Strange how life has been designed, isn’t it? We make our most profound choices when we are least qualified to do so, and then we live with the results. This principle applies to a number of things, including the most serious responsibility we have been given—the responsibility of our own soul.
It also applies to the training and nurturing of our children. As one person put it, about the time you get qualified—you’re out of a job! This somewhat tongue-in-cheek observation contains an accurate insight. We only get one chance to raise our children the best we can. No one gets two chances to raise the same child.
And they are all different—every child. Each one comes with his/her own recipe, and each parent is a cook, whether we like cooking or not. Some of them are like we are as parents, and some are not. Really not. Since God gives each child a soul, and this soul returns to Him when that individual is finished with this life, it would be very interesting indeed to see how the different personalities are divvied up to different parents Sometimes the first one is the “hard” one. Then the others seem easier, or, at least, more congenial. Sometimes the last one is the more challenging, after a sense of complacency has been engendered by the more easily-managed children before. (I am reminded of a father who said, “If the first one had been like ____ [his youngest and last], there wouldn’t have been any more!) Surely there are valuable lessons in patience and humility that God tucks away in the trials and tests He measures out to us! May we get a hold of them, and work the trials for the good in them, rather than they just working us!
We live in a time when the great majority are clueless with respect to the insights and skills so necessary for the training and nurture of the young. It is a fulfillment of 2 Timothy 3:1-7, which informs us “that in the last days…. men shall be lovers of their own selves.” This is more than the ordinary self-centeredness of the carnal heart, for this condition has been universal among unsaved men and women since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. This scripture speaks of an extraordinary self-centered existence, in which the natural checks that God instituted to restrain selfishness are discarded (Psalms 2:3), and the awful consequences perversely ignored. Because of this, “perilous times” are here.
To properly raise the children, it is necessary to have a clear, definite picture of what a proper man or woman should be. More than anything else, this definite, clear understanding of what constitutes good character is completely missing in the ordinary American family today. I say “family” with considerable reservation, for most of the combinations we see today are not really families at all—just people, big and little, living together. Frankly, there is little hope of these slipshod, makeshift, and temporary relationships ever doing much worthwhile or virtuous. What is built is built on such a shifting sand foundation that whatever is built upon it has little chance of even holding together. These people need to humble down before God and the truth of His Word, repent and forsake, and do it God’s way by His help.
But I am burdened to write for those who are living on a higher plane than mere expediency. My heart goes out to those who are endeavoring to please God and do right, but who are greatly afflicted with the ignorance of the times. The sins of their parents have been renounced and forsaken by these who want to do better than they did, but, “Where to start?” How can one recover what was lost for their children? How can one escape the perilousness of these times? Where is the true wisdom (as distinguished from the errors and fables) that pertains to training a child?
People do not have to be saved to raise decent children, but they do have to have the fear of God upon them to a certain extent. They must value and respect morality. They will also find that the exercise of dealing with little carnal minds and hearts will put them way out of their depth if they are honest enough to admit it. Few things have as much capacity to bring us to an end of ourselves if we will let it. Your children will find you out eventually. If you are insisting on virtue in them, your own lack of it will become more glaring if that is your condition. We teach a great deal more by what we are than what we say. We would not advise anyone for a moment to remain in an unsaved condition, much less to tackle the awesome task of training an eternity-bound soul without being a new creature in Christ Jesus. Your child has the best chance of living a worthwhile life and ending up with God in the glory world if you live a really, truly, consistent holy life before him/her by the grace of God.
The baby that comes into the world is inwardly flawed, and this inward condition has the capacity to ruin him and proceeds to do so. “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.” (Psalms 58:3) This condition is universal to mankind; not a single person born of the union of man and woman has escaped it. The child’s evil heart can be restrained and must be; still, this will not change it. Training and discipline can hold it down, but they will not make the individual different. They may modify his behavior, and this is both desirable and necessary; but they modify it in the actions and in the mind—not in the heart. This is vital to understand, lest we think we have accomplished more than we actually have when we effectually deal with our child. It is as if God has given us a certain place in the lives of our offspring, but He has also put boundaries on what we can actually accomplish. These boundaries are below what is desperately needed by the child, and help is available; but God has reserved this place to Himself and each individual soul. Good raising has never saved anyone by itself, yet it has a place in preparing the foundation for a person to respond to God and live for Him.
The question naturally rises at this juncture, “How about those who are raised poorly?” Or, with no raising? “Jest grewed up,” with no training, no oversight, neglected, and abandoned. God loves everybody. He is not willing that any should be lost (2 Peter 3:9). He deals with everyone (John 1:9) and wants everyone (John 3:16; Hebrews 2:9). So He saves people from all kinds of backgrounds, including the most neglected and sin-cursed. Witness: John Newton. But I think I can safely say, that if Brother John Newton were here talking with us, he would readily agree that he would have found it much easier to live for God if he had been raised to respect authority, had been under the yoke of godly parents, and had learned to exercise his will to attempt to do right when he was young. A person can learn all these things later in life, after his childhood, but they will come much, much harder to him, and there is more of a chance that he will give up and make a failure.
There are the scars, and the things that it would have been better to have never done. There is the damage to others. We are much better off in our lives to live as innocently as possible. When we are not saved, we are much better off to sin as little as possible. It is better to get saved and stop the sinning business, but next best would be to do as little wrong as possible. Sin is bad; sin is a reproach; sin consumes and devours; sin is to be avoided at all cost. If people will not be saved or just haven’t got saved yet, they and everybody else are better off with as little sinning as possible.
So, this is the foundation principles of a good moral life: a real respect for doing right based upon the reality that we shall all meet God and answer for our lives here, and fear of doing wrong and the consequences thereof.
We need to recognize the seriousness of what is at stake when the childish face looks at us when some issue of right and wrong is before us. I think sometimes that we underestimate how difficult it is for our children to say, “I’m sorry.” The nature of sin within the unregenerated child makes it so easy to take the wrong way out, i.e., deny everything (lie), and make excuses (dissemble), etc. We need to recognize that a square confronting by the child that he/she is in the wrong, a readiness to make confession and to humble down is a huge moral step of responsibility in the war of right and wrong for his soul. He needs all the assistance that someone older, who understands what is at stake, can give him to do the right thing. Here is where the older helper must assist the child to make his critical step in dealing with the issue at hand.
And it is crucial that somehow the child be brought to deal with it in a manner appropriate for his/her understanding. If it is only imposed (and sometimes it must be for the time being), then we must acknowledge that the benefit is very limited. For if we only police the child and do not convince him that he must police himself, we have not taught him the full truth concerning the matter. Most of all, he must realize that all of us, parents and child alike, are dealing with a higher power and greater issues than just our thoughts and ideas. He must sense and accept (as we must, as well) that to be a human being brings great accountability as well as capabilities. And all this must be done with the clear understanding that he has a God-given right to be a fool, to choose to live for the devil and himself, to break your hearts, and to throw away his life. It is this right to become worthless that makes the choice to do right voluntarily of so much value in the eyes of God. For not a single member of God’s church serves Him out of compulsion. What a premium our Lord places on voluntary love! The devil drives those in the kingdom of darkness to one shameful deed after another, but Jesus leads His dear children along. They follow.
In the battle of wills between our offspring and ourselves, it is vital that our children lose. They need to lose the battle to do as they please, and they need to thoroughly lose it. They need to lose it because it is best for them to do so. We need to get the grace and the stamina we need to press the battle to the gate. Until confession takes place. Until shame is seen. Until the principle of right at stake is acknowledged. If this doesn’t happen, we, as parents, must acknowledge that it hasn’t happened yet and press the battle on. Any cessation must be only for the time being without abandoning the fight. It would be nice if you could get the victory for you and for the child’s benefit in one day, but that is often not the case. You must love the child too much to give up on him. Too much to abandon him to what is in his heart. You must be tougher than your tough child for his sake; and if you are easy-going and passive by nature, you have great need to cry to Him that is strong for strength.
Stand up! Stand up for Jesus!
The trumpet call obey:
Forth to the mighty conflict,
In this His glorious day;
“Ye that are men now serve Him”
Against unnumbered foes!
Let courage rise with danger,
And strength to strength oppose.*