Often we have heard the Word of God found in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” The passage has raised questions in the minds of some. It does not always seem true that properly trained children do not depart from the right way.
This Word of God does remind us of the truth that God created all things in such a way that the young must be trained. That is seen even in the animal world. Animals need not go to school. They don’t receive any sort of formal instruction from the mother. Yet animals in many ways rely upon the instruction or training of their parents. They may be taught how to hunt. They must learn how to hide from enemies. Perhaps they must be taught what to eat-and how.
That is more true with the human child. The babe is born helpless. It cannot feed itself. It cannot protect itself. It cannot clothe itself. The parents must see to it that the child is cared for and taught—and this instruction covers quite a number of years.
But especially, for that is the concern of God’s Word, Christian parents are called to instruct their children in the truth of God’s Word. Parents must see to it that they receive a sound foundation, understanding the morality, the laws, of God’s Scripture. Children, of course, must understand as well that all of this is the responsibility of their parents.
Training is particularly important in our own day. Children are being trained in many ways—even apart from that which parents provide. Far too much, our children are being trained by the world. One does not have to go to a public school in order to be trained by the world. The world gives much training on television — beginning with Sesame Street to the programs of violence and indulgences of every sort. The advertising is designed to promote greed and envy. It instills even into the minds of the very young the desire to have many things. It promotes products by suggesting a certain sex appeal in them. It suggests the desirability of drinking and dancing. The programs are filled with violence, with sex, with the misuse of God’s Name. And our children often spend as many hours in front of a T.V. as they do in school.
Magazines, books, even newspapers provide much instruction. Nothing is left to the imagination. The world is open in its presentation of all of its wickedness — and tries to induce the child of God to enjoy all of these things too.
Therefore, parents have the calling to keep their children from worldly instructors by giving good guidance and providing necessary restraints. Parents who train their children, do not allow the world to take over the task — even for an hour.
Parents train their children by instructing them. There are the regular opportunities of assisting them with catechism instruction, or Sunday school materials, or school work. But also, families need their regular devotions when children can also ask questions and be questioned. They need Scripture read to them and explained. Children must be taught of the history of the church — and of our churches. They must learn doctrines of the church and should be aware of the teaching of the creeds of the church. Surely the parents have a calling to provide this for them.
But very much of parental instruction comes by way of example. Perhaps our parents do not fully realize this. Parents who might smoke or drink regularly, see their children imitate these things as they grow up. Parents who are not always honest in all their dealings with others, see their children doing many of the same things. Parents who are swearing on occasion, find that their children are likely to do the same sort of thing. Parents whose marriage relationship is poor, see children grow up who are often also unstable in their ways. But where faithfulness is seen in parents in daily activities, the same is impressed upon children. Parents who place a high regard upon Scripture and the study of Scripture, who emphasize the need and place of prayer, who show sincere interest and concern in the church — see their children also learning from their good example.
This training in the proper way also takes place in church and school. Parents have the responsibility of seeing to it that their children are properly instructed in the church. The school too is that place where parents will send their children to receive the kind of instruction that cannot be given within the home. Yet parents will see that this instruction will be in harmony with the truths of Scripture as maintained within their church. They want instruction given as they would have given it if they were able to do so.
Such proper and regular instruction has also the result that these spiritual seed do maintain what they have learned and confessed through all of their days. God works in such a way that, usually, parents who are most faithful in this regard, also see their children grow up to be diligent and faithful themselves. I say: this is usually the case, but not always.
And therein lies the problem. At times faithful parents see their children depart from the good instruction given. And such parents are heartbroken. They feel themselves to be failures. They seek to examine past instruction to see wherein lies the defect. It is true, of course, that instruction was not always as it ought to be.
But then some think that God’s Word has failed. These gave good instruction, but the child departed therefrom when he became old. What happened?
Some say that this passage means that God promises only that when these become old they will not depart from God’s Word. The child may be wayward and disobedient. He may depart from the church for a time. But God promises that when he is old, he will come back. He won’t depart when he is old.
Such reasoning is not true. There are those who return after having forsaken God’s Word for a time. And that is always a cause of joy for the church. But more often than not, one who departs from God’s Word does not return. Remember Esau.
Still, the promise of God is true. Here we must remember what is true in all of Scripture. God’s promises are particular. They are promises to and about His elect people. When He gives promise, He speaks of His elect and their spiritual seed. These do not depart from their good instruction when they become old. God’s promise is the incentive for Godly parents to continue to instruct with great diligence.
Parents must understand that God uses the way of proper instruction to continue to gather His people on this earth. Since we do not usually know whom God has chosen of our own children, but knowing that He gathers His people in the line of generation, parents diligently give good instruction. And God will use that to serve the purpose of gathering and finishing His church. Parents, then, must be faithful. Children must be ready to receive good instruction. And know that God blesses that to His glory and our spiritual profit.