What the all-important concept “The fear of the Lord” implies has become clear. Resting on that most basic of all truths that God is GOD, “fear” is all that acknowledges Him as such. It is loving reverence, holy dread, all that and much more. It is all that the creature experiences when he is deeply and properly conscious of the presence of his God. The fear of the Lord implies that we know our God as He is and reveals Himself in all the works of His hands as well as His written Word. It means that we never weary of seeking to learn more and more about Him, since we have no other calling in last analysis than to know and glorify our Maker, now and forever. It includes that, knowing and reverencing God as GOD, we also live for Him alone and love Him with all our hearts and souls and mind and strength. Whatever our station in life, our gifts and talents, our profession or trade or job if we fear the Lord we seek Him, serve Him alone, scrupulously consecrate our entire lives to Him, depart from evil, keep our tongue from sin, do good, seek peace, keep His judgments, do His commandments, devote all we are and have to His glory and thus fulfil “the whole duty of man”. Such is “the fear of the Lord”. Having it we possess wisdom and true knowledge; without it is nothing but folly and consummate ignorance. With that fear of God in their souls the most uneducated, and illiterate are wise unto everlasting life; without it the greatest genius and most sophisticated college professor is nothing but a damned fool. In His fear we and our children begin to fulfil our calling before God, for the fear of the Lord is “the whole duty of man”; without it every man, whatever the heights to which he may attain, the treasures he may manage to gather on earth, the acclaim his fellow- men may heap upon him for his scientific accomplishments and tremendous success in life, is naught but a wretched failure, one who does not even begin to fulfil his purpose in life.
To instruct the child “in His fear”, for that is the thrust of this rubric, implies at least three things.
It means that this fear of the Lord is our sole purpose in the bringing up of our children; that is, it is our desire and aim that our children shall fear their Lord. Theoretically and practically, in doctrine and life, they must come to the acknowledgement that God is GOD. They must reverence Him, seek Him alone, stand in awe of Him, be God-conscious, fear to disobey His will, love Him and manifest this in all their lives, consecrate their whole lives to Him alone.
Rejecting all that is contrary to their God they must seek only that which is to His praise and glory. In that way our children must walk, now and all their lives, presently in their homes which they shall establish, in all their associations with their fellowmen, in the church of Christ and not the least in whatever vocation they may choose to pursue. Whatever they do, wherever they work, always they must walk in the fear of the Lord. That is our deepest desire with respect to them. That is the purpose of all the instruction we give them. Then we bring them up in His fear.
To instruct the child “in His fear” implies, secondly, that this fear is the sole content of all the instruction it receives. In the home and school and church we must instruct them in that fear as such. They must be taught that reverence and awe of the Almighty One directly. What it means to break His precepts, on the one hand, and to keep them, on the other, must be drilled into them. Moreover, this fear of the Lord must be the basic content of all that is taught our children. They must see their God, His hand, His work, His purpose, His counsel, His beauty and wisdom and power and greatness in all the works of His hands. Everything in the fear of the Lord; history in the fear of the Lord; geography in the fear of the Lord; science in the fear of the Lord; civics in the fear of the Lord; hygiene in the fear of the Lord; physiology in the fear of the Lord; good language and habits in the fear of the Lord; this is the ideal for which we should shrive. And all this in order that our children should learn, not history and science and civics as such, but the fear of the Lord, to walk therein with all their .hearts to the glory of their covenant God in the midst of the world.
Thirdly, to instruct the child “in His fear” means, that this fear of God is the sole sphere wherein our seed is instructed. The whole instruction in the world, in the home and in school, is in the sphere of darkness, rebellion, sin. Our children must be educated in the sphere of the fear of the Lord. To this belongs so very much, the entire conduct, walk and talk, life and example of those who must do the instructing; the entire atmosphere of home and school. All must be made to speak to the child of the fear of the Lord, of reverence and awe of Him, of His precepts and judgments, His honor and praise. That the child must see and hear, wherever it turns. In the home and the school and the church, everywhere and always the child must breathe in the fear of the Lord. That is the thing we call atmosphere. That makes for a Christian home and school. That is education “in His fear”.
In very close connection with the preceding Scripture speaks also of “the way he should go.” In that classic passage, quoted so often in connection with the subject of education, we read, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” In connection with our subject this Scripture is paramount.
Often the Word of God compares the life of man to a “way”, and how appropriate a figure it is. As a way, a road, always suggests progress, so there is continuous advancement, progress on the way of life. Never do we or can we stand still. Oh yes, we may pause a moment in our flight through life to reflect a moment on the way we have come or still must go, but even at such times we continue to speed onward. As a way or road always implies definite direction, so we proceed in a definite spiritual direction on life’s pathway. Either we walk in the way of light or that of darkness, the way of God’s covenant and truth or that of the world and sin. As a way or road implies a specific destination, so man is progressing toward a definite end. Either we travel the way of righteousness to heaven or the road of sin to eternal perdition. The metaphor is most appropriate, therefore. Before our children, from the moment they are born, lies a way on which they are and in which they must walk in a certain direction to a specific (goal.
Now we are mandated to bring up, educate, instruct, train our children in the way they should go. Also this cannot mean that the way wherein our children walk and shall walk is in reality or in any way determined by us. It isn’t. That would mean that their very salvation depends on us. It is God who places them on the good way, according to His good pleasure, when He in sovereign grace regenerates them and pours into their hearts the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thereby He Himself places them, principally, on the way of life and righteousness. Without that operation of His grace all our instruction could not possibly bear any positive fruit. However, it is our calling to nurture our children, to educate and train them to the utmost of our power in the way in which the grace of God places them and which is pleasing to our covenant God, and it is the solemn obligation of our covenant children to walk in that way.
This way “they should go” is, generally speaking, the way of life and salvation, the way of righteousness and truth, the way of the Word of God and the glory of His name, the way of the fear of the Lord. It is the way of sound doctrine, to be sure. Now and in the future our children must know and love and be able to defend the truth. It is the way in which we clearly discern all the fundamental truths of Scripture concerning God and His counsel, election and reprobation, the law of God and the fallen sinner, Christ and His work, the church and the world, etc. To us, of course, it is the way of the Reformed truth, of Protestant Reformed doctrine. That is the way our children should go according to the talents and understanding the Highest has given us. It is the way also of sound practice; true, Christian ethics. It is the way wherein we know what is acceptable to God and to His glory; wherein we assume the proper attitude toward all things and conduct ourselves accordingly. It is the way wherein we walk in the path of obedience with respect to the church, the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, catechism; with respect to the world, its unions and associations and all the problems with which it confronts the Christian. It is the way wherein our language and appearance and entire manifestation of life is in harmony with the requirements of God’s law. “The way they should go” is the way God wants them to walk always.
In that way we must bring up, educate, train our children. That is the will of God concerning us. This implies the same three things mentioned above in connection with the fear of the Lord. It means that this “way” must be the one and only purpose in all education. Now as little children, then as growing and fun-loving boys and girls, thereafter as young men and women, finally in whatever station or position or vocation in life they may find themselves, we desire that they shall walk in the way of the Lord. Throughout life they must not depart from the path of pure doctrine and sound Scriptural ethics. Secondly, instruction in “the way they should go” implies that this way is itself the content, in last analysis, of all their education. Always we must hold before them that way, the Reformed way, the Protestant Reformed way, from infancy on, in home and church and school, in all we teach them, whether that teaching be doctrinal in character or of a more academic nature. Everything must be taught them in connection with and with a view to the way they should go. Finally, this way must be the very sphere in which they are nurtured. All our children see at home, in school, in church, in catechism, of their parents and instructors, everywhere, anywhere, must speak to them of the way they should go. We must create for them that atmosphere. That is Christian education. In all this lies our calling with respect to our covenant seed. From that principle we proceed and may not depart. And understanding that task and calling, we do not stand in the way of its execution by raising all kinds of practical and sentimental objections. We do our duty, to the utmost of our power.
This mandate is all-important, for many reasons. First, it is the will of God and the way of His providence, that we shall learn to know and love that way by a process of Christian training. There is a difference between being on that way principally and walking in that way consciously and unswervingly. A child may possess the principle of the new life, but that life comes to conscious manifestation in the way of training. The seed may be there, but it comes to fruition in the reasonable way of Christian instruction. Thus it is in the world. A young man may have all the makings of a good soldier, but to actually be one he must receive training. Thus it is spiritually. Secondly, there is also in this world a way wherein our children should not go. There is the way of false doctrine and equally false practice, wherein men apostatize from the truth, corrupt the Word of God, blaspheme His holy name, make common cause with the world, amalgamate themselves with the children of darkness, think and speak and act in enmity against God. Therefore, adequate training of our covenant seed will likewise include, that we also hold before them the way they should not go and never cease admonishing them against walking in the unholy path that leads to eternal perdition. Finally, there is in all our children, by nature, that evil inclination to choose for themselves this latter way instead of the way of His fear. That way they love and in that way we and they walk by nature. Therefore the proper, Christian training is a matter of constant application and of stern discipline as well as positive instruction. Living as we do in a sinful world and dealing with sinful children we shall always face the question: what measures must be taken, what punishments applied in those numerous and various cases where our children depart from the way they should go and their education “In His Fear’’ requires also the application of the rod.