There dwelt a sage called Discipline,
His eye was meek, and a smile
Played on his lips, and in his speech was heard
Paternal sweetness, dignity, and love.
The occupation dearest to his heart
Was to encourage goodness.
If e'er it chanced, as sometimes chance it must,
That one, among so many, overleaped
The limits of control, his gentle eye
Grew stern, and darted a severe rebuke,
His frown was full of terror, and his voice
Shook the delinquent with such fits of awe
As left him not, till penitence had won
Lost favor back again, and closed the breach."
Discipline involves the judicial and executive functions of the home-government. It is the method of regulating and executing the principles and practice of government. It includes the rein and the rod, the treatment of offences against the laws of home, the execution of the parental authority by the imposition of proper restraints upon the child. It involves a reciprocity of duty, -- the duty of the parent to correct, and the duty of the child to submit. God has given this discipline; He has invested the parent with power to execute it, and imposed upon the child the obligation to live submissively under it.
All must admit the necessity of home-discipline. "It must needs be that offense come." There is a corresponding needs be in the proper treatment of these offenses when they do come. Law implies penalties; and the proper character and execution of these are as essential to the true object and end of government as is the law itself. The former would he powerless without the latter. Through the agency of home-discipline the proper fear and love of the child are developed in due proportion and brought into proper relations to each other, making the fear filial and the love reverential. There is, therefore, the same call for discipline in the family as there is in the state and the church. It is the condition of true harmony between, the parent and child. "The child that is used to constraint, feareth not more than he loveth; but give thy son his way, he will hate thee and scorn thee together."
It is necessary because God commands it; and He commands it because it is indispensable to the security and well-being of the child, and, we might add, of the state and the church. "Withhold not correction from the child; for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. He that spareth his rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes." Children are by nature depraved, and if left to themselves, will choose evil rather than good; hence, as foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, the rod of correction must be used to drive them from it. He must be restrained, corrected, educated under law. In the language of Cowper --
"Plants raised with tenderness are seldom strong;
There are two false systems of home-discipline, viz., the despotism of discipline, or discipline from the standpoint of law without love; and the libertinism of discipline, or discipline from the standpoint of love without law.
Home-discipline from the standpoint of law without love, involves the principle of parental despotism. It is extreme legal severity, and consists in the treatment of children as if they were brutes, using no other mode of correction than that of direct corporeal punishment. This but hardens them, and begets a roughness of nature and spirit like the discipline under which they are brought up. Many parents seek to justify such mechanical severity by the saying of Solomon, "he that spareth the rod spoileth the child." But their interpretation of this does not show the wisdom of the wise man. They suppose the term rod, must mean the iron rod of the unfeeling and unloving despot. Not so; God has a rod for all His children; but it is the rod of a compassionate Father, and does not always inflict corporeal punishment. It is exercised because He loves them, not because He delights in revenge and in their misery. He uses it, not to have them obey Him from fear of punishment, not to force them into a slavish service, and to cause them to shrink with trembling awe from His presence; but to correct their faults by drawing them to Him in fond embrace, in grateful penitence and hopeful reformation, under the deep conviction that every stroke of His rod was the work of love, forcing from them a kiss for His rod, and a blessing for His hand, the utterance of a sanction for His deed, "It was good for me that I was afflicted!"
This rod is very different, however, from that of the despot beneath whom the child crouches with trembling dread, and under the influence of whom he becomes, like the down-trodden subject, servile, brutish and rebellious. You will reap bitter fruits from such a discipline, which is but the exponent of the letter of the law without its spirit, and which has nothing for the child but the scowl and the frown and the cruel lash. You might as well seek to "gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles," as to reap from it a true reformation and religious training. Your child will be trained to hate the law, to despise authority, and to regard his obedience as a compromise of true liberty. He will, therefore, seek liberty only in the usurpation of law and government. He will contemn love, because where it should have been disinterested, and shown in its greatest tenderness and purity, -- in the parent's heart, it was abused and silenced.
That discipline, therefore, which is ever magnifying trifles, finding fault, scolding and storming, and threatening and whipping, and falling upon the child, like the continual dropping of rain in a winter day, casts a withering gloom over home, makes it repulsive to the child, gives to the parent a forbidding aspect, until the children become provoked to wrath, and regard their home as a prison, their life as a slavery, and long for the time when they may leave home and parents forever. Such discipline makes the reign of the parent a reign of terror. It reminds one of the laws of Draco, written in blood. It produces in the child a broken spirit, a reckless desperation, a hardened contumacy, a deep and sullen melancholy, a mental and moral hardihood which prepares him for deeds of outrage upon law and humanity. It is unnatural, revolting to human nature, to beat and crush, as if with an iron rod, the tender child of our hearts and hopes. It extinguishes natural affection; and no subsequent kindness can rekindle the flame. The child becomes forever alienated, and bears the curse of its maltreatment upon its character and destiny. "Ye parents, provoke not your children to anger, lest they should be discouraged."
The following quaint anecdote is a good commentary upon such discipline: A blacksmith brought up his son, to whom he was very severe, to his own trade. The urchin was, nevertheless, an audacious dog. One day the old vulcan was attempting to harden a cold chisel which he had made of foreign steel, but could not succeed; "horsewhip it, father," exclaimed the youth, "if that will not harden it, nothing will!"
Nothing justifies such cruel discipline. It results in depravity of life. The most notorious criminals began their career under the lash of parental cruelty. If rods and stripes and cries and tears and cruel beating are the first lessons of life we are to learn, then we shall be educated in as well as by these. The Europeans surpass all other nations in cruelty to their offspring. The Arab is tender to his children, and rules them by kindness and caresses. He restrains them by the corrections of wisely exerted love. Cruelty does not become the Christian home. It is revolting to see a parent stand with a rod over his child, to make him read the bible or say his prayers. You cannot whip religion into a child. This is opposite to humanity and religion.
Home-discipline from the standpoint of love without law, is the second false system which we have mentioned, and involves the principle of parental libertinism. It does not consist so much in the want as in the neglect and abuse of discipline. The restraints may be sufficient, and the threats abundant, but they are never executed. When the children disobey, the parents may flounder and storm, loud and long, but all ends in words, in a storm of passion or whining complaint, and the child is thus encouraged to repeat the misconduct, feeling that his parents have no respect for their word. Such a home becomes scolding, but not an orderly home.
"Discipline at length,
Parents, through their misguided sympathy, often connive at filial disobedience. Their kindness is most unkind. Their parental love issues forth as a mere burst of feeling, unguided by either reason or law. Hence, their sentimental hearts become an asylum for filial delinquency and criminality. This is no proof of love, but the opposite; for "he that spareth the rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes." Love will thus prompt the parent to chasten his son while there is hope. Eli was an example of extreme parental indulgence. "His sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not." It was the defect also of David's discipline, and the fruit of this defect caused him to cry out in bitter anguish, "Oh Absalom, my son, my son, would to God I had died for thee!"
That parent who cannot restrain his children, does not bear rule in his house, and as a consequence, cannot bless his household. That parental tenderness which withholds the proper restraints of discipline from an erring child, is most cruel and ruinous. It is winking at his wayward temper, his licentious passions and growing habits of vice. And these, in their terrible maturity, will recoil upon the deluded parent, "biting like a serpent and stinging like an adder." Nothing is more ruinous to a child and disastrous to the hopes and happiness of home, than such relaxation of discipline. "A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame." How many mothers have bitterly experienced this, and wept bitter tears over the memory of their degraded and wretched offspring! It is ruinous to the parent. He will both curse and despise thee. Your unlawful indulgence, therefore, is infanticide. Your cruel embraces are hugging your child to death. The sentiment of love should never crush the reason and violate the laws of love. Do you permit your sick to die rather than to inflict the pain of giving them the medicine to cure? This would be madness. And yet you do a similar deed when you indulge your child in wickedness. He will grow up lawless, headstrong, rebellious; and these may lead him on to poverty, infamy, crime and perdition, ending thus in total shipwreck of character and soul. You thus make for society bad members, drunkards, blackguards, paupers, criminals; and furnish fuel for the eternal burnings. And will not the curse rest upon you?
It is wonderful to what an extent this extreme indulgence prevails at the present day. Many parents seem insensible even to the necessity of any discipline, and think it is an infringement upon the liberties of the child. Mistaken parents! Such views are opposed to the laws of God and man. By them you sow for yourselves and children the seeds of a future retribution.
Thus we see that there are two dangerous extremes or false systems of home-discipline, viz., the exercise of parental fondness and sympathy without parental authority, on the one hand, and the exercise of parental authority without proper sympathy, on the other. Misguided sympathy and fondness will produce filial libertinism; and despotic authority will beget filial servility.
True Christian home-discipline lies in a medium between these. It involves the union of true parental sympathy and authority, of proper love and proper law; for affection, when not united to authority and law, degenerates into sentimental fondness; and authority and law, when, not tempered with love, degenerate into brutal tyranny, and produce inward servility and outward bondage. The parents who are, in discipline, prompted by the first, may be loved, but will not be respected. Those who are ruled by the second, may be dreaded, but will not be loved. The first does violence to law, and ends in the insubordination of the child and the imbecility of the parent. The second does violence to love, makes duty a task, correction a corporeal punishment, the child a slave, the parent a despot, and ends consequently in the destruction of natural affection. Hence, in home-discipline, true severity and true sympathy should unite and temper each other. Without this the very ends proposed will be frustrated.
True home-discipline repudiates the legal idea of punishment as much as of impunity. It lies in a medium between these, and involves the idea of Christian correction or chastisement. We should correct, but not punish our children. Correction is not the mere execution of legal penalties as such, but the fruit of Christian love and concern for the child. It does not mean simple corporeal chastisement, but moral restraints. The impunity is the fruit of love without law; the corporeal punishment is the execution of law without love; Christian correction is the interposition of love acting according to law in restraining the child. Hence, true discipline is the correction of the child by the love of the parent, according to the laws of home-government.
Abraham instituted in his household a model system of home-discipline. "I know him," says God, "that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the ways of the Lord to do justice and judgment." He was not a tyrant; his comrades did not bear the rough sternness of a despot, neither did his power wear the scowl of vengeance. But these bore the firmness and decision of love tempered and directed by the law of Christian duty and responsibility. They showed his station as a father; they wore the exponent of his authority as a parent, whose love was a safeguard against tyranny on the one hand, and whose accountability to God was a security against anarchy, on the other. Hence, his children respected his station, venerated his name, appreciated his love, confided in his sympathy, and yielded a voluntary obedience to his commands; for they discerned in them the blessing; and when offenses came, they bent in the spirit of loving submission and pupilage, under his rod of correction, and kissed it as the means of their reformation and culture.
Thus does home-discipline involve the firmness of parental authority united with the mildness of parental love. Love should hold the reins and use the rod. Then it will purify and elevate natural affection, and develop in the child a sense of proper fear, without either disrespectful familiarity or mechanical servitude.
The efficiency of home-discipline depends upon its early introduction, upon the decision with which it is administered, upon its adaptation to the real wants of the child, and upon the manner in which it is applied.
It should be commenced in due season, as soon as the child can understand its meaning and object. The child should be made to understand that he lives under authority and restraint. This will prepare him for a profitable correction when necessary. The great fault of many parents is that they begin too late to correct their children, and leave them until then in ignorance of its nature and intent. Hence, the child will not appreciate the parent's motive, and will lack that pliability of spirit which is essential to reformation. "The sceptre," says James, in his Family Monitor, "should be seen by him before the rod; and an early, judicious and steady exhibition of the former, would render the latter almost unnecessary. He must be made to submit, and that while young, and then submission will become a habit; the reins must be felt by him early, and he will thus learn to obey them."
Home-discipline should be steady, uniform, consistent and reasonable. Both parents and children should be guided by the dictates of reason and religion. It should not be administered by the caprice of passion, nor received in the spirit of insubordination. It should be prompted by a parent's heart, and inflicted by a parent's hand. Convince the recreant child that you correct him from motives of love, and for his own good. Let reason and love be at the bottom of every chastisement; let them hold the reins and guide the rod; and when the latter is used, let it be from necessity. Lay no injunction upon your child without the ensurance of a compliance.
Your discipline should never involve impossibilities or uncertainties; neither should you permit your child to sport with your injunctions. Every command should produce either obedience or correction. You should be firm in the infliction of a threatened chastisement, and faithful in the fulfilment of a promise to reward. Many parents are always scolding, threatening and promising, but never execute and fulfil. As a consequence they run from one extreme of discipline to another.
In home-discipline, parents should act harmoniously and cooperate with each other. They should be of one mind and of one heart, and equally bear the burden. The one should not oppose the discipline which the other is administering. This destroys its effect, and leaves the child in a state of indecision, leading to prejudice against one or the other of the parents. It too often happens that parents thus take opposite sides, -- the father too severe perhaps, and the mother too indulgent. Thus divided, their house must fall. Nothing is more ruinous to the child than for the mother to counteract by soothing opiates, the admonitions of the father. Children soon see this, and will as soon hate their father. When one parent thus holds the reins without the rod, and the other uses the rod without the reins, the very ends of discipline are frustrated. Sometimes the child is given over to the mother exclusively till a certain age, when the father begins to act without the mother. This is wrong. A child is never too young to be ruled by the father, and never too old to come under the softening influence of the mother.
Discipline should be administered with impartiality. Never make one child a favorite. Favoritism and consequent indulgence, will produce prejudice against the other children. It will introduce dissension among them. This is unworthy the Christian parent and his home. The history of Jacob and Joseph, as regards both the subject and the victim of parental favoritism, is a warning against such partiality. It produces, pride, envy, jealousy, family broils and strife, in which even the parents take a part, and by which the husband is often set against his wife, parents against children, and children against each other.
Correction is an essential element of true discipline. "The rod and the reproof give wisdom." There are two things in correction, -- the reins and the whip, or the command and the chastisement. The one should not take the place of the other. The scepter must not be converted into a whip. If the reins are properly held and used, the whip need scarcely ever be required. If the child is timely and properly trained, commanded and chided, he will not require much chastisement, -- perhaps no corporeal punishment. It is better to prevent crimes than to punish them; for prevention is more than cure.
Hence the first thing in discipline is timely and wholesome command. Guide and train your child properly, and you need seldom resort to coercion. Training and leading are better than forcing. By the former you establish a habit of systematic obedience which will soon become a pleasure to the child. By the latter you jade and vex and burden him. But when the reins will not do alone, then the whip must be resorted to. And the question at once arises, what kind of a whip? We answer, not such as you use to your horses and oxen in the team, -- not the horse-whip. Corporeal punishment should be used only as a last resort, when all other corrections have failed, when the child becomes an outlaw, and his reprobate heart can be reached only through the infliction of bodily pain. As a general thing it is even then unavailing, because too mechanical to produce permanent good, and not adapted to mental and moral reformation.
Sometimes, however, there is necessity in the use of this rod. "Every child," says Dr. South, "has some brute in it, and some man in it, and just in proportion to the brute we must whip it." When thus necessary we should not shrink from this kind of correction. "It is pusillanimity, as well as folly, to shrink from the crushing of the egg, but to wait composedly for the hatching of the viper." Yet, on the other hand, in the language of Dr. Bell, "a maximum of attainment can be made only by a minimum of punishment."
In the discipline of home, whether by guidance or by forcing, whether by the rein or the rod, much depends upon the manner in which it is administered. It should always be adapted to the peculiar character and offense of the child. You can restrain some children better by kind words and promises than by rough admonitions and threats. Study, therefore, the peculiarities of your child, and prudently apportion the correction to the offense. If there are sincere penitence and confession, the correction should be purely moral. Let the object of every correction be to produce penitence and reformation of heart as well as of conduct, and a hatred of the offense. Always execute your threats and fulfill your promises at the time and on the occasion designated. Threaten as little as possible, and be not hasty in your threats. Treat your children as rational and moral beings:
"Be obeyed when thou commandest, but command not often; Spare not, if thy word hath passed for punishment;
Always examine the offense before you punish. See whether it is of ignorance or not, -- whether of the head or the heart, -- whether intentional or accidental. Examine his motives in committing the offense. If you find he merits correction, before you inflict it, lay before him the nature and enormity of the offense, wherein he disobeyed, the guilt of that disobedience, its consequences, and your duty to correct him for it.
Never correct in a state of anger. Some correct only when they are in a violent passion. This is ruling from passion, not from principle. It is like administering medicine scalding hot, which rather burns than cures. Be judicious and kind in all your discipline; otherwise you may engender in your child the very propensities and improprieties of action you desire to eradicate. A mild rebuke in the season of calmness, is better than a rod in the heat of passion. Let your children know and see that all your discipline is for their own good, -- to arrest them from danger and ruin, and to train them up in the way God would have them go. Let your words and deeds show this in the form of parental kindness and sympathy and solicitude. This will do more than the angry look, the stormy threat, and the cruel lash.
"By kindness the wolf and the zebra become docile as the spaniel and the horse;