PROFESSOR IN THE BERKELEY DIVINITY SCHOOL, MIDDLETOWN.
PRINTED BY WILLIAM H. STANLEY.
NOTE--THIS SERMON IS PUBLISHED AT THE WRITTEN REQUEST OF SEVERAL MEMBERS OF ST. PAUL'S CHURCH, NEW HAVEN.
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. Eph. VI. 1-3.
THE new Covenant re-echoes the admonitions of the Old. The Cross speaks to the hearts of children, the words uttered amid the lightnings of Sinai. For all times, for all countries, one command is laid upon the young--to honor and obey their parents.
The obligation to obedience and filial reverence is acknowledged indeed, as readily in words, as any one duty devolving upon men. The performance of it moreover, is generally confessed to be its own exceeding great reward. The joys it brings are present, as well as prospective; they flow in upon the soul at once, lighting up its dark places over which even sorrow has been brooding. This is the only Commandment in the Decalogue to which any specific earthly blessing is attached. The Law is--honor thy father and thy mother. And it is announced as the condition or prerequisite, of and for length of days in the land, given by the Lord God to Israel. This is the blessing--a home rooted in the native soil, a love for the associations of one's childhood, a continuance of the possession of one's country. For the invader cannot destroy that land where home is a sacred possession, where filial reverence and piety render the very graves of the fathers sacred; [3/4] where their voices are heeded in the institutions, the deeds, the sufferings, in all that they bequeath to their posterity. It makes the family strong, binding its parts together, drawing them towards a common center, from which again they gather an impulse to fulfil their duties in the State, and to live manfully and piously.
But my friends we are in the midst of strange revolutions. I sometimes think that amid the upheaving of old ideas, and the roaring excitements of the lust for money and for territory, and the application of newly discovered forces and agents by which we are annihilating time and space--amid all this, a man is stared at, if he press upon the understandings and consciences of men, duties which have been recognized in the world for thousands of years. For already in this so called age of progress, a boy of fourteen is supposed to stand altogether in advance of his father, and a girl of twelve to be entirely above the necessity of any supervision upon the part of her mother, whether in respect of her mind, her morals, or her manners. Fathers and mothers with their nurturing care, their prayers, their counsels are deemed now a days superfluous. Boys and girls want their parents money but not their advice; their houses but not their presence. The law to honor and obey father and mother is supposed to apply only to infants. It is thought to be a good law for the regulation of the nursery, but is entirely out of place for the drawing-room or the dining-room. In fact it is an obsolete idea; belongs to the dead past; is spoken of as a sort of old social peculiarity, and has become obliterated from the moral philosophy of our Young America. It is in all truth, a melancholy portent. When the idea of parental authority is dissolved in the heart of girlhood or boyhood, depend upon it, the happiness of home and the stability of your Commonwealth are more endangered than they can possibly be through the agitation of Constitutional questions. We can survive the stormiest political conflicts, and revolutions in our ideas of [4/5] legislative and executive prerogative, but we cannot outlive a denial of the Divine Law to honor and obey father and mother. Yet this is rapidly becoming one of the characteristics of our native land. Let us consider how it may be accounted for, and what the consequences of it must be, if the evil be not crushed in the bud.
I. How are we to account for it?
When children are disobedient and without reverence for their parents, we may be assured that the parents themselves, in an awful majority of instances are to blame. I know it is no consolation to a father to be told this, when his heart is well nigh breaking, because of the disobedience and obduracy of his son; when he is finding how that a child's ingratitude is sharper than "a serpent's tooth." But it becomes us to discern and confess the truth here, cost what it may. Some natures indeed are "bad in the grain," the voice of love and the authority of law alike are lost upon them. They can neither be won and softened by affection, nor awed into dutiful submission by discipline. Aaron Burr was the son of a very pure man, who was quite eminent in his day, and was the grandson, upon his mother's side, of the celebrated Jonathan Edwards, distinguished alike for his Apostolic purity of life, and for his extraordinary abilities. Who would have predicted that a man thus born, should have handed down to posterity, a name hateful to all good men?--who would have predicted that he should become known as the most wicked of our notable men, as a man without any trait of character to challenge the respect of any portion of our countrymen? as a man of whom we may speak in this style without fear of wounding the feelings of any one? Yet, even Burr lost his parents at an early age, and supposing therefore that the judicious exercise of parental authority might possibly have eradicated the seeds of an evil disposition--supposing this, his case affords a striking illustration of the necessity of parental discipline, and of the misery or misfortune of the loss [5/6] of it. We have however in our thoughts at present not extraordinary, but ordinary instances of human character; nothing specially nor signally bad, nor any thing transcendently good. What I have to submit to you, concerns human nature as we encounter it under its usual phases. And it may be safely said that when fathers and mothers neglect their duty of enforcing obedience, they may be sure their children, as they grow up, will not be obedient of their own accord. All experience is against any supposition to the contrary. Children need culture and discipline in this, as in all the relations and interests of their life. Let them have their own way from their infancy, give and allow them all that they ask, and they will certainly become insufferable at home, and insolent among their companions. They must be taught obedience; and parents are untrue to themselves, and unfaithful to their children, unless they enforce it. It is a principle, a moral habit to be acquired only by practice. It were absurd simply to teach a child to say by rote the fourth commandment; the force of the idea is to be found and possessed solely in the embodiment of it in action and daily life. All such instruction is as the idle wind, if and when upon the first occasion the child shall be allowed to disobey. To learn obedience, we must obey.
It is very difficult to cause parents to see the exact truth of their own practice in this matter. I have observed that most fathers and mothers think themselves very rigid in exacting obedience of their children--but that their neighbors are over indulgent. They will tell you that they are sorry to find their excellent friend and neighbor spoiling his children, while perhaps, at the same moment, their neighbor is saying the same thing of them. That there is a lamentable amount of indulgence, of neglect to enforce obedience is, I am persuaded, true of the parents of this day, and this is the chief reason why there is in our midst, a large, fearful measure of disobedience and filial impiety.
 The causes of this neglect are various. In the first place, some persons have a softness of temper which leads them to fear that their children will not love them unless they are very indulgent and overlook their disobedience. In order therefore to save their hearts from the laceration of discovering that their children do not love them sufficiently, they will allow them every thing they ask for, and obey them, instead of requiring obedience from them. They allow them as much, and sometimes even more money than they can afford. When matters between themselves and their children come to a contested point, they yield. The no of their better judgment melts before the yes of their ill considered desire to gratify them in every thing; and so to secure the hearts of their children, they do more to make those hearts hard, self-willed and devoted to pleasure, than any persons or temptations whatsoever.
I have referred to money allowances. While I believe that no man who can afford it, has any right so to stint his son as to bring a blush of honest shame to his cheek, when among his companions or schoolmates, I hold most religiously, that the practice of allowing boys large sums of money is pestiferous in the highest degree. It tends to their demoralization in every particular. It opens the avenues to all kinds of dissipation, it invites them to intemperance and licentiousness; it tempts them into gambling rooms; it dries up the springs of an honorable ambition; it silences all aspirations after a noble life; it destroys the vigor of their bodies, and blights their conscience. I do not say that boys thus indulged must inevitably be ruined, but the probabilities are that they will. As far as my own observation has reached, it has deepened my conviction of the evils of the practice. The best educated, the most virtuous and high minded men of our country, are to be gathered almost exclusively from among those, who as boys, had no chance of ruining themselves through an excessive amount of pocket money. There is, in fact, a criminal [7/8] thoughtlessness in this matter, in the heart of our communities. Complaints are loud enough of the indolence and worthlessness of many of our young men, especially the sons of the rich; but few persons seem as yet to understand that these young men are not worse by nature and constitution than others, or than their progenitors, but that they have been rendered useless by the demoralizing indulgence in the forms now under our consideration. The sons of our rich men are for the most part ignorant and ill educated in every respect, except perhaps in certain accomplishments, which need not be named now--but to throw the blame of this fact upon the boys, themselves, is shallow and absurd.
Again: another reason why fathers neglect their duty to their children in the matter of an habitual obedience, is this--they are absorbed in money making. This is the interest which over-rides all others; this is the worship which surpasses all other in intensity and strength. It is fully enthroned in the national heart. Faith in money is the grand article of the American creed. It is devoutly believed that money can do almost any thing: and therefore men seek it above all things else. This is, we believe, an admitted fact. Yet it is not considered how it bears upon the fortunes and destinies of families. The father of a family is, as we have stated, absorbed in business. Early in the morning, he leaves his house, betakes himself to his office or store, where throughout the day one excitement follows another, where every nerve and sinew is stretched to its utmost capacity, where his mind is taxed and strained until business hours come to their close. The sun begins to cast long shadows before he can turn his face homewards. He returns however, in time to meet his family at table;--after this, weary and jaded, he passes his evening half asleep, or else goes out to find some amusement as a compensation for the fatigues of the day. Bed time comes--quiet and darkness reign through the house. Such is the daily life of hundreds, [8/9] of thousands indeed of our brethren. Now, I ask, is this the life for a father to lead? Has he no responsibilities in the matter of his children's moral habits? Is his duty complete, when he pays their school-bills, clothes them decently and provides good food and a comfortable house for them? Must his wife look after all the rest? Is this the christian law of paternal duty? And has he a right to allow his business to swallow up all his energies? Either the old theory of a father's responsibility in the matter of the formation of his children's moral habits is obsolete, or else this overwhelming thirst for gold which is devouring his strength and paralyzing his capacity for home and family duty, is a sin. He remains a stranger to his children; he does not know any thing of them beyond the facts which come under his most limited observation.
To go a little farther: As long as the father of a family is alive, the mother naturally expects that he will fulfil his moral duties to his children. She finds however, that he does not; still she hopes even against hope. With a wearied disappointed heart, perhaps, she endeavors to carry out true ideas of family discipline. Her daughters may cling to her as the ivy to the oak, finding their support and drawing spiritual nourishment from her prayers and example; but her sons soon learn that as their father is away from home all the time, so they too may as well be away. They spend their leisure hours in the streets, and form such associations as the street furnish. Their father is away on business, they for amusement. In the meanwhile the father goes on toiling for gold, for these boys to squander. Is the statement overdrawn?
But perhaps you say, the father exacts obedience while he is at home, and what more can you expect of him?--
Obedience though it be an outward act, must, to prove a real moral discipline, issue from a heart in unison with the law itself. A soldier obeys an order knowing perhaps that [9/10] he will be shot if he disobey. Now the obedience required by the law of God does not consist in the doing of a particular thing from fear of punishment, but from a sense of right and duty. A father may after an outward fashion exact obedience to his command, and the child may do as he is bidden from fear of punishment; but if he do no more than this, he is not teaching his child moral obedience, nor forming a moral habit. He is only requiring at the time, conformity to his orders. He is under obligation to give him a different kind of training from this, to make his child feel and know that obedience consists in an inward affection or disposition, as well as in the outward act; and that before God he is really disobedient, unless his heart beat in unison with all just and righteous commands. He is under obligation to teach his child that obedience has a moral end; that by it as he grows up, he will find himself in the possession of well grounded principles of action and feeling; that it results in a temper which fits a man for the performance of high duties, which imparts to him self-sacrifice and those traits which make a man a blessing to his fellow men. All this is very different from an exercise of authority on the father's part, in the way I have designated above. It causes the mind of the child to revolve in a different circle of ideas; it is a genuine discipline which trains the boy to become a virtuous man. In order to make a wise use of the freedom of manhood, it is necessary first to learn obedience, in boyhood. The obedient boy expanding into the maturity of age, bears the fruit of his training, its issue is worth and weight of character.
Judge, my friends, whether the slave of mammon teaches his children obedience in this way; whether in his hands it be a moral discipline.
Another cause of the growing disobedience and want of filial reverence in the midst of us, is parental vanity. I mean that feeling which prompts parents to make a display of their children, to show off their dawning intelligence or wit, [10/11] or excellence, by saying things to draw them out, or by repeating in their presence what they may have said. All this is in itself very trivial, it is but the natural innocent outflow of affection, you may say, and yet nevertheless, it has a powerful effect in moulding the temper and bearing, and the character of children. It tends almost inevitably to make them flippant and conceited, and arrogant, and self-willed. And parents who have found great amusement in these displays do discover when it is too late, that they have erred, for they find that the children take advantage of their accredited cleverness; they become impertinent, and how can they be checked at fourteen or fifteen, for what was thought very interesting, when they were four or five? Many persons, you know, say that it is the misery of man, to learn only when it is too late to profit by it, that the lessons of experience are really understood, only when experience is at an end. And indeed, this would seem to be true of the great practical theme now in hand. When our children are grown, then seeing the mistakes we have made either on the one hand or the other, either in exacting too much or too little, either in making our children pert by admiring them too much, or hurting their feelings by taking scarcely any notice of them at all--seeing this, we think we should act differently, could we live again through the years which are gone. Perhaps we might. We might indeed avoid some particular mistakes, and above all, this one of showing off the cleverness of our children. We do it thoughtlessly, to please our friends, perhaps, and to amuse ourselves, forgetting that the pleasures we derive are really serving to make our children disobedient and irreverent, to make them self-willed and impertinent.
I might indeed adduce other instances and illustrations to show that we must account for disobedience and irreverence toward parents, by charging upon fathers and mothers themselves, either neglect of duty, or the ill judged execution of their authority. Over and above what has been said, the [11/12] want of interest in the spiritual welfare of their children, indifference to their own moral habits, devotion to pleasure, unwillingness to take the trouble of a long conflict, a conflict of years, a disposition to transfer their responsibilities to others--all these might have been urged as causes at work in the heart of this vast commonwealth, to lower the standard of our national character, to make our people alike disagreeable and unprincipled.
My text is a law addressed to children; and from this text I have been addressing parents. I could not do otherwise. Children will never learn the true obedience which tells upon their characters and destiny, unless fathers and mothers fulfil their calling and teach them. I have no faith in the theory of spontaneous obedience; at the same time, it would be absurd to charge the young of this day with being more wicked by nature than their fathers. Yet there is more disobedience and irreverence toward parents in this, perhaps, than in any other christian land. And we must charge it upon the parents, upon those whose office it is to fit their children to serve God and their fellow men.
My dear brethren, I beg you to consider this. Most of you are in the full vigor of life,--most of you have growing up around you, young families--children in the bloom and blossom of their earthly life. How are you rearing them? Every father is the priest of God in his own house. Are you fulfilling your office, or not? Are you teaching your children to live for God, or are you filling their heads and hearts with the pestiferous seeds of a mere worldly view of life? Are you teaching them that the chief end of man is to glorify God, or that it is to make money? Is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ your household God, or Mammon? Soon, those children will reach their age; they will go forth from your sheltering care, they must encounter the ordeal of temptation, the storms of life; they must face the future though dark clouds spread over the heavens, with omens and portents [12/13] of coming wo. Are they prepared to stand? Are you doing any thing that they may be clothed with the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of ghostly strength and of the fear of the Lord? There is a lamentable neglect of duty in these matters among us. Patient, faithful, God-fearing care of our children is becoming every day a more pressing, more solemn duty; for the spirit of anti-christ is on the wing through this land; denials of God, are loud, hatred of all law, of the gospel of Christ are rife; and can we be blameless before our sovereign Lord, if we neglect to do our utmost to save those whom God has given us, from the curse and misery of a hateful atheism?
II. But let us look at the subject apart from the direct responsibilities of parents.
Boys in this country leave home at a very early age. Before the tenderness of their childhood has passed away, they are summoned from the direct immediate care of their parents, to begin the hard duties of their life; they are called to take their place in ware-rooms and stores, in offices and counting rooms, in workshops, in ships. They start to seek their fortunes just at the time when precept and example tell with great power upon their own character, when the atmosphere which surrounds them, carries to the very roots of their moral being, either healthful energies, or poisonous languor.
A great discipline this, in many instances. It teaches boys that industry and labor are mighty agents in the development of character; it imparts a degree of self-reliance, which saves them from an unmanly dependence upon the exertions of others; it gives the mind a practical bent, and sharpens the power of applying means to ends. It does all this; and indeed, at times much more. Provided this be a basis of habitual reverence and filial piety, a boy thus early buffeting the hardships of life, becomes a staff and rod upon which perhaps, some widowed mother leans; the pride and joy of which, even amid her desolation, she cannot conceal from [13/14] herself, spreading the light of a softened hope over her soul. The subject however, as it now concerns us, suggests other images than these. How does this early exposure and discipline affect boys who have not formed habits of obedience and filial reverence?
Just consider the atmosphere of most places where men are congregated together in the way of daily labor. How little reverence is there; how much profanity and blasphemy; how little faith; how much of the satanic. A new comer into a school, or college, or broker's office, or lawyer's, or merchant's warehouse or counting room, or workmen's shop--is surveyed, commented upon by his associates, and then the moral stuff he is made of, is forthwith put to the test. Not blasphemy only, but strong envy of the successful, hatred of the rich, a disposition to do as little as possible, and to extort as much as possible, idolatry of money, love of all the pleasures which money can purchase--these form the ingredients of the moral atmosphere into which he is thrust. What awaits him, unless mighty counteracting influences shield him? He becomes as they with whom he associates, whose words he daily hears, whose example he daily feels. He begins to think himself wiser than any one else; he wishes to be independent--and independence is supposed to mean refusal to take any one's advice, and to do what one pleases. All thought of law and authority is distasteful in the extreme. He gets beyond submitting to his father and mother. Old enough as he thinks, to judge for himself, he displays his freedom by showing that he fears neither God nor man. This is his ideal of the manly state.
The moral attribute in which we Americans are most deficient, is reverence. Consider the spirit which pervades our Senate chambers, listen to our politicians, read the newspapers, join in conversation at dinner tables and in society, with a view to learn the temper of the public mind in this particular, of reverence. You will be astonished beyond measure at [14/15] its absence. You will find few, very few traces of it, especially in the young, in those, that is, who above all others should feel and show it forth. Nothing, whether divine, human or diabolic, seems to touch the common heart with a feeling of superiority to itself. No sense of awe, in view of the majesty of God, of the sacredness of law, dwells in the public mind. It refuses to entertain any thoughts which shall tend to humble it before itself. It delights in the notion of its own grandeur: it piques itself upon its own sovereignty, which it most emphatically believes in; for it is quite certain that it troubles itself very little with thoughts of the sovereignty of God. Our people are beginning to say, as Babylon of old, "we will ascend into Heaven, we will exalt our throne above the stars of God: we will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: we will ascend above the heights of the clouds: we will be like the Most High." A brazen arrogance encounters us every where, and lowly reverence finds shelter in the hearts of those whose voices are not heard in the high places of the land--of those who cannot gain a hearing--who cannot perhaps even make the effort to gain a hearing among their fellow men. There is in the midst of us a terrible abnegation of those higher realities, without faith in which the image of God within us becomes blotted out. With no feeling that there are truths of God beyond and above our present attainments, the knowledge and possession of which shall bring us nearer to our God--without any sense of that sublime Providence by which the Almighty is ceaselessly carrying the world on to its consummation; a miserable conceit is in the hearts of this people, that they know all things, or that what they do not already know is not worth knowing. So there is no soaring upward as with eagles' wings toward the light, but a mere irreverent, unbelieving burrowing in the ground. It is sickening to think of.
 And here let us ask, why this wide spread absence of reverence? Are we Americans incapable constitutionally and by organic defect of this quality? No; but the whole framework of our education, whether at home, at college, in the shop, in the counting room, is materializing; the spirit of the times runs contrary to the deep healthy growth of a reverent spirit. And my friends, it would seem that all of us are terribly within the power of this spirit of the times; it is in the full pride of its strength at this moment. Enterprise is its watchword. A very good word, a great thing, if it be guided by reverence and faith, if it be the characteristic of an age which keeps its eye fixed steadfastly upon the Sovereignty of God, and the majesty of His will--a very bad word and thing when it denotes a feverish, restless impulse to grasp every thing within its reach by "a short cut;" a very bad thing when flippancy and impiety are at the helm. A mere determination to rush on, to lay down rail roads, to build the fastest steamships so that we can grow rich in the shortest period of time conceivable, if this be our wisdom, all higher principles become sickly and die; the heart is dwarfed, our inner life is wedded to idols of gold and earth, and its glory departs. No greatness is possible among a people, where devotion to principles, where elevation of thought and feeling are not found. And so completely are we possessed of this notion of enterprise that all high qualities and interests of the soul are in danger of perishing among us. We are in danger of becoming a nation of gamblers, the counters with which we play being stocks. High toned thought, piety, reverence for parents, for law, are becoming periled here, because they are not enterprising qualities. Those qualities and characteristics of our common nature which require the light of God's countenance, which bloom and bear fruit only in an heavenly atmosphere, seem doomed to long neglect and eclipse, so thoroughly is the temper of the times against them. The Duke of Wellington said, (I know the saying [16/17] has become hacknied,) that another such victory as that of Waterloo, would be worse than a defeat. So our very enterprise which has achieved wonders, which has raised our country in an incredibly short space of time, to a very high pitch of material prosperity, threatens to absorb and destroy all our spiritual qualities, and thus finally to ruin us. The imminent moral dangers of the country must therefore be sought for in the very sources of our national strength.
Ask yourselves now, whether this be not so--whether this portentous want of reverence in the heart of the country be not largely, mainly attributable to the high style in which enterprise over-rides all other qualities deemed admirable among men. For in what does our enterprise consist? What form does it assume? That of heroic devotion to principle? Does a noble enthusiasm light up the souls of our young men, calling forth as by divine fiat all the nobler attributes of our humanity? Does the pure ideal of a God-like life float ever before them, calling them to pursuits which shall render them glorious--the eagles of our day and nation? If aspirations of this sort come, they depart as shadows; they are but the dreams of boyhood. They find no utterance, they gain no expression in action. The first shock of the world comes as the blast of the Simoom. A short struggle, and then the heart is driven forth from its paradise. Depend upon it, the immense enterprise of this land runs mainly in one direction: it is of, for, and in money. Money is its being. It may be designated in strictest propriety of speech, what the newspapers call it--money enterprise.
Now every man whose opinion is worth any thing, will acknowledge that money enterprise is necessary to the well being of a country. I am prepared to go further than this: I hold it to be an essential ingredient in the life of a great nation. But when it absorbs the energies and activities of a people, when the genius of a country is dead to all interests save this one, it becomes thenceforth a curse. And this it is [17/18] which should be thundered in the hearing of our people. By line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, in all styles, and by every available means should they be called to see the truth, that such a grasping for money as has now become the chief characteristic of this land is ruinous to the souls of men, is opening the heart of the nation to the in-pouring of deadly poison. Probe this matter to the sources of it. Is not God now teaching us this lesson? Are not the disobedience and filial impiety, the presence of low qualities, and the absence of nobler ones, now so manifest in this land, clear revelations of the righteous judgments of the Most High, against steeping young souls in an atmosphere of sheer material enterprise and money making? What else can be expected of them when their lust for gain is developed even at home and school? Their posture is that of mere money getters. Every thing that does not pay is given "the go by." Every thing that will pay is most assiduously cherished. All the sacred interests of our humanity are thrown into the scales of profit and loss, and estimated accordingly. The atmosphere our young breathe is charged with elements which destroy all that is best in them, and they must become poorer and feebler in all spiritual power. O for the coming of that day when our young men will be able to break through this--when in the choice of a profession they will be guided and governed by nobler considerations, than the return it will yield them in the shape of money.
God's laws cannot be repealed by us; nor their fixed operation evaded. Men trained as our young are trained, must be what they are, and as they are. You cannot help it; you cannot alter the fact. If they are irreverent and profane, if they are selfish and grasping; if their souls can be aroused only by the prospect of gain, if they are blind to the glory of life in God, and deaf to the voices which speak mystic harmonies to the soul--the causes of this are to be sought for and found, especially in those I have named--the neglect of [18/19] parents to do their duty toward them, and the hard selfish atmosphere over into which they pass when they enter upon the business or calling of their life. Here are the sources of that mighty flood of guilt and misery which bear men away from the portals of Heaven and carry them down to a night of unending ignominy.
From and ever since the days of Noah, men have laughed and sneered at those who have predicted coming desolation--or have proclaimed the degeneracy of those round about them. They have been answered by appeals to the prosperity of their country. They have been met by the assertion that all is peace and safety; that the earth still yields her crops, that all trades are thriving. And so in fact they have thriven. They have thriven until the hour came which revealed the moral and political death of nations; they have thriven until the powder mine beneath them exploded, carrying with it destruction and death. And when I see irreverence and impiety increasing, and faith in its decline; when I see luxurious ease set forth as the grand final aim of all industry and enterprise; when I see principles made expressly to suit interests--I see what has every where, in all ages of the world been the precursor of the decline and fall of nations. So will it be with us. Our days shall not be long in the land which the Lord our God hath given us, unless we honor and obey father and mother, unless we bring up our children in the fear and love of God. Our days shall not be long in the land, unless we have faith in the divine government of the world; unless we follow the guidance of Him who is revealed to the eye of faith as a pillar of fiery light. The worth of a nation's enterprise and industry, like its life, is grounded in its religion; the perpetuity of its vigor depends upon the purity of its morals. With the rushing in of an era of godlessness and irreligion, we must look for the outbreak of those fearful sins which marked the world in the days of St. Paul. Men will be filled with "all unrighteousness, [19/20] fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful." Being "past feeling," they give "themselves over unto lasciviousness to work all uncleanness with greediness."
If, therefore my friends, this dark cloud of irreverence and impiety which is now gathering over us, shall pass away, and not "gather still more portentous blackness"--if the moral evils which threaten to crush the genius of this nation can be eradicated before doing their work, the christian fathers and mothers of this land must know and fulfil their duty. They must draw the lightning from the clouds, and eradicate the ill weeds from the soil. They must stem the torrent and turn the tide of abuses and sin. The Jesuits say--give us a boy the first ten years of his life, and then whosoever will, may take him. Somewhat exaggerated this, but withal profoundly true. Your children, my brethren, are in your hands almost as clay in the hands of the potter. You have them under your exclusive control in those years, when impressions can be made, and principles sown which shall abide with them for ever; which they can no more destroy than the consciousness of their own identity. You occupy the largest share of their hearts; they know of no earthly wisdom greater than yours,--no characters more exemplary than yours. If you are reverent and pious and faithful; if you require steadfast obedience, and open to their tender souls visions of the glory of human destiny in Christ, you can make them love what is exalted, and hate all sin and impiety. You can teach every fibre of their spiritual being; you can kindle into a flame the latent capacity of love for God and man! Oh, my friends, bring home to them the realities of religion as the grand crowning glory of this life of ours. Let them [20/21] see it and feel it; let an atmosphere of reverence and piety be round about them. Prepare them for the ordeals that await them when they must needs leave their home to battle, may be, with want, to work for their daily bread. Care for their priceless souls; nurture them in full view of the truth that both you and they must give account for the deeds done in the body. A faithful wise home-education is the pressing want of our country; will prove an effectual barrier against the spread of all abominations, will put a new face upon the moral character of our people. Neglect of it, will degrade us hopelessly before God and man.
"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 that those mayest live long upon the earth." The beginnings of all possible blessing and blessedness lie far up for you in the early dawn of your life--in your obedience and reverence to your parents. The bias you are now acquiring, will tell upon your life ever hereafter. As you yield or refuse obedience and reverence to father and mother, heartily and unreservedly, so will you be drawn to, or repelled from obedience and piety to your Heavenly Father. If you form habits of disobedience now, in all likelihood they will cling to you and prove the source of a profligate manhood, and of a conscience seared old age. Rebellion against your parents is itself impiety toward God; it is a sin which inevitably ends in all wretchedness of soul; and which, if God in after life gives you grace to repent of, will ever be the source of humiliation and contrition. In all affection cling to them who nurtured you--who love you more than all others love you. If in the course of Providence they are taken away first--you will find it a consolation to remember that you gave them no bitter sorrow, you inflicted no wounds which they carried with them to their grave.