Few fathers are fitted for the responsibility of training their children. They, themselves, need strict discipline that they may learn self-control, forbearance, and sympathy. Until they possess these attributes they are not capable of properly teaching their children. What can we say to awaken the moral sensibilities of fathers, that they may understand and undertake their duty to their offspring? The subject is of intense interest and importance, having a bearing upon the future welfare of our country. We would solemnly impress upon fathers, as well as mothers, the grave responsibility they have assumed in bringing children into the world. It is a responsibility from which nothing but death can free them. True the chief care and burden rests upon the mother during the first years of her children’s lives, yet even then the father should be her stay and counsel, encouraging her to lean upon his large affections, and assisting her as much as possible.
The father’s duty to his children should be one of his first interests. It should not be set aside for the sake of acquiring a fortune, or of gaining a high position in the world. In fact, those very conditions of affluence and honor frequently separate a man from his family, and cut off his influence from them more than anything else. If the father would have his children develop harmonious characters, and be an honor to him and a blessing to the world, he has a special work to do. God holds him responsible for that work. In the great day of reckoning it will be asked him: Where are the children that I entrusted to your care to educate for me, that their lips might speak my praise, and their lives be as a diadem of beauty in the world, and they live to honor me through all eternity?
In some children the moral powers strongly predominate. They have power of will to control their minds and actions. In others the animal passions are almost irresistible. To meet these diverse temperaments, which frequently appear in the same family, fathers, as well as mothers, need patience and wisdom from the divine Helper. There is not so much to be gained by punishing children for their transgressions, as by teaching them the folly and heinousness of their sin, understanding their secret inclinations, and laboring to bend them toward the right. . . .
The teachings of Jesus unfold to the father modes of reaching the human heart, and impressing upon it important lessons of truth and right. Jesus used the familiar objects of nature to illustrate and intensify his meaning. He drew lessons from every-day life, the occupations of men, and their dealing with one another.
The father should frequently gather his children around him, and lead their minds into channels of moral and religious light. He should study their different tendencies and susceptibilities, and reach them through the plainest avenues. Some may be best influenced through veneration and the fear of God; others through the manifestation of his benevolence and wise providence, calling forth their deep gratitude; others may be more deeply impressed by opening before them the wonders and mysteries of the natural world, with all its delicate harmony and beauty, which speak to their souls of Him who is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and all the beautiful things therein.
Children who are gifted with the talent or love of music may receive impressions that will be life-long, by the judicious use of those susceptibilities as the medium for religious instruction. They may be taught that if they are not right with God they are like a discord in the divine harmony of creation, like an instrument out of tune, giving forth discordant strains more grievous to God than harsh, inharmonious notes are to their own fine musical ear.
Many may be reached best through sacred pictures, illustrating scenes in the life and mission of Christ. By this means truths may be vividly imprinted upon their minds, never to be effaced. The Roman Catholic church understands this fact, and appeals to the senses of the people through the charm of sculpture and paintings. While we have no sympathy for image worship, which is condemned by the law of God, we hold that it is proper to take advantage of that almost universal love of pictures in the young, to fasten in their minds valuable moral truths, to bind the gospel to their hearts by beautiful imagery illustrating the great moral principles of the Bible. Even so our Saviour illustrated his sacred lessons by the imagery found in God’s created works.
It will not do to lay down an iron rule by which every member of the family is forced into the same discipline. It is better to exert a milder sway, and when any special lesson is required, to reach the consciences of the youth through their individual tastes, and marked points of character. While there should be uniformity in the family discipline, it should be varied to meet the wants of different members of the family. It should be the parents’ study not to arouse the combativeness of their children, not to excite them to anger and rebellion, but to interest them, and inspire them with a desire to attend to the highest intelligence and perfection of character. This can be done in a spirit of Christian sympathy and forbearance, the parents realizing the peculiar dangers of their children, and firmly, yet kindly, restraining their propensities to sin.
The parents, especially the father, should guard against the danger of their children learning to look upon him as a detective, peering into all their actions, watching and criticizing them, ready to seize upon and punish them for every misdemeanor. The father’s conduct upon all occasions should be such that the children will understand that his efforts to correct them spring from a heart full of love for them. When this point is gained, a great victory is accomplished. Fathers should have a sense of their children’s human want and weakness, and his sympathy and sorrow for the erring ones should be greater than any sorrow they can feel for their own misdeeds. This will be perceived by the corrected child, and will soften the most stubborn heart.
The father, as priest and house-band of the family circle, should stand to them as nearly in the place of Christ as possible—a sufferer for those who sin, one who, though guiltless, endures the pains and penalty of his children’s wrongs, and, while he inflicts punishment upon them, suffers more deeply under it than they do.
But if the father exhibits a want of self-control before his children, how can he teach them to govern their wrong propensities? If he displays anger or injustice, or evidence that he is the slave of any evil habit, he loses half his influence over them. Children have keen perceptions, and draw sharp conclusions; precept must be followed by example to have much weight with them. If the father indulges in the use of any hurtful stimulant, or falls into any other degrading habit, how can he maintain his moral dignity before the watchful eyes of his children? . . .
The dangers of youth are many. There are innumerable temptations to gratify appetite in this land of plenty. Young men in our cities are brought face to face with this sort of temptation every day. They fall under deceptive allurements to gratify appetite, without the thought that they are endangering health. The young frequently receive the impression that happiness is to be found in freedom from restraint, and in the enjoyment of forbidden pleasures and self-gratification. This enjoyment is purchased at the expense of the physical, mental, and moral health, and turns to bitterness at last.
How important, then, that fathers look well after the habits of their sons, and their associates. And first of all he should see that no perverted appetite holds him in bondage, lessening his influence with his sons, and sealing his lips on the subject of self-indulgence in regard to hurtful stimulants.
Man can do much more for God and his fellow-man if he is in the vigor of health than if he is suffering from disease and pain. Tobacco-using, liquor-drinking, and wrong habits of diet, induce disease and pain which incapacitate man for the use he might be in the world. Nature, being outraged, makes her voice heard, sometimes in no gentle tones of remonstrance, in fierce pains and extreme debility. For every indulgence of unnatural appetite the physical health suffers, the brain loses its clearness to act and discriminate. The father, above all others, should have a clear, active mind, quick perceptions, calm judgment, physical strength to support him in his arduous duties, and most of all the help of God to order his acts aright. He should therefore be entirely temperate, walking in the fear of God, and the admonition of his law, mindful of all the small courtesies and kindnesses of life, the support and strength of his wife, a perfect pattern for his sons to follow, a counselor and authority for his daughters. He should stand forth in the moral dignity of a man free from the slavery of evil habits and appetites, qualified for the sacred responsibilities of educating his children for the higher life.
The Signs of the Times, December 20, 1877.
Ellen G. White (1827–1915) wrote more than 5,000 periodical articles and 40 books during her lifetime. Today, including compilations from her 50,000 pages of manuscript, more than 100 titles are available in English. She is the most translated woman writer in the entire history of literature, and the most translated American author of either gender. Seventh-day Adventists believe that Mrs. White was appointed by God as a special messenger to draw the world’s attention to the Holy Scriptures and help prepare people for Christ’s second advent.