Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Nurture Lessons--Cotton Mather on Children

Cotton Mather was a godly man. As a great colonial pastor, he lived as well as he preached. He nurtured as well as he preached. And I hope that summarizing his fathering techniques will bring inspiration to hundreds of fathers. (Below is taken from Life of the Late Rev. and Learned Dr. Cotton Mather, p.15ff.).

"The rules he observed, and the methods he pursued in the education of his children, may probably give some useful hints to other godly parents; on which account therefore they are worth relating. As,

1. He poured out continual prayers to the God of all grace for them, and especially for spiritual blessings...

2. He began to entertain them betimes with delightful stories, chiefly out of the Scripture history, from which he would always draw some lesson of piety, and endeavour to fix it upon their minds by means of the story. This was one part of the stated entertainment of his table every day.

3. When his children accidentally fell in his way, it was his usual custom to drop some sentence for their instruction...

4. He endeavoured to engage all his children very early in exercises of piety and devotion, and especially in secret prayer, for which he gave them plain and short directions. And he would often remind them of this their duty; " Child, don't you forget, every day to go alone, and pray, as I have directed you."

5. He endeavoured also to form their tender minds into a temper of kindness and beneficence, by putting them on doing kind services for one another, and for other children : and he would encourage and commend them, when he saw they delighted in it...He earnestly cautioned them against all manner of revenging of injuries, and instructed them to return good offices for evil ones, showing them, that they would hereby become like the good God and the blessed Jesus. And thus he laboured to form his children into a sweetness of temper, as well as into a decent and regular behaviour.

6. He had his children taught to write as soon as possible; and as soon as they could write, he would employ them in writing out short lessons of virtue and piety, which he contrived for them, in order to fix those lessons the deeper in their memories.

7. At the same time that he endeavoured to assure them of his love, and taught them to pay a becoming deference to his judgment, as to all things that were good for them, he laboured also to convince them of the baseness and hatefulness of all sin, and of the amiableness of virtue and goodness.

8. His usual method of correcting his children for their faults was very tender, and yet not the less effectual, but probably the more so. The first correction, (if one may call it so,) if the fault were not very great, was to let the child see him in a perfect astonishment, at its being guilty of so base a thing, hardly believing it could be true, or however hoping the child would never do so any more. For the child to be banished from its father's presence for some time, was ordinarily the heaviest punishment of all; and so his children were taught to account it . He rarely corrected any of them with blows, and never but in a case of obstinacy, or for something highly criminal. For he looked upon that slavish way of education, which is so commonly practised in schools and families, by raving at children and beating them for every fault, to be a dreadful judgment of God upon the world, and a very abominable practice.

9. He endeavoured with all possible kind insinuations, to bring his children to a love of learning, and to make them account it the noblest thing in the world. Therefore he seldom proposed play for the reward of diligence, lest they should think diversion better than their business: but rather he would have his children account it a privilege to be taught; therefore, his refusing to teach them was the punishment which he sometimes inflicted for a fault. Instead of threatening to whip them, if they did, or did not do so and so, he would threaten, that they should not be suffered to read, or to write, or learn such and such a thing. On the other hand, his children were taught to expect it, as a reward of their doing well that their Father would teach them something that was curious and entertaining.

10. Above all other instructions which he gave his children, he laboured most earnestly and diligently to instruct them in religion, and to impress their minds with an early sense of it. He would often call them "to remember their Creator," telling them the eye of the great God was always upon them. He endeavoured to recommend Christ to their love, and his example to their imitation, as a proper expression of their love to the blessed Jesus. He would particularly recommend to them the pattern of Christ's obedience to his Father's will in all things, as that which they should follow, by doing whatever their parents required of them. He would often tell them also of the good angels, who love them, and guard them from many evils, and do many good offices for them; therefore they should be very careful, that they do not grieve and disoblige them, by doing any ill thing. He did not choose to say much to his young children about the evil angels, lest it should impress their fancies with frightful notions of apparitions.— Yet he would briefly tell them of the devils who tempt them to sin, and who are glad when they do wickedly, that they may get leave of God to kill them for it. He would tell them further, and that often too, of the judgment and world to come, of heaven and of hell, as the consequence of their good or bad behaviour here. And, when his children were grown capable of superior methods of instruction, he would take them alone, one by one, and after many affectionate and solemn charges to fear God, to love Christ, and to hate sin, he would pray with them in his study, and make them the witnesses of his strong cries and earnest wrestlings with God, on their behalf.

11. He not only taught his children the catechism, and explained it to their understanding, by asking abundance of short questions upon every answer, but he used also to examine them upon the sermons they heard, in a catechetical way, turning every head and truth that had been delivered into a question to be answered with yes or no.— This he found was an excellent means of engaging their attention and informing their minds.—In these familiar exercises he would often take an opportunity to ask his children such serious questions as these: "Do you desire this grace? Do you consent to this article of the gospel covenant?" And there is reason to hope and believe, that the good Spirit of God brought several of them to an unfeigned consent to the covenant of grace, by means of his exercises."

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