Last time we called your attention to the fact that as the twig is bent, the tree will grow.
In this installment we would call your attention to the bending of that twig.
For a twig can be bent, and a child can be taught.
This does not mean that the child comes into this world with a soul that is a clean slate and that you can write upon it what you will. His soul has something indelibly written on it the moment of birth, and that which is written there is written in bold letters: HATE GOD! David declares in Psalm 51:5, “Behold I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” And by this he does not mean to point to sin on the part of his mother. He does not mean that it was sinful for his mother to conceive and bring forth this man child. He is speaking of himself. What was shapen in his mother’s womb was a SINNER. What she received and what grew into a man child was a sinful seed. Listen also toPsalm 58:3 where David repeats the thought and emphasizes it, “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.” He is not speaking of the aged who learned to sin. From the moment of birth we sin, because we come into this world with hatred against the living God! It is for that reason that New Testament testimony has it that we are “dead in trespasses and sin.” We are born spiritually dead and are in need of being born again before we can even see the kingdom of heaven, much less want it and enter into it. ConferEphesians 2:1 and John 3:3. The twig is already bent when you receive it and the pattern of its life is set. Actually, therefore, what we are called to do is to unbend, to bend in a different direction. But unless we take hold of that basic truth that our children come into this world with a soul that already has a spiritual direction written upon it in bold letters, we will not be able to perform our task of training and of teaching them. We have a lesson to learn ourselves.
Nor does it mean that this child sins by imitation and will follow any example you may give him, both the good and the evil. He will imitate you in your sins. Because he is already bent in that direction he will rejoice in your example and soon show himself to be a “chip off the old block.” But he does not sin merely by imitation. And he certainly does not bend in the direction of the glory of God by imitation. Our modern marvel and dangerous invention, TV, certainly can and does suggest sins of which the present generation has not yet thought and sets an awful example for others’ to copy. We, as believers and as sanctified pilgrims, can show our children by our walk, the way in which they are to go. But they will neither follow the world’s corruption by mere imitation; nor will they walk in our sanctified footsteps by mere imitation. They must be born again and be guided by ‘the Holy Spirit with divine power. “Man after the fall begat children in his own likeness. A corrupt stock produced a corrupt offspring. Hence all the posterity of Adam, Christ only excepted, have derived corruption from their original parents, not by imitation, as the Pelagians of old asserted, but by the propagation of a vicious nature.” Thus speaks our confession in Canons III and IV. Article 2. And thus also speaks the Word of God inRomans 8:7, “For the carnal mind (This is the mind of the flesh, the mind wherewith we are born) is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Here you have it plainly that written on that soul at birth are those words, “HATE GOD!” For that mind is enmity against God and is not clean to receive either the love of God or the enmity of God, depending on the example that, you and I set for it. It IS bent, and it is bent in the direction of enmity against God. Once again, the child will imitate and readily accept your evils which you display before his eyes. But he also has the power to invent his own and to go way beyond what you show him. Adam showed Cain no murder of man, not even killing of beasts of the field, with the exception of the lamb for sacrificial purposes. And there is definitely in the world today a development of sin. We are not merely imitating the sins of Adam’s day. We are not practicing only the sins of the world before the flood. We have gone on to invent many new phases and aspects of sin; and we will do so until the man of sin is produced who will boldly set himself up and say that he is God, according to II Thessalonians 2:3, 4. The Old Testament Scriptures declare the same development of sin. Psalm 106:29declares, “Thus they provoked Him to anger with their inventions: and the plague break in upon them.” The 39th verse of the same Psalm declares, “Thus were they defiled with their own works, and went a whoring with their own inventions.” Finally let Ecclesiastes 7:29 also be quoted, for there we read, “Lo, this have I found, that God made man upright: but they have sought out many inventions.” You can teach a child new tricks, because his soul is a spiritual vicious one that hates God from birth; but he is also capable of inventing his own sins and of developing in sin.
Implied 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,” is the fact that you can bend a twig and can teach a child and thereby train him. You cannot bend a twig too far. Some twigs bend more easily than others. Some will crack off much more quickly than others. They are not equally pliable. But all can to a degree be bent. And our calling is to train them to the utmost of our power and to be serious about it. It ought to be our chief concern with our children. We ought, also, therefore, to be very careful to whom we entrust them for bending.
There are those who would cut the cord that ties them in a new direction and not only advocate for them a return but actually return them to the natural bent of their natural hearts and minds. It must not be a bending and unbending. It must not be that for a few hours they are bent in the direction of God’s glory only to be freed for the next hours or the rest of the day to follow the way of their flesh. It is a twenty-four hour matter. So it is, if you want the tree to grow in a particular direction. You cannot release the tension on that twig in some false pity or compassion for the twig. You have to tie it and keep it there until the hard fibers have been formed that will hold it in that position.
The Roman Catholic Church is quite correct when it states, “Give me the child, and you can have the man.” Early training is extremely important. First impressions go deep and are not easily changed. The mind of the little child is tremendously receptive. That child knows nothing. But he is born with a mind that can receive a fantastic amount of knowledge about himself and the world in which he lives. To his dying day he will be adding to the facts that he learns. And by words you can cause his thinking to go in a definite direction. Train him as a child, and, when he is a man, others will not turn him from that way he was taught to walk in the days of his early youth. Let the church train him in its doctrinal position, and then when he is a man, the waves of other doctrines may sweep over him but will not sweep him away. He has been bent in a doctrinal direction, and in that way he will grow.
You have expectations? There are those reared in Roman Catholic doctrine who will embrace Protestantism in days after their youth. There are men and women of Protestant persuasion who were taught to see the Roman Catholic Church as the false church and its doctrines as inventions of men who will forsake their early instruction to embrace the doctrines of the Pope. This, as we pointed out last time, is due to the fact that they did not receive that instruction, and although as little children or as youths, they passionately defended it because father and mother did, their hearts craved something else. And when they found that something else they responded to embrace it. They had not yet “formed the hard fibers “that will set the tree for life. And it may be that to defend themselves in an evil walk they will embrace that which formerly they condemned rather than to condemn their own practices. It shows the way in which they were bent and that for a time was covered by other acts. The principle stands, however, that in the way that they have been trained, truly trained, they will continue to go and nothing shall move them to depart from it. This holds true of doctrine. It holds true of the walk of life.
And we train them by the words which we speak. If we are to get at their hearts we will have to approach them through their minds. Satan knew that and by his lying words succeeded in turning man from a spiritual direction of glorifying God to a way that sought that glory of God for self. Adam came forth from the hand of God a fully trained man. And to depart somewhat from the figure and to contradict it, Adam was created so that he stood upright, bent neither to the right nor to the left, neither forward nor backward but so that all his being was directed to the glory of God. He looked directly upward to God and the stream of all his thinking, willing and acting was directly toward God. It was Satan who then succeeded in bending the twig in the way of the flesh to seek at every turn to rob God of His glory.
Words are powerful. Truly the pen is mightier than the sword. And the Word of God is so infinitely more powerful than the word of man to bend us back again to an upright position to stand in the proper relation to God. And that Word is so wonderful to tie us in that position so that we do not droop and flop back to the sin-seeking, God-dishonoring position wherein we are born. It is not our words that train the child and bring him to an upright position. It is the Word of God as applied by the power of the Spirit of Christ. We are the tools, but God is the One Who must speak and bend our wills by His Word and Spirit.
Of course there must be that which is pliable, if we are to be bent all the way from death to life, from sin to righteousness. Only the reborn child of God can be bent. The Word will only harden the twig that has not received the life of Christ. We do not melt that heart by our words, nor by our preaching of God’s Word. It is He that must renew the heart through regeneration; and then He uses us to bend the twig that He has made pliable. Our children are born in the way that they should not go. And it takes the grace of God and the power of His Spirit to give them a new life, and thus that which can be bent upright, and then confirms them in that position by our instruction and training.
And remember that a spoiled child reveals a spoiled parent. It certainly is tragic to see a parent bent by a sobbing, tantrum-throwing, rebellious child. A man bent over so that his finger tips touch the ground is in no position to bend a drooping sunflower to an upright position. He will have to stand up in a perpendicular position himself. And an upright walk of the parent is essential for bending the twig so that it faces God with all its being. We must walk in His fear in order to train our children in His fear.