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Sermon 21 - The Ends of Family Institution, and the Importance of Education

By Andrew Lee

      Malachi ii. 15.

      "And did not he make one? Ye had he the residue of the Spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed.--"

      Toward the close of the Babylonish captivity, religion revived among the Jews. Several zealous and able reformers were raised up and advanced to power, whose influence was blessed to call back that people from their declensions, and prepare them for mercy. But the effect of their labors was only temporary. When they were gone off the stage, the people again apostatized, neglected the worship and ordinances of God, and became vicious and corrupt. This prophet, who lived several ages after their return to Canaan, was sent to reprove their irreligion and the immoralities, which abounded among them and had infected every order of men.

      One of the sins then rife in Israel, was a family sin. Family contentions, which frequently terminated in divorces, were become common.

      Divorces were permitted to the Hebrews, "for the hardness of their hearts, but it was not so from the beginning."

      Larger communities are all made up of families. Evils therefore which affect the latter, cannot but affect the former. Were all the families which compose an empire divided and unhappy, the empire would be so.

      It is also worthy of notice, that the first rudiments of character, which render good or bad, and cause people to be blessings or curses in society, are commonly begun in those nurseries of our race. The bias there given, seldom wholly wears off; it is generally carried, in degree, through life. Probably many of the evils which afflicted the Jews in the days of this prophet, had their origin in the cradles of the nation. He was therefore directed to strike at the root of evils, and by endeavoring to reform the smaller societies of which the larger were composed, to reform the whole. With this view he led back the minds of those among whom he ministered, to the origin of families, and declared the merciful design of the Most High, in their institution--'That he might seek a godly see.'

      Seeking a godly seed is not the only design. It is however a principal design, and will be chiefly regarded in the following discourse.

      One thing designed is the comfort and advantage of the several members of these little communities. But to the attainment of these ends, they must keep respectively, in their places, and act faithfully in them. The heads must live together in harmony, and unite in ordering the common affairs of the society; and the inferior members must submit to their authority, and do the duties of their stations.

      Human happiness greatly depends on the temper and conduct of those who are connected in the nearest relations, and live together. Suppose trouble abroad, yet if one hath peace and friendship in his family, and finds order and affection at home, he will not be very unhappy. He will often "retire to his secret chambers, and shut the doors about him, till the evils are past." But the house divided against itself, is a scene of confusion and trouble. Contentions there are like a continual dropping.

      The man who hath affluence and honor; who is respected or envied abroad, is but a wretch, if his retirements are unquiet; if his family connexions are peevish and disagreeable, and the inferior members rise in rebellion and refuse obedience to his reasonable requirements, or neglect the duties of their stations. Fidelity and affection in the nearest relations, yields the greatest temporal felicity; the want of them occasions the most pungent grief which is experienced in life; that which arises from sense of guilt excepted.

      The part acted by every member of a family, effects the whole. None can rejoice or mourn alone. All participate in the joy or grief. All are affected by the discharge, or neglect of relative duties: Joy and sorrow keep pace with them.

      Neither are the evils which arise from these abuses to be avoided by celibacy, without incurring others of a serious nature. Man is formed for society. An help meet was necessary even in Eden. To have remained alone would have rendered an earthly paradise a tiresome place. Therefore was a suitable companion given of God, to crown the joys of innocence.

      The comfort and advantage of the members is manifestly one design of family institution; but where the duties of the several relations are neglected, or counteracted, the ends are frustrated, and the blessing changed into a curse. "It is better to dwell in the wilderness than with a contentious and angry woman." And the woman, who instead of a kind and virtuous companion, is joined to a tyrant, or a man of Belial, must have sorrow upon, sorrow, till death comes to her relief.

      But the design of family institution expressed in the last clause of the text--'That he might find a godly seed, will be chiefly attended to'.

      We are here taught that God made one, and only one to be man's companion and helper--'that he might seek a godly feed'. One is necessary for this purpose; more would rather hinder than help. With one there is a joint interest; more would cause divisions.

      To answer the ends proposed, the connexion must be for life. It must not be left to the parties or either of them, to dissolve it at pleasure, as the Jews of that age contended. This liberty the prophet shews to be contrary to the spirit and design of marriage. He observes that though God 'had the residue of the Spirit'--all power, and could easily have made many, he made only one, to be the companion and helper of man--that this indicated the design of marriage to be an indissoluble connexion, which was ordained to continue till death. This which is intimated in the text, is confirmed by our Savior in his reply to the Pharisees who questioned him on this subject. *

      * Matthew xix. 3-10.

      In farther discussing our subject, 'after a few desultory observations on the importance of education, especially parental education, we shall inquire in what ways, and by what means parents are required to fed a godly seed'.

      Much culture is necessary to man's attaining his proper rank in creation. This should begin at an early period, and naturally devolves on parents, who, by providential appointment, are guardians of the infancy and childhood of their offspring.

      Brutes need no instruction in order to fill the places designed for them of the Creator. Neither do they need example. Instinct supplies their places--teacheth all which they need to know; and teacheth perfectly. The several kinds of beasts and birds, shut out from their dams, and secluded from their own species, act according to their natures in the same manner, as though brought up with them--discover the same disposition--use the same methods of seeking their food, and providing for themselves and their young--and express themselves in the same language, or by the same notes. Nature left to herself, respecting every thing which belongs to them, is a sufficient, yea an infallible instructor. Some of the brutes may be taught to mimick man; others to know and serve him; but these are foreign to their rank. Everything, properly belonging to them, is taught by nature, independent of man. Had man never existed, some of them might have lived and filled their places in creation without him.

      But man, the head of this lower world, requires particular attention. His mind requires more than his body. Should man come forward to act his part here, with only the same kind of attention which nature teacheth the brute to bestow on her young, what would he be? How would he appear? Suppose some savage horde to attend only to the bodies of their offspring, during infancy and childhood, and then send them abroad to follow nature!--Uncultivated nature! Living at large like the brutal inhabitants of the forest! Can we form an idea of ought more shocking? Surely such a people would be more brutal than the brutes!

      To prevent these dreadfuls, and render man the noble creature for which he is designed, happy in himself, an honor to his Creator, and a blessing among God's works, are the ends proposed in education. These usually originate in that culture which is begun by parents. The foundation of honor or infamy, usefulness or mischief, happiness or misery, is commonly laid in the morning of life. The impressions then made, are deep and lasting; the bias then given to the mind, goes far to form the character of the man. We see therefore the goodness of God in an institution which hath such important objects in view--which is designed to plant in infant minds the seeds of virtue, and form mankind for usefulness and honor.--'And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed'.

      This work would have been incumbent on man had he retained his first estate. It would then have belonged to parents to cultivate the tender mind and direct it in right ways. Marriage was instituted before the apostasy, of which a principal design is that mentioned in the text: For the prophet speaks of man in his original state. In innocence man had his work assigned him--was made for action. Idleness would have constituted no part of his felicity, had he remained upright. When he came out of the Creator's hand, he was "put into the garden to dress it and to keep it." His disposition to idleness may have been occasioned by the fall. Had man retained his maker's image, it is not probable that young minds would have received habits of virtue, and been imbued with knowledge, without parental aid--that instinct would have supplied the place of instruction, and superseded the use of it.

      Had man remained upright his whole work have been diverse from that which now employs him. The earth would have required little culture --none which would have wearied its inhabitants. The mind, free from every corrupt bias, would have been open to instruction, which would have flowed from the parent and been received by the child, with delightful ease and joy. Man devoted to the service of God, would have devoted his all to God, especially his offspring. Then to have poured knowledge, and especially the knowledge of God, into the placid docile mind of the pious youth, what delight would it have given to the soul glowing with divine love!

      Since the apostasy, children are the joy of parents. With all their depravity and perverseness, which greatly lower down the comfort parents would otherwise occasion, they love them next to life, and see their improvements with peculiar joy. Especially doth the godly parent rejoice to witness in them good things toward the Lord-- religious dispositions--concern to know and serve God, and become 'a godly seed'. "He hath no greater joy than to observe his children walking in the truth." Had man retained his first estate, his joy of this kind would have been full. He would have trained up a holy, happy progeny--"a seed to serve the Lord."

      In the present state of human nature, the raising of 'a godly seed', is more difficult, but no less necessary. Endeavors to this end may be even more so. Man left from his childhood, uninstructed and unrestrained, to follow his natural bias, would become a monster among God's creatures! Therefore the importance of parental faithfulness, as divine honor, and human happiness are regarded.

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