The obligations which rest upon parents to ‘bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,’ are numerous and weighty. Besides those already mentioned in a general way, we may specify,
1. The baptismal vows which they have assumed in behalf of their children. And lest any should pass over this section, by saying, ‘I have never presented my children in baptism, and have therefore never assumed the vows mentioned,’ let me say that if this be so, you are doubly guilty in the sight of God. It is as much your duty to dedicate your children to God in his appointed ordinance, as it is to dedicate yourself to him in that of the Lord’s Supper. Unfitness for either, while it should exclude you from the privilege, nevertheless does not relieve you from the duly. It is your duty to be prepared for both, and the longer that preparation is delayed, the greater is the sinfulness of your neglect. To plead unfitness as an excuse for neglecting duty, is to plead one sin as an excuse for another; for it is your sinfulness and unbelief that render you unfit for either ordinance. Let none, then, console themselves with the false impression, that they are relieved from baptismal duties, because they have neglected to assume baptismal vows. If, therefore, the following remarks should exhibit the obligations of those who have assumed such vows, they at the same time exhibit the obligation and guilt of those who have neglected to assume them.
The presentation of children for baptism, does not, strictly speaking, create new obligations, but is a formal and solemn acknowledgment of those already binding. A witness, strictly speaking, is as much bound, in the sight of God, to tell the truth, and nothing but the truth, before he takes the oath, as afterwards.
It is to be feared, that parents too often assume the baptismal vows with too little consideration. Some present their children for the ordinance, under the influence of example or custom, or for fashion sake; some, doubtless, through the mistaken and superstitious notion of its inherent efficacy. All such motives are improper, and dishonour God, and his ordinance. They tend to banish from the mind, that becoming reverence and awe, with which God should be approached in every act of worship. It brings down the ordinance to the level of an unmeaning ceremony, and abstracts from it the idea of a solemn transaction with God. Hence, many who shrink from an approach to the Lord’s table, yet, without hesitation or much reflection, offer their children for baptism. They are both holy sacraments, and thc one is as sacred as the other. Parents, moreover, sometimes take upon them these vows, while they are conscious of an unwillingness to pay them, and indeed, with no purpose whatever to attempt it. This is lying to the Holy Ghost, and nothing less than awful perjury before high Heaven! I speak plainly on this subject, because it is too momentous to be otherwise disposed of. While, therefore, parents are bound to present their children for baptism, they are also required not to trifle with the ordinance, nor contract the guilt of perjury or broken vows. If they neglect the ordinance, they sin; and if they approach it improperly, they sin. Do you, then, ask what you are to do in such a case?. I answer, repent, believe in Christ, and seek and obtain a right heart in the sight of God, and that without delay. This is only one of the many difficulties that belong to a state of impenitency and unbelief.
In presenting your children to this ordinance, you recognise their depravity and condemnation, as flowing from thc first transgression of Adam; otherwise, the ordinance is without meaning, and your approach to it, is a mockery of God. You thereby acknowledge the necessity of your child being washed with the Spirit and blood of Christ. For it is that outward sign, which signifies the washing of the heart, with that cleansing influence, which the water in baptism symbolizes.
In this ordinance, you also give your child away, without reservation, to be used and disposed of by God, as seemeth to Him best. When thus solemnly dedicated to God, in acknowledgment of His undisputed right to it, He commits it to your care, as Moses was committed to the care of his mother, that he may be trained up for the service and glory of Him, to whom he belongs of right, and by your own act of dedication. You henceforth act as the steward of God, under voluntary vows of fidelity in the discharge of your duties, both to Him and to your child. For this stewardship you must render an account. Here, then, is one source of obligation which you are not at liberty to disregard. A lively sense of this obligation, will lead you to seek daily supplies of grace and strength to meet your responsibilities, and to supplicate the blessing of God upon your endeavours, to discharge them. Thus, you will be constantly urged to a Throne of Grace in behalf of yourself and children. There too, you will bring them, and bow their infant knees before God, and teach their infant tongues to call him ‘Father,’ and to lisp his praise.
Should you neglect, however, thus to train them; should yon bring them up in prayerlessness and irreligion, how poignant will be your reflections on a death bed, that you are about to meet your Judge, to answer for the guilt of violated vows! How keen the anguish that will wring your soul, when you are about to cast your little ones upon a cold, unfeeling, and contaminating world, without the shield of a religious education, and without the support and guide of religious principles. That you have neglected to bestow, these you have neglected to instill. But you must leave them. You cannot retrace your steps. You cannot stay even to begin the work. And should you meet them in perdition, how insufferable their upbraiding! how overwhelming your remorse!
2. Parents owe it to themselves to train up their children in the way in which they should go. Their own peace and happiness, in this world, will depend ‘very much on the character and conduct of their children, unless they are totally destitute of all natural affection. And even then, their own children, through parental neglect; may become their tormentors. For parents are sometimes punished in the lives of their children, who become rods to their backs. How much distress, and trouble, and affliction, are sometimes brought into a family by children, whose religious education has been neglected! How often have such brought down the gray hairs of their broken-hearted parents, in sorrow, in shame, and in disgrace, to the grave! And even if they survive, it is to witness the sad and melancholy spectacle of their children, hurried, through the want of early and proper training, by unbridled lusts and unchecked licentiousness, or by the hand of the duelist or assassin, or by the due execution of the laws of the land, to an early and dishonoured grave. This is the source of a thousand evils with which guilty parents and their families may be afflicted and overwhelmed.
On the other hand, how much joy and peace, and comfort, does a parent’s heart experience, when he beholds his children walking in the ways of righteousness, devoting themselves to the service of God, and to the good of their fellow-creatures! And how unspeakably delightful is the reflection, that such are the results of his labours, his instructions, and his prayers, in training them in early life to the love and service of the Most High! And when called to part with them at death, with hope, and faith, and settled confidence, may you leave them in the hands of Him, in whose nurture and admonition you have brought them up!
3. You owe it to your children, thus to bring them up. You have been the means of bringing them into this world of sin and misery, were they are exposed to innumerable evils here, and endless misery hereafter. You have transmitted to them that depraved and sinful nature, which, through successive generations, you derived from our common father Adam. They come into the world under a broken covenant, alienated from the life of God and with carnal minds at enmity against Him. They have immortal souls that must be happy or miserable for ever; and the momentous issue instrumentally depends, under God, very much on the manner in which you bring them up. You launch them in a fragile bark, upon life’s troubled sea, amid the threatening storms by which it is agitated, and surrounded by the rocks and shoals on which thousands and thousands are fatally and for ever wrecked. Is it not your duty to provide them with every means of safety? Is it not your duty to afford them that instruction, to instill into them those principles; and to point them to that example, to that Guide and Saviour, by means of which they may arrive in safety to that ‘haven where they would be’? You are their natural instructor, governor, and protector. To you they look, on you they depend, for all that is within your power and duty to afford them, in order to accomplish the end of their existence. They have a claim upon you which can not be disputed, nor with safety and impunity disregarded. It is a sacred claim, sanctioned and enforced by the relation you sustain to them, and by the authority of Him who requires its liquidation at your hands.