Rev. Brummel is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois. * This is the abbreviated text of a speech given on September 29, 2006 for the Peace PRC Fall Lecture.
A tremendous challenge faces us as parents in this day and age. We are called by God to train up our children to seek the things of God’s kingdom. This is a tremendous challenge primarily because we are so sinful ourselves. We are selfish, greedy, and covetous. We live for the things of this earth. It is only by God’s grace that we can be His friend-servants, can seek first the things of His kingdom, and can train our children to do the same.
What does the Bible say about bringing forth children? What place do children occupy in marriage? We start by answering the question: What does the Bible say about the children of believing parents?
Mark 10:13-16 sets before us the fundamental principle of all of Scripture regarding God’s attitude toward the children of believing parents. “Of such is the kingdom of God.” Children are included in the church and kingdom of Jehovah. Not every child of believing parents is included. That is not what Jesus says. But, of such is the kingdom of God. This was not a new teaching. That infants of believers are included in the covenant and church of God is taught us in the very beginning of the history of the covenant of grace, as it is recorded in the Bible. The history of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David demonstrates repeatedly that God maintained His covenant in the line of continued generations.
God makes children a blessing for believing families. Psalm 127:3: “Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.” Blessings, we know, are not automatically found in things like sun, rain, or even children. God makes rain, sunshine, and children a blessing to His people through His grace. God blessed Job inJob 42:12 by restoring his wealth and giving him ten children.
How are children a blessing? All the children of believers are a blessing, even the rebellious ones. They are a blessing, because they drive us to our knees in prayer. They humble us. They cause us to see how desperately we need God’s grace every day to discipline and instruct them. They force us to be consistent and disciplined, and to live as spiritual examples for them. They force us to teach, and in teaching we grow in our knowledge of God’s Word. They are a blessing even when we see our own sins reflected in them, because we are driven to the cross.
God created marriage for the purpose of establishing His covenant in the way of procreation. Genesis 1:28 is the word of God to Adam and Eve who had just been joined in marriage by God and to whom God had given the sexual relationship: “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” This command of God was repeated several times. One such time is after the flood in Genesis 9:1, where we read: “And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.” God repeats the command later in His words to Jacob in Genesis 35:11: “And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins.” In Matthew 19:1-9, Jesus admonishes the wicked Pharisees to go back to the beginning for their instruction regarding marriage and divorce.
The same admonition applies to the purpose of God regarding marriage. Bringing forth children and raising them in the fear of God is the will of God for married couples. Those who have no desire for children ought not to marry. They try to separate the sexual union from bearing children, separating what God has joined together. Such is sin against the God of marriage.
“Suffer the little children to come unto me,” said Christ! Do not keep them from Christ! Allow the little ones to come! The disciples held the children at a distance. We live in a day when Christian parents seek to keep children from Jesus by keeping them from even being born! They don’t want children to bring to Jesus. Or they want to bring only one or two or three children to Jesus. They are not concerned about the gathering of the church and God’s promise to gather His church through the seed of covenant parents.
“Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not,” says Jesus! Don’t abort them! The pressure is strong, even on Christian parents and young people, to pursue abortion as a way out of an embarrassing and shameful situation. Don’t abort your baby! That is not the way to bring it to Christ. Don’t seek to keep from having children. Don’t keep them from Jesus once they are born! Parents claim that they love children and are just trying to decide how many children they can handle. In reality, parents are trying to find a way to avoid having children that God might be pleased to give them. They are trying to limit the number of children they will bring to Jesus.
This is the attitude of the selfish world in which we live. The people of the world enter into marriage for selfish reasons. God is not in their thoughts. Marriage and children are for their own pleasure. This selfish attitude enters into the church as well.
The devil has tremendous influence on our natures. Not only do we live in a selfish age, but we are by nature selfish. Our flesh looks out for self. We find children a nuisance and a bother at times. Our flesh finds children an interference with our fun and games and our ambitions. Our flesh wants to be god! We will rule our own lives and we will determine how we should live. We will decide whether we want children and, if so, how many.
God is sovereign! Not only is He sovereign in salvation, but He is sovereign in our families. He will determine the number of children we will have, despite our attempts to the contrary. He determines the size of our quiver. There are those who actively seek to keep from having children, but the children keep on coming. There are others who do not want children and are more effective in their attempt at limiting the size of their families. How do we explain the fact that couples are able to plan the size of their families today with increasing success? While we cannot judge motives, we can say that, where the motive is selfish, this is evidence of God giving men and women over to their selfishness. God gives men and women over to their love of money and pleasure. If you want only one or two children so you can have a bigger house and a nicer boat, God gives you over to that selfish way. God gives men and women over to their vocations and their pursuit of earthly fame and glory. This is an expression of the judgment of God upon sin and sinners.
It is difficult to have a large family. There is tremendous cross bearing required of both the husband and the wife. There are many tears and sorrows and challenges. We may never minimize the pain and suffering of a woman who bears a child for nine months and is called to endure tremendous pain and labor to give birth. Never minimize the many years of struggle and prayer required to raise each unique child in the fear of God. The sorrow of motherhood is a heavy weight that mothers are called to bear. The mother must give her life away for the sake of her children. The father needs to sacrifice his own desires in order to work hard for the support of His family. God blesses them, not in the way of removing the struggles, but in the way of giving grace to bear those struggles, and to know peace with God’s will. God gives that blessing in the way of prayer and submission to God’s will.
What is the solution for the believing mother? It is not in escaping this calling. It is not in seeking fulfillment outside of the home in other vocations. Contentment and happiness come only in the way of obedience and clinging to the grace and strength of Jesus Christ to bear the burden of motherhood. Though the fall imposed painful realities on the woman, God sanctifies childbearing in the church, so that through it, women are saved (I Tim. 2:15). The sorrows and struggles of giving birth and raising sinful children are very real. For the redeemed woman, they are not a curse, but a chastisement God uses to sanctify us and draw us closer to Him. The church, sympathetic to the sorrows of motherhood, must strengthen and comfort such mothers with the Word of God. The answer is not the worldly wisdom of family planning. The answer is in Jesus Christ, our compassionate Savior, whose grace is sufficient to bear all our burdens. Jesus Himself came from a family of at least four brothers and two sisters (Matt. 13:55, 56). He saw his own mother endure the sorrows of motherhood and He had compassion on her, as He has compassion also on us in our need.
We need to get at deeper questions. What are you and I here for? What is your calling on earth? Are you here for pleasure? Are you on earth for your own entertainment? Did God give you life so that you can have a good time? Hear the word of the preacher in Ecclesiastes 12:13: “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” Deuteronomy 10:12 states: “And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul.”Genesis 1:28 states, “Be fruitful and multiply.” “I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully” (I Tim. 5:14).
The Bible never promises us that life will be easy, but the Bible does promise, in Joshua 1:8, 9 and many other places, that God will never leave nor forsake us. God promises that He will always provide all the needs of His people in Luke 12:31: “But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.” This truth is stated also by David in Psalm 37:25: “I have been young, and now am old: yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” God promises that He will never require of us more than He will give us grace to bear in I Corinthians 10:13: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”Philippians 4:11, 13 states: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content…. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” God promises joy and happiness in the way of obedience. The God-fearing wife confesses, “Whatsoever state I am in, whether that be pregnant almost every year or weeping at that time of the month when it is evident I am not pregnant, I have learned to be content!”
Some common excuses are given for preventing conception. Chief of all the excuses, though often not admitted, is financial concern. I hope that all of us can agree that financial issues present absolutely no ground for birth control or attempting to space our children. God promises that when we seek first His kingdom, by marrying and bringing forth godly seed, He will provide our every need. You may say, “That is easy for you as a minister to say, when you know you will be provided for!” True enough, but I base my comments not on my experience, but on the Word of God. A large family is a weighty burden upon the father from a financial perspective. He must not only have a good job, but be willing to sacrifice much for the sake of Christian education and the rearing of his children. He is not going to have a lot of time for hobbies, because his free time will be spent with his family. The answer is not to send his wife out to work. God will use the pressing needs to drive him to his knees to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” God will provide, whether that be through the work of his hands, the help of his family, or the mercies of Christ. Who of us, even those of us with large families and significant tuition bills, can say that we are praying to God for daily bread as we ought? We have great wealth in our day. We all have the means to support many children. Are we living as dependent upon Christ as our parents and grandparents did? Even more importantly, are we living as consciously dependent upon God as God requires?
Others say, “My wife and I need a year or two to get to know each other before we begin a family.” Children are one of the greatest ways to get to know one another. No husband can take his wife for granted after watching her go through the pains of pregnancy and childbirth. If you think your relationship is not ready for children, you have greater problems that need to be addressed and resolved. You ought not to have married in the first place. Malachi 2:15, adding to the instruction we have already seen in Genesis, states that God made marriage for the express purpose of bringing forth His covenant seed. “And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed.”
Others say, “But this is an evil world we live in and we would not want to bring forth children, or have grandchildren, who would have to live in such a wicked time.” That sounds pious. But, let’s think about that for a moment in connection with the Word of God. One of the most difficult times for the church in all history was the bondage in Egypt. If ever there was a time when godly parents might justify not having children, it was then. Their children would be subjected to cruel, inhumane labor, or be cast into the water to die. But what do we read? They continued having children! The midwives refused to go along with the wicked king. And, significantly, God caused the nation of Israel to prosper under that persecution. Exodus 1:20states: “Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty.” During this evil time God dealt well with His people by causing them to multiply. Why would God do such a thing? Our flesh would say, God should cause fewer children to be born during this hard time. But God gave even more children. What would seem to us a curse for those parents and their children is described by God as a blessing for His church. During the evil times in which we live, God deals well with His church in causing her to multiply. Such is not a curse, but a blessing for godly parents, as well as their godly seed and the church. The church continues to be gathered in our day in preparation for the final return of Christ in judgment. One of the most important ways Reformed families must advance the church is in the way of bringing forth children.
Others argue, “But we need to use our heads and space our children.” Why? So that you can retain your figure? So that you can be better prepared financially? So that you don’t get so overwhelmed with a busy home? So that you can better provide for those children and have more time to spend with them? Again, some of these responses seem pious. But God gives us an answer in the Bible. At heart these concerns reflect our will, not God’s. These concerns are selfish and evidence of a lack of faith.Proverbs 3:4, 5 instructs us that we are to trust in the Lord and lean not on our own understanding.
But, you say, is there no place for any kind of birth control? I would not rule out the possibility in the case of illness or life threatening difficulties on the part of the wife. We must not be legalistic here. There are difficult circumstances and situations in which God’s people find themselves. It must be only after much prayer and searching of God’s will that such a decision would be made. A couple must stand before God together and be convinced in their own heart that they are not being selfish, but are seeking God’s glory and His will through their actions.
The principle of God’s Word, however, is clear: seek first God’s kingdom by marrying, living godly in marriage, and by bringing forth a godly seed. This does not mean that God will automatically give you a dozen children. But God will give you a quiver as full as He deems necessary for the gathering of His church and for your salvation.
Christ uses our marriages to bring forth children, and in this way He shows us the wonder of His grace. God has seen fit to call many sons and daughters to glory. And that required no small sacrifice. It sent the Son of God to the horror of the cross. Jesus Christ was willing to make tremendous sacrifice in order that we His children might know the wonder of His grace toward us. He put away all selfishness in order to do the will of His heavenly Father. He gives us His Spirit to guide and sanctify us, in order that He might take us with Him to glory. The fruitfulness of our marriages is a reflection of the fruit of Christ’s work in realizing His kingdom and bringing His sons and daughters to glory.
What is your attitude toward children? Are you seeking to keep them from Christ?
May God give us grace to forsake the selfishness of our natures and humble ourselves before His sovereign, gracious hand, that He might be praised. “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not!”