“Train up a child in the way he should go. and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
Another season of instruction has again begun. Our covenant children are again receiving instruction in our Christian schools. Soon they will also be receivmg catechetical instruction. How wonderful it is that we may be busy in this tremendously important covenant task!
“Train up a child in the way he should go.” This is the Lord’s command. We do not decide whether or not, the child should receive this covenant instruction. Our only calling is to obey this divine injunction.
This task is difficult, first of all, because of the child—he is an imperfect saint. This child is a saint. Now we do well to note that he (or she) is not an unwritten piece of paper upon which we can write as and what we please. Although, of course, we must instruct all our children, yet they do not all respond the same way, and there is nothing we can do about this. God alone determines their response. Neither is the child merely a member of the human race; a prospective member of the human society, a future American citizen. This is the purpose and view of the public school. And it is also true that this child is not to be. viewed as a prospective child of God, who, as yet unconverted, must be trained to become a Christian.
This child is a saint. Of course, this does not mean that all our children are saints. But it does mean that God’s children are among our children. Indeed, although all is not Israel that is called Israel, we must instruct all our children. Also carnal Israel will be affected by this instruction. However, the positive purpose of our covenant instruction must center in this elect child of God, that, according to II Tim. 3:17, the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.
That this child is a saint is of tremendous importance. How discouraging our efforts can be at times! All our efforts and training seem to be in vain. The fruit is so meager. How wonderful, therefore, it is to know from the Word of God that this child of our text is a saint, that our instruction will therefore not be in vain.
However, this child is an imperfect saint. This must not surprise us; in fact, we must reckon with it. He is regenerated, but only in principle; he has only a small beginning of the new life. He can be so slow to hear; he can be so contrary, so inclined to disobey and rebel; and as a teenager he can be so conceited. He is attracted by the things of this world; he enjoys radio and television; he can be so reluctant to be busy in the things of God’s covenant. He mumbles and grumbles when told to prepare for school and catechism; he has snacks between meals and does not care to eat at mealtime; he considers his parents old-fashioned, relics of the “horse and buggy days;” he does not like the curfew. Indeed, how difficult it is to instruct the child! But this is not all.
The parent, too, is an imperfect saint. Indeed, he, too, is a saint. We refer, of course, to the God-fearing parent. But he is an imperfect saint. He is also inclined to provoke his children to wrath. They get so quickly under his skin and into his hair. The child will come to his parent and ask him to read to him, but the parent is watching television and does not like to be disturbed. As parents we can be so unnecessarily demanding and extreme in our demands; we can be so unduly severe, rave at the child, understanding so little that we must rule, not for our own sake but for God’s sake. We can make our children so bitter, so uncomfortable, and arouse within them their evil and carnal passions; we can threaten them so unrealistically and for the smallest thing.
Or, we will go to the other extreme, and defend our children. We do not mind hearing evil of the children of others; in fact, we even enjoy that. But we do not like to hear it of our own. And then we can do such foolish things; we will listen to what our children have to say about their teachers, and we will actually believe them! This is really so very, very bad. We listen to and believe these little gossipers. When has a God-fearing teacher ever had any difficulty with a God-fearing child who walks in the way of obedience? And in this vein we could continue.
This, that the parent is an imperfect saint, also makes the task of the training of the child extremely difficult. We must struggle, not only with very imperfect children, but also with our own very imperfect selves. Training the child, we must train ourselves also. And we do well to remember: if our children are little sinners, we are big sinners! There is so much in us that we must oppose; how difficult it is to continue our interest in the things of God and of His covenant! And then, sinners as we are, we must oppose and fight the sins of our children: Indeed, tremendously difficult is the calling to train up a child.
How wonderful it is to be busy in the covenant instruction of our children! Today we hear much of “Woman’s Lib.” Women desire equality with men, seek to be free. They speak of the drudgery of the home. . . . They think it more wonderful to be up and doing, to be getting into politics, and even to be considered for officebearer in the church of God. They do not understand how wonderful is this, covenant calling to train up a child. How carnal, how devoid of spiritual insight, how spiritually insensitive are all these worldly movements that seek for freedom. How sensitive we should be to the wonderfulness of our high calling, how mindful of the fact that the time is short; indeed, let us labor while it is day before the night cometh wherein no man can work.
The word, “train up,” means literally: to put something into the mouth, as with a spoon. The word is undoubtedly derived from natural life when food is put into the mouth of an infant. Children must be instructed, fed. And this applies to a person as long as he or she is in the age of instruction, whether he be an infant or child or an adolescent.
The text reads literally: Feed or instruct the child according to his way. Some have interpreted this scripture to mean: train up a child according to his receptivity, talent, character, etc. This gives good sense. “Way,” then, is understood as character, habit, disposition, aptitude, as, e.g., his way of doing things. Besides, this is surely our calling. What differences there are between children! We cannot discuss this now in detail. What a difference between an infant, a child, a teenager, a young person between the ages of twelve and twenty. Then, there are differences in character, in the ability to learn, etc. Some children are more backward than others. Others, e.g., are stubborn. And, of course, we must surely figure with this. All children cannot be treated alike. So, we must surely train up a child according to his receptivity. This, however, cannot be the meaning of this scripture. We read: when he is old, he will not depart from it. It is plain that the inspired writer means that the child will not depart from the way in which he was instructed to walk.
What is our way? We are all creatures of time. Irresistibly we move forward, constantly, to a definite goal, and always in an ethical, spiritual direction. My way is my conduct, my life’s manifestation, as including all my thinking and willing and desiring, and this as in the midst of the world. My “way,” therefore, refers to my covenant calling. It implies, first of all, the service of the living God, to love Him with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. Always we must love Him and seek Him in all that we do and with all that we possess. And, this walk must be antithetical. We must not mix our walk with any “common grace.” Christ and Belial, God and Mammon, light and darkness do not mix. At all times we must walk distinctively, antithetically. The godly and the ungodly, the righteous and the unrighteous have everything in common naturally, but they have nothing in common spiritually. We must, therefore, shine as lights in the darkness, always reveal that we have a different birth, possess a different life, seek an altogether different goal. We must walk as citizens of the new and heavenly Jerusalem, but this also means that we are called to conduct ourselves as strangers and pilgrims in the earth.
This must determine our instruction. In all our instruction, also in the school, all the branches of learning must lead to God. And in all instruction the child must always be directed to his way, his calling to serve the Lord his God antithetically in the midst of the world. This is our calling. All our instruction as in the home, school, and church must be one. But we do well to bear in mind that the home is basic. How ineffective will be all instruction if the home fails to cooperate!
“And when he is old, he will not depart from it.” This is also true, negatively, if we fail. If we fail to instruct our children properly, feed them stones for bread, the lie for the truth, also then he will not depart from it. Yes, God can save our children also then, and in spite of our terrible negligence, and as according to election. But then the child is saved, corrected, in spite of our woeful failures. And the God-fearing child will understand this, recognize the failure of his parents and remind them of it. And if as parents we repent, it will mean for us sorrow and anguish of heart. And if as parents we repent and see our error, and the children continue in the way we had led them, that will torment and plague us day after day after day.
This scripture, we understand, refers to the God-fearing child of God-fearing parents. What a beautiful picture we have here! A child has become old. He may forget the things of his present time, cannot remember from one day to another, but he does not forget what he has learned in his youth. This is also, and emphatically, spiritually true! Why is this? God has given His promise upon the covenant instruction of the child by God-fearing parents. Indeed, not all our children will walk in this way. The children of God, however, will never depart from it. As parents, we must train up the child. And what shall we say as parents? Shall we be alarmed when we become old, must depart from the scene, and wonder about our children? Fear not! The Lord declares to us: when they are old, they will never depart from it.
The promises of God are sure and will never fail.
May we be faithful in our covenant calling.
Train up the child in the way he must go.
The Lord will ever preserve His covenant.