Thursday, March 08, 2007

How Should a Child Be Trained? (Part 9)

Some of the applications Ryle makes from Proverbs 22:6 are particularly apropos for our day (although I’m sure that they have always been useful). The proposition we will consider today is one of those applications. Its place should be marked carefully in your minds, for it has been overgrown and obscured with shrubbery from long years of decline and neglect. I trust that Ryle’s faithful teaching will help to clear away this overgrowth and restore the place of the church in your Christian lives and in the lives of your children.

VII. Train them to habits of diligence and regularity about public means of grace.

Tell them of the duty and privilege of going to the house of God, and joining in the prayers of the congregation. Tell them that wherever the Lord’s people are gathered together, there the Lord Jesus is present in an especial manner, and that those who absent themselves must expect, like the apostle Thomas, to miss a blessing. Tell them of the importance of hearing the Word preached, and that it is God’s ordinance for converting, sanctifying, and building up the souls of men. Tell them how the apostle Paul[1] enjoins us not “to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is” (Heb 10:25); but to exhort one another, to stir one another up to it, and so much the more as we see the day approaching….

Do not allow them to grow up with the habit of making vain excuses for not coming. Give them plainly to understand that so long as they are under your roof, it is the rule of your house for everyone in health to honor the Lord’s house upon the Lord’s day, and that you reckon the Sabbath-breaker to be a murderer of his own soul.

When I read this, my heart was warmed by the fire of truth as if I had just come in out of the cold culture around us. Ryle places the responsibility for church attendance squarely upon the shoulders of the parents. If our children do not attend church while under our roof, we are responsible. We are contributing to their spiritual demise, we are feeding their sinful propensities, and we are encouraging them to follow the devil. O that parents would realize how serious a matter this is! Ryle says that we must "reckon the Sabbath-breaker to be a murderer of his own soul." While I do not believe that Sunday is accurately called a “Sabbath,” I still heartily agree with Ryle here. A murderer…a murderer…a murderer…let that sink into your mind. Would you allow your child to take a gun and shoot himself? Would you allow your child to hang himself from the rafters of your garage? Would you allow your child to starve himself to death? The very thought is horrific. But those who do not make church attendance a top priority for themselves and their children are in effect doing this spiritually.

I recall reading a speech given by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in which he related how his grandparents insisted that he not miss school. They were convinced that if he were to succeed in life, he must faithfully attend school. Knowing the propensity of children to find excuses for missing school, his grandfather told him that even if he (Clarence) died, he would still take him to school for three days and sit by him just to make sure he wasn’t faking it. If this is true about school attendance, how much more is it true about church attendance.

I would like to give a special exhortation to fathers at this point. The business of public religion is not the sole domain of women. You are called to lead. Your children need to see that you are committed to church come hell or high water. You would not think of skipping a day on the job just because you felt like working on the house or the yard. Would you think of skipping something with even greater eternal weight – church attendance? Your children learn immensely from your example. Show them that God is the treasure of your heart, and make church attendance non-negotiable in your house.

Ryle continues: See to it, too, if it can be so arranged, that your children go with you to church, and sit near you when they are there. To go to church is one thing; but to behave well at church is quite another; and, believe me, there is no security for good behavior like that of having them under your own eye.

The minds of young people are easily drawn aside, and their attention lost; and every possible means should be used to counteract this. I do not like to see them coming to church by themselves; they often get into bad company by the way, and so learn more evil on the Lord’s day than in all the rest of the week. Neither do I like to see what I call “a young people’s corner” in a church. They often catch habits of inattention and irreverence there which it takes years to unlearn, if ever they are unlearned at all. What I like to see is a whole family sitting together, old and young, side by side – men, women, and children – serving God according to their households.

Ryle displays great wisdom here, and it accords with our practice as a church. We strongly encourage families to worship God together. [On this topic, please read "The Family: Together in God's Presence" by John and Noel Piper, and "A Call to Family Worship" by Ligon Duncan and Terry Johnson.] We intentionally do not have a “children’s church” during our worship time. Nowadays, this seems odd to many people because they are so used to doing things according to the ideology of our society and not according to the wisdom of Scripture. But Ryle has a word for these folks.

But there are some who say that it is useless to urge children to attend means of grace, because they cannot understand them. I would not have you listen to such reasoning. I find no such doctrine in the Old Testament. When Moses goes before Pharaoh (Ex 10:9) I observe he says, “We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters; for we must hold a feast unto the Lord.” When Joshua read the law (Josh 8:35) I observe, “There was not a word which Joshua read not before all the congregation of Israel, with the women and the little ones, and the strangers that were conversant among them.” … And when I turn to the New Testament, I find children mentioned there, as partaking in public acts of religion, as well as in the Old. When Paul was leaving the disciples at Tyre for the last time, I find it said (Acts 21:5), “They all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore and prayed.”

I would like to interrupt Ryle with an even stronger text supporting keeping children in the public worship of the church. Ephesians 6:1-3 gives direct instruction to children. Since this letter from the apostle was written to be read in the churches, P. T. O’Brien correctly comments: “It is obvious from these exhortations that the apostle thinks of local congregations as consisting of whole families who come together not only to praise God but also to hear his word addressed to them. As the household tables were read out, children too would learn of their own Christian duties as well as those of other family members.”[2] We now return to Ryle.

Parents, comfort your minds with these examples. Be not cast down because your children see not the full value of the means of grace now. Only train them up to a habit of regular attendance. Set it before their minds as a high, holy, and solemn duty, and believe me, the day will very likely come when they will bless you for your deed.

AMEN. May it be so, Lord!

[1] Ryle here assumes that Paul wrote the letter to the Hebrews. We do not know who the author was, but that is immaterial. Since it is part of inspired Scripture, it is authoritative.
[2] P. T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), p. 440.

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