By Gardiner Spring
I. ESSENTIAL TRUTHS TO TEACH OUR CHILDREN
1. Subjection to Authority
Time and again, the Word of God calls us to be in subjection to authority. If there is a place where this call should be especially steady and certain, it is the family. And it is a happy family who cultivates this habit of subordination.
God has assigned the years of childhood and youth to parental control. This wise and generous arrangement simply cannot be upended without jeopardizing the best interests of our children for time and eternity. It is an arrangement that will preserve a child from a thousand evils.
The spirit that considers a parent's wishes--that hesitates to violate a parent's authority--that prefers to sacrifice its own gratification--this spirit is one of the strongest shields that can be thrown around youthful character.
In fact, this spirit of submission helps lead to early purity. Not every dutiful child is pure, but it certainly is more likely that such a child will become so, rather than one of an obstinate, unbending temper.
2. Sacred Regard for Truthfulness
A sacred regard for truth is also a prime habit. What a difference exists in the dispositions of children! Some rarely, if ever, lie and some just seem to be born with a lying tongue. It is terrifying to see how an early habit of extravagant and false storytelling sticks to one's character.
And what a strong barrier this lying throws in the way of holiness and heaven! Children must be taught the immense importance of always speaking the truth. They must see that love, confidence, and honor--or disgust, distrust, and disgrace--will follow them as they let either truth or lies lead them. Every false statement--every art of concealment--every exaggeration--every broken promise--only hardens the heart. It burns the conscience and opens another avenue to new seductions.
On the other hand--truth, pure truth--with all its simplicity and loveliness--forms the foundation of every moral virtue.
3. Industrious Habits
Do we have our eyes on our child's best interests? We will prepare them for some sort of useful employment. Industrious habits have such a happy influence on the intellectual and moral character. Many a child has been lost--to himself--to his family--to the world--and to God--because he had little else to do but indulge himself. But many have been rescued from disgrace and ruin--and pointed toward industry, accomplishment and happiness--simply because they had little time for entertainment.
Now, when we talk about hard work, are we enemies of refinement? Certainly not--and we do not want to prepare our children merely for splendid accomplishments. Courtesy and elegance also have a happy influence on character. But combine them with enterprising work habits, and you have a truly powerful force.
Temperance is inseparable from a good education. Every generation brings new and different temptations to be intemperate. If a child cannot be temperate, there is little hope that he will be holy or respectable as an adult. Intemperance in thought, word, or deed is simply an indulgence.
For a while an uncurbed, unrestrained child may roll right over life's bumps, but eventually distress and ruin will come calling.
Health, intellect, character, usefulness, comfort, property, conscience, and the soul--all are so easily sacrificed at the shrine of the 'god of intemperance'. A child's mind is the door to his heart, and our children must think, feel, and consider clearly, before they will repent, pray, and love.
If the God of all the earth has appointed parents the immediate guardians of their children's happiness, virtue, and hopes--let us beware how we sow 'seeds of intemperance' in infancy and nurture them in childhood. They are fertile seeds--and prolific in death.
5. Selection of Friends
Parents should also consider their children's selection of friends, and teach them wisdom in this area. This cannot always be under parental control, but at least we can teach them discernment with regard to their friends.
There are two aspects of this principle. First, the family is the most important set of relationships that God has given us. How we deal with other relationships is directly affected by how we deal with the people in our family.
The second aspect of this principle is recognizing how other people influence and affect us. Idle, vicious, ignorant or skeptical tendencies in our companions often influence us to the detriment of our convictions. We are sometimes unconscious of this effect. Sin is contagious--it seems all right if everyone else is doing it. Children should be encouraged to flee these tendencies, and to live as righteous children of God.
It is here, in the company of older friends, that--example persuades--argument encourages--exhortation stimulates--flattery deceives--and ridicule mocks. Here all that is social and sympathetic in a child is pressed into the service of good--or evil.
"Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise--but the companion of fools will suffer harm."--Proverbs 13:20. Many parents have seen their hopes die in such a circle of friends.
Our children's relaxation and even their employment (where possible) should ideally be at home. No matter where they are, their entertainment should never bring reproach upon a well-governed and godly family.
This means that parents may need to deny themselves some creature comforts. Is this unthinkable in our current affluence? If by a few sacrifices you could purchase for your children the habit of loving their home, is any price too high? Those families are best educated, and exhibit the most moral feeling, which are most tenderly attached to home. Soon enough, our children will be extending their borders beyond it.
While we ought not to be completely separated from the world, every family ought to be a little world within itself. A bright, strong affection for the images and friendships of early life so easily draws an affectionate child away from temptations. They bind him to his home, so that no matter how far a child may be removed from your control, as long as this affection moves and glows within him, his love for home will keep him from falling.
6. Proper Estimation of the World and Its Culture
What do children esteem most highly? They should be carefully taught how to estimate this world and its culture. Many prudent, even pious parents encourage far too much zeal for worldly advancement. The spirit of this competitive world is so ingrained in our anxious parents' minds. The great object of our pursuit insensibly becomes the attainment of wealth and honor.
Certainly parents should be concerned for the character and condition of their children in this life. We want to see our children develop useful and respectable character. We will urge them to unbending fidelity in their profession, whatever it may be. We will inspire our children with a generous 'love of excellence' and a 'strong desire for good'. We will aim for excellence in the best sense of the word.
But it is not an easy matter in everyday life for parents to draw a line between that love of distinction and excellence which the gospel requires--and that which flows from a selfish and worldly heart. We all sin in this regard. It is very natural for us to smile whenever we discover in our children a spirit that is eagerly set on worldly good, or that is simply shrewd. In doing so, we leave them with the impression that, in our estimation, there is no good to be compared with this world.
Do we regularly cultivate higher and nobler principles than the love of earthly things? If our children are taught that the great business of men is to heap up wealth, attain honors, and enjoy human life, what will be the probable end of their careers?
If we would train them up for usefulness and heaven, they must often be reminded to put a low estimate upon everything beneath the sun. They must not be shielded from the world--but instead taught how vain and empty a thing it is!
The sooner a child can see--that there is a higher object of pursuit than his own advancement--that there are more elevated and enduring joys than the sordid and transitory pleasures of time and sense--the sooner he will bear fruit unto eternal life. The sooner he sees that even though he may attain popularity, power and wealth and yet be filled with disappointment and sorrow--the more quickly he is prepared for eternal usefulness.
Let children be taught that God sent them into the world to do their duty--to fill up their life with usefulness--and thus to honor His great name. If this generous principle takes its seat in their hearts, they will enjoy greater real happiness, than if they sit in the thrones of princes, or become possessors of untold millions.
If parents know their children's hearts--and especially if they know their own--they will always tremble for them at the prospect of 'career advancement'. The wisdom that comes from above will lead them often to say to their child, as God did to the Prophet, "Do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them!"--Jeremiah 45:5.
Let children be taught that God sent them into the world for the sole purpose of obeying him, and bringing honor to His great name. If this principle rests in their hearts, and becomes a controlling influence on their lives, they will find contentment and satisfaction in the work God has given them.--Colossians 3:23.
7. A Generous Spirit
Oh, the lifelong joy and reward of a generous spirit! This is a chord to which the conscience always vibrates. Children quickly grasp this truth: A selfish spirit is a low, abject and base spirit. There is nothing more elevated--more grand and noble--than a benevolent and unselfish spirit!
Let your children be taught the evil of a selfish spirit, and the beauty and excellence of an unselfish spirit, unattached to 'toys of dust'. Help them to think of the welfare of others. Form in them the habit of consulting the wishes and feelings of others. Fix their minds upon objects that are great and good.
Prepare them for acts of generosity. Show them that "it is more blessed to give, than to receive"--that there is more pleasure in offering a gift than accepting it, and more lasting joy in the enlarged, generous spirit of the gospel--than the low, groveling spirit of the world.
Children can quickly discover that there are interests greater than their own--and, if they have an enlarged and princely spirit--interests which they will be happier for investigating.
Let not their grand inquiry be--"What is best for me?" But--"What does my duty require? What does generosity require? What does the spirit of kindness and unselfishness require? What does God require?"
The 19th century commentator Thomas Scott was well known for his remarkably happy, successful family. When once asked about his method, he replied, "I have always sought for them in the first place, the kingdom of God and his righteousness." Happy parent! Happy children! where the "kingdom of God and his righteousness" take the precedence in every plan and arrangement for human life!
To the religious character of our children, everything else ought to be made subservient. Our high privilege is to "bring up children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." Whatever others may say or do, Christian parents should choose for their children that "good part which shall not be taken from them." To them, everything else should be like dust!
Exhaust the weight and vigor of your effort here! Our children are heirs to immortality! They are creatures of responsibility, and are rapidly advancing to the judgment seat. Soon they will be upon a bed of death from which they will ascend to heaven or descend to hell--to the extent they sought or rejected, followed or despised their great Redeemer.
It is painfully true, that ordinarily, children will not become holy without persevering parents. We cannot expect them to become skillful in the arts, learned in the sciences, or useful in the world without our careful attention. And if we hope to see them become the children of God, they must understand that, in our estimation, their 'character' absorbs and eclipses every other intention of our parental love.
II. MEASURES TO TAKE IN TEACHING OUR CHILDREN
1. Set an Example
"Be what you wish your child to be," the saying goes. So much is accomplished by "the power of example". It influences children long before instruction can inform--or authority can bind. "Rules constrain--example is alluring. Rules compel--example persuades. Rules are a dead law--example a living law." Next to the 'law of conscience', example is the first law with which children are acquainted--and it often remains their strongest motive to action after all others are forgotten.
Children are imitative beings, and they quickly understand what they see and hear. The example of an affectionate and watchful parent is a powerful influence! No child is too young to be the accurate observer of its parent's conduct--and to be purified or contaminated, by that example. However unwittingly--we are constantly molding our children's minds, habit, and character by the power of our example!
Who among us desires for our children to be unyielding, overbearing, contemptuous, unkind, unfriendly, or discourteous? But if they discover these in us--our example will govern their conduct!
Perhaps most to the point in this very affluent society--we do not want our children to be afraid of work or hardship--so why do we ourselves pursue fashion and leisure? The message quickly forms in their minds--My parents do not consider hard work, or diligence, or "redeeming the time"--to be reputable or pleasurable. They are satisfied with an easy life. With such a message, is it likely that our children will aspire to hard work, usefulness and accomplishment?
We want our children to be honorable and completely truthful. We want them to be punctual and thorough. But if they hear us extolling these virtues and know that instead we bend the truth and are disorganized and careless, will not our conduct trump our teaching?
We want our children to carefully choose their friends and conversation. But what if we are careless in this regard? What are the pleasures of modern society? Judging from the reality of the popular market today, they lie somewhere on a spectrum that stretches from popular entertainment--to gambling--to drunkenness--to pornography--to prostitution. And now, perhaps more than ever, all of these lie in some form waiting to entice our children. Must we give them an easy opening--right into our own lives and homes?
Example rules! Do we express careless doubts about the truth of God's word and the power of the gospel? Do we not reverence the Sabbath? Do we neglect regular worship? Are we conformed to this world? Are we careless about joining ourselves to a body of believers? Is our object to be rich, great, and honored by all? If so, will we have any ground for disappointment if our example defeats our instructions?
We are always acting in the presence of our children--so let us do it in such a righteous way that they are enticed to imitate us!
2. Provide Vigorous Instruction
Children are not merely creatures of imitation, but creatures of intellect. They examine and judge the impressions they get--and confirm or reject them according to how they are taught.
There is no subject off limits for parents in teaching their children. What gratification for a child to be rightly taught and educated! Frequent conversation with your children--not preaching, but personal conversation--will bear immediate fruit. Your child must feel that you want to inform his understanding and judgment--enlighten his conscience--and impress his heart.
Parents! You must recognize a mournful fact--your child is depraved! You will fail utterly to educate him if you don't recognize this sad reality. He possesses a supremely selfish spirit--'self-indulgence' is his king! Worse--unless he is instructed in moral truth, he will become a slave of base appetites and unholy passions! He will become a giant in wickedness!
But the Creator has given this child a tender conscience. Enlightened, it differentiates between right and wrong and gives him a sense of obligation--it is how a child becomes a moral agent and different from an animal. He can learn that he is a responsible creature. Does he know his relationship to God? He must feel accountable to Him.
What a person ought to know--he ought to begin to know very early. The great moral principles, which enlighten his adult conscience and character, ought to penetrate and work on his dark mind in childhood.
What God requires of parents is clearly spelled out--"And these words which I command you shall be in your heart, and you must diligently teach them to your children--when you walk--when you lie down--and when you rise up!" And not just principles. Children must be taught the truth about God--His being, perfections, and government--redemption by Jesus Christ--the influence of the Holy Spirit--the beauty of true faith--the joys and honors of an unreserved devotion to Jesus--His precious promises for the godly--and the dreadful terrors awaiting the ungodly.
INSTRUCTION in God's Word should be systematic, regular and frequent. It should be casual, also--"When you walk by the way". Early let them be made familiar with Scriptures. Let their memories be stored with its history--its biography--and its truths. Let them also be stored with simple and truthful catechisms, prayers, and sacred hymns. How tragic that these ancient tools have fallen into disuse! The child's attention should be constantly be diverted from light and destructive reading--to that which is profitable and constructive!
Who disagrees that the great bulk of today's literature and entertainment exerts a destructive influence--both on the intellectual and moral character? But let us not just curse the darkness. Let children be committed to teachers who will exert a holy influence on their youthful minds. Let this influence charm and win them to the love of virtue and godliness. In this furnishing of their minds, let them be so preoccupied with the best instructions--that they shall have little room for noxious and polluting guests.
In conversing with them on the great subject of their soul's salvation, we should address them with all affection and tenderness. Let us urge and plead with them to 'flee from the wrath to come!' We want them to see that this is a subject about which we feel the deepest and most tender concern. This a subject that brings tears to our eyes--and persuasion from our tongues. On this matter all the passion and strength of our affection flows forth in "thoughts that glow--and words that burn."
There is an inexcusable backwardness in many parents when it comes to conversing on religious subjects. Do we pile religious conversation onto our children, no matter how inappropriate the timing or application? Every opportunity for instruction should be well timed--and never made tedious.
Timing is everything! In the history of a child, there are seasons of searching and tenderness--and there are seasons of openness. And there are times when we ourselves think much, feel deeply, and pray earnestly--for the salvation of our children. Out of these special times, we may proceed with special confidence and a delightful fullness of soul, to serious and heartwarming conversations with our children--with more than usual hopes of success!
This is a job for parents alone. Here, the faithful efforts of a faithful father--and even more, a godly mother--are most important. Faithful parents certainly owe much to the other faithful adults in a child's life--Sunday school teachers, nannies, and godly women and elders in Christ's church. These all have obligations that may never be forgotten.
But that mother who leaves her child only to the instruction of teachers--or that father who neglects the Christian education of his family at home (because he can shift the burden onto a religious school)--has not carefully considered his responsibility. More importantly, he underestimates the power a parent has in shaping the character and destiny of his children.
3. Gain Their Confidence
In all their conduct toward them, parents should seek to gain children's confidence. Every child should be convinced that his parent is his best friend. He must know that there are none on whose devoted attachment he may so completely rely. There are none who will do and suffer so patiently and so long for him. Who look for no higher gratification or reward, than his good conduct and highest welfare.
Once we plant these thoughts in a child's heart, we cannot fail to have a strong hold upon his conscience and character.
But this alone may not gain their confidence. We should use every sensible and lawful means--to secure the affections of our children--to induce them to choose our company--to enter into conversation with us without embarrassment--and trust us with their own private affairs.
Children who want to be respectful to their parents are sometimes afraid of becoming 'too familiar'. And some parents who desire to be respected and honored by their children strangely resist such familiarity.
Where children are held in slavish fear--the fault is always the parent's. Even with children whose tempers seemingly cannot be controlled by other means, there is little hope of having any happy, long-term influence as long as they are held in the bondage of fear.
Gaining the confidence of an impetuous child--while restraining him--is no small feat. It calls on all the kindness, discretion and firmness of a godly parent--who will soon go to his heavenly Father for wisdom!
4. Train Your Children to Be Under Authority
The great question in every act of parental discipline is--"What will be for the best good of the child?" Where a family is small, and especially where there is but a single child, this may be the only question.
Every good system of education maintains a kind and wholesome authority. The government of a family is of a peculiar kind--and its great operating principle comes from the Apostle Paul--"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."
To be what it ought to be--your authority must be absolute! "Those who maintain the strictest discipline--give the fewest strokes!" If your authority is absolute--it need not be severe. Your will should first be righteous--and then it should be law! Anything to which you cannot freely consent, should be considered as altogether out of the question for your child.
Family government must never be impulsive. Do you exercise your authority only when the notion strikes you? Are you foolishly indulgent? Is your authority so various and changeable that your children don't know what the rules are? Do you announce a rule and then, without any change of circumstance, revoke it? Such government does not deserve the name. It is enough to spoil any child.
A mild, affectionate government is the most authoritative--so your authority ought to be exceedingly KIND. Children are naturally displeased, even angry, when governed--but they ought to find no foothold for their anger in their parents' behavior. The human heart revolts at simply being restrained, and all that much more when authority is rash and unkind. Weave "kindness" in with every act of discipline--and your government will rarely fail to influence.
By the time a child can walk--and even earlier--he should be taught implicitly to obey! If parental authority is not established early--it will never be established. When I say early--I mean very early! By the time a child is 15 years old, authority--bare authority--will not reach him. He must then be under a government of influence--or be self-governed--or not governed at all.
The alternative is simply more difficult and impractical! This early habit of subjection--even to impatient and unbending children--will soon become easy, and parents will find it effective too.
Here may I add--I have no doubt of the propriety and importance of "corporal punishment". God has abundantly approved of it in His word. But it is only for a child. When that child passes from childhood to, say, fifteen years of age, the same rod does him injury (unless it is used in response to downright impudence or disobedience). If the 'young adult' will not be governed by reason, kindness, influence--he needs a stronger arm than the discipline of his family!
Indeed, all our efforts to train up our children in the way they should go, exhaust their influence before we are aware of it! The days of childhood--these are the seasons when character is formed! And if these are neglected, it will be a miracle of mercy if our children are not forever lost!
The parents purposes in discipline should never come in collision with each other. Marital discord is the deadliest foe to the education of children. On every topic of education, let there be no jarring between the united head of a family.
Are you, for example, a proponent of extravagant leisure and entertainment--and your spouse opposed? Are you "early to bed, early to rise"--and your spouse up at all hours? Is your spouse firm in authority--and you chide her as severe, and the enemy of your children's pleasures? Your bone of contention is the child you love! Who can wonder if your authority--and your child--are sacrificed in the squabble?
When should parental government cease? Wisdom would tell you to look at the disposition of your child--and the condition of your family. Are you seeing increasingly joyful experiences with your children? That would certainly point in the direction of their freedom. On the other hand, if your experiences are bitter, patience--not harsher government--is the remedy. Patience--and hope in God.
Humble, persevering prayer will accomplish much in educating your children! Is your pride concentrated in your children? Parents of great intellect and determination--especially young parents--are very apt to place great confidence in their own skill, management, and firmness. This pride in our children--and confidence in ourselves--will meet with severe trials. The Lord of heaven and earth holds both in His hands.
God means for us to renounce our self-confidence and feel our dependence on Him. When we fail--as certainly we will to some extent--we will lie prostrate on our faces and carry our children to the God of all grace and power. The sooner, more earnestly, and more submissively we do this, the more reason we have to hope.
Parental tenderness is the most pure, the most faithful, and the most productive--when prayer nourishes it. It is at God's mercy-seat that a parent's love all flows out. And God reveals His mercy exactly as our children need it.
Let your children hear you pray daily. Pray for them so they can hear you asking God's special blessing on them. And then remember them in your private devotions. An affectionate and faithful parent will not let the Angel of the Covenant go--until He blesses his children.
Finally, do not be content to plead only for God's restraining grace! Go on in confidence to ask him for his saving mercy. Plead for them in their sinfulness--lost without Christ's blood. Plead for them because they possess indisputable, inalienable immortality. Plead for them with the tenderness of Jesus. Plead for them with the assurance that someday you will say with Jesus, "Of those whom you have given me--I have lost none."
III. COURAGE! TAKE COURAGE!
1. Do Not Get Weary in Well Doing
God's time for the conversion of your children may not be your time. Your efforts may seem to be in vain--even for years--but you will likely at last see your children rejoicing in the graces and comforts of holiness. He who goes forth and weeps, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.
A hardened, ungrateful child may break your heart ten thousand times. He may turn you grey with grief, even to the grave--but you can look back and know that you were not negligent.
2. Be a Correctable Parent
You may be doing all of this faithfully, and your children will long praise you for it. But if you know you have been unfaithful in this, know also that this unfaithfulness greatly displeases God. You will feel the bitter consequences forever. Yes, God may allow your children to live out very unholy lives before your eyes. You may even live to see them plunge down to death and hell!
Do you stand between God and His blessing for your children? I have simple advice--Reform at once! Take your child by the hand--while you can--and walk them in the paths of holiness and salvation.
Look at your children. Look at their cradle. Anticipate their progress through this ensnaring world. Look at death and judgment. Will you meet them there--with joy? Will you, on the morning of resurrection, greet your sons and daughters with a smile?
3. Children- Consider Your High Obligations
"Honor your father and mother, that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land."--Ephesians 6:2-3. We have seen this promise delightfully fulfilled. And, tragically, we have seen its implied threat executed with force. In New York, this guilty metropolis, where popular trends and fashions are their most powerful--I have seen so many youth glide down the dangerous current, and I have seen them pay the ultimate price as they scorned authority.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord--for this is right. But I want so much more from you. I want--your hearts--your lives--and your existence for Him who made you. Remember your Creator in the days of your youth. Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while he is near.
Hear me once more, if you still despise this great salvation--What is this great infatuation that drives you on to ruin and despair? Are you sporting with that over which the saints in glory weep? Were you nurtured in the lap of holiness--only for the society and employment of the fiends of hell? Let the 'world of darkness' never rejoice that you--the object of so many prayers and tears--have become its own child!