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It is indeed the glory of the Christian religion, that while it checks every approach to vice, and condemns even a thought that is impure, it sanctifies all the virtuous affections of our nature; it connects every relation of life with our duty to God; it bids us perform for His sake all those kind offices which even natural affection would lead us to perform for our own ; while it sweetens the enjoyment, and lessens the sorrows, of love and friendship, by the hope which it gives of an eternal union with those who were most dear to us on earth. To the sacred institution of marriage we owe the greatest blessings which this imperfect state affords, and to it we owe many of the virtues which will lead us to heaven. It was not good for man to be alone even in Paradise, and therefore our gracious God tormed "an helpmeet for him."
This world affords no happiness equal to that of two pious and virtuous minds, united for ever by the sacred vow which they made in the presence of God, as well as by faithful and pure love, constantly endeavouring to make each other happy in this life, and joining in the practice of the duties which lead to still greater happiness in the next. Every act of kindness is then as much their pleasure as it is their duty. Every word and action which contributes to the happiness of the object of their love, returns with interest into their own bosoms. Their tempers regulated, and their conduct secured by religion, no quarrels, no jealousies will disturb their peace. Their interest being for ever united, their greatest pleasure is to assist each other. With what delight will she prepare his cheerful fire and comfortable meal, and meet him with smiles of duty and affection ! If he be sick, she is his nurse; if he be distressed, she is his comforter. Surrounded by smiling, healthy, happy children, with what transports will they unite in forming their infant minds to piety and virtue! If they live together to a good old age, from such children they may expect support and comfort; and even when the hour of trial comes, and death calls the husband from the wife, or
the wife from her husband, through the anguish of that dreadful moment they will still hear a voice which tells them not to sorrow as those who have no hope; and they will look forward to an eternal union in a happier world.
Such should be the happiness of the marriage state ; but I am very sorry to say that it is not often thus; and I will endeavour to point out the faults which prevent it.
In the first place, if we expect happiness in marriage, we must be careful in our choice. Be not guided by the eye, by the fancy of a moment, but inquire into the real character of the person with whom you are to pass your life. Has she been educated by virtuous parents, or has she by any other means been instructed ? Has she been accustomed to honest industry and frugality? Has she been free from vice, and
, does she dislike the company of bad people? Is she respected and beloved by those who are good ? and, above all, has she a just sense of her duty towards God? These are points upon which every prudent person would wish to be satisfied, before an engagement is made which only death can dissolve. When that engagement is to be made, let each of the parties reflect on the solemn nature of it. In the awful presence of God, they are to make a vow which binds them to the end of life. Let no man-let no woman -dare to make that vow without a firm resolution to perform it. That vow is recorded in heaven, and the performance of it will be required at the judgment-seat of God.
Secondly, do not expect too much from each other. We are all poor, weak, sinful creatures, and require that indulgence from our friends which we all hope from our Creator.
We are too apt to think that the object of our love is to be without faults, and we are out of humour when we are disappointed; but we should not form such expectations. The best of us are often in the wrong, and ue love will bear with faults which do not come from the heart. A man may be off his guard, and speak hastily; but a gentle and tender wife will not contradict him in the moment of anger or illhumour. Should he even be guilty of greater faults, however
she may grieve at it, she will not reproach him, but make use of a more favourable time to lead him back to virtue. Let her always remember that she has promised obedience; and that God Himself has given the husband power over the wife. But the gentle influence of a virtuous and beloved wife is very great over every heart which is not hardened in vice. Let her endeavour to preserve that influence, by constant good temper, by neatness and industry. Let her always try to make him happy at home, as the best way to prevent his going into bad company abroad.
Let the husband never forget what he owes to the friend of his heart, to the wife of his bosom. Let him guard her from every danger, let him tenderly watch over her happiness, let him be indulgent to little faults, and let him love and cherish her virtues. Women in general are disposed to be grateful and affectionate; and a man who deserves their love will seldom fail to preserve it, especially if he have a proper sense of religion. Let each consider the other as their best friend, from whom they should never have any secrets, and of whom they should never complain to any other person. It is not possible that we can be perfectly happy in this world ; there will be moments of discontent and disappointment; but they who are guided by a sense of duty will always be ready to take the first steps towards reconciliation, and to sacrifice their pride to their love.
Thirdly, never dispute about trifles. If constant attention were paid to this, it would seldom happen that two wellmeaning and good people could be unhappy. They must think alike in most matters, if both seek the rule of their conduct in the law of God; but trifles, which are not worth disputing over, often destroy the peace of a family. To guard against this should be the business of both, but particularly of the wife, whose duty it is to yield in everything which is not wicked.
Fourthly, never dispute before your children. This is a very common fault, and it is the ruin of all proper authority. If one parent is to encourage and humour a child, while the other reproves him, or if, while they teach him to be gentle and patient, they set him an example of perverseness and ill-humour in their behaviour to each other, he will soon despise them both. Let the parents always support each other, let them set the example of every virtue which they wish the child to practise, and let each of them teach their children to love and respect the other.
This leads me to the important subject of education; and I earnestly request the attention of all those who are called to perform this duty. To them God has given a great blessing; for children are His gift, and happy is the man on whom He vouchsafes to bestow them. Let him never consider a large family as a hardship. If he be not able to maintain them, he has a right to expect assistance; but when they grow up, I believe it will be almost always seen that a large family well brought up, in the fear of God, and habits of honest industry, who are dutiful to their parents, and united by mutual affection—it will, I say, be almost always seen that they succeed best in the world, and are a support, instead of a burden, to each other. But if we expect the tree to flourish and take deep root, we must carefully form the tender plant. It must not be exposed to the chilling frost of unkindness, or the constant sunshine of improper indulgence. We must train it in the way that it should go, and by constant care and management we must raise it to that state of perfection from which the happiest fruits may be expected. It is, indeed, possible that the best parent may be disappointed in the hopes which he had formed of his child; but this does not often happen, if constant and prudent care have been taken from infancy.
On this subject I wish to address myself particularly to the mothers, for they are commonly entrusted with the most important part of education. The temper and disposition, the habits of obedience, and the first principles of religion should all be formed during the first six or seven years, when the child is chiefly under the care of the mother. Women, if they are what they ought to be. seem particularly suited to this task, from the gentleness and tenderness of their dispositions, and the happy knack which they possess of gaining affection, and softening authority by kindness. But they are apt to fall into some errors, from which I wish to guard them. They do not always consider the absolute necessity of teaching a child obedience from the very first. Before he can speak, he should learn this lesson which, sooner or later, must be learnt by every created being. From infancy he should be taught that nothing is to be gained by passion or crying. This is attended with very little difficulty, if it be done before any bad habits are formed; and custom will soon make it easy to the child; but we often see mothers, especially among the poor, who never attempt to govern their children, till their little passions have gained so much strength, that they know not how to conquer them, except by methods which would never have been necessary if they had been taught obedience from the beginning.
If a child has been accustomed from infancy to do what he is bid, and if his little heart has been gained by the kindness of a prudent mother, her displeasure will be his punishment, her praise will be his reward. Rough language and blows are almost always proofs that the parent did not know how to govern. It is observed of one denomination of Christians who have a remarkable command over their passions, that they never raise their voices in speaking to their children, or ever permit them to speak to each other in loud tones. The good effects of this will be evident to all who steadily pursue it. The child will attend to the meaning of your words, instead of being frightened with the sound of them, and will soon know that he is governed like a reasonable creature.
Thus, I have briefly indicated the duties of husbands, wives, and parents. Nothing can give a Christian parent greater joy than to see his children walking in the truth; but to attain this end the parent himself must shape his life by the Word of God.
E. R. P.