But while one's whole life affects the heritage there is a potent period of singular significance. That is the time when the processes of nature have their beginnings. The conditions that prevail at this time contain a distinct prophetic forecast of what shall be in another. The thoughtfulness that makes us eager to be in life at all times what we would have our precious loved ones be should have special emphasis now. Sweetest purity of heart and thought, the prayerful reverence and humility of the truest saint, and sturdiest strength of purpose, should be simply and naturally but earnestly reached out after. For some one else bearing the image of God, will also bear the bodily and mental and spirit image of man.
The influence exerted by the mother is great beyond the power of our minds to think, or of our words to tell. The making of the child's character is in the mother's hands to a degree that is nothing short of startling. She actually may make her child just what she chooses to. A human life, in its physical characteristics, its mental gifts and powers, and its dominant spirit, is being made by her in the holy laboratory of nature.
The greatest influence we can exert is through what we are. This is peculiarly true of the mother, and peculiarly true of her at this time. Her moods and bent of mind and habits are being woven into another life. It should be a time of quiet confidence in God, of tender love, "and of cheeriest spirit. Special attention given to special subjects will have marked results. Illustrations are abundant of mothers giving a decided bent to a child's tastes at that time, as for example by the study of music.
While it is commonly said, and truly so, that grace is not hereditary, yet without doubt a mother may wholly and radically affect her child's religious life at that time. That was exactly what Hannah did. Her spirit of devotion to God, her glad acquiescence in His plan for her son's life, the whole attitude of her spirit, earnest, humble and reverent, were reproduced in Samuel.
"Vaguely through my blood it moved,
Somewhat as a dream;
Then at times more sharply stirred
In that pulsing stream.
"By and by, it sought to rise
Upward as on wings;
Save for it, my heart had missed
Touch with higher things.
"Yea, and had it not been there
In my hour of need,
I had not withdrawn my hand
From a slavish deed.
"Ah, the gifts that one at birth
From his mother gains!
This for me,—that prayer was wrought
Subtly in my veins." (S. T. Livingston.)
There's a bit of testimony regarding this that comes from a strange unexpected source, in a word spoken by Jerry M'Auley. He founded the Water Street Rescue Mission in New York City, now the Jerry M'Auley Mission. Its work is entirely one of rescue. Drunkards and thieves and bad men and women of every sort have been blessedly rescued to a new life through its activity. There is no more difficult task than winning that class of people permanently away from their old haunts and habits.
M'Auley himself had fallen some five times or so before finding his feet permanently. Speaking of these great difficulties he said, "I have never been able to do much with a man who didn't have a Christian mother." It's a significant bit of testimony from such a man, and out of such a quarter.
Two cultured women were engaged in earnest conversation. The one was a mother who carried a broken heart about with her because of her wayward son. He ran to the excess of riot in evil habit, and the keen distress and cutting pain of it tugged endlessly at her heart. Their conversation ran into serious things. And she spoke of her son and her sore heart. And then she exclaimed, "Is it not strange? how can you explain such a thing? His father is a good man. We have always lived proper lives. How is it possible that a son of such parents should develop such traits?"
The other woman was one who had thought deeply into such matters. Turning to her friend she spoke quietly of the immeasurable, subtle power of prenatal influence, and the unfailing certainty of its workings. Then with gentle tactfulness and yet pointed plainness, she pointed out, in a very quiet voice, that every one's character is traceable directly to just such influences much more than is commonly supposed, even by the more thoughtful. As the mother listened keenly an utterly new light broke, and what had been a mystery regarding her son began to clear. He was not an exception to the common law of life. What he was had come to him in its incipiency through a perfectly logical sequence.
Yet such blame is not wholly the parents'. Were there more teaching of a practical sort about heredity, even in a small way, the effect would be immeasurably great, and only good. Ignorance leads to thoughtlessness, and that to far worse. And yet such thoughtlessness must always seem strange.