By Andrew Lee
Malachi ii. 15.
"And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the Spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed."
Some general observations on the importance of education, especially parental education, were made in the preceding discourse. We are now to consider the ways and means by which parents, are 'to seek a godly seed'.
Only general directions can here be given. Much will be left to the discretion of those concerned.
Some of the principal parental duties are, 'Dedication of their children to God, followed by instruction--restraint--good example, and prayer'.
We shall treat on each of these briefly in their order.
1. Of 'dedication of children to God. By a godly seed', children consecrated to the service of God, and set apart for him, is commonly intended, This implies some rites of consecration. These there have been, probably, from the beginning; though we have no information what they were, till the days of Abram.
Before the flood we read of "sons of God" who married "the daughters of men;" a sad union which led to the universal degeneracy of mankind. The "sons of God" are supposed to have been the descendants of Seth; "the daughters of men," to have been of the family of Cain. But why the distinction of "sons of God, and daughters of men?" It arose, no doubt, from external differences. The former had the seal of godliness set upon them, whatever that seal might be; and were trained up to attend the worship and ordinances of God--they were visibly of the household of faith; none of which were the case with the latter. * That the former were all renewed, and children of God by regeneration, is not probable--they are termed sons of God, on account of their covenant relation to him.
* Tenders of pardon and life were made to the whole human race, through a Mediator, and the church at first included the whole family of Adam; but this did not long continue. Cain, enraged that his offering was not accepted, slew his brother, and "went out from the presence of the Lord"--left his father's house, in which God was worshipped, and where his ordinances were administered--cast off religion, and taught his children to disregard it. His progeny were not deficient in worldly wisdom. They cultivated the arts of life, and made improvements in them, as appears from the sketch of their history given by Moses. + But they were without God in the world; having cast off his fear, and the apprehension of his presence, and their accountableness, which often follow the dereliction of the divine institutions.
+ Genesis iv. 17-22.
So the posterity of Jacob were called "the children of God--the people of God--a holy seed--a royal priesthood," because of their external, nominal distinctions. These appropriate terms continued as long as they remained God's visible people, and had the seal of his covenant set upon them, though they had so corrupted themselves as to be even worse than the heathen. And Jerusalem is called the 'holy city' even after it had filled up the measure of its wickedness by murdering the Lord of glory. *
* Matthew xxvii. 53.
From the days of Abraham, we know the seal of God's covenant, and how parents have been required to dedicate their offspring to him, as a visible sign of their being consecrated to his service, and as a bond on parents to train them up in his fear. And those who have been of the household of faith, and been duly instructed, have considered themselves obliged to discharge these duties; nor have they neglected them.
2. Dedication 'must be followed by instruction'. Parents must cultivate the tender mind--instill the principles of virtue--infuse the knowledge of God, and of the duties due to God and man. This is a matter of the greatest importance. If youthful minds are not imbued with knowledge and virtue, they will not remain blank; the void will be filled with that which tends to mischief, and leads to woe and infamy.
When we look among pagans and savages, we are struck with their vices and follies, which raise our disgust, or excite our pity. But who hath made us to differ from them! Is it not that divine Sovereign who "divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam," who cast our lot among the civilized and enlightened, who having been taught, of God, taught us the way of happiness? Had we been born among heathens, we should probably have been heathens; if among savages, should not have differed from them--should have gloried, perhaps in those refinements in cruelty, which they consider an accomplishment, but which we shudder to hear related. It is not probable that we should have had native discernment sufficient to have raised us above our fellows--to have enabled us to discover their delusions and the absurdity of their views. Had we been denied revelation, we should probably have been ignorant of our fallen state and need of a Savior, and might have "perished for lack of vision."
How far God might have pitied our necessary ignorance, we know not; but we can now discern no way of salvation, except by faith in Christ, with repentance from dead works. Now, the knowledge of these, and the necessity of holiness of heart and life, we have received, not by immediate revelation, but from our fellow men. And most of those who receive them, to saving effect, receive the first impressions in early life; receive them from those with whom they are conversant in their tender years. The forming mankind to virtue, and rendering them 'a godly seed', depends much on the means 'then' used with them, and the bias then given to the mind.
3. Restraint is 'also necessary in the morning of life'. BY nature man is inclined to evil. This disposition originated in the apostasy and descends to the whole race, rendering them untractable and unreachable--easily susceptible of bad impressions and indisposed to good ones. It appears and operates at a very early period of life. "The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born speaking lies. Their poison is like the poison of a serpent; they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear."--
Such declarations are not indeed to be understood literally. None are equal transgressors, before they are capable of moral action, which is the state of the new born infant. He cannot speak lies who hath not yet attained the power of speech. The poison of human depravity may, however be compared to that of the serpent, which begins in its formation, and discovers itself when first capable of action. We see the effects of depravity in the child, while reason is yet weak and only budding forth. It is one of the first appearances in the progress of a human being from infancy to manhood. When these are discovered, restraint should begin. Parents who seek 'a godly seed', should no longer delay to counteract the corrupt disposition, and endeavor to give the young creature, committed to their care, another and a better bias.
But, alas! Parental affection too often degenerates into weakness, and giving way to natural perverseness, suffers it to take its course; the consequences of which are often fatal to peace and honor in after life; perhaps in that also which is to come. It is of primary importance that restraint should hold back the young agent from that which is evil; and as far as may be, prevent him from associating with the vile, who disregard the voice of conscience and harden themselves in sin.
Suitable correction to impress an early sense of the evil of sin, and praise to encourage and allure in the paths of virtue, are also acts of kindness to the unexperienced creature who is entering on the war of life, and coming forward to act its part among enemies and temptations, and thus to prepare for honor or infamy, joy or misery eternal. Though no fruit of this kind attention may immediately appear beneficial consequences commonly follow; though sometimes at a later period than was expected; yea after expectation hath ceased.
4. Example is 'another mean of seeking a godly seed'.
Good example is particularly incumbent on all who are exalted to rule, whether in larger, or smaller communities. In the history of Israel we observe the morals of the nation commonly agreeing with those of the governing prince. Nor was this peculiar to that people; it holds generally, in a considerable degree, of every other. The manners and morals of all who live in society, usually take a tinge from those of their rulers. This is particularly the case with smaller societies; especially with families. Children often imbibe the sentiments, learn the manners, and catch somewhat of the tempers of those with whom they live, as well as learn their language. 'Do we seek a godly seed'? It concerns us to be careful what examples we set before the youth who attend us.
Youth watch and observe adults, especially those to whom they look up as friends, and whose love and kindness they daily experience. Adults are disposed to think favorably of those who shew them kindness. From the view of a child, it hides every fault. That a thing was done by a respected parent justifies it to a child, however criminal it might appear in another.
The temper and conduct, of a benefactor, make a deeper impression than his words, and have more influence on the judgment of those entering on life. Even little children feel the force of our Savior's rule of judging--"By their fruits ye shall know them." Every thing conspires to prejudice children in favor of parents, and to dispose them to follow their examples. Bad example is in them especially seducing. Children generally follow it, where it is set before them. Coinciding with their natural bias, precept and counsel are commonly lost upon them, if taught by parental example to do evil. It is therefore of the greatest importance, especially to the members of a family, that the head should "behave himself wisely in a perfect way, and walk within his house with a perfect heart."
5. Prayer, 'especially family prayer is another means seeking a godly seed'.
This duty is important, as it tends to solemnize the heart, and produce a serious and devout temper; and as it tends to draw down the divine blessing on those who attend it.
When children witness a parent daily looking up to heaven, and fervently imploring the divine blessing on himself and them--when they hear him humbly confessing sin, and its demerits, and imploring pardon--when they observe him devoutly thanking God for existence, for continuance in life, and for all its comforts--when they hear him asking grace to help and divine direction and guidance--when they see him besieging the throne of grace for the Holy Spirit to renew and sanctify them, enable them to do every duty, fill them with love to God and man, enable them to bear injuries and requite them with kindness, yea, to be good and do good--to make them faithful unto death and then to receive them to the mansions of glory, and are called to join in these solemn addresses to heaven, What other lesson is equally instructive? What hath so dire a tendency to solemnize the heart and impress it with the most just and weighty religious sentiments? In this view, family prayer is of vast importance. If attended as every serious person may attend it, cannot be wholly without effect, and hath often the happiest effect.
It is not great talents, or showy gifts, but seriousness, solemnity and fervor, which render prayer prevalent with God and beneficial to man, as a means of exciting to other duties, and producing religious awe and reverence.
This duty is also important, as tending to draw down the divine blessing on the devout worshipper and on his connexions.
Every good gift cometh down from God; but his gifts are usually bestowed in answer to prayer--"Ye have not because ye ask not--Ask, and it shall be given you--for every one that asketh, receiveth." --Spiritual mercies are seldom given but in answer to prayer; and seldom long denied to earnest persevering prayer. This is the spirit of one of our Savior's parables, * and the purport of many passages in the word of God.
* Luke xviii. 1, &c.
And when a person hath omitted nothing in his power to make his children wise to salvation, what so natural, what so reasonable, as to bring them to God, and pour out his soul before him, for his blessing upon them? And what so prevalent with "him who heareth prayer?"
It is storied of Augustine, who lived in the fourth century, that though the son of an eminently pious mother, he was a very vicious youth--that a Christian seeing him pass in the street, spake of him as an abandoned character, with whom it was disgraceful to associate --which another hearing, observed, that he was the child of so many prayers, 'that he could not believe that he would be lost'--nor was he lost. Those prayers were heard. He was called of God, and like Saul of Tarsus, made a chosen vessel to bear God's name to a scoffing world, and do much in the cause of the divine Redeemer. *
* Witherspoon's Sermon on Education.
The fervent prayers which godly parents offer up for their children, ascend like the prayers and aims of good Cornelius for a memorial before God. When sincere and persevering, they return not empty. They often draw down the divine blessing on those for whom they are offered up. If they fail through filial obstinacy and perverseness, they draw a blessing on themselves, to their eternal joy.
* * * * *
These are some of the ways in which parents should seek a godly feed. But, alas! These duties are much neglected; therefore the declension of religion, and the prevalence of vice.
Those who enter into covenant with God, bind themselves to discharge these duties. Others are not devoid of obligation to do the same. They are duties which rise out of the parental relation, and are indissolubly connected with it.
Parents have a fondness for their children, and with their felicity. But do not some who believe them made for eternity, take care only for the mortal part, which after all their care must ere long become food for worms, and turn to dust! Are there not parents who neither dedicate their children to God, nor teach them his fear, nor walk before them in the right way, nor commend them to the divine mercy! Cruel parents! Unhappy children! How difficult, how dangerous their situation! By nature disposed to error--assaulted by subtil enemies, whose temptations fall in with their natural bias, and are strengthened by the conduct of those whom they love as friends and revere as guides! Little chance have such unexperienced and unsuspecting creatures to escape the snares which surround them! Dangerous, and almost desperate is their situation!
Perhaps the endless misery of some may be greatly chargeable on those who under God, gave them being! Affecting thought! It concerns parents to think on these things. If they consider, they must feel their obligation 'to seek a godly seed', and be afraid to neglect it.
And let pious parents be persuaded to labor and not faint in the discharge of the duties which they owe to God, and the young immortals committed to their care. Though their counsels may be condemned, and their prayers seem not to be regarded by him who hath power to change the heart, let them not be discouraged, but persevere. "Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy." Though the seed lie long under the clods, it will not be lost, but some how, bring forth fruit.
The counsels, warnings, and examples of faithful godly parents commonly make some impression on the children who affect to disregard them. The most dissolute have their serious moments; their pangs of remorse and terror. At such seasons their parents' warnings, prayers and tears recur to their minds, and seem to rise up before them. This often happens after parental labors have ceased; and after the impressions they might have made, were supposed to have been effaced, they sometimes produce happy effects.
Few children who have been dedicated to God, taught to know and serve him, and the consequences which will follow their conduct here, and witnessed their parents' deep concern, and earned cries to God in their behalf can forget them--they must, they do, at times, affect them. While any thing of this nature remains, there is hope. Some, who in early life, scoff at warning and counsel, are afterwards brought to repentance: And such often testify, that impressions made by parental faithfulness in their tender years, were the means of their awakening and amendment. This should encourage those whose children give them little hope, to persevere in the discharge of duty.
"The Lord said of Abraham--I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment, 'that the Lord might bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him'." What? The richest and most lasting blessings--'because "he would command his children--to keep the way of the Lord'."
"It is not a vain thing to serve God. Then--(when he maketh up his jewels) shall ye return and discern between the righteous and the wicked; between him that serveth God, and him that serveth him not." In no other way can we serve him more acceptably than by following Abraham's example--"commanding our households to serve the Lord," and setting them the example. Whoso doth it, "shall in no wise lose his reward."
And happy the youth who second the endeavors of their parents to render them 'a godly seed'. Such "will find life and obtain favor of the Lord." Here, they rejoice the hearts of those who love them, and smooth the rugged path of age. The years which to others have no pleasures in them, are not devoid of comfort to those who witness filial piety and hope to live again in a godly offspring. Such parents rejoice in death, and their 'godly seed', will rejoice with them forever, in heavenly mansions.