The children's patrimony is a vital subject. It involves the great question, what should Christian parents leave to their children as a true inheritance from the Christian home? We shall return but a very brief and general answer.
The idea of the home-inheritance is generally confined to the amount of wealth which descends from the parent to the child. And this is indeed too often the only inheritance of which children can boast. Many parents, who even claim to be Christians, enslave both themselves and their families, to secure for their offspring a large pecuniary patrimony. They prostitute every thing else to this. And hence it often happens that the greatest money-inheritance becomes the children's greatest curse, running them into all the wild and immoral excesses of prodigality; and ending in abject poverty, licentiousness, and disgrace; or perhaps making them like their deluded parents, penurious, covetous, and contracted in all their views and sentiments.
We think, therefore, that the children's patrimony should be more than gold and silver. This may pamper the body, but will afford no food for the mind and spirit. We do not mean by these remarks, that their patrimony should not include wealth. On the other hand, we believe that parents should make pecuniary provision for them, that they may not begin life totally destitute. But we mean, that when this is the only patrimony they receive, it often proves a curse, because it tends to destroy their sympathy with higher interests, exposes them to the uncertainties of wealth, and makes them dependent upon that alone. If it should elude their grasp, all is gone, and they become poor and helpless indeed.
What, therefore, besides wealth, should be the children's patrimony from the Christian home? We briefly answer.
1. A good character. This is more valuable than wealth; for a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches. This character should be physical, intellectual, and moral. Give your children the boon of good health by a proper training to exercise and industry. Transmit to them the patrimony of good physical habits by educating their bodies, and developing their material existence according to the principles of natural law. Develop their intellectual faculties, and enrich them with, the treasures of knowledge. Give character to their minds as well as to their bodies; and they will be blessed with an intellectual dowry which cannot be taken from them, and which will bring them an adequate recompense. Give to your children the patrimony of good and just principles. Train the heart to good morals; fill it with the treasures of virtue, of truth, of justice and of honor. Give it moral stamina. Educate the moral sense of your children. Direct the unfolding powers of their conscience; in a word, develop their moral faculties, and supply them with appropriate nutriment; mould their will; cultivate their emotions; rule their desires and passions; and thus unfold their moral nature according to the rules of God's revealed law.
Such a character, involving a true and vigorous evolution of body, mind and spirit, is an effectual safeguard against the evils of prodigality, the disgrace of penuriousness, and the woes of vice and crime. Their property may burn down, and they may he robbed of their gold; but neither the flame nor the robber can deprive them of their character; their intellectual and moral worth, is beyond the power of man to destroy; no enemy can rob them of those virtues which a well-developed mind and heart afford; they will be to them a standing capital to enrich them in all that is essential to human happiness.
2. A good occupation is another patrimony which should descend to the children of a Christian home. Bring up your children to some useful employment by which they may be able to make a comfortable living; and you thereby give them hundreds, and, perhaps, thousands of dollars per year; you give them a boon which cannot he taken from them. Many parents, hoping to secure for their children a large pecuniary patrimony, will not permit them to learn either a trade or a profession; but let them grow up in indolence and ignorance, unable as well as unwilling, to be useful either to themselves or to others, living for no purpose, and unfit even to take care of what they leave. And when their wealth descends to them, they soon spend it all in a life of dissipation; so that in a few years they find themselves poor, and friendless, and ignorant of all means of a livelihood, without character, without home, without hope, a nuisance to society, a disgrace to their parents, a curse to themselves! But as we have already dwelt upon this subject in the chapter on the choice of pursuits, we shall not enlarge upon it here.
3. True religion is another inheritance which should descend to the children of the Christian home. This is an undefiled and imperishable treasure, which does not become worthless at the grave, but which will continue to increase in preciousness as long as the ages of eternity shall roll on. If through the parent's pious agency, the child comes into possession of this invaluable blessing, there is given to him more than earthly treasure, more than pecuniary competency, more than a good name, or a fair reputation, or a high social position in this life; he receives a title to and personal meetness for, the undefiled and imperishable inheritance of heaven, composed of glittering crowns of glory, of unspeakable joys, and sweet communion with all the loved and cherished there. Thus the fruits of a parent's labor for the salvation of his children constitute an infinitely more valuable patrimony than all the accumulated fruits of his industry in behalf of wealth. All the wealth, and rank, and reputation which may descend from parent to child, can not supersede the necessity of a spiritual patrimony. It is only, as we have seen in a former chapter, when you minister to the spiritual wants of your children and tinge all their thoughts and feelings with a sense of eternity; when your home is made a spiritual nursery; and you work for their eternal benefit, and thereby secure for them the fulfillment of those blessed promises which God has given concerning the children of believing parents, that you leave them a patrimony worthy the Christian home. Such a spiritual patrimony it is within the power of all Christian parents to bestow. And without its enjoyment by your children, you fail to minister unto them as a faithful steward of God. You may minister to their bodies and minds; you may amass for them a fortune; you may give them an education; you may establish them in the most lucrative business; you may fit them for an honorable and responsible position; you may leave them the heritage of social and political influence; and you may caress them with all the passionate fondness of the parental heart and hand; yet, without the heritage of true piety, -- of the true piety of the parent reproduced, in the heart and character of the child, all will be worse than vain, yea, a curse to both the parent and the children.
Having thus briefly pointed out some of the essential features of the children's patrimony, as physical, intellectual, moral, and spiritual, we shall now advert to the principles upon which parents should proceed in the distribution of their property to their children.
They should not give them more than a competency. That they should lay by something for them is conceded by all. This is both a right and a duty. It is included in the obligation to provide for them; and he who does it not "hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel." Natural affection, as well as supernatural faith, stimulates the parent to provide thus for his offspring.
But this does not demand a great fortune; but a simple competency, that is, just enough to meet their immediate wants and emergencies when they enter the world and begin business-life. This competence should correspond with the social position they occupied under the parental roof. It should not go beyond this; it should be just enough to meet the social and financial exigencies of the child. It should be measured also by the peculiar necessities of the child, by his health, abilities and circumstances. "A parent is justified," says Paley in his Moral and Political Philosophy, "in making a difference between his children according as they stand in greater or less need of the assistance of his fortune, in consequence of the difference of their age or sex, or of the situations in which they are placed, or the various success which they have met with."
Now the law of competence does not demand, yea, it forbids, more than a sufficiency to meet these peculiar exigencies of the child. Those parents who seek for more, become parsimonious, unfaithful to the moral interests of their household, and indifferent to all legitimate objects of charity and benevolence. These are indeed but the necessary fruits of unfaithfulness to this law; for the course of God's providence indicates the impossibility of our faithfulness to the duty of Christian beneficence, and at the same time lay up for our children more than a sufficiency. We find indeed, that in almost every instance in which parents have transcended the limits of competence, and thus raised their children above the necessity of doing anything themselves for a subsistence, God has cursed the act, and the canker of His displeasure has consumed this ill-saved property. That curse we see often in the prodigality and dissipation of the children. They walk in the slippery paths of sin, kneel at the altar of Mammon, fare sumptuously every day, as prodigal in spending their fortune as their parents were penurious in amassing it, until at last they come to want, rush into crime, and end their unhappy life in the state's prison, or upon the gibbet.
We see, therefore, that when parents give their children more than what they actually need, they place in their possession the instruments with which, they ruin themselves. History shows that the most wealthy men started out in the world with barely enough, and some, with, nothing; and that generally those who started with an independent fortune ended with less than they started, and many closed their earthly career in abject poverty and misery. Besides, the man who made his fortune knows how to keep and expend it; and in point of happiness derived from property, "there is no comparison between a fortune which, a man acquires by well applied industry, or by a series of success in his business, and one found in his possession or received from another." Let, therefore, the property you leave your children be just enough to meet the exigencies of their situations, and no more; for
"Wealth hath never given happiness, but often hastened misery; Enough hath never caused misery, but often quickened happiness; Enough is less than thy thought, O pampered creature of society, And he that hath more than enough, is a thief of the rights of his brother!"
Parents should be impartial in the distribution of their patrimony among their children. They should never give one more than another unless for very plausible and Christian reasons, such as bad health, peculiar circumstances, of want, &c. They should have no pets, no favorites among them; and care more for one than for another, or indulge one more than another. Neither should they withhold a dowry, from a child as a punishment, unless his crime and character are of such an execrable nature as to warrant the assurance that its bestowment would but enhance his misery. Then indeed, it would be a blessing to withhold it. "A child's vices may be of that sort," says Paley in his Philosophy, "and his vicious habits so incorrigible, as to afford much the same reason for believing that he will waste or misemploy the fortune put into his power, as if he were mad or idiotish, in which, case a parent may treat him as a madman, or an idiot; that is, may deem it sufficient to provide for his support by an annuity equal to his wants and innocent enjoyments, and which he may be restrained from alienating. This seems to be the only case in which a disinherison, nearly absolute, is justifiable."
Neither should parents be capricious in the distribution of their property among their children. They have no right to withhold a dowry from children because they have married against their will, no more than they have a right, for this reason, to disown, them. This would be distributing their property upon the principle of revenge or reward. No parent has a right to indulge a preference founded on such an unreasonable and criminal feeling as revenge. Neither has he a right to distribute his property from considerations of age, sex, merit, or situation. The idea of giving all to the eldest son to perpetuate family wealth, and distinction; or of giving; all to the sons, and withholding from the daughters; or of giving to those children only who were more obsequious in their adherence to their parent's tyrannical requisitions, -- is unreasonable, unchristian, and against the generous dictates of natural affection.
From this whole subject we may infer the infatuation of those parents who toil as the slave in the galley, to amass a large fortune for their children. To accomplish this object they become drudges all their life. They rise early and retire late, deny themselves even the ordinary comforts of life, expend all the time and strength of their manhood, make slaves of their wives and children, and live retired from all society, in order to lay up a fortune for their offspring. To this end they make all things subordinate and subservient; and, indeed, they so greatly neglect their children as to deprive them of even the capacity of enjoying intellectually or morally the patrimony they thus secure for them. They bring them up in gross ignorance of every thing save work: and money. They teach them close-fisted parsimony, and prepare them to lead a life as servile and infatuated as their own. Miserable delusion! "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"
"O cursed lust of gold! when for thy sake