Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
The Responsibility of Parents
By Thomas Sherlock (16781761)
From Miscellaneous Tracts
NEXT to those in public offices of power and trust, the happiness of the public depends on those who have the government in private families. Here it is that the youth of the nation must be formed, and if they are suffered to be corrupted in their religion or morals before they come into the world, there is little hope that the world will reform them. All wise men, legislators, and princes have acknowledged not only the use, but the necessity of an early education to form the mind, whilst tender, to the principles of honour and virtue; and what is more, the wisest of all, the writers inspired by the Holy Spirit, have required it as a duty from parents, and as part of the obedience they owe to God. Even our unbelievers have seen how far religion depended on this care; and under a pretence of maintaining the liberty of the human mind, and guarding it against early prejudices, they have endeavoured to persuade the world that children should be taught nothing of religion, but be left to form notions for themselves. They have had but too great success, and we begin to see the fruits of it. The children of this age grow soon to be men and women, and are admitted to be partners and witnesses to the follies and vices of their parents. Thus trained and educated, when they come to be masters and mistresses of families, they answer fully what was to be expected from them; they are often a torment to each other and to themselves, and have reason to bemoan themselves for the indulgence shown them in their early days.
Would you see the effects of this education in all orders among us, look into the many public assemblies; sometimes you may see old age affecting the follies of youth, and counterfeiting the airs of gaiety; sometimes men lying in wait to seduce women, and women to seduce men, and even children seriously employed at the gaming table, as if their parents were concerned to form them early to the taste of the age, and were afraid that they should not soon enough of themselves find the way to their ruin.
Look near home: see the temptations of this sort which surround these cities, and are indeed so many snares to catch your sons and daughters and apprentices. Can you look on and be unconcerned? For Gods sake, and for the sake of your children and your country, take the courage to act like parents and masters of families; reformation must begin in private families; the law and the magistrate can punish your children when they become wicked; but it is you who must make them good by proper instruction and proper government. If you suffer them to meet temptation where temptation is sure to meet them, never complain of him who corrupts your child; you are the corrupter yourself; to you he owes it that he is undone. And perhaps there is not a more provoking circumstance, nor a greater call for divine vengeance on a wicked nation than this; that the youth are prepared and brought up to inherit all the vices of their fathers, which cuts off all prospect of reformation, and stands as a bar between us and mercy.
On you therefore, fathers and mothers, your country and the church of God call for assistance; your endeavours may go a great way towards saving us, and this wicked generation may be spared, for the hope of seeing the next better.
In a word, let every man, whatever his station is, do his part towards averting the judgments of God: let every man reform himself, and others as far as his influence goes; this is our only proper remedy; for the dissolute wickedness of the age is a more dreadful sign and prognostication of divine anger than even the trembling of the earth under us.