercise profound submission. It is exceedingly painful when a parent, in addition to the extreme pain which it costs him to administer reproof to such children, has to endure the anguish produced by their utter indifference, smiling contempt, sullen murmuring, or insolent replies. This conduct is the more guilty, because the authors of it are arrived at an age when they may be supposed to have advanced so far in the growth of their understanding, as to perceive how deeply laid are the foundations of the parental authority, in nature, reason, and revelation—and how necessary it is that the reins of parental discipline should not be relaxed. If then, you have committed one error in deserving reproof, do not commit another in resenting it. Keep all still within, let not your passions rebel against your judgment, but suppress in a moment the rising tumult of the soul.
The conduct of some children after reproof, is a deeper wound on the heart of a parent, than that which preceded and deserved the reproof. On the other hand, I know not a greater mark of nobleness of mind, nor anything which tends to raise a young person higher in the esteem of a parent, or to endear him more to a father's heart, than a humble submission to reproof, and an honest confession of his fault. A friend of mine had a son, long since gone to join the immortals, who, having one day displeased his father before his younger brothers and sisters, not only meekly submitted to parental rebuke, but when the family were assembled at the dinner table, rose before them all, and after having confessed his fault, and craved his father's forgiveness, admonished the junior branches of the family to take warning by his example, and be cautious never to distress their parents, whom they were under such obligations to love and respect. Nothing could be more lovely or more impressive, than this noble act. He rose, by his apology, to a higher place in the love and esteem of his parents and the family, than he occupied even before his fault. Sullenness, impertinence, and obstinate resistance, are baseness, cowardice, littleness—compared with such an action as this, which combines an heroic magnanimity with the profoundest humility.
Submission requires also, a due observance of the rules laid down for the maintenance of family order. In every well ordered family, things are not left to chance, but regulated by fixed laws; there is a time for everything—and everything in its time; a place for everything—and everything in its place. Meals, prayer, going to bed, and rising in the morning, are all in their appointed season. To these rules it is the obvious duty of every branch of the family to submit. The sons and daughters may be growing up or arrived at full age; this matters not, they must submit to the law of the house, and their age is an additional reason for their submission, as it supposes a maturity of judgment, which enables them to perceive more clearly the grounds of all moral obligation. They may think the rules too strict; but if the parent has enacted them, they should be in submission, and that, as long as they continue members of the little community, though it be almost to old age.
It is for the parent to decide also what visitors shall be brought to the house—and it is in the highest degree improper for a child to introduce, or even wish to attempt to introduce, any companion, contrary to the known will of a parent.
The same remark will apply to recreations. Parents must determine this point, and no child that has the proper feelings of a child, would desire to set up any amusements that the taste, and especially that the conscience of a father or mother forbids. Instances have occurred of young people inviting such friends, and joining with them in such diversions, in the absence of their parents, as they know to be decidedly contrary to the law of the house. This is such an act of base and wicked rebellion against parental authority, and such an unprincipled disregard to parental comfort, as language is too weak to characterize.
Even the books which are brought into the house must be in accordance with the family rule. If the parent forbids the introduction of novels, romances, or any other books, a child in most cases should forego his own desires, and yield to an authority which he cannot resist without opposing the institute of nature and religion.
5. It is the Duty of Children to Consult their Parents.
Your parents are the guides of your youth; your natural counselors; the family teachers, which you are ever to consult, and the responses of which are to be received with pious respect. Even if you have just reason to suspect the solidity and astuteness of their judgment, it is due to the relation in which you stand to them, to undertake nothing without laying the matter before them, and obtaining their opinion. How much more ready should you be to do this, where you have every reason to confide in their wisdom. You are young and inexperienced; the path of life is in a considerable degree untrodden by you, and perplexities are perpetually arising, which you have yet acquired no experience to understand, nor to deal properly with. They have traveled the road, and know its turnings, its dangers, and its difficulties. Go to your parents, then, with every concern; consult them on the subject of companions, books, recreations. Let a father's and a mother's ear be the receptacle of all your cares. Have no secrets which you conceal from them.
Especially consult with them on the subjects of occupation and marriage. On the former, you perhaps need their financial assistance, and how can you expect this if you take not their advice, as to the best way of employing their property. As to marriage, I need not repeat at any length what I have already said on this subject. The scripture has furnished us with many fine instances of the deference paid in patriarchal times by children to their parents. Isaac and Jacob both appear to have left the selection of their wives to their parents. Ruth, though a daughter-in-law, was willing to be guided entirely by Naomi. Ishmael asked his mother's advice; and Samson sought for his parent's consent. The simplicity of that age has departed, and in the advance of society, more of the power of selection now vests in the children; but it should not be exercised independently of parental advice. An old writer has this remark—"It may be considered, that parents who brought forth and bred up their children, should by no means be bereft of them, without their consent; and since they are so much their goods and possessions, it were a kind of purloining to give themselves away without their parents' permission." And on this subject, a heathen may teach many who profess to be Christians; for Cyrus, on being invited to form a relationship with a particular individual, replied, "I like the woman, her dowry, and family; but I must have these agree with my parents' will, and then I will marry her."
6. Imitate the Good Example of Your Parents.
I say their good example, for if they unhappily set you a bad one, it is at the peril of your soul that you follow it. It was a noble answer which Frederick IV returned to the prince, who advised him to follow the example of his father Lewis—"In the business of religion we must follow the example of parents and ancestors, only so far as they are agreeable to the will of God." Marcus Aurelius Antonius, when he came to the throne of Imperial Rome, publicly expressed his determination not to follow the usual conduct of the Caesars, but to act as a disciple of the pious Antonine, and to act, and speak, and think, as his foster-father did. Survey the conduct of your parents; let their failings be thrown back in shadow, their excellences brought out in full sight. Where they are truly pious, be followers of their religious character. You bear the likeness of their bodies, receive also the impress of their minds. Seek to catch the family feature of their piety.
A wicked child, of godly parents, is the most awful character upon earth. With what horror do I look upon such an one! That he should swear, who was taught to pray! That he should violate the Sabbath, who was led up from his infantine days, to the house of God! That he should despise religion, who has ever seen its beautiful form, in the example of a godly father, and a pious mother! That he should be a friend of profane and unclean people, who from a child has been the companion of saints! Shocking spectacle!!
But even where there may be no actual irreligion, there is oftentimes a lack of true religion; and this also, is distressing. What an aggravation is it to the sin of being an unbeliever, to have lived all the earlier part of life, with an example of true godliness before our eyes! This is a dreadful and actual resistance of the most alluring means which heaven ever employs for the conversion of a sinner; it is a resolute determination to neglect and forget religion, in spite of an attracting and powerful memorial of it constantly before your eyes. What a meeting will such children have with their parents at the last day!!
7. The last duty I shall mention is Kindness.
This should extend through the whole of your deportment; but there are several cases in which it will have a more enlarged opportunity for displaying its beauty, and exerting its energy.
When parents are greatly inferior in talents and acquirements, it is a fine occasion for the exercise of filial piety. We know instances in which the father and mother are lamentably deficient, not only in information, but in judgment—their weakness is manifest to all, and cannot be concealed from their family; by whom, indeed, the sad effects of their imbecility are daily felt and deplored. Here then is an opportunity for a display of noble and exalted kindness, on the part of children. Young people, if you are placed in such circumstances, endeavor constantly to remember that notwithstanding all their weakness, they are your parents still, and hold a parent's claim. Never, never taunt them with their defects, for this is cruelty in the extreme; but on the contrary, strive to the uttermost to prevent them from suffering any painful consciousness of their inferiority. Do not laugh at their mistakes, nor ever allow yourselves to expose or to correct them in such a way, as to wound their feelings. If they are obstinate, yield to them; if irritable, bear with them—and when they show their incapacity for governing with wisdom, instead of snatching the scepter from their hand—imperceptibly assist them to wield it with greater propriety. It is a beautiful sight to behold a fine, intelligent, strong-minded son or daughter, straining every nerve, and employing every faculty to endure and conceal the faults of such a parent, and to throw an air of respectability over one, who has no respectability of his own.
"There is often, especially in the middle classes of life, as great a difference of mental culture in the parent and the child, as if they had lived at the distance of many centuries. The wealth that has been acquired by patient industry or some fortunate adventure, may be employed in diffusing all the refinements of science and literature to the children of those to whom the very words, science and literature, are words of which they would scarcely be able, even with the help of a dictionary, to understand the meaning. In a rank of life still lower, there are not lacking many meritorious individuals, who, uninstructed themselves, labor indefatigably to obtain the means of liberal instruction of a child, whose wisdom in after years, where he is to astonish the village, may gratify at once their ambition and love.
It would indeed, be painful to think, that anyone, whose superiority of knowledge has cost his parents so much fatigue, and so many privations of comforts, which, but for the expense of the means of his acquired superiority, they might have enjoyed, should turn against them, in his own mind, the acquirements which were to them of so costly a purchase, despising them for the very ignorance which gave greater merit to their sacrifice, and proud of a wisdom far less noble, when it can thus feel contempt, than the humble ignorance which it despises."
Kindness will show itself in generous attention to POOR parents. In the revolution of this world, and by the vicissitudes of human affairs, many children have left their parents behind them in the humble valley of poverty, and some have lost their filial piety in the ascent. Few more shocking scenes can be presented to a feeling mind, than a rich son or daughter ashamed of, and unkind to, his poor father or mother. Such wretches deserve the fate of the proud monarch of Babylon, and would have no more than their desert if they were driven from the company of men to herd with beasts, to which they are more allied in disposition than to human beings!
How beautiful a scene, the very opposite of that which I have just considered, was exhibited in the palace of Pharaoh, when Joseph, then the Prime Minister of Egypt, led in a poor old shepherd to the presence of the king, and before all the lords of the Egyptian court, introduced the decrepit and care-worn pilgrim as his father. Who, after looking at this, will ever be ashamed of a parent because his is clad in the garb of poverty? What a halo of glory did that one act draw round the honored brow of Joseph; the luster of the golden chain that hung from his neck was dim compared with the brightness of this action; and the chariot in which he rode with almost imperial pomp before the people, raised him not to so high an eminence, as that which he occupied, when he stood before the monarch with the patriarch of Canaan leaning on his arm. Never be ashamed of your parents then, because of their poverty.
Let your kindness operate in the way of affording them all things necessary for their comfort.
Kindness will manifest itself by affectionate attention and tender sympathy, in their sickness. I do not know where in all our world to find a lovelier, holier, sweeter scene, than that of a pious and affectionate daughter, devoting her time, and strength, and inventive diligence, to the comfort of a mother or a father confined for years to the room and the bed of sickness. Such children I have known; and ineffably admired who, at an age when there is usually a taste and capacity for the pleasures of society, have abstracted themselves from all company, to be the constant and almost sole companion of that dear sufferer, to alleviate whose sorrows was their only happiness. Scarcely have they permitted themselves to walk abroad and enjoy the scenes of nature, even to recruit their wasting strength and prepare for fresh activities in the sick chamber, lest in their absence a pang should be felt which none could so well mitigate as they, or a need endured which they could best supply.
I knew one such, who, had the sick father lived much longer, would have preceded him to the grave, and died a martyr to filial piety. Nothing could ever tempt her away from his side by day, and not often did a night pass without her stealing quietly to the chamber door, at which unconscious of the frost which was assailing her delicate frame, she stood listening to ascertain if all was still, not daring to enter, lest she should disturb that slumber which perhaps he was enjoying.
I remember in another case, visiting a cottage, in which a sick man lay dying, who had been long ill; his wife was ministering to his comfort, and in one corner of the room, there was a girl of twelve years of age busily employed at her needle. On my asking how they were supported in their affliction, the mother replied, "principally, sir, by that child's work; she is up every morning at four o'clock, and is diligently employed until late at night; she cheerfully bears all this labor, and gives its income to sustain us."
Young people, read and ponder these interesting details, and imitate these beautiful examples. Put forth all your tenderness, shrink from no self-denial; endure, not only without murmuring, but with cheerfulness, any sacrifices to comfort a sick parent. Aspire to the character of being a ministering angel to a father or mother. Let them see that you account it no hardship, but a felicity to wait upon them. It is in your power to alleviate or aggravate to an inconceivable degree their sufferings, according as you are kind or unkind. Covet the testimony which many a one has received, when the sufferer has said, with tears in her eyes, "that dear child is my companion, my friend, my nurse, and all my earthly delight." O what are the sweet sounds at the concert?—what are the gay and glittering attractions of the ballroom?—what are the dazzling scenes of the theatre?—or to come to more lawful enjoyments—what the exhilaration of the public meeting, compared with the consciousness of having smoothed the bed of sickness, and alleviated the sufferings of disease, for an afflicted parent.
If the conscience of any that shall read these pages shall reproach them for neglect—if they know that they have heard their parents mildly reprove them for their lack of sympathy, let them consider what must be the anguish of those parents' hearts, who have to say in the bitterness of their soul, to their own children, "Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by, come, see if there was ever sorrow like unto my sorrow;" and who, disappointed in the hope of tenderness from their own offspring, turn for help to their neighbors; and taking up the piteous complaint of Job, say, "Pity me, pity me, O my friends, for the hand of God has touched me." Unfeeling youth, your neglect will one day find you out, and at some future time may be, perhaps, returned upon you by the cruel conduct of your own children!
Kindness will often be put to a severe test, by the bad temper, or the stern and tyrannical government of parents. It is difficult, I know, to be kind to those who are unkind to us; but it is our duty in all cases, much more to a parent. Nothing must allow you to be otherwise than the dutiful, affectionate child. No ebullitions of anger, no manifestation of unreasonable discontent, no caprice, no unmerited reproach on their part, should throw you off your guard. It may be sometimes necessary to remonstrate, but never can be proper to return railing for railing. Kindness may do more, in such circumstances, to soften and remove the evil, than angry resistance—"A soft answer turns away wrath."
"How delightful is the spectacle, when amid all the temptation of youth and beauty, we witness some gentle heart, that gives to the couch of the feeble, and perhaps of the thankless and repining, those hours which others find too short for the successive gaieties with which an evening can be filled, and that prefers to the smile of universal admiration, the single smile of enjoyment, which, after many vain efforts has at last been kindled on one solitary cheek!"
Another circumstance remains to be mentioned, which will render it extremely difficult, sometimes, to be at once obedient to God, and to your parents—difficult to manifest all the kindness which they may expect, and at the same time, to regard the dictates of conscience; I mean, where the children are pious, and the parents are still in an unconverted state. This is no uncommon case, and always a trying one wherever it occurs. Those who are placed in such a situation, need much wisdom and much grace to conduct themselves with propriety, so as to give no unnecessary pain to their parents, and yet at the same time, to maintain their consistency as Christians. To young people in such circumstances, I say, let there be deep and sincere humility; no spiritual pride, no apparent consciousness of moral superiority, no saying, "stand aside—I am holier than you;" nothing approaching, in the most distant manner, to contempt of your parents, on account of their unconverted state.
When it is necessary, as it sometimes may be, to oppose their wishes and refuse their requests, because they interfere with your duty to God, let your dissent not assume the shape of disobedience to them, let it be expressed in a mild and respectful manner, and be made obviously to appear to be the result of conscientious motives, and not of caprice, or any lack of right feeling towards them. In all other things, in which religion is not concerned, let there be additional effort and ingenuity to please them, so that they may have nothing against you, but as touching the law of your God.
It may be sometimes necessary for you to express the deep concern which you ought always to feel for their spiritual welfare; you must then be careful to avoid the appearance of dictation, lecturing, and reproach, and address yourselves to them in a humble and prudent manner. You should put suitable books in their way; and if they are not in the habit of hearing the gospel preached, you may invite them to hear the joyful sound. With all this, you must take especial pains, that your own religion may be consistent and practical; visible in all your conduct, and more particularly conspicuous, in the kind, and tender, and dutiful manner, in which you discharge your obligations to them.
Such is a compendium of filial duties. Let children read them, study them, sincerely desire to perform them, and pray to Almighty God for the grace that is in Christ Jesus, to assist them in discharging their obligations.
Many convincing motives may be brought forward to enforce the performance of these duties.
Observe the manner in which filial duties are enjoined in scripture. Perhaps there are few branches of moral obligation more frequently alluded to, or more variously enjoined, than that of filial piety. The lives of the Patriarchs, from the beginning of the world, are so drawn up as to exhibit and recommend this virtue. It is commanded in one of the precepts of the Moral law—"Honor your father and your mother." By the ceremonial law, stubborn disobedience to parental authority was punished with death. The book of Proverbs contains almost innumerable instructions on this subject. The prophets very frequently allude to it—and Jeremiah, in the history of the Rechabites, has preserved a very extraordinary instance of hereditary filial obedience, perpetuated through a period, which, in the time of that prophet, had lasted three centuries, and which was rewarded by the following testimony and promise of the Lord—"Then Jeremiah turned to the Recabites and said—This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: You have obeyed your ancestor Jehonadab in every respect, following all his instructions. Because of this, Jehonadab son of Recab will always have descendants who serve me. I, the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, have spoken!" Jeremiah 35:18-19
If we come forward to the New Testament, we find filial duties again and again brought into view. We see it embodied and enforced in the example of Christ; of whom it is said, Jesus was subject unto his parents. Yes, in the matchless constellation of perfect moral excellences that formed his character, and are presented for our admiration and imitation, one bright and beauteous star is filial piety. Fix, young people, your eye upon that star, so mildly beaming, and so radiantly shining, as an example for you. That wonderful personage, GOD MANIFEST IN THE FLESH, was subject, we have reason to believe, to his parents, until at the age of thirty he entered upon his public ministry; and those parents, be it remembered, were a poor but pious couple, who earned their daily bread by the sweat of their brow. With them he dwelt, in their humble abode, and labored, in all probability, for their support. And even amid the agonies of the cross, neither his own personal suffering, nor the sublime and glorious scenes connected with the redemption of a world, abstracted his thoughts and solicitude from the mother of his human nature; and even then did filial piety shine forth, a bright speck still visible upon the orb of glory, which was rising upon the world.
The apostles enforced filial duties by various commendations. "Children, obey your parents," says Paul in one place, "for it is right;" a thing not obligatory merely because it is commanded, but commanded because it is right; not a mere positive institute, but wholly moral; a duty enjoined not only by revelation, but by reason; one of the first lessons taught by nature to a rational creature. So right and proper is it, that all nations, ancient and modern, civilized and savage, admit its obligations. In another place, it is declared to be "well pleasing unto the Lord." It is that in which he delights, because it is the very disposition towards himself which he requires. And then, in his catalogue of dark deeds, and horrid dispositions, and atrocious characters, the apostle places disobedience to parents. The loud, strong voice of revelation is lifted to proclaim over the surface of the globe, "Children obey your parents, and honor your father and mother; for this is well pleasing to the Lord:" while the voice of nature echoes back the command, "Children, obey your parents, for this is right."
A child of any degree of generosity will be influenced to obey his parents, by a consideration of their comfort.
The earthly happiness of a father and a mother, depends far more upon the conduct of their children, than upon anything else. Their trade may prosper, their wealth accumulate; they may dwell amid every kind of luxury and splendor, in the most beautiful spot which creation can present, yet an undutiful child may, by his disobedience and unkindness, throw a dark and chilling shadow over all, and envelope everything in gloom.
On the other hand, affectionate and obedient children supply the lack of riches, soften the weight of care, sweeten the cup of affliction, and shed a pleasing light over what would be otherwise a dark and dreary scene of human woe. Children have their parents' happiness in their keeping. They stand at the fountains of our earthly destiny, and send into our dwelling the waters of bitterness or of sweetness, as their conduct towards us shall be dutiful or unkind. They cannot know, until experience shall teach them, the trembling and exquisite sensitiveness of our hearts, and how slight a puncture draws the life's blood of our peace. So true it is, as was said by the wise man, that "a wise child brings joy to a father; a foolish child brings grief to a mother." "A foolish child brings grief to a father and bitterness to a mother." A foolish child is a spot on their character; a blast upon their hopes—a nuisance to their family; and a thorn in their hearts!
Nearly connected with this, as another motive, is gratitude. No child can know, until he becomes a parent himself, what he owes to his parents; and not then until he has added all the cares, and toils, and concerns which are elicited by the child, the boy, the youth, the man—in addition to those which are awakened by the infant of days. Parental solicitude is, of course, produced by the first sight of the child; but the infancy of the babe, is but the infancy of our solicitude, which grows with its growth, and strengthens with its strength. Children are ever contracting obligations from the first moment of their existence. What does the babe not owe to his mother—for that watchfulness, and labor, and concern, which scarcely rest by day, or sleep by night.
Other animals, though nourished by their parents, are taught many things by instinct; but man, the most helpless of all creatures, must learn everything from his parents, in the first stage of his existence. Let anyone calculate, if he can, the hours of labor, sleeplessness and concern; the tears, the tremblings, the alarms, which one weakly infant costs a mother, before he leaves her arms, and stands erect upon his feet in his own strength. My young friend, had your mother remitted her care for one single hour, or ceased, but for a short season, her vigilant diligence, you might have now been a cripple or an idiot. How many months rolled by, before you could wash away a speck of defilement from your body, help yourself to medicine, or to food, express in articulate language a single need, put on a garment, or defend yourself against an enemy so feeble as a wasp. What then are your obligations to the woman who did all this for you—and delighted to do it?
I cannot follow you through the successive stages of your existence, at each of which, you were accumulating fresh obligations to both father and mother, for education, with all its advantages, for instruction in trade, and that capacity you now possess for attaining to respectability in life; but above all, for that ceaseless, and manifest, and earnest solicitude for your eternal happiness, by which you have had the road to glory, honor, and immortality opened to your view—and have been admonished to walk in it! O, sum up, if you can, your obligations to your parents—but you cannot! And can you resist this motive to obedience? What—has gratitude perished in your soul, until its very root has died in the soil of your depraved nature? Yes; it must be so, if you are unkind to your parents—you stand proved before the universe, to have nothing of a child, but the name and the mere fleshly relation, which you possess in common with the tiger, or the serpent, or the toad, but you have not the feelings of a child; you are a kind of monstrous production, out of the course of nature, and like all such productions, fill the mind with loathing and horror.
Few there are, I hope, that will read these pages, to whom such an admonition is applicable; on the contrary, many, I believe, will experience as they proceed, the generous emotions of gratitude swelling higher and higher in their bosom, until, with a burst of virtuous feeling, they exclaim, "Accept, my parents, of the surrender, which a sense of my obligation to you compels me to make, of my whole future life, to the promotion of your comfort."
Personal interest pleads with children for their dutiful behavior to their parents.
An undutiful child cannot be a happy one. Peace must leave the bosom with filial piety, whenever it departs; and uneasiness and misery, and occasional shame and remorse, enter to dwell in the wretched bosom; while the affectionate and dutiful child has a perpetual feast within. And mark the language of the apostle, "Honor your father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth." This is an allusion, it is true, to the temporal promises of the Sinai Covenant, and perhaps to the law which doomed the disobedient son to be judicially cut off from the people. But yet, as repeated by a New Testament writer, it must to a certain extent, be in force still.
Dr. Dwight has the following remarks on this passage which deserve consideration. "In conversing with the plain people of this country, distinguished for their good sense, and careful observation of facts, I have found them, to a great extent, firmly persuaded of the verification of this promise in our own times; and ready to produce a variety of proofs from cases, in which they have seen the blessing realized. Their opinion is mine, and with their experience my own has coincided.
"Indeed no small measure of prosperity seems ordinarily interwoven with a course of filial piety. The comfort which it ensures to parents, the harmony which it produces in the family, the peace which it yields in the conscience, are all essential ingredients of happiness. To these it adds the approbation of every beholder, the possession of a fair and lasting reputation, the confidence and good will of every worthy man, and of consequence, an opportunity of easily gaining those useful employments which good men have to give. Beyond this it naturally associates itself with temperance, moderation, and sobriety, which furnish a solid foundation for health and long life. In my own apprehension, however, these are not all its blessings. I do not say that miracles are wrought for its reward. Neither will I say that purer gales breathe to preserve its health; nor that softer suns arise, or more timely rains descend, to mature its harvest; nor that more propitious winds blow, to waft its ships home in safety. But I will say, that on the tide of Providence multiplied blessings are borne into its possession, at seasons when they are unexpected, in ways unforeseen, and by means unprovided by its own forecast, which are often of high importance; which, altogether, constitute a rich proportion of prosperity; and which, usually, are not found by people of the contrary character. At the same time those who act well as children, almost of course, act well as men and women; and thus have taken, without design, the scion of happiness from the parental stock, and grafted it upon other stems, which bear fruit abundantly to themselves. Here, in the language of Dr. Watts,
'It revives, and bears,
A train of blessings for their heirs.'"
If motives so forcible and tender as these, have no effect, nothing is left me to do, but to remind the children of disobedience, of that day of judgment, which God has appointed to judge the world in righteousness, by Jesus Christ, and to give to everyone according to the things done in the body, whether they are good or bad. "In that most dreadful time, when the wicked shall see the judge sit above them, angry and severe, inexorable and dreadful; under them an intolerable hell—within them their consciences clamorous and diseased; outside them, all the world on fire; on the right hand, those men glorified, whom they persecuted and despised; on the left hand, the devils accusing;" then shall it be found that the severest sentence of the Almighty, and the bitterest dregs of the vials of his wrath, will be poured out on the disobedient and ungodly child of those parents who trained him up in the nurture of the Lord!