All human hearts! A bad example more;
More still a father's!"
Example has much to do with the interests of home. It plays an important part in the formation of character; and its influence is felt more than that of precept. Our object in this chapter is to show the bearing of example upon the well-being of the Christian home. Example may be good or bad. Its power arises out of the home-confidence and authority. Children possess an imitative disposition. They look up to their parents as the pattern or model of their character, and conclude what they do is right and worthy of their imitation. Hence the parental example may lead the child to happiness or to ruin.
"Lo! thou art a landmark on a hill; thy little ones copy thee in all things.
The power and influence of the home-example are incalculable. Example is teaching by action. By it the child inherits the spirit and character of the parent. Such is its influence that you can estimate the parent by the child. Show me a child, polite, courteous, refined, moral and honorable in all his sentiments and conduct; and I will point you to a well-conducted nursery, to noble and high-minded parents, faithful to their offspring. Theirs is a holy and a happy home; and the blessing of God rests upon it. But on the other hand, in the wayward, dissolute child I discern unfaithful parents who have no respect for religion, and who take no interest in the spiritual welfare of their children. Thus the child is a living commentary upon its home and its parents. The fruits of the latter will be seen in the character of the former. The child is the moral reproduction of the parent. Hence the pious parent is rewarded in his child, and the immoral parent is cursed in his child. Whatsoever thou sowest in thy child, that shalt thou also reap.
[Illustration: Sunshine of Youth.]
The precepts of home are unavailing unless enforced by a corresponding example. Nothing is so forcible and encouraging as the "Follow me." It proves sincerity and earnestness; and is adapted to the imitative capacity and disposition of the child. It is all-commanding and resistless. Says Solomon, "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." Says Paul "It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak." Says Shakspeare, "One drunkard loves another of the name." Says Dr. Young --
"Ambition fires ambition; love of gain
If such is the influence of example, we must admit the necessity of a true Christian example in the family. It is necessary because it is the condition of the efficacy of home-precepts. "During the minority of reason, imitation is the regent of the soul, and they who are least swayed by argument are most governed by example." We learn from example before we can speak. Hence if we would have our children walk in the way of God's commandments, we must go before them; we must take the lead; we must exemplify in our action what we incorporate in our oral instructions; our light must shine not only upon, but before them; they must see our good works as well as hear our good precepts. Said a man once to J.A. James, "I owe everything under God, to the eminent and consistent piety of my father. So thoroughly consistent was he, that I could find nothing in the smallest degree at variance with his character as a professor of religion. This kept its hold upon me." It was the means of his conversion to God.
Thus children readily discern any discrepancy between a parent's teaching and example. If we are professors of religion, and they see us worldly-minded, grasping after riches, pleasures and honors; the dupes of ungodly fashion, manifesting a malicious spirit, indolent, prayerless, and indifferent to their spiritual welfare, what do they infer but that we are hypocrites, and will our precepts then do them any good? No. "Line upon line and precept upon precept" will be given to no purpose. Hence the necessity of enforcing our precepts by Christian deportment. Speak in an angry tone before your child; and what will it avail for you to admonish him against anger? Many parents express surprise that all they can say to their children does no good; they remain stubborn, self-willed and recreant.
But if these parents will look at what they have done as well as said, they will perhaps be less surprised. They may find a solution of the problem in their own capricious disposition, turbulent passions and ungodly walk. The child will soon discard a parent's precepts when they are not enforced by a parent's example. Hence that parent who ruins his own soul can do but little for the soul of his child. The blasphemer and sabbath-breaker is unfit to correct his child, for swearing and sabbath-breaking. He alone who doeth the truth can teach his children truth. He only who has good habits can teach his children good habits. "Who loves," says William Jay, "to take his meat from a leprous hand?" A drunkard will make a poor preacher of sobriety. A proud, passionate father is a wretched recommender of humility and meekness to his children. What those who are under his care, see, will more than counteract what they hear; and all his efforts will be rejected with the question, "Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?" Hence parents should say to their children, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." Their example should include all their precepts. In this way they both hear and see religion in its living, moving and breathing form before them. They should thus go in and out before them, leading them step by step to heaven.
"As a bird each fond endearment tries
It is also necessary because of its adaptation to the capacities and imitative disposition of children. They judge by the organs of sense, and by their perceptions of truth through externals. Naked abstract truth does not sufficiently interest them. They are pleased with history, narrative, illustration, more than with philosophy. They are awake to the first and receive from them a lasting impression; while the impression made by the second is dreamy and ephemeral. They will never forget your example because it is adapted to their taste and capacity. Long after they have forgotten your precepts upon the duty and privilege of prayer, will they remember your prayers; and long after the influence of the former has faded, will that of the latter rule and allure them to God. Hence the necessity of a Christian home-example. "If any have children or nephews, let them learn first to show piety at home."
If such, then, are its influence and necessity, we can easily infer the duty of parents to show their children a Christian example. If they form their character upon the approved model of their parents, then the duty to give them a Christian model is very obvious. They will rather follow your ungodly example than obey your godly precepts. "To give children," says Archbishop Tillotson, "good instruction and a bad example, is but beckoning to them with the head to show them the way to heaven -- while you take them by the hand to lead them in the way to hell."
This duty is, therefore, enforced by the most powerful motives. The influence and benefit of a pious example; the promised rewards attending it; the deep curse that attends its absence; the misery which a bad example entails upon all the members of the Christian household; and especially the fruits of both a good and bad example, in eternity, -- all these considerations should prompt you to the faithful performance of this duty. If the members of your household may he ruined here by a bad example, what will be its consequences in the eternal world?
"If men of good lives,
We see a similar inducement to this duty in the blessings and rewards of a pious example. Its blessings are unspeakable both here and hereafter. The temporal and eternal welfare of your home, the hope of meeting your children in heaven, and receiving there the promised reward of your stewardship, depend upon this duty. That family is happy as wall as holy, where the parents rear up their children under the fostering influence of a Christian example.
"Behold his little ones around him! they bask in the sunshine of smile; And infant innocence and joy lighten these happy faces; He is holy, and they honor him; he is loving; and they love him; He is consistent, and they esteem him; he is firm, and they fear him. His house is the palace of peace; for the Prince of peace is there. Even so, from the bustle of life, he goeth to his well-ordered home."
A serious obstacle to the efficacy of a good example is, the too frequent want of agreement in the example of the parents. That of the father often conflicts with and neutralizes that of the mother. They are not one in their example. This the children soon see, and disregard the good rather than the bad example. "How can two walk together except they he agreed?" The child cannot follow the pious father in the way of life, when the ungodly mother secretly and openly draws him back. Operated upon by two opposite influences, he will move between them.
We are here taught the imprudence, and we might add, sin, of pious persons forming a matrimonial alliance with wicked and ungodly persons. In the choice of a companion for life, we should consider an agreement in religious as well as in social character. How many unhappy matches and homes and children and parents have been made by disobedience to the divine precept, "Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers?" Isaac and Rebecca showed their appreciation of this precept in the care they took to procure a pious wife for Jacob. "I am weary of my life," says Rebecca, "because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these, what good shall my life do me?" This should be the solicitude of every Christian parent. Parents should possess unanimity of spirit and practice in making up and giving the home-example. They should walk unitedly, like Zacharias and Elizabeth, in all the ordinances and statutes of the Lord blameless.