Guest Writer Sabine Baring-Gould
“And himself believed, and his whole house” (John 4:13).
As the tree so the fruit, as the parents so the children, as the master so his men, as the mistress so her household. This is not indeed a rule without exception; but as a general rule, it holds. No man lives and dies to himself (Romans 14:7), we are all members one of another (12:5), and we all influence the conduct of others, and determine their careers, more than we ourselves imagine.
It is not, indeed, always true that good parents have good children, but it is generally the case. It is not always that bad parents have bad children, but it is exceptional when it is otherwise. Indeed, the virtues of parents become in some way inherent in their offspring, and the vices of parents last in the blood of their children, and even descend to their children’s children. How often is this the case with a tendency to drink! Although the child may have lost his parent young, and not seen his bad example, yet he has in him a yearning after stimulants, and often becomes a drunkard like his father.
Let us, today, consider the effect of the example of parents on their children; and of teachers on their pupils.
There is a striking passage in John 5 that may not up to now have attracted your attention. One Sabbath Day our Blessed Lord went to Bethesda, and there healed a man who had had an infirmity thirty-eight years. He healed him, and told him to take up his bed, and walk (5:8). The Jews were angry, and said to the healed man, “It is the Sabbath Day, it is not lawful for you to carry your bed” (5:10). Then we are told the Jews did persecute Jesus, and sought to slay Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath Day.
“But Jesus answered them: My Father works, and I work” (5:17). That is to say—My Father works on the Sabbath, He sends His rain, He makes the grass to grow, He feeds the young ravens, He causes the sun to rise and set, He works good to all creatures, feeds, and heals, and as I see my Father act, so, naturally, as a Son, I act also. Whatever the Son sees the Father do, He does likewise. The argument of the Jews avails nothing, that as the man has lain infirm for thirty-eight years, he may lie another twelve hours. “My Father works good on the Sabbath, and therefore I work.” It matters nothing what the Law may enjoin, nor how strict may be the tradition of the Pharisees, “My Father works good on the Sabbath, and therefore I work.” Our Lord produces this as an argument against which there can be no resistance, to which there can be no reply, an argument commending itself to every man’s understanding—to universal experience: as the father acts, so acts the son. The example of the father is the law of right and wrong to the child.
Do you know the fable of the crab and his children? The crab was sore distressed to see his little ones run crookedly on the sand of the seashore, so he said, “My sons, walk straight!” “Yes,” answered the little crabs, “lead the way, father, and we will follow your footsteps.”
Is it a wonder to you, a wonder and a distress, that your sons do not turn out well, that they go to the public-house too much, and that they are idle workmen, that they swear and use foul language? If you wish them to grow up differently, it is of no use saying to them, “My sons, walk straight!” You must lead the way, that they may follow.
Is it a wonder and grief to a mother that her girls become giddy, frivolous, and unsteady, and perhaps cause her shame? Do you want them to be quiet, to stay at home, and be neat, modest, unselfish girls? Then do not be giddy and a gadabout yourself. “Lead the way, mother, and they will follow.”
Do you, parents, find that your children ramble about the lanes with idle companions instead of coming to church on Sundays, that they do not love the worship of God, that they do not fear God, and reverence His sanctuary? Do you want them to be God-fearing, pious, consistent Christians? Then do you lead the way, and they will follow.
Do you want your boys and girls to hold a check on their tongues, and not to be always wrangling and snapping at one another, scolding, and finding fault, and quarreling? Then do you lead the way, that they may follow. Lead the way by keeping a check on your tongue, by being gentle and forbearing—you, husband and wife, one with another, not given to railing, but, contrariwise, to blessing.
You may have observed how often in Holy Scripture the expression recurs, “The God of your Father,” or “The God of your Fathers,” “The God of my Father,” or “of my Fathers.” This is a remarkable expression. Is God short of names that He should be thus designated? Might He not be better termed Almighty, Everlasting, Jehovah? The expression is of such frequent recurrence that it must have a meaning—and this is what it means. There is such a thing as an hereditary religion. As a man regards God, so will his children regard Him. If a man is reverent and devout, and shows that he honors God, and regards Him as a just and righteous God, hating iniquity, and rewarding all those who keep His commandments, then his children will grow up regarding God as just and righteous; but if a man thinks of God as indifferent to righteousness, as so ready in His kindness to forgive everything, and let men do what they like, that He will pardon them for any and everything they do, then his sons will grow up looking on God as the great Author of moral disorder among men. If a man regards God as expecting worship and honor, then the sons will grow up with the same idea of God, and will worship and honor Him; and if a man has no God at all, then his sons will also have no God at all.
In Exodus God warns that He will “visit the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the children’s children, to the third and to the fourth generations” (20:5). In like manner He blesses a whole posterity for the righteousness of their parents. You see now how and why this is. It is because when a father and mother are wicked, their children grow up wicked also, and their children’s children, till the whole family dies out through its vicious habits, or there rises out of it some redeeming element of good.
In the same way good parents have good children, and these good children marry, and have also good offspring, and so the goodness of one pious and righteous pair goes on descending and spreading like a fertilizing river, bearing blessings to all who are near it. What an encouragement this is to you parents to lead God-fearing lives! What a warning to those of you who are careless! The belief of the ruler brought belief to his whole house. The salvation of Zacchaeus brought salvation to his whole house also. Righteousness may bring a blessing to your children, and children’s children, for many generations.
“Children’s children are the crown of old men; and the glory of children are their fathers” (Proverbs 17:6).
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Tater Du Light, Cornwall, England
*Adapted from Sabine Baring-Gould [1834-1924], The Village Pulpit, Volume II. Trinity to Advent / A Complete Course of 66 Short Sermons, or Full Sermon Outlines for Each Sunday, and Some Chief Holy Days of the Christian Year (London: Skeffington & Son, 1886), sermon 58. Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.