John Wesley

“As for me and my house, we, will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15.

1. IN the foregoing verses we read that Joshua, now grown old, “gathered the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, for their heads, for their judges and officers; and they presented themselves before the Lord. (Verse 1.) And, Joshua rehearsed to them the great things which God had done for their fathers; (verses 2-13;) concluding with that strong exhortation: “Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and truth; and put away the God. which your fathers served on the other side the flood, (Jordan,) and in Egypt.” (Verse 14.) Can anything be more astonishing than this? that even in Egypt, yea, and in the wilderness, where they were daily fed, and both day and night guided by miracle, the Israelites, in general, should worship idols, in flat defiance of the Lord their God! He proceeds: “If it seemeth evil to you to serve the Lord, choose ye this day whom ye will serve: whether the gods your fathers served on the other side of the flood, or the Gods of the Amorites in whose land ye dwell: But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

2. A resolution this worthy of a hoary headed saint, who had had large experience, from his youth up, of the goodness of the Master to whom he had devoted himself, and the advantages of his service. How much is it to be wished that all who have tasted that the Lord is gracious, all whom he has brought out of the land of Egypt, out of the bondage of sin, — those especially who are united together in Christian fellowship, — would adopt this wise resolution! Then would the work of the Lord prosper in our land; then would his word run and be glorified. Then would multitudes of sinners in every place stretch out their hands unto God, until “the glory of the Lord covered the land, as the waters cover the sea.”

3. On the contrary, what will the consequence be, if they do not adopt this resolution? — if family religion be neglected? — it care be not taken of the rising generation? Will not the present revival of religion in a short time die away? Will it not be as the historian speaks of the Roman state in its infancy, — res unius aetatis? — “an event that has its beginning and end within the space of one generation!” Will it not be a confirmation of that melancholy remark of Luther’s, that “a revival of religion never lasts longer than one generation?” By a generation, (as he explains himself,) he means thirty years. But, blessed be God, this remark does not hold. With regard to the present instance; seeing this revival, from its rise in the year 1729, has already lasted above fifty years.

4. Have we not already seen some of the unhappy consequences of good men’s not adopting this resolution? Is there not a generation arisen, even within this period, yea, and from pious parents, that know not the Lord? that have neither his love in their hearts, nor his fear before their eyes? How many of them already “despise their fathers, and mock at the counsel of their mothers!” How many are utter strangers to real religion, to the life and power of it! And not a few have shaken off all religion, and abandoned themselves to all manner of wickedness! Now, although this may sometimes be the case, even of children educated in a pious manner, yet this case is very rare: I have met with some, but not many, instances of it. The wickedness of the children is generally owing to the fault or neglect of their parents. For it is a general, though not universal rule, though it admits of some exceptions, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

5. But what is the purport of this resolution, “I and my house will serve the Lord?” In order to understand and practice this, let us, First, inquire, what it is to “serve the Lord.” Secondly, Who are included in that expression, “my house.” And, Thirdly, What can we do, that we and our house may serve the Lord.

I. 1. We may inquire, First, what it is to “serve the Lord.” not as a Jew, but as a Christian; not only with an outward service, (though some of the Jews undoubtedly went farther than this,) but with inward, with the service of the heart, is worshipping him in spirit and in truth. The First thing implied in this service is faith, believing in the name of the Son of God. We cannot perform an acceptable service to God, till we believe on Jesus Christ whom he hath sent. There the spiritual worship of God begins. As soon as any one has the witness in himself, as soon as he can say, “The life that I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me;” he is able truly to “serve the Lord.”

2. As soon as he believes, he loves God, which is another thing implied in “serving the Lord.” “We love him because he first loved us;” of which faith is the evidence. The love of a pardoning God is “shed abroad in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” Indeed this love may admit of a thousand degrees: But still every one, as long as he believes, may truly declare before God, is “‘Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.’ Thou knowest that ‘my desire is unto thee, and unto the remembrance of thy name.’”

3. And if any man truly love God, he cannot but love his brother also. Gratitude to our Creator will surely produce benevolence to our fellow-creatures. It we love Him, we cannot but love one another, as Christ loved us. We feel our souls enlarged in love toward every child of man. And toward all the children of God we put on “bowels of kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, forgiving one another,” if we have a complaint against any, “even as God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven us.”

4. One thing more is implied in “serving the Lord,” namely, the obeying him; the steadily walking in all his ways, the doing his will from the heart. Like those, “his servants” above, “who do his pleasure, who keep his commandments, and hearken to the voice of his words;” these, his servants below, hearken unto his voice, diligently keep his commandments, carefully avoid whatever he has forbidden, and zealously do whatever he has enjoined; studying always to have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward man.

II. “I and my house will serve the Lord,” will every real Christian say. But who are included in that expression, “my house?” This is the next point to be considered.

 1. The person in your house that claims your first and nearest attention, is, undoubtedly, your wife; seeing you are to love her, even as Christ hath loved the Church, when he laid down his life for it, that he might purify it unto himself; not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.” The same end is every husband to pursue, in all his intercourse with his wife; to use every possible means that she may be freed from every spot, and may walk unblamable in love.

2. Next to your wife are your children; immortal spirits whom God hath, for a time, entrusted to your care, that you may train them up in all holiness, and fit them for the enjoyment of God in eternity. This is a glorious and important trust; seeing one soul is of more value than all the world beside. Every child, therefore, you are to watch over with the utmost care, that, when you are called to give an account of each to the Father of Spirits, you may give your accounts with joy and not with grief.

3. Your servants, of whatever kind, you are to look upon as a kind of secondary children: These, likewise, God has committed to your charge, as one that must give account. For every one under your roof that has a soul to be saved is under your care; not only indented servants, who are legally engaged to remain with you for a term of years; not only hired servants, whether they voluntarily contract for a longer or shorter time; but also those who serve you by the week or day: For these too are, in a measure, delivered into your hands. And it is not the will of your Master who is in heaven, that any of these should go out of your hands before they have received from you something more valuable than gold or silver. Yea, and you are in a degree accountable even for “the stranger that is within your gates.” As you are particularly required to see that he does “no manner of work” on the Lord’s day, while he is within your gates so, by purity of reason, you are required to do all that is in your power to prevent his sinning against God in any other instance.

III. Let us inquire, in the Third place, What can we do that all these may “serve the Lord?”

 1. May we not endeavor, First, to restrain them from all outward sin; from profane swearing; from taking the name of God in vain, from doing any needless work. or taking any pastime, or the Lord’s day? This labor of love you owe even to your visitants; much more to your wife’s children, and servants. The former, over whom you have the least influence, you may restrain by argument or mild persuasion. If you find that, after repeated trials, they will not yield either to one or the other; it is your bounden duty to set ceremony aside, and to dismiss them from your house. Servants also, whether by the day, or for a longer space, if you cannot reclaim, either by reasoning added to your example, or by gentle or severe reproofs, though frequently repeated, you must, in anywise, dismiss from your family, though it should be ever so inconvenient.

2. But you cannot dismiss your wife, unless for the cause of fornication, that is, adultery. What can then be done, if she is habituated to any other open sin? I cannot find in the Bible that a husband has authority to strike his wife on any account, even suppose she struck him first, unless his life were in imminent danger. I never have known one instance yet of a wife that was mended thereby. I have heard, indeed, of some such instances; but as I did not see them, I do not believe them. It seems to me, all that can be done in this case is to be done partly by example, partly by argument or persuasion, each applied in such a manner as is dictated by Christian prudence. If evil can ever be overcome, it must be overcome by good. It cannot be overcome by evil: We cannot beat the devil with his own weapons. Therefore, if this evil cannot be overcome by good, we are called to suffer it. We are then called to say, “This is the cross which God hath chosen for me. He surely permits it for wise ends; ‘let him do what seemeth him good.’ Whenever he sees it to be best, he will remove this cup from me.” Meantime continue in earnest prayer, knowing that with God no word is impossible; and that he will either in due time take the temptation away, or make it a blessing to your soul.

3. Your children, while they are young, you may restrain from evil, not only by advice, persuasions and reproof, but also by correction; only remembering, that this means is to be used last, — not till all other have been tried, and found to be ineffectual. And even then you should take the utmost care to avoid the very appearance of passion. Whatever is done should be done. With mildness, nay, indeed, with kindness too. Otherwise your own spirit will suffer loss, and the child will reap little advantage.

4. But some will tell you, “All this is lost labor: A child need not to be corrected at all. Instruction, persuasion, and advice, will be sufficient for any child without correction; especially if gentle reproof be added, as occasion may require.” I answer, There may be particular instances, wherein this method may be successful. But you must not, in anywise lay this down as a universal rule; unless you suppose yourself wiser than Solomon, or, to speak more properly wise than God. For it is God himself, who hast knoweth his own creatures, that has told us expressly, “He that spareth the rod, hateth his son: But he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” (Proverbs 13:24.).And upon this is grounded that plain commandment, directed to all that fear God, “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.” (19:18.)

5. Nay we not endeavor, Secondly, to instruct them? to take care that every person who is under our roof have all such knowledge as is necessary to salvation? to see that our wife, servants, and children he taught all those things which belong to their eternal peace? In order to this you should provide that not only your wife, but your servants also, may enjoy all the public means of instruction. On the Lord’s day in particular, you should so forecast what is necessary to be done at home, that they may have an opportunity of attending all the ordinances of God. Yea, and you should take care that they have some time everyday for reading, meditation, and prayer; and you should inquire whether they do actually employ that time in the exercises for which it is allowed. Neither should any day pass without family prayer, seriously and solemnly performed.

6. You should particularly endeavor to instruct your children, early, plainly, frequently, and patiently. Instruct them early, from the first hour that you perceive reason begins to dawn. Truth may then begin to shine upon the mind far earlier than we are apt to suppose. And whoever watches the first openings of the understanding, may, by little and little, supply fit matter for it to work upon, and may turn the eye of the soul toward good things, as well as toward bad or trifling ones Whenever a child begins to speak, you may be assured reason begins to work. I know no cause thy a parent should not just then begin to speak of the best things, the things of God. And from that time no opportunity should be lost, of instilling all truths as they are capable of receiving.

7. But the speaking to them early will not avail, unless you likewise speak to them plainly. Use such words as little children may understand, just such as they use themselves, carefully observe the few ideas which they have already, and endeavor to graft what you say upon them. To take a little example: Bid the child look up; and ask. “What do you see there?” “The sun.” “See, how bright it is! Feel how warm it shines upon your band! Look, how it makes the grass and the flowers to grow, and the trees and everything look green. But God, though you cannot see him, is above the sky, and is a deal brighter than the sun! It is he, it is God that made the sun, and you, and me, and everything. It is he that makes the grass and the flowers grow; that makes the trees green, and the fruit to come upon them! Think what he can do! He can do whatever he pleases. He can strike me or you dead in a moment! But he loves you; he loves to do you good. He loves to make you happy. Should not you then love him? You love me, because I love you and do you good. But it is God that makes me love you. Therefore, you should love him. And he will teach you how to love him.”

8. While you are speaking in this, or some such manner, you should be continually lifting up your heart to God, beseeching him to open the eyes of their understanding, and to pour his light upon them. He, and he alone, can make them to differ herein from the beasts that perish. He alone can apply your words to their hearts; without which all your labor will he in vain, but whenever the Holy Ghost teaches, there is no delay in learning.

9. But if you would see the fruit of your labor, you must teach them not only early and plainly, but frequently too. It would be of little or no service to do it only once or twice a week. How often do you feed their bodies? Not less than three times a day. And is the soul of less value than the body? Will you not then feed this as often? If you find this a tiresome task, there is certainly something wrong in your own mind. You do not love them enough; or you do not love Him who is your Father and their Father. Humble yourself before him! Beg that he would give you more love; and love will make the labor light.

 10. But it will not avail to teach them both early, plainly, and frequently, unless you persevere therein. Never leave off, never intermit your labor of love, till you see the fruit of it. But in order to this, you will find the absolute need of being endued with power from on high; without which, I am persuaded, none ever had, or will have, patience sufficient for the work. Otherwise, the inconceivable dullness of some children, and the giddiness or perverseness of others, would induce them to give up the irksome task, and let them follow their own imagination.

11. And suppose, after you have done this, after you have taught your children from their early infancy, in the plainest manner you could, omitting no opportunity, and persevering therein, you did not presently see any fruit of your labor, you must not conclude that there will be none. Possibly the “bread” which you have “cast upon the waters” may be “found after many days.” The seed which has long remained in the ground may, at length, spring up into a plentiful harvest. Especially if you do not restrain prayer before God, if you continue instant herein with all supplication. Meantime, whatever the effect of this be upon others, your reward is with the Most High. 12. Many parents, on the other hand, presently see the fruit of the seed they have sown, and have the comfort of observing that their children grow in grace in the same proportion as they grow in years. Yet they have not done all. They have still upon their hands another task, sometimes of no small difficulty. Their children are now old enough to go to school. But to what school is it advisable to send them?

13. Let it be remembered, that I do not speak to the wild, giddy, thoughtless world, but to those that fear God. I ask, then, for what end do you send your children to school?; “Why that they may be fit to live in the world,” In which world do you mean, — this or the next? Perhaps you thought of this world only; and had forgot that there is a world to come; yea, and one that will last for ever! Pray take this into your account, and send them to such masters as will keep it always before their eyes. Otherwise, to send them to school (permit me to speak plainly) is little better than sending them, to the devil. At all events, then, send your boys, if you have any concern for their souls, not to any of the large public schools, (for they are nurseries of all manner of wickedness,) but a private school, kept by some pious man, who endeavors to instruct a small number of children in religion and learning together.

14. “But; what shall I do with my girls?” By no means send them to a large boarding-school. In these seminaries too the children teach one another pride, vanity, affectation, intrigue, artifice, and, in short, everything which a Christian woman ought not to learn. Suppose a girl were well inclined, yet what would she do in a crowd of children, not one of whom has any thought of God, or the least concern for her soul? Is it likely, is it possible, she should retain any fear of God, or any thought of saving her soul in such company? especially as their whole conversation points another ways and turns upon things which one would wish she would never think of. I never yet knew a pious, sensible woman that had been bred at a large boarding-school, who did not aver, one might as well send a young maid to be bred in Drury-Lane.

15. “But where, then, shall I send my girls? If you cannot breed them up yourself, (as my mother did, who bred up seven daughters to years of maturity,) send them to some mistress that truly fears God; one whose life is a pattern to her scholars, and who has only so many that she can watch over each as one that must give account to God. Forty years ago I did not know such a mistress in England, but you may now find several; you may find such a mistress, and such a school, at Highgate, at Deptford, near Bristol, in Chester, or near Leeds.

16. We may suppose your sons have now been long enough at school, and you are thinking of some business for them. Before you determine anything on this head, see that your eye be single. Is it so? Is it your view to please God herein? It is well if you take him into your account! But surely, if you love or fear God yourself, this will be your first consideration, — “In what business will your son be most likely to love and serve God? In what employment will he have the greatest advantage for laying up treasure in heaven?” I have been shocked above measure in observing how little this is attended to, even by pious parents! Even these consider only how he may get most money: not how he may get most holiness! Even these, upon this glorious motive, send him to a heathen master, and into family where there is not the very form, much less the power of religion! Upon this motive they fix him in a business which will necessarily expose him to such temptations as will leave him not a probability, if a possibility, of serving God. O savage parents! unnatural, diabolical cruelty. — if you believe there is another world.

“But what shall I do?” Set God before your eyes, and do all things with a view to please him. Then you will find a master, of whatever profession, that loves, or at least fears, God; and you will find a family wherein is the form of religion, if not the power also. Your son may nevertheless serve the devil if he will; but it is probable he will not. And do not regard, if he get less money, provided he get more holiness. It is enough, though he have less of earthly goods, if he secure the possession of heaven.

17. There is one circumstance more wherein you will have great need of the wisdom from above. Your son or your daughter is now of age to marry, and desires your advice relative to it. Now you know what the world calls a good match, — one whereby much money is gained. Undoubtedly it is so, if it be true that money always brings happiness: But I doubt it is not true; money seldom brings happiness, either in this world or the world to come. Then let no man deceive you with vain words; riches and happiness seldom dwell together, Therefore, if you are wise, you will not seek riches for your children by their marriage. See that your eye be single in this also: Aim simply at the glory of God, and the real happiness of your children, both in time and eternity. It is a melancholy thing to see how Christian parents rejoice in selling their son or their daughter to a wealthy Heathen! And do you seriously call this a good match? Thou fool by purity of reason, thou mayest call hell a good lodging, and the devil a good master. O learn a better lesson from a better Master! “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” both for thyself and thy children, “and all other things shall be added unto you.”

18. It is undoubtedly true, that if you are steadily determined to walk in this path; to endeavor by every possible means, that you and your house may thus serve the Lord; that every member of your family may worship him, not only in form, but in spirit and in truth; you will have need to use all the grace, all the courage, all the wisdom which God has given you; for you will find such hindrances in the way, as only the mighty power of God can enable you to break through. You will have all the saints of the world to grapple with, who will think you carry things too far. You will have all the powers of darkness against you, employing both force and fraud; and, above all, the deceitfulness of your own heart; which, if you will hearken to it, will supply you with many reasons why you should be a little more conformable to the world. But as you have begun, go on in the name of the Lord, and in the power of his might! Set the smiling and the frowning world, with the prince thereof; at defiance. Follow reason and the oracles of God; not the fashions and customs of men. “Keep thyself pure.” Whatever others do, let you and your house “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” Let you, your yoke-fellow, your children, and your servants, be all on the Lord’s side; sweetly drawing together in one yoke, walking in all his commandments and ordinances, till every one of you “shall receive his own reward, according to his own labor!”


“Train up a child in the way wherein he should go: And when he is old, he will not depart, from it.” Proverbs. 22:6

1. WE must not imagine that these words are to be understood in an absolute sense, as if no child that had been trained up in the way wherein he should go had ever departed from it. Matter of fact will by no means agree with this: So far from it, that it had been a common observation, “Some of the best parents have the worst children.” It is true, this might some times be the case, because good men have not always a good understanding; and, without this, it is hardly to be expected that they will know how to train up their children. Besides, those who are in other respects good men have often too much easiness of temper; so that they go no farther in restraining their children from evil, than old Eli did, when he said gently, “Nay, my sons, the report I hear of you is not good.” This, then, is no contradiction to the assertion; for their children are not “trained up in the way wherein they should go.” But it must be acknowledged, some have been trained therein with all possible care and diligence; and yet before they were old, yea. in the strength of their years, they did utterly depart from it.

2. The words, then, must be understood with some limitations, and then they contain an unquestionable truth. It is a general, though not an universal, promise; and many have found the happy accomplishment of it. As this is the most probable method for making their children pious which any parents can take, so it generally, although not always, meets with the desired success. The God of their fathers is with their children; he blesses their endeavors; and they have the satisfaction of leaving their religion, as well as their worldly substance, to those that descend from them.

 3. But what is “the way wherein a child should go?” and how shall we “train him up” therein? The ground of this is admirably well laid down by Mr. Law, in his “Serious Call to a Devout Life.” Part of his words are, — “Had we continued perfect as God created the First man, perhaps the perfection of our nature had been a sufficient self-instructor for every one. But as sickness and diseases have created the necessity of medicines and physicians, so the disorders of our rational nature have introduced the necessity of education and tutors. “And as the only end of a physician is, to restore nature to its own state, so the only end of education is, to restore our rational nature to its proper state. Education, therefore, is to be considered as reason borrowed at second-hand, which is, as far as it can, to supply the loss of original perfection. And as physic may justly be called the art of restoring health, so education should be considered in no other light, than as the art of recovering to man his rational perfection.

“This was the end pursued by the youths that attended upon Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato. Their everyday lessons and instructions were so many lectures upon the nature of man, his true end, and the right use of his faculties; upon the immortality of the soul, its relation to God; the agreeableness of virtue to the divine nature; upon the necessity of temperance, justice, mercy, and truth; and the folly of indulging our passions.

“Now, as Christianity has, as it were, now created the moral and religious world, and set everything that is reasonable, wise, holy, and desirable in its true point of light; so one would expect the education of children should be as much mended by Christianity, as the doctrines of religion are.

“As it has introduced a new state of things, and so fully informed us of the nature of man, and the end of his creation; as it has fixed all our goods and evils, taught us the means of purifying our souls, of pleasing God, and being happy eternally; one might naturally suppose that every Christian country abounded with schools, not only for teaching a few questions and answers of a catechism, but for the forming, training, and practicing children in such a course of life as the sublimest doctrines of Christianity require.

“An education under Pythagoras or Socrates had no other end, but to teach children to think and act as Pythagoras and Socrates did. “And is it not reasonable to suppose that a Christian education should have no other end but to teach them how to think, and judge, and act according to the strictest rules of Christianity? “At least one would suppose, that in all Christian schools, the teaching them to begin their lives in the spirit of Christianity, — in such abstinence, humility, sobriety, and devotion as Christianity requires, — should not only be more, but a hundred times more, regarded than any or all things else.

“For those that educate us should imitate our guardian angels; suggest nothing to our minds but what is wise and holy; help us to discover every false judgment of our minds, and to subdue every wrong passion in our hearts.

“And it is as reasonable to expect and require all this benefit from a Christian education, as to require that physic should strengthen all that is right in our nature, and remove all our diseases.”

4. Let it be carefully remembered all this time, that God, not man, is the physician of souls; that it is he, and none else, who giveth medicine to heal our natural sickness; that all “the help which is done upon earth, he doeth it himself;” that none of all the children of men is able to “bring a clean thing out of an unclean;” and, in a word, that “it is God who worketh in us, both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” But it is generally his pleasure to work by his creatures; to help man by man. He honors men to be, in this sense, “workers together with him.” By this means the reward is ours, while the glory redounds to him.

5. This being premised, in order to see distinctly what is the way wherein we should train up a child, let us consider, What are the diseases of his nature? What are those spiritual diseases which every one that is born of a woman brings with him into the world?

Is not the first of these Atheism? After all that has been so plausibly written concerning “The innate idea of God;” after all that has been said of its being common to all men, in all ages and nations; it does not appear that man has naturally any more idea of God than any of the beasts of the field; he, has no knowledge of God at all; no fear of God at all; neither is God in all his thoughts. Whatever change may afterwards be wrought, (whether by the grace of God, or by his own reflection, or by education,) he is, by nature, a mere Atheist.

6. Indeed it may be said, that every man is by nature, as it were, his own God. He worships himself. He is, in his own conception, absolute Lord of himself. Dryden’s hero speaks only according to nature, when he says, “Myself am king of me.” He seeks himself in all things. He pleases himself: And why not? Who is Lord over him? His own will is his only law; he does this or that because it is his good pleasure. In the same spirit as the “son of the morning” said in old time, “I will sit upon the sides of the North,” he says, “I will do thus or thus.” And do we not find sensible men on every side who are of the self-same spirit? who if asked, ‘“Why did you do this?” will readily answer, “Because I had a mind to it.”

7. Another evil disease which every human soul brings into the world with him, is pride; a continual proneness to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. Every man can discern more or less of this disease in every one — but himself. And, indeed, if he could discern it in himself, it would subsist no longer; for he would then, in consequence, think of himself just as he ought to think.

8. The next disease, natural to every human soul, born with every man, is love of the world. Every man is, by nature, a lover of the creature, instead of the Creator; a “lover of pleasure,” in every kind, “more than a lover of God.” He is a slave to foolish and hurtful desires, in one kind or another; either to the “desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, or the pride of life.” “The desire of the flesh” is a propensity to seek happiness in what gratifies one or more of the outward senses. “The desire of the eyes” is a propensity to seek happiness in what gratifies the internal sense, the imagination, either by things grand, or new, or beautiful. “The pride of life” seems to mean a propensity to seek happiness in what gratifies the sense of honor. To this head is usually referred “the love of money;” one of the basest passions that can have place in the human heart. But it may be doubted whether this be not an acquired, rather than a natural, distemper.

9. Whether this be a natural disease or not, it is certain anger is. The ancient philosopher defines it, “A sense of injury received, with a desire of revenge.” Now, was there ever any one born of a woman who did not labor under this? Indeed, like other diseases of the mind, it is far more violent in some than in others. But it is furor brevis, as the poet speaks; it is a real, though short madness wherever it is.

10. A deviation from truth is equally natural to all the children of men. One said in his haste, “All men are liars;” but we may say, upon cool reflection, all natural men will, upon a close temptation, vary from, or disguise, the truth. If they do not offend against veracity, if they do not say what is false, yet they frequently offend against simplicity. They use art; they hang out false colors; they practice either simulation, or dissimulation. So that you cannot say truly of any person living, till grace has altered nature, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”

11. Every one is likewise prone, by nature, to speak or act contrary to justice. This is another of the diseases which we bring with us into the world. All human creatures are naturally partial to themselves, and, when opportunity offers, have more regard to their own interest or pleasure than strict justice allows. Neither is any man, by nature, merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful; but all, more or less, transgress that glorious rule of mercy as well as justice, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, the same do unto them.”

12. Now, if these are the general diseases of human nature, is it not the grand end of education to cure them? And is it not the part of all those to whom God has entrusted the education of children, to take all possible care, first, not to increase, not to feed, any of these diseases; (as the generality of parents constantly do it and next, to use every possible means of healing them?

13. To come to particulars. What can parents do, and mothers more especially, to whose care our children are necessarily committed in their tender years, with regard to the Atheism that is natural to all the children of men? How is this fed by the generality of parents, even those that love, or at least fear, God; while, in spending hours, perhaps days, with their children, they hardly name the name of God! Meantime, they talk of a thousand other things in the world that is round about them. Will not then the things of the present world, which surround these children on every side, naturally take up their thoughts, and set God at a greater distance from them (if that be possible) than he was before? Do not parents feed the Atheism of their children farther, by ascribing the works of creation to nature? Does not the common way of talking about nature, leave God quite out of the question? Do they not feed this disease, whenever they talk in the hearing of their children, of anything happening so or so? of things coming by chance? of good or ill fortune? as also when they ascribe this or that event to the wisdom or power of men; or, indeed, to any other second causes, as if these governed the world? Yea, do they not feed it unawares, while they are talking of their own wisdom, or goodness, or power to do this or that, without expressly mentioning, that all these are the gift of God? All tends to confirm the Atheism of their children, and to keep God out of their thoughts.

14. But we are by no means clear of their blood, if we only go thus far, if we barely do not feed their disease. What can be done to cure it? From the first dawn of reason continually inculcate, God is in this and every place. God made you, and me, and the earth, and the sun, and the moon, and every thing. And every thing is his; heaven, and earth, and all that is therein. God orders all things: He makes the sun shine, and the wind blow, and the trees bear fruit. Nothing comes by chance; that is a silly word; there is no such thing as chance. As God made the world, so he governs the world, and every thing that is in it. Not so much as a sparrow falls to the ground without the will of God. And as he governs all things, so he governs all men, good and bad, little and great. He gives them all the power and wisdom they have. And he over-rules all. He gives us all the goodness we have; every good thought, and word, and work, are from him. Without him we can neither think anything right, or do anything right. Thus it is, we are to inculcate upon them, that God is all in all.

15. Thus may we counteract, and, by the grace of God assisting us, gradually cure, the natural Atheism of our children. But what can we do to cure their self-will? It is equally rooted in their nature, and is, indeed, the original idolatry, which is not confined to one age or country, but is common to all the nations under heaven. And how few parents are to be found even among Christians, even among them that truly fear God, who are not guilty of this matter! Who do not continually feed and increase this grievous distemper in their children! To let them have their own will, does this most effectually. To let them take their own way, is the sure method of increasing their self-will sevenfold. But who has the resolution to do otherwise? One parent in a hundred! Who can be so singular, so cruel, as not, more or less, to humor her child? “And why should you not? What harm can there be in this, which every body does?” The harm is, that it strengthens their will more and more, till it will neither bow to God nor man. To humor children is, as far as in us lies, to make their disease incurable. A wise parent, on the other hand, should begin to break their will the first moment it appears. In the whole art of Christian education there is nothing more important than this. The will of a parent is to a little child in the place of the will of God. Therefore studiously teach them to submit to this while they are children, that they may be ready to submit to his will when they are men. But in order to carry this point, you will need incredible firmness and resolution; for after you have once begun, you must never more give way. You must hold on still in an even course; you must never intermit your attention for one hour; otherwise you will lose your labor.

16. If you are not willing to lose all the labor you have been at, to break the will of your child, to bring his will into subjection to yours, that it may be afterward subject to the will of God, there is one advice, which, though little known, should be particularly attended to. It may seem a small circumstance; but it is of more consequence than one can easily imagine. It is this: Never, on any account, give a child any thing that it cries for. For it is a true observation, (and you may make the experiment as often as you please,) if you give a child what he cries for, you pay him for crying; and then he will certainly cry again. “But if I do not give it him when he cries, he will scream all day long.” If he does, it is your own fault; for it is in your power effectually to prevent it: For no mother need suffer a child to cry aloud after it is a year old. “Why, it is impossible to hinder it.” So many suppose, but it is an entire mistake. I am a witness of the direct contrary; and so are many others. My own mother had ten children, each of whom had spirit enough; yet not one of them was ever heard to cry aloud after it was a year old. A gentlewoman of Sheffield (several of whose children I suppose are alive still) assured me she had the same success with regard to her eight children, when some were objecting to the possibility of this, Mr. Parson Greenwood (well known in the North of England) replied, “This cannot be impossible; I have had the proof of it in my own family. Nay, of more than this. I had six children by my former wife; and she suffered none of them to cry aloud after they were ten months old. And yet none of their spirits were so broken, as to unfit them for any of the offices of life.” This, therefore, may be done by any woman of sense, who may thereby save herself abundance of trouble, and prevent that disagreeable noise, the squalling of young children, from being heard under her roof. But I allow, none but a woman of sense will be able to effect this; yea, and a woman of such patience and resolution as only the grace of God can give. However, this is doubtless the more excellent way: And she that is able to receive it, let her receive it!

17. It is hard to say, whether self-will or pride be the more fatal distemper. It was chiefly pride that threw down so many of the stars of heaven, and turned angels into devils. But what can parents do in order to check this until it can be radically cured?

First. Beware of adding fuel to the flame, of feeding the disease which you should cure. Almost all parents are guilty of doing this, by praising their children to their face. If you are sensible of the folly and cruelty of this, see that you sacredly abstain from it. And, in spite of either fear or complaisance, go one step farther. Not only do must encourage, but do not suffer, others to do what you dare not do yourself: How few parents are sufficiently aware of this, — or, at least, sufficiently resolute to practice it, — to check every one at the first word, that would praise them before their face! Even those who would not, on any account, sit attention to their own applause, nevertheless, do not scruple to sit attentive to the applause of their children; yea, and that to their face! O consider! Is not this the spreading a net for their feet? Is it not a grievous incentive to pride, even if they are praised for what is truly praise-worthy? Is it not doubly hurtful, if they are praised for things not truly praise worthy; — things of an indifferent nature, as sense, good-breeding, beauty, elegance of apparel? This is liable not only to hurt the heart, but their understanding also. It has a manifest and direct tendency to infuse pride and folly together; to pervert both their taste and judgment; teaching them to value what is dung and dross in the sight of God.

18. If, on the contrary, you desire without loss of time to strike at the root of their pride, teach your children, as soon as possibly you can, that they are fallen spirits; that they are fallen short of that glorious image of God wherein they were first created; that they are not now as they were once, incorruptible pictures of the God of glory; bearing the express likeness of the wise, the good, the holy Father of spirits; but more ignorant, more foolish, and more wicked, than they can possibly conceive. Show them that, in pride, passion, and revenge, they are now like the devil; and that in foolish desires and groveling appetites, they are like the beasts of the field. Watch over them diligently in this respect, that, whenever occasion offers, you may “pride in its earliest motions find,” and check the very first appearance of it.

If you ask, “But how shall I encourage them when they do well, if I am never to commend them?” I answer, I did not affirm this; I did not say, “You are never to commend them.” I know many writers assert this, and writers of eminent piety. They say, “To commend man, is to rob God;” and therefore condemn it altogether. But what say the Scriptures? I read there, that our Lord himself frequently commended his own disciples; and the great. Apostle scruples not to commend the Corinthians, Philippians, and divers others to whom he writes, we may not, therefore, condemn this altogether. But I say, use it exceeding sparingly; and when you use it, let it be with, the utmost caution, directing them, at the same moment, to look upon all they have as the free gift of God; and With the deepest self-abasement to say, “Not unto us, not unto us, but unto thy name give thy praise!”

19. Next to self-will and pride, the most fatal disease with which we are born, is “love of the world.” But how studiously do the generality of parents cherish this in its several branches! They cherish “the desire of the flesh,” that is, the tendency to seek happiness in pleasing the outward senses, by studying to enlarge the pleasure of tasting in their children to the uttermost; not only giving them before they are weaned other things beside milk, the natural food of children; but giving them, both before and after, any sort of meat or drink that they will take. Yea, they entice them, long before nature requires it, to take wine or strong drink; and provide them with comfits, gingerbread, raisins, and whatever fruit they have a mind to. They feed in them ‘“he desire of the eyes,” the propensity to seek happiness in pleasing the imagination, by giving them pretty playthings, glittering toys, shining buckles or buttons, fine clothes, red shoes, laced hats, needless ornaments, as ribbons, necklaces, ruffles; yea, and by proposing any of these as rewards for doing their duty, which is stamping a great value upon them. With equal care and attention they cherish in them the third branch of the love of the world, “the pride of life;” the propensity to seek their happiness in the “honor that cometh of men.” Nor is the love of money forgotten; many an exhortation do they hear on securing the main chance; many a lecture, exactly agreeing with that of the old Heathen, Si possis, recte; si non, quocunque modo rem: “Let money, honestly if you can; but if not, get money” And they are carefully taught to look on riches and honor as the reward of all their labors.

20. In direct opposition to all this, a wise and truly kind parent will take the utmost care, not to cherish in her children the desire of the flesh; their natural propensity to seek happiness in gratifying the outward sense. With this view she will suffer them to taste no food but milk, till they are weaned; which a thousand experiments show is most safely and easily done at the seventh month. And then accustom them to the most simple food, chiefly of vegetables, She may inure them to taste only one kind of food, beside bread at dinner, and constantly to breakfast and sup on milk, either cold or heated, but not boiled. She may use them to sit by her at meals, and ask for nothing, but take what is given them. She need never, in they are at least nine or ten years old, let them know the taste of tea; or use any other drink at meals but water, or small beer. And they will never desire to taste either meat or drink between meals, if not accustomed thereto. If fruit, comfits, or anything of the kind be given them, let them not touch it but at meals. And never propose any of these as a reward; but teach them to look higher than this.

But herein a difficulty will arise, which it will need much resolution to conquer. Your servants, who will not understand your plan, will be continually giving little things to your children, and thereby undoing all your work. This you must prevent, if possible, by warning them when they first come into your house, and repeating the warning from time to time. If they will do it notwithstanding, you must turn them away. Better lose a good servant than spoil a good child.

Possibly you may have another difficulty to encounter, and one of a still more trying nature. Your mother or your husband’s mother, may live with you; and you will do well to show her all possible respect. But let her on no account have the least share in the management of your children. She would end all that you had done; she would give them their own will in all things. She would humor them to the destruction of their souls, if not their bodies too. In fourscore years I have not met with one woman that knew how to manage grandchildren. My own mother, who governed her children so well, could never govern one grandchild. In every other point obey your mother. Give up your will to hers. But with regard to the management of your children, steadily keep the reins in your own hands.

21. A wise and kind parent will be equally cautious of feeding “the desire of the eyes” in her children. She will give them no pretty playthings, no glittering toys, shining buckles or buttons, fine or gay clothes; no needless ornaments of any kind; nothing that can attract the eye. Nor will she suffer any other person to give them what she will not give them herself. Anything of the kind that is offered may be either civilly refused, or received and, laid by. If they are displeased at this, you cannot help it. Complaisance, yea, and temporal interest, must needs be set aside, when the eternal interests of your children are at stake.

Your pains will be well-requited, if you can inspire them early with a contempt of all finery; and, on the other hand, with a love and esteem for neat plainness of dress: Teaching them to associate the ideas of plainness and modesty; and those of a fine and loose woman. Likewise, instill into them, as early as possible, a fear and contempt of pomp and grandeur; an abhorrence and dread of the love of money; and a deep conviction, that riches cannot give happiness. Wean them, therefore, from all these false ends; habituate them to make God their end in all things; and inure them, in all they do, to aim at knowing, loving, and serving God.

22. Again: The generality of parents feed anger in their children; yea, the worst part of it; that is, revenge. The silly mother says, “What hurt my child? Give me a blow for it.” What horrid work is this! Will not the old murderer teach them this lesson fast enough? Let the Christian parent spare no pains to teach them just the contrary. Remind them of the words of our blessed Lord: “It was said of old, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil;” not by returning evil for evil. Rather than this, “if a man take away thy cloak, let him take thy coat also.” Remind them of the words of the great Apostle “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves. For it is written, Vengeance is mine: I will repay, saith the Lord.”

23. The generality of parents feed and increase the natural falsehood of their children. How often may we hear that senseless word, “No, it was not you; it was not my child that did it; say, it was the cat.” What amazing folly is this! Do you feel no remorse, while you are putting a lie in the mouth of your child, before it can speak plain? And do not you think, it will make a good proficiency when it comes to years of discretion? Others teach them both dissimulation and lying, by their unreasonable severity; and yet others, by admiring and applauding their ingenious lies and cunning tricks. Let the wise parent, on the contrary, teach them to “put away all lying,” and, both in little things and great, in jest or earnest, speak the very truth from their heart. Teach them that the author of all falsehood is the devil, who “is a liar and the father of it.” Teach them to abhor and despise, not only lying, but all equivocating, all cunning and dissimulation. Use every means to give them a love of truth, — of veracity, sincerity, and simplicity, and of openness both of spirit and behavior.

24. Most parents increase the natural tendency to injustice in their children, by conniving at their wronging each other; if not laughing at, or even applauding, their witty contrivance to cheat one another. Beware of every thing of this kind; and from their very infancy sow the seeds of justice in their hearts, and train them up in the exactest practice of it. If possible, teach them the love of justice, and that in the least things as well as the greatest. Impress upon their minds the old proverb “He that will steal a penny, will steal a pound.” Habituate them to render unto all their due, even to the uttermost farthing.

25. Many parents connive, likewise, at the ill-nature of their children, and thereby strengthen it. But truly affectionate parents will not indulge them in any kind or degree of unmercifulness. They will not suffer them to vex their brothers or sisters, either by word or deed. They will not allow them to hurt; or give pain to, anything that has life. They will not permit them to rob birds’ nests; much less to kill any thing without necessity, — not even snakes, which are as innocent as worms, or toads, which, notwithstanding their ugliness, and the ill name they lie under, have been proved over and over to be as harmless as flies. Let them extend, in its measure, the rule of doing as they would be done by, to every animal whatsoever. Ye that are truly kind parents, in the morning, in the evening, and all the day beside, press upon all your children, “to walk in love, as Christ also loved us, and gave himself for us;” to mind that one point, “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him.”


“Children, obey your parents in all things.” Colossians 3:20.

1. IT has been a subject of controversy for many years, whether there are any innate principles in the mind of man. But it is allowed on all hands, if there be any practical principles naturally implanted in the soul, “that we ought to honor our parents,” will claim this character almost before any other. It is enumerated amongst those universal principles by the most ancient authors; and is undoubtedly found, even along: most savages, in the most barbarous nations. We may trace it through all the extent of Europe and Asia, through the wilds of Africa, and the forests of America. And it is not less, but more, observable in the most civilized nations. So it, was first, in the eastern: parts of the world; which were for so many ages the seat of empire, of learning, and politeness, as well as of religion. So it was afterwards in all the Grecian States, and throughout the whole Roman Empire. In this respect it is plain, they that “have not the” written “law, are at law unto themselves;” showing “the work,” the substance, “of the law” to be “written in their hearts.”

2. And wherever God has revealed his will to man, this law has been a part of that revelation. It has been herein opened afresh, considerably enlarged, and enforced, in the strongest manner. In the Jewish revelation, the notorious breakers thereof were punishable with death. And this was one of the laws which our blessed Lord did not come to destroy, but to fulfill. Accordingly he severely reproved the Scribes and Pharisees for making it void through their traditions, clearly showing that the obligation thereof extended to all ages. It is the substance of this which St. Paul delivers to the Ephesians; (6:1) “Children, obey your parents in the Lord,” and again in these words, to the Colossians, “Children, obey your parents in all things.”

3. It is observable that the Apostle enforces this duty by a threefold encouragement: First. To the Ephesians he adds, “for this is right:” It is an instance of justice as well as mercy. It is no more than their due; it is what we owe to them, for the very being which we have received from them. Secondly. “This is acceptable to the Lord;” it is peculiarly pleasing to the great Father of men and angels, that we should pay honor and obedience to the fathers of our flesh. Thirdly, It is “the first commandment with promise;” the first to the performance whereof a peculiar promise is annexed; “that it may be well with the, and that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” This promise has been generally understood to include health and temporal blessings, as well as long life. And we have seen innumerable proofs, that, it belongs to the Christian as well as the Jewish dispensation: Many remarkable instances of its accomplishment occur even at this day.

But what is the meaning of these words, “Children, obey your parents in all things?” I will endeavor, by the assistance of God, First, to explain, and, Then, to apply them.

I. 1. First. I will endeavor to explain these words; and the rather, because so few people seem to understand them. Look round into the world, not the heathen but the Christian world, nays the Reformed part of it; look among those that have the Scriptures in their own tongue; and who is there that appears even to have heard of this? Here and there a child obeys the parent out of fear, or perhaps out of natural affection. But how many children can you find that obey their fathers and mothers out of a sense of duty to God? And how many parents can you find, that duly inculcate this duty upon their children? I doubt, a vast majority both of parents and children are totally ignorant of the whole affair. For the sake of these I will make it as plain as I can: But still I am thoroughly sensible, those that are not willing to be convinced will no more understand what I say, than if I was talking Greek or Hebrew.

2. You will easily observe, that by parents the Apostle means both fathers and mothers, as he refers us to the Fifth Commandment, which names both the one and the other. And, however human laws may vary herein, the law of God makes no difference; but lays us under the same obligation of obeying both the one and the other.

3. But before we consider how we are to obey our parents, it may be inquired, how long we are to obey them. Are children to obey only till they run alone, till they go to school, till they can read and write, or till they are as tall as their parents, or attain to years of discretion? Nay, if they obey only because they fear to be beaten, or because otherwise they cannot procure food and raiment, what avails such obedience? Those only who obey their parents when they can live without them, and when they neither hope nor fear anything from them, shall have praise from God.

4. “But is a man that is at age, or a woman that is married, under any farther obligation to obey their parents?” With regard to marriage, although it is true that a man is to leave father and mother, and to cleave unto his wife; and, by purity of reason, she is to leave father and mother, and cleave unto her husband; (in consequence of which there may be some particular cases wherein conjugal duty must take place of filial;) yet I cannot learn, either from Scripture or reason, that marriage either cancels or lessens the general obligation of filial duty. Much less does it appear, that it is either canceled or lessened by our having lived one-and-twenty years. I never understood it so in my own case. When I had lived upwards of thirty years, I looked upon myself to stand just in the same relation to my father as I did when I was ten years old. And when I was between forty and fifty, I judged myself full as much obliged to obey my mother in everything lawful, as I did when I was in my leading-strings.

5. But what is implied in, “Children, obey your parents in all things?” Certainly the First point of obedience is to do nothing: which your father or mother forbids, whether it be great or small. Nothing is more plain, than that the prohibition of a parent binds every conscientious child; that is, except the thing prohibited is clearly enjoined of God. Nor indeed is this all; the matter may be carried a little farther still: A tender parent may totally disapprove what he does not care flatly to forbid. What is the duty of a child in this case? How far is that disapprobation to be regarded? Whether it be equivalent to a prohibition or not, a person who would have a conscience void of offense should undoubtedly keep on the safe side, and avoid what may perhaps be evil. It is surely the more excellent way, to do nothing which you know your parents disapprove. To act otherwise seems to imply a degree of disobedience, which one of a tender conscience would wish to avoid.

6. The Second thing implied in this direction is, Do every thing which your father or mother bids, be it great or small, provided it be not contrary to any command of God. Herein God has given a power to parents, which even sovereign princes have not. The King of England, for instance, is a sovereign prince; yet he has not power to bid me do the least thing, unless the law of the land requires me so to do; for he has no power but to execute the law. The will of the king is no law to the subject. But the will of the parent is a law to the child, who is bound in conscience to submit thereto, unless it be contrary to the law of God.

7. It is with admirable wisdom that the Father of spirits has given this direction, that as the strength of the parents supplies the want of strength, and the understanding of the parents that want of understanding, in their children, till they have strength and understanding of their own; so the will of the parents may guide that of their children till they have wisdom and experience to guide themselves. This, therefore, is the very first thing which children have to learn, — that they are to obey their parents, to submit to their will, in all things: And this they may be inured to, long before they understand the reason of it; and, indeed, long before they are capable of understanding any of the principles of religion. Accordingly, St. Paul directs all parents to bring up their children “in the discipline and doctrine of the Lord.” For their will may be broken by proper discipline, even in their early infancy; whereas it must be a considerable time after, before they are capable of instruction; This, therefore, is the first point of all: Bow down their wills from the very first dawn of reason; and, by habituating them to your will, prepare them for submitting to the will of their Father which is in heaven.

8. But how few children do we find, even of six or eight years old, that understand anything of this! Indeed, how should they understand it, seeing they have none to teach them. Are not their parents father as well as mother, full as ignorant of the matter as themselves? Whom do you find, even among religious people, that have the least conception of it? Have not you seen the proof of it with your own eyes? Have not you been present when a father or mother has said, “My child, do so or so?” The child, without any ceremony, answered peremptorily, “I won’t.” And the parent quietly passes it by, without any farther notice. And does he or she not see, that, by this cruel indulgence, they are training up their child, by flat rebellion against their parents, to rebellion against God? Consequently they are training him up for the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels! Did they duly consider this, they would neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep, till they had taught him a better lesson, and made him thoroughly afraid ever for giving that diabolical answer again.

9. Let me reason this case a little farther with you parents that fear God. If you do fear God, how dare you suffer a child above a year old to say, “I will do” what you forbid, or, “I won’t do” what you bid, and to go unpunished? Why do not you stop him at once, that he may never dare to say so again? Have you no bowels, no compassion for your child; no regard for his salvation or destruction? Would you suffer him to curse or swear in your presence, and take no notice of it? Why, disobedience is as certain a way to damnation as cursing and swearing. Stop him, stop him at first, in the name of God. Do not; “spare the rod, and spoil the child.” If you have not the heart of a tiger, do not give up your child to his own wills that is, for the devil. Though it be part to yourself, yet pluck your offspring out of the lion’s teeth. Make them submit, that they may not perish. Break their wills, that you may save their soul.

 10. I cannot tell how to enforce this point sufficiently. To fix: it upon your minds more strongly, permit me to add part of a letter on the subject, printed some years ago: — “In order to form the minds of children, the first thing to be done is, to conquer their will. To inform their understanding is a work of time, and must proceed by slow degrees, but the subjecting the will is a thing which must be done at once; and the sooner the better. For by our neglecting timely correction, they contract a stubbornness, which is hardly ever to be conquered; and never without using that severity which would be as painful to us as to the children. Therefore, I call those cruel parents, who pass for kind and indulgent, who permit their children to contract habits which they know must be afterwards broken.

“I insist upon conquering the wills of children betimes; because this is the only foundation for a religious education. When this is thoroughly done, then a child is capable of being governed by the reason of its parent, till its own understanding comes to maturity. “I cannot yet dismiss this subject. As self-will is the root of all sin and misery, so whatever cherishes this in children, insures their after wretchedness and irreligion and whatever checks and mortifies it, promotes their future happiness and piety. This is still more evident, if we consider that religion is nothing else but the doing the will of God, and not our own; and that self-will being the grand impediment to our temporal and eternal happiness, no indulgence of it can be trivial, no denial of it unprofitable. Heaven or hell depends on this alone. So that the parent who studies to subdue it in his children, works together with God in the saving of a soul: The parent who indulges it does the devil’s work; makes religion impracticable, salvation unattainable; and does all that in him lies to damn his child, soul and body, for ever!

“This, therefore, I cannot but earnestly repeat, — break their wills betimes; begin this great work before they can run alone, before they can speak plain or perhaps speak at all. Whatever pains it cost, conquer their stubbornness; break the will, if you would not damn the child. I conjure you not to neglect, not to delay this! Therefore,

(1.) Let a child, from a year old, be taught to fear the rod and to cry softly. In order to this,
(2.) Let him have nothing he cries for; absolutely nothing, great or small; else you undo your own work.
(3.) At all events, from that age, make him do as he is bid, if you whip him ten times running to effect it. Let none persuade you it is cruelty to do this; it is cruelty not to do it. Break his will now, and his soul will live, and he will probably bless you to all eternity.”

11. On the contrary, how dreadful are the consequences of that accursed kindness which gives children their own wills, and does not bow down their necks from their infancy! It is chiefly owing to this, that so many religious parents bring up their children that have no religion at all, children that, when they are grown up, have no regard for them, perhaps set them at nought, and are ready to pick out their eyes! Why is this, but because their wills were not broken at first? — because they were not inured from their early infancy to obey their parents in all things, and to submit to their wills as to the will of God? — because they were not taught from the very first dawn of reason, that the will of their parents was, to them, the will of God, that to resist it was rebellion against God, and an inlet to all ungodliness?

II. 1. This may suffice for the explication of the text: I proceed to the application of it. And permit me, First, to apply to you that are parents, and, as such, concerned to teach your children. Do you know these things yourselves? Are you thoroughly convinced of these important truths? Have you laid them to heart? and have you put them in practice, with regard to your own children? Have you inured them to discipline, before they were capable of instruction? Have you broken their wills from their earliest infancy, and do you still continue so to do, in opposition both to nature and custom? Did you explain to them? as soon as their understanding began to open, the reasons of your proceeding thus? Did you point out to that the will of God as the sole law of every intelligent creature; and show them it is the will of God that they should obey you in all things? Do you inculcate this over and over again, till they perfectly comprehend it? O never be weary of this labor of love! and your labor will not always be in vain.

2. At least, do not teach them to disobey, by rewarding them for disobedience. Remember! you do this every time you give them anything because they cry for it. And herein they are apt scholars: If you reward them for crying, they will certainly cry again. So that there is no end, unless you make it a sacred rule, to give them nothing which they cry for. And the shortest way to do this is, never suffer them to cry aloud. Train them up to obedience in this one instance, and you will easily bring them to obey in others. Why should you not begin today? Surely you see what is the most excellent way; best for your own soul. Why then do you disobey? Because you are a coward; because you want resolution. And doubtless it requires no small patience, more than nature ever gave. But the grace of God is sufficient for you, you can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth you. This grace is sufficient to give you diligence, as well as resolution, otherwise, laziness will be as great a hindrance as cowardice. For without much pains you cannot conquer: Nothing can be done with a slack hand; labor on; never tire lay line upon line, till patience has its perfect work.

3. But there is another hindrance that is full as hard to be conquered as either laziness or cowardice. It is called fondness, and is usually mistaken for love: But, O, how widely different from it! It is real hate; and hate of the most mischievous kind tending to destroy both body and soul in hell! O give not way to it any longer; no, not for a moment! Fight against it with your might, for the love of God for the love of your children; for the love of your own soul.

4. I have one word more to say to parents; to mothers in particular. If, in spite of all the Apostle can say, you encourage your children by your example to “adorn” themselves “with gold, or pearls, or costly apparel,” you and they must drop into the pit together. But if they do it, though you set them a better example, still it is yours, as well as their fault; for if you did not put any ornament on your little child that you would not wear yourself, (which would be utter distraction, and far more inexcusable than putting it on your own arms or head,) yet you did not inure them to obey you from their infancy, and teach them the duty of it, from at least two years old. Otherwise, they would not have dared to do anything, great or small, contrary to your will. Whenever, therefore, I see the fine-dressed daughter of a plain-dressed mother, I see at once! the mother is defective either in knowledge or religion, Either she is ignorant of her own or her child’s duty or she has not; practiced what she knows.

5. I cannot dismiss this subject yet. I am pained continually at seeing religious parents suffer their children to run into the same folly of dress, as if they had no religion at all. In God’s name, why do you suffer them to vary a hair’s breadth from your example? “Why, they will do it.” They will! Whose fault is that? Why did not you break their will from their infancy? At least, do it now; better late than never. It should have been done before they were two years old: It may be done at eight or ten, though with far more difficulty. However, do it now, and accept that difficulty — as the just reward for your past neglect. Now, at least, carry your points whatever it costs. Be not mealy mouthed, say not, like foolish Eli, “Nay, my children it is no good report which I hear of you,” instead of restraining them with a strong hand; but speak (though as calmly as possible, yet) firmly and peremptorily, “I will have it so:” and do as you say. Instill diligently into them the love of plain dress, and hatred of finery. Show them the reason of your own plainness of dress, and show it is equally reasonable for them. Bid defiance to indolence to cowardice, to foolish fondness, and, at all events, carry your point; if you love their souls, make and keep them just as plain as yourselves. And I charge you grandmothers, before God, do not hinder your daughters herein. Do not dare to give the child anything which the mother denies. Never take the part of the children against the parent; never blame her before them. If you do not strengthen her authority, as you ought to do, at least do not weaken it; but if you have either sense or piety left, help her on in the work of real kindness.

6. Permit me: now to apply myself to you, children particularly you that are the children of religious parents. Indeed, if you have no fear of God before your eyes, I have no concern with you at present; but if you have, if you really fear God, and have a desire to please him, you desire to understand all his commandments, the fifth in particular. Did you ever understand it yet? Do you now understand what is your duty to your father and mother? Do you know, at least do you consider, that by the divine appointment their will is a law to you? Have you ever considered the extent of that obedience to your parents which God requires? “Children, obey your parents in all things:” No exception, but of things unlawful. Have you practiced your duty in this extent? Did you ever so much as intend it?

7. Deal faithfully with your own souls. Is your conscience now clear in this matter? Do you do nothing which you know to be contrary to the will either of your father or mother? Do you never do anything (though ever so much inclined to it) which he or she forbids? Do you abstain from everything which they dislike, as far as you can in conscience? On the other hand, are you careful to do whatever a parent bids? Do you study and contrive how to please them, to make their lives as easy and pleasant as you can? Whoever you are that add this to your general care to please God in all things, blessed art thou of the Lord! “Thy days shall be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

8. But as for you who are little concerned about this matter; who do not make it a point of conscience to obey your parents in all things, but sometimes obey them, as it happens, and sometimes not; who frequently do what they forbid or disapprove, and neglect what they bid you do; suppose you awake out of sleep, that you begin to feel yourself a sinner, and begin to cry to God for mercy, is it any wonder that you find no answer, while you are under the guilt of unrepented sin? How can you expect mercy from God till you obey your parents? But suppose you have, by an uncommon miracle of mercy, tasted of the pardoning love of God, can it be expected, although you hunger and thirst after righteousness, after the perfect love of God, that you should ever attain it, ever be satisfied therewith, while you live in outward sin, in the willful transgression of a known law of God, in disobedience to your parents? Is it not rather a wonder, that he has not withdrawn his Holy Spirit from you? that he still continues to strive with you, though you continually grieve his Spirit? O grieve him no more! By the grace of God, obey them in all things from this moment! As soon as you come home, as soon as you set foot within the door, begin an entirely new course! Look upon your father and mother with new eyes; see them as representing your Father which is in heaven: Endeavor, study, rejoice to please, to help, to obey them in all things: Behave not barely as their child, but as their servant for Christ’s sake. O how will you then love one another! In a manner unknown before. God will bless you to them, and them to you: All around will feel that God is with you of a truth. Many shall see it and praise God; and the fruit of it shall remain when both you and they are lodged in Abraham’s bosom.

“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: For they watch over your souls as they that shall give account, that they may do this with joy, and not with grief: For that is unprofitable for you.” Hebrews 13:17.

1. EXCEEDING few, not only among nominal Christians, but among truly religious men, have any clear conception of the important doctrine which is here delivered by the Apostle. Very many scarce think of it, and hardly know that there is any such direction in the Bible. And the greater part of those who know it is there, and imagine they follow it, do not understand it, but lean too much either to the right hand or to the left, to one extreme or the other. It is well known to what an extravagant height the Romanists in general carry this direction. Many of them believe, an implicit faith is due to the doctrines delivered by those that rule over them, and that implicit obedience ought to be paid to whatever commands they give. And not much less has been insisted on, by several eminent men of the Church of England: Although it is true, that the generality of Protestants are apt to run to the other extreme; allowing their Pastors no authority at all, but making them both the creatures and the servants of their congregations. And very many there are of our own Church who agree with them herein; supposing the Pastors to be altogether dependent upon the people, who, in their judgment, have a right to direct, as well as to choose their Ministers.

2. But is it not possible to find a medium between these two extremes? Is there any necessity for us to run either into one or into the other? If we set human laws out of the question, and simply attend to the oracles of God, we may certainly discover a middle path in this important matter. In order thereto, let us carefully examine the words of the Apostle above recited. Let us consider,

I. Who are the persons mentioned in the text: They “that rule over” us. II. Who are they whom the Apostle directs to “obey and submit” themselves to them. III. What is the meaning of this direction; in what sense are they to “obey and submit” themselves? — I shall then endeavor to make a suitable application of the whole.

I. 1. Consider we, First, Who are the persons mentioned in the text: They “that have the rule over you?” — I do not conceive that the words of the Apostle are properly translated; because this translation makes the sentence little better than tautology. It they “rule over you,” you are certainly ruled by them; so that, according to this translation, you are only enjoined to do what you do already, — to obey those whom you do obey. Now, there is another meaning of the Greek word, which seems abundantly more proper: It means to guide, as well as to rule. And thus, it seems, it should be taken here. The direction, then, when applied to our spiritual guides, is plain and pertinent.

2. This interpretation seems to be confirmed by the seventh verse, which fixes the meaning of this. “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God.” The Apostle here shows, by the latter clause of the sentence, whom he meant in the former. Those that were “over them,” were the same persons “who spoke unto them the word of God;” that is, they were their Pastors, those who guided and fed this part of the flock of Christ.

3. But by whom are these guides to be appointed? And what are they supposed to do, in order to be entitled to the obedience which is here prescribed?

Volumes upon volumes have been wrote on that knotty question, By whom are guides of souls to be appointed? I do not intend here to enter at all into the dispute concerning Church government; neither to debate, whether it be advantageous or prejudicial to the interest of true religion, that the Church and State should be blended together, as they have been ever since the time of Constantine, in every part of the Roman Empire, where Christianity has been received. Waving all these points, (which may find employment enough for men that abound in leisure,) by “them that guide you,” I mean them that do its if not by your choice, at least by your consent; them that you willingly accept of to be your guides in the way to heaven.

4. But what are they supposed to do, in order to entitle them to the obedience here prescribed?

They are supposed to go before the flock, (as is the manner of the eastern shepherds to this day,) and to guide them in all the ways of truth and holiness; they are to “nourish them with the words of eternal life;” to feed them with the “pure milk of the word:” Applying it continually “for doctrines” teaching them all the essential doctrines contained therein; — “for reproof;” warning them if they turn aside from the way, to the right hand or to the left; — “for correction;” showing them how to amend what is amiss, and guiding them back into the way of peace; — and “for instruction in righteousness;” training them up to outward holiness, “until they come to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

5. They are supposed to “watch over your souls, as those that shall give account.” “As those that shall give account!” How unspeakably solemn and awful are those words! May God write them upon the heart of every guide of souls!

“They watch,” waking while others sleep, over the flock of Christ; over the souls that he has bought with a price, that he has purchased with his own blood. They have them in their hearts both by day and by night regarding neither sleep nor food in comparison of them. Even while they sleep, their heart is waking, full of concern for their beloved children. “They watch,” with deep earnestness, with uninterrupted seriousness, with unwearied care, patience, and diligence, as they that are about to give an account of every particular soul, to Him that standeth at the door, — to the Judge of quick and dead.

II. 1. We are Secondly, to consider who those are whom the Apostle directs to obey them that have the rule over them. And in order to determine this, with certainty and clearness, we shall not appeal to human institutions; but simply (as in answering the preceding question) appeal to that decision of it which we find in the oracles of God. Indeed we have hardly occasion to go one step farther than the text itself. Only it may be proper, first, to remove out of the way some popular opinions, which have been almost everywhere taken for granted, but can in nowise be proved.

2. It is usually supposed, First, that the Apostle is here directing parishioners to obey and submit themselves to the Minister of their parish. But can any one bring the: least shadow of proof for this from the Holy Scripture? Where is it written, that we are bound to obey any Minister, because we live in what is called his parish? “Yes,” you say, “we are bound to obey every ordinance of man for the Lords sake.” True, in all things indifferent; but this is not so, It is exceeding far from it. It is far from being a thing indifferent to me, who is the guide of my soul. I dare not receive one as my guide to heaven, that is himself in the high road to hell. I dare not take a wolf for my shepherd, that has not so much as sheep’s clothing, that is a common swearer, an open drunkard, a notorious Sabbath-breaker. And such (the more is the shame, and the more the pity) are many parochial Ministers at this day.

3. “But are you not properly members of that congregation to which your parents belong?” I do not apprehend that I am; I know no scripture that obliges me to this. I owe all deference to the commands of my parents, and willingly obey them in all things lawful. But it is not lawful to call them Rabbi; that is, to believe or obey them implicitly. Every one must give an account of himself to God. Therefore every man must judge for himself; especially in a point of, so deep importance as this is, — the choice of a guide for his soul.

4. But we may bring this matter to a short issue, by recurring to the very words of the text. They that have voluntarily connected themselves with such a Pastor as answers the description given therein; such as do, in fact, “watch over their souls, as they that shall give account;” such as do “nourish them up with the words of eternal live,” such as feed them as with the “pure milk of the word,” and constantly apply it to them “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness;” — all who have found and chosen guides of this character, of this spirit and behavior, are undoubtedly required by the Apostle to “obey and submit themselves” to them.

III. 1. But what is the meaning of this direction? This remains to be considered. In what sense, and how far, does the Apostle direct them to “obey and submit” to their spiritual guides?

If we attend to the proper sense of the two words here used by the Apostle, we may observe, that the former of them, peiqesqe, (from peiqw, to persuade,) refers to the understanding; the latter upeikete, to the will and outward behavior. To begin with the former. What influence ought our spiritual guides to have over our understanding! We dare no more call our spiritual fathers, Rabbi, than the “fathers of our flesh.” We dare no more yield implicit faith to the former, than to the latter. In this sense, “one is our Master,” (or rather Teacher,) “who is in heaven.” But whatever submission, of even our understanding, is short of this, we may, nay, we ought to, yield to them.

2. To explain this a little farther. St. James uses a word which is nearly allied to the former of these: “The wisdom which is from above is, eupeiqhv, easy to be convinced, or to be persuaded.” Now, if we ought to have and to show this wisdom toward all men, we ought to have it in a more eminent degree, and to show it upon every occasion, toward those that “watch over our souls.” With regard to these, above all other men, we should be “easy to be intreated” easily convinced of any truth, and easily persuaded to anything that is not sinful.

3. A word of nearly the same import with this is frequently used by St. Paul namely, epieikhv. In our translation it is more than once rendered gentle. But perhaps it might be more properly rendered, (if the word may be allowed,) yielding; ready to yield, to give up our own will, in everything that is not a point of duty. This amiable temper every real Christian enjoys, and shows in his intercourse with all men. But he shows it in a peculiar manner toward those that watch over his soul. He is not only willing to receive any instruction from them; to be convinced of anything which he did not know before; to lie open to their advice, and glad to receive admonition or reproof, but is ready to give up his own will, whenever he can do it with a clear conscience. Whatever they desire him to do, he does, if it be not forbidden in the word of God. Whatever they desire him to refrain from, he does so; if it be not enjoined in the word of God. This is implied in those words of the Apostle: “Submit yourselves to them;” yield to them; give up your own will. This is meet, and right, and your bounden duty, if they do indeed watch over your souls as they that shall give account. If you do thus “obey and submit yourselves” to them, they will give an account of you “with joy, not with groaning,” as they must otherwise do; for although they should be clear of your blood, yet “that would be unprofitable to you;” yea, a prelude to eternal damnation.

4. How acceptable to God was an instance of obedience somewhat similar to this! You have a large and particular account of it in the thirty-fifth chapter of Jeremiah. “The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, Go to the house of the Rechabites, and give them wine to drink. Then I took the whole house of the Rechabites;” all the heads of their families; “and set before them pots full of wine, and said unto them, Drink ye wine. But they said, We will drink no wine: For Jonadab,” a great man in the reign of Jehu, “the son of Rechab,” from whom we are named, being the father of our family, “commanded us, Ye shall drink no wine, neither ye, nor your sons for ever. And we have obeyed the voice of Jonadab our father, in all that he charged us.” We do not know any particular reason why Jonadab gave this charge to his posterity. But as it was not sinful, they gave this strong instance of gratitude to their great benefactor. And how pleasing this was to the Father of their spirits, we learn from the words that follow: “And Jeremiah said unto the Rechabites, Because ye have obeyed the voice of Jonadab, your father, therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, Jonadab shall not want a man to stand before my face for ever.”

5. Now, it is certain, Christians owe full as much gratitude and obedience to those that watch over their souls as ever the house of the Rechabites owed to Jonadab the son of Rechab. And we cannot doubt, but He is as well pleased with our obedience to these, as ever he was with their obedience to Jonadab. If he was so well pleased with the gratitude and obedience of this people to their temporal benefactor, have we not all reason to believe, he is full as well pleased with the gratitude and obedience of Christians to those who derive far greater blessings to them than ever Jonadab, conveyed to his posterity?

6. It may be of use yet again to consider, in what instances it is the duty of Christians to obey and submit themselves to those that watch over their souls. Now the things which they enjoin, must be either enjoined of God, or forbidden by him, or indifferent. In things forbidden of God, we dare not obey them; for we are to obey God rather than man. In things enjoined of God, we do not properly obey them, but our common Father. Therefore, if we are to obey them at all, it must be in things indifferent. The sum is, it is the duty of every private Christian to obey his spiritual Pastor, by either doing or leaving undone anything of an indifferent nature; anything that is in no way determined in the word of God.

7. But how little is this understood in the Protestant world! at least in England and Ireland. Who is there, even among those that are supposed to be good Christians, who dreams there is such a duty as this? And yet there is not a more express command, either in the Old or New Testament. No words can be more clear and plain; no command more direct and positive. Therefore, certainly none who receive the Scripture as the word of God, can live in the habitual breach of this, and plead innocence. Such an instance of willful, or at least careless, disobedience must grieve the Holy Spirit of God. It cannot but hinder the grace of God from having its full effect upon the heart. It is not improbable, that this very disobedience may be one cause of the deadness of many souls; one reason of their not receiving those blessings which they seek with some degree of sincerity.

8. It remains only to make a short application of what has now been delivered.

You that read this, do you apply it to yourself? Do you examine yourself thereby? Do not you stop your own growth in grace, if not by willful disobedience to this command; yet by careless inattention to it; by not considering it as the importance of it deserves? If so, you defraud yourself of many blessings which you might enjoy. Or, are you of a better mind; of a more excellent spirit? Is it your fixed resolution, and your constant endeavor, “to obey them that have the rule over you in the Lord;” to submit yourself as cheerfully to your spiritual, as to your natural parents? Do you ask, “Wherein should I submit to them?” The answer has been given already: Not in things enjoined of God; not in things forbidden by him; but in things indifferent: In all that are not determined, one way or the other, by the oracles of God. It is true, this cannot be done, in some instances, without a considerable degree of self denial, when they advise you to refrain from something that is agreeable to flesh and blood. And it cannot be obeyed in other instances, without taking up your cross; without suffering some pain or inconvenience, that is not agreeable to flesh and blood. For that solemn declaration of our Lord has place here, as well as on a thousand other occasions: “Except a man deny himself, and take up his cross daily, he cannot be my disciple.” But this will not affright you, if you resolve to be not only almost, but altogether, a Christian; if you determine to fight the good fight of faith, and lay hold on eternal life.

9. I would now apply myself in a more particular manner to you who desire me to watch over your souls. Do you make it a point of conscience to obey me for my Master’s sake? to submit yourselves to me in things indifferent; things not determined in the word of God; in all things that are not enjoined, nor yet forbidden, in Scripture? Are you “easy to be entreated,” as by men in general so by me in particular? — easy to be convinced of any truth, however contrary to your former prejudices; — and easy to be persuaded to do or forbear any indifferent thing at my desire? You cannot but see, that all this is clearly contained in the very words of the text. And you cannot but acknowledge, that it is highly reasonable for you so to do, if I do employ all my time, all my substance, all my strength, both of body and soul, not in seeking my own honor or pleasure, but in promoting your present and eternal salvation; if I do indeed “watch over your souls as one that must give account.”

10. Do you then take my advice (I ask in the presence of God and all the world) with regard to dress? I published that advice above thirty years ago; I have repeated it a thousand times since. I have advised you not to be conformable to the world herein, to lay aside all needless ornaments, to avoid all expense, to be patterns of plainness to all that are round about you. Have you taken this advice? Have you all, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, laid aside all those needless ornaments which I particularly objected to? Are you all exemplarily plain in your apparel; as plain as Quakers, (so called,) or Moravians? If not, if you are still dressed like the generality of people of your own rank and fortune, you declare hereby, to all the world, that you will not obey them that are over you in the Lord. You declare, in open defiance of God and man, that you will not submit yourselves to them. Many of you carry your sins on your forehead, openly, and in the face of the sun. You harden your hearts against instruction and against conviction: You harden one another; especially those of you that were once convinced, and have now stifled your convictions. You encourage one another to stop your ears against the truth, and shut your eyes against the light; lest haply you should see that you are fighting against God, and against your own souls. If I were now called to give an account of you, it would be “with groans, and not with joy.” And sure that would be “unprofitable for you:” The loss would fall upon your own head.

11. I speak all this on supposition, (though that is a supposition not to be made,) that the Bible was silent on this head; that the Scriptures said nothing concerning dress, and left it to every one’s own discretion. But if all other texts were silent, this is enough: “Submit yourselves to them that are over you in the Lord.” I bind this upon your consciences, in the sight of God. Were it only in obedience to this direction, you cannot be clear before God, unless you throw aside all needless ornaments, in utter defiance of that tyrant of fools, fashion; unless you seek only to be adorned with good works, as men and women professing godliness.

12. Perhaps you will say, “This is only a little thing: It is a mere trifle.” I answer, If it be, you are the more inexcusable before God and man. What! will you disobey a plain commandment of God for a mere trifle? God forbid! Is it a trifle to sin against God, — to set his authority at nought? Is this a little thing? Nay, remember, there can be no little sin, till we can find a little God! Meantime, be assured of one thing: The more conscientiously you obey your spiritual guides, the more powerfully will God apply the word which they speak in his name to your heart! The more plentifully will be water what is spoken with the dew of his blessing; and the more proofs will you have, it is not only they that speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaketh in them.