Parental Responsibility

Ephesians 6:4.

In calling attention to this subject it will be readily perceived from the scripture placed at the head of this paper that the reference is to the responsibility of Christian parents. The importance of the subject is seen from the fact that it is enforced in the Word of God by warnings, by direct exhortations, and by examples. This will suffice, apart from every day's observation, to show that there must be a constant need for its consideration by the saints of God. The state of Christian families is indeed of great moment, as affecting the state of the assembly; and it may be averred, without hesitation, that the condition of the various gatherings of the saints is largely dependent upon the godly order (or otherwise) of the families connected with them. It is quite true that we cannot be right in our families unless we are right in the assembly; but it is also true that any disorder in our families will tell disastrously upon the assembly.

Passing by the lamentable occurrences in the families of some of the patriarchs - as, for example, in that of Isaac and Jacob - we may ponder, first of all, upon the exhortations given by Moses to Jewish fathers: "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." (Deut. 6:6-7.) The simplest can understand the teaching of this scripture, and it will suffice therefore to point out its main features. First, then, the word taught must be in the heart of the parent; he must possess and love it; for indeed none can teach anything of which they have not themselves felt the power. Secondly, the responsibility is personal, and cannot be abdicated: the parent himself must be the instructor. Thirdly, he must exercise diligence, and seize every passing opportunity, in order to impress God's word upon the hearts of his children. It is therefore not too much to say that this responsibility is paramount to any other - such as any, for example, which might affect the path and welfare of his children in this world.

When the children of Israel, moreover, had crossed the Jordan, and had encamped in Gilgal, Joshua provided, in connection with the pitching of the twelve stones taken out of the bed of the Jordan, for the instruction of the children in the divine significance of the act. It is not too much to say that the children were never lost sight of in any important act or ceremony in connection with the congregation of Israel. Examples of this may be gleaned from every part of Scripture. (See Joshua 8:35; 2 Chronicles 20:13, etc. etc.) And that all this was in accordance with the mind of God may be seen from a remarkable passage in one of the psalms: "For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments," etc. (Psalm 78:5-7.) These citations will be enough to make it plain that God placed the responsibility upon the Jewish parent of instructing his children in the knowledge of His word, His work, and His ways, to the end that the children's hope might also be in God. They were thus to teach with the confident expectation of the blessing of God upon their labours, as knowing that it was not His will that one of their little ones should perish.

A few of the warnings of Scripture will but fortify the above conclusions. The most solemn one is perhaps that of Eli; and it is all the more solemn from the fact that personally he was such a pious and devoted man. In all Scripture a more godly man than Eli could scarcely be discovered. The Lord, and the Lord's things, had the chief place in his heart; and yet, alas! weak in his affections, he utterly failed to maintain his parental (as well also as his priestly) authority. "His sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not"; and his failure, all the greater from the position he occupied as the high-priest, brought down upon him the sure and swift judgment of God. Samuel seems to have failed in the same way, for the complaint of the children of Israel was that his sons did not walk in his ways, and the Spirit of God records that they did not. (1 Samuel 8:3.) But this, it may be said, was due to their own perversity. True that they were perverse; still the Scripture says, "Train up a child in the way he shall go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it." If, therefore, the children of godly parents do not follow them in their walk, it is because they have not been trained up in the way they should go, whatever diligent efforts may have been put forth to this end. There could not be failure on God's side.

Passing over the disorders which sprang up in David's family, disorders which constitute a very solemn warning for all parents, we come now to the positive exhortation given to fathers by the apostle. It is remarkable that, both in Ephesians and Colossians, he should begin by urging them not to provoke their children to anger.* From this we learn, in the first place, the tender solicitude of God for the children of His people. He would have their parents to remember and to consider their weakness, the quickness and impatience of the flesh, and thus to avoid vexing and irritating restrictions and directions which might indispose them to listen to godly teaching and counsel. For it should never be forgotten that children, as well as saints, even if in another way, need to be in a collected and calm state of mind to receive divine instructions. This will help us to understand that the conduct of parents, even in the maintenance of authority in their household, should be governed by their responsibility to bring them up for the Lord. What dependence, what wisdom, and what watchful care are thus required! For, indeed, the family is the vineyard which Christian parents have to keep, and which they dare not, if they would be faithful to God, neglect in order to attend to any other vineyard.

*Some read "vex" in Colossians instead of "provoke."

Heeding, then, the first part of the injunction, we are prepared to weigh its positive side, which, for the sake of simplicity, we give in another translation: "But bring them up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord." To enter into the spirit and meaning of these words it is necessary, above all, to observe the term Lord. This, indeed, is the foundation of the precept, and it unmistakably teaches that our children should be distinctly placed, and be taught that they have been placed, under the authority of Christ as Lord. Another thing clearly follows - that the authority which a Christian parent exercises is not his own natural authority, but that of the Lord. The father is therefore, as the head of his household and family, the deputy of Christ, and holds his position in responsibility to Him, and to maintain and enforce His precepts. To perceive this is of the highest importance, inasmuch as it makes the government of a family a spiritual thing, in that it consists in the supremacy of the will of the Lord over its head, and over every one of its members. Natural inclinations and partialities are thus entirely excluded, as well as the weakness of the natural affections, so often displayed in allowing the self-will of children - the only end being to please the Lord by the establishment of His authority over all the members of the household.

All this, indeed, lies in the words, "the discipline of the Lord." The primary meaning of the word is "training, teaching, or education," but it is the Lord's training and teaching which have to be administered. The simple statement of the fact throws a new light upon the families of Christians. What earnestness and zeal are often manifested to provide for a child's vocation in this world, and the anxiety for the child's success is often a burden upon many a parent's heart. And it is quite admitted that our children must be trained for some calling to enable them to pass through this world; but the chief end of a parent's stewardship is to train them up for the lord. If the Lord be thus exalted in the education of the children, His favour will rest both upon them and upon their parents, and He will be with the parents to sustain them in their object, and to subdue the hearts of the children to His blessed will. But, as with the Jewish parent so with the Christian, there must be diligence in this work. Every opportunity must be employed - "When thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" - to impress upon them the blessed character of their relationship to the Lord, and of their subjection to His gracious government and authority.

Then, moreover, there is also the "admonition" of the Lord. Two or three thoughts lie in this word: it includes reminding, warning, and perhaps advising. We all know how prone children (and we ourselves also) are to forget what is due to the Lord. A seasonable reminder will often in such a case check the beginning of a course of disobedience; and then, if there be the least sign of stubbornness, warning will find its proper place, coupled with earnest advice. But it must ever be recollected that the reminder, the warning, and the advice must not spring from human counsels of prudence, but from the Lord. It is HIS admonition. His word, therefore, must be often in requisition for such an education, and hence, also, the children will need to be constantly under the parents' supervision and care. The temptation may be to say that such a standard is too high; but it cannot be, if it is the Lord's own standard. That many of us may have to own our failures as we read these lines is more than probable; yet let us not doubt that if we humbly own it, and seek grace from the Lord Himself, He will strengthen us for our responsibility, sustain us daily in meeting it, and bless His discipline and admonition to the eternal welfare of our children.

A word may be added in conclusion upon "bringing them up," because we are thus taught to begin at the earliest possible moment to train our children for the Lord. No greater mistake can be made than to permit the first few years to pass along in self-pleasing before commencing the Lord's discipline. The mothers in Israel brought their "little children" to Jesus that He should touch them, and He took them up in His arms, put His hands upon them, and blessed them. (Mark 10.) Let us also bring our little children to Him in His own appointed way, as early as possible, that, recognising them as His, we may be found in obedience to the exhortation not to provoke them, but to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and that He may put His hands upon them and bestow also His blessing.