The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
Edited by Charlotte Mason.
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
"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
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
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.
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,
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
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
Proofread by Stephanie H. 2008