The heart of all true religion is the doctrine of the covenant. As the physical heart circulates life-giving blood throughout the body, so covenant communion with God excites us unto a godly walk of faith. The more we meditate upon God’s covenant, the more we are spiritually enriched in our religious life.
By religion we refer to the ability to practice the proper response of faith in our daily life. As we know, we are called by God to express our faith. We do this in many ways. On the first day of the week we arise with one thought in mind; we are to gather together publicly in the house of God to worship Him. The Lord’s Day is a special day in which we are busy, laboring to enter into the rest of our Lord Jesus Christ. Religion deals with the expression of this worship. It is more than this, daily we are to labor to enter into this rest. Monday and the rest of the week is a time to practice religion. Our time, our talents, our home and family, our working hours, our leisure time, all belong to our God to be used by us in His service. We are to live in the midst of the world, but not to be friends of this world. We are to be good workers and conscientious about our responsibilities. We are to use everything in the service of our Lord. This is religion.
The training of our covenant children falls into this category as well. We do well to ask ourselves, how does the doctrine of the covenant influence the training of our children?
Since God’s covenant relationship with us is that of friendship, (e.g., Enoch and Noah walked with God,Genesis 5:22, 6:9, Abraham was called the friend of God,James 2:23), this covenant friendship touches our family life. Our relationship with God is that of the family: God is our Father and we are His children. This fatherhood of God is not rooted in our being created by Him, for sin interrupted that relationship and by nature we are of our father the devil (John 8:44). Rather, it is rooted in our Lord Jesus Christ Who is our Eldest Brother. To Christ, God said, “I will be to Him a Father and He shall be to Me a Son” (Heb. 1:5). In Christ we are now the children of God. We say with Isaiah, “But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father; we are the clay and Thou our potter: and we all are the work of Thy hand” (Isaiah 64:8). We are the children of God by the adoption of grace, “For we have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but we have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). This adoption is both legal, in that Christ satisfied the demands of the law for righteousness, and spiritual, in that Christ works by His Spirit in our hearts to give us the awareness and joy of this family life (Galatians 4:4-6).
This has direct bearing upon the training of our children. If we ask the question, how should we train our covenant children, the answer is that we look to our Heavenly Father to determine how He trains us. We still have our sinful nature that must be overcome by the wonder-working grace brought by the Holy Spirit. We receive this training as children of, God and learn from it. It in turn governs the training of our children.
Let’s consider a few points of comparison in this connection.
First, we can point out that God teaches us in the way we should go. According to II Samuel 22:31, “As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is tried: He is a buckler to all them that trust in Him.” We do not know this perfect way by ourselves, God tells us of this way. In the past He used many ways to do this. We recall the direct conversation God had with the patriarchs. He spoke to them by means of angels, dreams, prophets, and other ways. The message was always the same, “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go; I will guide thee with mine eyes. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding; whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee” (Psalm 32:8, 9). Since God’s method of training includes teaching, we must do likewise with our children. “Therefore shall ye lay up these My words in your heart and in your soul and bind them for a sign upon thy hand, that they may be frontlets between your eyes, and ye shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house and upon thy gates” (Deut. 11:18-20). This teaching includes the knowledge of both doctrine and Christian life. In the context of Genesis 18:19, the angel decided to tell Abraham about the destruction of Sodom, “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.” If we are to be faithful in covenantal training, we must unfold before our children the knowledge of the antithesis, God blesses His people with peace, and curses the wicked with judgment.
Secondly, God does more than teach us; He also restrains us. Sarah acknowledged this when she confessed to her husband Abraham, “Behold now; the Lord hath restrained me from bearing” (Gen. 16:2). Why did God do this? Why did He wait until they were both sexually dead, before He fulfilled the promise of Isaac? He put them in such restricted and narrow straits that they might learn that the covenant would be realized in none other way than in His power, and goodness. God uses many such restraints. David acknowledged, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now have I kept Thy Word” (Psalm 119:67). Training children must include such restraints. The life of Eli illustrates its lack. Yes, Eli taught his sons, but he didn’t train them properly. According to I Samuel 2:23, 24 he even admonished them and told them they were wrong; but God said, “For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not” (I Sam. 3:13). We do not train our children simply by teaching them. We must restrain them. Our children must be limited in their activity. They may not do whatever they please; their evil nature must be tied down as the newly planted sapling. The restraints of God’s Word must be placed upon them. They must be forbidden sinful acts and told why they are wrong.
The third comparison is the use of discipline. The Word of God labels this “chastisement.” Recall with me those precious words of Hebrews 12:6-8, “For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. . . . If ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons.” Such discipline comes in many ways. In the Old Testament, God used the heathen nations to chastise Israel. Many times the Lord sends afflictions to bring us to the knowledge of our sins and spiritual dependence. James tells us that the “trying of our faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing'” (James 1:3, 4). Peter speaks of our faith being tried as silver (I Peter 1:7). This must also be done by us in the training of our children. When they do wrong, they must see and feel in us the wrath of God against sin. Hence the Bible emphasizes the use of the rod, “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him” (Prov. 22:15). Similarly, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes” (Prov. 13:24). Solomon adds, “The rod and reproof give wisdom; but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Prov. 29:15). Notice carefully, “the rod and reproof.” We may not beat our children and not explain why; that kind of treatment is forbidden. “Fathers provoke not your children to wrath” (Eph. 6:4).
In the fifth place, training must include encouragement. Our Heavenly Father comes to us so often and brings a word of encouragement. Many times we feel beaten, unworthy, unable to go on in the high calling of keeping covenant with our God. His encouragement is this: He assures us He is our God and loves us, He will never fail, “Underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:26, 27). So we must train our children. Yes, as parents we must encourage them with the certainty that we, too, will be there at their side in any circumstance. We must take a bruised and beaten child on our lap and comfort him. We must also take our teenaged children and hear them out and assure them that we love them and will guide them through the perplexing years of growing up.
The sixth comparison is exercise: we must practice doing what God wants us to do. The fledgling bird is nudged out of the nest so he can learn to fly and fend for himself. So God calls us to such spiritual exercise: “exercise thyself rather unto godliness” (I Tim. 4:7). God calls us to walk by faith, to live out that Christian calling in all areas of our life. The more we do this the more our spiritual muscles develop, our heart gets stronger, our life more meaningful. As parents we must encourage our children to develop by doing the will of God. Life itself is the gymnasium within which we develop and grow in faith. We must be good examples of godliness unto our children. Our home, school, church, business contacts, recreation, even unbelieving neighbors all present opportunities for us to show to our children how to walk in godliness in the midst of the world. This will give to them direction. From childhood on they will know how to express their faith, how to conduct themselves on the Lord’s Day, how to deal with unbelievers who invite them to join with them in their evil ways. We and our children will know what Moses was talking about when he, “chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Heb. 11:25).
Finally, all this training must be done in love. Our Covenant Father teaches, restrains, disciplines, encourages, and calls us to exercise our faith in deepest love. That love is rooted in the giving of His own Son for our adoption. Our Father did more than act in love; He also constantly assures us of His love by telling us in His Word and by the preaching of the gospel. We must do no less with our children. We must act in love and govern all our dealings with them in love for them. We must also tell them of our love for them. Little wonder that a child who has seen the wrath of God manifest in a severe spanking might conclude that father or mother doesn’t love him. We must assure our children that whether we teach them, restrain them, discipline them, encourage them, or lead them in exercising their faith, it is in love. Our love is directed toward them not only, but our love is deeply rooted in God’s love. We love each other for God’s sake.
Such training has the divine guarantee, “when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).