CHILDREN – YOU’VE GOT TO RAISE ‘EM RIGHT
Gleaned from the writings of J.C. Ryle by Michael Jeshurun
No matter how long you’ve been a born-again Christian, or how sanctified or well-versed in the Word you might be, the child born to you will be as Totally Depraved as you and that from the womb! [Psa 58:3] – M.J.
“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 practiced. 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. Permit 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, teachers, 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 neighbors 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.
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 totally astonished at the slowness of sensible Christian parents to admit that their own children are in fault, or deserve blame. There are not a few people 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 Spirit 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.
First, then, if you would train your children rightly, train them in the way they SHOULD go – and not in the way that they desire.
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” (Proverbs 22:15). “A child left to himself brings his mother to shame” (Proverbs 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 DESIRES.
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.
Secondly, 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 mold 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.
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?”
Love for the souls of your children is the quintessence 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 passes 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.
TRAIN YOUR CHILD TO A KNOWLEDGE OF THE BIBLE.
You cannot make your children love the Bible, I allow. None but the Holy Spirit 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 among us who give the Church the honor due to Jesus Christ. Some are to be found who make the sacraments saviors and passports to eternal life. And some are to be found in like manner who honor 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.
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 prays” (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 men began to call upon the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26).
Prayer is the distinguishing trait of all real Christians now. They pray – for they tell God their needs, 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 labor is vain, until you are brought to your knees. Until 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 prayer, 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.
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.
TRAIN THEM TO A HABIT OF OBEDIENCE.
This is an object which it is worth any labor 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 back. 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. “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). It ought to be the mark of well-trained children, that they cheerfully do whatever their parents command them. Where, indeed, is the honor 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 rules 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” (Titus 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 told. 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.
Parents, if you love your children – let OBEDIENCE be a motto and a watchword continually before their eyes.
Fathers and mothers, I charge you solemnly before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, take every effort 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.