A Sermon delivered in St. Philip’s Church on Sunday, 27th April, 1828, by the Reverend Peter Williams.
Proverbs, xxix. chap. 15th verse A child left to himself bringeth his mother to Shame.
I have chosen these words of Solomon as our text, because each one must be convinced from his own observation, they are true.
The proverbs of Solomon, from which they are taken, prove that he was indeed the wisest of men. In them we find the most excellent lessons for our government under all the relations and conditions of life. Of the manner in which men should bring up their children, and the consequences of bringing them up properly, or otherwise, he spoke frequently and largely : and parents of all ages have found it their wisdom to conform to his precepts.
The responsibilities of parents; the discipline which they should exercise towards their children, and the consequences of using or neglecting such discipline, are the particulars, to which by God’s help, I shall now direct your thoughts.
Children are God’s heritage. They are a treasure committed to our care by the Almighty : a treasure more valuable than all the gold and silver of the earth; a treasure by bestowing upon which due care, we shall increase our temporal and eternal happiness, but by neglecting of which, we shall render our days on earth the miserable and fall under condemnation before the bar of God.
Next to our own souls, children are the most sacred charge which can be committed to our keeping. Endued as well as ourselves with a capacity to know, to serve and to enjoy God; and with immortal souls, which must dwell with Him and Holy Angels for ever, or with devils and damned spirits in hell, according as they have spent their days on earth, it is required of us (as the instruments of their being) that we should endeavor to lead them in that way, by which they may glorify God, and obtain everlasting happiness.
As plants destined (if found meet) to adorn the gardens of the celestial Paradise, or (if otherwise) to perish in unquenchable flames, it is required of us, to whom the care of rearing them is committed, to spare no pains, that when God shall remove them from the earth, they may be transplanted to a happier soil. If for every talent which God has placed in our keeping, he holds us responsible, how great is the responsibility he has laid us under, in giving us children to rear; beings made in his own image, redeemed by the blood of his only Son, and destined to live forever. Having created them for the high and glorious purpose of inhabiting his Heavenly Kingdom, and redeemed them at an infinite price, he has the most tender regard for them; and that we, to whom he has intrusted the work of rearing them, may not be found lacking in this duty, he has in his blessed Word given us copious instructions upon the subject : and has enforced those instructions by the richest promises of reward, and the most awful threatenings of punishment. O should we neglect these instructions, and instead of striving to train them up in a proper manner, leave them to themselves, or as is not unfrequently the case, should we train them up for ruin, how guilty shall we be – throw away your gold and silver, let your cattle starve, let your houses fall to decay, and your bodies suffer for the want of food and raiment. These are comparatively little matters – but do not neglect to “train up your children in the way in which they should go.”
God who has given them to you has accompanied the gift with this special charge. To him you stand accountable for the manner in which you fulfil it, and the day is coming in the which he will summon you to that account.
I might add, that we are not only responsible to GOD, for the training up of our children, but also to our fellow men. He who neglects to give his children proper instruction, and to rear them under proper discipline, violates the duty which he owes to society. Whatever his conduct in other respects may be, such a man does not deserve to be ranked as a good citizen; because children thus neglected, instead of becoming useful members of the community, usually become its pests. The laws of society in some cases, punish parents for the crimes of their children. This is right, and without pretending to superior wisdom in legislation, I do not hesitate to say, that if this was done more frequently, society would be much benefitted and improved. So much does the future welfare of a nation, depend upon the care which parents take in bringing up their offspring, that it must be ranked among the highest duties which a man owes to his country, to bring them up in a proper manner.
As parents are thus responsible to God and their country, for the disciplining of their little ones, let us in the second place, enquire into the particulars of this duty.
To every child born into the world, there is offered the choice between two roads: the one leading to misery and death, the other to life and happiness. But such is the natural perversity of man’s heart, that left to itself it invariably inclines to the evil way. “Man is born like the wild asses’ colt,” disposed to go astray from his birth. “Born in air and shapen in iniquity, the imagination of his heart is evil from his youth.” Restraint therefore is indispensible to the leading of him in the good way. Nor is any restraint sufficient for this, (however severe it may be) without the assistance of God’s Holy Spirit. Human means cannot always restrain men from sinful actions nor compel them to that which is good. Much less can they control the desires and movements of the heart. Still human means must not be neglected. God has enjoined their use, and by accompanying them with the energetic and sanctifying influences of his spirit, often readers them effectual to the end. “Foolishness, says he, is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” The rod and reproof [?] give wisdom, but a child left to itself, bringeth his mother to shame. “Parents provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture of the Lord.” The design of our Heavenly Father in giving us being, is our happiness, and to this end, he calls us to the performance of various duties towards God, our neighbour, and ourselves. But the corruption of our hearts, the temptations of the world and the stratagems of the devil, place such obstacles in our way, that we are ever in danger of being turned into the paths of ruin. Now it is the duty of parents, to teach their children what the duties are which they are bound to fulfil, and to use every effort to bring them to fulfil them. It is their duty also to teach them, what the blessedness is, which God has promised to bestow upon those who obey his commandments; and to point out the obstacles and dangers which beset their way, and how they may escape the dangers, overcome the obstacles, and gain the mark of the prize of their high calling.
Their first duty (first in regard of its importance) is to teach them to love and fear God.
As soon as the understanding of the child will admit, the parent should teach it that there is a God; a Being infinitely Great, Powerful, Wise and Good, who made the heavens and the earth, and all that they contain; that this Being has taught men what they should do and what they should avoid; that he loves, and will bless with his favour in this life, and with everlasting happiness in a future state, those who do what he has commanded, but will sorely punish in this world, and much more in the world to come, those who do what he has forbidden. He should then teach the child that man is naturally a sinful creature, deserving of nothing but God’s wrath, but that God in his mercy gave his Son Jesus, to suffer death in his stead, and through him offers to pardon the sins of all who truly repent. Then he should teach it to call upon God by prayer. To reverence his Holy Name, to observe the Sabbath as a Holy Day, to go up to the Lord’s House and to venerate all the ordinances of the religion of Christ.
And this instruction must not only be given by precept, but also by example, for children observe much more carefully what their parents do, than what they say, and are much more ready to imitate their actions, than to follow their precepts.
Moreover this instruction, if not otherwise heeded must be enforced by sharp reproof, by severe restraint, and even by the strokes of the rod. “He that spareth the rod, says Solomon, hateth his son, but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” 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 shall deliver his soul from hell.
The rod, however, should in all cases be the last resort. Milder methods should be first fairly tried, and not until these have failed in producing submission, should the rod be used; and then never should it be used in wrath.
Source: Freedom’s Journal 1828-06-06
Collection: African American Newspapers
Title: Original Communication – Education
Rev. Peter Williams Jr. (1780 – 1840) was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Williams grew up to become active in the Methodist Church. In 1818, with the blessings of prominent white Methodist minister Rev. Thomas Lyell, Williams organized a black congregation in Harlem, St. Philip’s African Church. He was the first African-American Episcopalian minister in the United States. As a young man, Williams tutored James McCune Smith while he was attending The African Free School.