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The Duties of Parents

A sermon by J.C. (John Charles) Ryle,
19th century evangelical minister

Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”— Prov 22:6.

I sup­pose that most pro­fess­ing Chris­tians are acquaint­ed with the text at the head of this page. The sound of it is prob­a­bly famil­iar to your ears, like an old tune. It is like­ly you have heard it, or read it, talked of it, or quot­ed it, many a time. Is it not so?

But, after all, how lit­tle is the sub­stance of this text regard­ed! The doc­trine it con­tains appears scarce­ly known, the duty it puts before us seems fear­ful­ly sel­dom prac­tised. Read­er, do I not speak the truth? It can­not be said that the sub­ject is a new one. The world is old, and we have the expe­ri­ence of near­ly six thou­sand years to help us. We live in days when there is a mighty zeal for edu­ca­tion in every quar­ter. We hear of new schools ris­ing on all sides. We are told of new sys­tems, and new books for the young, of every sort and descrip­tion. And still for all this, the vast major­i­ty of chil­dren are man­i­fest­ly not trained in the way they should go, for when they grow up to man’s estate, they do not walk with God. Now how shall we account for this state of things? The plain truth is, the Lord’s com­mand­ment in our text is not regard­ed; and there­fore the Lord’s promise in our text is not ful­filled.

Read­er, these things may well give rise to great search­ings of heart. Suf­fer then a word of exhor­ta­tion from a min­is­ter, about the right train­ing of chil­dren. Believe me, the sub­ject is one that should come home to every con­science, and make every one ask him­self the ques­tion, “Am I in this mat­ter doing what I can?”

It is a sub­ject that con­cerns almost all. There is hard­ly a house­hold that it does not touch. Par­ents, nurs­es, teach­ers, god­fa­thers, god­moth­ers, uncles, aunts, broth­ers, sis­ters, — all have an inter­est in it. Few can be found, I think, who might not influ­ence some par­ent in the man­age­ment of his fam­i­ly, or affect the train­ing of some child by sug­ges­tion or advice. All of us, I sus­pect, can do some­thing here, either direct­ly or indi­rect­ly, and I wish to stir up all to bear this in remem­brance.

It is a sub­ject, too, on which all con­cerned are in great dan­ger of com­ing short of their duty. This is pre­em­i­nent­ly a point in which men can see the faults of their neigh­bours more clear­ly than their own. They will often bring up their chil­dren in the very path which they have denounced to their friends as unsafe. They will see motes in oth­er men’s fam­i­lies, and over­look beams in their own. They will be quick sight­ed as eagles in detect­ing mis­takes abroad, and yet blind as bats to fatal errors which are dai­ly going on at home. They will be wise about their brother’s house, but fool­ish about their own flesh and blood. Here, if any­where, we have need to sus­pect our own judg­ment. This, too, you will do well to bear in mind.[1. As a min­is­ter, I can­not help remark­ing that there is hard­ly any sub­ject about which peo­ple seem so tena­cious as they are about their chil­dren. I have some­times been per­fect­ly aston­ished at the slow­ness of sen­si­ble Chris­t­ian par­ents to allow that their own chil­dren are in fault, or deserve blame. There are not a few per­sons to whom I would far rather speak about their own sins, than tell them their chil­dren had done any­thing wrong.]

Come now, and let me place before you a few hints about right train­ing. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost bless them, and make them words in sea­son to you all. Reject them not because they are blunt and sim­ple; despise them not because they con­tain noth­ing new. Be very sure, if you would train chil­dren for heav­en, they are hints that ought not to be light­ly set aside.

1. First, then, if you would train your chil­dren right­ly, train them in the way they should go, and not in the way that they would.

Remem­ber chil­dren are born with a decid­ed bias towards evil, and there­fore if you let them choose for them­selves, they are cer­tain to choose wrong. The moth­er can­not tell what her ten­der infant may grow up to be, — tall or short, weak or strong, wise or fool­ish he may be any of these things or not, — it is all uncer­tain. But one thing the moth­er can say with cer­tain­ty: he will have a cor­rupt and sin­ful heart. It is nat­ur­al to us to do wrong. “Fool­ish­ness,” says Solomon, “is bound in the heart of a child” (Prov. 22:15). “A child left to him­self bringeth his moth­er to shame” (Prov. 29:15). Our hearts are like the earth on which we tread; let it alone, and it is sure to bear weeds. If, then, you would deal wise­ly with your child, you must not leave him to the guid­ance of his own will. Think for him, judge for him, act for him, just as you would for one weak and blind; but for pity’s sake, give him not up to his own way­ward tastes and incli­na­tions. It must not be his lik­ings and wish­es that are con­sult­ed. He knows not yet what is good for his mind and soul, any more than what is good for his body. You do not let him decide what he shall eat, and what he shall drink, and how he shall be clothed. Be con­sis­tent, and deal with his mind in like man­ner. Train him in the way that is scrip­tur­al and right, and not in the way that he fan­cies.

If you can­not make up your mind to this first prin­ci­ple of Chris­t­ian train­ing, it is use­less for you to read any fur­ther. Self-will is almost the first thing that appears in a child’s mind; and it must be your first step to resist it.

2. Train up your child with all ten­der­ness, affec­tion, and patience. I do not mean that you are to spoil him, but I do mean that you should let him see that you love him.

Love should be the sil­ver thread that runs through all your con­duct. Kind­ness, gen­tle­ness, long-suf­fer­ing, for­bear­ance, patience, sym­pa­thy, a will­ing­ness to enter into child­ish trou­bles, a readi­ness to take part in child­ish joys, — these are the cords by which a child may be led most eas­i­ly, — these are the clues you must fol­low if you would find the way to his heart. Few are to be found, even among grown-up peo­ple, who are not more easy to draw than to dri­ve. There is that in all our minds which ris­es in arms against com­pul­sion; we set up our backs and stiff­en our necks at the very idea of a forced obe­di­ence. We are like young hors­es in the hand of a break­er: han­dle them kind­ly, and make much of them, and by and by you may guide them with thread; use them rough­ly and vio­lent­ly, and it will be many a month before you get the mas­tery of them at all.

Now children’s minds are cast in much the same mould as our own. Stern­ness and sever­i­ty of man­ner chill them and throw them back. It shuts up their hearts, and you will weary your­self to find the door. But let them only see that you have an affec­tion­ate feel­ing towards them, — that you are real­ly desirous to make them hap­py, and do them good, — that if you pun­ish them, it is intend­ed for their prof­it, and that, like the pel­i­can, you would give your heart’s blood to nour­ish their souls; let them see this, I say, and they will soon be all your own. But they must be wooed with kind­ness, if their atten­tion is ever to be won. And sure­ly rea­son itself might teach us this les­son. Chil­dren are weak and ten­der crea­tures, and, as such, they need patient and con­sid­er­ate treat­ment. We must han­dle them del­i­cate­ly, like frail machines, lest by rough fin­ger­ing we do more harm than good. They are like young plants, and need gen­tle water­ing, — often, but lit­tle at a time.

We must not expect all things at once. We must remem­ber what chil­dren are, and teach them as they are able to bear. Their minds are like a lump of met­al — not to be forged and made use­ful at once, but only by a suc­ces­sion of lit­tle blows. Their under­stand­ings are like nar­row-necked ves­sels: we must pour in the wine of knowl­edge grad­u­al­ly, or much of it will be spilled and lost. “Line upon line, and pre­cept upon pre­cept, here a lit­tle and there a lit­tle,” must be our rule. The whet­stone does its work slow­ly, but fre­quent rub­bing will bring the scythe to a fine edge. Tru­ly there is need of patience in train­ing a child, but with­out it noth­ing can be done.

Noth­ing will com­pen­sate for the absence of this ten­der­ness and love. A min­is­ter may speak the truth as it is in Jesus, clear­ly, forcibly, unan­swer­ably; but if he does not speak it in love, few souls will be won. Just so you must set before your chil­dren their duty, — com­mand, threat­en, pun­ish, rea­son, — but if affec­tion be want­i­ng in your treat­ment, your labour will be all in vain.

Love is one grand secret of suc­cess­ful train­ing. Anger and harsh­ness may fright­en, but they will not per­suade the child that you are right; and if he sees you often out of tem­per, you will soon cease to have his respect. A father who speaks to his son as Saul did to Jonathan (1 Sam. 20:30), need not expect to retain his influ­ence over that son’s mind.

Try hard to keep up a hold on your child’s affec­tions. It is a dan­ger­ous thing to make your chil­dren afraid of you. Any­thing is almost bet­ter than reserve and con­straint between your child and your­self; and this will come in with fear. Fear puts an end to open­ness of man­ner; — fear leads to con­ceal­ment; — fear sows the seed of much hypocrisy, and leads to many a lie. There is a mine of truth in the Apostle’s words to the Colos­sians: “Fathers, pro­voke not your chil­dren to anger, lest they be dis­cour­aged” (Col. 3:21). Let not the advice it con­tains be over­looked.

3. Train your chil­dren with an abid­ing per­sua­sion on your mind that much depends upon you.

Grace is the strongest of all prin­ci­ples. See what a rev­o­lu­tion grace effects when it comes into the heart of an old sin­ner, — how it over­turns the strong­holds of Satan, — how it casts down moun­tains, fills up val­leys, — makes crooked things straight, — and new cre­ates the whole man. Tru­ly noth­ing is impos­si­ble to grace. Nature, too, is very strong. See how it strug­gles against the things of the king­dom of God, — how it fights against every attempt to be more holy, — how it keeps up an unceas­ing war­fare with­in us to the last hour of life. Nature indeed is strong.

But after nature and grace, undoubt­ed­ly, there is noth­ing more pow­er­ful than edu­ca­tion. Ear­ly habits (if I may so speak) are every­thing with us, under God. We are made what we are by train­ing. Our char­ac­ter takes the form of that mould into which our first years are cast.[2. “He has seen but lit­tle of life who does not dis­cern every­where the effect of edu­ca­tion on men’s opin­ions and habits of think­ing. The chil­dren bring out of the nurs­ery that which dis­plays itself through­out their lives.” — Cecil.]

We depend, in a vast mea­sure, on those who bring us up. We get from them a colour, a taste, a bias which cling to us more or less all our lives. We catch the lan­guage of our nurs­es and moth­ers, and learn to speak it almost insen­si­bly, and unques­tion­ably we catch some­thing of their man­ners, ways, and mind at the same time. Time only will show, I sus­pect, how much we all owe to ear­ly impres­sions, and how many things in us may be traced up to seeds sown in the days of our very infan­cy, by those who were about us. A very learned Eng­lish­man, Mr. Locke, has gone so far as to say: “That of all the men we meet with, nine parts out of ten are what they are, good or bad, use­ful or not, accord­ing to their edu­ca­tion.”

And all this is one of God’s mer­ci­ful arrange­ments. He gives your chil­dren a mind that will receive impres­sions like moist clay. He gives them a dis­po­si­tion at the start­ing-point of life to believe what you tell them, and to take for grant­ed what you advise them, and to trust your word rather than a stranger’s. He gives you, in short, a gold­en oppor­tu­ni­ty of doing them good. See that the oppor­tu­ni­ty be not neglect­ed, and thrown away. Once let slip, it is gone for ever. Beware of that mis­er­able delu­sion into which some have fall­en, — that par­ents can do noth­ing for their chil­dren, that you must leave them alone, wait for grace, and sit still. These per­sons have wish­es for their chil­dren in Balaam’s fash­ion, — they would like them to die the death of the right­eous man, but they do noth­ing to make them live his life. They desire much, and have noth­ing. And the dev­il rejoic­es to see such rea­son­ing, just as he always does over any­thing which seems to excuse indo­lence, or to encour­age neglect of means.

I know that you can­not con­vert your child. I know well that they who are born again are born, not of the will of man, but of God. But I know also that God says express­ly, “Train up a child in the way he should go,” and that He nev­er laid a com­mand on man which He would not give man grace to per­form. And I know, too, that our duty is not to stand still and dis­pute, but to go for­ward and obey. It is just in the going for­ward that God will meet us. The path of obe­di­ence is the way in which He gives the bless­ing. We have only to do as the ser­vants were com­mand­ed at the mar­riage feast in Cana, to fill the water-pots with water, and we may safe­ly leave it to the Lord to turn that water into wine.

4. Train with this thought con­tin­u­al­ly before your eyes — that the soul of your child is the first thing to be con­sid­ered.

Pre­cious, no doubt, are these lit­tle ones in your eyes; but if you love them, think often of their souls. No inter­est should weigh with you so much as their eter­nal inter­ests. No part of them should be so dear to you as that part which will nev­er die. The world, with all its glo­ry, shall pass away; the hills shall melt; the heav­ens shall be wrapped togeth­er as a scroll; the sun shall cease to shine. But the spir­it which dwells in those lit­tle crea­tures, whom you love so well, shall out­live them all, and whether in hap­pi­ness or mis­ery (to speak as a man) will depend on you.

This is the thought that should be upper­most on your mind in all you do for your chil­dren. In every step you take about them, in every plan, and scheme, and arrange­ment that con­cerns them, do not leave out that mighty ques­tion, “How will this affect their souls?”

Soul love is the soul of all love. To pet and pam­per and indulge your child, as if this world was all he had to look to, and this life the only sea­son for hap­pi­ness — to do this is not true love, but cru­el­ty. It is treat­ing him like some beast of the earth, which has but one world to look to, and noth­ing after death. It is hid­ing from him that grand truth, which he ought to be made to learn from his very infan­cy, — that the chief end of his life is the sal­va­tion of his soul.

A true Chris­t­ian must be no slave to fash­ion, if he would train his child for heav­en. He must not be con­tent to do things mere­ly because they are the cus­tom of the world; to teach them and instruct them in cer­tain ways, mere­ly because it is usu­al; to allow them to read books of a ques­tion­able sort, mere­ly because every­body else reads them; to let them form habits of a doubt­ful ten­den­cy, mere­ly because they are the habits of the day. He must train with an eye to his children’s souls. He must not be ashamed to hear his train­ing called sin­gu­lar and strange. What if it is? The time is short, — the fash­ion of this world pas­seth away. He that has trained his chil­dren for heav­en, rather than for earth, — for God, rather than for man, — he is the par­ent that will be called wise at last.

5. Train your child to a knowl­edge of the Bible.

You can­not make your chil­dren love the Bible, I allow. None but the Holy Ghost can give us a heart to delight in the Word. But you can make your chil­dren acquaint­ed with the Bible; and be sure they can­not be acquaint­ed with that blessed book too soon, or too well.

A thor­ough knowl­edge of the Bible is the foun­da­tion of all clear views of reli­gion. He that is well-ground­ed in it will not gen­er­al­ly be found a waver­er, and car­ried about by every wind of new doc­trine. Any sys­tem of train­ing which does not make a knowl­edge of Scrip­ture the first thing is unsafe and unsound. You have need to be care­ful on this point just now, for the dev­il is abroad, and error abounds. Some are to be found amongst us who give the Church the hon­our due to Jesus Christ. Some are to be found who make the sacra­ments sav­iours and pass­ports to eter­nal life. And some are to be found in like man­ner who hon­our a cat­e­chism more than the Bible, or fill the minds of their chil­dren with mis­er­able lit­tle sto­ry-books, instead of the Scrip­ture of truth. But if you love your chil­dren, let the sim­ple Bible be every­thing in the train­ing of their souls; and let all oth­er books go down and take the sec­ond place. Care not so much for their being mighty in the cat­e­chism, as for their being mighty in the Scrip­tures. This is the train­ing, believe me, that God will hon­our. The Psalmist says of Him, ” Thou hast mag­ni­fied Thy Word above all Thy name” (Ps. 138:2); and I think that He gives an espe­cial bless­ing to all who try to mag­ni­fy it among men.

See that your chil­dren read the Bible rev­er­ent­ly. Train them to look on it, not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God, writ­ten by the Holy Ghost Him­self, — all true, all prof­itable, and able to make us wise unto sal­va­tion, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

See that they read it reg­u­lar­ly. Train them to regard it as their soul’s dai­ly food, — as a thing essen­tial to their soul’s dai­ly health. I know well you can not make this any­thing more than a form; but there is no telling the amount of sin which a mere form may indi­rect­ly restrain.

See that they read it all. You need not shrink from bring­ing any doc­trine before them. You need not fan­cy that the lead­ing doc­trines of Chris­tian­i­ty are things which chil­dren can­not under­stand. Chil­dren under­stand far more of the Bible than we are apt to sup­pose.

Tell them of sin, its guilt, its con­se­quences, its pow­er, its vile­ness: you will find they can com­pre­hend some­thing of this.

Tell them of the Lord Jesus Christ, and His work for our sal­va­tion, — the atone­ment, the cross, the blood, the sac­ri­fice, the inter­ces­sion: you will dis­cov­er there is some­thing not beyond them in all this.

Tell them of the work of the Holy Spir­it in man’s heart, how He changes, and renews, and sanc­ti­fies, and puri­fies: you will soon see they can go along with you in some mea­sure in this. In short, I sus­pect we have no idea how much a lit­tle child can take in of the length and breadth of the glo­ri­ous gospel. They see far more of these things than we suppose.[3. As to the age when the reli­gious instruc­tion of a child should begin, no gen­er­al rule can be laid down. The mind seems to open in some chil­dren much more quick­ly than in oth­ers. We sel­dom begin too ear­ly. There are won­der­ful exam­ples on record of what a child can attain to, even at three years old.]

Fill their minds with Scrip­ture. Let the Word dwell in them rich­ly. Give them the Bible, the whole Bible, even while they are young.

6. Train them to a habit of prayer.

Prayer is the very life-breath of true reli­gion. It is one of the first evi­dences that a man is born again. “Behold,” said the Lord of Saul, in the day he sent Ana­nias to him, “Behold, he prayeth” (Acts 9:11). He had begun to pray, and that was proof enough.

Prayer was the dis­tin­guish­ing mark of the Lord’s peo­ple in the day that there began to be a sep­a­ra­tion between them and the world. “Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26).

Prayer is the pecu­liar­i­ty of all real Chris­tians now. They pray, — for they tell God their wants, their feel­ings, their desires, their fears; and mean what they say. The nom­i­nal Chris­t­ian may repeat prayers, and good prayers too, but he goes no fur­ther.

Prayer is the turn­ing-point in a man’s soul. Our min­istry is unprof­itable, and our labour is vain, till you are brought to your knees. Till then, we have no hope about you.

Prayer is one great secret of spir­i­tu­al pros­per­i­ty. When there is much pri­vate com­mu­nion with God, your soul will grow like the grass after rain; when there is lit­tle, all will be at a stand­still, you will bare­ly keep your soul alive. Show me a grow­ing Chris­t­ian, a going for­ward Chris­t­ian, a strong Chris­t­ian, a flour­ish­ing Chris­t­ian, and sure am I, he is one that speaks often with his Lord. He asks much, and he has much. He tells Jesus every­thing, and so he always knows how to act.

Prayer is the might­i­est engine God has placed in our hands. It is the best weapon to use in every dif­fi­cul­ty, and the surest rem­e­dy in every trou­ble. It is the key that unlocks the trea­sury of promis­es, and the hand that draws forth grace and help in time of need. It is the sil­ver trum­pet God com­mands us to sound in all our neces­si­ty, and it is the cry He has promised always to attend to, even as a lov­ing moth­er to the voice of her child.

Prayer is the sim­plest means that man can use in com­ing to God. It is with­in reach of all, — the sick, the aged, the infirm, the par­a­lyt­ic, the blind, the poor, the unlearned, — all can pray. It avails you noth­ing to plead want of mem­o­ry, and want of learn­ing, and want of books, and want of schol­ar­ship in this mat­ter. So long as you have a tongue to tell your soul’s state, you may and ought to pray. Those words, “Ye have not, because ye ask not” (Jas. 4:2), will be a fear­ful con­dem­na­tion to many in the day of judg­ment.

Par­ents, if you love your chil­dren, do all that lies in your pow­er to train them up to a habit of prayer. Show them how to begin. Tell them what to say. Encour­age them to per­se­vere. Remind them if they become care­less and slack about it. Let it not be your fault, at any rate, if they nev­er call on the name of the Lord. This, remem­ber, is the first step in reli­gion which a child is able to take. Long before he can read, you can teach him to kneel by his mother’s side, and repeat the sim­ple words of prayer and praise which she puts in his mouth. And as the first steps in any under­tak­ing are always the most impor­tant, so is the man­ner in which your children’s prayers are prayed, a point which deserves your clos­est atten­tion. Few seem to know how much depends on this. You must beware lest they get into a way of say­ing them in a hasty, care­less, and irrev­er­ent man­ner.

You must beware of giv­ing up the over­sight of this mat­ter to ser­vants and nurs­es, or of trust­ing too much to your chil­dren doing it when left to them­selves. I can­not praise that moth­er who nev­er looks after this most impor­tant part of her child’s dai­ly life her­self. Sure­ly if there be any habit which your own hand and eye should help in form­ing, it is the habit of prayer. Believe me, if you nev­er hear your chil­dren pray your­self, you are much to blame. You are lit­tle wis­er than the bird described in Job, “which leaveth her eggs in the earth, and warmeth them in the dust, and for­get­teth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild beast may break them. She is hard­ened against her young ones, as though they were not hers: her labour is in vain with­out fear” (Job 39:14–16).

Prayer is, of all habits, the one which we rec­ol­lect the longest. Many a grey- head­ed man could tell you how his moth­er used to make him pray in the days of his child­hood. Oth­er things have passed away from his mind per­haps. The church where he was tak­en to wor­ship, the min­is­ter whom he heard preach, the com­pan­ions who used to play with him, — all these, it may be, have passed from his mem­o­ry, and left no mark behind. But you will often find it is far dif­fer­ent with his first prayers. He will often be able to tell you where he knelt, and what he was taught to say, and even how his moth­er looked all the while. It will come up as fresh before his mind’s eye as if it was but yes­ter­day.

Read­er, if you love your chil­dren, I charge you, do not let the seed-time of a prayer­ful habit pass away unim­proved. If you train your chil­dren to any­thing, train them, at least, to a habit of prayer.

7. Train them to habits of dili­gence, and reg­u­lar­i­ty about pub­lic means of grace.

Tell them of the duty and priv­i­lege of going to the house of God, and join­ing in the prayers of the con­gre­ga­tion. Tell them that wher­ev­er the Lord’s peo­ple are gath­ered togeth­er, there the Lord Jesus is present in an espe­cial man­ner, and that those who absent them­selves must expect, like the Apos­tle Thomas, to miss a bless­ing. Tell them of the impor­tance of hear­ing the Word preached, and that it is God’s ordi­nance for con­vert­ing, sanc­ti­fy­ing, and build­ing up the souls of men. Tell them how the Apos­tle Paul enjoins us not “to for­sake the assem­bling of our­selves togeth­er, as the man­ner of some is” (Heb. 10:25); but to exhort one anoth­er, to stir one anoth­er up to it, and so much the more as we see the day approach­ing.

I call it a sad sight in a church when nobody comes up to the Lord’s table but the elder­ly peo­ple, and the young men and the young women all turn away. But I call it a sad­der sight still when no chil­dren are to be seen in a church, except­ing those who come to the Sun­day School, and are oblig­ed to attend. Let none of this guilt lie at your doors. There are many boys and girls in every parish, besides those who come to school, and you who are their par­ents and friends should see to it that they come with you to church.

Do not allow them to grow up with a habit of mak­ing vain excus­es for not com­ing. Give them plain­ly to under­stand, that so long as they are under your roof it is the rule of your house for every one in health to hon­our the Lord’s house upon the Lord’s day, and that you reck­on the Sab­bath-break­er to be a mur­der­er of his own soul.

See to it too, if it can be so arranged, that your chil­dren go with you to church, and sit near you when they are there. To go to church is one thing, but to behave well at church is quite anoth­er. And believe me, there is no secu­ri­ty for good behav­iour like that of hav­ing them under your own eye.

The minds of young peo­ple are eas­i­ly drawn aside, and their atten­tion lost, and every pos­si­ble means should be used to coun­ter­act this. I do not like to see them com­ing to church by them­selves, — they often get into bad com­pa­ny by the way, and so learn more evil on the Lord’s day than in all the rest of the week. Nei­ther do I like to see what I call “a young people’s cor­ner” in a church. They often catch habits of inat­ten­tion and irrev­er­ence there, which it takes years to unlearn, if ever they are unlearned at all. What I like to see is a whole fam­i­ly sit­ting togeth­er, old and young, side by side, — men, women, and chil­dren, serv­ing God accord­ing to their house­holds.

But there are some who say that it is use­less to urge chil­dren to attend means of grace, because they can­not under­stand them.

I would not have you lis­ten to such rea­son­ing. I find no such doc­trine in the Old Tes­ta­ment. When Moses goes before Pharaoh (Ex. 10:9), I observe he says, “We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daugh­ters: for we must hold a feast unto the Lord.” When Joshua read the law (Josh. 8:35), I observe, “There was not a word which Joshua read not before all the con­gre­ga­tion of Israel, with the women and the lit­tle ones, and the strangers that were con­ver­sant among them.” “Thrice in the year,” says Ex. 34:23, “shall all your men-chil­dren appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel.” And when I turn to the New Tes­ta­ment, I find chil­dren men­tioned there as par­tak­ing in pub­lic acts of reli­gion as well as in the Old. When Paul was leav­ing the dis­ci­ples at Tyre for the last time, I find it said (Acts 21:5),” They all brought us on our way, with wives and chil­dren, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed.”

Samuel, in the days of his child­hood, appears to have min­is­tered unto the Lord some time before he real­ly knew Him. “Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nei­ther was the word of the Lord yet revealed unto him” (1 Sam. 3:7). The Apos­tles them­selves do not seem to have under­stood all that our Lord said at the time that it was spo­ken: “These things under­stood not His dis­ci­ples at the first: but when Jesus was glo­ri­fied, then remem­bered they that these things were writ­ten of Him” (John 12:16).

Par­ents, com­fort your minds with these exam­ples. Be not cast down because your chil­dren see not the full val­ue of the means of grace now. Only train them up to a habit of reg­u­lar atten­dance. Set it before their minds as a high, holy, and solemn duty, and believe me, the day will very like­ly come when they will bless you for your deed.

8. Train them to a habit of faith.

I mean by this, you should train them up to believe what you say. You should try to make them feel con­fi­dence in your judg­ment, and respect your opin­ions, as bet­ter than their own. You should accus­tom them to think that, when you say a thing is bad for them, it must be bad, and when you say it is good for them, it must be good; that your knowl­edge, in short, is bet­ter than their own, and that they may rely implic­it­ly on your word. Teach them to feel that what they know not now, they will prob­a­bly know here­after, and to be sat­is­fied there is a rea­son and a needs-be for every­thing you require them to do.

Who indeed can describe the blessed­ness of a real spir­it of faith? Or rather, who can tell the mis­ery that unbe­lief has brought upon the world? Unbe­lief made Eve eat the for­bid­den fruit, — she doubt­ed the truth of God’s word: “Ye shall sure­ly die.” Unbe­lief made the old world reject Noah’s warn­ing, and so per­ish in sin. Unbe­lief kept Israel in the wilder­ness, — it was the bar that kept them from enter­ing the promised land. Unbe­lief made the Jews cru­ci­fy the Lord of glo­ry, — they believed not the voice of Moses and the prophets, though read to them every day. And unbe­lief is the reign­ing sin of man’s heart down to this very hour, — unbe­lief in God’s promis­es, — unbe­lief in God’s threat­en­ings, — unbe­lief in our own sin­ful­ness, — unbe­lief in our own dan­ger, — unbe­lief in every­thing that runs counter to the pride and world­li­ness of our evil hearts. Read­er, you train your chil­dren to lit­tle pur­pose if you do not train them to a habit of implic­it faith, — faith in their par­ents’ word, con­fi­dence that what their par­ents say must be right.

I have heard it said by some, that you should require noth­ing of chil­dren which they can­not under­stand that you should explain and give a rea­son for every­thing you desire them to do. I warn you solemn­ly against such a notion. I tell you plain­ly, I think it an unsound and rot­ten prin­ci­ple. No doubt it is absurd to make a mys­tery of every­thing you do, and there are many things which it is well to explain to chil­dren, in order that they may see that they are rea­son­able and wise. But to bring them up with the idea that they must take noth­ing on trust, that they, with their weak and imper­fect under­stand­ings, must have the “why” and the “where­fore” made clear to them at every step they take, — this is indeed a fear­ful mis­take, and like­ly to have the worst effect on their minds.

Rea­son with your child if you are so dis­posed, at cer­tain times, but nev­er for­get to keep him in mind (if you real­ly love him) that he is but a child after all, — that he thinks as a child, he under­stands as a child, and there­fore must not expect to know the rea­son of every­thing at once.

Set before him the exam­ple of Isaac, in the day when Abra­ham took him to offer him on Mount Mori­ah (Gen. 22). He asked his father that sin­gle ques­tion, “Where is the lamb for a burnt-offer­ing?” and he got no answer but this, “God will pro­vide Him­self a lamb.” How, or where, or whence, or in what man­ner, or by what means, — all this Isaac was not told; but the answer was enough. He believed that it would be well, because his father said so, and he was con­tent. Tell your chil­dren, too, that we must all be learn­ers in our begin­nings, that there is an alpha­bet to be mas­tered in every kind of knowl­edge, — that the best horse in the world had need once to be bro­ken, — that a day will come when they will see the wis­dom of all your train­ing. But in the mean­time if you say a thing is right, it must be enough for them, — they must believe you, and be con­tent.

Par­ents, if any point in train­ing is impor­tant, it is this. I charge you by the affec­tion you have to your chil­dren, use every means to train them up to a habit of faith.

9. Train them to a habit of obe­di­ence.

This is an object which it is worth any labour to attain. No habit, I sus­pect, has such an influ­ence over our lives as this. Par­ents, deter­mine to make your chil­dren obey you, though it may cost you much trou­ble, and cost them many tears. Let there be no ques­tion­ing, and rea­son­ing, and dis­put­ing, and delay­ing, and answer­ing again. When you give them a com­mand, let them see plain­ly that you will have it done.

Obe­di­ence is the only real­i­ty. It is faith vis­i­ble, faith act­ing, and faith incar­nate. It is the test of real dis­ci­ple­ship among the Lord’s peo­ple. “Ye are My friends if ye do what­so­ev­er I com­mand you” (John 15:14). It ought to be the mark of well- trained chil­dren, that they do what­so­ev­er their par­ents com­mand them. Where, in deed, is the hon­our which the fifth com­mand­ment enjoins, if fathers and moth­ers are not obeyed cheer­ful­ly, will­ing­ly, and at once?

Ear­ly obe­di­ence has all Scrip­ture on its side. It is in Abraham’s praise, not mere­ly he will train his fam­i­ly, but “he will com­mand his chil­dren, and his house­hold after him” (Gen. 18:19). It is said of the Lord Jesus Christ Him­self, that when “He was young He was sub­ject to Mary and Joseph” (Luke 2:51).

Observe how implic­it­ly Joseph obeyed the order of his father Jacob (Gen. 37:13). See how Isa­iah speaks of it as an evil thing, when “the child shall behave him­self proud­ly against the ancient” (Isa. 3:5). Mark how the Apos­tle Paul names dis­obe­di­ence to par­ents as one of the bad signs of the lat­ter days (2 Tim. 3:2). Mark how he sin­gles out this grace of requir­ing obe­di­ence as one that should adorn a Chris­t­ian min­is­ter: “a bish­op must be one that ruleth well his own house, hav­ing his chil­dren in sub­jec­tion with all grav­i­ty.” And again, “Let the dea­cons rule their chil­dren and their own hous­es well ” (1 Tim. 3:4,12). And again, an elder must be one “hav­ing faith­ful chil­dren, chil­dren not accused of riot, or unruly” (Tit. 1:6).

Par­ents, do you wish to see your chil­dren hap­py? Take care, then, that you train them to obey when they are spo­ken to, — to do as they are bid. Believe me, we are not made for entire inde­pen­dence, — we are not fit for it. Even Christ’s freemen have a yoke to wear, they “serve the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:24). Chil­dren can­not learn too soon that this is a world in which we are not all intend­ed to rule, and that we are nev­er in our right place until we know how to obey our bet­ters. Teach them to obey while young, or else they will be fret­ting against God all their lives long, and wear them­selves out with the vain idea of being inde­pen­dent of His con­trol.

Read­er, this hint is only too much need­ed. You will see many in this day who allow their chil­dren to choose and think for them­selves long before they are able, and even make excus­es for their dis­obe­di­ence, as if it were a thing not to be blamed. To my eyes, a par­ent always yield­ing, and a child always hav­ing its own way, are a most painful sight; — painful, because I see God’s appoint­ed order of things invert­ed and turned upside down; — painful, because I feel sure the con­se­quence to that child’s char­ac­ter in the end will be self-will, pride, and self-con­ceit. You must not won­der that men refuse to obey their Father which is in heav­en, if you allow them, when chil­dren, to dis­obey their father who is upon earth.

Par­ents, if you love your chil­dren, let obe­di­ence be a mot­to and a watch­word con­tin­u­al­ly before their eyes.

10. Train them to a habit of always speak­ing the truth.

Truth-speak­ing is far less com­mon in the world than at first sight we are dis­posed to think. The whole truth, and noth­ing but the truth, is a gold­en rule which many would do well to bear in mind. Lying and pre­var­i­ca­tion are old sins. The dev­il was the father of them, — he deceived Eve by a bold lie, and ever since the fall it is a sin against which all the chil­dren of Eve have need to be on their guard.

Only think how much false­hood and deceit there is in the world! How much exag­ger­a­tion! How many addi­tions are made to a sim­ple sto­ry! How many things left out, if it does not serve the speaker’s inter­est to tell them! How few there are about us of whom we can say, we put unhesi­tat­ing trust in their word! Ver­i­ly the ancient Per­sians were wise in their gen­er­a­tion: it was a lead­ing point with them in edu­cat­ing their chil­dren, that they should learn to speak the truth. What an awful proof it is of man’s nat­ur­al sin­ful­ness, that it should be need­ful to name such a point at all!

Read­er, I would have you remark how often God is spo­ken of in the Old Tes­ta­ment as the God of truth. Truth seems to be espe­cial­ly set before us as a lead­ing fea­ture in the char­ac­ter of Him with whom we have to do. He nev­er swerves from the straight line. He abhors lying and hypocrisy. Try to keep this con­tin­u­al­ly before your children’s minds. Press upon them at all times, that less than the truth is a lie; that eva­sion, excuse-mak­ing, and exag­ger­a­tion are all halfway hous­es towards what is false, and ought to be avoid­ed. Encour­age them in any cir­cum­stances to be straight­for­ward, and, what­ev­er it may cost them, to speak the truth.

I press this sub­ject on your atten­tion, not mere­ly for the sake of your children’s char­ac­ter in the world, — though I might dwell much on this, — I urge it rather for your own com­fort and assis­tance in all your deal­ings with them. You will find it a mighty help indeed, to be able always to trust their word. It will go far to pre­vent that habit of con­ceal­ment, which so unhap­pi­ly pre­vails some­times among chil­dren. Open­ness and straight­for­ward­ness depend much upon a parent’s treat­ment of this mat­ter in the days of our infan­cy.

11. Train them to a habit of always redeem­ing the time.

Idle­ness is the devil’s best friend. It is the surest way to give him an oppor­tu­ni­ty of doing us harm. An idle mind is like an open door, and if Satan does not enter in him­self by it, it is cer­tain he will throw in some­thing to raise bad thoughts in our souls.

No cre­at­ed being was ever meant to be idle. Ser­vice and work is the appoint­ed por­tion of every crea­ture of God. The angels in heav­en work, — they are the Lord’s min­is­ter­ing ser­vants, ever doing His will. Adam, in Par­adise, had work, — he was appoint­ed to dress the gar­den of Eden, and to keep it. The redeemed saints in glo­ry will have work, “They rest not day and night singing praise and glo­ry to Him who bought them.” And man, weak, sin­ful man, must have some­thing to do, or else his soul will soon get into an unhealthy state. We must have our hands filled, and our minds occu­pied with some­thing, or else our imag­i­na­tions will soon fer­ment and breed mis­chief.

And what is true of us, is true of our chil­dren too. Alas, indeed, for the man that has noth­ing to do! The Jews thought idle­ness a pos­i­tive sin: it was a law of theirs that every man should bring up his son to some use­ful trade, — and they were right. They knew the heart of man bet­ter than some of us appear to do.

Idle­ness made Sodom what she was. “This was the iniq­ui­ty of thy sis­ter Sodom, pride, ful­ness of bread, and abun­dance of idle­ness was in her” (Ezek. 16:49). Idle­ness had much to do with David’s awful sin with the wife of Uri­ah. — I see in 2 Sam. 11 that Joab went out to war against Ammon, “but David tar­ried still at Jerusalem.” Was not that idle? And then it was that he saw Bathshe­ba, — and the next step we read of is his tremen­dous and mis­er­able fall.

Ver­i­ly, I believe that idle­ness has led to more sin than almost any oth­er habit that could be named. I sus­pect it is the moth­er of many a work of the flesh, — the moth­er of adul­tery, for­ni­ca­tion, drunk­en­ness, and many oth­er deeds of dark­ness that I have not time to name. Let your own con­science say whether I do not speak the truth. You were idle, and at once the dev­il knocked at the door and came in.

And indeed I do not won­der; — every­thing in the world around us seems to teach the same les­son. It is the still water which becomes stag­nant and impure: the run­ning, mov­ing streams are always clear. If you have steam machin­ery, you must work it, or it soon gets out of order. If you have a horse, you must exer­cise him; he is nev­er so well as when he has reg­u­lar work. If you would have good bod­i­ly health your­self, you must take exer­cise. If you always sit still, your body is sure at length to com­plain. And just so is it with the soul. The active mov­ing mind is a hard mark for the dev­il to shoot at. Try to be always full of use­ful employ­ment, and thus your ene­my will find it dif­fi­cult to get room to sow tares. Read­er, I ask you to set these things before the minds of your chil­dren. Teach them the val­ue of time, and try to make them learn the habit of using it well. It pains me to see chil­dren idling over what they have in hand, what­ev­er it may be. I love to see them active and indus­tri­ous, and giv­ing their whole heart to all they do; giv­ing their whole heart to lessons, when they have to learn; — giv­ing their whole heart even to their amuse­ments, when they go to play.

But if you love them well, let idle­ness be count­ed a sin in your fam­i­ly.

12. Train them with a con­stant fear of over-indul­gence.

This is the one point of all on which you have most need to be on your guard. It is nat­ur­al to be ten­der and affec­tion­ate towards your own flesh and blood, and it is the excess of this very ten­der­ness and affec­tion which you have to fear. Take heed that it does not make you blind to your children’s faults, and deaf to all advice about them. Take heed lest it make you over­look bad con­duct, rather than have the pain of inflict­ing pun­ish­ment and cor­rec­tion.

I know well that pun­ish­ment and cor­rec­tion are dis­agree­able things. Noth­ing is more unpleas­ant than giv­ing pain to those we love, and call­ing forth their tears. But so long as hearts are what hearts are, it is vain to sup­pose, as a gen­er­al rule, that chil­dren can ever be brought up with­out cor­rec­tion.

Spoil­ing is a very expres­sive word, and sad­ly full of mean­ing. Now it is the short­est way to spoil chil­dren to let them have their own way, — to allow them to do wrong and not to pun­ish them for it. Believe me, you must not do it, what­ev­er pain it may cost you unless you wish to ruin your children’s souls.

You can­not say that Scrip­ture does not speak express­ly on this sub­ject: “He that spareth his rod, hateth his son; but he that loveth him, chas­teneth him betimes” (Prov. 13:24). “Chas­ten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his cry­ing” (Prov. 19:18). “Fool­ish­ness is bound in the heart of a child: but the rod of cor­rec­tion shall dri­ve it from him” (Prov. 22:15). “With­hold not cor­rec­tion from the child, for if thou beat­est him with the rod he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliv­er his soul from hell” (Prov. 23:13,14). “The rod and reproof give wis­dom: but a child left to him­self bringeth his moth­er to shame.” “Cor­rect thy son, and he shall give thee rest, yea, he shall give delight to thy soul” (Prov. 29:15,17).

How strong and forcible are these texts! How melan­choly is the fact, that in many Chris­t­ian fam­i­lies they seem almost unknown! Their chil­dren need reproof, but it is hard­ly ever giv­en; they need cor­rec­tion, but it is hard­ly ever employed. And yet this book of Proverbs is not obso­lete and unfit for Chris­tians. It is giv­en by inspi­ra­tion of God, and prof­itable. It is giv­en for our learn­ing, even as the Epis­tles to the Romans and Eph­esians. Sure­ly the believ­er who brings up his chil­dren with­out atten­tion to its coun­sel is mak­ing him­self wise above that which is writ­ten, and great­ly errs.

Fathers and moth­ers, I tell you plain­ly, if you nev­er pun­ish your chil­dren when they are in fault, you are doing them a griev­ous wrong. I warn you, this is the rock on which the saints of God, in every age, have only too fre­quent­ly made ship­wreck. I would fain per­suade you to be wise in time, and keep clear of it. See it in Eli’s case. His sons Hoph­ni and Phine­has “made them­selves vile, and he restrained them not.” He gave them no more than a tame and luke­warm reproof, when he ought to have rebuked them sharply. In one word, he hon­oured his sons above God. And what was the end of these things? He lived to hear of the death of both his sons in bat­tle, and his own grey hairs were brought down with sor­row to the grave (1 Sam. 2:22–29, 3:13).

See, too, the case of David. Who can read with­out pain the his­to­ry of his chil­dren, and their sins? Amnon’s incest, — Absalom’s mur­der and proud rebel­lion, — Adonijah’s schem­ing ambi­tion: tru­ly these were griev­ous wounds for the man after God’s own heart to receive from his own house. But was there no fault on his side? I fear there can be no doubt there was. I find a clue to it all in the account of Adoni­jah in 1 Kings 1:6: “His father had not dis­pleased him at any time in say­ing, Why hast thou done so?” There was the foun­da­tion of all the mis­chief. David was an over-indul­gent father, — a father who let his chil­dren have their own way, — and he reaped accord­ing as he had sown.

Par­ents, I beseech you, for your children’s sake, beware of over-indul­gence. I call on you to remem­ber, it is your first duty to con­sult their real inter­ests, and not their fan­cies and lik­ings; — to train them, not to humour them — to prof­it, not mere­ly to please.

You must not give way to every wish and caprice of your child’s mind, how­ev­er much you may love him. You must not let him sup­pose his will is to be every­thing, and that he has only to desire a thing and it will be done. Do not, I pray you, make your chil­dren idols, lest God should take them away, and break your idol, just to con­vince you of your fol­ly.

Learn to say “No” to your chil­dren. Show them that you are able to refuse what­ev­er you think is not fit for them. Show them that you are ready to pun­ish dis­obe­di­ence, and that when you speak of pun­ish­ment, you are not only ready to threat­en, but also to per­form. Do not threat­en too much.[4. Some par­ents and nurs­es have a way of say­ing, “Naughty child,” to a boy or girl on every slight occa­sion, and often with­out good cause. It is a very fool­ish habit. Words of blame should nev­er be used with­out real rea­son.] Threat­ened folks, and threat­ened faults, live long. Pun­ish sel­dom, but real­ly and in good earnest, — fre­quent and slight pun­ish­ment is a wretched sys­tem indeed.[5. As to the best way of pun­ish­ing a child, no gen­er­al rule can be laid down. The char­ac­ters of chil­dren are so exceed­ing­ly dif­fer­ent, that what would be a severe pun­ish­ment to one child, would be no pun­ish­ment at all to anoth­er. I only beg to enter my decid­ed protest against the mod­ern notion that no child ought ever to be whipped. Doubt­less some par­ents use bod­i­ly cor­rec­tion far too much, and far too vio­lent­ly; but many oth­ers, I fear, use it far too lit­tle.]

Beware of let­ting small faults pass unno­ticed under the idea “it is a lit­tle one.” There are no lit­tle things in train­ing chil­dren; all are impor­tant. Lit­tle weeds need pluck­ing up as much as any. Leave them alone, and they will soon be great. Read­er, if there be any point which deserves your atten­tion, believe me, it is this one. It is one that will give you trou­ble, I know. But if you do not take trou­ble with your chil­dren when they are young, they will give you trou­ble when they are old. Choose which you pre­fer.

13. Train them remem­ber­ing con­tin­u­al­ly how God trains His chil­dren.

The Bible tells us that God has an elect peo­ple, — a fam­i­ly in this world. All poor sin­ners who have been con­vinced of sin, and fled to Jesus for peace, make up that fam­i­ly. All of us who real­ly believe on Christ for sal­va­tion are its mem­bers. Now God the Father is ever train­ing the mem­bers of this fam­i­ly for their ever­last­ing abode with Him in heav­en. He acts as a hus­band­man prun­ing his vines, that they may bear more fruit. He knows the char­ac­ter of each of us, — our beset­ting sins, — our weak­ness­es, — our pecu­liar infir­mi­ties, — our spe­cial wants. He knows our works and where we dwell, who are our com­pan­ions in life, and what are our tri­als, what our temp­ta­tions, and what are our priv­i­leges. He knows all these things, and is ever order­ing all for our good. He allots to each of us, in His prov­i­dence, the very things we need, in order to bear the most fruit, — as much of sun­shine as we can stand, and as much of rain, — as much of bit­ter things as we can bear, and as much of sweet. Read­er, if you would train your chil­dren wise­ly, mark well how God the Father trains His. He doeth all things well; the plan which He adopts must be right.

See, then, how many things there are which God with­holds from His chil­dren. Few could be found, I sus­pect, among them who have not had desires which He has nev­er been pleased to ful­fil. There has often been some one thing they want­ed to attain, and yet there has always been some bar­ri­er to pre­vent attain­ment. It has been just as if God was plac­ing it above our reach, and say­ing, “This is not good for you; this must not be.” Moses desired exceed­ing­ly to cross over Jor­dan, and see the good­ly land of promise; but you will remem­ber his desire was nev­er grant­ed.

See, too, how often God leads His peo­ple by ways which seem dark and mys­te­ri­ous to our eyes. We can­not see the mean­ing of all His deal­ings with us; we can­not see the rea­son­able­ness of the path in which our feet are tread­ing. Some­times so many tri­als have assailed us, — so many dif­fi­cul­ties encom­passed us, — that we have not been able to dis­cov­er the needs-be of it all. It has been just as if our Father was tak­ing us by the hand into a dark place and say­ing, “Ask no ques­tions, but fol­low Me.” There was a direct road from Egypt to Canaan, yet Israel was not led into it; but round, through the wilder­ness. And this seemed hard at the time. “The soul of the peo­ple,” we are told, “was much dis­cour­aged because of the way” (Exod. 13:17; Num. 21:4).

See, also, how often God chas­tens His peo­ple with tri­al and afflic­tion. He sends them cross­es and dis­ap­point­ments; He lays them low with sick­ness; He strips them of prop­er­ty and friends; He changes them from one posi­tion to anoth­er; He vis­its them with things most hard to flesh and blood; and some of us have well- nigh faint­ed under the bur­dens laid upon us. We have felt pressed beyond strength, and have been almost ready to mur­mur at the hand which chas­tened us. Paul the Apos­tle had a thorn in the flesh appoint­ed him, some bit­ter bod­i­ly tri­al, no doubt, though we know not exact­ly what it was. But this we know, — he besought the Lord thrice that it might be removed; yet it was not tak­en away (2 Cor. 12:8,9).

Now, read­er, notwith­stand­ing all these things, did you ever hear of a sin­gle child of God who thought his Father did not treat him wise­ly? No, I am sure you nev­er did. God’s chil­dren would always tell you, in the long run, it was a blessed thing they did not have their own way, and that God had done far bet­ter for them than they could have done for them­selves. Yes! And they could tell you, too, that God’s deal­ings had pro­vid­ed more hap­pi­ness for them than they ever would have obtained them­selves, and that His way, how­ev­er dark at times, was the way of pleas­ant­ness and the path of peace.

I ask you to lay to heart the les­son which God’s deal­ings with His peo­ple is meant to teach you. Fear not to with­hold from your child any­thing you think will do him harm, what­ev­er his own wish­es may be. This is God’s plan. Hes­i­tate not to lay on him com­mands, of which he may not at present see the wis­dom, and to guide him in ways which may not now seem rea­son­able to his mind. This is God’s plan.

Shrink not from chastis­ing and cor­rect­ing him when­ev­er you see his soul’s health requires it, how­ev­er painful it may be to your feel­ings; and remem­ber med­i­cines for the mind must not be reject­ed because they are bit­ter. This is God’s plan.

And be not afraid, above all, that such a plan of train­ing will make your child unhap­py. I warn you against this delu­sion. Depend on it, there is no sur­er road to unhap­pi­ness than always hav­ing our own way. To have our wills checked and denied is a blessed thing for us; it makes us val­ue enjoy­ments when they come. To be indulged per­pet­u­al­ly is the way to be made self­ish; and self­ish peo­ple and spoiled chil­dren, believe me, are sel­dom hap­py.

Read­er, be not wis­er than God; — train your chil­dren as He trains His.

14. Train them remem­ber­ing con­tin­u­al­ly the influ­ence; of your own exam­ple.

Instruc­tion, and advice, and com­mands will prof­it lit­tle, unless they are backed up by the pat­tern of your own life. Your chil­dren will nev­er believe you are in earnest, and real­ly wish them to obey you, so long as your actions con­tra­dict your coun­sel. Arch­bish­op Tillot­son made a wise remark when he said, “To give chil­dren good instruc­tion, and a bad exam­ple, is but beck­on­ing to them with the head to show them the way to heav­en, while we take them by the hand and lead them in the way to hell.”

We lit­tle know the force and pow­er of exam­ple. No one of us can live to him­self in this world; we are always influ­enc­ing those around us, in one way or anoth­er, either for good or for evil, either for God or for sin. — They see our ways, they mark our con­duct, they observe our behav­iour, and what they see us prac­tise, that they may fair­ly sup­pose we think right. And nev­er, I believe, does exam­ple tell so pow­er­ful­ly as it does in the case of par­ents and chil­dren.

Fathers and moth­ers, do not for­get that chil­dren learn more by the eye than they do by the ear. No school will make such deep marks on char­ac­ter as home. The best of school­mas­ters will not imprint on their minds as much as they will pick up at your fire­side. Imi­ta­tion is a far stronger prin­ci­ple with chil­dren than mem­o­ry. What they see has a much stronger effect on their minds than what they are told.

Take care, then, what you do before a child. It is a true proverb, “Who sins before a child, sins dou­ble.” Strive rather to be a liv­ing epis­tle of Christ, such as your fam­i­lies can read, and that plain­ly too. Be an exam­ple of rev­er­ence for the Word of God, rev­er­ence in prayer, rev­er­ence for means of grace, rev­er­ence for the Lord’s day. — Be an exam­ple in words, in tem­per, in dili­gence, in tem­per­ance, in faith, in char­i­ty, in kind­ness, in humil­i­ty. Think not your chil­dren will prac­tise what they do not see you do. You are their mod­el pic­ture, and they will copy what you are. Your rea­son­ing and your lec­tur­ing, your wise com­mands and your good advice; all this they may not under­stand, but they can under­stand your life.

Chil­dren are very quick observers; very quick in see­ing through some kinds of hypocrisy, very quick in find­ing out what you real­ly think and feel, very quick in adopt­ing all your ways and opin­ions. You will often find as the father is, so is the son.

Remem­ber the word that the con­queror Cae­sar always used to his sol­diers in a bat­tle. He did not say “Go for­ward,” but “Come.” So it must be with you in train­ing your chil­dren. They will sel­dom learn habits which they see you despise, or walk in paths in which you do not walk your­self. He that preach­es to his chil­dren what he does not prac­tise, is work­ing a work that nev­er goes for­ward. It is like the fabled web of Pene­lope of old, who wove all day, and unwove all night. Even so, the par­ent who tries to train with­out set­ting a good exam­ple is build­ing with one hand, and pulling down with the oth­er.

15. Train them. remem­ber­ing con­tin­u­al­ly the pow­er of sin.

I name this short­ly, in order to guard you against unscrip­tur­al expec­ta­tions. You must not expect to find your children’s minds a sheet of pure white paper, and to have no trou­ble if you only use right means. I warn you plain­ly you will find no such thing. It is painful to see how much cor­rup­tion and evil there is in a young child’s heart, and how soon it begins to bear fruit. Vio­lent tem­pers, self- will, pride, envy, sul­len­ness, pas­sion, idle­ness, self­ish­ness, deceit, cun­ning, false­hood, hypocrisy, a ter­ri­ble apt­ness to learn what is bad, a painful slow­ness to learn what is good, a readi­ness to pre­tend any­thing in order to gain their own ends, — all these things, or some of them, you must be pre­pared to see, even in your own flesh and blood. In lit­tle ways they will creep out at a very ear­ly age; it is almost star­tling to observe how nat­u­ral­ly they seem to spring up. Chil­dren require no school­ing to learn to sin.

But you must not be dis­cour­aged and cast down by what you see. You must not think it a strange and unusu­al thing, that lit­tle hearts can be so full of sin. It is the only por­tion which our father Adam left us; it is that fall­en nature with which we come into the world; it is that inher­i­tance which belongs to us all. Let it rather make you more dili­gent in using every means which seem most like­ly, by God’s bless­ing, to coun­ter­act the mis­chief. Let it make you more and more care­ful, so far as in you lies, to keep your chil­dren out of the way of temp­ta­tion.

Nev­er lis­ten to those who tell you your chil­dren are good, and well brought up, and can be trust­ed. Think rather that their hearts are always inflam­ma­ble as tin­der. At their very best, they only want a spark to set their cor­rup­tions alight. Par­ents are sel­dom too cau­tious. Remem­ber the nat­ur­al deprav­i­ty of your chil­dren, and take care.

16. Train them remem­ber­ing con­tin­u­al­ly the promis­es of Scrip­ture.

I name this also short­ly, in order to guard you against dis­cour­age­ment. You have a plain promise on your side, “Train up your child in the way he should go, and when he is old he shall not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). Think what it is to have a promise like this. Promis­es were the only lamp of hope which cheered the hearts of the patri­archs before the Bible was writ­ten. Enoch, Noah, Abra­hanm, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, — all lived on a few promis­es, and pros­pered in their souls. Promis­es are the cor­dials which in every age have sup­port­ed and strength­ened the believ­er. He that has got a plain text upon his side need nev­er be cast down. Fathers and moth­ers, when your hearts are fail­ing, and ready to halt, look at the word of this text, and take com­fort.

Think who it is that promis­es. It is not the word of a man, who may lie or repent; it is the word of the King of kings, who nev­er changes. Hath He said a thing, and shall He not do it? Or hath He spo­ken, and shall He not make it good? Nei­ther is any­thing too hard for Him to per­form. The things that are impos­si­ble with men are pos­si­ble with God. Read­er, if we get not the ben­e­fit of the promise we are dwelling upon, the fault is not in Him, but in our­selves.

Think, too, what the promise con­tains, before you refuse to take com­fort from it. It speaks of a cer­tain time when good train­ing shall espe­cial­ly bear fruit, — “when a child is old.” Sure­ly there is com­fort in this. You may not see with your own eyes the result of care­ful train­ing, but you know not what blessed fruits may not spring from it, long after you are dead and gone. It is not God’s way to give every­thing at once. “After­wards’ is the time when He often choos­es to work, both in the things of nature and in the things of grace. “After­ward” is the sea­son when afflic­tion bears the peace­able fruit of right­eous­ness (Heb. 12:11). “After­ward” was the time when the son who refused to work in his father’s vine­yard repent­ed and went (Matt. 21:29). And “after­ward” is the time to which par­ents must look for­ward if they see not suc­cess at once, — you must sow in hope and plant in hope.

Cast thy bread upon the waters,” saith the Spir­it, “for thou shalt find it after many days” (Ece­les. 11:1). Many chil­dren, I doubt not, shall rise up in the day of judg­ment, and bless their par­ents for good train­ing, who nev­er gave any signs of hav­ing prof­it­ed by it dur­ing their par­ents’ lives. Go for­ward then in faith, and be sure that your labour shall not be alto­geth­er thrown away. Three times did Eli­jah stretch him­self upon the widow’s child before it revived. Take exam­ple from him, and per­se­vere.

17. Train them, last­ly, with con­tin­u­al prayer for a bless­ing on all you do.

With­out the bless­ing of the Lord, your best endeav­ours will do no good. He has the hearts of all men in His hands, and except He touch the hearts of your chil­dren by His Spir­it, you will weary your­self to no pur­pose. Water, there­fore, the seed you sow on their minds with unceas­ing prayer. The Lord is far more will­ing to hear than we to pray; far more ready to give bless­ings than we to ask them ; — but He loves to be entreat­ed for them. And I set this mat­ter of prayer before you, as the top-stone and seal of all you do. I sus­pect the child of many prayers is sel­dom cast away.

Look upon your chil­dren as Jacob did on his; he tells Esau they are “the chil­dren which God hath gra­cious­ly giv­en thy ser­vant” (Gen. 33:5). Look on them as Joseph did on his; he told his father, “They are the sons whom God hath giv­en me” (Gen. 48:9). Count them with the Psalmist to be “an her­itage and reward from the Lord” (Ps. 127:3). And then ask the Lord, with a holy bold­ness, to be gra­cious and mer­ci­ful to His own gifts. Mark how Abra­ham inter­cedes for Ish­mael, because he loved him, “Oh that Ish­mael might live before thee” (Gen. 17:18). See how Manoah speaks to the angel about Sam­son, “How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?” (Judg. 13:12). Observe how ten­der­ly Job cared for his children’s souls, “He offered burnt-offer­ings accord­ing to the num­ber of them all, for he said, It may be my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job con­tin­u­al­ly” (Job 1:5). Par­ents, if you love your chil­dren, go and do like­wise. You can­not name their names before the mer­cy-seat too often.

And now, read­er, in con­clu­sion, let me once more press upon you the neces­si­ty and impor­tance of using every sin­gle means in your pow­er, if you would train chil­dren for heav­en.

I know well that God is a sov­er­eign God, and doeth all things accord­ing to the coun­sel of His own will. I know that Rehoboam was the son of Solomon, and Man­asseh the son of Hezeki­ah, and that you do not always see god­ly par­ents hav­ing a god­ly seed. But I know also that God is a God who works by means, and sure am I, if you make light of such means as I have men­tioned, your chil­dren are not like­ly to turn out well.

Fathers and moth­ers, you may take your chil­dren to be bap­tized, and have them enrolled in the ranks of Christ’s Church; — you may get god­ly spon­sors to answer for them, and help you by their prayers; — you may send them to the best of schools, and give them Bibles and Prayer Books, and fill them with head knowl­edge but if all this time there is no reg­u­lar train­ing at home, I tell you plain­ly, I fear it will go hard in the end with your children’s souls. Home is the place where habits are formed; — home is the place where the foun­da­tions of char­ac­ter are laid; — home gives the bias to our tastes, and lik­ings, and opin­ions. See then, I pray you, that there be care­ful train­ing at home. Hap­py indeed is the man who can say, as Bolton did upon his dying bed, to his chil­dren, “I do believe not one of you will dare to meet me before the tri­bunal of Christ in an unre­gen­er­ate state.”

Fathers and moth­ers, I charge you solemn­ly before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, take every pains to train your chil­dren in the way they should go. I charge you not mere­ly for the sake of your children’s souls; I charge you for the sake of your own future com­fort and peace. Tru­ly it is your inter­est so to do. Tru­ly your own hap­pi­ness in great mea­sure depends on it. Chil­dren have ever been the bow from which the sharpest arrows have pierced man’s heart.

Chil­dren have mixed the bit­ter­est cups that man has ever had to drink. Chil­dren have caused the sad­dest tears that man has ever had to shed. Adam could tell you so; Jacob could tell you so; David could tell you so. There are no sor­rows on earth like those which chil­dren have brought upon their par­ents. Oh! take heed, lest your own neglect should lay up mis­ery for you in your old age. Take heed, lest you weep under the ill-treat­ment of a thank­less child, in the days when your eye is dim, and your nat­ur­al force abat­ed.

If ever you wish your chil­dren to be the restor­ers of your life, and the nour­ish­ers of your old age, — if you would have them bless­ings and not curs­es — joys and not sor­rows — Judahs and not Reubens — Ruths and not Orpahs, — if you would not, like Noah, be ashamed of their deeds, and, like Rebekah, be made weary of your life by them: if this be your wish, remem­ber my advice betimes, train them while young in the right way.

And as for me, I will con­clude by putting up my prayer to God for all who read this paper, that you may all be taught of God to feel the val­ue of your own souls. This is one rea­son why bap­tism is too often a mere form, and Chris­t­ian train­ing despised and dis­re­gard­ed. Too often par­ents feel not for them­selves, and so they feel not for their chil­dren. They do not real­ize the tremen­dous dif­fer­ence between a state of nature and a state of grace, and there­fore they are con­tent to let them alone.

Now the Lord teach you all that sin is that abom­inable thing which God hateth. Then, I know you will mourn over the sins of your chil­dren, and strive to pluck them out as brands from the fire.

The Lord teach you all how pre­cious Christ is, and what a mighty and com­plete work He hath done for our sal­va­tion. Then, I feel con­fi­dent you will use every means to bring your chil­dren to Jesus, that they may live through Him. The Lord teach you all your need of the Holy Spir­it, to renew, sanc­ti­fy, and quick­en your souls. Then, I feel sure you will urge your chil­dren to pray for Him with­out ceas­ing, and nev­er rest till He has come down into their hearts with pow­er, and made them new crea­tures.

The Lord grant this, and then I have a good hope that you will indeed train up your chil­dren well, — train well for this life, and train well for the life to come; train well for earth, and train well for heav­en; train them for God, for Christ, and for eter­ni­ty.


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