The question is not whether we shall or shall not punish or praise. The question is rather, When shall we punish and when shall we praise? We are not writing to those who condemn all punishment. Although we are aware of the fact that there are all too many parents even in our circles who punish far too seldom. There are parents who fail not only to punish their disobedient children, but instead pat them on the back even in their sins. The child comes home with a black eye and bruised nose. Well, he had been called names at school and gotten into a fist-fight to retain his dignity among his classmates. The natural thing to do is to be more concerned with his cuts and bruises than with his guilt. You cannot touch that guilt, but you can care for the bruised and injured flesh. It is so easy and natural to ask the child what happened to him rather than to ask what he did. And on learning the facts in the case many a parent’s next question is as to whether he gave that other fellow what he had coming, and then to pat him on the back for winning this little encounter with the “enemy.” O, indeed, we too are in favour of patting children on the back after such a deed. Only it must be hard enough and low enough so as not to be misunderstood! If the world’s slogan, “spare the rod and spoil the child,” is true, then here you will find the answer to the question as to why so many children are spoiled today. And that wisest of all mere men, Solomon, says, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (by the times) .” To be sure, there are those today who consider themselves to be wiser than Solomon and consider him to be old fashioned. But this still remains the word of God regardless of our opinion of Solomon. And though a man may appear to have all the natural love for his child that you could want to see in him, he has no spiritual love, if he spares the rod and fails to inflict the punishment upon his child which the times demand. It seems cute to let him go. It seems so much more fatherly to walk in the ways of Eli. And then when in later years he goes his own unspiritual way, the matter is transferred to others with words such as these, “Domine, I wish you would talk to my boy. I told him this and that, but he just does it anyway. Maybe, if you talk to him, you can get him to have more interest in spiritual things.” First we teach our children that business and religion do not mix and that recreation and religion do not mix; and then we expect someone else to take hold of our children when they continue to choose business and recreation above religion. We teach them that material things have the preference over the spiritual, that a business trip or meeting, a new suit of clothes, a little pleasure here and a program there may have the preference over catechism; and then we wonder why they choose the material as being more important than the spiritual. And even in their presence we will defend that business trip or the like. We do not like to be classified with those of whom Solomon says that they hate their children. Yet it is plain that we do not love them enough to direct them in the right way.
And yet we maintain, we are not writing to those who deny and condemn all punishment. With all the weaknesses and frailties that are to be found among the children of God in their role of parents, we do not believe that those who condemn all punishment are interested enough to read these lines. In His Fear does not interest them. In The Bank does. In the Pocket does. In The Eyes of Men does. In The Sphere of Worldly Entertainment does. But In His Fear is not their sphere. And so we go out from the principle that we are writing to those who value punishment as a corrective method in their children and in the church.
What is more, we have pointed out that praise is not in every instance to be condemned. Speaking one’s praise is not necessarily evil. Jesus praised the Canaanitish woman to her face. And Paul writes words of praise to the various congregations and of the men who labored with him in the work of the ministry. And so punishment and praise are here in this world with God’s approval. In the right place and rightly used they have their own peculiar value and benefit.
But now the problem arises: when in the same deed there is evil and that which is praiseworthy, what shall we do? Shall we punish and praise? Shall we choose punishment alone, on the principle that the sin and evil far overshadows the good, and more harm is done by failing to punish than failing to praise? Or shall we praise alone, in the belief that to encourage to do good and to praise for the doing of good will make the sin less attractive and avoided?
Of course, we may expect to find in the life of the regenerated child of God that which demands punishment and also that which is praiseworthy. In the ungodly you will never find anything but that which is displeasing in God’s sight. “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord; but the prayer of the upright is His delight,” Proverbs 15:8. That sacrifice may look praiseworthy; and that which Cain brought in a sacrifice to God was the best of what he grew in the field. Yet it was an abomination to the Lord. And so it is with all that which the unregenerated do regardless of whether it looks good to us or not. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is and that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him,” Hebrews 11:6. “For whatsoever is not of faith is sin,” Romans 14:23b. Never mind what the eye sees. A thing is praiseworthy only when it is worthy of God’s praise. Only when HE says that it is good, it is worthy of our praise. Every physical or mental deed has its spiritual side which determines whether it is good or bad. The motive behind it is a spiritual thing. The goal it seeks to reach is a spiritual thing. And even as God’s purpose in giving a thing or in doing a certain work determines whether it is a work of grace or merely of His providence, so our purpose, the innermost thought and desire behind our works determines whether they are worthy of praise or not. Uzzah, the son of Abinedab, to all outward appearances performed a good deed when he put forth his hand to keep the ark from falling off the cart into the mire. It would seem that God punished him instead of praised him for a good deed. But let us not pretend to be wiser than God! God calls it a rash deed. God is filled with anger and not with delight. We repeat with underscoring, “The sacrifices of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord: but the prayer of the upright is His delight.” And so you will not find anything praiseworthy among the unregenerated, and we better be sure that we do not applaud them and encourage them to repeat and develop their evil deeds.
But in the church you may find both, because there you deal with regenerated, new-born men; and yet their old natures are still also very present to produce works worthy of punishment and requiring chastisement. The child who copies and cheats in school in order that he may please his parents with a good report card is not worthy of praise. Not only is the praise of a good report card not due to him. But his motive was evil. To please one’s parents is not a good work and one worthy of praise. To please God and to please one’s parents by pleasing God is another matter. And so such a child should be punished and not praised at all. His attention should be called to the fact that it is not right to seek to please parents in the way of disobeying God. And the parent who encourages his child in such endeavours and does not point out the error of this to his child is letting his natural love discount the spiritual things. You cannot even say to such a child, You meant well. He did not mean well. We are not saying that all tact and careful handling of the matter must be thrown out the window. Not at all. But we mean that the child must be taught that his cheating was wicked in God’s sight and that his desire to please his parents in a sinful way is likewise wicked, that he has nothing for which to be praised. And by all means, let him know that you consider walking in God’s commandments the principal thing, so that a good mark on the report card must come only in that way.
There are, however, certain instances where a child disobeys and yet in the same deed does a praiseworthy thing. The method may be wrong while the motive is good, We have a classic example of such an act in the Scriptures. It deals with the deed of an adult, but it reveals that while much sin cleaves to us and to our children, we do also that which is praiseworthy. Rahab, the harlot, is recorded with the “heroes of faith'” and praised for having hid the spies. Yet it was a lie that she used in order to keep them safe in their place of hiding. Similarly today, a man may lose his temper while defending the truth, He may be filled with zeal for the truth over against those who would destroy it and deceive others. He is not to be excused and surely is worthy of severe rebukes for revealing personal anger. Yet he is to be praised for his stand for the truth. He should not be praised for his temper, his unethical procedure. Nor does he have room to complain if he is severely taken to task for his unbrotherly conduct. We may esteem him for his zeal and love for the truth, but we must not praise him for works of the flesh. We have our own flesh, and that makes it so easy and natural to banish all thought of rebuke and to praise even out of carnal considerations. But these two, punishment and praise, must never militate against each other or deny each other.
No different is it with our children. Our covenant youth also have spiritual life. No, they are not as fully advanced in the truth as we are. They are not as experienced in the things spiritual as the adult. But let us make no mistake about it: they not only have spiritual life within them; they have the very same spiritual life that we have. We both have the life of Christ, given us by the selfsame Spirit of Christ. That our children do have spiritual motives and that there are works also in their lives that are praiseworthy is to be expected and is not to be viewed with amazement. It is as much a miracle that we believe and walk in good works as it is that they do. And because they still have the old nature, there is that matter of discipline also, and punishment becomes a must.
Next time we would like to lay down certain principles whereby we may be guided in determining when to punish and when to praise. For in punishing but also in praising we would walk in His fear.