As the twig is bent, the tree will grow.
The Scriptures present the matter in a more profound and spiritual way when Solomon declares in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way that he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” But the above title will serve to indicate that at the moment we wish to stress the extreme importance of early instruction of our children in the truths of God’s Word and of training them in their calling before God.
Proverbs 22:6, by the way, is not a general rule. Solomon does not therein stipulate that which happens so often that you can figure that almost without exception it is going to happen. As the twig is bent, the tree will grow is a general rule. And it happens so often before our eyes that we are surprised when it works out otherwise. It is a humanly invented proverb that has its exceptions. But Solomon’s proverb is God’s proverb. It is the infallible Word of God which never lies or presents any falsehood as though it were the truth. When God says that our children will walk in His way, if we train up our children in the way that they should go, we can be absolutely sure that every time we train a child that way, he is going to remain in it all the days of his life, even more than the twig is going to remain in the position wherein it has been tied. In this twenty-second chapter of the Book of Proverbs, verse one, Solomon also declares, and not as a general rule, but as a hard and fast rule that changes not, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver.” That is not the case most of the time but every time. He also says in verse 8, “He that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity; and the rod of his anger shall fail.” And so we could continue with every verse in the chapter and every proverb in the book. These are not matters that happen most of the time and fail so seldom that you can just figure on them as a general rule. God’s Word is sure and steadfast and unchangeable.
Perhaps you are ready to quote instance after instance where God-fearing parents did train their children from early infancy in the way that they should go, and one or more have not remained in that way even from early adolescence. You have concrete examples and definite cases in mind. Did not Cain and Abel have the same training? And Esau and Jacob, did they not have the same set of circumstances under which they were trained at the same time by the same parents and same lessons? Yet Esau departed, while Jacob remained in the way.
Quite true. And what is equally true is that we have no promise from God that each and every one of our children who are born in the covenant sphere is going to be a believer and will walk in God’s way. Esau’s portion, Isaac is told will be—according to the Hebrew reading of Genesis 27:39 —”away from the fatness of the earth . . . .” Isaac had no promise of spiritual blessedness for Esau from God. He had no promise and assurance from God that Esau would hate the seed of the serpent and the serpent himself. And what is true of Adam and Eve and their children, of Abraham and his children, of Isaac and his sons, of David and his descendants is likewise true of us. We have no such promise that all the children given to us, all the children we teach the things of God’s kingdom, all the descendants for whom we sacrifice in order that they may obtain a good Christian education are going to become men and women who walk in God’s way till He takes them to glory.
Therefore the truth of the matter is that we are not able to train all of our children at all times and in every instance. If God has not regenerated them and is not pleased to cause them to be born again, all of our instruction will fail to produce anything more than a Cain, an Esau, an unbeliever. This does not mean that reflection is cast upon us; and such parents must not ask, “Where did we fail this child of ours?” Adam and Eve did not ask themselves that question in regard to Cain. Abraham did not do so with Ishmael, and Isaac did not do so with Esau. Neither did David with Absalom. All these desired to see these wayward sons walk in God’s precepts; and the walk of their other children reveals that they were faithful in their calling, and that God was pleased to use their instruction to train these children in His way. But the simple fact is that a child who does not walk in the way in which he should go simply has not been trained. His parents may have been ever so faithful in trying to train him. They may have tried by instruction of mouth and the rod to bend this twig in that way. But the twig was of that kind of material that the minute the restraining hand of the parent was removed, it snapped back to its former position. Instruction was given. The rod was applied, but the Spirit was not there in the heart to bend the will and to apply the instruction. We do not know which children will be trained; and we have a calling to strive to train them all. But it does please God now and then to give to God-fearing parents, devout saints of God, a child that is not going to bend and believe and go in the way that he should go.
The rule stands, however, that when we train up a child in the way that he should go, he will not depart from it when he is old. It is a rather striking and wonderful thing to behold even that in the twilight of the saint’s earthly life, he reverts to those days and sings the songs of salvation and praise that he was taught as a child and begins to manifest the childlike faith of his earlier days that for a time seemed covered by the sophistication of intellectually and physically more prosperous days.
And now that a new school year has begun and our children have also returned to their classes wherein the church will instruct them in the doctrines and truths of God’s Word, let us remember that God uses us to train them and that we have a calling to send them where they will receive the very best training in the truth and in the doctrines of God’s Word that we possibly can. It is a very serious matter. Especially in the tender days of their early childhood it pleases God to begin to tram His elect children through us and those whom we hire.
This truth was brought so forcefully to our attention this summer while laboring among the saints of God on the island of Jamaica. We attended a Sunday School class. This is no reflection on the spirituality or sincerity of the elder who taught that morning. We do have deep respect for men who, though they themselves have not been privileged to receive but the barest of a formal education and can hardly read or write themselves, will still do their duty to instruct the youth who cannot read yet at all. But the method there is that of repeating and repeating a verse, a truth, and the place where the text is found, until it is fixed in the minds of these little ones who cannot read, and is stored away for recall when desired. He, therefore, over and over stated, for them to repeat after him, “Our golden text is found . . . .” When that was established, the rest could be stated and repeated, “Our golden text is found in first Peter fort, verse seven.” And that is exactly the way it came out. The group together and each child individually said it exactly that way, “First Peter fort . . . . So they were trained to say it; and they knew no better. This also explains, no doubt, why in another church the record book of the Sunday School is labeled as that of the Fourth Willams rather than of the Fort Williams church. Thus it has been in generations, for as the twig is bent, the tree will grow.
Now these are harmless errors. And it makes no difference whether you count, one-two-three-fort or one-two-three-four, first-second-third-fourth or first-second-third-fourth, and whether you call a fort a fort or a fourth. It has nothing to do with your salvation or God’s glory. It has no ethical content in it. Many a saint has gone to glory who misspelled and mispronounced words. And you could never make a case of suspending from office an elder who taught your child to mispronounce a word which he in days gone by had been taught to mispronounce. Yet about these matters we are quick to object while we do not bother ourselves about the ethical and spiritual errors which others may be teaching to our children. That which presents no spiritual danger to them concerns us, but that which is spiritual poison hardly causes us to raise an eyebrow.
Why is it that we are quite sure of our political position and will fight vigorously for our part and its candidate and platform but will not trouble ourselves about heresies? Why is it that we will sweep doctrinal differences under the rug and make a big cry about intellectual standards in our schools? Why is it that we can see that we need a new and better building, “out have no time even to talk about keeping the doctrine pure and demanding of the teachers that they be faithful to the Word of God and the confessions? Indeed, train up a child in the way that he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. But in what way are we training our children? You can bend a twig so that the tree grows in a very grotesque fashion. You can train up a child in the way in which he ought not to go. The way he should go is the way of God’s Word, the way of truth and of righteousness, the way of God’s commandments and of His covenant. The way he should go is the way of the fear of the Lord.
And that means not simply to instruct and send only where the best instruction is given, but it also means to teach with the rod. Do we have our race of beatniks, our riots and lawlessness because we have bent a generation in that way by our philosophies in schools and colleges and spared the rod to spoil the child? When the tree is bent in that direction (these directions) today, is it not a clear evidence that the generations gone by have bent the twigs in that way? Let us consider the awfulness of the other side of the picture that when we train up our children in the way that they would go, in the way of the flesh, in the way of the natural man, in the way of Satan and of the world, when they are old they will not depart from it. And when we willingly give them over to the world to be trained, we may be sure that they are not going to be bent in the way that they should go. If we send them to those who believe the lie and have another world and life view than we do, we may be sure that they will not be trained in the way that they should go but in the way that these instructors would like to have them go.
If you have no choice in the matter and there is no Christian school for them to attend, if you must send them to those who differ from you doctrinally, then it still is your calling in the home to double your effort of training them in the way that they should go. In His fear you should train them in His fear. And only by walking in His fear ourselves can we expect them to be bent in the way of His fear and can we pray for a blessing upon our labors of instructing and training.