Having established the meaning of Proverbs 22:6, let us look now at the practical application Ryle makes of it. He does this by means of seventeen propositions full of scriptural wisdom. Here is his winsome invitation to consider them.
Come, now, and let me place before you a few hints about right training. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost bless them, and make them words in season to you all. Reject them not because they are blunt and simple; despise them not because they contain nothing new. Be very sure, if you would train children for heaven, they are hints that ought not to be lightly set aside.
He then proceeds.
I. First, then, if you would train your children rightly, train them in the way they should go, and not in the way that they would.
Remember, children are born with a decided bias toward evil, and therefore, if you let them choose for themselves, they are certain to choose wrong.
The mother can not tell what her tender infant may grow up to be – tall or short, weak or strong, wise of foolish; he may be any of these things, or not – it is all uncertain. But one thing the mother can say with certainty: he will have a corrupt and sinful heart. It is natural to us to do wrong. “Foolishness,” says Solomon, “is bound in the heart of a child” (Prov 22:15). “A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Prov 29:15). Our hearts are like the earth on which we tread – let it alone, and it is sure to bear weeds.
If you then would deal wisely with your child, you must not leave him to the guidance of his own will. Think for him, judge for him, act for him, just as you would for one weak and blind; but for pity’s sake, give him not up to his own wayward tastes and inclinations. It must not be his likings and wishes that are consulted. He knows not yet what is good for his mind and soul, any more than what is good for his body. You do not let him decide what he shall eat, and what he shall drink and how he shall be clothed. Be consistent, and deal with his mind in like manner. Train him in the way that is scriptural and right, and not in the way that he fancies.
If you can not make up your mind to this first principle of Christian training, it is useless for you to read any further. Self-will is almost the first thing that appears in a child’s mind; and it must be your first step to resist it.
I don’t think Ryle is trying to be provocative here, but he could not have written anything more directly contradictory to the prevailing ideas of our age. But he is directly in line with the Scripture.
Let me highlight this central truth: all of us are born sinners. That includes our children. If we do not get this truth, we will never understand child training from God’s perspective. Ryle has a clear grasp of what sin is: self-will. Fundamentally, sin is a refusal to honor God as God. It is idolatry. It is worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator, and hence not obeying the Lord’s will. It is rebellion. This is why we read so many attacks on idolatry in the Bible. But all of our children are born idolaters.
It is no accident that the primary command in all of Scripture addressed to children is to honor and obey their parents. “Honor” and “obey” – these are the antithesis of what is in our precious little rebels’ hearts. But it is our responsibility as parents to train them in the right way.
One more thought. I’m afraid Ryle would be shocked to find out that his reasoning may not have much weight with modern parents. He wrote, “You do not let him decide what he shall eat, and what he shall drink and how he shall be clothed. Be consistent, and deal with his mind in like manner.” But many parents today do let their children decide what they will eat, what they will drink, and what they want to wear, and they deal with their children’s minds in like manner. They are consistent. They let the child do whatever he wants as long as it doesn’t bother them too much. But any parent whose eyes are opened by faith to see the creeping destruction sin brings will lay out their very lives to train that child in the right way and to keep that precious soul from being devoured by sin.