Eunice, The Successful Mother
by John Dickie
WE live confessedly in evil days; but it is much easier to utter a complaint than it is to suggest an effective remedy. And yet many remedies are being suggested. "We will never even begin to advance, till we get rid of strong drink," says one. "It is all owing to ignorance—to imperturbable, dogged ignorance; therefore educate the people," cries another. "Let every member of the Church become a labourer for Christ, and let there be no such thing as a drone seen within the hive," vociferates a third. "Let the Church herself become fervently missionary, "suggests a fourth;" and her mission-loving Lord will recompense her for her zeal abroad by restoring her health at home." "Reform the pulpit," says another; "it is an earnest ministry which is, beyond all else, the one want of the times." Now there is undoubtedly a goodly measure of truth in every one of these and other suggested remedies; but the grand difficulty lies in the application of the right one. While the discussion is going on, we should like to whisper softly into the ear of any Christian parent who nay honour us with an audience, our conviction that, like France in the familiar anecdote, the Church of the day is in special want of mothers. Oh, if Christian mothers could only be persuaded to aim at the highest attainable measure of faithfulness in the discharge of their most responsible trust, the blessed change in the privacy of the closet and of the nursery would speedily become patent on the broader platform of the Church, for the spiritual character of the entire body would be unspeakably improved, even within the compass of a single generation. And the improvement would continue to increase, for, like the impetus of the falling stone, the spiritual progress of the Church would become accelerated by its very motion. In a very brief space of time, drunkenness should be banished out of her borders; true education should attain to a healthy condition; every Christian should be a labourer; the world should be overrun by the beautiful feet of those who were carrying everywhere the gospel of peace; and the pulpit of every land should recover much of its Pentecostal power. And why should not all these things be so;—Christian mother, why? You cannot constrain other parents to commence at once this desirable reform; but this does not affect your responsibility in regard to one. You can bring no more than a single recruit towards the formation of this great army of Christian mothers which our times demand; still, you can bring this one recruit—will you do it? And if you only enlist in this company yourself—if you faithfully carry on your appointed service with sufficient heartiness, God shall bless your example, not only to your own household, but to other mothers; and if you have patience to wait a little, you shall find that the one recruit has come to count for more than one.
In Eunice, we have the example of a successful mother; and what an unspeakable blessing to thousands, has the devout and modest home-life of that simple-minded woman been. Through her son, she still lives and operates for blessing; for if there had been no Eunice, there would have been no Timothy. Could not you, Christian mother, do as she did? That boy of yours—what hinders that he grow up into another Timothy? It is certainly doubtful whether he will; but half of the doubt, at least, lies here. Will his mother make herself another Eunice? A very large proportion of the eminent servants of God have in every age been indebted, under God, to maternal nurture for their piety and their usefulness. Nay, we might state the case more strongly, and affirm that a large proportion of those who are converted at all have been indebted for their piety to godly mothers. Some years ago, an association of Christian young men agreed that, if it were prudently gone about, it might be a profitable, as well as an interesting exercise for each of them in turn, to detail his spiritual experience. The exercise occupied several evenings. Of course the stories which were told were most varied; but, amid infinite variety of details, the narratives agreed with extraordinary uniformity on a single point. With but one exception, all the young men had been sons of pious mothers.
Of the history of Eunice, little is recorded. She herself was the child of a pious mother, Lois; both of them Jewesses, and devout according to the type of Jewish godliness. They lived at Lystra, at least Eunice did, when Paul visited it. She had been married to a heathen husband, an offence against strict Jewish morality, for which probably she suffered both from God and man. Her Gentile husband seems never to have become a proselyte, as their son was still uncircumcised at his conversion. Whether the father was alive or dead at this time, we cannot tell. Here then we have the case, only too common, of a pious woman wedded to a godless husband, whose motherly heart cherishes its spiritual longings on behalf of her only son, all the more sedulously, that her husband has no sympathy with her, and that the general surroundings of the child are of the most unfavourable kind. She has only her mother Lois to aid her with her counsels and her prayers; if, indeed, we can safely infer from the apostle's commendation of the grandmother's piety, in 2 Tim. i. 5; anything more than that, in her life-time, she had been an unfeigned believer after the Jewish type, like the many in Jerusalem, in the days of Anna, who were looking for the promised redemption. In this case she might have been dead before the birth of Timothy; before even the marriage of his mother.
The name Timothy means a fearer of God; and, so far as the mere name goes, there is nothing to indicate a violent opposition on the part of his father to the religious tendencies of the mother. Perhaps, like the father of Augustine, he was indifferent, rather than hostile, to the religiousness of his wife. In the Epistles of Paul to Timothy, we can see that the young disciple was the subject of an over-sensitive timidity, which must have been a source of discomfort to himself, as well as a partial hindrance to his work. He needed the exhortation to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. For this, he may have been mainly indebted to his bodily constitution, which appears to have been delicate; but possibly it is, in part, also, a result of his maternal education, the feminine gentleness of which might tend to foster rather than to counteract his constitutional tendency to diffidence.
How many Eunices there are in the world!—Eunices, at least, in the unhappy circumstances of their wedded life. Let all such sorrowful mothers be encouraged by the brilliant success of Eunice, to copy the admirable example of her devout faithfulness. There are two points to which Paul refers in his notice of her, which are worthy of special consideration; first, her own unfeigned faith; and, second, her early training of her boy in the familiar knowledge of Holy Scripture.
From the first of these two, we learn that Eunice began her work at the right end—that is, with herself rather than with her child. Desiring to train her boy to faith in God, she cultivated in her own heart the spirit of faith unfeigned. Let the mother who desires to have her son become a Timothy, take special note of this. Any other method of nurture is simply preposterous. No teacher who has himself, but a mere smattering of knowledge, will be able to train his pupils to thorough scholarship; and just as little need the semi-believing parent hope to train his child to a whole-hearted faith. The teacher must always be master, so far, of his own lesson. Indeed, the apostle seems to speak of the faith of Eunice with fully stronger confidence than he does of Timothy's own, 2 Tim. i. 5; and in chap. iii. 14, he can still encourage the matured faith of his fellow-labourer, by reminding him of his admirable mother.
From the second of these two allusions of the apostle, we learn that Eunice not only commenced her work at the right end, but that she commenced it, as well, at the right time. "From a child;" or, as the word in 2 Tim. iii. 15 really means, "from an infant" she began to speak to her son of Holy Scripture. The word used not only signifies a child, but a child in its earlier stages; such a child as may be still carried in the arms. We may be assured that the "unfeigned faith" of the godly mother was operating in the spiritual nurture of her child, before that child was able to understand the meaning of any of the holy words which were constantly falling upon his ear. We are told that Jonathan Edwards, who was remarkably successful in the spiritual education of his family, "took the utmost care to begin the government of them when they were very young. When they first discovered any degree of self-will and stubbornness, he would attend to them, until he had thoroughly subdued them and brought them to submit. Such prudent discipline, exercised with the greatest calmness, being repeated once or twice, was generally sufficient for that child, and effectually established his parental authority, and produced a cheerful obedience ever after."
The Eunices, however, need to be wise as well as zealous. In no department of spiritual service can the spiritual wisdom be dispensed with; but nowhere is it more constantly required than in the training of children. The mother must therefore place her zeal under the control of a sanctified judgment; for an unwise Eunice may ruin her little ones as effectually as a negligent Eli.
She must take care not to over-instruct her little charge. Indeed, her constant object will be not to instruct, but to educate; and she will care for instruction only so far as it helps her in her work of education. A judicious education almost involves, that the amount of instruction communicated be, for a time, rather moderate. In apparent wealth of acquisition, a well-educated child will be eclipsed by many of those chattering little prodigies which one frequently sees, who are over-crammed with all sorts of information, of which scarcely a single item has been attempted to be made use of for their true education. Like Pestalozzi, the judicious mother will be infinitely less concerned about the mere quantity of information actually communicated, than she will be about the thoroughness of its acquisition, and about the capacity of the young to learn or to appropriate, to mature, and to employ the information which it is not passive, but active, in acquiring. This capacity is often weakened, and may be almost destroyed, when the young mind, instead of being educated, is only crammed. This danger is peculiarly great in the sphere of religious instruction; too much of which not only oppresses the judgment, but also hardens the heart. "If the child be nourished in proportion to his power," says Augustine, "as he grows, he will become capable of receiving more; but if he receives more than he can bear, he will perish before he can grow up." And Dr. Wichem of Hamburg, a most successful educator of the neglected young in our own day, says still more strongly, "Nothing is so dangerous as the over-feeding and over-loading the mind with religious instruction; nothing so dangerous as, Christian words without power.
There is also danger that a warm-hearted Eunice may over-educate as well as over-instruct her son. Perhaps there are indications in the character of Timothy, which go to suggest that his mother had leant to this side with him. Remember, O trembling mother, that a new human being has been sent into the world to become a something which no living man has ever been before. Prayerfully guide his healthy development; but do not attempt to annihilate his individuality. Your child's mission is not meant to be quite the same as yours; his character is not to be made an exact duplicate of your own. Do not attempt, then, to over-educate him into a bad resemblance of yourself; allow him room to develop into what God has meant and fitted him to be. It is enough for you that you keep your honoured place of mother; take care not to attempt more, to usurp the place of God. That little stranger, now nestling in your lap, has been sent into a world of which he knows nothing, to begin a probation for which, as he is at present, he is entirely unfitted, a probation whose issues are so stupendous that the thoughtful mind breaks down when it attempts to realize them; and this, too, amid circumstances of danger so numerous and so grave, that finite minds can scarcely regard them as less than infinite. Of the God who made him, of the Saviour who became incarnate to redeem the lost, of the eternity before him, of the world around him, he is profoundly ignorant. Who shall be trusted with the task of fitting out the traveller for his perilous journey? Who shall arm the young soldier for his tremendous conflict? What angel is wise enough for a task like this? Angel!—no angel, but a frail and timid mother has been set apart to a work which the wisest of the angels might well shrink from undertaking. You must do it, however, O mother; or the needful work shall be left undone. Of the world, its sins and its sorrows of life, its temptations and its dangers; of God the holy; of Christ the gracious; of death, judgment, and eternity, you have slowly acquired some little knowledge. Well, this knowledge of yours, some of it dearly-purchased perhaps, you are to make as profitable as you can for your boy by your present education of him, in the way of fitting him for passing safely through temptations and dangers similar to those which have beset your own path, and which have perhaps all but overwhelmed you. Possibly it has happened to you in your most solemn moments, when you have been reviewing the sins and errors of your past life, that you have been tempted to wish that you could begin your life again at the beginning, and go through it by the light of the experience which you have acquired through so many painful failures. It is impossible; for no one can have both the unwasted opulence of childhood, and with it, the dearly purchased experience of age. But while God does not give you your own lost childhood back again, in order that you may start afresh on the awful journey of life, and may pass along it by help of the light furnished by your experience of it, he has done the very thing which most of all resembles this. Your own childhood is not recalled and restored to you, but a fresh child-life, which in fact is partly a continuation of your own, has been entrusted to your training; and you have been commissioned to do for your child the very thing which your idle wish desired to have the power of doing for yourself. Seek then wisely and prayerfully to give that shape and direction to the life of your child, which you would now wish to give your own life, if it were possible for you to become once more a little child. This is your duty as a parent; this, and no more. Be content, then, with doing the mother's part; and having brought your child to Jesus, leave him with his Lord.
Before passing on from this subject, let me only add, that the Christian mother must not over-stimulate. Indeed, if the education be what it ought to be, she will not need to stimulate at all; the education will of itself supply stimulus enough. Many Eunices err on this point. The warmth of the maternal feelings renders the mother more liable to make this mistake than the father; and as the emotional nature of the child is so susceptible, undue stimulation tells all the more hurtfully upon it. Of course we do not mean to say that the mother is never to press divine truth home on the heart and the conscience, or to deal directly with her little ones about their own acceptance of the Saviour; we only warn against the abuse of this. In Pastor Heldring's work among the girls in Holland, the atmosphere of the institution is kept charged with a universally diffused spirit of faith, love, and hope. General addresses bring gospel truths home to the heart; while more particular efforts are made when prudence demands it. But "any appearance of an effort to force a change of the heart is carefully avoided." Alas! that many unwise teachers among us seem to aim at nothing else but this very thing which Heldring avoids. At Kornathal too, in Wirtemberg, "all unprofitable talk on religious subjects, all mere excitement of feeling is discouraged." "Preach more by example and character than by words," says Von Kapff, the head of the institution. "Do not drag the child by the hair of the head to God's temple, but allure it thither; lead it in by the hand, but let it feel that it enters of its own accord. Do not seek to make it too pious, that is, too emotional and excitable; for such Christianity soon evaporates. The child lives chiefly in the outer world; make that the mirror and the channel of the spiritual. Avoid all expressions which are only intelligible to a converted sinner. Do not attempt to force conversion.!"
And why should the mother attempt to force a premature conversion? Let her have faith in God, the faith which can both work and wait. The child has very much to learn, and he may be learning much when an impatient Eunice thinks he is learning nothing. The grander and the more durable a work is meant to be, the deeper must be its foundation, and the more slow its apparent progress. The thin and worthless wine has passed through its fermentation, and has become clear, while the richer vintage is still thick and muddy; but the latter will be a choice wine, years after the other has run to worthless vinegar. So is it with the young; it is the shallowness of the brook that makes it brawl so noisily. Summer apples are very pleasant, but it is only in early summer, long before the fruit that can be kept is ripe, the early fruit is rotten. Let Eunice be as prayerfully anxious to keep her child from becoming a stony-ground receiver of the gospel, as she is to preserve him from the indifference of the wayside hearer.
In fact, if the mother be what we are assuming that she is—if her own heart be filled with the Holy Ghost, and if her life be an attractive display of the various graces of the Spirit—this of itself, rendered efficacious by the mutual love which subsists between her child and herself, and sustained by the lively instructions which she wisely imparts, shall be stimulus enough for the susceptible heart of a little child. For the Holy Ghost, in answer to her believing prayer, shall assuredly bless this ordinance which he himself has instituted for the training of a godly seed.
We have just referred to the mutual love of the mother and the child; and this forms one of the most powerful instruments of education—we are not speaking of mere instruction—which lie within the mother's reach. In the first exercises of a young child's mind, mother and love are one; and, for a long time, his mother is to him the concrete embodiment of that most delightful something, of which, under its abstract name of love, the little one can form no conception. Oh, mother, who tenderly lovest and art beloved by thy child, thou art already operating on his spirit as his most effective educator, and thou art unconsciously moulding his character into a resemblance of thine own, by the assimilating force of this unequalled worker, Love. Love him with a good conscience; God has made it your duty to love him tenderly; do not dole it out in stinted driblets; but give him good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over. True, you will need to be wise with it all; but rather seek to add the wisdom than to abate the love. This mother's love of yours is to furnish the ladder, by the help of which your little one is to climb up to the conception of the wonderful love of God and of Jesus; and your wise indulgence of it will be as useful to your boy as it will be delightful to yourself. If your own character had been frivolous, or worldly, or selfish, this deep and tender love of yours would have been full of danger to the character of your boy; but we have assumed you to be a lively Christian mother; and, since you are so, this love between your child and yourself is, in the necessary absence of more formal instruction, the grandest instrument of his education you can yet make use of. It would have been as effective for evil, if, unhappily, your own character had been evil.
The mother's care and the mother's prayerfulness, like the pulsations of a living heart, must never be intermitted. She ought not to feel, however, that all her prayerful care is to be expended exclusively on the directly religious education of her boy. We are to serve God with our bodies, as well as with our spirits, for both are his. A proper education will include in it the cultivation of the mind as well as of the heart; the due care of the body as well as of the soul. Our subject leads us, at present, to confine attention to religious training; but it must on no account be inferred that a proper training is to be exclusively religious. The devout and religious spirit is to pervade it all, but the judicious mother will desire to see her son grow up into a manly Christian, and not into a fantastic devotee. True sober-mindedness will not exaggerate on the one side, as it will not neglect on the other.
The wise Eunice, then, will not permit herself to under-value the proper cultivation of her child's first nature. Divine truth has been occasionally perverted into a speculative theory, and from this an exaggerated estimate has been formed as to what conversion is really meant to accomplish. Under the tyranny of these false notions, parents have been tempted to neglect the moral education of their children, alleging that the natural can by no cultivation be developed into the spiritual, and that nothing short of a supernatural work of grace can communicate the blessing which all besides is impotent to effect. True, and yet false—with the falsehood in the mixture as the operative element, and with only so much truth as to render the mixture attractive to certain minds. It is certain that no parental training can, of itself, and apart from the grace of the Holy Spirit, suffice to make the young immortal a child of God; but then this very training is God's appointed ordinance for the bringing of your child to the saving knowledge of himself. We must not place any ordinance and its Divine Author in opposition, but we must regard them in conjunction; though, when the two are distinguished, we delight to confess that the efficacy is to be ascribed, not to the ordinance itself, but to Him who is pleased to use it for the communication of his grace to the obedient soul.
But even if it were granted that the parental neglect of the child's first nature should not hinder his coming to the Saviour, (it will hinder, and that most grievously), still this early neglect will mutilate and distort the well-balanced Christian character of the man after he has been converted. Has natural temper, for instance, nothing to do with Christian living? It has; and yet the natural temper of the man will depend much on the moral training which he received when a child. Even if we were to accept the one-sided statement, that no culture of the first nature can ever develop the second, we would insist none the less strenuously on the important fact, that very much of the characteristic manifestation of the second nature will depend on the cultivation of the first. The peculiarities which characterize the man, invariably influence the character of the Christian man; and for these dominant peculiarities, the man is indebted in great measure to early culture, or to the want of it.
But what need is there to dwell on this? It is a snare which besets the path of an Eli rather than a Eunice; though even the Eunices, looking too exclusively to one side of truth, may be tempted by it.*
* "As I write, a religious weekly, just issued, has the following in its list of requests for prayer; "For my son, a lad of seventeen, just entering life, without any principle to guide him—untruthful, easy-going, loving pleasure and his own will, and utterly incapable at present of saying 'No.' Ask that he may become a child of God, and a faithful follower of Jesus." If the writer of such a request has herself been newly brought to realize the powers of the world to come, then we have no remark to make. If, however, she has been a professor of faith In Christ during all, or even during many of these seventeen years, what can this Eunice have been thinking about, that she has allowed the child whom God entrusted to her training to grow up into such a perfect heathen? It makes one sick at heart to know that such cases are possible. Not to speak of spiritual nurture; how can a mother who calls herself Christian, so completely neglect moral training? And the reader can scarcely fail to be struck by the absence of anything in the request for prayer, which would indicate the faintest consciousness, on the mother's part, of her awful guilt in so neglecting her motherly responsibilities. Are there many such mothers in the Church? Are there many who are even worse?
The Christian mother must never weary her child so as to disgust him with divine things. Her love must enable her to become a little one, like her boy, and, by a profound sympathy, to enter into all his feelings. The Sabbath, she will seek to make a JOY and a DELIGHT, the farthest possible from weariness and ennui. Even the Jewish Sabbath was a day of rest; and in a Christian home, the Christian Sabbath should be a day of spiritual joy, holy to the Lord. Practically, many devout mothers fail to attain this, from want of a successful self-discipline, which would enable them to stoop down to the lowly stature of a little child. Mother, you must meet your child, if you and he are to keep holy the Sabbath-day together. And how are you to meet him? Why, as the Lord himself met us; when we could not climb up to him, he came down beside us; and he became a man with men, while yet he continued to be the Lord from heaven. Have you so learned the astonishing lesson that you can attempt to imitate it at a humble distance, in your lowly place of service? Can you stoop down till you become a very little child beside your little child, while yet you retain all the ripened graces of an experienced Christian? Try it, and try again; and rather than give up in despair, carry your failures to God, and wait on him, though it should be with fastings and prayers, till he endue you with power from on high.
By means of Bible prints, nicely executed and coloured, and a judicious intermixture of didactic hymns, the mother can break up the monotony of heavier conversation, so as to make the whole exercise delightful instead of wearisome. In a letter from Mr. Locke the philosopher to a friend, speaking of the education of children, he says, "I am so much for recreation that I would, as much as possible, have all they do, made so. I think that recreation is as necessary to them as their food, and that nothing can be recreation, which does not delight." This very principle, judiciously guarded, of course, we would apply to the religious training of the young.
And then the direct instruction communicated to children must, to a great extent, be limited at first to stories and histories. In the handling of these, the judgment, conscience, and affections of the little one must be exercised as well as the memory. A child has an extraordinary appetite for stories, and no class of narratives meets this want more perfectly than the narratives of the Bible. To these, after a time, emblem and parable may be added; but still, for many a long day, truth must be presented to the mind in the concrete rather than the abstract. It is in conformity with this very principle that God has all along been teaching his children in the Bible, as we shall discover by a glance at either of the two Testaments. All uneducated persons and children belong to this class—are feeble on the side of the reasoning faculties, while imagination and memory are amazingly active; and the mind, which cannot connect together the links of an argument, can exercise itself, to its own great delight, in mastering the details of a narrative. Nor may we think that children or uneducated persons derive no benefit from the narratives. If they will only exercise their own minds upon the stories, they will derive all the benefit from them which they are capable of deriving from truth in any form. Let them have, then, their mental food in bulk, and they will begin to digest the mass, and to assimilate some nutrition from it; while, if they had received instead the chemical elements, or even the essential extracts in the form of abstract dogmas, the labour would have been all but wasted, for mental nutriment in this form, they are incapable of assimilating, except in a very moderate degree.
Christian mothers who, in our own day, set themselves, Eunice-like, to the task of bringing up their children for the Lord, are often exceedingly perplexed by the difficulties that arise from the counteracting influences to which their children are subjected from association with other young persons with whom they must have intercourse more or less. Let the Christian mother be encouraged to prayerful perseverance and watchfulness, by the assurance that Eunice was tried in this very way, still more than she is; while yet her labours were so owned of God that they issued at last in a gracious Timothy. She certainly must have met with much to try her from this quarter. Living among the heathen, the moral character of her surroundings must have been the saddest possible; and this we learn from heathen writers themselves. Domestic education was in such a sad condition, that it was at about the lowest pitch which was well nigh attainable. How could it have been otherwise! A parent cannot give his child that which he does not possess himself; and heathen parents, at that time and place, had no spiritual, and very little true moral, nurture to bestow. The God, then, whose grace was so sufficient for Eunice and her boy, will neither fail nor forsake you, if, like her, you are believing and faithful. On no account may you permit your children in questionable indulgencies, simply because other mothers around you are doing so. You must dare to be singular in your nurture, if you would count on receiving a singular blessing upon it. Jonathan Edwards, "thought the excuse offered by many parents for tolerating certain practices in their children—that it is the custom, and that the children of other people are allowed thus to practice, and therefore it is difficult and even impossible to restrain them—was insufficient and frivolous, and manifested a great degree of stupidity, on the supposition that the practice was hurtful and pernicious to their souls."
At the same time the mother must not rush precipitously away from one extreme to another. Quaint old Thomas Fuller tells us, in his Meditations, that, "in September, I saw a tree bearing roses, whilst others of the same kind round about it were barren; demanding the cause of the gardener why that tree was an exception from the rule of the rest, this reason was rendered; because, that alone being clipped close in May, was then hindered to spring and sprout, and therefore took the advantage by itself to bud in autumn." And this simple little story can be paralleled in the mournful history of many a family. The hard, unsympathetic repression of childhood at the time when childishness was seasonable, has only retarded its display; and it has come at last to aggravate by its unseasonable arrival, the vices of manhood, by adding the heedlessness and recklessness of the boy to the strong self-will of the miseducated man.
In regard to government, it is of the greatest importance that the mother, from the very first, succeed in carrying the conscience of her child along with her in all that she says or does. And not his conscience only; she must also have the approval of his judgment and the cordial co-operation of his affections. Not, indeed, that every little matter must be explained to his satisfaction, and all the reasons pro and con canvassed in his presence—a most injurious habit, which some unwise parents indulge in much too freely—but still, duty must be made attractive to him, and for this end it must be set before his judgment in a light which makes it look really lovely. This, the mother will never be able to do unless her own soul be dwelling in the light of God's presence. For the light in which duty is to be always looked at, that it may be seen to be attractive, is not the cold dim light of mere moral speculations about the propriety of things; still less is it to be gathered from selfish considerations about the results which are likely to follow from this line of conduct or from that; but it must be ever and only the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Every duty, every choice, every act must be connected, not only with the sovereign will of God, but with that God, as known, and loved, and served, in Christ Jesus. It is not enough that the good thing be done, or that the bad act be avoided, no matter what may have been the motive which influenced the doing of the one or the avoidance of the other. No; the fear and love of God, in Christ Jesus, must be carefully cultivated, by having his holy will appealed to as the grand and universally prevalent motive for all that we choose to do. One mother may say to her boy, "Don't do that, Johnnie dear; it is very unbecoming. I wonder what your schoolfellows would think if they saw you now!" Another mother, in similar circumstances, may prefer to say, "Don't do that, Johnnie dear; you know that God's eye is upon you. I am afraid that you are forgetting his presence, when you permit yourself to act so." To the superficial onlooker, the one appeal may appear to be quite as successful as the other, so far at least as the rectification of the child's misbehaviour is concerned; but the appeal of the one mother awakens an entirely wrong principle of action, and cultivates a most vicious habit, which principle and habit shall produce abundance of bitter fruits in the coming years; while the other mother is nurturing in her boy, a habit of soul which shall yet be worth more to him than a thousand worlds.
We have spoken of the child's appetite for stories and stirring tales, and, before closing, we would like to add a single word of warning against the abuse of this. The child's faculty of wonder is unduly excitable, and if the mother herself, have a morbid taste for the marvellous, she may so dwell on it as actually to train her child to be a fanatic. To some extent she must indulge her boy's craving for the wonderful. Not only will the child demand it, but the Bible stories will supply it; and if it be wisely gratified, this delight in the marvellous may be made the happy foundation for enlarged apprehensions of the greatness of God's power, the tenderness of his mercy, the minuteness of his providence, and the faithfulness of his truth. It may furnish the capacity in the child-heart for a more heroic faith to be displayed throughout the life of the man. But if the mother's own leanings be morbidly to this side—and this is more frequently the case with mothers than with fathers—she must be on her guard. There is not quite the same danger of bad results from the abuse of fairy tales and similar books of childish wonders, as there is from the abuse of Bible marvels. These fairy stories are scarcely believed at any age, or if they be, a few years will effectually dispel the child's credulity. But this will not be the case if a lust for the supernatural, a morbid craving for the striking and the marvellous, has been cultivated in regard to divine things. The unhappy bias may be permanent, and the whole life may be a melancholy response to the maternal training, which cultivated chiefly a tendency to the fanatical, the exaggerated, and the hypocritical.
What an incomparable work has been entrusted to the hands of a Christian mother! Its issues in any case are tremendous, and in some cases may be overwhelming. "Who knows," asks Bishop Beveridge, "but the salvation of ten thousand souls may depend upon the education of one single child?" And who knows, O patient Christian mother, but that the little boy who sits at your knee, and looks smilingly up into your face, is being educated by you for coming service on the grandest scale? But, however it may be in these respects, you may count with confidence on this, that if you be faithful, God will be infinitely more faithful; and his rich rewards of grace shall yet fill your heart with praising joy, and your mouth with laughter.
And as for your present discouraging consciousness of complete incompetency, "go in this thy might" first of all to the throne of grace to obtain seasonable help, and then to the performance of the duty, as God shall enable. You will be taught to say, as Paul did, "When I am weak, then am I strong;" for the grace which Jesus makes sufficient for us is always accompanied with the most humbling consciousness of weakness in ourselves. Only persevere, and you shall soon find that the very efforts which you are making for the education of your boy are being honoured by God for the education of yourself. A single year of prayerful labour will tell as decidedly on your own spiritual progress as on that of your child; and your own soul shall be nurtured and sanctified in a way of which the negligent mother has no conception. We used to hear much, a few years ago, of what was called the "missing link;" but the true missing link, the want of which keeps the heart of many a Christian mother dead and joyless, would be found, if she could only be persuaded to look at her little ones, and at her most solemn responsibilities, with anointed eyes, and would begin to care for their neglected souls even as tenderly as she already cares for their bodily comforts.