The Duties Of Parents (Part 3)
By J. C. Ryle
"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6).
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 matter, 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.
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 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, 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 ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity" (1 Tim. 3:2-4). And again, "Let the deacons...rule their children and their own houses well" (v. 12). And again, an elder must be one "having faithful 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 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 the 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.
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! 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.