But in addition to preceptive instruction, there must be superadded the force of corresponding example. The one will effect but little without the other. We are imitative creatures, and learn our earliest lessons, and receive our most enduring impressions through the eyes and not through the ears. It is remarkable how soon children begin to notice attentively the conduct of others. We are naturally more disposed to follow example than to be influenced by precept. Parents, therefore, would do well to remember that their children have eyes as well as ears, and to act accordingly. Bad example will obliterate every impression which may have been made by wholesome precept. Let not parents, therefore, tear down with one hand as fast as they build up with the other. Let example be to precept, what experiments are, in natural science, to theory. The one should demonstrate and confirm the other. In vain may you, attempt to inculcate upon a child the importance of a duty, while he is permitted to witness your habitual neglect of it. He will do as you do, and not as you say. If you neglect the public worship of God, or behave unseemly in the sanctuary; if you violate the Sabbath day, by labour, amusement or recreation; if you take the name of the Most High in vain, or exhibit a proud, passionate, and overbearing temper, you may reasonably expect your children and servants to do the same, when an opportunity occurs of doing it with impunity. It were idle to expect a different result.
But the precept of some parents is as bad as their example in this respect. They will not only encourage, but even urge the attendance of their children, at the scenes of public amusement and dissipation; places where female delicacy is wounded, where innocence must blush, and virtue hide her head in shame. Yes, parents will permit men and women to say to their children from the stage, and in a public assembly; what it would be the grossest insult to whisper in their ear, at the family fireside. And yet, these same parents decline urging the attendance of their children at the sanctuary. They will dead them into a circle, where, amid the attractions adapted to a carnal heart, the flame of human pride is fed and cherished; where native vanity is flattered, often by brainless conversation and heartless attention; where their already too high opinion of self is more and more exalted, and the restraints of modest, retiring virtue more and more weakened. Thus they are thrown by their own parents; into the midst of a thousand temptations and snares, and estranged from God and holiness.
You may, indeed, diligently provide for their temporal necessities, but you leave the soul, the deathless, enduring part of your children, to starve and perish. You may carefully clothe their bodies which must soon be laid in the grave and become the food of worms, but you leave the soul to appear in all its nakedness before God in judgement. You neglect to provide for it, the robe of the Saviour’s righteousness, and are satisfied that it should appear in the ‘filthy rags’ of its own virtue and morality. You provide food for the nourishment of their bodies, but neglect to feed them with the hidden manna, with that bread which came down from heaven, which was the bread of life. You are solicitous to accomplish for them, advantageous matrimonial connections, but neglect to marry them to the Lamb, the Bridegroom—Jesus Christ.
Now, ‘if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel,’ 1 Tim. 5:8. If this be true in regard to temporal provision, what may we not say of those who refuse to make the most important of all kinds of provision, viz. for the souls of their children and servants? It is most shocking cruelty to suffer the souls, whom you have instrumentally brought into the world, to perish forever through your neglect. How can a parent’s heart endure the thought, that the helpless babe who smiles at his chirps, and prattles on his knees, and beguiles his hours of leisure, with its endearing playfulness, should, through his neglect, endure the wrath of God through all eternity? Parents! think of it. Look upon your babe, behold its little fascinating ways, and say, will you train it up for the world and for hell, or for God and heaven? Will you lead it into the vortex of fashion, folly and irreligion, or ‘bring it up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,’ renouncing in its behalf, the pomps and vanities of the world, and solemnly dedicate it to the service of Christ? You must meet it at the bar of God. You may meet it in the world of lost spirits. Will you venture then to look upon it? Can you then bear its curses on your head, and its upbraiding accusation of your unfaithfulness and cruelty? Parents! think of it. Your children are committed to your care, by Him whose property they are, and who charges you to train them up a holy seed to serve him. He will require them, as such, at your hands. Shall their blood be found in your skirts? ‘It is beyond a doubt, that remorse is one of the chief punishments of the damned, and who can question whether the most excruciating remorse will be excited by this thought; I have plunged my children into this abyss, into which I have plunged myself?
‘Imagine a parent of a family, discovering among the crowd of reprobates, a son, whom he himself led thither, and who addresses to him this terrible language: ‘Barbarous father, to what a desperate condition you have reduced me! See, wretch that you are, see the flames which burn and consume me. Observe this thick smoke which suffocates me. Behold the heavy chains with which I am loaded. They are the fatal consequences of the principles you gave me. Was it not enough to bring me into the world a sinner? Was it necessary to put me in arms against Almighty God? Was it not enough to communicate to me natural depravity? Must you add to that, the venom of a pernicious education? Was it not enough to expose me to the misfortunes inseparable from life? Must you plunge me into those which follow death? Return me, cruel parent, return me to nothing, whence ye took me. Take from me the fatal existence you gave me. Show me mountains and hills to fall on me, and hide me from the anger of my Judge; or it that divine vengeance which pursues thee, will not enable thee to do so, I myself will become thy tormentor; I will ever present myself, a frightful spectacle, before thine eyes, and by those eternal howlings, which I will incessantly pour into thine ears, I will reproach thee; through all eternity I will reproach thee with my misery and despair.’’