In 1853, the Board of Managers for the House of Refuge in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania organized a contest to draw attention to the problem of juvenile delinquency. Prize money was offered and, ultimately, three prize essays were published in 1855, which dealt with the problem in dramatically different ways, as evidenced by at least the first two titles: (1) “The State's Care of Its Children: Considered as a Check on Juvenile Delinquency;” (2) “God’s University; or, The Family Considered as a Government, a School, and a Church, the Divinely Appointed Institute for Training the Young, for the Life that Now is, and for that which is to Come”; and (3) “An Essay on Juvenile Delinquency.” The author of the second essay, which is highlighted here, is Thomas Verner Moore.
Whereas the first essay emphasizes the role of the state in restraining juvenile delinquency, and the third essay emphasizes education as the chief remedy for the problem, Moore takes the Biblical position that we should look to the Scriptures to understand both the problem and the remedy. And in doing so, he focuses our attention squarely on the role of the family, God’s institution, designed especially for the good of society and the seminary of the church. (In the words of the English Puritan William Gouge, “The family is a seminary of the church and commonwealth”)
To the extent that the youth of Moore’s day were involved in the common vices of the era, he began exploring the problem by looking at the failure of the family to train its young people in the ways of piety and obedience in the Lord. And although he speaks with conviction about the necessity for parents to inculcate obedience in their children at an early age, he also emphasizes above all love as the guiding principle of family well-being.
The grand agent in executing family laws, is love. This should manifest itself in words, looks, and tones, to be properly effective. The parent whose cold and repulsive manner represses all confiding familiarity in the child, is building a wall of ice between himself and his offspring, which even the warmth of love cannot penetrate. The child should be early taught to confide his feelings freely to his parent, by the open and loving manner of the parent, or he will seek companions and confidants elsewhere.
But family religion involves more than family worship. As all religion is included in love, so all family religion is contained in family love; and where there is this genuine love to God and one another, the family is not only a church, but an earthly type of heaven.
As the family is the nursery of society and the church, he tells us that education is happening whether intended or not, and that the memory of childhood lessons is of such importance and its influence of such longevity that:
There is a species of parchment manuscripts called palimpsest, which contain some recent monkish work of devotion, written over a copy of some ancient classic, but which, by a little care in removing the later writing, will give back the original copy in clear and legible distinctness. Every human soul is such a palimpsest, in which, beneath its superficial con tents, there lies an earlier and more indelible tracing of what was written on the heart, in the fresh, unblotted susceptibility of childhood and youth.
Moore concludes his essay with a summary of his points that we shall list here because in a few words of Biblical wisdom addressed to parents that are timeless he points us to Scriptural principles that will help any family.
We therefore sum up a few hints in conclusion, that embody the principles of the foregoing essay, attention to which will tend to make a happy home and a virtuous family.
Learn to govern yourselves, and to be gentle and patient.
Guard your tempers, especially in seasons of ill-health, irritation, and trouble, and soften them by prayer, penitence, and a sense of your own short comings and errors.
Never speak or act in anger, until you have prayed over your words or acts, and concluded that Christ would have done so, in your place.
Remember that valuable as is the gift of speech, the gift of silence is often much more so.
Do not expect too much from others, but re member that all have an evil nature, whose developments we must expect, and which we should forbear and forgive, as we often desire forbearance and forgiveness ourselves.
Never retort a sharp or angry word. It is the second word that makes the quarrel.
Beware of the first disagreement.
Learn to speak in a gentle tone of voice.
Learn to say kind and pleasant things whenever an opportunity offers.
Study the character of each one, and sympathize with them in their troubles, however small.
Do not neglect little things, if they can affect the comfort of others in the smallest degree.
Avoid moods and pets, and fits of sulkiness.
Learn to deny yourself, and to prefer others.
Beware of meddlers and tale-bearers.
Never charge a bad motive, if a good one is conceivable.
Be gentle but firm with children.
Do not allow your children to be away from home at night, without knowing where they are.
Do not allow them to go where they please on the Sabbath.
Do not furnish them much spending money.
Remember the grave, the judgment seat, and the scenes of eternity, and so order your home on earth, that you shall have a home in heaven.
Take time to read Moore’s prize essay on the family, and with application, you and your family will be greatly blessed.