A resting place for innocence on earth; a link between angels and men; Yet it is a talent of trust to be rendered back with interest; A delight, but redolent of care, honey sweet, but lacking not the bitter, For character groweth day by day, and all things aid it in unfolding, And the bent unto good or evil may be given, in the hours of infancy."
The birth of each child constitutes a new era in the Christian home, and multiplies its cares, its pleasures and its responsibilities. The first-born babe, like
"The first gilt thing
throws the rainbow colors of hope and joy over the bowers of home, and awakens in the bosom of parents, emotions and sympathies, new-born and never before experienced; cords in the heart, before untouched, now begin to thrill with new joy; sympathies, before unfelt, now swell the bosom. Sleep on, thou little one, in thy "rosy mesh of infancy," in the first buddings of thy being! These hours of thy innocence are the happiest of thy life. Thou art "the parent's transport and the parent's care." Blessings are fondly poured upon thy head. Rest thee there in thy little bed, thou happy emblem of the loved and pure in heaven!
"Visions sure of joy
imparting to his infant soul unutterable things, whispering soft of bliss immortal given, and pouring into his new-born senses the dreams of opening heaven.
What charms and momentous interests surround the cradle of infancy! When the first wailing of dependence reaches the listening ear, what new-born sympathies spring up in the parent's bosom! What a thrill of rapture the first soft smile of her babe sends to the mother's heart! It is this, the parents' likeness unsullied by their faults and cares; it is this, their living love in personal being, -- their love breathing and smiling before them, lisping their names; it is this, -- their new-born hope and care, -- that gives to infancy such a charm, such a never-dying interest, and causes the parent to cling to it with such fond tenacity. "Can a mother forget her sucking child?" Never, while she claims a mother's heart! The couch of her babe is the depository of all those fond hopes and joys and cares and memories to which a mother's heart is sacred.
The infant is the most interesting member of the Christian home. It is the first budding of home-life, disclosing every day some new beauty, "the father's lustre and the mother's bloom," to gladden the hearts of the family. "As the dewy morning is more beautiful than the perfect day; as the opening bud is more lovely than the full blown flower, so is the joyous dawn of infant life more interesting than the calm monotony of riper years." It is the most interesting, because the purest, member of the household. It is the connecting link which binds home to its great antitype above. "Ye stand nearest to God, ye little ones," nearer than those who have tasted the bitter cup of actual sin. They are the budding promises, the young loves, the precious plants of home; they are its sunshine, its progressive interest, its prophetic happiness, the first link in the chain of its perpetuity. Like the purple hue of the wild heath, throwing its gay color over the rugged hill-side, they cast a magic polish over the spirit of the parent, causing the home-fireside to glow with new life and cheerfulness.
Infants are emblems of the loved and sainted ones in heaven. "Of such is the kingdom of heaven." "Except ye become as this little child, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven." This is based upon proper principles. The heart of the child is purely devotional and confidential. It is a helpless dependent upon the parent. It abdicates its self-will with joy; silently do the laws of home control it; its reverence and love are the melody of its being; its life is an exchange of obedience for protection. Its path is chosen for it by the lamp of parental experience, and the calm pure light of a mother's love. How close it keeps to the heart that loves it, and to the hand that leads it! It looks without doubt or suspicion in the parent's eye, and makes the parent's home and interest its own.
Here is a picture of the true child of God in his tent-home on earth, and in his eternal home in heaven. For this they are given to us. As they are to us, their parents, so should we be to our Father in heaven, and so are all those loved and sainted ones who have gone before us.
"Little children, flowers from heaven,
Hence it was that Jesus loved little children, took them in His arms, blessed them, and regarded them as "the lambs of His flock." "He shall gather the lambs with His arm." He gazed with pleasure into their sweet faces, invited their parents to bring them unto Him, and held them up as the type of the spirit and character of the admitted, into heaven. And the aged John, having in view this typical character of children, addressed his followers as his little children!
Infants are helpless dependents upon others for subsistence and protection. If abandoned at their birth, their first breath would soon be succeeded by their last. Hence they demand all the attention which maternal love and tenderness can bestow. They live like the tender bud or the opening blossom, exposed to the blight of a thousand fortuitous events. Hence their existence is very precarious; in a moment they may sink like the frosted flower in its lovely blush. This may be said of the soul as well as of the body and mind. What an argument, therefore, we have here for parental diligence and promptness in duty to the eternal as well as to the temporal well-being of the child.
The infant is the first prophecy of the man. It is the germ of manhood. It is the man in a state of involution. It is the undeveloped man. Infancy is the twilight of life, -- the first morning of an endless being, the age of germ and of mere sense. As the first dawn of spring is the season of the undeveloped harvest, so childhood is manhood in possibility. The infant is the vernal bud of life; it is a being of promise and of hope, -- the prophecy of the future man. Hence the age of education. The mother, in the nursery, is ever evolving into the strength of maturity those powers of her child which will be wielded for happiness or for misery. Her babe is an "embryo angel, or an infant fiend." We behold in that fragile form, the bud of the strong man, -- the possibility of one who may in a few years arouse with his thrilling eloquence a slumbering nation, or with the torch and sword of revolution, overturn empires and dethrone kings, or with his feet upon the walls of Zion, and the words of life upon his lips, overthrow the strongholds of Satan, and bring the rebel sinner in penitence to the feet of Jesus. Yea, we see in that wailing infant of a week, the outspringing of an immortal spirit which may soon hover on cherub-pinion around the throne of God, or perhaps, in a few years, sink to the regions of untold anguish. Oh, it is this which gives to the cradle of infancy such a thrilling interest. The star of those new-born hopes, which hangs over it, will set in eternal night, or rise with increasing splendor, till it is lost in the full blaze of eternal day!
Infants are a great, a dangerous and responsible trust. They are the property of God, -- "an heritage from the Lord," given to their parents as a loan, a "talent of trust to be rendered back with interest." The infant is especially the mother's trust.
"Though first by thee it lived, on thee it smiled,
Given by its Creator in trust to her, it is her task to bring it up for God. Here especially do we see the holy mission of the mother. None but the mother's heart and love can give security for this trust. The father is unfit by nature for the delicate training of infancy. The mother's hand alone can smooth the infant's couch, and her voice alone can sing him to his rosy rest. Her never-wearied love alone can watch beside him "till the last pale star had set,"
"While to the fullness of her heart's glad heavings His fair cheek rose and fell; and his bright hair
She is the ministering angel of infancy, and the priestess of the nursery of home. She sets the first seal, makes the first stamp, gives the first direction, supplies the first want, and soothes the first sorrow. To her is committed human life in its most helpless and dangerous state. Touch it then with the rude hand of parental selfishness; let it grow up in a barren soil, amid noxious weeds, under the influence of unholy example; and the delicate tints of this blossom will soon fade; the blush of loveliness will soon give way to the blight of moral deformity.
[Illustration: TEACHING THE SCRIPTURES. J. Porter]
Hence every babe will be the parent's glory or the parent's shame, their weal or their woe. If entrusted to them, God will hold them responsible for its moral training. He will require it from them with interest. Their trust involves the eternal happiness or misery of their child. The productions of art will perish; the sun will be blotted out, and all the glory and magnificence of the world will vanish away, but your babe will live forever. It will survive the wreck of nature, and either shine as a diadem in the Redeemer's crown of glory, or dwell in the blackness and darkness of perdition forever.
To you, Christian parents, as the stewards of God, this precious being is entrusted. The care of its body, mind and spirit is committed to you; and its character and destiny in after life will be the fruit of your dealings with it. It looks to you for all things. It confides in you, draws its confidence from your protection, relies on your known love, takes you as the pattern of its life, imitates you as its example, learns from you as its teacher, is ruled by you as its governor, is measured by you as its model, feels satisfied with you as its sufficiency, and rests its all upon you as its all and in all.
Thus you are the very life and soul of its being, and hence in its maturity, it will be a fair exponent of your character. You are the center around which its life revolves, the circumference beyond which it never seeks to go. What, therefore, if you are unfit to move and act in its presence! What, if in its imitation of you, its life be a progressive departure from God! Oh, what, if in the day of judgment, it be an outcast from heaven, and, as such, bear the impress of a parent's hand! God will then hold you accountable for every injury you may have done your child.
Begin, therefore, the work of training that infant, now, while its nature is pliable, susceptible, yet tenacious of first impressions. "With his mother's milk the young child drinketh education." What you now do for your child will be seen in all future ages. "Scratch the green rind of a sapling, or wantonly twist it in the soil, the scarred and crooked oak will tell of thee for centuries to come." "It will not depart from the ways in which you train it." If, therefore, you would be a blessing to your child, and avert those terrible judgments of God which rest upon parental delinquency, begin now, while your infant is in the cradle, to sow the seeds of life. Prune well the tender olive plants, and direct its evolving life in the way God would have it go.
"Soon as the playful innocent can prove
teach it to lisp the name of Jesus and to walk in His commandments. But alas! how many Christian parents are recreant to this duty! How many destroy their children by the over-indulgence of a misdirected love and sympathy, and by procrastinating the period of home-education. Forgetful of the power of first impressions, they wait until their children are established in sin, and the seeds of evil are sown in their hearts.
This is the reason why so many reckless and wicked children come out of Christian homes. Their parents permit their misdirected fondness to absorb all their thoughts and apprehensions of danger and responsibility. Their love for the body and mind of their children seems to repel all love for, or interest in, their soul. The former they tenderly nurse, fondly caress, and zealously direct. But the soul of the infant is unhonored, unloved and uncared for. It is blighted in its first bursting of beauty. Oh, cruel and unthinking parents! why will you thus abuse the loveliest and noblest part of your child? Why make that babe of yours a mere plaything? If "out of the mouths of babes and sucklings God has perfected praise," then why not train them up to praise Him? "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones, for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven." Oh, you who are the nurse of infant innocence, have you ever thought of the deep curse that will attend your neglect of the babe which God has given you! Have you, pious mother, as you pressed your child to your bosom, ever thought that it would one day be a witness for or against you? Far better for thee and it that it were not born and you never revered as mother, than that you should nourish it for spiritual beggary here, and for the eternal burnings hereafter! Oh, look upon that babe! It is the gift of God -- given to thee, mother, to nurse for Him. Look upon that cherished one! See its smile of confidence turned to you! It is a frail and helpless bark on the tumultuous sea of life; it looks to you for direction, -- for compass and for chart; your prayers for it will be heard; your hand can save it; the touch of your impressions will be a savor of life unto life, or of death unto death.
"Then take the heart thy charms have won,