“My father and mother were none too religious, and you know what that means for the children.” Thus, not many weeks ago, spoke an aged brother of more than fourscore years in explaining the comparative indifference of his teens and early twenties.
Yes, we know both from Scripture and experience what it means for the child when the home fails in its God-given calling and the parent is negligent with respect to the instruction of the covenant seed. Here especially it is true: what men sow men must expect to reap.
Always the home instructs. It is not a matter of parental choice whether or not they shall instruct their children. It is inevitable that they do. As long as the child has eyes to see, ears to hear, the faculties of touch and taste and smell, it will be instructed. Likewise, as long as the child is at home with you, you do the instructing, whether you will it so or not, whether your instruction be direct or indirect, intentional or unintentional, oral or by way of example, positive or negative, good or bad. The question is not: do your children receive instruction at home? Invariably they do. We must ask: What do they receive?
And always home instruction is basic, not only for all the instruction the child receives, also in church and school, but for its entire life and conduct until the day it closes its eyes in death.
If, as one well-known educator remarked recently, the end in the field of education is the beginning, we do well to ask at once: wherein must the child be instructed? How extensive must that home instruction be?
Our baptism form speaks of the “aforesaid doctrine.” That doctrine it continues to define as “the doctrine contained in the Old and New Testament and in the articles of the Christian faith and taught here in this Christian church.” Hence, the entire doctrine of salvation is meant.
Scripture, too, is very broad on this subject. Solomon says, “train up a child in the way he should go.” This refers to his entire life with all its complexities, which should be the way of righteousness, of sanctification, of God. It is the way that is pleasing to God in every respect. Moses in Deut. 6, speaks of “these words.” What words? “The commandments, the statutes and the judgments, which the Lord your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither you go to possess it,” vs. 1. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thine soul, and with all thy might,” vs. 5.
In general, therefore, the home curriculum includes all the child must know to take its place in life as a true child of God’s covenant.
The child must be instructed in the Bible itself. According to its age and mental capacity, of course, but early in life, nevertheless, it must be taught the history of God’s Covenant in the world. It must be acquainted with the Bible as such. For this phase of home instruction we consider a trustworthy Bible Story Book, such as that of Catherine Vos, exceedingly helpful. No home with children should be without one.
Home education must include “the aforesaid doctrine.” Doctrine, in a reasonable form, can be inculcated even before the history of the people of God is taught the child. Of course, the diet should be light at first and should be increased according to the mental capacity of the student. Our children should be taught about God, His names, His essence, His persons, His works and attributes. They can and must be told about the goodness, grace, love, justice, knowledge, wisdom, eternity, omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence of their God. All these must be held before our children as a source of comfort and joy. You say: these things are too profound for a child! They mean nothing to him! You are mistaken. That would be true if you were to lecture to a child as a professor of Dogmatics in a seminary. In a home these things must be discussed in an appropriate manner, as parents with their children. Then even little children will understand and these same doctrines, made to fit them, will impress them profoundly. Remember, the child is vividly conscious of the reality of the unseen. He is highly receptive and deeply aware of his helplessness and dependence. Consequently, he is pleased to hear about God. He finds comfort in the fact that God is omnipresent, that his God has power to do all things and care for all his needs, that His heavenly Father sees all things (even though it be pitch-dark in his bedroom at night), and that all wisdom belongs to the Lord, Who therefore always does what is best for His people. Also, the justice and holiness of God can and must be appealed to when admonishing our children from ways of sin. This, too, they soon understand.
In like manner our children must be instructed in the doctrine of man, creation, providence, the fall, sin and its results; the doctrine of Christ, the need of Him, His names and natures and offices and states, His birth, suffering, rejection by men, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, return to judgment; the doctrine of salvation, its author, regeneration, conversion, calling, etc.; the doctrine of the soul, the resurrection of the dead, heaven and hell. A fatal error here would be to say: these things are not for the child. He cannot understand. If only you present them in his language.
Then, there are attitudes to be assumed. It is vital to the child’s spiritual welfare that these be right. He must be trained in the proper attitude toward catechism, the Christian school, church attendance, the preaching of the Word, the world and the things of the world. A love of that which is of God and a loathing of that which is evil must be cultivated in the child. Negligence on the part of the home in these things is fatal. In the cultivation of attitudes no church or school can begin to take the place of the Christian home.
To all this must be added that great sphere of practical Christianity . Our children must be taught to take their proper place in life socially and morally. They must know how to live right with all men in all things, as employers or employees, as magistrates or subjects, in business and culture. In the language they speak, which should always be to the glory of God; in their conduct, which must ever be determined by the will of God; in prayer and the reading of the Word of God, in obedience and reverence, in honesty and sobriety, in Sabbath observance and spiritual isolation from the world, in dress and reading material, in choice of friends and entertainments, in these and many more things our covenant children must be instructed “in the way they should go.” All these could be discussed more in detail, but the space allotted me makes this impossible. You will observe that in many of these things church and school simply Cannes begin to properly train the child.
With respect to all these matters the child must be instructed. Instruction is not a mere, formal impartation of bare facts and judgments. It is more than mere assimilation of cold data and the ability to reproduce it upon examination. Instruction implies more than that. The word itself means: to build in. Hence, the contents of the instruction must be built into the child. It must become part of the child’s mental and spiritual makeup.
In this colossal work the home, as you must have felt by now, is of primary significance. Thus it was from the beginning. At one time the home was the only educational institution in existence. Even now, though school and catechism have augmented home instruction, the latter is first, that is, basic.
Scripture is clear on this point. To whom is it said, “Train the child in the way he should go?” Parents, to you. To whom does Moses say, “And thou shall teach them diligently unto thy children?” To you.
That home and parents should be primary and basic in the matter of child education represents a beautiful arrangement on the part of our covenant God. The children belong to us, do they not? We love them more than Miss _________ or the Rev. _________ could possibly love them. We are most interested in their spiritual welfare. We know them best, and are in the best position to give them individual attention. We are with them and they with us from the moment they are born. We have their confidence and love. If not there is something radically wrong in the relation between parents and children. That the home, therefore, should be of primary significance throughout the life of the child is wholly in accord with the divine ordinances of creation and providence.
You, then, parents, are the first and main teachers of your children. The most determinative aspect of their training you must, and do give.
What a tragedy, then, that the home has been and is disintegrating to such a grievous extent! Once it was the social, economic, educational and religious center of the Christian’s life. This it is no more. Too many extraneous interests have made their inroads. Many of the fathers and older children are home so little that the latter has become only a place to lodge. Many mothers have so many foreign interests to keep them busy, that their children, for the greater part, must be cared for by non-interested strangers.
In this gigantic task of home training especially our indirect instruction is basic. Remember, deeds, also here, speak louder than words. A good example is worth more than vain, pious conversation. We must live ourselves as we teach our children to live. Poor conduct on the part of parents, conduct inconsistent with our direct instruction, invariably nullifies the latter and stamps us as hypocrites in the minds of our children. Bear in mind, the child learns first and best by imitation. As we live, they live; as we speak, they speak; as we dress, they dress; what we read, they read; what we love, they love; our interests are their interests, our delights are theirs. How essential then, that our daily manifestation of life be as we would have our children to live. In all basic home instruction, therefore, this in turn is most basic: that we ourselves know and study the Scriptures, that we ourselves love and live sound doctrine, that we ourselves assume the proper attitude toward church and school and catechism and world, that in language and prayer an d reverence and honesty and Sabbath observance and choice of friends and entertainments we ourselves live circumspectly and exemplary. Our direct instruction may be ever so vital to our children, home atmosphere is even more so. Never expect to do one thing and teach your children another.
Home instruction is basic. Indeed, it is!
It is basic, because we always do instruct our children and they always learn from us. If the home is not busy training “in the way they should go,” it is doing so in the way they should not go. It is impossible for home and parents not to instruct.
It is basic because home instruction lies at the root of all instruction. The latter can accomplish nothing for the welfare of the child without the former. Wherefore it is always the home that is judged by the child. When children are recalcitrant, incorrigible, vulgar and disobedient and worldly, who receives the blame? The church? Not usually. The school? No. The home! You!
Let us, then, be faithful in our calling as covenant parents.
And our child? “When he is old, he will not depart from it.”