Washington Gladden was one of the most well-known American preachers of his day. He wrote an article titled “Three Dangers” that ran in The Century Magazine in August of 1884. His concern was for the strength of our nation. Excessive drinking and gambling were two of the dangers he wrote of. The other danger he stated as “those unsocial forces that make war upon society by assaulting the family.” All three dangers were, are, and always will be critical to a nation’s stability and success, but the first two vices can largely be thwarted within the confines of a family.
Gladden’s perspective was that of the family being indispensable “for the cultivation of the moral qualities that fit men for association with one another.” He saw it as “a training school in which discipline and the habit of subordination and the unselfish sentiments and habitudes [habitual tendencies or ways of behaving] are acquired. Without these virtues, society is impossible, and there is no school for the cultivation of these virtues that compares with the monogamous family.” He believed “an increase of the proportion of the people who do not live in families means an increase of public peril, a decay of social virtue, a diminution of the common weal [common good].”
That which was true in 1884 is still true today. Only today, our culture is living verification of Gladden’s wise conclusions. Our society is fast becoming an impossible one for lack of the moral qualities that properly develop people into socially compatible communities. In short, the family is failing, and we are clearly seeing the fruit of that failure: fear, aggression, anger, and hate. The logical question is, “Why is the family failing?”. What has gone wrong?
The answer is an internal one – it goes to the driving force within it. The place to look is to the example of a family that really functioned well. Notice God’s perspective of a particular man and his family. “And the Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him’” (Genesis 18:17-19). Abraham’s descendants were destined to become a great and mighty nation due to God’s blessing upon them. And why would God bless them in this way? It was because Abraham would teach his children and entire household the way of God and His laws so that they could do justice and come to godly conclusions, which was intended to engender peace and prosperity for all.
Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness, and because of Abraham’s righteousness, in him, all the nations would be blessed. These blessings flowed from the family model God saw in Abraham – the desire to keep the way of the Lord. A successful family should teach and internalize the love and fear of God. That, in turn, leads to the obvious conclusion that, apart from God, no family and therefore no nation can truly prosper. Mr. Gladden’s understanding is timeless because it was based on God’s truth.