Correspondence on the Training of the Children of Believers

 •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Dear brother, I have had your letters seeking for help on the extremely interesting and important subject of the training of the children of those who are Christ’s — I mean those of true children of God. I feel how poorly I can speak of such a subject; but am encouraged by that grace of which I learn so much every day.
You ask, How should we regard them? As children of wrath even as others? Part of the “world lying in the wicked one” with the wrath of God “abiding on them, etc., etc.” And here I think I would most clearly distinguish between a moral state in God’s eye, which all are in by nature, as dead in trespasses and sins, and the privileged place or sphere of blessing, in which God regards the “houses” of His people; that is, all whom God looks upon as attached to the head of that house. That there has always been such a sphere of privilege, certainly from the flood downwards, if not always indeed, is clear to me from Scripture. A sphere of blessing into which God has brought His child, and in which He has surrounded him with wife and children, in order that the light which He has lit up in the heart of the head of that house may shine out brightly, and carry by His grace the knowledge of God into the hearts of those in the house around him.
All this is different from the nature of those thus privileged and outwardly blessed of God. Of course it is just the same ruined undone thing as in the rest of mankind around.
But if God regards them merely as “children of wrath,” He would not say to the Christian parent, “Bring them up in the Lord’s discipline and admonition” (as we may read the passage.) And here you must not settle it in your mind, that it is believing children who are before the mind of the Spirit in Ephesians 6:1-41Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. 2Honor thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) 3That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. 4And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1‑4). The Apostle leaves it without defining whether they are or are not, addressing them simply as “children.” And He tells the parents to “bring them up” for Him (as Jochebed brought up Moses for Pharaoh’s daughter) “in the Lord’s nurture and admonition,” and surely He does not direct this if He intends to cast them off again.
I think there is much involved in the “Lord’s nurture and admonition.” He exercises it over and with us; and we are to observe a similar course with our children. His tender patience; His persevering love which never wearies, never casts off its object until the end is gained. His faithfulness which never flatters but deals with us, so that we may disallow practically all that savors of our evil nature, and the world from which He has delivered us. This disallowance of the flesh, and of all that savors of the old Adam and his ways on the one side, and complete conformity to the Son of God on the other is His aim, and characterizes His ways of discipline with us that He may be glorified And as we grow conversant with them as observed towards us whom He has brought to Himself, we learn the sort of dealing we are to pass on to our children, under Him. We must seek to show them whence the tendencies and wills of the flesh spring, and where they end; we must disallow them in our children, as the Lord does in us, seeking to draw their minds and hearts to Jesus, and thus with patient grace and persevering love discipline and admonish them for their good.
I feel too, that now, the family circle is the normal place for the conversion of the child. I am sure that much of what we are told of children’s conversions is but the bringing to a definite point what has long been there in the soul. It is most desirable that it should take its definite form in the way of a confession of Christ in the child; but what I fear, is anything in the way of excitement, by which the young, susceptible heart is easily wrought upon, thus forcing into immature development the hardly perceptible pulsations of life in the soul. I believe that in general such cases give a weakly tone to the soul, and in result are often like the too early removal of the shell from the little bird, a feeble state of soul will supervene.
My impression too, is, (and the exception proves the rule,) that the child of the believing, Christian parent will, as a rule, seldom if ever, be able to tell when he was converted, as we speak. It is true that, at the same time, the child or the parent may be able to look back to some moment when the faith and life which had been already in his soul took definite shape, and burst forth into activity and energy. Like the bursting forth into beauty and fragrance of the flower, which has grown up from the little unseen germ, or hardly perceptible bud, until the genial warmth of the sun and the gentle showers of the rain caused it to open its petals for the first time.
How lovely was the unquestioning faith of Hannah! Her son, the fruit of her prayer, was brought up to Shiloh, not without the offerings of faith too in her own and her husbands hands. At as early an age as his weaning time, ere living faith could work in the soul of the babe, she said to Eli, “Oh, my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto Jehovah. For this child I prayed; and Jehovah hath given my petition which I asked of him: therefore also I have returned, whom I have obtained by petition to Jehovah; as long as he liveth he whom I have obtained by petition, shall be returned to Jehovah (1 Sam. 1:26-2826And she said, Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord. 27For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him: 28Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshipped the Lord there. (1 Samuel 1:26‑28), marg.).” The contrast, too, in the case of Elis house is solemn and instructive; if illustrates the linking of the saint and his house in the sight of God. “In that day (said the LORD to Samuel) I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end. 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” (1 Sam. 3:12,1312In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end. 13For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not. (1 Samuel 3:12‑13)).” Speaking, dear brother, of the conversion of the child of a saint, and noticing that the time of such is but seldom known, if known at all, in the normal state of things, I would cite the case of young Timothy. Brought up “from infancy” (άπὁ βρέφους) in the knowledge of the holy scriptures, which were able to make him wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus, and trained by a pious believing mother, and perhaps grandmother, of the unfeigned faith of both of whom the aged apostle speaks in a most touching manner (2 Tim. 1:55When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also. (2 Timothy 1:5)); the blessed knowledge of the Word of God thus early imbibed into his young and impressible heart, and known as a child may know it too, paved the way for that moment when the life it brought to his soul burst forth into the liberty of grace and knowledge of Christ through the apostle Paul when at Lystra, who names him his “own son in the faith.”
Such, I believe, to be a true example of the conversion of the child of believing parents. He has the priceless boon of being in the circle where the name of Jesus is a household word, and the great circumstance and business of the lives of his parents. His parents feel that they have received him back from the Lord to be brought up under the yoke of Christ from the earliest moments of his existence, and they feel, too, that the One who has directed them to do this will not in vain be trusted in for that quickening of soul which he needs, as all do, that he may live indeed. They bring him up in the faith of Christ, never for a moment casting a doubt across his young and impressible heart that he is not the Lord’s. They teach him the way that God forgives and saves through the precious blood of Jesus Christ; they explain how the grace of God is received; they show the little one the awful results of unbelief, and of the rejection of Christ; they explain how real faith is known from the false and hollow profession around; they teach him that obedience and those desires to please the Lord under whose yoke he is brought up, are the true way in which the life of God displays itself in man. And thus by these teachings the conscience is awakened, and when, alas, failures in these things are seen, the necessity and meaning of the confession of sins, and the unburdening of the soul to Christ is pressed and encouraged. The desire, too, to make known to the Lord the wants of the heart for self or others are directed to their proper outflow — prayer: all these things lead the child onward to a confidence in God, and he grows up to Christ, as he does by the food of infancy by which his natural powers have been gradually developed.
While all this training goes on, how a true hearted parent will wait on God in secret, that that sovereign quickening power which belongs to Him alone may be put forth in behalf of his child, who he knows is by nature “dead in trespasses and sins.”
You will remark, too, dear brother, that it is in the “nurture (discipline) and admonition of the Lord.” This implies reverence for and owning the authority of One who is over the child. It does not imply a relationship as “Father” or “Christ”; the co-relatives of which would be “son” or “child” and “member of his body.” This is important too; because while none can truly please Him but those who are in relationship with Him, still the word “Lord” does not necessarily and exclusively mean this.
To treat children otherwise than thus, is in my mind to injure their souls, and hinder the work of God’s grace as far as we can do it. If a child finds his parent habitually treating him as outside the pale even of external relationship with God (compare Deut. 14:22For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth. (Deuteronomy 14:2) with Eph. 2:33Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. (Ephesians 2:3); also 1 Cor. 7:1414For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. (1 Corinthians 7:14)) and hears him praying for him as an unsaved one, he grows up in the thought (which may be true) that this is so. He is led to look at conversion as something to come to him some day perhaps, and perhaps not. Instead of fixing the eye on Christ and wholly away from himself, he turns it inwards, and thus is injured and hindered in soul: thrown back, it may be for a long season, in darkness, which occupation with self must do, while, if dealt with otherwise, he might, through grace, have been enjoying the favor of God which is better than life.
How Moses indignantly refused such a compromise of Satan as that proposed by Pharaoh (Ex. 10). “Go now ye that are men” with his reply, “We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters,” &c., and how often do Christian parents fall into the same wile of the enemy, and separate as to the external ground of blessing, between the parents and the children both in their own minds and the training they give them. Nay! All must be, as with Noah of old, in the same place of blessing. “Come thou and all thy house into the ark,” tells this blessed way of God’s goodness and mercy. “Thee have I seen righteous before me,” tells of the heal of the house being blessed in soul; and even his son, who alas, afterward dishonored his father, entered with him into the place of safety.
Surely a wise parent will not regard his child as a child of God, ere he sees the signs of a quickened conscience, and the fear of the Lord in him, but he seeks to lead his heart to Christ in practice, conversation, and ways; and thus, dependence on God, thankfulness of heart for His mercies, obedience to His will, is impressed upon his heart, and the faith of a parent will be answered of God in giving living faith to his child. I believe we ought to count on God for our children—every one of them — and where there is true faith in a parent as to this, He who gave it will answer it in making them His own.
There are many lines of thought in connection with this most interesting subject which we might enter upon, and, if the Lord will, we may do so in another letter.
Words of Truth 7:36-40.