READ : Proverbs 13:22
A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous.
Proverbs 13:22, RSV
“A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” I’m speaking today especially to parents and grandparents. I want to think with you about the inheritance you will leave behind you, your legacy to your sons and daughters, to your grandchildren and perhaps in a profound way to generations beyond them. What will they receive from you?
We’re all aware that collectively we’re leaving something behind to the generation that will follow us. What we are doing or not doing now has fateful consequences for them. For example, how we deal with issues of ecology – clean air, clean water, the care of endangered species – will have much to say about the kind of earth on which they will live. How we deal with our national indebtedness will weigh heavily on their financial future. How we keep the peace may make for them a difference of life and death. General Douglas Mac Arthur once said, “One generation plants the tree; the next lives in its shade.” What are we planting for our progeny? Under what kind of tree will they come to live?
The Proverb says that a good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children. On the surface that’s talking about material possessions – money, house, perhaps a piece of land. The parent pictured is frugal, honest, hard working. He takes care of what he has and cares about his family. He or she wants to bequeath something to them, and such parents usually will.
It’s a good thing to leave a material heritage to our children, but a great deal depends on how we do it. It may speak the love of a generous heart or it may be more like the reluctant handing over of something we can no longer keep. It may crown a whole lifetime of genuine giving or it may be a belated attempt to make up for our neglect.
Sometimes it’s best to bestow an inheritance while we’re still alive. I know a family in which the father gathered his children together when he was just at retirement age. His sons and daughters were by this time well provided for. He told them that he was giving to each at that time an inheritance, not a large sum but a token of his fatherly love. The rest of his estate, he told them, whatever might still be his when he came to die, would be given to various charities that had been close to his heart. Perhaps that way of doing it isn’t best in every case but it sounds like a good way to leave an inheritance, doesn’t it?
Whatever financial arrangements are made, a good parent or grandparent leaves behind a great deal more than money or belongings. Think about the inheritance of memories. I’ll never forget a small group session years ago in which each of us shared our warmest recollections of childhood. There were ten or twelve of us around the circle. What stays with me to this day is the fact that every person in that group except one described a memory that had to do with grandparents. Isn’t that remarkable? Each of these people, well along in adult life, looked back on a childhood rich with memories of a grandma or a grandpa.
I’ve thought about that quite a bit since in relating to my own children and grandchildren, now six of them. What kind of memories am I helping to build? What kind of experiences am I sharing with them? What will warm their hearts and make them feel rich to recall in future years? What will they talk about in some such group down the line?
Many times, of course, we don’t know what children will especially remember. But when we love them, listen to them, value them, spend time with them, and share something of ourselves, we are laying up to their account a heritage beyond price.
My wife Helen spent a weekend recently at the home of one of our sons. Jonathan and Jeannette had just welcomed a new little baby boy, Samuel, born several weeks early. Helen was helping out with the other children: Benjamin, five, and Joanna, three. In the rush of events, in the absence of her mother, Joanna was feeling a little bit insecure. She wanted her grandmother, whom she calls me-ma, to stay with her one night. When she woke up in the dark, she said, “Me-ma, will you put your arm around me? I’m ‘cared.” (That means scared — she can’t say her s’s very well yet.) In the years to come, Joanna may not remember that night but she probably won’t forget a Me-ma whose arms were near when she was feeling afraid.
A good parent leaves behind also an inheritance of example. John Paton, a Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides, has given us a vivid impression of his father’s life. Paton grew up in a plain, low-land cottage with two main rooms. There was a small chamber between them with one tiny window. To this room the children saw their father retire several times a day and shut the door. They would occasionally overhear the soft pleadings of their father within that room, and they learned to slip past the door on tiptoe.
The family members understood whence came the glow of joy on the father’s face. They recognized it as the light of God’s presence, in the consciousness of which their father seemed habitually to live. The fact that his father had prayed in that way through all those years was a lifelong encouragement later to Paton the missionary. “He walked with God,” John said, “Why may not I?” All of us who believe the gospel do what we can to teach our children the faith. We want them to grasp the gospel message and its implication for their lives. Perhaps we drill them in the catechism or in Scripture memory. And all of that has great value. But what will linger far longer with them and have more profound influence upon their lives will probably be the way in which we have lived the faith before them. How have they seen us worshiping God? How have they seen us relating to other people, dealing with adversity, acknowledging our own weakness? What service of ours have they witnessed? What values and goals of ours were too plain for them to miss?
We try to tell our children what is really important, what is worth devoting themselves to, what ought to call forth their best energies. But most of us learn what to value not because we are taught so, but by some contagious power of example, some glimpse of beckoning beauty. We learn what it is to love Christ by living with those who are devoted to Him. We learn what it is to seek His kingdom first when someone around us lives that priority with a kind of passion. A good man or woman who walks in God’s ways leaves behind for a coming generation big shoes to fill, the power of a good example.
Along with that, crowning it all, godly parents and grandparents leave behind an inheritance of blessing. They are channels for God’s life and love. They impart a benediction. Listen to this word of Scripture from Exodus, chapter 20:
I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Did you hear that? To hate God, to reject His authority and ignore His Word is to sin against all your progeny. It is to make future generations suffer through our misdeeds. But this God whose judgment descends to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him also shows steadfast love to the thousandth generation for His devoted followers.
My great, great grandfather, Simeon Brownson, left behind him a journal of his life running from the years 1830 through 1852. By the goodness of God and the care of family members, that journal has come into my possession. I wish you could see it. It’s larger than ordinary size paper, sort of yellowed with age. It almost has the appearance of parchment and you can barely make out the writing in ink which still remains. On the very first page Simeon tells of his conversion at the age of 27. He describes it in a quaint kind of way. He doesn’t exactly know how old he is. He thinks he’s 51, but the first thing he recalls is that when he was about 27 years of age it “pleased God to reveal Christ to his soul.” And all the rest of his journal is a chronicling of his life of faith and walking with God. In almost every entry, he mentions something about family worship. He’ll tell the Scripture passage that he read. He describes with deep concern the progress of the gospel in his community and area, relating with joy the conversion of those outside of Christ. The journal is fragrant still today with his prayers for family, for friends, and for the kingdom of God.
I’m living now almost a century and a half later but I haven’t the slightest doubt that the blessing of God in my life is mysteriously linked to the faith and prayers, the struggles and hopes of old Simeon. I try to thank God in my prayers each day for such forebears who have feared the Lord. I know that without their being aware of it, they have passed down great riches to me.
A good man, a good woman leaves an inheritance to children’s children. Yes, and that means more than what is mentioned in a will. It means hallowed memories. It means a godly pattern to follow and it means the blessing of God’s pursuing mercy down the years.
Who are these good men and women? Not the self-consciously superior, not those who pride themselves on their uprightness, but rather struggling ones who know their sin and need, who trust in God’s mercy through Jesus Christ and who seek in His strength to live as grateful people. They leave behind them a truly royal inheritance. What about you? What will you leave your children? What will be your legacy to the coming generation? What has there been in your life of living faith in Jesus Christ, of experience of His transforming power, of a kind of service and a God-centered perspective that will hallow the future for your children? Oh, may it be true for us that we may leave behind the priceless heritage of faith in Christ and a life of serving love!
PRAYER: Father, we give thanks today for the heritage that has been left to us, for all those of our forebears who may have put their trust in You, who may have walked in Your ways and for the way blessing has descended to our lives from them. Now as we are on center stage, as we have the priceless opportunity of living in this world and providing something for generations to come, we pray, so fill us with Your Spirit, so help us to live a life of obedience to God and of loving service to people that there may be a legacy behind us of blessing for children and grandchildren and all the generations to come. In Jesus’ name. Amen.