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THE PARENTAL GOVERNMENT OF A FAMILY.
GENESIS XVIII. 19–I know him, that he will command his children, and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.
Abraham was one of the excellent of the earth.--He believed in the being and perfections of the true God, and placed an unshaken confidence in him, while his father and friends and the world in general fell into gross idolatry. His faith produced cordial obedience and submission to the will of God. For by faith, when he was called to go out into a place, which he should afterwards receive for an inheritance, he obeyed ; and went out, not knowing whither he went. In return, God exercised corresponding love to him and confidence in him. He condescended to make a new and everlasting covenant with him, and engaged to be his God, and the God of his seed, from generation to generation. After he had formed this intimate and important connection with him, he considered and treated him, as his peculiar friend. For when he was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, he said, “Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do ; seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him ? For I know him, that he will com
mand his children, and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” God here expresses full confidence in Abraham, that he would exercise parental authority over his family with propriety and fidelity. This representation of Abraham, naturally leads us,
I. To consider who they are, that compose a family;
II. To consider what is implied in exercising parental authority over a family ; And,
III. To consider the importance of exercising parental authority over a family.
I. We are to consider who they are, that compose a family. Some families are smaller and some are larger than others. Families are usually composed of parents and their children, which are sometimes less and sometimes more numerous. But parents may have other children and youths committed to their care and instruction, and those equally belong to their family.--Besides their own and other children, they may have those, whom they employ in their service and who reside in their house ; and these all belong to their family. They may also have some persons, whom they invite to reside with them gratuitously. These likewise belong to the family. In a word, all whom they permit to enter under their roof for pleasure, entertainment, protection, or relief, belong to their family, for the time being. Parents are heads of their families, whether larger or smaller, and whether they are composed of persons of different ages, characters, and conditions, or not. Their parental authority extends to every individual of their family. Abraham had a very numerous family, com
posed of persons of various ages, characters, and conditions. He had six sons beside Ishmael and Isaac. He had three hundred servants born in his house, and some that he bought with his money. Over all these he exercised paternal authority. For we read, “ In the self-same day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son, and all the men of his house, born in the house, and bought with money of the stranger, were circumcised with him.” All parents, or heads of families have the same parental authority over their children and households, that Abraham had. Parental authority is founded in the nature of things, and discoverable by the light of nature. The natural dependance of children upon their parents, gives their parents a natural right to govern them so long as that dependance continues ; and children early see and feel the propriety and obligation of submitting to such parental authority. Parental authority is as fully and universally claimed by parents, and acknowledged by children, among heathens as among christians. All heathen parents, whether civilized or savage, are capable of seeing that they ought to govern their children and households ; and their children and households are capable of seeing that they ought to submit to their government. And this parental authority, which is founded in the nature of things, is sanctioned by divine authority. God commands parents to govern, and children and households to obey. Parents are bound to their children, and their children are bound to them. Their mutual relations create mutual obligations, which are mutually binding, and cannot be violated on either side without incurring great guilt. The origin, the nature and the obligation of parental authority all show how
far it extends, and how long it continues. It extends to all that belong to a family or household, and it continues to bind them so long as it can be of service to them, or so long as the civil law allows it to bind them. The law of nature, the law of God, and the civil law generally agree in this, to allow parents to exercise their parental authority over their children and house. holds, until their age, their knowledge, and circumstances render them capable of self-direction, which may be at various periods of life. Having considered who they are, that compose a family or household, over whom parental authority is to be exercised, I proceed consider,
II. What is implied in parental authority, or what it gives parents a right to do in respect to their children and households. And here it may be observed,
1. That it gives them the right of dedicating them to God. Abraham possessed and exercised this right. “ When Abraham was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to him, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee. Thou shalt keep my covenant, therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee, in their generations. This is my covenant, which
ye shall keep, between me and you, and thy seed after thee ; every man-child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of of your foreskin ; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, ever man-child in your generations ; he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is
bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised. Agreeably to this divine command, Abraham exercised his parental authority over all his children and numerous households, whether born in his house or purchased with his money and caused them the same day to be circumcised. This was a solemn dedication of them to God, by a solemn ceremony. Though the rite of circumcision be abolished, yet parents still have authority to dedicate their children and households to God, by the rite of baptism. Parents have the same right to devote themselves, their children, and their households to God, under the gospel, that Abraham had to devote himself, his children, and his household to God before the gospel day. Accordingly, we read, that Lydia and her household, and the Jailor and all bis were baptized. And household baptism has been practised in the christian church ever since. One thing therefore, implied in parental authority, is a right in parents to devote their children and households to God, by baptism.
2. Parental authority gives parents the right of instructing their children, as well as the right of devoting them to God. This right God says he knew Abraham would exercise in commanding his children, and his household after him, that they should keep the way of the Lord to do justice and judgment. He had before this obeyed the divine command to devote his children and household to God, by which he had bound himself to teach them their duty to remember their creator and pay a universal obedience to all his precepts and prohibitions. We may be sure, therefore, that he did not neglect to employ his authority, his knowledge, his wisdom, and his fidelity in bringing up