By corporal punishment is meant the literal use of the rod, i.e. applying it to the body so as to produce pain. In short, it means to give the child a beating. Perhaps most of us have experienced corporal punishment at one time or another, and somehow that is something which seems to linger long in the memories.

The subject deals with corporal punishment for the child, that is, under twelve or thirteen years of age. The subject is touchy enough without having to discuss the pro and con of whippings for children who are older than twelve or thirteen.

To limit myself further I should like to propose a discussion on the subject of corporal punishment from the viewpoint of the home. We could discuss the subject, for instance, from the viewpoint of the school, or from the viewpoint of the minister (who is tempted sometimes to give (the naughty boy a flogging). But we will confine ourselves chiefly to such punishment as the home or the parents find themselves interested in It. In the meantime however the general principles for the one will in many cases cover the others also.

To our subject then.

Modernism has something to say on this matter and we should be on our guard against her views. Much of today’s instruction of children or “child culture” proceeds on the theory of the Sovereignty of the Child. By nature the child, every child, is good. It needs character training and character building. It must be allowed to develop itself. If must be urged to develop itself. Outsider’s hands must not seize roughly upon the little something which is developing itself. If it does wrong, I quote Prof. Rugh, “The wrong-doer must in every case be the agent of its own recovery”. It is its own instructor. It is sovereign and parent nor (teacher may intrude upon that sovereignty with a rod. No wonder that a generation brought up thus defies all authority and tells them that they have a right to live their own life. Result: reckless pursuit of own lusts and disregard for the supreme sovereignty of God. It is important also to notice that this treatment of the child proceeds on the basis that, “No sins or crimes are committed by children” (Jacobsen, Modern Practices in the Elementary School). Children evidently can make mistakes, can fail in adjusting themselves to certain given situations and can suffer of lack of insight etc. but they cannot be said to commit “sin”. Hence once more corporal punishment is out of order. This same movement makes no ending of scolding at “the old Puritan attitude which held that children by nature are bad and must be transformed by punishment”. Note again that the modern process of child-culture proudly sweeps aside that shameful suggestion that “children are by nature bad” or that their actions could be called “sins”.

Many a parent today refuses to acknowledge that his children commit what could be called sin, at least, his own children are usually not guilty of sin. Perhaps this was Eli’s great mistake. Eli certainly surpassed modern culture in realizing that his sons sinned, (I Sam. 2:25), but he lapsed into it again when he failed “to frown upon them”. (I Sam. 3:13). And hence he failed to treat sin as sin, even though it happened to be in his own children. We parents should not want to be guilty of countenancing sin. But that is finally where modern culture would bring us.

From the above it is evident that the matter of corporal punishment exacts from us an account of our conception of sin as well as of what action God (not society etc., but God) demands we as parents shall take in respect to it. But as we said, Modern Pedagogy has gone one further and it has even questioned the right (to inflict corporal punishment upon the child inasmuch as the child is sovereign and may not be brow-beaten into submission by some superior force.

And we might center our discussion now around these two leading factors.

Scripture very emphatically asserts that parents have the right to inflict corporal punishment. God Himself inflicted corporal punishment upon Israel when it was a child. Witness the many chastisements He sent upon them. He chastised them in love, to be sure, but He did chastise and He often beat them very severely. In Hebrews 12 Paul asserts that God chastises His children even until this very day in order that we may become partakers of His holiness. The wicked moreover are being corporally punished every day, witness the fearful wars raging in these times and it is not for nothing that God closes each one of His fearful punishments in Ezekiel with these words: “And they shall know that I am the Lord”. God does not wink at sin. Neither shall we.

Right here I would like to inject an interesting word-study from the Bible. I would not be tedious, but follow me just a moment. Let us take the word INSTRUCTION, a word which Solomon continually uses in his school for children. The word instruction comes from a word which signifies to bind or to fetter and hence it has in it the meaning of force, restraint and constraint. From there this word goes on to mean (by parallel), reproof (as in Prov. 6:23) then rebuke (as in Prov. 13:1) and also chastisement (Prov. 3:11). Instruction according to Solomon is therefore not only lectures and words, but also reproofs, rebukes, corrections and chastisements. And in immediate connection with this Solomon asserts “withhold not correction (instruction) from the child, for if thou beatest him with rod, he shall not die”. (Prov. 23:13). The word correction here is the same word elsewhere appearing as instruction. The same in Prov. 22:15, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of the child but the rod of correction shall drive it from him”. Where instruction has among its tools also the rod of correction. To cite one more example: in II Tim. 3:16 instruction is rendered by the word meaning chastisement, while that same word in Luke 23:16 means literally “whipping”.

This does not mean that Scripture pleads for the use of the literal rod, but I do believe that we may deduce from this that the process of God-centered instruction includes the use of corporal punishment. Hence that gives us the right to use it.

Our children are sinners. Thus we have confessed when we had them baptized and that on good scriptural grounds. And God has called the parents to bring up these children in the NURTURE of the Lord. (Eph. 6:4). And now nurture is once again the same word elsewhere translated instruction. The parents must bring up the children in a nurture which befits i.e., is worthy of, had been commanded by and leads unto the Lord. Hence the parents in their calling to rear their by nature sinful children unto (the Lord, must use reproof, admonition, chastisement. Our children must be taught that God hates sin. They must realize that sin is sin. If the simple word of address is disregarded instruction assumes the form of reproof; if that is neglected, rebuke; if that is ineffective instruction will call in the help of the rod. If the pain inflicted by the loving hand of corporal punishment may serve to promote the child’s realization of God—sin—righteousness, it is useful.

If now I have said that Scripture admits and prescribes corporal punishment, and that therefore we also recognize it as a lawful if not (at times) necessary means of instruction, let me hasten to add three qualifications.

First of all corporal punishment must be used discreetly. Parents who are always seeing sin in their children and always reaching up for (the stick do little more than provoke their children to wrath. Johnie had a fearful beating of his father, his only response to his brother later was, “wait until I get old and strong enough and we’ll see who gets the beatings”. Johnie was right I’m afraid, his father had merely triumphed over him with brute force. Father had made the mistake of taking revenge . . . and revenge is not corporal punishment, it is wicked. Not all children need corporal punishment, with some heart-to-heart talks are much more effective. Instead of giving Betty that awful spanking she should first have found out what made Betty disobey the (teacher. Disobedience was sin, indeed, but mother should be discreet, she; should find out what makes Betty act as she does. Jim gave neighbors boy’s John a black eye. The father retaliates and gives Jim a black eye. But, is that the best way? Well, all these questions the parents will have to answer. They must learn to know their children, the make-up, character, passions, weaknesses etc., and on the basis of that administer instruction discreetly.

Secondly, they must use it IN LOVE. Any other kind of corporal punishment is unworthy of the God- confessing parent. It may not be applied in defense of our honor merely (the child has a certain honor too it would defend) nor surely may it be applied under the stress of emotion i.e. in a fit of rage. Father comes home from work tired. Jimmy tumbles his glass of milk into father’s lap and father beats him with His razor strop. Foolish father. Father was angry and that is no time to handle so delicate a thing as corporal punishment. It must be love which prompts the punishment. If we neglect the love element we provoke our children to wrath a thing against which Paul vehemently warns us in Eph. 6:4. As parents we shall have to chastise ourselves before we chastise our children. And only when we have crucified all thoughts of revenge, retaliation, hatred, personal insult, superiority complex in us shall we be able to stand up among our children as ambassadors of God toward them and apply the nurture of God to them, even if it be the rod.

Finally corporal punishment must serve the positive purpose of teaching the child to be subject to the will of God. There is nothing gained if the parent, with a big stick in his hand, have forced Jimmy to do “dad’s will”. There is nothing gained if Betty learns once that ma’s will runs the house. The point is not that the child has to be beaten into submission before our own wills. I admit the child must learn to reverence the parents’ mandates and must learn to obey, but that is only half of the matter. Hitler has clubbed the nations into submission. Our children are not conquered territory or vanquished powers. Therefore not our own wills on the fore and force that upon them. The positive purpose of punishment, if used, must be to bring the child into contact with the will of God, and by feeling the rod, learn that going contrary to the will of God brings pain and finally death (for the way of the transgressor is hard), while obeying that will brings pleasure and eternal life. For God is righteous. And God is merciful. Let the children feel the righteousness and mercy of God whom we represent in the home.