04. Letter 3 - What is implied in training up children?


Letter 3

August 12, 1840.

Dear Brethren and Sisters,

In compliance with a suggestion given some time ago that I should, God willing, address some letters to parents, I will now commence the series with the hope of promoting the interests of the rising generation. I shall begin with remarks upon Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” and shall develop my letters from this text, somewhat in the form of a sermon. In doing so, I shall endeavour to: show what is implied in training up children in the way they should go; notice several things to be avoided in training up children in the way they should go; mention several things to be attended to in the training of children; call attention to some of the difficulties in the way of training up children in the way they should go; observe that if the condition is fulfilled, that is, if a child is trained up in the way he should go, it is certain that when he is old he will not depart from it; and finally I will give some closing remarks.

What is implied in training up children in the way they should go?

It implies such thorough instruction as to root and ground them in correct views of truth, and in right principles of action. If you consult the marginal reading of your Bible you will find the word rendered “train” in the text is, in the margin, rendered “catechize.” The idea is that which I have suggested, to thoroughly instruct them in the great principles of righteousness.

It implies such thorough government as to root and ground them in correct habits in all respects, such habits of cheerful obedience to parents, correct habits in respect to early rising, early retiring to rest, correct habits in regard to taking their meals at stated hours, and in respect to the quantity and quality of their food, habits of exercise and rest, study and relaxation. In short, all their habits comprising their whole conduct.

It implies the training of them in a knowledge of and conformity to all the laws of their being, physical and moral. This is the way in which they should go, and it is in vain to expect to train them in the way they should go without giving them thorough instruction in respect to the laws of their bodies and minds, the laws of natural and spiritual life and health.

It implies not only giving them thorough instruction in these respects, but the thorough government of them and training them in all things to observe these laws.

Next, I will notice several things to be avoided in training up children in the way they should go.

Avoid for yourself whatever would be injurious for them to copy, and do not suppose that you can yourself be guilty of pernicious practices, and by your precept prevent their falling into the same. Remember that your example will be more influential than your precept. I knew a father who himself used tobacco but warned his children against its use, and even commanded them not to use it, and yet every one of them did use it sooner or later. This was as might be expected. I knew a mother who used tea herself but warned her children against it as something unnecessary and injurious, especially to young people, but all her children naturally fell into the use of it. The fact is that her example was the most influential and impressive teaching.

Avoid all conversation in their presence upon topics that may mislead them and generate in them a hypercritical and wicked spirit, such as all sectarian conversation, unguarded conversation upon the doctrine of decrees and election, speaking of neighbours’ faults, or speaking derogatorily of any human being; in short whatever may be a stumbling block to their infant minds.

Avoid all disagreement between the parents in regard to the government of the children.

Avoid all partiality or favouritism in the government of them.

Avoid whatever may lessen the respect of the children for either parent.

Avoid whatever may lessen the authority of either parent.

Avoid whatever may tend to create partiality for either parent.

Avoid begetting in them the love of money. Diligently remember that the love of money is the root of all evil.

Avoid the love of money yourself, for if you have a worldly spirit yourself, your whole life will most impressively inculcate the lesson that the world should be the great object of pursuit. A wealthy man once said to me, “I was brought up from my very infancy to love the world and make money my god.” When we consider how impressively and constantly this lesson is taught by many parents, is it surprising that there is so much fraud, theft, robbery, piracy, and selfishness under every abominable form? Many parents seem to be engaged in little else, so far as their influence with their children is concerned, than making them as selfish and worldly as possible. Nearly their whole conversation at the table, and in all places where they are, the whole drift and bent of their lives, pursuits, and everything about them, are calculated to make the strongest impression upon their little minds, that their parents conceive the world to be the supreme good. Unless all this be avoided, it is impossible to train up a child in the way he should go.

Avoid begetting within them the spirit of ambition to be rich, great, learned, or anything else but good. If you foster a spirit of selfish ambition it will give birth, of course, to anger, pride, and a whole herd of devilish passions.

Avoid begetting or fostering the spirit of vanity in any way: in the purchase of clothing or any articles of apparel, in dressing them or by any expressions relating to their personal appearance. Be careful to say nothing about your own clothes, or the apparel of anybody else or of the personal attractions or beauty of yourself, your children, or of anybody else in such a way as to beget within them the spirit of ambition, pride and vanity.

Guard them against any injurious influence at home. Allow nobody to live in your family whose sentiments, habits, manners, or temper may corrupt your children. Guard the domestic influence as the apple of your eye. Have no person in your house that will tell them foolish stories, sing them foolish songs, talk to them about witches, or anything of any name or nature which ought not to come before their youthful minds. Be careful under what influences you leave them when you go from home, and let not both parents take a journey at the same time, leaving their children at home, without apparent necessity.

Avoid every evil influence from outside the home. Let no children visit them whose conversation or manners may corrupt them. Let them associate with no children by going to visit where they will run the hazard of being in any way corrupted.

Avoid the cultivation of artificial appetites. Accustom them to no non-nutritious stimulants or condiments of any kind, for in so doing you will create a craving for stimulants that may result in beastly intemperance.

Avoid creating any artificial needs. The great majority of human needs are merely artificial, and children are often so brought up as to feel as if they needed multitudes of things, which they do not need, and which are really injurious to them, and if they ever become poor, their artificial needs will render them extremely miserable, if indeed they do not tempt them. Consider how simple and few the real needs of human beings are, and whatever your worldly circumstances may be, for your children’s sake, habituate them to being satisfied with the supply of their real needs.

Avoid by all means their being the subjects of evil communications. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” This is the testimony of God . If your domestics, your hired hands, your neighbours’ children or anybody else, are allowed to communicate to them things which they ought not to know, they will be irrecoverably injured and perhaps forever ruined.

Avoid their reading books that contain pernicious sentiments, anything indecent, vulgar, or of ill report.

Avoid allowing their reading romances, plays, and whatever may beget within them a romantic and feverish state of mind.

Avoid allowing gluttony or any sort of intemperance, eating at improper times, improper foodstuffs, improper quantities of food, and everything that shall work a violation of the laws of life and health.

Avoid all unnecessary occasion of excitement. Children are naturally enough excited. Pains should be taken to quiet and keep them calm rather than to increase their excitement. This is imperiously demanded both by their health and minds. Clubs are often started among children, and great pains taken to stir up an interest and excitement, insomuch that it is often attended with loss of appetite and sleep, and a serious injury to their health and morals. Parents should be on their guard, against allowing their children to be drawn into such excitement or having any unnecessary connection with or knowledge of them.

This subject will be resumed.

Your brother in the bonds of the gospel,

Charles G. Finney.

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