Thursday, March 15, 2007

How Should a Child Be Trained? (Part 10)

The next application Ryle makes of Proverbs 22:6 is one that I had never really considered prior to reading this work. At least, I had never considered it in the way that Ryle states it. I hope this is as thought-provoking for you as it was for me.

VIII. Train them to a habit of faith.

I mean by this, you should train them up to believe what you say. You should try to make them feel confidence in your judgment, and respect your opinions, as better than their own. You should accustom them to think that, when you say thing is bad for them, it must be bad, and when you say it is good for them, it must be good; that your knowledge, in short, is better than their own, and that they may rely implicitly on your word. Teach them to feel that what they know not now they will probably know hereafter, and to be satisfied there is a reason and a needs-be for everything you require them to do.

Who indeed can describe the blessedness of a real spirit of faith? Or rather, who can tell the misery that unbelief has brought upon the world? Unbelief made Eve eat the forbidden fruit; she doubted the truth of God’s Word, “Ye shall surely die.” Unbelief made the old world reject Noah’s warning, and so perish in sin. Unbelief kept Israel in the wilderness – it was the bar that kept them from the promised land. Unbelief made the Jews crucify the Lord of glory – they believed not the voice of Moses and the Prophets, though read to them every day. And unbelief is the reigning sin of man’s heart down to this very hour – unbelief in God’s promises – unbelief in God’s threatenings – unbelief in our own sinfulness – unbelief in our own danger – unbelief in everything that runs counter to the pride and worldliness of our evil hearts. Reader, you train your children to little purpose if you do not train them to a habit of implicit faith – faith in their parents’ word, confidence that what their parents say must be right.

These words were written over 160 years ago. Ryle could not have foreseen the so-called post-modernism of our day. He also could not have committed a more heinous crime according to post-modern sensibilities than to write what we just read. According to post-modernists, we cannot really believe in anything (that is, except for what post-modernists say). All language is simply word-games masking a play for power (except, of course, the post-modernists, who are simply humble truth tellers…but wait, there is no such thing as truth to post-modernists, so…um, post-modernists are simply sincere language game players…in contrast to all those nasty preacher types who just manipulate people with words). But 160 years ago people did generally believe that we could speak truth. They also believed, and this may sound radical, that parents were generally wiser than their children. Therefore, parents could and should expect their children to believe what they say.

Now, here is where Ryle’s words were thought-provoking for me when I initially read this booklet. Ryle makes the connection between our children believing us and our children believing God. I believe this is a profoundly biblical connection, as passages such as Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Proverbs 1-9 demonstrate. But this connection has been largely forgotten even among Christians. Let’s return to Ryle’s instructions as he warns against wrong thinking in this regard.

I have heard it is said by some, that you should require nothing of children which they can not understand; that you should explain and give a reason for everything you desire them to do I warn you solemnly against such a notion. I tell you plainly, I think it an unsound and rotten principle. No doubt it is absurd to make a mystery of everything you do, and there are many things which it is well to explain to children, in order that they may see that they are reasonable and wise. But to bring them up with the idea that they must take nothing on trust – that they, with their weak and imperfect understandings, must have the “why” and “wherefore” made clear to them at every step they take – this is indeed a fearful mistake, and likely to have the worst effect on their minds.

Reason with your child if you are so disposed, at certain times, but never forget to keep him in mind (if you really love him) that he is but a child after all; that he thinks as a child, he understands as a child, and therefore must not expect to know that reason of everything at once.

Set before him the example of Isaac, in the day when Abraham took him to offer him on Mount Moriah (Gen 22). He asked his father that single question, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” And he got no answer but this, “The Lord will provide himself a lamb.” How, or where, or whence, or in what manner, or by what means – all this Isaac was not told; but the answer was enough. He believed that it would be well, because his father said so, and he was content.

Tell your children, too, that we must all be learners in our beginnings – that there is an alphabet to be mastered in every kind of knowledge – that the best horse in the world had need once to be broken – that a day will come when they will see the wisdom of all of your training. But in the meantime, if you say a thing is right, it must be enough for them – they must believe you, and be content.

Brethren, if any point in training is important, it is this. I charge you by the affection you have to your children, use every means to train them up to a habit of faith.

The wisdom that Ryle is expounding has been known by many societies throughout history, but it has been largely forgotten in our society today. We tend to take affront at the very suggestion that somebody else might know more than we do and have the authority to tell us what to do and even what to think. We naturally transfer this into our parenting. Who are we to tell our children what they must believe? But our thinking at this point savors strongly of the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

In reality, the very nature of God, the world he created and controls, and our status as creatures made in his image demands that we live by faith. We are morally obligated to believe God’s revelation. If we reject it and try to live by our own “wisdom,” we will be judged (Prov 14:12). We are not morally free to choose whichever way we want to live our lives. This myth of moral autonomy is preached daily in America, but as Christians we are bound to reject it. And this should show up in our parenting. We must teach our children what is true, and we should expect them to believe it, not because they always understand it all, but because it is right.

I have heard many a parent piously say, “We don’t tell our children what to do or what to believe. We teach them to think for themselves.” This sounds so wise to us these days. But compare this to the exhortations of Scripture in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Ephesians 6:1-4. The Scripture gives no hint of this kind of reasoning. Also, what does the book of Proverbs say? “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding…. Be not wise in your own eyes (3:5, 7).” Repeatedly throughout the first nine chapters of Proverbs we find statements like, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching” (1:8). If children think for themselves, they will think like sinners, for that is exactly what they are. They are the simple ones who need knowledge and discretion. True knowledge comes, not from thinking autonomously, but from submitting ourselves to the Lord (1:7). Only when they are taught to fear God will our children be able to reason rightly. As we strive to train our children in the way they should go, and as we live our own Christian lives, we must never forget this axiom of knowledge: “I believe in order to understand.”

So, to reiterate what Ryle said, let’s strive to teach our children the habit of faith by teaching them to believe what we say.

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