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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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"To You And To Your Children"
Some Thoughts for Young Mothers

by Mrs. Ashley Carus-Wilson (Mary L. G. Petrie, B.A.)
Volume 7, 1896, pgs. 195-202


"History is philosophy teaching by example," says an oft-quoted saying, attributed to Dionysius, of Halicarnassus. No history contains more inspiring examples of heroism than Holy Writ, and in all its gallery of heroes, three stand out pre-eminent as men whose dauntless courage was united with an absolute unselfishness and single-hearted devotion to the service of God, which meant that all their great work for men received no reward from men, and that their fame was, in Milton's noble words, "no plant that grows on mortal soil." Many had, indeed, cause to rejoice at the birth of all the three, and for the parents of all, as well as of him to whose parents that lot was directly predicted, there was the joy and gladness of bringing into the world one who left it better than he found it. They represent three very different ages, for Jeremiah was of the Old Covenant, S. Paul of the New Covenant, and S. John the Baptist fills a unique place between the two covenants of God with man.

But many parallels between their lives suggest themselves, ere we pass to consideration of that common feature in them which is of special significance to parents.

From the beautiful life of a God-fearing home, all were called to careers pathetic in their loneliness. "Thou shalt not take thee a wife," was God's command to one of the most affectionate of men. (Jer. xvi. 2). Zacharias and Elisabeth, well stricken in years when their only child was born, can hardly have lived to see his manhood, and from early youth he became a hermit in the desert. S. Paul alludes directly to his solitary condition (I Cor. vii. 7). In each we see deliberate renunciation of the family ties, which are always lawful and generally expedient, that they might give themselves wholly to the work of preaching repentance in an age of crisis and judgment, and for each of the three this personal solitude must have intensified the keen suffering of seeing those whom they might have reckoned on as allies, their determined opponents. Jeremiah the priest was excluded from the Temple (Jer. xxxvi. 5); Jeremiah the prophet was unsparingly denounced and persecuted by the smooth-tongued utterers of popular predictions (Jer. i. 18, xxix. 27, 28). Popular preacher as he was for a while, the Jews acknowledged that they had not believed the Baptist (Matt. xxi. 25); while the Acts of the Apostles records no less than twelve plots against S. Paul by compatriots whom nothing less than his blood would have satisfied.

All three knew the baffling and galling experience of having work which seemed to them, as indeed it was, a matter of life and death, arrested by sudden imprisonment. All three dared to stand, "with God to friend," alone against the whole world,--against its political leaders, its religious leaders, and its excited populace--and to preach to all unwelcome truths concerning righteousness and temperance and judgment to come; and homely duties also, such as prompt payment of wages to the employer, contentment with wages to the employed, and daily work for all who would eat daily bread. (Jer. xxii. 13; Luke iii. 14; 2 Thes. iii. 10.)

Nor are we to think of them as cold, self-centred characters, to whom human sympathy counts for little; their hearts were warmer than those of most men, and we know that tears such as those only who are at once strong and tender can shed, were shed by Jeremiah and S. Paul. (Jer. xi. 1; Lam. ii. 11, iii. 48; Acts xx. 19, 31, 37.) Painful but inevitable antagonism to the rest of the world was mitigated for each by the devotion of a group of faithful friends, who proved their power of winning love.

In the midst of incessant perils, all bore a charmed life till their work was done, and then received a crown of martyrdom: Jeremiah, according to a tradition that there is no reason to disbelieve, being stoned by the Jews, who had hurried him into Egypt against his will; John being done to death by the most worthless and unscrupulous of the worthless and unscrupulous Herods, to please a wanton woman; and S. Paul suffering by command of Nero, "who had done his best to render the very name of man infamous." Each seems to have died, as he had lived, alone.

But theirs were verily lives worth living. "Jeremiah is the one grand immovable figure which alone redeems the miserable downfall of his country from triviality and shame," and though his preaching could not save the nation as a whole, it prepared a chosen remnant to become the germ of a restored and purified nation later on. None greater, we are told, on the highest authority, was ever born of woman than the Baptist, and to S. Paul was given the most ample and splendid commission ever entrusted to human being (Acts xxvi. 16-18).

The fact that God could choose these men for the high honour of such high service involved some fitness for it beforehand on their part, some capacity such as other men had not for being the instruments of His purposes. Parents who cherish noble ambitions for their children, and who are willing to count the cost both to themselves and to their children of realising such ambitions, may well look then at the antecedents of these heroes, and not that for them, and, so far as we know, for no other human being, the dedication to their great life-work dated from a time prior to that dawn of conscious life which we call birth. "Before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee," are the words of the Lord to Jeremiah; "He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb," are the words of the Lord concerning John; "God, who separated me from my mother's womb," are S. Paul's words concerning himself.

And all were reared in godly homes. Jeremiah's father, Hilkiah, was probably the high priest who brought to light a long-forgotten book of the Law (2 Chron. xxxiv.); John's father, Zacharias was "righteous before God, and walked in all the divine commandments and ordinances blameless." Elisabeth, the only one of the three mothers of whom we have personal knowledge, is described in the same comprehensive eulogium as her husband (Luke i. 6). S. Paul's father and grandfather were both Pharisees (Acts xxiii. 6 R.V.), and sent him all the way from Tarsus to Jerusalem to enjoy all possible advantages in the way of religious education.

Such then were the heredity and environment of these men of God. Does use of such new words seem an incongruous blending of biblical and modern? Nay, the law that "Heredity" expresses, so far from being a discovery of the nineteenth century, finds its most forcible expression in the familiar statement that "in Adam all die," and in the still more ancient declaration that "the iniquity of the fathers is visited on the children to the third and fourth generation." And what is "Environment" but that training up of a child in the way he should go, so that he departs not from it in old age, or that leaving of him untrained, which is his destruction and his parents' shame, concerning which the wise man utters so much wisdom (Proverbs xxii. 6; xxix. 15).

We cannot control our child's heredity, though we may and ought to make ourselves acquainted with it fully, in order to correct its weak points by education, and to use its strong points as incentives to the child to become worthy of his antecedents. But far more than we commonly realise, his environment is in our hands. Of a period which is the meeting ground of both influences, when the child's individual though not his independent life has begun, I would speak with bated breath, because surely the most sacred time in a woman's whole life is the season during which she is expecting with growing hope and with growing sense of responsibility, the great gift of her first-born; when in happy anticipation of the "joy that a man is born into the world," which is our Lord's chosen symbol for the joy unspeakable (John xvi. 21), of the joy that can be but feebly imagined by those who have not tasted it, she is asking the question asked by Manoah's wife of old, "What shall be the manner of the child, and what shall be his work?" (Judges xiii. 12, R.V.). Nor is it premature to ask that question at a time when even the most careless must have some solemn thoughts concerning the issues of life and death, and concerning Him to whom alone they belong. For already the welfare of a human soul is in that mother's care; by ignorance or heedlessness or selfishness, she may sin against her own unborn child, and bring it into being predisposed to be ailing or nervous, because of the feverish excitement, or the fretful worry, or the uncontrolled self-indulgence which has immediately preceded its birth. Or else, recognising that "To be well born is the right of every child," she may so live her life that her child starts fair. We are told that the mother of Charles Kingsley gave herself up deliberately to the enjoyment of every sight and sound in her romantic Devonshire home, hoping that the sweet impressions of its rivers and woods and hills might be transmitted to her expected first-born. And surely no one ever loved nature better, or drew nobler inspirations from her than that mother's son.

Are mothers fully aware how soon their responsibilities begin; how largely what our children become, depends upon what we are? Whatever our theories, a practical belief in chance too often serves as a convenient excuse for what is actually inexcusable. In spite of the apostolic affirmation, that a man reaps as he has sown, in spite of the scientific demonstration that an effect must have some adequate cause, we talk as if the most important affairs were, after all, the sport of mere accident, quite beyond our control. "Luck was against me" we say, if frankly irreligious; "the dispensations of Providence are mysterious" we sigh, if we are prone to religious phrase. For instance, we cherish a sense of grievance and disappointment because we have not achieved what we wished to achieve, ignoring the fact that our deliberate choice in life has been very different from our vague wishes. Those who know precisely what they want to achieve, and bend their whole power towards its achievement, attain their end oftener than is commonly supposed. With a sore and bewildered heart, a mother admits that the child she wished to see robust and intelligent and well-principled, has turned out feeble and foolish and unworthy. What systematic and self-sacrificing and persevering efforts did she make for his health and education and moral training? The children of the very good often turn out remarkably ill, says a cynical world. It sounds improbable; it outrages common sense, and all clear conception of law, Divine or scientific. Is it true? Shall we idly echo it before we have proved whether it is more than a rare and abnormal occurrence? We do not assert that no good parents ever had a bad child, or that no bad parents ever had a good one. King Hezekiah was the son of Ahaz and the father of Manasseh. But when we have allowed for the fact that under many different names and phrases, loud profession of religion has masked practical godlessness; that some well-meaning pietists have repelled instead of attracting their children; and that others, self-willed and unintelligent, have found scope for their zeal, and a claim on their efforts, everywhere rather than in their own homes; the number of exceptions to the general rule, that God is in the generation of the righteous, proves to be small; while at the same time, such exceptions are turned to the utmost account by those who are only too glad to point the finger of derision at our faith and its professors. And if we knew all the circumstances, some of these exceptions would prove to be rather exemplifications of the law of heredity and environment. The sacred historian carefully names the mothers of many of the Hebrew kings. Mere names to us; to those who had chronicles and traditions now utterly lost, these names doubtless conveyed much concerning the characters of the monarchs. Other young mothers may find, as I have found, food for much interesting thought and study, in placing beside the general statements of scripture as to the posterity of the righteous and unrighteous, instances to be gathered from its narratives of good children of good parents; bad children of bad parents; good children of bad parents, and bad children of good parents. When the more obvious cases have been noted, we must look below the surface; inferring, for instance, the pious parentage of Moses, from Exodus iii. 6, xviii. 4, and Hebrews xi. 23; and of David, from Psalm 1xxxvi. 16, a composition whose ascription to the sweet psalmist of Israel there is no good reason to question; and observing the enduring influence in the royal houses of Israel, of the two queens, Maacah and Jezebel.

Having thus used those most ancient and accessible of records, which are for all time and for all the world in their instruction, we can turn to the circle of our personal acquaintance, and our acquaintance, through reading, with notable names of later date. Again and again we shall find the law holding good, that the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him, and His righteousness unto children's children, to such as keep His covenant; and that He forgets the children of those who have forgotten Him (Psalm ciii. 17; Hosea iv. 6). For a single illustration, take the lion-hearted David Livingstone, reared as he himself phrased it, but "poor and pious parents," and sprung of ancestors of whom one could say, that he had searched the family traditions for many generations without finding one dishonest man among his fore-fathers, and of whom another dared to throw in his lot with the unpopular cause and the exiled king, and to fall fighting not on the winning side at Culloden. I have spoken of this hero, whom a whole nation delighted to honour, because he, descended from hardy peasants, and bred in toil and poverty, had not the sort of heredity and environment that the world reckons advantageous. Contrast with this case, others, known I fear to us all, of children born in palaces, with the taint, physical, mental or moral, of an ancestor's sins upon them; or born to a heritage of wealth that, whether hoarded or squandered, has been a curse to them, or to a heritage of ease, that has caused them to die with "unexerted powers" as "recreants to the race," in Browning's forcible words. Or notice how some sturdy babe has grown into a sickly adult, because a careless mother left him to an ignorant nurse; or how some quick-witted child has grown into a dull adult, because of a neglected or misdirected education: or how some timid and affectionate child has grown into a cringing adult, given to crooked ways, because he has been cowed and repelled; or how some forward and attractive child has grown into a conceited adult, with too good an opinion of himself to realise a better self, because he has been flattered and indulged.

Here is the question that we parents have to face. What is our real aim for our children? By what means may that aim be attained so far as human effort can attain it? We may labour successfully to amass wealth, or to achieve social distinction for them, while we miss the opportunity of securing such lasting possessions and blessings that have no sorrow added to them, as a sound healthy body, a capable cultivated mind, and moral and spiritual strength. I do not say that we can guarantee these things for any child of ours; that we may not be disappointed in our immediate objects; that their lives may not shape themselves in ways we little foresee, and shall never wholly understand; but I do say that if our prayer and labour is earnestly directed to that end, we may confidently hope that they will become good and useful men and women.

For the parent whose trust is in God is justified in claiming for the child, long before it can enter on a religious life for itself, the divine blessing which is pledged over and over again to the seed of the righteous. And from the first promise of its life it may be dedicated to the service of God as truly as were those three saints of old who did and dared so much in His service.

Did not Noah, the very first who is described as "a righteous man," prepare an ark "to the saving of his house"? Was not blessing predicted for Abraham's sake, not only on blameless, law-abiding Isaac, but also on wild nomad Ishmael? (Genesis xxi. 13, xxvi. 24).

"The promise is unto you and to your children," was the assurance to the congregation gathered into Christ's flock on the birthday of the Church, and to their descendants of whom we ourselves are (Acts ii. 39). Accordingly, S. Paul can say that the children of even one Christian parent are holy (1 Corinthians vii. 14), and can comfort himself with the thought that the "unfeigned faith" of his dearly beloved son Timothy, was of the third generation (2 Timothy i. 5). Quotations showing that the seed of the righteous are blessed might be multiplied indefinitely, to the great and endless comfort of the Christian parent. I observe eight or nine in the Book of Psalms only. Let us content ourselves here with one, which reads like a glorious revocation for the servants of God of that primeval two-fold doom incurred by parental guilt, of unrequited toil for the man, and of pain and peril for the woman in her motherhood; and which combines with the thought that the descendants of the godly are blessed, the thought that they are bound to hand on that blessing unimpaired as their children's best pairimony. The promise is one of the last in the Book of Isaiah. "They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble: for they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord and their offspring with them."

What will we then for our children? That they should be great in the eyes of men, and have the world's joy, which is but for a moment, and the world's sorrow which worketh death afterwards? Or that they should be great in the sight of the Lord, as the Baptist says, and have tribulation in the world, and in God's name overcome the world at last? We cannot certainly determine either destiny for them; we assuredly cannot bring them up for both at once; but in the fear of God, and with the help of God, we may do much now towards shaping their unknown hereafter.



Proofread by Stephanie H. 2008