08. Letter 7 - What to attend to ...

Letter 7

October 21, 1840.

Dear Brethren and Sisters,

I will continue my remarks on what to attend to in the training of children by urging you to cultivate natural affection among your children. Remember, natural affection is natural in no other sense than that it is natural for children to love those who love them. Therefore, what is generally called natural affection is cultivated affection. Therefore, great pains should be taken by parents to cultivate among children not only an affection for themselves, but for each other. Many parents, and fathers especially, treat their children in such a manner that their children have very little affection for them, and in many instances, it is to be feared that they have none at all. And then, perhaps, the children are reproved for the lack of natural affection. But parents should have consideration enough not to wonder at the absence of natural affection, as they call it, in their children, when they take little or no pains to be worthy of or to cultivate their affection.

Again, encourage inquiry on the part of your children. They come into a world of novelties. Before they are a week old, they may be seen staring around the room, as if they would inquire who, and what, and where they are. As soon as they are able to talk, they display the most intense desire to be instructed in regard to everything around them. Now parents, and all other who have the care of children, should encourage their inquiries and as far as is possible, or proper, give them satisfaction on every subject of inquiry. Give them reasons, discerningly detailed, as shall satisfy their little minds.

Parents will find their children inquisitive on those subjects that are by many supposed to be of too delicate a nature to be conversed upon by children. For example, what constitutes a breach of the seventh commandment, and things of this nature. At a very early age, it is no doubt proper to inform children that they are yet too young to be instructed upon such subjects; but that, at a suitable time, you will give them the necessary information, requesting them at the same time not to converse with others than their parents about such things as these. But prior to the age of puberty, and before an explanation of such things will excite improper feelings, parents should, beyond all question, give their children necessary instruction and caution upon all such subjects. When instruction is given, caution and admonition should be frequently repeated, accompanied with solemn prayer and instructions from the Word of God, so as to make a deep impression on the mind, and thoroughly to sensitize and awaken the conscience. Parents cannot neglect to do this with guilt in as much as this is a responsibility plainly enjoined upon parents by the authority of God, to teach their children the law and commandments of God. “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.”

Parents, and the guardians of children, should never allow themselves to evade the inquiries of children by falsehood. For example, when an infant is born in the family, telling them the physician brought it, or that it was found in a hollow tree, or, in short, telling them anything false about it. There is nothing improper, unnatural, or indecent, in letting them know so much upon the subject, as that it was born of their mother. To tell children falsehoods about such things is only still further to excite their curiosity, and create the necessity either of telling them the truth or still more falsehoods.

Be especially careful of the influences that act upon your children at public schools. It often seems to me that parents hardly dream of the amount of corruption, filthy language and conduct often witnessed in public schools. Little children of the same, as well as of opposite sexes, deeply corrupting and defiling each other. These things are often practiced to a most shocking extent, without parents seeming even so much as to know of it. I would rather pay any price at all within my means, or even to satisfy myself with one meal a day, to enable me to educate my children at home sooner than give them over to the influence of public schools as they are often arranged and conducted.

Remember that your children will be educated, either by yourself or by someone else. Either truth or error must possess their minds. They will have instruction, and if you do not secure to them right instruction, they will have that which is false.

Prove yourselves in all respects worthy of the confidence of your children. Let them always witness in you the utmost integrity of character. Let them, in no instance, see in you the appearance of deceit, falsehood, or unkindness. Let your whole heart stand open to them; and in return, you will find that their little hearts will stand open to you. If you show yourselves worthy of their confidence, you can depend on having it.

Deal thoroughly with their consciences. As soon as they are able to be instructed on moral questions, give yourself to a thorough enlightening of their minds upon every precept of the law of God. Put their minds as fully as possible in possession of those truths that will make their consciences quick and as sharp as a two-edged sword.

Guard against the cultivation of so legal a spirit, as to drive them to despair when they have sinned. While you cultivate the most discriminating conscience, be sure also to instruct the little one thoroughly in respect to the plan of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.

Add physical discipline to moral instruction. I have referred to this subject before, but wish to say in addition that it is doubtless one of the greatest errors in the education of children to overlook the fact that at that early age the discipline of the rod will often present to them a more powerful motive than can be brought to bear upon them by moral truth presented to their uninformed minds. The rod cannot safely be laid aside until the powers of the mind are so fully developed and the mind so thoroughly instructed that the whole range of moral truth may be brought to exert its appropriate influence upon the mind without the infliction of pain. It seems to me that some parents presume to be wiser than God, taking it upon themselves to decide that it is not wise to use the rod upon children. Remember Proverbs 19:18 and 23:13,14: “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.” “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.”

Let them see that your religion is your life – that it is your joy and rejoicing from day to day, and not that it fills you with gloom and melancholy. Many professing Christians have such a kind of religion as to render them miserable rather than happy. They are almost constantly in bondage to sin, and consequently under a sense of condemnation. They are wretched, and exhibit this wretchedness daily before their children. This creates the impression on their little minds that religion is a gloomy thing, fit only for funerals and deathbeds; and only to be thought of on a near prospect of death. Now this is making the most false and injurious impression upon their minds that can be conceived. It is a libel upon the religion of Christ. But shocking to say, it is almost as common as it is false. Your children should see that you are religious in everything, and that in all things you are not reluctantly but joyfully acquiescent in the will of God.

By all means let them daily see that you are not creatures of appetite – that you are not given up to the pursuit of wealth or to the pursuit of fashion, not seeking worldly reputation or favour, that neither good eating, nor good drinking, nor good living, in any other sense than holy living, is the object at which you aim. Let them see that you are cheerful and contented with plain, simple food, that you are strictly temperate in all things, in respect to the quality and quantity of whatever you eat, drink, do, or say. In short, let your whole life inculcate the impressive lesson that a state of entire consecration to God is at once the duty and the highest privilege of every human being.

Be sure to pray much with and for them. Never punish them without praying with them. Whenever you give them serious admonition pray with them. Pray with them when they lie down and when they rise up. And enforce the lesson by your own example, that they are never to do anything without prayer.

Lay hold on the promises of God for them. Search the Bible for promises. Lay your Bible open before you. Kneel over it, and spread out the case of your children before God. Begin with the covenant of Abraham, and understand that God made the covenant as well with the children as with the parents. And remember that an inspired Apostle has said, “The promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Take the promise in Isaiah 44:3-5: “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground. I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring: and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses. One shall say, I am the Lord’s; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel.” Remember, that this promise was made more especially to the Church under the Christian dispensation, and respects the children of Jewish parents. Throw your souls into these promises, and wrestle until you prevail.

Your brother in the bonds of the gospel,
Charles G. Finney.
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