By Edward Bickersteth (1825 – 1906)
"The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked: but He blesseth the habitation of the just" (Prov. 3:33).
A resting in the form of godliness without its life and power, is one of the great dangers to which the church is peculiarly exposed in this day of general profession; and parents had need be very watchful that they do not unawares foster the most dangerous self-deception in their children, by giving them credit for genuine regeneration and conversion, when there has been nothing more than excited natural feelings, without any real spiritual change. When the young possess nothing more than what naturally amiable dispositions, under religious culture, may easily produce, they are soon overset in the rough sea of this world’s trials and temptations. Let parents beware of too soon speaking peace and rest to an awakened mind, or a troubled conscience.
The means of a successful Christian education have next to be noticed. And we would not here dwell on subjects which are generally acknowledged, such as prompt obedience and the honoring of parents, but would rather point out things which are too often neglected.
The Nature of a Successful Christian Education
1. The first thing is rightly to know the true foundation of our hopes of success. This is nothing less solid than the sure promises of God’s Word, many of which are very precious to a Christian parent’s heart (Deut. 7:9; Psa. 37:25-26; 100:5; 102:28; 103:17-18; 112:2; Prov. 11:21; 20:7; 22:6; Isa. 44:3-5; 51:3; 65:23; Luke 1:50; Acts 2:38-39). To know, rightly, this foundation, and humbly and simply to build upon it, in the acting out of those promises, through faith, and prayer, and our daily conduct, patiently waiting on God to fulfill them in His own time, constitute an important first step in successful education.
2. We must join with this, a clear view of the only governing cause of success; the free and rich grace of God our Father. All His children are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Here is the origin, here is the maintaining and continuing strength, here is the final triumph of all our efforts, and to cultivate a habit of constantly looking to, and habitually depending upon, God, in daily prayer, in every instruction, and in every plan formed for our children, is a main principle for obtaining their spiritual good. The faith and prayers of a parent are especially prevalent with our gracious Redeemer (Mark 9:23-24).
3. Another material point is to let our eye be single in seeking primarily their spiritual welfare: an all-directing and controlling principle in education should be, to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, for our children. This should influence us, as to the place in which we fix them, the company to which we introduce them, the books we wish them to read, the situation we desire for them, and in short, as to every thing we do concerning them.
4. The diligent and right use of the means of grace, is a most important help for children – such as daily reading the Scriptures, prayer, habits of self-examination, and regular attendance of public worship. But besides all these means, the most important, perhaps, is that constant inculcation of divine truth to which we are so plainly directed in the Scriptures: "These words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up: and thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house and on thy gates" (Duet. 6:6-9).
5. Discipline is a matter of constant necessity. A well-disciplined Christian child is the best gift which a parent can bestow on his country; whilst children left to themselves, and with no settled habits of patient and steady application, are likely to be sources of much trouble to their fellow-creatures. Discipline will seek constantly to restrain, check, and subdue all that is wrong, or leading to wrong, and to animate and encourage in all that is right. Every day brings fresh occasion for its exercise, with regard to appetite, pleasures, temper, coveting the things of others, neglecting duties, disorderly practices, and indeed all the varied events of life.
6. Punishment must not be withheld, but must be varied according to the degree of fault. It is important, also, that the scale by which we measure the degrees of wrong should be scriptural. Sins directly against God, and moral faults, such as falsehood, passion, and taking any thing that does not belong to them, should never be passed by without chastisement: while accidents from carelessness, though they may occasion us a serious injury, yet should be visited with a lighter penalty, as not being intentional faults.
7. Foster and encourage, by wise and Christian approbation, every thing that is lovely and excellent. Much may be done in forming the character by due attention to this. All truth, openness, generosity, self-denial, love to others, and all diligence and application in good pursuits should have the parental smile of favor; as all those things which are opposite to these should be discouraged by marks of disapprobation.
8. Earnestly watch against seeking great things for your children. Oh! the inexpressible folly of aiming to gain for them high connections, in classes of society above them; and for this end placing them in situations of danger, that they may form associations with their superiors! What havoc has this made among the children of pious parents! Mind not high things, should be our plain rule. "Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not" (Jer. 45:5). God give us grace to attend to these clear directions of His Word. If we trust Him, His providence will call our children to those scenes in which they may safely and honorably serve others, and glorify His name; and we shall be preserved from the anguish of seeing them bring reproach on the Gospel of Christ.
9. The last thing I would notice is our own consistency of conduct, as essential to the full effect of a Christian education. If Christian parents act inconsistently with their blessed principles – if they are irritable, selfish, proud, disorderly, passionate, and covetous, what can be expected, but similarly evil tempers in their children. But if they are poor in spirit, meek, mourning for sin, and hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and possess and manifest the other graces of a Christian, it is an immense auxiliary to all their religious instruction. In fact, it is one just retribution of all evil ways, that our children soon manifest similar evil ways; on the other hand an exhibition of holy conduct enforces every pious exhortation, and strengthens every solid principle, which we endeavor to communicate to them.
Points to Be Kept in View in a Religious Education
I. Spiritual Prosperity
1. Pray for them.
2. Ever instill Christian principles.
3. Act in the spirit of the Gospel towards them.
4. Watch over their friendships with others.
5. Teach them to govern their tempers.
6. See that they diligently attend the means of grace.
II. Health of Body
1. Exercise to be regularly taken.
2. Watch against their ignorance and carelessness.
3. Temperance in diet to be observed.
4. Things injurious to health to be avoided.
5. Early in bed and early rising.
6. Remember the incessant activity and subtlety of Satan.
III. Mental Cultivation
1. To be well grounded in all they learn.
2. Minds to be strengthened by solid works.
3. Habits of reflection to be formed and called forth.
4. See that they understand their lessons.
5. Things useful to be especially attended to.
6. Habits of self-denial to be formed.
1. Kindness to run through every thing, their morals, school, play, walks, behavior to each other and all around, and to parents.
2. To show the true foundation of kindness is in Christian principle.
3. Kindness is a victory over our natural selfishness.
4. Kindness promotes the happiness of all around us.
1. Are of a secondary value.
2. A means of relaxation.
3. They commend religion to others.
4. Be sure that they are innocent.
5. Guard against those which will lead them into the world.
VI. The Savior All in All
1. In every point show them Christ, He, the Root of spiritual prosperity; He, the Physician of body and soul; He, the Giver of mental power; He, altogether lovely in all His ways; He, full of gifts and full of grace.
2. Let every thing turn the mind to Him. In every walk, in every lesson, in every event, in every sin, in every mercy, speak of Christ.
3. Let Him be the sun and the glory of every day.
1. "My grace is sufficient for thee" (2 Cor. 12:9).
2. He will give His Holy Spirit to them that ask (Matt. 7:11).
3. "...I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness" (Isa. 41:10).