It is my intention to write a few articles on the above mentioned theme. Many over the years have written on this subject. In preparation for writing these articles I am reading again some good articles and books from my library. God’s Word has much to say about this subject. Our hope and prayer is that another study of this subject will not be considered unnecessary repetition and that we will not imagine that we already know all we need to know. Parents especially have to consider over and over again what God’s Word has to say about this subject.
The subject is of greatest importance in our modern-day world. Lawlessness and wickedness and immorality abound in the lives of many young people. Much of this can be traced to the permissiveness with which they were raised. Many grow up to be irresponsible adults. Young people are often totally unprepared for stable, lifelong careers. Juvenile delinquency, violence, and sexual promiscuity among the youth of our land are some of the greatest problems of our society and they seem to defy solution. Many young people have little direction in life. Their minds and hearts are full of despair and anger and hopelessness.
The blame for the failure of students in public schools is often attributed to poor teachers in our public schools. We need better training and more money for the teachers, better facilities to teach in, modern day expensive equipment, computers for every student, and so on. But often the cause of the failure of the public schools is in fact the many broken homes in our land, and the resulting chaotic and wretched home life of children, which seriously affects the instruction and discipline of children and young people. Few in the world will admit this because such an admission would condemn the adulterous and wicked lifestyle, the covetousness and greed and lust, of the peoples of the world. Few parents are willing to take the time and make the necessary personal sacrifices for the proper raising of children. The work of discipline is given over to day care centers and to individuals who have neither the authority nor the wisdom and love needed for the raising of children.
Even in the church there are at times tragic cases of children who grow up to be rebellious and wicked because of the grievous lack of instruction and discipline in their homes. The classic biblical example of the failure of discipline in the home is that of Eli and his sons. Even though Eli was a godly man, he was a serious failure as a father. His children grew up to be dreadfully wicked. The rebelliousness and brazen ungodliness of young people often have their cause in the failure of parents to instruct their children in the knowledge and fear of the Lord. The fearful judgment of God came upon the sons of Eli and even on their generations. Apostasy in the churches often had its root cause in that children were not properly instructed and disciplined. When parents who were themselves raised in covenant homes depart from the established covenant traditions of their parents, wickedness will often grow at a shockingly rapid pace in the lives of the next generation. May the Lord preserve us from this in His mercy.
We confess that the Lord is our covenant God and that we are His people. He has saved us by the mighty power of His grace and Holy Spirit from the corruption of this world. We believe that it is the purpose of the Lord’s sovereign grace to continue His covenant in the line of the generations of believers and their children. This is in itself a great wonder of God’s working in our families that ought to fill us with humble gratitude and amazement. This gratitude to God ought to inspire us to be faithful in our covenant obligations and serve the Lord by raising our children in the fear of His name. We and our children are to be different from the ungodly world. Our homes and families are to be different from the world. Our hope is in the work of God’s grace and regeneration in the hearts of our covenant children.
The great responsibility of raising children in the fear of the Lord has been laid by God upon parents. The Lord gives parents authority and power for this great task, especially fathers. Even when God gives us the wonderful opportunity to send our children to good covenant Christian schools, the first responsibility for the training of our children rests squarely on our shoulders as parents. Without the foundational work of parents in the home, the work of the Christian school teacher is very difficult if not impossible. Even catechism instruction by the church will be almost hopeless if there is not support of it by responsible parents who take their calling seriously in the covenant home.
We believe that our children are conceived and born in sin. No amount of mere human effort on the part of parents can change the sinful nature of our children. God, however, commands us to admonish our children with the authority of His Word. This Word, by the grace and Spirit of God, can change the sinful nature of our children. The Lord has called us to drive from the hearts of our children the foolishness with which they were born and teach them wisdom. This is done by the power of godly discipline. The Lord calls our children to be holy and consecrated to Him, and He calls us as parents to work this in them through godly instruction and discipline.
The responsibility of disciplining our covenant children requires a great deal of wisdom from God and earnest spiritual concern for our children. It must be made a matter of constant, fervent prayer by parents and even the whole church. It requires constant, diligent effort and large personal sacrifice on the part of parents, motivated by genuine covenantal love for the children whom the Lord has given to us.
The authority of God’s Word must be maintained in our home. One writer makes an excellent distinction between ruthless, proud authoritarianism of unloving fathers and the proper, authoritative maintaining of God’s Word in our homes. The former will do great harm to covenant children. The latter, with God’s blessing, will do them great good.
As parents we must give formal instruction to our children, instruction in which we teach them objectively the truth of God and His Word and His commandments. There must be time and order in our covenant homes for godly instruction. We must lay hold on God-given time and opportunity for this in our homes in the busyness of life. Covenant fathers must not make their lives too busy with secular careers. Mothers must resist the modern day temptations to forsake their God-given role of being the keeper of the home and of properly caring for covenant children entrusted to them, in order to pursue some glamorous career in the world. One of the greatest dangers for apostasy even for the church among us is the temptations for wives and mothers to compromise on the covenant tradition of mothers’ role in the home.
God’s Word must be explained and applied to the daily lives of our covenant children in all the circumstances that arise from day to day in our homes and in society. Much of the training of our children comes in the natural course and flow of our life in the home and society. Of very great importance in the training of our children is that the instruction we give by our words must be supported and demonstrated by the daily examples we show them in our own attitude and perspective and behavior in all of our life as parents. We must set before our children the pattern of godliness.
Even secular writers on this subject have often said that instruction and discipline must be taken seriously from the earliest ages of our children. Personality, character, morality, godly perspective on life are very much established in children already at a very young age. The book of Proverbs speaks of this. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (). “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying” ( ). A child that is not disciplined in the early years of his life will become hardened in the ways of sin. The time of childhood is the time of God-given opportunity.
The subject of disciplining our children is a broad subject. It has many important dimensions. In Scripture one of the main words for discipline means literally to teach and train a child from earliest childhood to mature manhood or womanhood. Everything that we do for our children to bring them from early childhood to mature and responsible adulthood is included in the work of discipline.
We lay the basis for the discipline of our covenant children by teaching about God Himself, His sovereignty, power, and greatness, His glory, His holiness, righteousness, and truth, His goodness and His great salvation of His people in Christ. The truths of God Himself and of His salvation must be taught to our children, so that from their childhood they learn to fear and reverence and obey God and to love Him as their God. The instruction and discipline of our covenant children can never be accomplished by merely teaching them virtue and morality, or truth in the abstract. Even the world often tries to accomplish this, and fails miserably in the end even if it succeeds in producing noble and seemingly morally upright and scholarly children, who are well behaved and respected in society. As covenant parents we must above all teach our children the fear of God and reverence before Him, obedience before Him, and the purpose of our life to serve and glorify Him.