Rev. denHartog is pastor of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan. Previous article in this series: March 15, 2009, p. 279.
n this article we again consider what Deuteronomy 6 has to say about instruction in the covenant home. Let me quote this passage again so that it is 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 riseth up. And thou shall bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the post of thy house and on thy gates,
Every word and every figurative expression used in this passage are about practical religion in the covenant home. The law of God must be well known in this home. It must be referred to again and again. It must be the real standard and guide of our covenant home in day-to-day concerns that arise and the issues we face. It must govern every part of our behavior. The law of God must, by the grace and Spirit of God, establish the order and stability of the home. It must be the glory and beauty of the covenant home that makes it so very different from the homes of the world.
Knowledge of the truth, and doctrinal instruction, are important in our covenant home. Truth and doctrine are foundational to Christian living. This we must certainly teach also in our homes. Religion is not just about vague mystical experience, or temporary, superficial feeling of excitement and emotion. The covenant home must be built on the solid foundation of the infallible and unchangeable truth of the Word of God. But knowledge of the truth alone, without sincere godliness and piety, leads to dead orthodoxy. If our godliness and piety are not real, spiritual, and living, our religion will lead to hypocrisy. Our children will grow up with this form of religion and learn it for themselves.
There is always a lurking danger of this because of the deceitfulness of our own hearts. It is easy to imagine in our own hearts that it is sufficient to maintain sound doctrine without putting this doctrine into daily practice. Mere outward formal religion is an abomination to the Lord. The Lord complained against Israel concerning such religion in the days of Isaiah the prophet:
Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, this people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men,
True religion is not easy to maintain from day to day in our homes. It takes much earnest prayer and spiritual effort on the part of parents. We cannot hide from our children in the home who we really are, whether or not we are spiritually minded, genuine and sincere.
The covenant home is the God-ordained sphere where our children must be taught true godliness and piety in their lives. By the Spirit of God we must live in our homes in living fellowship with God and in true godly fellowship with one another. We gain a good understanding of our children as they grow up in our home from childhood to being mature adults. Our children also know us as their parents. We must have deep personal spiritual concern for our children. If the religion in our home is not real and genuine, catechism instruction and the instruction of the Christian day school will do little to reverse the damage that has been done to our children.
Godliness begins with a living knowledge of God and a humble knowledge of ourselves, who and what we are before Him. Our God is a great and majestic and holy God. He is the Sovereign One who does whatsoever He pleases. He has made us for Himself, and all things in the world in which we live for His own glory. He is the absolutely Holy One who hates sin and loves purity, goodness, and holiness. He is the righteous Judge who condemns and punishes all sin and evil in perfect truth and justice. He is the God who has saved us by sovereign grace. We have no worthiness in ourselves. With fear and trembling we realize that it is only His mercy that has saved us from the just judgment our sins deserve, from death and hell. We are His people because of His sovereign love towards us and not because of who we are in ourselves and what we have done to merit His favor. These are the truths that are the basis of true godliness and humility before God. If God is truly our God, we must also serve Him.
We nurture our children in godliness when we teach them to have a serious attitude about God Himself, His greatness, holiness, and fear. In our covenant homes we must teach our children about the seriousness of keeping the law of God. The whole book of Deuteronomy teaches us this. The book of Deuteronomy teaches us about the very serious consequences of disobedience to God’s law. Such disobedience will surely bring upon a people the judgment of God. This judgment will lead to their final destruction. When God’s people fall into sin, they must by the grace of God repent from that sin and turn again to Him. They must not continue in sin. Sin is a fearful reality. It becomes more and more complicated and destructive when men continue in it. True godliness is daily repentance.
This we must teach our children in our covenant home. When we sin and when our children sin we must go with them to the cross of Jesus Christ, the only place of forgiveness and restoration. Then, too, we must teach our children the wonder and blessedness of God’s forgiving mercy and love. This is foundational to true godliness. The blessing and favor of God is experienced by the people of God in the way of keeping His commandments and doing His will in their daily lives. The proper motive for keeping the law of God is gratitude to God for His great salvation. God’s commandments are not grievous but joyous.
The first commandment teaches us that we must have the Lord alone as our God. We must love Him with all our hearts and souls and mind and strength. This must be evident not only in our words but in deed and in truth. In the Lord must be all our hope, our trust and confidence, the joy of our salvation, and all our glorying. We marvel that Israel in the Old Testament in her history so often turned to idolatry. But we ought to be on our guard that idols do not arise in our own covenant homes when the things of this world, its pleasures, its covetousness, and its godless philosophy of life so influence our families that we are drawn away from the sincere service of the Lord. We are guilty of the same idolatry that Israel was if we allow this to happen in our covenant homes.
Our prayer life and daily family devotions, reading and explaining the Word of God to our children, will do much by the grace of God to instill godliness in our children. The reverence we show for God, the sincerity and earnestness of our prayers, the interest in the regular study of God’s Word in the daily life of our covenant families, understanding the application of the Word of God—all these things teach our children the meaning of true godliness.
The fourth commandment teaches us to love the Lord’s Day. The proper spiritual keeping of the Lord’s Day is a very important part of true godliness, contrary to the imagination of many professing Christians today. Godliness in our covenant homes means that we teach our children to love the Lord’s Day. This day must be a special day for our families when we go up together as a covenant family to God’s house with joy and thanksgiving to worship the great God of our salvation. The fourth commandment is not about a whole list of things we may and may not do. The fourth commandment is about repentance, about returning to the Lord, and about spiritual restoration and revival in our lives. It is about our life and fellowship with God as the glorious and blessed God of our salvation. In Him we have the hope of heaven and of glory. The sabbath day is the sign of the spiritual rest we have in God and of our glorying in Him. Sabbath observance is a sign that distinguishes us from the world as God’s people. A very important part of proper sabbath observance is the blessed reality of the communion of the saints. In our home we must teach our children the importance of concern and love for their fellow saints. The covenant home ought to be the place where there are often gatherings of the communion of the saints. The love we have for our fellow saints must according to the Word of God be fervent and unfeigned love of the brethren. Our children must learn this too in our homes.
The fifth commandment is especially for covenant children. This commandment requires them to honor and respect their covenant parents. This is another fundamental principle of true godliness in the covenant home. The basis of this commandment is the God-given authority of father in the home. Godliness in the covenant home means that the father himself must have a proper understanding of the nature and character of this authority. It is an authority that he has from God and that he must exercise in godly humility and with the fear of God in his own heart. This authority must not be exercised in cruel tyranny and by making heartless and unreasonable demands of his wife and children. Rather, this authority must be exercised in love for God and in knowledge and sympathy for covenant children that God has given us. It must be guidance for children that reflects godly wisdom and real spiritual concern for them. Children must learn from their earthly father what it means to obey their heavenly Father. They must also learn the blessed reality of the compassions, mercy, love, and tender care of God their heavenly Father. Through learning respect for authority and obedience to their God-given covenant fathers, children must learn the seriousness of authority and obedience in all the various spheres of authority in which they will live.
The sixth commandment re quires that we love the neighbor. Love for the neighbor must begin in our homes. The first neighbors with whom children come in contact as soon as they are born into this world are their own parents and their own brothers and sisters. Love and true godliness begins with honor and respect for parents. They must show this respect in spite of the fact that their parents are imperfect and have many weaknesses and sins themselves. But it also means that parents must live in their daily lives in such a way that they are worthy of the honor and respect of their children.
… to be continued.