The theological writings of the Puritans may not be considered politically correct by our standards. Nevertheless, I submit to you that they are good for our souls. Take for instance the following extract from Jonathon Edwards. I can’t imagine preachers using his exact language today; and yet, Edwards makes a point that we who are parents must seriously consider.
In 1738, Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758) published Discourses on Various Important Subjects, a collection of the sermons he preached during the Connecticut River Valley Awakening. One of these discourses, “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners,” was described by Edwards as the most successful evangelistic sermon he ever preached.1 The sermon is startling in the preciseness of the preacher’s examination of human sin; he does not offer vague generalities but rather heart-piercing application. When he turns to parents the modern reader should still appreciate his solemn explanation of the dangers of parental neglect in spiritual matters.
“Consider how you have promoted others’ damnation. Many of you by the bad examples you have set, by corrupting the minds of others, by your sinful conversation, by leading them into sin, or strengthening them in sin, and by the mischief you have done in humane society other ways that might be mentioned, have been guilty of those things that have tended to others’ damnation. You have heretofore appeared on the side of sin and Satan . . .
There are many that contribute to their own children’s damnation, by neglecting their education and setting them bad examples, and bringing them up in sinful ways: they take care of their bodies, but take but little care of their poor souls; they provide for them bread to eat, but deny them the bread of life that their famishing souls stand in need of. And are there no such parents here that have thus treated their children? If their children be not gone to hell, ’tis no thanks to them; ’tis not because they have not done what has tended to their destruction. Seeing therefore you have had no more regard to others’ salvation, and have promoted their damnation, how justly might God leave you to perish yourself?”2
1 Edwards’ A Faithful Narrative is his account of the evangelical awakening in thirty-three communities along the Connecticut River Valley in 1734-1735. He wrote of this sermon that “I never found so much immediate saving fruit, in any measure, of any discourses I have offered to my congregation. . .” See A Faithful Narrative, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 4, The Great Awakening, ed. C.C. Goen (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), 168.
2 “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 19, Sermons and Discourses 1734-1738, ed. M.X. Lesser (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 370.