One of my goals for High Country Baptist Church is to “present everyone mature in Christ” (Col 1:28). To that end, our Sunday sermons focus on the direct exposition and application of Scripture. Yet we obviously cannot cover everything about applying the Scriptures to our lives in one or two sermons a week. On this blog, then, I try to bring up various topics that we can think through biblically.
I would like to do a series of posts over the next several weeks interacting with a pithy little work on child training written over 160 years ago by J. C. Ryle entitled How Should a Child Be Trained? I picked up this booklet at a little Amish bookstore and have found it to be challenging and helpful. Many of our church members are at the beginning of child-rearing years, so this is directly applicable to us. But even for those who are not currently rearing children, I believe this will be worthwhile for two reasons. First, nearly everyone impacts the life of some child at least indirectly. You might be a grandparent, an uncle or aunt, a teacher, or just a fellow church member. In any case, you can be a Christian influence in the life of a child. Second, child training requires rigorous and skillful application of biblical truth to life. Christianity lives as it is applied, and in no other way. Observing the real life applications of Scripture to child training will provide you will a model for applying Scripture to many other areas of life.
Before I begin, let me give you a little background on the author. John Charles Ryle (1816-1900) was an Anglican clergyman who eventually became bishop of Liverpool. He was a leader of the Evangelical School of Anglicans. In other words, he believed in the Bible and the biblical Gospel. His writings are still being reprinted today because of their biblical wisdom, with Holiness being perhaps his most well known (read it!). I am always impressed by the spirit of earnest gospel living that pervades Ryle’s works.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
"I suppose that most professing Christians are acquainted with the text at the head of this page. The sound of it is probably familiar to your ears, like an old tune. It is likely you have heard it, or read it, talked of it, or quoted it, many a time. Is it not so?
"But after all, how little is the substance of this text regarded! The doctrine it contains appears scarcely known; the duty it puts before us seems fearfully seldom practiced. Reader, do I not speak the truth?
"It cannot be said that the subject is a new one. The world is old, and we have the experience of nearly six thousand years to help us. We live in days when there is a mighty zeal for education in every quarter. We hear of new schools rising on all sides. We are told of new systems and new books for the young, of every sort and description. And still, for all this, the vast majority of children are manifestly not trained in the way they should go, for when they grow up to man’s estate, they do not walk with God.
"Now, how shall we account for these things? The plain truth is, the Lord’s commandment in our text is not regarded; and therefore the Lord’s promise in our text is not fulfilled.
"Reader, these things may well give rise to great searchings of heart. Suffer, then, a word of exhortation from a minister about the right training of children. Believe me, the subject is one that should come home to every conscience, and make every one ask himself the question, “Am I in this matter doing what I can?”
"It is a subject that concerns almost all. There is hardly a household that it does not touch. Fathers, mothers, nurses, teachers, preachers, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters – all have an interest in it…. I wish to stir up all to bear this in remembrance.
"It is a subject, too, on which all concerned are in great danger of coming short of their duty. This is preeminently a point in which men can see the faults of their neighbors more clearly than their own. They will often bring up their children in the very path which they have denounced to their friends as unsafe. They will see motes in other men’s families, and overlook beams in their own. They will be quick-sighted as eagles in detecting mistakes abroad, and yet blind as bats to fatal errors which are daily going on at home. They will be wise about their brother’s house, but foolish about their own flesh and blood. Here, if anywhere, we have need to suspect our own judgment. This, too, you will do well to bear in mind."
[Ryle adds this footnote here: "As a minister, I can not help remarking that there is hardly any subject about which people seem so tenacious as they are about their children. I have sometimes been perfectly astonished at the slowness of sensible Christian parents to allow that their own children are at fault, or deserve blame. There are not a few persons to whom I would far rather speak about their own sins, than tell them their children had done anything wrong."]
Ryle’s words are straightforward. Without mincing any words, he has delivered to us a direct confrontation which may indeed “give rise to great searchings of heart.” I feel the sting of this challenge in my own heart. The immediate temptation, then, is to find a way out of the challenge. But let me urge you, as I urge myself, not to duck and run. In order for Ryle’s wounds to be beneficial, we must take them to heart (Prov 27:6; Heb 3:12-13). And let me assure you, you will find Ryle to be a true friend.
In my next post on this topic, I would like to deal right away with what is most likely to be the number one objection to Ryle’s words – his interpretation of Proverbs 22:6. He does not take time to do this in the booklet, I suspect because his interpretation would not have been challenged in his day. I don’t want to distract too much from all the good exhortation that is the heart of this tract by spending an inordinate amount of time in technical matters of interpretation, but I also do not want people to be able to brush aside his challenge as being unbiblical without seriously considering the evidence. Ryle says that the reason so many children do not walk after God is “the Lord’s commandment in our text is not regarded; and therefore the Lord’s promise in our text is not fulfilled.” Is he right?