Instructing Our Children

“We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done . . . .” 

Psalm 78:1-8

The church rejoices when a babe is born. 

A mother clings to her newborn, her moistened eyes reflect a holy awe. Father lays a calloused hand upon its tender flesh and light glows in his eyes as he looks at mother; a depth of love draws two hearts united in one flesh. Even brothers and sisters are caught in the ecstatic excitement, eager for the first glimpse and all the nudging, cuddling, and pulling that inevitably follows.

Children are a blessing to the home.

They are no less a blessing to the church.

The joy of the church rings heavenward when we celebrate the sacrament of Baptism. It is especially then that we are made conscious of the place of children in our midst. The promise of God is sounded forth, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee.” The response of parents to this promise is heard, “We acknowledge that although our children are conceived and born in sin . . . . yet they are sanctified in Christ and therefore as members of his church ought to be baptized.” The, whole congregation sings with the Psalmist, “Lo children are a heritage of the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is his reward.” 

Asaph detected the significant place of children in the church. His first concern in Psalm 78 was not the enrichment of the home, but rather the important role children play in the generation of the church. Notice in verse 4, he does not even refer to the children of his generation as our children, but their children., viz., the children of “our fathers”. These children are the progenitors of the generation to follow who in turn will also beget children and must instruct them, “that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children.” The generation of believers have their roots in the past, and the branches reach into the future. 

This is important for us to see in order that we may have a proper perspective concerning the instruction of our children. Children are not only born into the home, they are born into the generation of the church. 

Asaph is dealing here with the all-important question, why does God command parents to instruct their children. 

We find a three-fold answer in these verses. 

The first is in verse 5, “For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to comemight know them.” This is basic to all instruction. It is the imparting of knowledge, particularly by those who know to those who do not know. 

The second reason is given in verse 7, “That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God.” This follows immediately from the first reason. They must know the truth not only, but this knowledge of the truth must make them free! They must know the will of God not only, but learn to walk in the will of God. By doing this their hope is set upon God, and God is glorified by us and our children. This is the joy of the covenant. 

Finally, Asaph points out in verse 5 that our children must have this knowledge in order that they may “declare them to their children.” The church is the gathering of believers and their seed. In order that this gathering may take place it is important that each generation instruct the next generation. In this way each generation is qualified to continue that instruction in subsequent generations. If we fail to instruct our children, we can never expect the covenant to continue in our generation. Asaph mourns this only too obvious fact in Ephraim, who, according to verse 10, “kept not the covenant of God and refused to walk in his law.” The reason is, “they forgat his works and his wonders that he had shewed them.” In other words, they didn’t instruct their children. 

It is obvious, then, that instruction of our children is not primarily for the sake of our homes, that is, that our sons will be good fathers, have good jobs and support a family well, and our daughters will be able wives, love to cook and sew and be good hostesses. We do not principally instruct our children in order that they may be good citizens of our country, that is that they may be law-abiding citizens, respect authority, and pay taxes. Neither is the instruction of our children for the sake of society. We do not center our education in such things as community improvement, appreciation of the arts and sciences, train them to be good singers and players of instruments and so to cultivate esthetic values. Rather the principle of instruction is that our children may know God and learn to serve God. 

This is the idea of our text. What will we teach our children? “The praises of the Lord, and his strength and his wonderful works that he has done. For he established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel.” 

The hub in the wheel of knowledge is God! 

There are many spokes, many aspects of knowledge, yet they all have their source and center in God. This we must tell our children. 

When we do this, we provide covenant instruction. 

Our children must know God, not simply about God, but know God! This knowledge is given them within the sphere of the church. As we take our children to church, God works in their hearts by His Spirit and Word. Don’t forget, we testify at Baptism that they are members of the covenant. At conception God has prepared them for the preaching, for they are regenerated already then. In the worship service and while our children are in catechism, the Holy Spirit applies this milk of the Word to their hearts. The revelation of God, the law of God, the wonders of God, especially that central wonder, the cross, are unfolded before their eyes. Through this instruction, our children learn to know God as their God in Jesus Christ; otherwise Jesus could never have said, “Except ye become as little children, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.” 

With His knowledge they are prepared for further instruction. They must learn the full counsel of God. This includes the created wonders of God and the works of God’s hands in history. Even here we understand that the wheel of knowledge is one. It is not divorced from the hub, but has its center in it. The knowledge of God revealed in the Bible is central, and therefore must be carried into every area. Even as the Bible is the source of the preaching, so it is the source of all teaching. It must be THE textbook at all times. 

Within the sphere of the church our children learn to love God, a love whereby God demands of us obedience to His law, and a love whereby we seek to glorify God in all things. Within the sphere of the home our children learn that all of life is an expression of this covenant of God. The home is the most intimate manifestation of God’s covenant with His people. We teach our children that the relationship of a husband and wife is a picture of Christ and His church. As Christ loves His church, so a husband must love his wife; as the church is obedient to Christ, so a wife must be obedient to her husband. As a father loves his children, so our Father loves us and dwells with us. Children must obey their parents even as we all who are children of God must obey our Father in heaven. The school is an extension of the home wherein teachers reveal to our children the wonders of God as found in creation, in history, in government, in the knowledge and skills of men. 

As this wheel of knowledge turns, it guides our children through their daily life. Only with such knowledge are they able to be living members of the church, faithful husbands and wives, worthy citizens of our country, respected employers or employees, and good neighbors. Then our children as they come to years, of discretion will be able by the grace of God to acknowledge God in all their ways. 

Let’s say with Asaph, “We will not hide them from their children, we will shew them to generations to came.” 

Our children need this instruction. They need it because they do not have this knowledge in themselves and they will not seek it for themselves. They are conceived and born in sin. By nature they are at enmity against God. They need the grace of the Holy Spirit as He applies this knowledge to their hearts. Besides this, our children are called to join us as pilgrims in a hostile world. We have the calling to serve God in the midst of the world. That world hates the church, and under the power of the devil seeks to overcome the children of God. They come with their temptations of pleasure, of worldly fame, and riches. Our children must be instructed in such a way that they can discern evil, learn to resist it, and serve God even unto death. 

This instruction is the concern of all of us as children of God. Our children are born into the covenant. Not the natural bond arouses our interest, not blood ties, rather spiritual ties. As living members of the covenant, whether young or old, we are interested in the babes of the faith that they with us may be instructed in the praises of our God. 

Let’s say emphatically: we will not hide them, we will show them! 

Let’s confirm this resolution with our deeds. It becomes manifest in many ways. 

Our homes reflect this attitude. We as parents realize the one most important thing we must do for our children is instruct them. Yes, mothers wash dishes and fathers earn, the daily bread. Never may we be so busy that we have no time to show our children the praises of God in our homes. We must take them by the hand and lead them through the Word of God and guide them in their thoughts, words, and deeds. We must teach them the right from the wrong. In love we must insist that our children walk in the right and resist the wrong. This demands not only words, but especially that we will be an example to our children. 

Our schools reflect this attitude. We recognize the need for daily instruction in the wheel of knowledge in which God is the hub of all truth. As parents we are willing to work long and hard for Protestant Reformed education. We desire that our teachers whom we hire in our places will bring these praises of our God to our children every day. Even then we will not simply pass the task on to teachers, we will take an interest in our schools and our children as they learn. 

Our churches reflect this attitude. As officebearers we recognize the ministry for the youth; we need a thorough system of catechetical instruction. We need to remember the youth in our sermons and prayers. We need to labor to the end that the home, church, and school are brought into harmony as spheres in which the knowledge of God as God is taught our children. 

Yes, this is everyone’s work. Our young people may well consider the calling to the ministry or teaching in the Christian school; we have great need. Young and old have a wonderful opportunity to contribute financially as the collection plate is: passed in the cause of Christian education. 

This showing to our generation involves much work. It is an important work for it is only through instruction that God gathers His church unto Himself. We labor with weakness, with tears and sorrows. It often demands more than we can possibly give. Yet we are confident that in laboring to the utmost of our power, God will surely realize His covenant in this generation and in that which is to come until the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.