Instruction in the Covenant Home (1)

Rev. denHartog is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, California.

The subject of this article has been addressed before in this department. It is a subject, however, that needs to be addressed again and again because of its importance. It is customary in many of our churches that at the time of the opening of school our ministers preach a “school sermon.” The substance of this article was preached as such a sermon. I pray that it will be a reminder and encouragement to us all of the importance of covenant instruction in our homes. Even though the publishing of this article will be long into the school year I believe we can consider these matters at any time of the year.

Instruction in the covenant home is fundamental. Our covenant children are instructed in church. We believe that they belong in the public worship services and are not to be separated from them as they are in churches where the truth of the covenant family has been forgotten. We also have instruction for our children in the catechism class, which is specially adapted to their level of understanding. We ought to be full of thanksgiving to God when we have our own Christian schools where our children are instructed in harmony with the principles of the fear of the Lord as we confess in our homes and in our churches. Yet we must never forget that instruction in the home is fundamental to all of these. In fact, without home training the instruction given in other spheres is very difficult and even almost impossible.

As a pastor I know, for example, how difficult it is to teach children in the catechism class when there is no support, or even only weak support, for such instruction in the homes. One can soon tell how things are in the home by how well children have prepared their lessons and by how interested they are in God’s Word. We must not imagine that our Christian schools, as good as they may be, can replace the personal instruction we ought to be giving in the home. Christian school instruction can only supplement, add to, and enforce the instruction that we first of all as parents must personally give to our children in our homes. We are wasting our tuition money if we are not first of all giving good godly instruction in our homes.

There is evidence in our own circles that personal instruction by some parents is grievously lacking. There are obvious reasons for this. One of them is the busyness of modern-day life. Both fathers and mothers in some families are so busy with daily occupations, sometimes even holding down two jobs, that there simply is not sufficient time or energy to devote to the important calling in the home. Often all of this is driven by a powerful desire to have more and more material things and to keep up with the rest of the world in nice homes, recreational equipment, and dream vacations. In some homes this busyness crowds out time for matters as basic as regular family devotions. In more and more homes in our churches, mothers are following the example of the world and abandoning their primary calling in the home for outside careers. There is tremendous pressure on our mothers to go along with the commonly held and false idea that the worth of a woman is defined by the kind of career she has outside of the home. Taking care of children is, according to the prevailing philosophy of our times, such a lowly and demeaning task. Any dummy can do this. Child care organizations can do it for us. Outside of the home there are so many careers that are far more glamorous and significant. I am sometimes dismayed at evidences of how deeply this philosophy has taken hold even among us in our own Protestant Reformed Churches.

Teenagers in our modern-day world are also extremely busy. They are involved in sports activities and music lessons and almost countless other activities outside the home. They are almost never home, not even for meals. They feel the need of being with their dates, often even more than one evening in the week. Some are convinced that already in their late teens they should live on their own. Later they all have their college and university schedules. If you have a couple of teens in the home, as we do in our home, it is a dizzying task just to keep abreast of all the different schedules every day and trying to adjust family life to them all. Of course we are not saying that all of these things are bad in themselves. We are, however, urging the need of waking up to the fact that some of these things can exclude from our families any time for real covenant life in our homes.

The sermon I preached on this subject was based on Deuteronomy6, verses 6 to 9. Let me quote this passage so that we will have it before us. “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.”

These words are part of the farewell address of Moses the man of God to the covenant nation of Israel. The book of Deuteronomy is largely made up of this farewell address in which Moses reminds Israel of all that the Lord had done for them and of the great urgency that as God’s covenant people they continue to live in the land of promise in the fear of the Lord and according to all His commandments, statutes, and ordinances. Aged Moses, who is soon to be taken to his eternal reward in glory, is earnestly concerned about the future welfare of God’s covenant nation. He knows profoundly that one of the most important things for the future of Israel is the calling of covenant parents to instruct the children the Lord has given. These children represent future Israel. The continuation of God’s covenant with Israel is dependent on (though certainly by the grace of God alone) the diligence with which parents in Israel will instruct their children.

In order rightly to understand the passage from Deuteronomy quoted above, we must keep in mind the perspective from which it was given. This perspective is emphasized over and over again in the book of Deuteronomy. We recently read this book for our family devotions in our home. What a tremendous book it is! In the book of Deuteronomy Moses rehearses for Israel over and over again all the wonderful works of the Lord whereby He redeemed His chosen people Israel. He reminds them of the great and mighty plagues which the Lord sent upon the Egyptians. He reminds them of the wonders of the crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of Pharaoh and his armies in the Red Sea.

Moses gives many reminders of the mighty miracles that God performed for Israel during the wilderness wanderings and the wonderful way the Lord led His people and provided for their every need. There was no other nation in all the world that was as blessed as Israel, who had Jehovah God, the sovereign glorious God of all the earth, dwelling in her midst, revealing His great wonders to His people. Moses prophesies to Israel concerning the blessedness of the land of promise into which they will enter.

In Deuteronomy Moses emphasizes beautifully the sovereignly gracious way in which Israel would receive the promised land. “And it shall be, when the Lord thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildest not, and houses full of all good things, which thou fillest not, and wells digged, which thou diggest not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.”

All of grace! All according to the faithfulness of God to His everlasting covenant! All by the mighty power of the Lord alone!

Moses in the book of Deuteronomy reminds Israel who and what they are. One of the most beautiful and powerful statements of this is found in Deuteronomy 7: 6-8. “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: but because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you of the house of bondmen.” What a beautiful statement of God’s absolute sovereignty in His amazing love and in His faithfulness in saving His people. These great truths form the basis of all the admonitions of the book of Deuteronomy.

Moses, in the name of the Lord, commanded Israel to keep His commandments and statutes and ordinances of the Lord because of the above mentioned truths. Israel was not given the law of God in order that she could save herself through the keeping of the law. She was given the law as the redeemed people of God. The people of Israel must keep the law because the Lord made the nation of Israel to be a holy people unto Him. She must keep the law of God because of the sovereign, gracious salvation which the Lord has given to her. She must keep the law of God to show her gratitude to God in the whole of her life as the special nation of God’s people. Israel must live to the glory of the Lord who has redeemed her. She will do that only if she knows and keeps and loves the law of her God.

These truths form the basis of Moses’ urging again and again upon the parents in Israel that they must instruct their children in the law of God. In sovereign grace God will continue His covenant in the line of the generations of Israel. Parents are therefore under solemn obligation to instruct their children in the law of God.

All the above is far more true for us today. We have a more glorious revelation than Israel of the Old Testament. What God revealed only in types and shadows to Israel we have in blessed and glorious reality in Christ. We have been redeemed by His mighty power, through His cross and resurrection and exaltation. We have the gospel preached in our midst. We have the Spirit of Christ teaching us the truth of God and comforting us with the hope of salvation. We belong by grace unto the Lord and are heirs of His great salvation, a salvation far more glorious than the land of Canaan was for Israel. All of this is graciously given to us. This ought to be an even greater incentive for us to teach our children to love the Lord and to keep His commandments.

Ours is an increasingly immoral and wicked world, one that lives in absolute disregard of the law of God in ungodliness and even brazen wickedness. This reality alone makes it more and more urgent for us to be diligent in the instruction of our children. Our children face greater temptations in the world than ever before. There are such tremendous reasons for warning our children about the sin and wickedness of the world and the fearful judgments of the Lord that shall come upon this world. We must teach our children clear and sharp discernment of the spiritual principles of the law of God, in order that by God’s grace they be not tempted to go along with the wicked world and apostatize from the Lord. The book of Deuteronomy gives some of the most fearful warnings of apostasy found anywhere in Scripture. The history of Israel is a testimony of the fulfillment of God’s judgments on apostate Israel who departed from His law.

Deuteronomy 6 gives us a picture of what the covenant home should be like. It shows us the manner in which we are to instruct our children in the covenant home. The very manner in which we are to instruct our children must reflect the beautiful idea of the covenant. We believe that that essential idea of God’s covenant with us is His living personal, gracious, blessed friendship with us as His people. The covenant relationship between God and His people must be reflected not only in our marriages but also in our covenant families.

We see the blessed truth of the covenant reflected especially in this statement of our text: “When thou sittest in thine house.” The covenant home must be the place where the covenant family sits down together, perhaps around the breakfast or dinner table or at other opportunities for regular, daily family devotions and instruction from the Word of God. The covenant home must be a place where parents take the time to instruct their children, in great personal love and concern for their future spiritual welfare in the world. There must be time in the covenant home every day when the cares and concerns of daily occupations and all the other mundane things of life are set aside. There must be leisure for covenant life in the home. There must be a time when we, especially as fathers but also as mothers, take an interest in and show concern for our covenant children and take time and effort in great love and compassion to instruct them in the law of the Lord our God. I ask you fathers and mothers, Does this go on regularly in your covenant homes? Is the truth of God’s covenant a reality in your homes?

In the next article I want to expound some of the practical implications of the passage in Deuteronomy 6. I want to show how beautifully the idea of the covenant is revealed in this passage and how this should be reflected in the day to day life of our homes. Let us not say that, because the times in Israel were so different than our times, none of this is practical and relevant for us. Israel, we might think, was a primitive agricultural nation. What was there, then, to do but feed a few sheep and cows and tend to some camels? The rest of the day was for leisure. There was lots of time to sit around with one’s children. The modern world is different. Dad and mom work from early morning till late in the evening. At the end of the typical day everyone is so exhausted there is little energy and time for anything except ordering pizza for the family meal and watching the late evening news on television. Young people are almost always off to some late-night activity, and after an exhausting day we are all ready to go to bed.

If that describes your home, what has happened to the covenant life of your family? Do we expect that by some magic or through the effort of some other organization God’s covenant will be maintained in our homes? We need to pay attention to the beautiful and important instruction of Deuteronomy 6.