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Letter to His Children

by Isaac Watts (Senior)
Written 1685, when absent from family through persecution


THOUGH it hath pleased the only wise God to suffer the malice of ungodly men, the enemies of Jesus Christ (and my enemies for his sake) to break out so far against me as to remove me from you in my personal habitation, thereby at once bereaving me of that comfort which I might have hoped for in the enjoyment of my family in peace, and you of that education, which my love as a father and duty as a parent, required me to give; yet such are the longings of my soul for your good and prosperity, especially in spiritual concernments, that I remember you always with myself in my daily addresses to the throne of grace. Though I cannot speak to you, yet I pray for you; and do hope that my God will hear me, and, in due time, bring me to live again amongst you, if he shall see such a mercy fit to be bestowed on me or you. Howsoever, we must endeavour, by patient waiting, to submit to his will without murmuring; and not to think amiss of his chastising us, knowing that all his works are the products of infinite wisdom; his designs are the advancement of his own glory; and his ends towards his people their sanctification and salvation, which shall certainly be accomplished at last, however his great providences may seem contrary to it as to our apprehensions.

My dear children, since in this my absence from you, it is the desire of one of you (that is, my eldest son) to have a line of counsel from his father, I hope he has but mentioned it as the mouth for himself, and the rest of you that are anywise capable of understanding, and that it will be acceptable to you all, and regarded by you; and, therefore, I shall write in general terms to you all that can understand it at present; and to the rest as they grow up to understand it, if you will keep it, or copy it for them; for though I am not altogether without hopes of seeing you again, yet I am nowise certain of it, all our time being in God's hand; but I would have you know that you have yet a father that loves you. I am glad to hear such a desire from any of you; and willing heartily to comply with it, so far as my time and the many disadvantageous circumstances that attend me will permit; which take as followeth:

1st, I charge you frequently to read the holy scriptures; and that not as a task or burden laid on you, but get your hearts to delight in them: There are the only pleasant histories which are certainly true, and greatly profitable; there are abundance of precious promises made to sinners, such as you are by nature; there are sweet invitations and counsels of God and Christ to come in and lay hold of them; there are the choice heavenly sayings and sermons of the Son of God, the blessed prophets, and apostles. Above all books and writings, account the Bible the best, read it most, and lay up the truths of it in your hearts; therein is revealed the whole will of God for the rule of man's faith and obedience, which he must believe and do, to be holy and happy hereafter. Let all the knowledge and learning you attain by other books, both at school and at home, be improved, as servants to help you the better to understand God's word in all the several tongues wherein you read it. I am the larger upon this head, because therein you may come to know your duty to God and man; and, indeed, the sum of all the counsel I can give you, necessary for the regulating your behaviour towards God and man, in every station, place, and condition of your lives, is contained in that blessed word of God, which pronounceth a blessing to those that read and hear it, and keep the things that are therein written.

2ndly, Consider, seriously and often, of the sinful and miserable estate you are in by nature, from the guilt of original sin, which came in by the fall of our first parents; also of the increasing of that guilt by your own transgressions, and that you are liable to eternal wrath thereupon; also think of the way of fallen man's recovery by grace; according to the foundation principles of the true Christian religion, which you have learned in your catechism; and beg of God by prayer, to give understanding in them, and faith to believe in Jesus Christ, and an heart willing to yield obedience to his gospel commands in all things.

Though you cannot tell how to pray as you should do, nor in any order, yet, be not afraid nor ashamed to try. Go aside, my dear children, and think in your minds what it is that you want to make you holy and happy. Tell God that you want pardon of sin, a soft, tender, and sanctified heart, a portion of the Spirit, etc.; and then beg God to help you to pray for those things, and to teach you to pray, and to pardon the iniquities of your prayers. My children though it may want a form of words, yet if the heart be in it, this is prayer, and such a prayer too as God will hear and accept; for he despises not the day of small things, nor little ones; but loves to see them come and tell him what they would have. Tell him you would pray better, but you cannot, till he pleases to help you. My children, if you do but use this way you shall find that in time you will come to have praying gifts and praying graces too; for to them that ask, it shall be given: it will be your excellency, your honour, and your great profit to begin betimes to be praying Christians. Prayer is the character of a child of God, the best remedy for soul diseases, and the best weapon for a saint's defence! God will pour out his wrath upon them that call not on his name.

3dly, Learn to know God according to the discoveries he hath made of himself, in and by his word, in all his glorious attributes and infinite perfections; especially learn to know him in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, and to be acquainted with this blessed Redeemer, of God's elect, who hath paid so great a price as his own blood for the ransom of your souls; thereby satisfying Divine Justice, purchasing peace and reconciliation for sinners. Labour to believe that this was done for your souls; and look upon yourselves bound, as the Lord's redeemed, to walk in all holy conversation and godliness. Know that if Jesus Christ had not come and suffered in the flesh, thereby undertaking and accomplishing the work of Redemption, there had been no remedy; but you must have perished for ever!

4th, Remember that God is your Creator, from whom you received life and being; and as such, you are bound to worship him; much more, when you consider that he is your benefactor, from the fountain of whose goodness all your mercies come. Now, upon both these accounts, the best of your time and abilities are required in his service; I and the earlier you begin to devote yourselves to his service, the abler you will be to perform it acceptably, the greater will be your honour here, and your glory hereafter: though you must not expect to merit aught at his hands, by way of merit for what you can do, yet certain it is, that Jesus Christ will reward every one according to his works; and we are bidden to look to the recompence of reward, in that sense, after Moses's example; and it is no small commendation and honour to be an old disciple of Christ.

5th, Know this, that as you must worship God, so it must be in his own way, with true worship and in a right manner: that is, according to the rules of the gospel, and not according to the inventions or traditions of men. Consider, that idolatry and superstition are both abominable to God. Now idolatry is the worshipping of idols, images, pictures, or any creatures or representations, as the heathens do; or crucifixes and consecrated bread, as the papists do. Either to worship these as God; or to worship God by and under them, as the children of Israel did the motten calf; or to worship God in a false manner — is idolatry; and no idolaters must enter into heaven. Superstition is to make additions of ordinances or ceremonies to God's worship more than he hath appointed, though they have ever so fair pretences for them. Take heed, my children, of these things. It is not enough to say that such things are not forbidden in scripture; but you must see whether they are commanded there, or else obey them not.

6th, Entertain not in your hearts any of the popish doctrines, of having more mediators than one, namely, the Lord Jesus; of praying to the Virgin Mary, or any other saints or angels; for saints and angels, though in heaven, yet they are creatures; and prayer is a divine worship due to none but God the Father, Son, and Spirit: Also avoid their doctrine of meriting by works of obedience; for there is some sin that pollutes our best duties, and we can deserve nothing at God's hand but wrath: All the good we receive comes of his free grace. Their doctrine also of purgatory is abominable; for there is no middle place for souls to go to — there is only heaven and hell: Also, their doctrine that the pope can forgive sins is a lie; for he is a wicked man himself, and must go to hell, unless God forgive him: Also, their turning the bread into the very body of Jesus Christ by a priest's words — this is a falsehood, and notorious idolatry. Many other erroneous and damnable doctrines they own, which I cannot enlarge upon; but you must receive no doctrine, but such as is rightly built upon the holy scriptures. My children, pray to God to give you the knowledge of the truth, and to keep you from error, for it is a very dangerous time you are like to live in.

7th, Do not entertain any hard thoughts of God, or of his ways, because his people are persecuted for them; for Jesus Christ himself was persecuted to death by wicked men, for preaching the truth and doing good; and the holy apostles and prophets were cruelly used for serving God in his own way. The wicked ones of the world are the seed of the serpent; and they will always hate the people of God, torment and seek to destroy them; and God suffers them to do so, not for want of love to his people, but to purge their sins by chastisement; to try their graces and fit them for heaven, till the wicked have filled up the measure of their iniquities, and for many other holy reasons: therefore, if you should come to live very poor, for the gospel's sake, be contented with it, and bless God for every mercy you receive; and know this, that poor ones are heirs of glory as well as rich ones.

Lastly, I charge you to be dutiful and obedient to all your superiors — to your grandfather and both grandmothers, and all other relations and friends that are over you; but, in an especial manner, to your mother, to whose care and government God hath wholly committed you in my absence; who, as I am sure, dearly loves you, so she will command and direct you to her utmost ability, in all ways for your good of soul and body. Consider, she is left alone to bear all the burden of bringing you up; and is, as it were, a widow: her time is filled up with many cares, and therefore do not grieve her by any rebellious or disobedient ways; but be willing to learn of her and be ruled by her, that she may have some comfort in seeing your obedient carriage; and it will rejoice me to hear it. Avoid bad company of wicked children; abhor swearing, lying, and playing on the sabbath-day, and all other wicked courses, so shall you grow in favour with God and man. Love one another. You that are eldest help to teach the younger; and you that are younger, do not scorn the teachings of the elder. These things I charge and command you, with the authority and love of a father. Now, commending you to God, and what I have written to his blessing upon your hearts, through Jesus Christ, with my dear love to your mother, my duty to your grandfather and grandmothers, and love to all other friends, being indifferent in health, I rest your very loving father,
   ISAAC WATTS, London, the 21st of May, 1685.

From The Works of the Reverend and Learned Isaac Watts,... In six volumes. London: Printed by and for J. Barfield, 1810. Vol. 1.

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