Dabney on Parenting—"the one business for which the earth exists"


In my book Dabney On Fire: A Theology of Parenting, Education, Feminism, and Government, I include the greatest essay on the subject of parenting that I have ever read—“Parental Responsibilities” by 19th century theologian Robert Lewis Dabney. Here is the conclusion of this great work (which was originally a sermon):

Two inferences will close this sermon. Seeing the parental relation is what the Scripture describes it, and seeing Satan has perverted it since the fall for the diffusion and multiplication of depravity and eternal death, the education of children for God is the most important business done on earth. It is the one business for which the earth exists. To it all politics, all war, all literature, all money-making, ought to be subordinated; and every parent especially ought to feel, every hour of the day, that, next to making his own calling and election sure, this is the end for which he is kept alive by God—this is his task on earth.

On the right training of the generation now arising, turns not only the individual salvation of each member in it, not only the religious hope of the age which is approaching, but the fate of all future generations in a large degree. Train up him who is now a boy for Christ, and you not only sanctify that soul, but you set on foot the best earthly agencies to redeem the whole broadening stream of human beings who shall proceed from him, down to the time when men cease to marry and give in marriage. Until then, the work of education is neverending.

The generation which is trained for heaven is the one that dies; the one that is born into its place is born in enmity and under the curse. Thus the task of training is ever renewed, until the final consummation shall make the race equal to the angels.

In the last place: We observe some sincere Christians, whose minds are so swayed by the assertion that personal faith must be the invariable pre-requisite to baptism and admission to the church, that they seem incapable of ever entertaining the thought that the church membership of the children of believers may be reasonable and scriptural. The doctrine seems to them so great an anomaly that they cannot look dispassionately at the evidence for it. But to one who has weighed the truths set forth above, the absence of that doctrine from God’s dispensations would seem the strange anomaly. To him who has appreciated the parental relation as God represents it, the failure to include it within the circuit of the visible church, to sanctify its obligations and to seal its hopes with the sacramental badge, would appear the unaccountable thing.

We have seen that the promise of a multiplying offspring was the blessing of paradise; that paternity was the splendid expedient of our Maker for multiplying the human subjects of his blessings and instruments of his glory, and of making holiness and bliss the sure, hereditary possession of the increasing multitudes of men, through the probation and adoption of their first father. We have seen how, when Satan had essayed, with a stupendous, yet impotent malice, to pervert the invention of God to the propagation of sin and death, our merciful father rendered his victory void through the woman’s seed, thus causing redemption in the second Adam to spring again out of the family tie. We hear him declare in Malachi 2:15, long after the fall, that his object in founding the family, in the form of monogamy, was “to seek a godly seed.” Thus the supreme end of the family institution is as distinctly religious and spiritual as that of the church itself.

Civic legislators speak of the well-ordered family as the integer of which the prosperous commonwealth is formed. But God assigns the family a far higher and holier aim. The Christian family is the constituent integer of the church—the kingdom of redemption.

The instrumentalities of the family are chosen and ordained of God as the most efficient of all means of grace—more truly and efficaciously means of saving grace than all the other ordinances of the church. To family piety are given the best promises of the gospel, under the new, as well as under the old dispensation. How, then, should a wise God do otherwise than consecrate the Christian family, and ordain that the believing parents shall sanctify the children? Hence, the very foundation of all parental fidelity to children’s souls is to be laid in the conscientious, solemn, and hearty adoption of the very duties and promises which God seals in the covenant of infant baptism. It is pleasing to think that many Christians who refuse the sacrament do, with a happy inconsistency, embrace the duties and seek the blessing. But God gives all his people the truths and promises, along with the edifying seal. Let us hold fast to both.

The entire essay of “Parental Responsibilities” can be found in my book, Dabney On Fire: A Theology of Parenting, Education, Feminism, and Government. In addition to my introductory chapter to Dabney’s life and thought, this includes four of the man’s greatest essays on these relevant topics.