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Arie den Hartog is a missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches, working currently in the country of Singapore.

The Lord has given to parents the great responsibility of nurturing their children in the love and fear of His name. When we as parents in the providence of the Lord bring forth our children, our task has just begun. Our children come into our homes as helpless babes totally dependent on their parents. They need physical nourishment. They need the care and protection of a warm, loving, and concerned Christian home. Their personality and character must be molded. They must be brought to spiritual maturity so that by the grace of God they grow up to become faithful servants of the Lord in His kingdom and for His glory.

God has given the responsibility of raising children to parents. No other institution or persons can perform this task instead of the parents. Though our Christian schools and our church can render parents assistance they cannot take over the responsibility which God has given first of all to the parents. Both father and mother have a calling to fulfill. Children need the influence of both father and mother for their healthy physical and spiritual development. We believe that “scripture clearly teaches that raising the children which the Lord gives must be the full-time occupation of the mother in the home. She has no time to pursue a career out of the home at the same time. The task the Lord has laid upon her is far too demanding and far too serious to give her time and energy to work outside of the home. The proper raising of children requires the full-time presence of the mother. But it also demands much diligence, much time and effort and devotion on the part of the father. Perhaps this has not been said often enough in our day. Father may not leave this responsibility to mother to perform all alone. She cannot do it alone. Furthermore scripture repeatedly addresses the father of the home when it exhorts parents to nurture their children in the Lord. It must be said on the basis of scripture that the chief responsibility of raising the children still lies upon the father and head of the home. The mother is also in this a help meet to her husband.

As Reformed Christians we believe that raising our children for the Lord is our covenant responsibility. We hold very dear the blessed promises of God’s covenant which state that the Lord will be our God and the God of our children after us. We also know however that throughout scripture these covenant promises are joined together with the Lord’s commandments and exhortations to parents. When God spoke of His covenant purposes to Abraham He said concerning Abraham, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him” (Genesis 18:19). Never is the Almighty Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth dependent upon man for the realization of His covenant purposes. Yet He is pleased to use man and to give to man a calling and responsibility before Him in all things. We reject entirely the notion that God saves children of believers simply by virtue of the fact that they have Christian parents without regard to whether or not those parents teach and instruct and nurture those children in the fear of the Lord. We reject every notion of presupposed regeneration that assumes that every child born to covenant parents will be included in the kingdom of God even though they grow up to be ungodly. Parents who are not faithful in this very serious calling to raise their children in the fear of the Lord, and parents whose great concern for their children is only that they grow up to be rich and famous in the world for the pride of their parents, can expect only to reap the wrath and judgment of God and the bitter consequences of children that grow up to be rebellious, worldly, and ungodly.

As Reformed Christians we are also deeply aware of the fact that our children are conceived and born in sin. They are born with totally depraved natures. This has tremendous implications for their training and nurture. We do not therefore approach the matter of the training of our children with the foolish notion that they are basically good in themselves and we need only to let them develop on their own with minimal parental interference but only to guide them a little and to guard them a little from the evil influences of the world.

Our only hope in the nurture of our children is the grace and Spirit of God. Our children too must be regenerated by the Spirit of God. This is not something they inherit from their parents. We must earnestly pray for them. They need to be admonished and rebuked in their sin and called to repentance. Our children need to be nurtured in faith and godliness and in doing this we can only depend upon the grace and Spirit of God working in their hearts and lives.

As Christian parents we understand that our children were born as personal, moral, rational, and responsible creatures with a soul as well as a body. ‘They cannot therefore be trained with regard only to their physical and psychological well-being and without regard for their spiritual nature and responsibility. We believe that our children stand in a spiritual relationship with the Lord their God. They need to be taught to know and acknowledge Him in all their life. They need to be taught to love Him with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind and their neighbor as themselves. They need to be taught that there is a spiritual dimension to all of life and that in all of life they must serve and obey the Lord their God and bring glory to His name. Training our children is therefore not merely a matter of outward behavior, as the behaviorist imagines. It involves much more than applying a system of rewards and punishments to get certain response or action. Our children are so much more than animals because they were created with a personal spirit with a spiritual nature and calling in life.

The nurture of our children is therefore a truly tremendous task. It is a task that has many dimensions to it. We can only in this article suggest some of the main principles. The Word of God tells us that we must instruct our children in the truth of God. We must do this both formally and informally. We must instruct our children objectively about God, about His sovereignty, His greatness, His holiness and righteousness, His love and mercy. We must tell our children about the great and wonderful salvation of our God through His Son Jesus Christ. We must instruct our children about the great truth of God that this world and all that is in it is the Lord’s, and we must tell them about the calling and responsibility of every man and woman in this world. We must tell our children about sin, what it is, how awful it is in the presence of the holy God, the need of repenting from sin and confessing that sin before the Lord. We must tell them about the only way of salvation from the judgment and condemnation that our sin deserves in the Lord Jesus Christ. We must teach our children the holy law of God and the great importance of keeping this law in all our life. All of this is recorded in the Word of God, the Bible. We need to teach our children about the absolute infallibility and authority of the Word of God in our life. We must teach them that the Word of God is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (II Timothy 3:16, 17).

We must teach our children this formally in our homes. There must be a system of instruction from the Word of God in our homes. It is true that the church and the Christian school gives us tremendous help in doing this. But this does not absolve parents from their responsibility. We must have regular times of Bible reading and instruction from the Word of God in our homes. It is tragic that this is being crowded out in many Christian homes by the busyness of secular life. We must have regular times of family devotions. Not only must the Word of God be read, it must also be regularly explained and applied to the lives of our children. We may not as parents simply assume that as long as we read the Word of God in our homes our children will somehow of themselves understand that Word of God and of themselves apply it to their lives. For some Christian families the Word of God remains very abstract, and it is not truly lived in the experience and day-to-day happenings in the home because parents do not take time to explain and to apply the Word of God to the real-life situation of the home.

Much of this instruction is done informally in the home. It is done informally in the very situation and time when it is applicable. This is certainly the meaning of the beautiful passage in Deuteronomy that speaks of the instruction of children in the homes of God’s children. “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 risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). We need to stop our work at opportune times in the home to give relevant spiritual teaching to our children. We need to interpret events and happenings of the day in the light of the Word of God for them. That is often far more effective than sitting down for a long session of instruction with our children. The spiritual application and perspective of our life must flow forth naturally in our conversation with and our instruction of our children as we meet with various circumstances, trials and afflictions, joys and sorrows. This is one of the great reasons why mother must be home all day with the children. Mother must live with her children and constantly be guiding and instructing them according to the Word of God, as they play and work together and as they interact with one another. This kind of instruction cannot be given in abstraction from the situation of life that gave opportunity for it, some time after work when mother comes home all exhausted and worn out.

The nurturing of our children involves much more than merely objectively teaching them the truth of the Word of God. We must train them actually to live the Christian life. We must show them what it means to love the Lord and keep His commandments. We must admonish them, exhort them, rebuke them, encourage them to live as Christians, we must compel them, motivate them, urge them on. We must foster in them a proper spiritual attitude concerning themselves. We must encourage them when they are discouraged and help them through periods of depression and sorrow. We must teach them to live as mature responsible Christians on their own, build them up in such a way that they are able to make moral judgments and discernments on their own. We must warn them of the serious consequences of sin and teach them to fear the holy and righteous God in the way of obedience before Him. We must communicate to them the hope and joy and assurance of the Christian life. Much of this training we must do by giving them a godly example to follow. If we as parents walk in sin ourselves we can only expect that our children will follow us. Usually children will develop further in the sins of their father and mother. Children need to see in us a pattern of godliness and spirituality. If we are materialistic and worldly in our home and in our life in general we can expect our children to grow up to be worse. Children have the ability to pick up the attitude and spirit that we display in our life. Do our children see us sorrowful over our own personal sins and humbly confessing and repenting before the Lord? We cannot teach them to do this if we do not do this before them in a practical and spiritual way. Do our children see us as proud and arrogant and uncaring and unloving? They will probably grow up to be worse. Do our children see love and respect between father and mother and each faithfully striving to fulfill his role in the home? This is the example they need to follow. How do our children see their parents reacting to various events and circumstances in life? What do we do when we become sick? Do we become depressed and complain and murmur against the Lord or do we show our children by example to trust in the Lord and how to bear adversity? How do we react to crisis in the home? When we are afraid do we turn to the Lord, cry out to Him in prayer and find our refuge in Him? What are the things that really bring us joy and satisfaction? Are they merely material things or are they the things of the Lord? What attitude do we reflect concerning the church of God? Do we love His church and is our whole life centered in it? Do we love God’s people, often seek their fellowship, and when we speak of them do we speak the truth in love or do we gossip, slander, and backbite? Our children will learn from all these things. If we are hypocrites our children will see it, because they see our life as it really is in the home.

A very important part of the nurturing of our children is discipline. We must be faithful to discipline our children. We must not follow the evil and foolish permissiveness of the world. Solomon in the book of Proverbs repeatedly exhorts parents to discipline their children. “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him” (Proverbs 13:24, 22:15). Discipline must be administered in love and for the purpose of correction. It is not to be administered in exasperation and anger because a child has offended us or because he has caused shame to us. Discipline must be administered in such a way that it teaches our children the seriousness of sin and the fear of the Lord. Discipline must be administered justly and according to the Word of God not in such a way that we break the spirit of our children and cause them to become bitter towards us and discouraged about living the Christian life. Discipline must give to our children order and structure in their life which by the grace of God they learn to abide by. This will be for their good and salvation. An undisciplined child will cause chaos in the home, and bring grief and despair to his parents, but it will also make the child himself miserable and wretched. Children need discipline to drive away sin and bring them to spiritual maturity.

Who is sufficient unto all of these things? How much we need the grace of God to help us. Nurturing children takes a tremendous amount of patience and perseverance. We are sinful ourselves. Our children are sinful. Very often we must wrestle both with our own sins and weaknesses and those of our children. We must not despair, however, nor must we become bitter against our children and forsake them or cast them away. We must trust in the promises of God and we must continue in faith and prayer with all perseverance. Our great purpose must be to raise our children for the glory of God and not merely for our own glory. The purposes of the Lord will not fail. He is faithful to His promises for the glory of His own name.