God has entrusted to fathers a most solemn and yet a most precious privilege. It is not too much to say that in their hands are deposited the hope and blessing – or else the curse and plague – of the next generation. Their families are the nurseries of both the Church and the State; and according to the cultivating of them now, such will be their fruitfulness hereafter. How prayerfully and carefully should they discharge their trust! Most assuredly, God will require an account of the children from the father’s hands; for they are His, and they are only lent to their care and keeping. The task assigned to you, fathers, is no easy one – especially in these superlatively evil days. Nevertheless, if trustfully and earnestly sought, the grace of God will be found sufficient here as elsewhere. The Scriptures supply us with rules to go by, with promises to lay hold of, and – we may add – with fearful warnings lest we treat the matter lightly.
Instruct your children
We only have space to mention four of the principal duties delegated to fathers. First, to instruct their children. “And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart, and you shall teach them diligently unto your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deut. 6:6, 7). This work is far too important to allocate unto others. Parents, and not Sunday School teachers, are Divinely required to educate their little ones. Nor is this to be an occasional or sporadic thing, but one that is to have constant attention. The glorious character of God, the requirements of His holy law, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the wondrous gift of His Son, and the fearful doom which is the certain portion of all who despise and reject Him – all these are to be brought repeatedly before the minds of the little ones. “They are too young to understand such things” is the devil’s argument to deter you from discharging your duty.
“And you fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). It is to be noted that the “fathers” are here specifically addressed, and this for two reasons: because they are the head of the family, and its government is especially committed to them; and because they are prone to transfer this duty unto their wives. This instruction is to be given to the children by reading to them the Holy Scriptures and expounding upon those things that are suitable for their age. This should be followed by catechizing them. A continued discourse to the young is not nearly so effective as when it is diversified by questions and answers. If they know they will be questioned on what you read, they will listen more closely; the formulating of answers teaches them to think for themselves. Such a method is also found to make the memory more retentive, for answering definite questions fixes more specific ideas in the mind. Observe how often Christ asked His disciples questions.
Be a good example
Second, good instructions are to be accompanied by good example. Teaching which issues only from the lips is not at all likely to sink any deeper than the ears. Children are particularly quick to detect inconsistencies and despise hypocrisy. It is at this point that parents, and especially fathers, need to be most on their faces before God – daily seeking from Him that grace which they so severely need and which He alone can supply. What care they need to take lest they say or do anything before their children which would tend to corrupt their minds or be of evil consequence for them to follow! How they need to be constantly on their guard against anything which might render them contemptible in the eyes of those who should respect and revere them! The father is not only to instruct his children in the ways of holiness; but he himself is also to walk before them in those ways, and show by his practice and demeanor what a pleasant and profitable thing it is to be regulated by the Divine law.
In a Christian home, the supreme aim should be household piety – the honoring of God at all times. Everything else should be subordinated to that goal. In the matter of family life, neither husband nor wife can throw on the other all the responsibility for the religious character of the home. The mother is most certainly required to supplement the efforts of the father, for the children often enjoy far more of her company than they do of his. If there is a tendency in fathers to be too strict and severe, mothers are prone to be too lax and lenient; and they need to be much on their guard against anything which would weaken their husbands’ authority. For example, when he has forbidden a thing, she must not give her consent to it. It is striking to note that the exhortation of Ephesians 6:4 is preceded by the words, “be filled with the Spirit” (5:18); while the parallel exhortation in Colossians 3:21 is preceded by the exhortation to “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly” (verse 16). This shows that parents cannot possibly discharge their duties unless they are filled with the Spirit and the Word.
Discipline your children
Third, instruction and example are to be enforced by correction and discipline. This means, first of all, the exercise of authority – the proper reign of law. Of the father of the faithful ones, God said, “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 has spoken of him” (Gen. 18:19). Ponder this carefully, Christian fathers. Abraham did more than offer good advice; he also enforced law and order in his household. The rules he administered were put in place so that those in his home would keep the “way of the Lord,” and do what was right in His sight. And this duty was performed by the patriarch in order that the blessing of God might rest on his family. No family can be properly brought up without household laws, which include reward and punishment; and these are especially important in early childhood, when moral character is yet unformed and moral motives are not understood or appreciated.
Rules should be simple, clear, reasonable, and flexible – just like the Ten Commandments, which are a few great moral rules, instead of a multitude of petty restrictions. One way of needlessly provoking children to wrath is to hamper them with a thousand trifling restrictions and minute regulations that are arbitrary, due to a parent who is a perfectionist. It is of vital importance for the child’s future good that he or she should be brought into subjection at an early age, for an untrained child means a lawless adult; our prisons are crowded with those who were allowed to have their own way during their youth. The least offense of a child against the rulers of the home ought not to pass without due correction; for if it finds leniency in one direction toward one offense, it will expect the same towards others – and then disobedience will become more frequent until the parent has no control except that of brute force.
The teaching of Scripture is crystal clear on this point. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of the child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him” (Prov. 22:15; 23:13, 14). Therefore, God has said, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him chastens him betimes” (Prov. 13:24). And again, “Chasten your son while there is yet hope, and let not your soul spare for his crying” (Prov. 19:18). Let not a foolish fondness stop you; certainly God loves His children with a deeper parental affection than you can love yours, and yet He tells us, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten” (Rev. 3:19; Heb. 12:6). “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings his mother to shame” (Prov. 29:15). Such severity must be used in their early years, before age and obstinacy have hardened the child against the fear and sting of correction. Spare the rod, and you spoil the child. If you don’t use the rod on him, you lay up one for your own back.
It should hardly need pointing out that the above Scriptures are far from inculcating that a reign of terror is to mark the home life. Children can be governed and punished in such a way so that they do not lose their respect and affections toward their parents. Beware of souring their temper by unreasonable demands, or provoking their wrath by smiting them to vent your own rage. The parent is to punish a disobedient child not because he is angry, but because he is right – because God requires it, and the well-being of the child demands it. Never make a threat which you have no intention of executing, nor a promise which you do not mean to perform. Remember that for your children to be well-informed is good, but for them to be well-controlled is better.
Pay close attention to the unconscious influences of a child’s surroundings. Study to make the home attractive – not by producing carnal and worldly things; but by noble ideals, by inculcating a spirit of unselfishness, and by gracious and happy fellowship. Separate the little ones from evil associates. Watch carefully the magazines and books which come into the home, the occasional guest who sits at the table, and the friendships your children form. Too often, parents carelessly let people have free access to their children who undermine their authority, overturn their ideals, and sow seeds of frivolity and iniquity before they are even aware of it. Never let your child spend a night among strangers. Train your girls to be useful and helpful members of their generation, and your boys to be industrious and self-supporting.
Pray for your children
Fourthly, the last and most important duty, respecting both the temporal and the spiritual good of your children, is fervent supplication to God for them. Without this, all the rest will be ineffectual. Means are unavailing unless the Lord blesses them. The Throne of Grace is to be earnestly implored that your efforts to bring up your children for God may be crowned with success. True, there must be a humble submission to His sovereign will, and a bowing before the truth of Election. On the other hand, it is the privilege of faith to lay hold of the Divine promises and to remember that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. Of holy Job, it is recorded concerning his sons and daughters that he “rose up early in the morning and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all” (Job 1:5). A prayerful atmosphere should pervade the home and be breathed by all who share it.
– adapted from the writings of Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952)
May the Lord give you His grace, fathers, to lead and guide your family in the ways of the Lord Jesus, so that they may be found by your side in the heavenly Kingdom.
All for our King’s glory,