Duties of Children
William Ellery Channing

Discourse delivered to the Religious Society in Federal Street, Boston.

EPHESIANS vi. 1, 2: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honor thy father and thy mother, which is the first commandment with promise."

      FROM these words I propose to point out the duties of children to their parents. My young friends, let me ask your serious attention. I wish to explain to you the honor and obedience which you are required to render your parents; and to impress you with the importance, excellence, and happiness of this temper and conduct.
      It will be observed, in the progress of this discourse, that I have chiefly in view the youngest part of my hearers but I would not on this account be supposed to intimate that those who have reached more advanced periods of life are exempted from the obligation of honoring their parents. However old we may be, we should never forget that tenderness which watched over our infancy, which listened to our cries before we could articulate our wants, and was never weary with ministering to our comfort and enjoyments. There is scarcely any thing more interesting than to see the man retaining the respect and gratitude which belong to the child, than to see persons, who have come forward into life, remembering with affection the laboring by their kind and respectful attention to cheer the declining years. and support the trembling infirmities, of those whose best days were spent in solicitude and exertion for their happiness and improvement. He who suffers any objects or pursuits to shut out a parent from his heart, who becomes so weaned from the breast which nourished and the arms which cherished him, as coldly to forsake a parent's dwelling and neglect a parent's comfort, not only renounces the dictates of religion and morality, but deserves to be cast out from society as a stranger to the common sensibilities of human nature.
      In the observations I am now to make, all who have parents should feel an interest, for some remarks will apply to all. But I shall principally confine myself to those who are so young as to depend on the care and to live under the eye of their parents; who surround a parent's table, dwell beneath a parent's roof, and hear continually a parent's voice. To such the text addresses it self, "Honor and obey your father and mother."
      I shall now attempt to explain and enforce what is here required of you.
      First, You are required to view and treat your parents with respect. Your tender, inexperienced age requires that you think of yourselves with humility and conduct yourselves with modesty; that you respect the superior age and wisdom and improvements of your parents, and observe towards them a submissive deportment. Nothing is more unbecoming in you nothing will render you more unpleasant in the eyes of others, than forward or contemptuous conduct towards your parents. There are children -- and I wish I could sav there are only a few -- who speak to their parents with rudeness grow sullen at their rebukes, behave in their presence as if they deserved no attention, hear them speak without noticing them and rather ridicule than honor them. There are many children at the present day who think more highly of themselves than of their elders; who think that their own wishes are first to be gratified who abuse the condescension and kindness of their parents and treat them as servants rather than superiors.
      Beware, my young friends, lest you grow up with this assuming and selfish spirit. Regard your parents as kindly given you by God, to support, direct, and govern you in your present state of weakness and inexperience. Express your respect for them in your manner and conversation. Do not neglect those outward signs of dependence and inferiority which suit your age. You are young, and you should therefore take the lowest place and rather retire than thrust yourselves forward into notice. You have much to learn, and you should therefore hear instead of seeking to be heard. You are dependent, and you should therefore ask instead of demanding what you desire; and you should receive every thing from your parents as a favor and not as a debt. I do not mean to urge upon you a slavish fear of your parents. Love them, and love them ardently: but mingle a sense of their superiority with your love. Feel a confidence in their kindness; but let not this confidence make you rude and presumptuous and lead to indecent familiarity. Talk to them with openness and freedom; but never contradict with violence; never answer with passion or contempt.
      The Scriptures say "Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother." "The eye that mocketh at his father, the ravens of the valley shall pluck it out, and the young ravens shall eat it." The sacred history teaches us that when Solomon on his throne saw his mother approaching him he rose to meet her, and bowed himself unto her and caused a seat to be set for her on his right hand. Let this wise and great king teach you to respect your parents.
      Secondly, You should be grateful to your parents. Consider how much you owe them. The time has been, and it was not a long time past, when you depended wholly on their kindness, when you had no strength to make a single effort for yourselves, when you could neither speak, nor walk, and knew not the use of any of your powers. Had not a parent's arm supported you, you must have fallen to the earth and perished. Observe with attention the infants which you so often see, and consider that a little while ago you were as feeble as they are; you were only a burden and a care and you had nothing with which you could repay your parents' affection. But did they forsake you? How many sleepless nights have they been disturbed by your cries! When you were sick, how tenderly did they hang over you! With what pleasure have they seen you grow up in health to your present state! and what do you now possess which you have not received from their hands? God indeed is your great parent your best friend and from him every good gift descends, but God is pleased to bestow every thing upon you through the kindness of your parents. To your parents you owe every comfort, you owe to them the shelter you enjoy from the rain and cold, the raiment which covers and the food which nourishes you. While you are seeking amusement, or are employed in gaining knowledge at school your parents are toiling that you may be happy, that your wants be supplied, that your minds may be improved, that you may grow up and be useful in the world. And when you consider how often you have forfeited all this kindness, and yet how ready they have been to forgive you, and to continue their favors, ought you not to look upon them with the tenderest gratitude ? What greater monster can there be than an unthankful child, whose heart is never warmed and melted by the daily expressions of parental solicitude; who, instead of requiting his best friend by his affectionate conduct, is sullen and passionate, and thinks that his parents have done nothing for him, because they will not do all he desires ? My young friends your parents' hearts have ached enough for you already; you should strive from this time, by your expressions of gratitude and love, to requite their goodness. Do you ask how you may best express these feelings of respect and gratitude, which have been enjoined ? In answer, I would observe,
      Thirdly, That you must make it your study to obey your parents, to do what they command, and do it cheerfully. Your own hearts will tell you that this is a most natural and proper expression of honor and love. For how often do we see children opposing their wills to the will of their parents; refusing to comply with absolute commands; growing more obstinate, the more they are required to do what they dislike; and at last sullenly and unwillingly obeying, because they can no longer refuse without exposing themselves to punishment. Consider, my young friends, that by such conduct you very much displease God, who has given you parents that they may control your passions and train you up in the way you should go. Consider how much better they can decide for you than you can for yourselves. You know but little of the world in which you live. You hastily catch at every thing which promises you pleasure, and unless the authority of a parent should restrain you, you would soon rush into ruin without a thought or a fear. In pursuing your own inclinations, your health would be destroyed, your minds would run waste you would grow up slothful selfish, a trouble to others, and burdensome to yourselves. Submit, then, cheerfully to your parents. Have you not experienced their goodness long enough to know that they wish to make you happy, even when their commands are most severe? Prove, then, your sense of their goodness by doing cheerfully what they require. When they oppose your wishes, do not think that you have more knowledge than they. Do not receive their commands with a sour, angry, sullen look, which says louder than words, that you obey only because you dare not rebel. lf they deny your requests, do not persist in urging them, but con sider how many requests they have already granted you. Consider that you have no claim upon them, and that it will be base and ungrateful for you, after all their tenderness, to murmur and complain. Do not expect thatyour parents are to give up every thing to your wishes; but study to give up every thing to theirs. Do not wait for them to threaten; but, when a look tells you what they want, fly to perform it. This is the way in which you can best reward them for all their pains and labors. In this way you will make their houses pleasant and cheerful. But if you are disobedient, perverse, and stubborn, you will be uneasy yourselves, and will make all around you unhappy. You will make home a place of contention noise, and anger; and your best friends will have reason to wish that you had never been born. A disobedient child almost always grows up ill-natured and disobliging to all with whom he is connected. None love him, and he has no heart to love any but himself. If you would be amiable in your temper and manner, and desire to be beloved let me advise you to begin life with giving up your wills to your parents.
      Fourthly, You must further express your respect, affection, and gratitude, by doing all in your power to assist and oblige your parents. Children can very soon make some return for the kindness they receive. Every day you can render your parents some little service, and often save them many cares. and some times not a little expense. There have been children who in early life have been great supports to their sick, poor, and helpless parents. This is the most honorable way in which you can be employed. You must never think too highly of yourselves to be unwilling to do any thing for those who have done so much for you. You should never let your amusements take such a hold of your minds as to make you slothful, backward, and unwilling when you are called to serve your parents. Some children seem to think that they have nothing to seek but their own pleasure. They will run from every task which is imposed on them; and leave their par ents to want many comforts rather than expose themselves to a little trouble. But consider, had they loved you no better than you loved them, how wretched would have been your state! There are some children who not only refuse to exert themselves for their parents but add very much to their cares, give them unnecessary trouble, and, by carelessness, by wasting, by extravagance, help to keep them in poverty and toil. Such children, as they grow up instead of seeking to provide for them selves, generally grow more and more burdensome to their friends, and lead useless, sluggish, and often profligate lives. My young friends, you should be ashamed, after having given your parents so much pain, to multiply their cares and labors unnecessarily. You should learn very early to be active in pleasing them and active in doing what you can for yourselves. Do not waste all your spirit upon play, but learn to be useful. Perhaps the time is coming when your parents will need as much attention from you as you have received from them; and you should endeavor to form such industrious. obliging habits that you may render their last years as happy as they have rendered the first years of your existence.
      Fifthly, You should express your respect for your parents, and your sense of their kindness and superior wisdom by placing unreserved confidence in them. This is a very important part of your duty. Children should learn to be honest, sincere, and open-hearted to their parents. An artful, hypocritical child is one of the most unpromising characters in the world. You should have no secrets which you are unwilling to disclose to your parents. If you have done wrong, you should openly confess it, and ask that forgiveness which a parent's heart is ready to be stow. If you wish to undertake any thing. ask their consent. Never begin any thing in the hope that you can conceal your design. If you once strive to impose on your parents, you will be led on, from one step to another, to invent falsehoods, to practise artifice, till you will become contemptible and hateful. You will soon be detected, and then none will trust you. Sincerity in a child will make up for many faults. Of children, he is the worst who watches the eyes of his parents, pretends to obey as long as they see him but as soon as they have turned away does what they have forbidden. Whatever else you do never deceive. Let your parents always learn your faults from your own lips: and be assured they will never love you the less for your openness and sincerity.
      Lastly, You must prove vour respect and gratitude to your parents by attending seriously to their instructions and admonitions, and by improving the advantages they afford you for becoming wise, useful, good, and happy for ever. I hope, my young friends, that you have parents who take care not only of your bodies but y our souls; who instruct you in your duty, who talk to you of your God and Saviour, who teach you to pray and to read the Scriptures, and who strive to give you such knowledge and bring you up in such habits as will lead you to usefulness on earth and to happiness in heaven. If you have not, I can only pity you: I have little hope that I can do you good by what I have here said. But if your parents are faithful in instructing and guiding you, you must prove your gratitude to them and to God, by listening respectfully and attentively to what they say; by shunning the temptations of which they warn you and by walking in the paths they mark out before you. You must labor to answer their hopes and wishes by improving in knowledge: by being industrious at school: by living peaceably with your companions; by avoiding all profane and wicked language; by fleeing bad company; by treating all persons with respect: by being kind and generous and honest, and by loving and serving your Father in heaven. This is the happiest and most delightful way of repaying the kindness of your parents. Let them see you growing up with amiable tempers and industrious habits: let them see you delighting to do good, and fearing to offend God: and they will think you have never been a burden. Their fears and anxieties about you will give place to brighter views. They will hope to see you prosperous, respected and beloved in the present world. But if in this they are to be disappointed, if thev are soon to see you stretched on the bed of sickness and death, they will still smile amidst their tears, and be comforted by the thought that you are the children of God, and that you are going to a Father that loves you better than they. If, on the contrary, you slight and despise their instructions, and suffer your youth to run waste, you will do much to embitter their happiness and shorten their days. Many parents have gone to the grave broken-hearted by the ingratitude, perverseness, impiety, and licentiousness of their children. My young friends, listen seriously to parental admonition. Beware, lest you pierce with anguish that breast on which you have so often leaned. Beware, lest by early contempt of instruction you bring your selves to shame and misery in this world, and draw on your heads still heavier ruin in the world beyond the grave.
      Children, I have now set before you your duties. Let me once more be seech you to honor your father and mother. Ever cling to them with confidence and love. Be to them an honor, an ornament, a solace, and a support. Be more than they expect and if pos sible be all that they desire. To you they are now looking with an affection which trembles for your safety. So live that their eyes may ever fix on you with beams of hope and joy. So live that the recollection of you may soothe their last hours. May you now walk by their side in the steps of the holy Saviour, and through his grace may you meet again in a better and happier world ! Amen.

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