THE DUTIES OF PARENTS FOR THEIR CHILDREN I

From: Baxter’s Practical Works, Vol. 1, A Christian Directory,
on Christian Economics, Chap. X., pp. 449-454 Directives I-V

OF how great importance the wise and holy education of children is, to the saving of their souls, and the comfort of their parents, and the good of church and state, and the happiness of the world, I have partly told you before; but no man is able fully to express. And how great that calamity is, which the world is fallen into through the neglect of that duty, no heart can conceive; but they that think what a case the heathen, infidel, and ungodly nations are in, and how rare true piety is grown, and how many millions must lie in hell for ever, will know so much of this inhuman negligence, as to abhor it.Direct. I. Understand and lament the corrupted and miserable state of your children, which they have derived from you, and thankfully accept the offers of a Saviour for yourselves and them, and absolutely resign, and dedicate them to God in Christ in the sacred covenant, and solemnize this dedication and covenant by their baptism. [1] And to this end understand the command of God for entering your children solemnly into covenant with him, and the covenant mercies belonging to them thereupon. Rom. 5:12, 16-18; Eph. 2:1, 3; Gen. 17:4, 13, 14; Deut. 29:10-12; Rom. 11:17, 20; John 3:3, 5; Matt. 19:13, 14.

You cannot sincerely dedicate yourselves to God, but you must dedicate to him all that is yours, and in your power; and therefore your children, as far as they are in your power. And as nature hath taught you your power and your duty to enter them in their infancy into any covenant with man, which is certainly for their good; (and if they refuse the conditions when they come to age, they forfeit the benefit;) so nature teacheth you much more to oblige them to God for their far greater good, in case he will admit them into covenant with him. And that he will admit them into his covenant, (and that you ought to enter them into it,) is past doubt, in the evidence which the Scripture giveth us, that from Abraham’s time till Christ it was so with all the children of his people; nay, no man can prove that before Abraham’s time, or since, God had ever a church on earth, of which the infants of his servants (if they had any) were not members dedicated in covenant to God, till of late times that a few began to scruple the lawfulness of this. As it is a comfort to you, if the king would bestow upon your infant children, (who were tainted by their father’s treason,) not only a full discharge from the blot of the offence, but also the titles and estates of lords, though they understand none of this till they come to age; so is it much more matter of comfort to you, on their behalf, that God in Christ will pardon their original sin, and take them as his children, and give them title to everlasting life; which are the mercies of his covenant.

 

Direct. II. As soon as they are capable, teach them what a covenant they are in, and what are the benefits, and what the conditions, that their souls may gladly consent to it when they understand it; and you may bring them seriously to renew their covenant with God in their own persons. But the whole order of teaching both children and servants, I shall give you after by itself; and therefore shall here pass by all that, except that which is to be done more by your familiar converse, than by more solemn teaching.

 

Direct. III. Train them up in exact obedience to yourselves, and break them of their own wills. To that end, suffer them not to carry themselves unreverently or contemptuously towards you; but to keep their distance. For too much familiarity breedeth contempt, and imboldeneth to disobedience. The common course of parents is to please their children so long, by letting them have what they crave, and what they will, till their wills are so used to be fulfilled, that they cannot endure to have them denied; and so can endure no government, because they endure no crossing of their wills. To be obedient, is to renounce their own wills, and be ruled by their parents’ or governor’s wills; to use them therefore to have their own wills, is to teach them disobedience, and harden and use them to a hind of impossibility of obeying. Tell them oft familiarly and lovingly of the excellency of obedience, and how it pleaseth God, and what need they have of government, and how unfit they are to govern themselves, and how dangerous it is to children to have their own wills; speak often with great disgrace of self-willedness and stubbornness, and tell others in their hearing what hath befallen self-willed children.

 

Direct. IV. Make them neither too bold with you, nor too strange or fearful; and govern them not as servants, but as children, making them perceive that you dearly love them, and that all your commands, restraints, and corrections tire for their good, and not merely because you will have it so. They must be ruled as rational creatures, that love themselves, and those that love them. If they perceive that you dearly love them, they will obey you the more willingly, and the easier be brought to repent of their disobedience, and they will as well obey you in heart as in outward actions, and behind your back as before your face. And the love of you (which must be caused by your love to them) must be one of the chiefest means to bring them to the love of all that good which you commend to them; and so to form their wills sincerely to the will of God, and make them holy. For if you are too strange to them, and too terrible, they will fear you only, and not much love you; and then they will love no books, no practices, that you commend to them, but like hypocrites they will seek to please you to your face, and care not what they are in secret and behind your backs. Nay, it will tempt them to loathe your government, and all that good which you persuade them to, and make them like birds in a cage, that watch for an opportunity to get away and get their liberty. They will be the more in the company of servants and idle children, because your terror and strangeness maketh them take no delight in yours. And fear will make them liars, as oft as a lie seemeth necessary to their escape. Parents that show much love to their children, may safely show severity when they commit a fault. For then they will see, that it is their fault only that displeaseth you, and not their persons; and your love reconcileth them to you when they are corrected; when less correction from parents that are always strange or angry, and show no tender love to their children, will alienate them, and do no good. Too much boldness of children leadeth them, before you are aware, to contempt of parents and all disobedience; and too much fear and strangeness depriveth them of most of the benefits of your care and government: but tender love, with severity only when they do amiss, and this at a reverent, convenient distance, is the only way to do them good.

 

Direct. V. Labour much to possess their hearts with the fear of God, and a reverence of the holy Scriptures; and then whatsoever duty you command them, or whatsoever sin you forbid them, show them some plain and urgent texts of Scripture for it; and cause them to learn them and oft repeat them; that so they may find reason and divine authority in your commands; till their obedience begin to be rational and divine, it will be but formal and hypocritical. It is conscience that must watch them in private, when you see them not; and conscience is God’s officer and not yours; and will say nothing to them, till it speak in the name of God. This is the way to bring the heart itself into subjection; and also to reconcile them to all your commands, when they see that they are first the commands of God (of which more anon).

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