"Alas! for a thousand fathers, whose indulgent sloth Hath emptied the vial of confusion over a thousand homes. Alas! for the palaces and hovels, that might have been nurseries for heaven,
By hot intestine broils blighted into schools for hell; None knoweth his place, yet all refuse to serve,
None weareth the crown, yet all usurp the scepter;
The mother, heart-stricken years agone, hath dropped into an early grave; The silent sisters long to leave a home they cannot love; The brothers, casting off restraint, follow their wayward wills."

Home is a little commonwealth jointly governed by the parents. It involves law. The mutual relation of parent and child implies authority on the one hand, and obedience on the other. This is the principle of all government. Home is the first form of society. As such it must have a government. Its institution implies the prerogatives of the parent and the subordination of the child. Without this there would be no order, no harmony, no training for the state or the church; for --

"Society is a chain of obligations, and its links support each other; The branch cannot but wither that is cut from the parent vine."

The relation of the parent to the child is that of a superior to an inferior. The right of the parent is to command; the duty of the child is to obey. Hence it is the relation of authority to subordination. This relation includes the principles of home-government. The parent is not the author of his authority. It is delegated to him. Neither can he make arbitrary laws for home; these must be the laws of God. It is as much the duty of the parent to rule as it is for the child to be ruled.

The principle of home-government is love, -- love ruling and obeying according to law. These are exercised, as it were, by the instinct of natural affection as taken up and refined by the Christian life and faith. This government implies reciprocity of right, -- the right of the parent to govern and the right of the child to be governed. It is similar in its fundamentals to the government of the state and church. It involves the legislative, judicial and executive functions; its elements are law, authority, obedience, and penalties. The basis of its laws is the Word of God. We may consider the whole subject under two general heads, viz., parental authority, and filial obedience.

1. Parental authority is threefold, legislative, judicial and executive. The two latter we shall more fully consider under the head of home-discipline. The legislative authority of the parent is confined to the development of God's laws for the Christian home. He cannot enact arbitrary laws. His authority is founded on his relation to his children as the author of their being; "yet it does not admit," says Schlegel, "of being set forth and comprised in any exact and positive formularies." It does not, as in the old Roman law, concede to the parent the power over the life of the child. This would not only violate the law of natural affection, but would be an amalgamation of the family and state. Neither is the parental authority merely conventional, given to the parent by the state as a policy. It is no civil or political investiture, making the parent a delegated civil ruler; but comes from God as an in alienable right, and independent, as such, of the state. It does not, therefore, rest upon civil legislation, but has its foundation in human nature and the revealed law of God; neither can the state legislate upon it, except in cases where its exercise becomes an infringement upon the prerogatives of the state itself.

Parents are magistrates under God, and, as His stewards, cannot abdicate their authority, nor delegate it to another. Neither can they be tyrants in the exercise of it. God has given to them the principles of home-legislation, the standard of judicial authority, and the rules of their executive power. God gives the law. The parent is only deputy governor, -- steward, "bound to be faithful." Hence the obligation of the child to obey the steward is as great as that to obey the Master. "Where the principal is silent, take heed that thou despise not the deputy."

Here, then, we have the extent of the parent's authority, and the spirit and manner in which it should be exercised. His power is grafted on the strength of another, and should not extend beyond it. Its exercise should not run into despotism on the one hand, nor into indifferentism on the other. According to the vagaries of some religious sentimentalists and fanatics, it is supposed that religion supersedes the necessity of parental government. They think that such authority runs counter to the spirit and requisitions of the gospel. But this is asserted in the broad face of God's Word. The promptings of such sentimentalism are to permit children to do as they please, and to bring them up under the influence of domestic libertinism. Honor thy father and thy mother, is a command which explodes such a gaudy theory; and he who does not obey it, brutalizes human nature, dishonors God, subverts the principles of constitutional society, throws off allegiance to the prerogatives of a divinely constituted superior, and overthrows both church and state. Hence the severe penalties attached, in the Mosaic law, to disobedience of parental authority. "He that curseth his father or mother, shall surely be put to death." "The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it." And hence also that affectionate obedience which Joseph yielded to his aged father, and that profound veneration with which he kneeled before him to receive his dying blessing.

2. Filial obedience is the correlative of parental authority. If parents have authority, children must yield obedience to it. This is not only necessary to home-government, but also to the proper formation of the character of the child. It must be trained up under law and authority to prepare it for citizenship in the state. This must be the obedience of confidence and love. It does not imply the subordination of the slave.

As the father's authority is not that of the despot, so the obedience of the child is not that of the servile, trembling subject. It is not unnatural, -- no infringement upon the rights and liberties of the child. His subordination to the parent is the law of his liberty. He is not free without it. The home in which filial obedience is not yielded to parental authority is "a marvel of permitted chaos," and will soon become desolate, a scene of anarchy and strife. The members live in a state of lawlessness, destitute of reciprocated affection, -- the parent unhonored, the father and mother despised and cursed, and the child untrained, uncared for, lawless, and unfit for the state or the church.

If, therefore, God has constituted governmental relations in the Christian home, and invested the parent with authority over his children, who will deny the coordinate obligations of the child to yield reverence, submission and gratitude to the parent? "Children, obey your parents in all thing's; for this is well pleasing unto the Lord."

This is called the first commandment with promise. It is one of promise both to the parent and the child. Children are bound to obey their parents in all things, that is, in all things lawful and in accordance with the revealed will of God. The child is not bound to obey the parent's command to sin, -- to lie, steal, or neglect the means of grace; because these are express violations of God's law; and in such instances the authority of God supersedes that of the parent. Obey God rather than man.

But, on the other hand, the obligation of the child is, to obey the parent in all things lawful and Christian. Where this is not done the Christian home becomes a curse. What an evil is a refractory child! How often does the parental eye weep in bitterness over such a child! How often have such children brought their parents down in sorrow to the grave! Let them think of this. Let parents think of this before it is too late. Let them think of the fearful criminality which is attached to parental indulgence and filial disobedience.

We may neglect and abuse the home-government in two ways, either by over-indulgence, or by the iron rod of tyranny. When we make it lax in its restraints and requisitions, it becomes merely nominal, and its laws are never enforced and obeyed. Often parents voluntarily relinquish their right and duty to rule their household; and as a consequence, their children abandon the duty of obedience, and grow up in a lawless state; or if they do command, they never execute their commands, but leave all to the discretion of their children. They violate their laws with impunity, until all influence over them is lost, and the child becomes master of the parent. The self-will of the former takes the place of the authority of the latter, until at last the home-government becomes a complete farce and mockery. Such parents are always making laws and giving commands; but never enforce them; they complain that they cannot get their children to obey them; and this cannot is but the utterance and exponent of their unfaithfulness and disgrace.

The opposite abuse of home-government is parental despotism, -- ruling with a rod of iron, making slaves of children, acting the unfeeling and heartless tyrant over them, assuming towards them attitudes of hard task-masters, and making them obey from motives of trembling, fear and dread.

There is no christianity in all this. It engenders in them the spirit of a slave; it roots out all confidence and love; their obedience becomes involuntary and mechanical. They shrink in silent dread from the presence of their parents, and long for the time when they can escape their galling yoke. The parental rod destroys the filial love and confidence. Hence the obedience of the latter is servile; and home loses its tender affections and sympathies, and becomes to them a workhouse, a confinement; its restrictions are a yoke; its interests are repulsive, and all its natural affinities give way to complete alienation. The children of such homes, when grown up, are the most lawless and reckless, ready at once to pass over from extreme servitude to libertinism.

The government of the Christian home lies in a medium between these two extremes. It is mild, yet decisive, firm; not lawless, yet not despotic; but combines in proper order and harmony, the true elements of parental authority and filial subordination. Love and fear harmonize; the child fears because he loves; and is prompted to obedience by both. "But give thy son his way, he will hate thee and scorn thee together."

Christian parents! be faithful to the government of your household. Like Abraham, command your household. Without this, your children will be your curse and the curse of the state. Wherever they go they will become the standard-bearer of the turbulent, and brandish the torch of discord, until at last, perhaps, they will die in a dungeon or upon the gibbet. And then the curse will recoil upon you. It will strike deep into your hearts. It will come to you in the darkness of unfulfilled promises and blighted hopes and injured affections and desolated homes and wounded spirits and disgraced names and infamous memories! And you, in the face of these, will go down with bleeding sorrow to the grave, and up to the bar of God with the blood of your children's destruction upon your skirts, its voice crying unto you from the grave of infamy and from the world of eternal retribution. You will then see the folly and the fruits of your diseased affection and misguided indulgence, --

"A kindness, -- most unkind, that hath always spared the rod; A weak and numbing indecision in the mind that should be master; A foolish love, pregnant of hate, that never frowned on sin; A moral cowardice, that never dared command!"

chapter xvii family habits
Top of Page
Top of Page