Fathers, what is your legacy? The word means more than the money and gifts that you will leave behind bequeathed in your will. It also means anything “transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor” (Merriam-Webster 11th Collegiate Dictionary). For many of us with the monthly pressure of paying bills, we are probably not expecting to leave our kids a great monetary inheritance anyway. But the truth is every father has a legacy.
Let me tell you the legacy of three fathers. The first is Jonathan Edwards, the famous Puritan minister. Edwards and his wife, Sarah, had eleven children. Besides the religious influence from his studies and work, he made it a point to spend an hour a day with his children. A sociology study charted the 1,394 known descendants of Edwards. It found that from his known descendants there were 13 college presidents, 65 college professors, 30 judges, 100 lawyers, 60 physicians, 75 army and navy officers, 100 ministers, 60 prominent authors, 3 United States senators, 80 public servants (from state governors to foreign diplomats), and one vice-president of the United States.1
A contemporary of Jonathan Edwards was also studied. His name was Max Jukes. Jukes had a drinking problem and had a hard time holding down a job. He disappeared for days at a time on a drinking binge. He showed little concern for his wife and children and spent little time with them. The study was able to trace 540 of Juke’s ancestors. From Juke’s known descendants 310 died as paupers, at least 150 were criminals (including 7 murderers), more than 100 were alcoholics, and half of his female descendants ended up as prostitutes.
This is not to say that our character is predetermined by our parents and grandparents. It is not to suggest that positive or negative character traits are inherited. Individuals can overcome bad environments, and good environments do not necessarily guarantee good moral choices. However, it does argue that environment plays a vital role. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, ESV). Proverbs 22:6 may not be a guarantee, but it is a general rule about how things usually work. Fathers, we can have a profound influence for good or ill on our children and descendants.
Finally, consider the spiritual legacy of one more father—Joshua. The book of Judges reports, “And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the LORD had done for Israel” (Judges 2:7, ESV). Doesn’t this say something about Joshua as a man and as a father? Could the faithfulness of the following generations have something to do with Joshua’s spiritual legacy? Isn’t there a connection between this passage and Joshua’s great challenge and choice, “And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15, ESV).
Fathers, what is your legacy?
1Mark Merrill, “A Father’s Legacy.” http://www.familyfirst.net/pressroom/fatherslegacy.htm