Train Up a Child ...
by David Dunlap
"Train up a child in the way that he should go: and when he is old, he will not
depart from it." —Proverbs 22:6
Our children may be the only earthly asset,
transformed by the spiritual investment of time and effort, that we can take
with us to heaven. The Scriptures urge us to strive and to labor in training
up the children the Lord has given to us. Parents are called to equip
themselves for the struggle in holding unflinchingly to the Word of God.
The Warning of Proverbs 22:6
The proverb before us has been a treasured
promise to many who have competed in the arena of child rearing. Many a
seasoned saint, disheartened by the parental battle, has fallen upon its
softness. Yet, this proverb may be viewed as a dual-sided coin--one side
containing a promise and the other a warning. We are first warned that by the
neglect of this precept, if a child is not trained in the way he should go, he
will be nevertheless trained. He will be trained by the precepts and
principles of the secular world, molded further by his own selfish and
undisciplined desires. For this very reason the apostle Paul exhorted first
"Be not deceived: Evil company corrupts good morals"
Corithians 15:33). This unspiritual "training" will ingrain in him thought
patterns and habits that will turn his thoughts and desires away from the
things of God when he is older. Many a Christian, even those well along in
their walk with Christ, have been plagued by the "training" of ungodly
thoughts, memories, and experiences instilled in them when they were young. The
warning in this proverb should stir the thoughtful parent to more caution in
the shaping and protecting of the young minds and lives entrusted into his
care. Two ways lie before the child--the way he would go, headlong into a life
of sorrow; and the way he should go, a path which leads to
"fullness of joy"
"pleasures for evermore."
Worldly tolerance and lax permissiveness
represent two ends of a cord pulled tightly, choking the spiritual potential of
a young life. The failure to protect and instruct children may lead to
irreparable spiritaul damage. Scripture is unmistakably clear that raising a
child is a full-time and solemn responsibility. The careless neglect of a
child when he is youngwill only result in a heart full of sorrow and pain when
the is older.
The Promise of Proverbs 22:6
We must never forget that there is also a
promise contained in this important proverb. The hopes of two generations rest
upon this wise precept. Firstly, there is the generation of when he is in the
way he should go; and then there is the generation of when he is old. When we
consider this solemn fact, it should not surprise us to see great emphasis laid
upon the idea of training in godliness. So very much in the Christian life and
spiritual service hinges upon the training one has received in his childhood.
The word "train" at the outset arrests our attention as we consider the meaning
of this proverb. The Hebrew word translated "train" in our English Bibles is a
rare word; it is used only three other times in the Old Testament. It is
variously translated in the Bible as
"to start up"
most accepted meaning of this word among Bible scholars is to "dedicate", to
set apart for a particular purpose or goal. It is of note that the same root
word is used in its noun form for the feast of Hanukkah, the Feast of
Unless we are dedicated to training a child in the principles, truths, and
examples of the Scriptures, we leave him utterly helpless.
Caution Concerning the "Christian" Parenting Industry
Over the last ten or fifteen years sincere
Christians parents have been hindered in their efforts by a new movement
within the evangelical church. The present day "Christian" parenting industry
does little to equip parents in this training effort. It unfortunately harms
this effort by feeding parents' fears that if they err in any way with their
children, they might seriously damage the child forever, causing his character
or behavior to be evil. By fueling such concerns, they persuade parents to
march lock-step with the psychology-laced programs, signing up for parenting
seminars year after year. All too often, sincere parents become so totally
dependent upon the so-called parenting "experts" that they are unable and
unwilling to think for themselves. Frequently, these programs and seminars
produce more confusion and doubt than help for struggling parents. These
parents soon begin to regard child-rearing as a mine field strewn with dangers;
one wrong step and you risk deep-seated and long-term emotional and
psychological damage to your child. These parents become utterly dependent on
"pop" child-psychology programs that map out their every step, and they refuse
to deviate from the plan, including those areas of the program that have no
basis in Scripture. Unfortunately, these parents are willing to defy both
common sense and biblical principles for the sake of following a popular
parenting program. This current trend should be a great concern to us all.
For centuries godly Christians have
studiously avoided current fads of the day and sought to use biblical
principles of child-training to great benefit. One of the most godly mothers
throughout the annals of church history must undoubtedly be Susanna Wesley.
This mother of John and Charles Wesley, who gave birth to 17 other children
while assisting Samuel Wesley in his duties as a minister of the gospel in
Epworth, England, would often pray as a young woman,
"Lord, make my life
Heaven alone will record the full answer to this earnest prayer.
But it was her sons, John and
Charles Wesley, along with George Whitefield, who lit the fires that would be
called the First Great Awakening in England and in the American colonies. This
spiritual revival would be the cause of thousands coming to Christ and the
establishment of many churches. If John Wesley and Charles Wesley lit the fire
of this great revival, surely Susanna Wesley was used of God to strike the
first match by her spiritual rearing of these two men of God. How did she
train up a child in the way he should go? What biblical principles did she use
in the raising of her family? Susanna Wesley used the following rules of child
Subdue self-will in the child and thus work together with God to save his soul.
Teach him to pray as soon as he can speak.
Give him nothing he cries for, and only what is good for him if he asks for it
To prevent lying, punish no fault that is freely confessed, but never allow a
rebellious, sinful act to go unnoticed.
Commend and reward good behavior. (6) Strictly observe all promises you have
made to your child.
Parenting and Godly Fear
Parents who have been the most committed and
earnest about child training have usually seen the most spiritual blessing.
These parents who have been filled with the holy desire to see their children
love and reverence God, have made their children's spiritual training their
passion. High on their list of biblical priorities for their children is the
reverential fear of God in their lives. Godly reverence is the sacred awe of
God's holiness. It is the respect and humility that results in godly and
reverent worship in the presence of the Almighty God. Godly reverence also
involves the proper fear of God's displeasure. True faith acknowledges God's
right to chasten, His right to punish and to judge because of sin. Scripture
properly warns us that
"it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the
(Hebrews 10:31). These godly parents have seen the danger of
presenting God as always gentle, meek, and mild, to the exclusion of His
attributes of justice, wrath, and righteous anger. The absence of a full
presentation of God's attributes frequently results in a careless and flippant
attitude towards God.
C. H. Spurgeon's godly parents, John and
Eliza, were eager to train their son in righteousness and the fear of God. As
a young child, they read to him the Christian classic
by John Bunyan. Spurgeon once mentioned to a friend that during his lifetime
he had read Pilgrim's Progress over 100 times, but that his love for this book
and Christ first came from his mother's loving spiritual influence. She would
awaken the family by the singing of hymns every morning, and each evening young
Charles Haddon would hear her close the day by praying for the salvation of all
seventeen children in the family by name. As a young man, his mother offered
him a penny for every Issac Watts' hymn that he could memorize and recite
perfectly. Soon he had memorized and recited over 100 hymns. Spurgeon later
recounted with a smile that his mother reduced his wages from a penny per hymn
to a farthing "so not to ruin him by the love of money". His mother knew that
the rich spiritual truths and the skillful phrasing of these hymns would have
lasting spiritual value in his life. Spurgeon recounts the great impact his
godly parents and grandparents had upon his life, but he writes that the
reverential fear of God made the most lasting impression. Later in his life he
"Sin, whatever it might be to other people, became to me an
intolerable burden. It was not so much that I feared hell as that I feared
sin, and all the while I had a concern for the honour of God's name."
As he neared the end of his course, C. H. Spurgeon stated that the person who
made the most significant spiritual contribution to his life was his mother,
Eliza Spurgeon, and that he longed to be reunited with her. Eliza Spurgeon
would doubtless agree with Solomon, that "training up a child in the way he
should go" contains a great promise but also a solemn warning. May we be
"trainers" of children, that when they are old they will walk in the right
way--and that they in turn may become "trainers" themselves of the young lives
entrusted into their care.
(Grand Rapids, MI : Zondervan, 1983), p. 160
Believers Bible Commentary, Proverbs,
(Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), p. 847
Prince of Preachers,
(Sarasota, FL: Christian Soldiers, 1999), p. 7
"A tree follows the bent of its early years, and so it is with our children.
Children must see in their parents that they exemplify their instruction.
Where a holy, cheerful atmosphere pervades the home, and godly admonition is
coupled with godly living, parents can count on the Lord to keep their children
following the right way."
H. A. Ironside
"Proverbs 22:6 stands, not as a promise, but as a warning to parents that if
they allow a child to train himself after his own wishes (permissively), they
should not expect him to change these patterns when he matures. The corollary
to this passage is Proverbs 19:8 which exhorts 'Discipline your son while
there is yet hope; do not set your heart on his destruction.' "
Dr. Jay Adams
"Competent to Counsel" p. 158
"A child is trained more by the eye than by the ear. If the child hears of
godliness, and sees wickedness, this is bringing bread with one hand and poison
with the other. A well-trained child gladly looks to his parent's godliness as
his model picture to copy after. Imitation is a far more powerful principle
than memory. "
Commentary on Prov. 22:6
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