How very often Scripture comes to us in one form or another with this same injunction!
Besides, you promised it, did you not?
The question was asked each time you presented a child for baptism: “Whether you promise and intend to see these children, when come to the years of discretion, instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed therein, to the utmost of your power?” In the doctrine as such! In the sphere of that doctrine!
You answered before God and His church: “Yes.” How easily and unthinkingly often that answer is given, Nothing to it! Like falling off a log! Yes, Lord, we’ll instruct our children and bring them up in the aforesaid doctrine and help and cause them to be instructed therein to the utmost of our power, that is, with all our might, with all the physical and spiritual and material resources at our command.
Well may we ask as covenant parents: How are we doing? Are we fulfilling our mandate? Has that “aforesaid doctrine” its rightful place in our hearts and souls? Do we love it, cherish it, live it? Are we teaching it to our children – to the utmost of our power? Everywhere? Always? In everything? When we retire for the night dare we tell the Lord: Lord, I did all I possibly could; I could do no more?
Our children must be instructed, educated, trained. In that way they are prepared, in the world and in the church, for things to come. God works in the line of generations, so that one generation is built upon the other, each generation is prepared by the one that goes before.
What is more, our children need Christian instruction. The only real education is that which has the Word of God for its basis and content. After all, it’s the “man of God,” the covenant man, the born again man, that must “be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” II Timothy 3:17.
Even this, however, is not enough. Our children must have Christian education of a very definite kind – Reformed instruction. This can scarcely be overstressed, especially in the light of so much that is only nominally Christian. Our covenant seed cannot thrive on a milk and water diet, on the diluted and contaminated Christianity that is so rampant in the world today. They must be instructed, brought up in the “aforesaid doctrine,” that is, “the doctrine which is contained in the Old and New Testament, and in the articles of the Christian faith, and which is taught here in this Christian Church.”
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“And thou . . . . Unto thy children!”
To all practical intents and purposes “children” here refers to all our children, all in distinction from the elect only. All must be taught the words of the Lord.
We understand, of course, that in last instance only the true seed of the covenant is the object of the instruction given. The positive purpose of all covenant training is that the holy seed, the chosen of God, shall be taught the words of their heavenly Father. Besides, they only can and do receive that instruction spiritually, cherish it and walk, in the ways of Jehovah.
Even so, all our children must receive the same godly training. All are our children; belong to the same historical development of God’s covenant in the world: are born in the sphere of the church; bear the same sign and seal of the covenant. Besides, what truly God-fearing parent can or may give instruction other than that, which trains the child in the way he should go? Then too, the true seed can be reached only by instructing all. Spiritual Israel is trained only in connection with the whole. We can and do not distinguish the elect from the reprobates. Nor is that our business.
Notice, further, that “children” here refers to our covenant seed until it is mature, all in distinction from the younger children only. It includes young people. Our parents should remember that. Don’t be too quick to think that your children are no longer children, that they are full grown and hence no longer in need of parental discipline and guidance. Our young people, too, should remember that. We imagine only too often that when we’ve graduated from school, even grammar school, we’re no longer children! We no longer have to listen to our parents like we did before; we’re big boys and girls now. Believe me, young people, in the Word of God you are children a long time, until you’re really grown up, and that’s not when you are sixteen or seventeen. Believe me, too, when I say in all earnestness, that your age of adolescence is a peculiar and dangerous one. It is the period wherein we begin to think for ourselves and form our own opinions. This is natural, and good, of course It is also the period of life wherein we easily imagine that we know more and better than our parents and teachers, but in reality are still woefully ignorant of what life really is. The word “children” in the Bible may refer to all of early life from infancy to manhood. It does in the passage we are now discussing.
Notice, finally, the emphasis here on the word “children.” “Thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children. That’s the God-ordained time for training. Scripture makes much of this. So does modern education and psychology. Moreover, the younger the better.
The idea is plain. A dog must be trained while still a pup. You cannot teach an old dog new tricks. A few, perhaps, but it’s not easy. You cannot bend an old oak tree. Similarly, you cannot teach the man, except with much difficulty. Things do not impress him as they do a child. His opinions, notions too, are not easily changed. His mind is made up; his convictions deeply rooted. He’s like a form wherein the concrete has been poured long years ago. It’s set. You must teach the child. It is so observing, so alert and receptive. Its memory is so fresh, and retentive. It is so impressionable and all it sees and hears looms up so large in its mind. The child is like a form wherein the concrete is yet be poured; that’s so much easier than pounding out the old.
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“And thou shalt teach them . . . . “
The references is to verse 1 of the chapter. “Now these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go to possess it: that thou mightest fear the Lord thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life.” The whole Word and law of God, therefore, must be the content and basis of the instruction of our children.
A bit later Moses says, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words shall be in thine heart.” We and our children must serve the Lord in true and perfect love. That is the essence of all godliness.
“Thou shalt teach them to thy children” means, therefore, that we must teach our children the love of God as such. It is that love itself which we must build into the covenant child, in as far as the knowledge and practice of that love is a matter of godly training. To put it in the simplest possible language: we must teach our children to love God.
There is more, however. That love of God and His precepts must be the basis, the principle of all education. Not only must we teach our children to be lovers of God. We also teach them history and geography, arithmetic and science, music and grammar, farming and painting, brick-laying and printing, and any other trade or profession. All, however, must be permeated with the knowledge and love of God, and have the latter for its purpose, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.
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“And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children.”
That means YOU, fathers and mothers in Israel. In last analysis, we know, only God can teach His own Word to His children, our children too. Here, too, we labor in vain if God does not build the house. He alone controls the mind and heart. In His covenant, however, the Lord works immediately, and the divinely ordained instruments of instruction are not the teachers, first of all, nor the ministers in church catechism, but you parents.
No, all this does not mean, that you must do everything yourself, alone, without help of those who were carefully trained for this art of teaching. Israel, long centuries ago, could do that. Life at that time was more simple and parents had more time. Today we could not begin to provide for our children all they need in the way of religious and secular education. Parents are much too busy for that, and life much too complex and scientific and specialized.
The meaning is, however, and emphatically so, that the responsibility and task of training the covenant seed rests on the shoulders of our Christian fathers and mothers. The injunction comes to us alone, and we promise to carry it out each time a child is presented for baptism.
What a calling! And what a responsibility! These children are God’s children, entrusted to us. They are the image bearers of their mighty Maker. They have a soul as well as a body. They are the elect of God, the church of tomorrow. And we are their God appointed teachers. We ourselves had better know our subject!
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“And thou shalt teach them diligently to thy children!
In our homes, first of all. Much could be said about this, but our allotted space is more than filled by this time.
In church, too, and catechism, and Sunday School.
And don’t forget the Christian school.
That certainly means that we cannot and will not send our children to the schools of this world. There all the instruction and life and discipline bear the stamp of this world. There all the instruction and life and discipline bear the stamp of this world. There “these words, which I command thee this day” have no place and the fear of God is mocked. There stones are offered for bread and serpents for fish. There can be no blessing or peace of soul in that way.
For the earnest Christian there can be only one way: Christian, godly, Reformed education throughout the lives of our children, schools wherein our covenant seed can be instructed in all things according to the unadulterated Word of God.
There is our mandate! No one can mistake its meaning.
How are we doing?