The Baptist Pillar © Brandon Bible Baptist Church 1992-Present www.baptistpillar.com
"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
W. B. Sprague
From Mothers of the Wise and Good, 1860
Let me briefly illustrate the nature of a mother's charge. That charge is nothing less than a physical, rational, accountable, immortal, sinful, and social being.
It is a physical being. The babe that she embraces is curious piece of the divine workmanship. Its little frame bears the stamp of infinite wisdom and goodness. It is exactly fitted to answer the purposes for which it is designed, is wanting in nothing, is superfluous in nothing. But yet it is only the germ of a man or a woman, destined, if it lives, to a natural process of expansion. That body is, indeed, nothing but finely-organized clay, and there does not essentially belong to it either the principle of immortality, or the principle of thought; but it is designed to be the organ of the soul's operations, and is to exert no unimportant influence upon the soul's character and destiny.
If the body dies, the soul will still live, but if the faculties of the body are not suitably developed, the mind that inhabits it will find itself proportionally cramped, and contracted in its operations. Let no one say, "It matters not for the physical nature, if the higher nature be provided for," so long as the one is the medium through which the other acts. God hath joined them together in the economy of his creating wisdom; and man must have respect to the connection, as he would accomplish the end of his existence.
The mother's charge is a rational being. True, indeed, you see nothing in its earliest infancy to indicate that it possesses any higher faculties than the lamb, or the lark, or any other of the animal creation. But, helpless as it seems, unconscious as it seems, there is a glorious principle of intelligence belonging to it which time will ere long reveal, and which, if rightfully developed and directed, may render it a fit companion for an angel. Where all seems blank and dark, the light will ere long shine, and a mind that can discriminate, that can reason, that can feel, will be seen coming up in its strength and glory.
Who knows but that it may be the mind of a Newton—who shall measure the heights and fathom the depths of the material creation? Who knows but that it may be the mind of a Locke, that shall bring out the mysteries of thought, and reveal to man the secret springs of his own conduct? Who knows but that it may be the mind of a Milton, attuned to heavenly melodies, and touched with a seraph's fire? What the particular character of her infant's mind is to be—whether of high degree or of low degree, the mother knows not—cannot know—enough that she knows that it is a spiritual, thinking, active principle, destined, by the decree of Heaven, to an indefinite expansion.
But to the power of thought is also joined the susceptibility of feeling; the infant is born with a moral, as well as a rational nature. In it are the elements of passions and affections, of desires and aversions, in which its happiness or unhappiness will chiefly be found, and which must decide, in a great degree, the complexion and destiny of the soul. Here, too, is concealed that noble principle of conscience, which, perhaps more than any other, bespeaks the dignity of human nature which is destined to occupy the judgment seat in the soul, and to bring peace and joy, or remorse and terror, according to the decisions which it renders.
In the earliest periods of infancy, there may be no higher happiness, or, at least, none apparent than freedom from bodily pain; and there may be no other suffering than what consists in bodily pain; but there is a hidden nature there susceptible of enjoyment or suffering, that outruns all human comprehension. There is that which may kindle into a consuming fire, and show itself great in wrath, in desolation, in self-torture; or which may glow with a genial fervor, diffusing serenity within, and shedding' light and joy over the whole field of its influence.
And this leads me to say that the mother's charge is an accountable being. I do not mean to say, nor do I believe, that it is a moral agent from the beginning; nor would I venture to mark the point of intellectual development, when moral agency commences, believing, as I do, that that is one of the secret things which the Creator has retained in his own keeping —I only mean, that, as the infant is constituted with a rational and moral nature, and is placed under the government of God, so accountableness is an essential attribute of that nature; and that before the accountableness can cease, the power of distinguishing and choosing between good and evil must cease. What a reflection to a mother, that the unconscious babe in her arms is constituted in such a way, that its actions shall ere long sustain a moral character; and that the whole history of its life shall be reviewed as a ground of approbation or of condemnation at the bar of the Eternal Judge!
The mother's charge, too, is immortal. The body will, indeed, last but a few short years; now she folds it in her arms, and dandles it upon her knee; but soon it will have expended to the measure of a youth; and at a period a little more distant, it will have reached its mature growth; and a little later, if, indeed, it has not been earlier, it will return to the dust whence it came. But the spirit that gives the babe its chief interest, the soul that thinks, and speaks, and burns with celestial fire, is rendered imperishable, if not by the necessity of its nature, at least by its Creator's decree. The arms that enfold your babe will become clods, the sir that shines upon your babe will be extinguished, and the skies that attract its infant gaze will be rolled up as a burning vesture, and yet, all that is great and spiritual in that babe shall survive, not only in unimpaired, but constantly increasing energy.
And for aught we know, other suns and worlds may take the place of these which we now behold, and, having fulfilled their end, may pass away as a midnight dream; sad others stall may come up at the Creator's bidding to replenish immensity, and in obedience to a like decree, these may retire and be lost in the abyss of annihilation, and yet that infant mind, whose operations are now so feeble that you can scarcely detect them, will live through all this wreck of worlds, and even then will feel that its existence is only began.
When the Christian mother resigns her babe to the tomb in the budding season of its faculties, let her not look despairingly at the narrow home, as if her infant had perished there; but let her rather think of the grave as the temporary dwelling-place of the corruptible, and be thankful that God has permitted her to make such a contribution to the immortal population of heaven.
The mother's charge is a sinful being. What! That milling, unconscious babe, whose eyes have so lately been opened upon the light, a sinner! Not an actual transgressor of God's law—for of that we cannot suppose that its faculties render it capable—but a sinner in precisely the same sense that it is a rational being—there is that within it that will by-and-by kindle up and show itself a rational soul; and there is that within it also, that will by-and-by kindle and show itself a sinful disposition. I will not refer to God's Word now for the only satisfactory explanation of this fact; but the fact itself is proved by universal experience.
Show me, if you can, an instance in the world's history, awe that of the immaculate child Jesus, in which what has seemed innocent infancy did not prove itself the gem of sinning childhood. And, besides, if no hereditary stain has reached an infant's mind—in other words, if the infant be regarded as holy under the government of God, let us have the explanation of that bodily suffering under which it shrinks, and writhes, and sometimes, even dies.
Yes, mothers, talk as much as you will of your innocent babes, every one of them is the heir of an unholy nature, which will as certainly develop itself in unholy action, as that it develops itself at all. The new-born leopard may seem beautiful and harmless, and you fear not to take it up in your hands, or to press it to your bosom; but wait a while, and you dare not look at it except some barrier intervene to protect you; for it has shown itself possessed of a nature the promptings of which would be to tear you to pieces.
There was an infant born between thirty and forty years, ago that, doubtless, smiled upon its mother with the same apparent innocence with which other infants, are wont to smile; and, possibly, some advocate for the original purity of human nature may have drawn an argument from what it seemed to be in its helpless, unconscious state, to disprove that severe-creed which recognizes infants as inheriting a moral taint from Adam.
But that infant had not lived long before he began to give proof that the orthodox creed was sound. In his boyhood he was revengeful and wicked; in his manhood be was a murderer; and the other day, when it was expected that the sun would have gone down upon his body hanging in ignominy between earth and heaven, it went down upon his body self-bathed in his own blood. Your children may not, we trust will not, prove like him; but you deceive yourselves if you imagine that, with all their loveliness, they have not the same sinful nature which made him a murderer.
The mother's charge has also a social nature. As it is not destined to exist in a state of solitude, so it is endowed with a social propensity—with a disposition to mingle with other beings, to whom it will impart more or less of its own character. No man lives for himself alone. As he is bound to society by various ties, so every relation that he sustains is a channel of influence for good or evil, that is operating constantly upon his fellow-men. It is a most serious thought that the infant in your arms, if it lives but a few years, will be an active member of society, and will not only be himself forming a character for eternity, but will be contributing an influence that will tell on the destinies of other minds through the whole period of their existence.
Such is the mother's charge; and where is the mother who can contemplate it without being ready to sink under the burden of responsibility which it imposes?