II. Our Distinctive Training
Now, surely, our training of these covenant young people requires of us that we set an example of that covenant distinctiveness in our own lives. The chain-smoking coach is not going to get across to his athletes that smoking is going to hurt them by giving them shortness of breath and by robbing them of stamina. And when father or mother goes along a little bit in the ways of the world, father and mother point out the way their teenagers will go. Let the father copy just a little of the hippy haircut, and see once whether the sons are going to go in the opposite direction. Let the mothers compromise and make a slightly mini skirt; and see once whether the daughters will shop around to find one longer than mother’s. It is simply a tragic fact that in the sins wherein the parents walk, the children run; the evils which the parents practice, the children preach and practice; the wicked ways which the parents follow, the children get behind and push!
And by all means what is so dangerous is the practice of parents defending their children in their acceptance of the ways of the world. That is all that they—need for a green light to a greater participation in the ways of the world. Being part of this world according to the flesh, they need little encouragement to live contrary to the new life of their rebirth. Besides, in this we give Satan a tremendous advantage when he tempts them. Rather than defend them in their copying of the world we ought to heed the words of Paul in I Corinthians 11:1, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” We ought so to walk that we can say that to our children. And we ought to set such an example before them. What a beautiful procession that is: Christ, Paul, you and your children all walking in one line, in one direction, with one purpose!
And now, walking in that distinctiveness of God’s covenant, we will train our children from early infancy to know that there is a different walk of life for the child of God. This we will do first of all by means of the stories in Holy Writ wherein the different walk of the believer is set forth. As little children we will tell them of the upright walk of the saints as it comes to manifestation in these Bible stories. Thus, for example, as it is found in the so-called “Heroes of Faith” in Hebrews 11. At the same time, of course, we will be showing them the evil walk of the unbelievers, as they are recorded in Holy Writ, which are also by those very Scriptures condemned.
As soon as possible we should teach them the details in that different walk as it is presented in Scripture. I am thinking of such texts as Isaiah 43:21 and I Peter 2:9where God says to our children, “This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise,” and “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” In both instances that distinctive walk is labeled as showing forth God’s praises. And that means walking so that His virtues shine forth in our lives. Showing forth His praises is more than simply speaking those praises with the lips.
It means, therefore, that they are taught that they are a different people, a covenant people that God has been pleased to set aside for His praise and has called out of the rest of the world for that purpose. And it means that, as soon as they can understand it, we explain to them that new life which they have within them and do not fully understand. This is not something that they must find by themselves. This is something that we are obliged to teach them, and they do need help in understanding what has taken place within them by this new birth.
Then, also, we must teach them that God demands this different walk. Never must we leave the impression upon them that they must walk differently from the way they are walking or purpose to walk because, “I said so!” We are often inclined to give that answer to their question, “Why?” But that must never be the answer. And there is such an abundance of texts to which their attention may and must be called. Paul writes in Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” And again II Corinthians 6:17, “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” We could addEphesians 5:7, 8, “Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light.” The truth of all these texts should be taught them as they become teenagers and are able to receive the meaning of them.
And by all means apply discipline to them to train them. Telling them what example they are to follow is important, in fact it is indispensable. But without discipline you do not train them. Eli spoke to his sons and told them that their works were not that which is demanded by our covenant God. But they were not trained, because they were never disciplined. And this discipline will vary according to the ages. Solomon counsels us to use the rod, if we love our children. But there comes a time when we should use another rod than the one of wood. The teenager can have privileges taken from him. But he still needs more than simply being told that it is wrong, more than simply having the Word of God quoted to him. As long as he is not yet fully trained, he needs discipline. And the church, in fact, will apply discipline to adults who fashion themselves after the world.
And let us face it, the confrontation begins when the child reaches the age of being a teenager. Before that time we have our children under control for an outward life of distinctiveness, if we as parents live in that life of spiritual strangers here below. We buy the clothes for our children and select them. We supply them with their toys and methods of entertainment (and let us hope rule the TV set with rigid sanctified control!). We still have control where they will go, and usually take them along. But when they become teenagers they begin to find a little work and have a little money to buy their own clothes, their own transistor radio, and maybe even TV. They get a driver’s license and either take the car or are taken by their companions. And where they go, we often do not know.
And yet this is the very age in which there is so much that can be done and should be done to interest them in that different walk of life of the new man. After all we do not seek robots. We are not training our children to some outward conformity to a set of rules. What we seek to train are conscious, willing individuals who delight in showing forth God’s praises and in walking as children of light. And it is in the period when they are teenagers that we can best teach them the spiritual, ethical implications of the actions of the world. We can show them that the love of God is not in it, and that Scripture says that the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be, Romans 8:7, and that the love of God is not in the things of the world, I John 2:15, 16. We can show them that the world by its own admission does not shorten the women’s skirts for comfort (in the cold winter?) or any practical reason, but, again by its own admission to accentuate some different part of the female body, after the accentuation of another part has worn off—and now they are bold—in its sex appeal, which really is lust power. We can point out to our children the teaching of Jesus—especially to our daughters on this point—that to lust after a woman is to commit adultery, and that the Catechism correctly says that also forbidden is anything that “entices men thereto.” In that light we surely have a generation of adulterous women and young women in the world today. This must not be the case in the church. And as far as our young men are concerned the same holds true of fashioning their outward appearance after the world. Again by its own admission the world by its hippy appearance speaks and means to speak out its rebellion against all authority; and that by adopting the world’s symbol of its utter contempt for the fifth commandment they, our children, express their agreement with this great wickedness. We can show both the young men and young women that the music of this world has the carnal motive of sinfully exciting the flesh and has no interest at all in showing forth God’s praises. Time fails to go into more detail on this, but these are the general guide lines of that training.
And what a wonderful privilege then is ours to be used in the training of our children. God is pleased, mind you, to use us as His brush wherewith He paints His covenant picture, the chisel wherewith He carves and forms this people for Himself to show forth His praises, the pen wherewith He writes His own song of praise, the keys of His mighty organ that opens the pipes of His children (and ours) to let the glorious music of His glory roll forth into the world.
Yes, there are disappointments, and the work is exhausting, and in some instances heartbreaking. Caring for the material, physical needs of our children is comparatively easy and simple. Training them in covenant distinctiveness is extremely difficult. The youth will often manifest themselves as tremendously headstrong, will shock you with the records which they buy, and with the young men or young women whom they date, as well as the clothing they insist upon wearing. They will at times reveal themselves as utterly devoid of any spiritual sensitivity and concern. Truly it is difficult work and far more exhausting than caring for their physical, material needs. But it still remains a blessed privilege that God gives us. And it is a blessed thrill then to behold that people which He chisels through us, to see that covenant picture which He painted through us, hear songs of praise which He wrote through us and the glorious music of His grace from the mouths of our children.
III. Our Assurance of Success
But the question may well be asked, “What assurance have we that we will have success in training our children to walk that way?” Let me at once assure you that it does not depend upon us. We must be faithful. God uses means, and does not paint, or carve or write without a pen. He is exactly pleased to do all of the training through men. He does not train without men. We may not, therefore, brush off our concern with the statement that God will take care of them. He certainly will. But He will do that through men.
Nevertheless it must be emphasized that it does not depend upon us. We can never persuade our children to believe. We can never make them walk in covenant distinctiveness or keep one single commandment of God. We simply cannot put love of God into their hearts or faith into their souls. This all must be given by God, and He must use and apply our instruction and discipline to our children. Our efforts are so very feeble and imperfect. We always see our mistakes after it is too late. And when we arrive at that period when we begin to see the harvest in our children, we find only room to praise and thank God for having been pleased to apply with His infinite power that which we did in our sinful, human weakness.
There is an item that we should yet add to that training, not as that which we should apply to our children but to ourselves as we train them. And that is found inPhilippians 1:9. We must, as Paul, pray that God will cause the love which He has implanted in them to abound yet more and more into their knowledge and judgment that these children may approve of the differing things (that is the original: things excellent because they differ from the things of the flesh) and may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ. We can and we must pray for our children that God will make that love abound in them. For only then will they consciously and willingly walk as children of light.
And when we in prayer and in faithfulness seek to train them, God will give a blessing. He does not promise to do that in every one of our children. Some of them He may not bring around to a turning from the world till much later in their lives and after many years of earnest prayer on the part of the parents and the church. But He will bless our efforts and keep for Himself seven thousand who do not bow the knee to Baal and the harlot of Babylon. We may be sure because His promises are yea and amen in Christ. He Sent His Son to make it possible for our children to have this new life. He gave His Son the Spirit to implant this new life in them. And He will train them through those in whom the Spirit of His Son dwells. And finally He will in the day of Christ have this people fully formed to live a life in the new Jerusalem that only shows forth His praise. It will be a people completely cut off from the covenant breakers and wholly dedicated in body and soul to the life that glorifies God. God is faithful to His covenant promises.
* Speech delivered at the Mr. and Mrs. Societies’ League Meeting October 23, 1970 in the Hope Protestant Reformed Church.