As a Father Pitieth (4)

A third characteristic of the friend­ship between Godly parents and their children is that it is a life of peace. The family-life of God, both within the Trinity and within the Church, is characterized by peace. This is an outstanding feature of the family-life sketched in Psalm 128. Father, mother, and children live together peacefully. Peace is demanded, when the children are called “olive plants,” for olive plants, we are told, required a peaceful environment for growth. Parents must promote peace. They must see to it that there is peace between husband and wife. The spiritual unity of husband and wife is necessary. Then, they must live together without fighting. Bickering and tension between husband and wife destroy the children. Parents must maintain peace between themselves and their children, as much as possible. Where there is love for, and friendship with, the children, peace may be expected. It is kept by good teaching, proper discipline, and mutual forgiveness. Parents must work for peace in the church. Parents always at war with the church—with the pastor, with the elders, with the rest of the congregation— will reap a bitter harvest in their children. Unnecessary conflicts in the congregation will take their toll in our young people. Parents must make every effort to cultivate peace among their children themselves. They do this by teaching them mutual love; by disciplining them for hatred and fighting; by warning them against envying each other; by showing them how to forgive and reconcile; and the like.

If there is to be peace, there must be order. God is a God of decency and order in His life with His people, as I Corinthians 14:40 teaches. Therefore, a household of disorder and uproar is “het huis van Jan Steen,” to use a proverbial Dutch description of a chaotic household, not a house of God.

There must be order in the family-structure itself. Father is head of the home; mother is in subjection, for God’s sake. Disorder here is ruinous to child­rearing. The danger is not only that mother is a barely disguised rebel, but also that father neglects to exercise headship. Both father and mother are the authority in the home, to be honored by the children; and the children are the subjects, to give honor and obedience. Friendship does not rule out, or undercut, the authority of the parents. In the eternal covenant of grace, God is Friend-Sovereign; and we are friend-servants. In the covenant of the family, parents are the friends in authority; and the children are the friends under authority.

There must be order in all the life of the home: rising and going to bed; time of meals; working six days and resting on the Sabbath; doing school-work; practicing music lessons; learning the catechism; brushing teeth. What saves this from a harsh, rigid, burdensome, militaristic order is the friendship which this order serves. Obviously, bringing about this order demands the time, the energy, and the presence of the parents.

When this order is the Law of God ordering the life of the family (and it must be), the friendship and atmosphere of the home are holy. The covenant-life of the Heavenly Father with His children is a holy life. “Holiness becometh thine house, O LORD, for ever” (Psalm 93:5). God calls His children to be holy. But He calls them to be Holy, “for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44, 45). So it must be with us earthly parents. We are to train our children in holiness, as we ourselves are holy.

Parents must teach their children to be holy. Holiness, not earthly success, is the great goal we have for them. We strive to reach this end by teaching them the Law of God. These commandments are the “words” that Jehovah exhorted Israelite parents to teach diligently to their children, in Deuteronomy 6:6ff, talking of them when they sat in their house, when they walked by the way, when they lay down, and when they arose. Well may Reformed parents ask themselves, “How often do we talk with our children about the Law of God?” But let us be sure that we teach the Law as the expression of the fear of the LORD and that we teach obedience to the Law as thankful love to the children’s Redeemer. Obedience does not serve only to keep them out of earthly trouble; nor is it mere conformity to the rules of the church.

Parents can teach holiness to the children only if their own lives are holy. I am pleading now, not for perfection, but for integrity. How can we exhort the children to be holy, or expect them to be holy if we do exhort them, when our own lives are worldly—this world always comes first and God’s world, second; when our own lives are covetous—our hearts are set on fame, money, and things; when our own lives are full of the pleasures of the world—night after night we amuse ourselves with “the unfruitful works of darkness” on television; when our own lives are drunken—we drink too much in order to quiet our fears, to drown our sorrows, or to live it up at indecent parties; when our own lives are lives of hatred—envy, fault-finding, back-biting; when our own lives profane the Sabbath— our outward keeping of the Lord’s Day is a cold, dead custom, or we easily neglect worship for our own convenience, or we devote the hours between the services of worship to worldly pleasures?

Before He told the parents of Israel, “teach them diligently unto thy children.” Jehovah said to the parents themselves, “And these words . . . shall be in thine heart” (Deuteronomy 6:6). There is no cheap way to teach holiness. Jesus flayed the Pharisees, who “bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Matthew 23:4). Even the worldly poet saw the fatal weakness of a call to holiness by the unholy, for in his Hamlet Shakespeare has Ophelia say to Laertes:

“Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,

Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven:

Whilst like a puff’d and reckless libertine

Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,

And recks not his own rede (And heeds not his own counsel).”

The warning of Andrew Murray should be heard: “The greatest danger to Christ’s Church is not infidelity or superstition. It is the spirit of worldliness in the homes of our Christian people, sacrificing the children to ambition or society, to the riches or the friendships of the world.” [The Children for Christ, p. 40]

In the interests of the holiness of our children, discipline is necessary, a firm discipline.