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Bring Children Up In The Training And Admonition Of The Lord 

By J. C. Ryle

    “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). 

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

The Way They Should Go

    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.  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. 

With All Tenderness, Affection, and Patience

    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.

    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 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.

    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.  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. 

Giving Your Children God’s Word

    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.

    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 honor.

    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 cannot 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.

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

 A Habit of Prayer

    Train your child to a habit of prayer.  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.

    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 others, 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. 

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

    – Condensed from The Duties of Parents by J. C. Ryle (1816 – 1900) who was a prominent writer, preacher and clergyman.