Richard Furman (1755–1825) and His Letter, “The Children of Church Members”


For the month of May, Truth78 has graciously allowed our readers to freely download Zealous by David Michael. This book presents seven commitments that provide a vision and framework for the discipleship of the next generation.

Editor’s Note: In January we asked the esteemed Baptist historian Tom Nettles for recommendations from Baptist history on the subject of the Christian home. In that conversation he pointed us to Richard Furman and his eminently helpful treatise on church members and their children. In what follows, Dr. Nettles has written a biographical sketch of Richard Furman (1755–1825), with a specific focus on his ministry and his counsel for raising children in the Lord. After Dr. Nettles’ introduction will be Furman’s work “The Children of Church Members.”

A Short Introduction to Richard Furman by Tom J. Nettles

Richard Furman was born to Wood and Rachel Furman on October 9, 1755 in Esopus, New York. During his childhood his family moved South, eventually settling in South Carolina. At that time, revival of the Separate Baptist variety had just begun, and Furman at fifteen years of age felt strongly convicted to examine the doctrines of Christianity for himself. This issued in deep conviction. He was overwhelmed by a true sense of guilt. Eventually he came to Christ as a sinner dependent on the free grace of the gospel. Upon requesting believer’s baptism, he was questioned thoroughly by Joseph Reese. Furman’s mother, upon hearing her son’s statement of faith in Christ, also was converted and was baptized with her son by Reese.

After a period of self-imposed isolation to study the Scriptures, Furman began witnessing to family, friends, and servants. Also, he became an “exhorter,” an evangelistic role where the young Furman would call the congregation to take seriously the message of a visiting minister. In May 1774, after having preached for two years at the High Hills church and engaged in extensive itinerant evangelistic work, he was ordained to the Gospel ministry and became pastor of the church. Though only nineteen years old, his zeal for preaching not only gave him an effective popularity at High Hills but thrust him throughout South Carolina and into Virginia for evangelistic preaching. His zealous activity in support of the Patriot cause earned a bounty on his head from General Cornwallis.

In 1787, Furman accepted a call to First Baptist Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Furman’s influence expanded greatly from this time until his death in 1825. David Benedict records, “I do not know of any one in the Baptist ranks, at that time, who had a higher reputation among the American Baptists for wisdom in counsel, and a skill in management, in all the affairs of the denomination.”[1]

1. David Benedict, Fifty Years Among the Baptists (New York: Sheldon & Company, 1860), pp. 48, 49.

Furman served as moderator over the Charleston Association for more than twenty-five years. His constant insistence on ministerial education led the association to form a General Committee of which Furman was president for thirty-four years. His reasoning on this issue was published in a circular letter for the Charleston Association, “On the Duty of Churches to provide for the instruction and improvement of persons called by them to the ministry, previous to their entering on the work.”

When the Baptist Convention of South Carolina was formed in 1821, the first state convention in Baptist life, Furman was its chief instigator. He served as its president for four years. In 1814, he was unanimously elected first president of the Triennial Convention and was reelected in 1817. Throughout his ministry, Furman proved to be a true pastor-theologian. His commitment to confessional evangelical truth and Baptist ecclesiology was clear and profound.

Furman’s ecclesiology was set forth most cogently in his sermon “The Constitution and Order of the Christian Church.” He described the glory of the universal church but focused on the visible church. The visible church should be composed only of visible saints. Baptism, therefore, pertained only to those professing and giving substantial evidence of conversion. Infants must be excluded from baptism, although those who die in infancy, so Furman believed, are saved “in a sovereign gracious manner.”

The officers of the church are pastors and deacons. Apostles, prophets, and evangelists served specific historical functions in the apostolic age, but their calling and divine credentials have ceased without succession. A pastor must be qualified in both teaching and governing, have a sense of duty and call to gospel ministry, and be “truly acquainted with experimental religion and deeply affected with its reality and importance.”

Having engaged in polemical contests with Anglicans, Furman insisted that churches are not national bodies and have no authority over the consciences of the general population. They are congregational having within themselves the power of admitting persons to membership and office. Among the functions of the church are corporate worship, pure administration of the ordinances, and the duty of church discipline to preserve both the unity and purity of the church. From within a lifetime of pastoral labors and ecclesiological writings, therefore, Richard Furman engaged the subject of church members and their children.

Specifically, the piece that follows originated as a circular letter written for the Charleston Association in 1792. It’s original title, “On the Relation the Children of Church Members bear to the Church, and the Duties arising from that relation” reveals the question at hand. Though Baptist churches do not baptize the infants born to members nor consider them as children of the covenant (for the new covenant rests on regeneration), they nevertheless recognize a special obligation to the children of church members.

In his essay, the first part gives reasons that Baptists do not baptize their infants. It provides a clear exegetical and doctrinal rationale for the Baptist rejection of infant baptism and practice of believers baptism only. Then, the second part discusses the sober obligations that rest on the church and the parents in rearing children to “a diligent use of the means of grace.” The discussion contains biblical counsel for marriage, for child rearing, for education, for doctrinal instruction of children, and for inculcation of a deep sense of the claims of truth and duty. In all, Furman’s treatise repays the reader handsomely, and so in this day when some Baptists are looking to other traditions to find help for their homes, I commend Furman’s Baptist vision for raising children in the home and the church.

“The Children of Church Members” by Richard Furman

[Editors Note: The following letter has been edited for clarity and readability. Additions are identified with brackets, and any changed wording is identified in the footnotes.]

Originally Presented as a Circular Letter to the Charleston Association in 1792, under the title, On the Relation the Children of Church Members Bear to the Church, and the Duties Arising from that Relation

The Ministers and Messengers of the several Baptist Churches united in the Charleston Association, met at Coosawhatchie, the third [of November], and continued to the seventh of November, 1792, to the Churches they represent send Christian Salutation:

Beloved Brethren,

Conformably to a resolve of the last year [in 1791], we are now to address you on an interesting and delicate subject: An enquiry into the relation in which the children of church members stand to the church; and the most advisable method to be pursued respecting them, for their own spiritual benefit, and the general interests of [Christian] religion. This subject naturally dividing itself into two parts, we shall consider them separate in the order in which they stand in the enquiry. The question respecting infant church membership, has long been a matter of controversy between the Baptist churches and their brethren who practice the baptism of infants and will no doubt always be considered as a leading point in those disputes respecting baptism. And, perhaps, while the advocates of infant baptism have gone too far in asserting the right of membership, our churches—or the advocates for our [baptist] principles—have sometimes overlooked their true relation, and been too inattentive to the duties consequent thereon. It may be difficult to find a term every way suitable to express this relation [between the children of church members and the church]; but we think it is of the nature of wardship. [In order] That the subject may appear in as clear a light as we are capable of placing it, we wish you to consider the following things:

First. [We wish you to consider] That a right to regular membership in a Christian church, is founded by divine appointment in a spiritual state and character, which are only attainable through grace, and presuppose the depravity and guilt of human nature — all being by nature children of wrath, and even those who have received the grace of God themselves, found unable to [pass on the grace of God][2] to their offspring; which last is not only proved by the general tenor of Holy Writ, and expressly in the words of Christ [in John 3:6], “That which is born of the flesh is flesh”; and of St. John [in John 1:12–13], “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God — who were born not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”; but is frequently evinced to our observation in the children of truly pious parents, who proved notoriously wicked, and finally impenitent; notwithstanding all the care of education, and the solicitude of their parents to impress them with a just sense of religion.

2. “communicate it.”

Second. Without gracious qualifications a person is unfit for the holy duties and exercises of the church, which consist chiefly in faith, love and obedience, [1 Cor. 2:14 says] “The carnal man discerneth not the things of the spirit;” [Rom. 8:7 says] “The carnal mind is not subject to the law of God”; and the soul that is not influenced by love and zeal, as abiding principles, will not be concerned for the honor of God, and the interests of his kingdom.

Third. The Scriptures expressly require evangelical knowledge, repentance and faith, with a profession of the same, of those who come to baptism and the Lord’s supper, the public sacraments of the gospel, whereby persons are received and confirmed in the visible membership of the church: The three first being necessary in order to our obtaining acceptance before God, and the latter for the honor of his cause in the world, and for the satisfaction and fellowship of his people.

Should it be objected, “that infants certainly have been considered, under the former dispensation, as members of the church by God’s own appointment and partook of the sealing ordinances of that dispensation; and that as the covenant made with Abraham was the covenant grace, the same that we are under, therefore the same privilege must be continued to children now — 

We answer: admitting the dispensation to Abraham was the covenant of grace, it could be so only in a qualified sense and was but an imperfect dispensation of that covenant and had sundry things included in it which did not belong to it, strictly considered; so of which were by inspired writers of after ages declared to be statutes that were not good, and carnal ordinances, and God himself is represented as finding fault with them; which are given as reasons for a new and better dispensation. Whatever is essential to the covenant of grace, remains the same invariably from age to age, and may be expected in every dispensation of it; but what God has been pleased at any time to add of a positive nature, and especially of what is declared to be imperfect, may be left out in any new dispensation: In this respect, one dispensation can be no rule or standard for another. —

Hence we may see the futility of the argument drawn from Abraham’s covenant and circumcision, in favor of infant church membership, and infant baptism. For if we grant the covenant made with Abraham was the covenant of grace, it must also be granted by our opponents, that it was an imperfect dispensation of that covenant to which the gospel has succeeded: And if we should also grant that baptism as an ordinance has come in the room of circumcision, neither of which have been ordinarily granted, yet it must follow that they are come into the room of the former as to supersede, not to copy after them: as the day succeeds the night, or perhaps more aptly, as the triumphant will succeed the military state of the church. The glorious dispensation of the gospel has for its archetype, or pattern, not the imperfect dispensation to Abraham and the Jewish church; but the covenant itself, as made with Christ; which is now more fully revealed, and enjoyed in a church state, and with ordinances much better adapted to its spiritual nature and original grand design. That many children of church members, even the most pious, are not in the covenant of grace strictly considered, must be granted by all who hold that an interest in that covenant will produce as its proper effect the conversion and salvation of the soul; and it is apparent that what have been frequently called sealing ordinances are not essential to the covenant since there was a time when it was revealed to men without them. Positive institutions therefore are to be considered absolutely dependent on the will of God, as revealed in every dispensation to which they are annexed; whether they respect subjects, manner of administration, or any other circumstance.

But what appears to us to put the matter beyond dispute is the account given of the new covenant, by a prophet, recognized by an apostle, and applied in positive terms to the gospel dispensation. It is plain from the account, which you may see at large in the eighth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews, that the old and new covenant mean the former and present dispensations, which, according to the hypothesis we have laid down, are dispensations of the same covenant, to wit, the covenant of grace — The one being dark, shadowy, united with carnal ordinances, and administered in general to carnal subjects, is represented as become old and passing away — The other [namely, the new covenant,] declared to be not like the former, and established in the gospel church is particularly distinguished in this, that it should be made with spiritual subjects, and that the evidence of their interest in, and right to this covenant, should be, not the sign of circumcision in the flesh, but the law of God, put and written in their hearts. To these, God is a covenant God, and they are his covenant people.

Some have supposed that transactions at Sinai are referred to under the description of the old covenant, from the reference [in Hebrews 8] to Israel’s being brought out of Egypt, and [they maintain] that [the old covenant] it does not affect the covenant made with Abraham. But it should be remembered that all God’s dealings with, and communications to the nation of Israel, ’till the coming of Christ, were in continuation and confirmation of the dispensation given to Abraham. [Furthermore][3] the words under consideration [in Hebrews 8] apply with more force to transactions before their emancipation from Egyptian bondage than to those following; for they speak of making, or beginning a covenant, when God took them by the hand (a covenanting act) to effect this deliverance for them; which is very expressive of his foretelling to Abraham the bondage of his posterity in Egypt, and his promising to deliver them out of it, at the very time the covenant with him was made; as recorded in the fifteenth chapter of Genesis. The covenant made with Abraham and his natural seed, with the ordinances annexed to it, were well calculated to serve as an introduction to the gospel dispensation; and the sign or seal of circumcision was very properly administered to his children, and all who pertained to him, while it was the design of God to distinguish them as a nation from the rest of mankind; who were to be under the special care of Jehovah; of whom more immediately, Christ was to come, and among whom he was to perform his personal ministry on earth.

3. “and.”

And considering Abraham and his posterity as typical of Christ and his gospel church, we shall have no objection, in this point of view, to admit that baptism has come in the room of circumcision with respect to the subjects: For as circumcision was to be administered to all Abraham’s children throughout their generations as such, so baptism is to be administered to all the seed of Christ, which are believers. And the subjects of the ordinance must appear such [believers] by profession, as the administration is performed by imperfect men. Our not knowing certainly who are true believers, and the admission of adults into the church who are found eventually to be unholy, form no sufficient objection against this scheme, since God has not determined to prevent all evil in the present state of things, and has preserved the knowledge of the heart to himself. It is sufficient that he has shewn his displeasure at any one’s coming to his sacred gospel feast without a wedding garment, and every where required that faith, repentance, and evangelical knowledge, should precede a person’s admission to the sealing ordinances of the gospel church, of which description is baptism as much as the Lord’s supper. If a church, not paying proper regard to this rule, admits such persons to those holy ordinances, without demanding proper evidence in their profession and conduct, it becomes culpable; but where this care is taken, the presumer alone [that is, the unconverted person who chooses to become baptized] is answerable for his intrusion.

That what we have stated above respecting the new covenant is just, appears by farther considering — That the writing of God’s law in the hearts of men, or in other words, regeneration, and blessings of salvation, afforded at the introduction of the gospel, were not new things to the subjects of grace; but were made sure by Christ’s engagements for his redeemed, in every age of the world, and were received and richly enjoyed by antediluvian [pre-flood] saints, patriarchs, prophets; but in the dispensation to Abraham these [gifts of regeneration and salvation] were not made the term of being in covenant, or of admission of membership in the national, and in many respects, carnal church then established. But in the new covenant, in contradistinction to the old, regeneration is required. This accounts for John’s address to the Scribes and Pharisees, when [they are] coming to his baptism, [he says in Matt. 3:9] “Think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham our father, for God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham — bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance;” [that regeneration is required also accounts] for the constant requisition of repentance and faith, or their equivalent, in admission to that ordinance throughout the New Testament, and of examination and knowledge of the nature and significancy of the ordinance in an approach to the Lord’s table. With reference to this, no doubt, Jesus made and baptized disciples, commanded his apostles to teach and baptize[4] and informed his church that no man could be his disciple without taking up his cross daily and following him; and except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. This view of things furnishes a satisfactory and complete answer to the enquiry often asked with an air of triumph, “If children of believers were once admitted into the church as such, when were they excluded?” — Even then, when the covenant which admitted them was made old and passed away, and the new covenant established on better promises, made with believers, exhibiting a more just view of things, and unfolding a more full and glorious discovery of the grace of God, took place.

4. Doctor Doddridge in his valuable exposition of the New Testament after observing, in a note, that Matheteusate signifies proselyte or disciple, adds, “It is certain that no argument can be drawn from this to the prejudice of infant baptism: For had Christ sent out these missionaries to propagate Judaism in the world, he might have used the same language: “Go, and proselyte all nations circumcising them in the name of the God of Israel, &c.” — In this the doctor furnishes a convincing proof of the power and influence of prepossession, even in great and liberal minds as his certainly was. It would seem natural to conclude that a little calm reflection would have brought the doctor’s candor to acknowledge, that if what he has stated concerning the proper meaning of the word is just, yet the manner of proselyting must in all cases be conducted according to the scheme formed and laid down as the rule of conduct: And if it would be natural to understand that infants might be circumcised in making proselytes to the Jews’ religion, where God had positively appointed it, yet it will not follow that they may be also considered as included in the gospel scheme for subjects of baptism where repentance and faith are invariably required as qualifications for that ordinance; which must therefore exclude them from it. Besides, it is put before baptism and is interpreted in a former part of the same note as designing instruction in the essentials of religion, which adult persons should receive previous to baptism. But many learned men contend that the word in the original strictly means making proselytes by instruction. The learned Dr. Whitby is of the number among the Paedobaptists; and the very learned and ingenious Dr. Gale, among the Anti-Paedobaptists, has proved it by the proper signification of the primitive word, and by various inflections throughout its derivatives; by its use in the best authors, both Heathen and Christian, and a variety of other arguments. Dr. Doddridge however, it should seem, as well as many others in his sphere, knew nothing of the singular criticism advanced by some on the parallel text in Mark, by which it is shewn that “he that believeth and is baptized” designs the person who is already baptized when he believes, and of consequence that it is most proper to baptize those who do not believe. Or that the promise of salvation is made to those who are baptized before they believe.

But though we thus contend that infants are not included in membership of the visible church, as children of church members, and have not a right to the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper, to eat in the exercises of discipline, as such, yet we also argue, that they are placed under guardianship of the church; have a particular claim to their prayers, attention and care; and are especially entitled to those ordinances which are designed to be the means of conversion. On the other hand they, in consequence of this relation, owe a duty and respect to the church which bind them to attend its worship, regard its admonitions and advice—and when they become properly acquainted with religion understanding its doctrines and precepts, and feeling its sacred influence on their hearts—to unite in its membership, and use their best endeavours to promote its interests. These sentiments we think are fairly inducted from the following positions:

The church as a holy society or organized body, for answering its grand design of promoting the glory of God, and the interests of his kingdom, appears to be principally appointed to two purposes. First, the preserving an holy union and fellowship among the subjects of grace; their preservation, comfort and improvement, while they are continued in the state of trial and ripening for the blessedness of Heaven. Secondly, the conversion of those who are yet in a state of nature [that is, unbelief]; and the assistance of such as become concerned about their eternal interests, and enquire what they shall do to be saved. The ordinances of the gospel committed to their charge, are accordingly adapted to these purposes. Baptism, the Lord’s supper, and the exercise of [church] discipline, or governing power, are [only] proper to those who are subjects of grace, or strictly members: [but] prayer, singing the praises of God, preaching the gospel, reading and hearing the scriptures, and such, though of use and necessary to the renewed and sanctified, are also designed for the benefit of others and useful as means of conversion. And though they are to be made use of with respect to all, as far as they can be prevailed on to attend them, yet it is more immediately the duty of the church to pay attention therein to those who voluntarily associate with them for the important purposes of the gospel, or are placed by divine appointment, or in the course of providence, under their immediate care. The primitive church seems to have viewed things in this light, and pursued a correspondent line of conduct with respect to those who were considered as catechumens or penitents. And that the children of church members are to be considered in this light, ’till they either become members of the church, or prove themselves unworthy of its care by wicked conduct, we conclude: First, from the law of nature, secondly, from exhortations and directions given in the gospel of Christ to this import.

Man was originally designed for a religious and social creature and the law of his nature placed him, after the first formation of species, under the protection and guardianship of his parents during his minority: so that by the divine constitution the parent is his guardian and director in religion, as well as in other concerns, at least during a certain term of life; and as the obligations to religion are mutual, the parent is bound to give, and the child to receive instruction and make use of means God has appointed for that end; and also to be of the religion of the parent; unless sufficient evidence is furnished that such religion is wrong. Nor has the fall of man destroyed these obligations or reversed the order of the divine plan; though it must be confessed it has greatly disqualified men for being instructors, and by its unfavorable influence on the moral powers, unfitted the instructed for properly obeying, or improving their advantages. Duties so important and specially connected with one of most near and universal relations among men, must also involve general concern of society: And accordingly have ever engaged the most serious attention of wise legislators, and civilized nations. But they must more immediately engage the attention of religious society. To the church of God, therefore, where society is brought to its most refined noble state on earth; which is particularly formed to promote the great interests of religion, and qualified by special grace to answer important purpose; this duty [to disciple children] must apply with peculiar force. Accordingly we find the gospel of Christ inculcating the duty “of bringing up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” [in Eph. 6:4] with particular directions both to parents and children, respecting it. Those directions are contained in epistles addressed to churches and public ministers of the gospel, who appear to be strictly charged with the observance of them; and are greatly recommended to us in the attention shewn to the persons and interests of children by our blessed Lord himself, who received them graciously when brought to him, and gently rebuked his disciples when they would have prevented them, with this observation [in Matt. 19:14], “[let] little children to come unto me and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God.” — Though these words appear originally to have particularly respected the bringing of children to Christ, personally and in bodily sense, there appears to be no impropriety in understanding them with respect to all the means of grace proper to their state and character; but if this sense is admitted it must be with the limitation proposed: For if the permission to come to him is [wrongly] understood to include an approach to him by all means indefinitely, [then] the necessity of rational qualification is laid aside, distinctions clearly made in other passages of scripture [are] rendered nugatory [meaningless], and a right for [these little children’s] admission to the Lord’s supper is as firmly established as to baptism, the thing ordinarily contended to any other ordinance.

Having thus answered the enquiry as it respects the relation of children to the church, we proceed to consider what is most advisable with respect to the performance of the duties connected with, and dependent on that relation, as comprehended in the second part of the enquiry. There are two kinds, such as properly belong [1] to the church as a body, and [2] such as pertain to parents in their private or individual capacity. The guardianship of the church is properly exercised [a] in seeing that the parents attend to their duty individually, as Christians, and that the children are properly regarded by the public ministry and brought to attend public worship; [b] by the members of the church in general shewing a tender and affectionate regard for them, and [c] taking every proper measure both by word and example to convince them of the reality and excellence of religion, but especially by [d] praying earnestly with and for them. [e] Private and public catechising, in which care is not only taken to teach them a form of sound words, but to lead them into the sense spirit of the Christian doctrine, has been, and probably ever will be great use: Especially if united with friendly familiar discourse on the subject of religion both by the members and minister, whenever suitable opportunities offer. — But the principal part of this enquiry respects the instruction and conduct of the parents and immediate instructors themselves, in their personal capacity.

The care of the young and tender mind should begin at the first dawn of reason. The first thing, or one of the first, should be to establish parental authority, and to unite with it a becoming mildness and tenderness which should pervade the whole temper and conduct of the instructor: To govern by consent is the best method of exercising power in all kinds of government, where the consent can be obtained to what is right and laudable; this, therefore, is an important matter, and a great deal depends on the conduct of the parent for obtaining it. Our attention should be seriously fixed on ourselves, and endeavours used to obtain such command of our [emotions and] passions, [so] that conduct toward the tender offspring of our bodies might be ever under the influence of wisdom, prudence, and the fear of God. To lead them in the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtues we must enter in to the spirit of the[se] great subjects ourselves; this gives consistency and energy to the parent’s instructions, and a sacredness to his authority which makes it respected. Inconsistency is easily discovered, even by the simple; and no mechanical conduct will answer the purpose on this occasion. A stern use of authority may produce a slavish fear, distant respect, and reluctant submission; and effeminate tenderness and indulgence may meet with some return of similar affection; but it is only the [parenting][5] we have described, that can gain the heart and influence the life in the pursuits which are truly noble and virtuous. — In the young years, it may be best to conduct the [upbringing][6] of a child without much reasoning [them them]; but in a more advanced period, it is certainly necessary to address the understanding and conscience.

5 “government.”

6 “government.”

7. “a subjection is manifested.”

It should be a settled point never to indulge a perverse humour [in your child]; its gratification should be positively denied, and the denial persisted in, till [your child yields];[7] then forgiveness and tenderness may be shewn. Indulgences are so far from removing the cause of uneasiness in such cases, that they increase it; however therefore our tender feelings may, through weakness, dictate a different conduct, this is what true and rational love will point out. A parent should not suffer himself to be trifled with by a child, to be contradicted, or spoken to irreverently; such behaviour should be checked in the beginning, by such remarks of disapprobation as are sufficient to prevent it; but it will ever be a matter of wisdom to proportion [your] reproof or correction to the nature and degree of the offence [of the child]: What is purely the effect of [a child’s] weakness and inadvertence, should be viewed with tenderness and it is better to view some things as though they were not seen. Be particularly careful not to laugh at a fault, especially in connection with reproof. Begin, as you have opportunity, early with their education, and let it be a particular object to furnish their minds with useful knowledge: Those parents who have property [wealth] sufficient should consider themselves bound in duty to give them [broad, or] liberal educations; but the capacity and genius of the child should be consulted: and there should be ever held up to him a view of some useful industrious course of life to be pursued. The [lofty] idea of being fine gentlemen and ladies, in a course of indolence and indulgence, and which is often inculcated in their infancy and youth, has ruined thousands, both as to soul and body, who seemed to be born to stations of eminence and usefulness in the world; many examples which are to be found all around us. — By receiving education, children are fitted for usefulness both in church and state, should God be pleased to bless them with the smiles of his grace and providence; and when it is obtained with such views as we have recommended, there is every reason to hope for the best. However the absurd prejudices against education may influence the minds of some in our denomination, we hope there are none so lost to a true sense of duty and advantage among the churches in this connection; we shall therefore pass over in silence the arguments by which such sentiments are confuted and exposed.

Children should never be threatened to be sent to school as a place of punishment; but whatever relates to their education should be considered, as it is, their privilege and honor. As they advance in life, a free and friendly [manner of speaking][8] with them,—where their conduct, in such [conversation],[9] is marked with respect and propriety—becomes proper; nor do we think they should be rigorously restrained from amusements when used for relaxation and proper occasions: some young minds are frightened from the thoughts of [the Christian] religion and the company of [those who] professor [it], where an universal gloom appears to be spread over them; and innocent amusements denied. But we are [also] very sensible that many “amusements” pass for innocent among the bulk of mankind, which are [in fact] not so, and have a very pernicious tendency on the morals and life of those who use them; such [amusements] should be carefully avoided and their evil nature pointed out with serious attention.

8. “converse.”

9. “Intercourse.”

These things are comprehended in the general scheme of a religious and useful education; but what respects the salvation of the soul, and the advancement of our Lord’s kingdom more immediately claim our attention. The parent, the church, with all religious friends and instructors, therefore, should insist in the most positive manner on the necessity of conversion, an interest in Christ, and a self-denied holy life, with all the correspondent doctrines of the gospel: These should be seriously and frequently urged, in a manner most likely to captivate and affect the heart; and reading the scriptures, private prayer and meditation, should be earnestly recommended. The importance of the gospel should also be inculcated, and a child [should be] taught [in good time][10] to look around and consider what methods are made use of by grace and providence, to advance the interests of religion; together with the obligations we are under to use our best endeavours for accomplishing the important end. As regular worship ought to be supported in every family, so care should be taken that constant and respectful attendance be given by the children; and [in] equal care, that they attend public worship in the church, and carefully observe the Sabbath. An attention to the public interests of religion, humanity, and benevolence, may be greatly promoted by setting before them the amiable nature of public-spiritedness, generosity and compassion, and then putting it in their power—as far as the parents’ ability will permit—to contribute something to the support of the ministry, relief of the poor, or the forwarding of any scheme, of benevolence and usefulness. Habits are easily acquired in early life, and such as these must have a happy influence on the temper and conduct. To the covetous such directions will no doubt be unwelcome; and such [persons] as never contribute any thing of their substance themselves to the support of the ministry or other public and benevolent uses, will hardly encourage it in their children; but such [greedy people] should consider, that persons of their character are not fit to be parents, and are really unworthy of the Christian name, or a place in the church of God.

10. “betimes.”

One of the first lessons which should be insisted on after [children][11] arrive at the state when reason gains its empire in the human breast is the necessity of enquiring after truth, and of subjecting their understanding and conscience to God alone. This will lead them into enquiries concerning the truth and propriety of the religious principles in which they have been educated, as well as to take a view of the sentiments professed by others — and all for this grand design, that their faith may not stand in the counsel of men, but in the word of God. — And that they may call no man master on earth, in this sense, but be subject to Christ alone. — Where this important business is properly performed, it may be expected the principles adopted will be permanent, and the profession consequent on them consistent and becoming. — But as many mistakes and dangers are incident to the understanding, too much caution cannot be used by the public ministry, by parents, and all who are concerned as religious guardians, or assistants to the youthful mind.

11. “they.”

They should be warned [1] while they exercise a freedom of thought in enquiry, not to make it a mere matter of speculation, but [to make it] an honest enquiry after truth and duty: [2] That they guard against infidelity and skepticism, and [3] that no motives to worldly honor or advantage influence them in their choice, to the prejudice of the pure principles or practice of religion: [4] That though it becomes their duty to make this [kind of free] enquiry—as rational agents, personally accountable to God, and under sacred obligations to embrace and adhere to truth, when clearly discovered, whatever change it may make, with respect either to sentiment or profession—yet they are also under obligations to pay a respectful attention, in the first instance, [a] to the church, which by the course of Providence, has been the guardian of their tender years, and [b] to the principles they have been taught, according to that general law of nature which we have considered, and the direction of holy writ; and that they are not at liberty to desert them, but [only] on the clear conviction that their duty to God requires it, on account of error either in sentiment or practice. Among the various considerations which naturally employ the mind on this subject [what follows][12] claims particular attention: That as the holy religion of Jesus is a self-denied course [of life], it is not only necessary we be determined to take up our cross and follow Christ daily; but we also need the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit, to enlighten our understandings to discern divine truth in its proper light, and dispose our hearts cordially to embrace and adhere to it. It should be urged accordingly. Where any religious denomination is less numerous, affluent, or honorable in the common judgment of men, than other [denominations] they are conversant with, it may be expected, that such [growing children] as have not virtue or greatness of soul sufficient to adhere to truth and goodness in adversity, will be drawn over to the connection where worldly advantages invite. This has been greatly the case of the Baptist churches in many parts of this country, though it is not confined to them; and many of those who were expected by their pious parents to succeed them in their places in the church, are now found among other denominations, where it is to be feared the purest motives have not carried them. From the knowledge we have of the danger and force of these temptations, we should be the more careful to fortify the unexperienced mind against them. Our youth should be furnished with the means of ample information respecting our essential doctrines and denominating principles; and the fallacy of those arguments on which the popular prejudices and reproaches are founded—which have been often made use of to injure the cause we are engaged in, and which we have reason to consider as the cause of Christ—should be exposed. The contemptible conduct of those [children who have] desert[ed] truth and duty for worldly advantages, should be laid open (however we may be tender of their persons) and rendered [unthinkable][13] in their view as it really is; And the love, of disinterested virtue, and generous conduct, [should be] [cultivated][14] by every engaging motive.

12. “This.”

13. “infamous.”

14. “excited.”

The importance of marriage to human life makes it a subject of paternal concern; and while our children are cautioned to avoid connection, in that intimate union, with the vicious, the profane, the indolent and the despicable, it may not be amiss to point out the peculiar advantage of being united with those [who have][15] the same [denominational] sentiments in religion. Some trying difficulties are apt to arise where the greatest prudence and liberality are exercised between those of different sentiments when united in that relation; but where these are wanting, the life of a person who has regard for religion, is rendered miserable. Should such marriages therefore be admitted, the free and unrestrained exercise of religious liberty should ever be secured by previous agreement [before marriage], and with such whose truth and known liberality may be relied on. Though we have already mentioned the importance of uniting with the church and submitting to the public ordinances, we cannot forbear adding here, that where there is any just reason to believe religion has exerted its sacred influence on the heart of a child; every encouragement should be given both by the parents and church for its coming to the holy ordinances; and for making a religious profession its first deliberate and public act. — That it may truly “seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness.” It has appeared by the best evidence the nature of the subject admits, that divine grace has frequently produced the conversion of children [even] when they were very young; and when they are thus brought up under the religious care of both their parents and the church, it may be rationally expected the blessing [of this divine grace of conversion] will be frequently afforded. And it may be justly concluded, that the conversion of such [young children] may not appear visible in its operation, as [is the case] in one who has grown up in a neglect of religion, and is recovered from the power of scandalous vice. [The conversion of younger children][16] should therefore, be sought for as hid treasure, that its reality may appear to the church, and its excellency to the world. Some young minds, as well as others, who have experienced grace, are kept back through diffidence; and others are [deceived][17] concerning religious profession and submission to ordinances, under the idea, that these things do not become their duty, till they receive a particular impulse to discover or prove it to them: but they should remember it is the appointment of God, and not their feelings which makes the duty, and as long as it is not complied with, they are guilty of disobedience to the divine command.

15. “of.”

16. “It.”

17. “rendered easy.”

This view of things may [motivate][18] the neglectful to a diligent use of the means of grace, that they may be found in the way of their duty; and encouragement should be given to the doubting to embrace the privileges they are entitled to.

18. “excite.”

Thus beloved brethren, we have laid before you a plan respecting the relationship and education of children, which appears to us to be consonant to the great law of nature and the gospel of Christ. By pursuing this we shall, on the one hand avoid what appears to us to be an abuse of holy ordinances, and on the other, secure every blessing and privilege in our power, for the benefit of our children. The spiritual, free and rational nature of the gospel worship will be held up to view in our churches, and generous, dignified sentiments inculcated in the minds of our members and their offspring. By a proper attendance to these duties, it is hoped we shall be placed in the way of receiving abundant and substantial blessings of having some of the most tender feelings of the heart gratified to the highest degree, in the spiritual happiness and true honour of our children; and of having the cause of God and the honor of our Redeemer promoted by them in his church, when we are gone to render our account to the judge of all the earth. Such a view of things cannot, we hope, fail to [motivate][19] your most vigorous endeavours to secure the important end proposed.

19. “excite.”

We remain, Beloved Brethren,

Yours in Gospel Bonds.



  • Tom J. Nettles

    Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon. Tom and his wife Margaret are actively involved with the ministry of LaGrange Baptist Church in LaGrange, Kentucky.

Tom J. Nettles

Tom J. Nettles

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon. Tom and his wife Margaret are actively involved with the ministry of LaGrange Baptist Church in LaGrange, Kentucky.