Monday, October 17, 2016

A Family Well-Ordered, by Cotton Mather

Cotton Mather, a pastor in Boston in the late 1600s to early 1700s, is one of the best known Puritans of the American founding era.  He was a prolific writer, champion of education, man of science, and, most unfortunately for his legacy (not to mention for a number of victims), a key figure in the Salem witch trials.

Among his many writings, we find this little gem: A Family Well-Ordered, or An Essay to Render Parents and Children Happy in One Another.  Long before James Dobson got us to focus on our families, Mather communicated guidelines for the family drawn from scripture.

Mather's style will put off many readers.  Not to elevate his writing to the place of scripture or classic literature, but if a reader is not comfortable reading the King James Bible or the plays of Shakespeare, he will probably not enjoy Mather's verbosity.  For example: "Let our authority effectually keep our children from all their unruly exorbitances and extravagancies."  In my opinion, it's good for the brain to read things that will demand a bit more from you and perhaps expand your vocabulary.

Mather writes about the parents' duty to their children, and the children's duty to the parent.  Above all else, he writes, parents must do all in their power to see that their children come to know the Lord.  This can be done through teaching, but more important is parental modeling: "Parents, be exemplary. Your example may do much towards the salvation of your children; your works will more work upon your children than your words; your patterns will do more than your precepts, your copies more than your counsels."

From the children, they should know that they risk the wrath of God if they don't honor their parents.  They should treat their parents with reverence, obedience, and recompense.  He even extends this to treatment of teachers, bosses, and, in a section that is revolting to modern readers, slaves' treatment of their masters.  This section especially dates A Family Well-Ordered, but the overall message is as contemporary and timeless as the countless scriptural reference Mather sprinkles throughout his exposition.  It may not be as easy to read as a James Dobson book, but A Family Well-Ordered is relevant and challenging.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book written by a Puritan

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