There is no more awesome duty than that of a parent. For a Christian parent has the calling to train up his child in the way that he should go, so that when the child is old he will not depart from it. That is what we read in Proverbs 22:6.
We began last week to look into the duty of a parent, and we saw that that duty was indeed a tremendous one. We were to stand at the very spring or mouth of a child’s way, at the very beginning of his life. And we were to mold him consciously after the will of God as we find that will in the holy Scriptures.
We were to do that in a living way, not coldly. But we were to do that in such a way that we would be an example to our children: an example of the Christian faith living before their very eyes so that we could say to our child, “Don’t only do what I say, but do what I do.” And we saw that that meant that we would live with our children in a climate of spiritual openness, we would encourage our children to speak about spiritual things, and spiritual things would be comfortable with us. We would cultivate, through prayer and through a personal reading of God’s Word, a spiritual life in which we were open with our children, encouraging them to be open with us, explaining to them the wonderful truths of God’s Word.
Now today, I want to draw attention to the fact that our duty is to train our children in the way that they should go; that is, that we must train our children in a very distinct manner. We read in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” We are not to train him in the way that he would go.
Another crucial truth about a child is that a child is not born neutral. A child is born dead in sin. A child is not born with a clean slate, simply to receive the first impressions upon it. And a child is not born neutral, that is, not predisposed to good or evil but simply dependent upon who will influence the child first. But, by nature, a child is born dead in sin.
Further, the Scriptures teach us that a believing child, according to God’s grace, is regenerated in his childhood. Therefore, that child must struggle with his sinful flesh which wants to go in a sinful way. You cannot tell what your infant will be when he grows up. You cannot tell if he is going to be tall, short, weak, or strong. But there is one thing you can know with certainty about your child: your child will have a corrupt nature and a foolish heart. And it is natural for us to go the wrong way, our own sinful way. Proverbs 22:15, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.”Proverbs 19:15, “A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.”
There are two ways: the way that we should go, the pathway to heaven, the pathway of obedience; and the way that we would go, the pathway to hell, the pathway of disobedience. We read in Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” The way that we would go is the way of our own self-will. And the distinctive Christian training that we are to give to our children is this: train up a child in the way that he should go, the path of obedience, the path of blessedness. Train up a child not so that he does whatever he wants to do, but that he wants to do what he ought to do, that he learns that happiness is serving God, that liberty is to do God’s will and not his own.
Then, you must act and your must judge and you must think for your child. You do not leave him to the guidance of his own will or mind. As you would act for someone who is blind or someone who is lame; so you must act for your children. It is not the wish and the likings of a child which are to become the basis of determining what will be in your house. That must not be the basis of determining when they will sleep, when they will eat, or how they will be clothed. You must train them by thinking for them. You must train them in what is called the biblical and right way, not in the way that they fancy. When they sin, when they do wrong, you must punish them for that with consistent, wise, loving discipline. You must beware of overindulgence. You must not make an idol of your child, afraid ever to displease him.
I am not talking here about an evil, cruel tyranny, about an abuse of a child. But I am speaking to you from God’s Word of the importance of not allowing a child to go his own way. A child needs reproof, correction, and instruction. Do not withhold that from your child. “Withhold not correction from a child” (Prov. 23:13). If you disagree with what I am saying, your problem is not with me. Your problem is with God’s Word. Your problem is with God. Your problem is with the Creator of human life. You are wiser than God. And, you are foolish. For the Word of God teaches that the loving care of a parent who brings up his child in God’s way, in the way of obedience and love before God, is what a child wants and what a child will bless.
I have seen the danger of sinful patterns of discipline. I have seen the terrible danger of abusive discipline. The abuse of daughters, so that these daughters now make bad marriages simply to get out of the house. Of sons who are unable to deal with a wife and unable to deal in a way of understanding with their wives because of what they have learned from their father who never taught them to be understanding with their wives because he was not understanding to his wife. I have seen that.
But I have also seen the danger of over-indulgence, of giving in to every wish and caprice of a child. God warns us not to do that. We read of this even in the life of David. We read of that in respect to David’s rearing of Adonijah. Adonijah was the son who, when Solomon was crowned king, in his ambition tried to become king. We read this about Adonijah and his father, David, in I Kings 1:6: “his father had not displeased him at any time in saying, Why hast thou done so?”
The way that they should go. What is that way? That way is the knowledge of the Bible and prayer. You cannot make your child love the Bible. The Holy Spirit must do that. But you can make them well-acquainted with that blessed book and do so very early. See to it that your child, when he is able to read, reads the Bible regularly. That he regards it as his soul’s daily food, a thing which is essential. That as he wants to eat physical food every day, so he must also want to read the spiritual food of God’s Word. See that he reads the Bible reverently. Train him to look upon it as the book of God, not the word of man but God’s Word. Have him read that word in its entirety. Do not hesitate to bring any doctrine of the Word of God before your child. Tell him about it. Tell him of sin, of the Fall of Adam, of the terrible consequences of that Fall even in our own lives. Tell him about Jesus and of the cross and of the love of God and of the work of the Holy Spirit and the power of God’s grace and of the call to repent and to believe in the Savior.
Train him in the habit of prayer. Show him how to begin his prayers. Tell him what he is to say. Explain to him that he is coming into the glorious courts of God, the high sanctuary of God. Remind him that he must not be careless in his words. Tell him that the Lord hears and that the Lord will answer. Train him in prayer.
There is many a gray-headed saint who forgot what sermons the minister preached. But he remembers his mother who taught him to pray in his childhood.
There is more. You must train your child with affection and the love of God. That needs to be stressed today. Not only because of the shameful and sinful abuse that we hear that is being committed upon children, but because of the society which preaches “Me first. Career first. My own life first. My own time, as a parent, first.” A selfish age which more and more wants to push children into their own corner and is not willing to give of itself for the child. An age which is concerned more with its own feelings than the life of its own children.
Love, the sacrificial love of God, must be the thread that runs through all of your parenting. Let your children know that you love them in the love of God. An unloving sternness, an irritant temper, an undue severity, expecting too much of your child, chills your child toward you. Such an attitude towards your child is going to shut the heart of your child to you and you will grow weary trying to find the door to that heart.
Children are tender. They need considerate care. Let them know that you would give your heart’s blood for them and that you care for their souls. Train them with their soul as your chief consideration. Train your children for eternity, not simply for time. Tell them that they were not born simply for this world but for the kingdom of God. Every step you take with your child, every decision you reach, every motive you have before your child you must always be concerned about the effect that your decision is going to have for the soul of your child.
If you pamper your children in such a way that they think that this world is all that there is to look forward to, that the only thing important in life is how much money you make and the car you drive, you are being cruel to your child. Concentrate upon their soul. Spiritual meekness and grace of the soul in your child must be your goal. Not simply fashion, jewelry, and dresses. You must aim after godliness in your child, not simply that they have attainments in scholarship. You must want your child to be like Christ, not simply successful in business. You must desire your child to be sound in the Christian faith, not simply that he has a good social position and that he has a job where he makes big bucks. You must not provide an education without God, but you must provide an education for your child which is unto God.
Consider yourself now as a parent of a grown child. What are you going to tell your son when your son is married and perhaps his first baby dies? What are you going to tell your son when, in business for himself one day, the world wants to elbow him out because of his Christian confession and they want him to compromise? You must always be concerned with the spiritual strength of your child. You must be telling your daughters right now, when they are little, what they must do when boys show that they are interested in them only for what they can get, and that popularity will be tied to promiscuity. You must train them to be spiritually strong unto Christ.
And the promise? “When they are old they will not depart from it.”
That is a wonderful encouragement, is it not? God says that even though we see ourselves as the weakest of all means, and we are ashamed of our sins before our children, nevertheless, God is pleased to use our instruction for the greatest of good. We have a very plain promise. The promises of God were the only lamp of hope for the Old Testament saints. Abraham, Noah, and Enoch all lived on God’s promises and overcame, by faith in those promises. It is God who promises. Does He say a thing and not make it good? Is there something too hard for Him? You may have comfort. The training of a believing parent must bear fruit. We pray that it bear fruit for their salvation. Or, as God wills, to leave them without excuse. Whether by grace a child walks the way of God, or in pride he rejects it, no child can wipe away the testimony of a God-fearing parent. I know that that is true. Should I go astray from the Christian faith, I would not be able to stand in the judgment before the eye of my father. I could never look him in the face.
A godly parent leaves an indelible mark on the child. Sometimes the fruit takes many years. Sometimes that fruit is only seen afterwards. And sometimes a parent does not even see it in his life time. The great father in the church, Augustine, called himself the son of tears. If you know the history of Augustine, who lived around the year A.D. 400, you know that Augustine was raised by a Christian mother. Augustine was a man of uncommon abilities who fell into false theology, false religion, and false philosophy, and was very proud of his own understanding. And he lived an ungodly life. But in all of that he never succeeded in silencing the voice of his mother. And he was brought to conversion. Instrumental in his conversion were the tears and words of his mother.
A child may depart in his youth. The prodigal son did that. But no child, reared in the way that he should go, can smother his childhood. Woe to you, as a young person, if you attempt to silence what you have been taught in your childhood. It must force itself back on your memory. It will disturb your pleasures in sin. It will spoil the sweetness of sin that you fancied you would have.
That training stays with us and becomes the foundation of our life. I would not trade the world for a Christian upbringing.
Fathers and mothers, train your child in the way that he is to go. Be much in prayer over him. Without God’s blessing, you labor in vain. We may sow the Word of God but we cannot bring forth. God must do that. But go to God and tell Him that you cannot, that you need Him every moment. Tell Him that you are bound to do everything wrong unless He stands with you.
And then bring your children to God in prayer. That is very important for you as a parent. Bring your child to God in prayer. God loves being entreated for His children. Oh, how He loves His children. And He is far more willing to bless His children than we even believe. I suspect that a child who is carried in the arms of prayer is seldom cast away. Arise from your knees in the hope and in the joy and in the confidence that God will accomplish His will and good pleasure. Train your child for this life and for the life which is to come. And, in prayer, bring him to God.
May God bless you in your duty.
Let us pray.
Our Father who art in heaven, we thank Thee for Thy word, and we pray that it may enter now into our hearts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.