A picture of domestic tranquility
The psalmist declares: “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate” ().
In understanding that children are the heritage of the Lord, we are here reminded that our children are not our property. We are ever to remember that they belong to God. Yet like arrows, they need clear direction. What a woe can occur when an arrow does not have proper aim! So it is indeed our solemn responsibility to direct our children in the way of God.
Another blessing is also pronounced by the psalmist: “Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways. . . . Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table” (). Thankful should be the man whose wife delights to cling to him as a tender vine. Such a sign of love it is that he, in the fear and grace of the Lord, has been able to earn her trust to such an extent! Yet their children are not here depicted as vines; they are gathered together as separate little plants in their own right, with hope and a future distinctly their own. How significant that they are “olive” plants, bearing within them the sap of the olive tree symbolic of the Holy Spirit ( ), made possible through the prayers and dedicated efforts of these consecrated parents.
Where are we now in history?
The above scene is beautiful indeed, yet unfortunately it is too rarely found nowadays. We have to face squarely the current reality existing in much of modern society today:
“There is a generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother. There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness. There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! and their eyelids are lifted up. There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men. The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give” ().
Nonetheless, by God’s grace, even in the face of all this turmoil, there is yet a wonderful message of hope to be given:
“The prophet Malachi declares: ‘Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers’ (1). Here the prophet describes the character of the work. Those who are to prepare the way for the second coming of Christ are represented by faithful Elijah, as John came in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way for Christ’s first advent. The great subject of reform is to be agitated, and the public mind is to be stirred.”
Yes, in the book of Malachi we find a well-known prophecy, a noble endeavor. How many today have longed to see noble, obedient children in a generation sadly characterized by an era when “in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” ()!
It seems impossible. How can this ever come to pass?
Living by the “Golden Rule”
Most of us would agree that household rules are absolutely essential in the effective governing of a happy, peaceful home environment. Yet perhaps the most important “rule” of authority that parents should continually exercise in behalf of the younger ones entrusted to their special care is the famous “Golden Rule.” The Lord gives a timeless injunction, recorded more than once in Scripture: “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (). “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” ( ).
There are many wrecks of humanity in this sad world, many frustrated souls who suffer keen obstacles in their adult life, so often due to a lack of diligent training from their youth. Perhaps they were allowed to do as they pleased as children—and inevitably they later have to face a rude awakening in adulthood when they realize that the rest of the world does not bow and cater to their whims.
Why does this happen?
“Some children, as they grow older, think it a matter of course that they must have their own way, and that their parents must submit to their wishes. They expect their parents to wait upon them. They are impatient of restraint, and when old enough to be a help to their parents, they do not bear the burdens they should. They have been released from responsibilities and grow up worthless at home and worthless abroad. They have no power or endurance. The parents have borne the burden and have suffered them to grow up in idleness, without habits of order, industry, or economy. They have not been taught habits of self-denial but have been petted and indulged, their appetites gratified, and they come up with enfeebled health. Their manners and deportment are not agreeable. They are unhappy themselves and make those around them unhappy. And while the children are but children still, while they need to be disciplined, they are allowed to go out in company and mingle with the society of the young, and one has a corrupting influence over another.
“The curse of God will surely rest upon unfaithful parents. Not only are they planting thorns which will wound them here, but they must meet their own unfaithfulness when the judgment shall sit. Many children will rise up in judgment and condemn their parents for not restraining them, and charge upon them their destruction. The false sympathy and blind love of parents causes them to excuse the faults of their children and pass them by without correction, and their children are lost in consequence, and the blood of their souls will rest upon the unfaithful parents.
“Children who are thus brought up undisciplined have everything to learn when they profess to be Christ’s followers. Their whole religious experience is affected by their bringing up in childhood. The same self-will often appears; there is the same lack of self-denial, the same impatience under reproof, the same love of self and unwillingness to seek counsel of others, or to be influenced by others’ judgment, the same indolence, shunning of burdens, lack of bearing responsibilities. All this is seen in their relation to the church. It is possible for such to overcome; but how hard the battle! how severe the conflict! How hard to pass through the course of thorough discipline which is necessary for them to reach the elevation of Christian character! Yet if they overcome at last, they will be permitted to see, before they are translated, how near the precipice of eternal destruction they came, because of the lack of right training in youth, the failure to learn submission in childhood.”2
So, we see here the bitter consequences of failing to learn submission in the childhood years. Yet we as parents should ask ourselves: Is the necessary training of our children to be carried out by harsh, abrupt measures? The answer is found in the Golden Rule: If you were the little child being trained, what would you prefer? You would probably long for a perfectly blended balance of justice and mercy:
Solemn, reasonable justice to prepare you to stand accountable, cultivating mature self-control to be able to exercise righteous virtue in all aspects of life.
You would also want this training to be coupled with tender, reasonable mercy so that you could delightfully blossom and flourish as a product of love—an unselfish individual responding to the vibrant, caretaking love of devoted parents. Such a beautiful relationship aptly reflects those radiant beams emanating from our own heavenly Father: “We love him, because he first loved us” ().
The secret of success
My father once explained to me a vital 3-step process in child training. It consists of a simple, yet profound recipe:
• Kind words.
• Loving looks.
• Gentle touch.
The words are always kind because they are carefully chosen and seasoned with salt () to minister grace unto the hearers. The looks and facial expressions convey love because our own gratitude to God for our children is always an intrinsic part of the family bond. The touch may vary in degrees of gentleness, but it, too, ever abounds with that same precious element of endearing, self-sacrificing love.
Remembering that we, too, were once children, parents should understand that children do not respond favorably when provoked to anger because it discourages them (). Whatever we express to them must be done in love, and our words are to be consistently upheld by action because children, too, have their own responsibility: They are also solemnly enjoined to obey their parents “in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (verse 20). Why not make it easier, more credible, and more pleasant for them to be in a position to render obedience cheerfully?
Start the process early:
“The mother should not allow her child to gain an advantage over her in a single instance; and, in order to maintain this authority, it is not necessary to resort to harsh measures; a firm, steady hand and a kindness which convinces the child of your love will accomplish the purpose. But let selfishness, anger, and self-will have their course for the first three years of a child’s life, and it will be hard to bring it to submit to wholesome discipline. Its disposition has become soured; it delights in having its own way; parental control is distasteful. These evil tendencies grow with its growth, until, in manhood, supreme selfishness and a lack of self-control place him at the mercy of the evils that run riot in our land.
“Never should [the children] be allowed to show their parents disrespect. Self-will should never be permitted to go unrebuked. The future well-being of the child requires kindly, loving, but firm discipline.”3
To make this happen, we’ve got to keep in mind that the required “obedience is not to be obtained by scolding and threats. Many parents have yet to learn that no good is accomplished by outbursts of scolding. Many do not consider the need of speaking kindly to the children. They do not remember that these little ones are bought with a price and are the purchased possession of the Lord Jesus.”4
“It is not right for parents to pet and humor their children; neither is it right for them to abuse them. A firm, decided straightforward course of action will be productive of the best results.”5
“As I have called mothers’ attention to the wrong habits they were encouraging in their little ones, some have listened indifferently, while others have said, with a smile, ‘I cannot bear to cross my children. They will do better as they grow older. They will then be ashamed of these passionate outbursts. It is not well to be too strict with little ones. They will outgrow the inclination to tell untruths, to meddle, to be indolent and selfish.’
“A very easy way truly to dispose of the matter, but a way that is not in harmony with the will of God. If a field is left uncultivated, a crop of weeds is sure to appear. So it is with children. If the soil of the heart is uncultivated, Satan sows his seeds of anger and hatred, selfishness and pride, and they quickly spring up, to bear a harvest that parents reap with bitter regret. Too late they see their terrible mistake. The wrong they have done can never be wholly undone. Even if the child, by patient, untiring care, is at last won to the Saviour, his character will always bear the marks of Satan’s seed-sowing.
“Children left to themselves grow up selfish, exacting, unlovable. Unable to enjoy their own society or the society of others, their lives are filled with discontent.”6
How soon can healthy discipline start—and how is it fostered?
The mother can restrain and control her wants during the prenatal phase and hold her own choices subject to the control of reason. Then, after the birth:
“The little ones, before they are a year old, hear and understand what is spoken in reference to themselves, and know to what extent they are to be indulged. Mothers, you should train your children to yield to your wishes. . . .
“The mother’s influence is an unceasing influence; and if it is always on the side of right, her children’s characters will testify to her moral earnestness and worth. Her smile, her encouragement, may be an inspiring force. She may bring sunshine to the heart of her child by a word of love, a smile of approval.”7
How long does discipline last?
“Discipline” comes from the same word as “disciple,” a pupil or apprentice. Christian discipline involves parents apprenticing their children for Christ in preparation for eternity. The Lord is not seeking robots to follow Him blindly, yet neither will spoiled, wayward brats be found corrupting His kingdom. God is preparing a Christlike people to serve Him willingly out of love, not fear—and He is seeking genuine, heartfelt service, not a mere outward show. Purity of heart on the inside is to foster uprightness glowing from within. The Lord’s plan is “that our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace” ().
Example will always speak louder than words. Our youth will imitate more closely who we are and what we do than anything we may profess. So perhaps the greatest influence to improve our child training efforts will be to raise the level of our own consecration to God. Preach the gospel to them at all times and, if necessary, use words.
The Lord bids us, “Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them 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” ().
Thus we are to keep the word of God ever before us as our own path of life and naturally share it with our children as a practical guide in everyday life.
The kindness to be returned
“If every family professing to be the children of God were indeed what they profess to be, what happiness would exist in the home. Christ would be represented in the home life, and parents and children would represent Him in the church.
“God requires children to care for their parents when the parents are unable to care for themselves. There is a record kept in the books of heaven of the crime of neglecting parents. Some children may give their parents a home but withhold love and tenderness and sympathy, and deprive their fathers and mothers of that for which they most long in their old age. While your father and mother live, it should be your constant study to bring cheerfulness and sunshine into their lives. You should smooth their pathway to the grave. This conduct toward parents would recommend you to the world and will recommend you to heaven, as a child that obeys the divine precepts.
“Children should remember that aged parents have but little joy and comfort at best, and they should not through neglect and indifference heap sorrow upon sorrow on their parents’ hearts. That children pursue a heartless course is not only a terrible grief to the aged father and mother, but it brings grief to heaven, for such children are recorded as violators of the commands of God. Those who do not respect and love their parents will never reverence the God of heaven, never be deemed worthy of a place in the new earth.”8
In summary, let us ever keep in mind that “parents are entrusted with the present and eternal interests of their children. They are to hold the reins of government and guide their households to the honor of God. God’s law should be their standard, and love should rule in all things.”9
Yes, the degradation wrought in human families through the curse of sin can yet be wiped away by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross of Calvary. The Lord has a plan for us—a hope and a future, to obtain a wonderful experience attainable through His grace. Our precious children need not fall as a restless prey of the enemy. But the truth is that this work of reformation must start first with us, not with them—and they will likely be drawn to respond in turn. So, let us redeem the time and begin the process anew!
“And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” ().