What’s a Godly Father to Do for His Children?

Introduction: A Puritan Lesson Plan by Cotton Mather

On Father’s Day we tend to focus on simple gifts to Dads—a tie, a silly or sentimental card—and on backyard barbecues. All good things, to be sure. And modern fathers tend to focus their parental energy on teaching their kids how to play sports, get good grades, or lead a “balanced life.” Again, all good, but have we lost our focus on a father’s spiritual role? Perhaps comparing a father’s focus in Puritan America will help us to answer that question. Cotton Mather’s A Puritan Father’s Lesson Plan provides just such a look.

Cotton Mather (February 12, 1663 – February 13, 1728), A.B. 1678 (Harvard College), A.M. 1681; honorary doctorate 1710 (University of Glasgow), was a socially and politically influential Puritan minister, prolific author, and pamphleteer. He was the son of influential minister Increase Mather. Mather was named after his grandfather, Rev. John Cotton. He attended Boston Latin School, and graduated from Harvard in 1678, at only 15. After completing his post-graduate work, he joined his father as assistant Pastor (age 18) of Boston’s original North Church. It was not until his father’s death, in 1723, that Mather assumed full responsibilities as Pastor at the Church.

As a child Cotton probably memorized his grandfather’s (Rev. John Cotton’s Catechism) “Spiritual Milk for American Babes” (64 Q & A’s) which was published in 1646 and is considered the first children’s book by an American. The Rev. Cotton’s Catechism was incorporated into The New England Primer around 1701 and remained a component of that work for over 150 years. Rev. Cotton Mather’s ~Resolved ~ is the Puritan Parents’ Lesson Plan which compliments The New England Primer.

Note: Due to space and our shrinking attention span, listed below you will only find the first five of twenty-one parental resolutions for the spiritual training of children. To download all twenty-one resolutions as a complimentary Word Document, click here.

Cotton Mather’s Preamble

Parents, Oh how much ought you to be continually devising for the good of your children! Often devise how to make them “wise children”; how to give them a desirable education, an education that may render them desirable; how to render them lovely and polite, and serviceable in their generation. Often devise how to enrich their minds with valuable knowledge; how to instill generous, gracious, and heavenly principles into their minds; how to restrain and rescue them from the paths of the destroyer, and fortify them against their peculiar temptations. There is a world of good that you have to do for them. You are without the natural feelings of humanity if you are not in a continual agony to do for them all the good that ever you can. It was no mistake of an ancient writer to say, “Nature teaches us to love our children as ourselves.” 

~ Resolved ~

1.   At the birth of my children, I will resolve to do all I can that they may be the Lord’s. I will now actually give them up by faith to God; entreating that each child may be a child of God the Father, a subject of God the Son, a temple of God the Spirit – and be rescued from the condition of a child of wrath, and be possessed and employed by the Lord as an everlasting instrument of His glory. 

2.   As soon as my children are capable of minding my admonitions, I will often, often admonish them, saying, “Child, God has sent His son to die, to save sinners from death and hell. You must not sin against Him. You must every day cry to God that He would be your Father, and your Saviour, and your Leader. You must renounce the service of Satan, you must not follow the vanities of this world, you must lead a life of serious religion.” 

3.   Let me daily pray for my children with constancy, with fervency, with agony. Yea, by name let me mention each one of them every day before the Lord. I will importunately beg for all suitable blessings to be bestowed upon them: that God would give them grace, and give them glory, and withhold no good thing from them; that God would smile on their education, and give His good angels the charge over them, and keep them from evil, that it may not grieve them; that when their father and mother shall forsake them, the Lord may take them up.  With importunity I will plead that promise on their behalf: “The Heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit unto them that ask Him.” Oh! happy children, if by asking I may obtain the Holy Spirit for them! 

4.   I will early entertain the children with delightful stories out of the Bible. In the talk of the table, I will go through the Bible, when the olive-plants about my table are capable of being so watered. But I will always conclude the stories with some lessons of piety to be inferred from them. 

5.   I will single out some Scriptural sentences of the greatest importance; and some also that have special antidotes in them against the common errors and vices of children. They shall quickly get those golden sayings by heart, and be rewarded with silver or gold, or some good thing, when they do it. Such as,  

  • Psalm 11:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” 
  • Matthew 16:26 “What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
  • 1 Timothy 1:15 “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” 
  • Matthew 6:6 “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret.”
  • Ephesians 4:25 “Putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour.” 
  • Romans 12:17, 19 “Recompense to no man evil for evil… Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves.”
  • Matthew 6:33 “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be given unto you.”
  • Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not upon your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he shall direct your paths.”

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