III. Train your children with an abiding persuasion on your mind that much depends upon you.
This is J. C. Ryle's third application of Proverbs 22:6, and an important admonition it is. This is not the place to get into a deep discussion of the relationship between God's providence and grace and our own efforts. Suffice it to say that Proverbs 22:6 clearly places responsibility upon our shoulders to train up a child in the way he should go.
Here are Ryle's words.
Grace is the strongest of all principles. See what a revolution grace effects when it comes into the heart of an old sinner; how it overturns the strongholds of Satan - how it casts down mountains, fulls up valleys, makes crooked things straight, and new creates the whole man. Truly nothing is impossible to grace.
Nature, too, is very strong. See how it struggles against the things of the kingdom of God, how it fights against every attempt to be more holy, how it keeps up an unceasing warfare within us to the last hour of life. Nature indeed is strong.
But after nature and grace, undoubtedly there is nothing more powerful than education. [Ryle means by this all forms of training, not merely formal education.] Early habits (if I may so speak) are every thing with us, under God. We are made what we are by training. Our character takes the form of that mold into which our first years are cast.
We depend in a vast measure on those who bring us up. We get from them a color, a taste, a bias which cling to us more or less all our lives. We catch the language of our nurses and mothers, and learn to speak it almost insensibly, and unquestionably we catch something of their manners, ways, and minds, at the same time. Time only will show, I suspect, how much we all owe to early impressions....
And all this is one of God's merciful arrangements. He gives your children a mind that will receive impressions like moist clay. he gives them a disposition at the starting point of life to believe what you tell them, and to take for granted hat you advise them, and to trust your word rather than a stranger's. He gives you, in short, a golden opportunity of doing them good. See that the opportunity be not neglected and thrown away. Once let it slip, it is gone for ever.
Beware of that miserable delusion into which some have fallen, that parents can do nothing for their children; that you must leave them alone, wait for grace, and sit still. These persons have wishes for their children in Balaam's fashion - they would like them to die the death of the righteous man, but they do nothing to make them live his life. They desire much, and have nothing. And the devil rejoices to see such reasoning, just as he always does over anything which seems to excuse indolence, or to encourage neglect of means.
Allow me to pause here in order to emphasize what Ryle has just said. I recall one father and mother who prayed earnestly for their son to follow the Lord, but did not make the real life, hard decisions which were necessary to train him in the way of righteousness and wisdom. They would, for instance, tell him not to hang out with fools, yet would allow him to spend much of his time with foolish friends. Not surprisingly, this son, now grown, lives like a fool. Did God not hear their prayers? I assure you that God did know their prayers, and he gave them the means to deal with the situation, but they did not use those means. If God wants us to dig a hole in the ground and hands us a shovel, then it doesn't make much sense to sit down with the shovel across our knees and pray to God that there will be a hole in the ground. Get up and dig!
Ryle continues: I know that you cannot convert your child. I know well that they who are born again are born, not of the will of man, but of God. But I know also that God says expressly, "Train up a child in the way he should go," and that He never laid a command on a man which He would not give man grace to perform. And I know too that our duty is not to stand still and dispute, but to go forward and obey. It is just in the going forward that God will meet us. The path of obedience is the way in which He gives the blessing. We have only to do as the servants were commanded at the marriage feast in Cana, to fill the water pots with water, and we may safely leave it to the Lord to turn that water into wine.
Part 2, Part 3, Part 4