THE CHILDREN FOR CHRIST.
'The bishop must be one that ruleth well his own house, having hi* children in subjection with all gravity; (but if a man knoweth not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God ?) Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling well their children and their own houses.' — 1 Tim. Hi. 4, 5, 12.
IT is a most suggestive thought that among the qualifications for office-hearers in the primitive Church, bishop, elder, or deacon, in each case the state of their household should have been taken account of, and a failure there should have been considered sufficient to bar them from the office for which personally they otherwise might have appeared fit. It reminds us once again of the closeness of the link between parents and children, and the organic unity of the home as a whole. From the household you can infallibly judge of what the parents are: the parents make it: it is the outgrowth and the expression of their life, the mirror in which, often with startling faithfulness, their hidden failings are revealed.
Some may be inclined to doubt the truth of this statement. They have so often heard, they know, of pious parents whose children have turned out ill. Is all the blame to be laid on the parents? We have no power to change the evil nature; it is grace alone can do it. Is it not going too far to put the blame of unbelieving or unruly children on the parents, and count such a father unfit for holding office in the Church or household of God, because his own household is not what it should be? And yet just this is what the Holy Spirit does. He teaches Paul to connect unbelieving and unruly children with the failure of the home rule, and unfitness for Church rule. He thus stirs us to search out what the secret evil may be by which, in parents who otherwise appear fit to be leaders in the Church, the training of their children is robbed of its power and its promised blessing. We are to seek for causes of failure in the home rule.
The first answer may be suggested to us by the words of Paul, as he argues from failure at home to failure in the Church. We may go a step backward and argue from failure in the family to failure in the person; the wrong in the home reveals something wrong in its head. We have more than once seen that the secret of home rule is self-rule, first being ourselves what we want our children to be. The wonderful power of the will with which man has been endowed was meant to make him in the first place his own master. And yet how many Christian parents there are to whom real self-control in daily life is quite foreign! It is not the thought of God's will, nor the rule of their own will, that guides and decides their conduct, but in conversation and action, in likes and dislikes, they are led away by the feelings of the moment. Because they trust that they are God's children, and that Christ's blood pardons their sins, and that their prayers will be heard, they hope for the salvation of their children. And yet their education is setting up the most effectual barrier against God's grace. Pleasing themselves, allowing their inclination or temper to be the rule of language and conduct, they give the most effectual contradiction to their profession of being the servants of God's will. "Would that all Christian parents might learn the lesson that a quiet selfrecollection and self-control, that a calm stillness of soul that seeks to be guided by God's Spirit, is one of the first conditions of success in our own spiritual life, and so in the sacred influence we wish to exert on our children. 'In quietness and confidence shall be your strength;' nowhere will the unconscious but strong influence of this restfulness be felt so soon as in family life.
But there may be other causes. A Christian parent may not be wanting in self-control, and yet fail. The reason will very possibly be found in neglect of the duty of riding. With some this may come from an entire ignorance of the solemn place a parent occupies. They have never thought seriously of the extent to which the souls and wills and characters of the children are in their hands. They have never taken any trouble to think carefully of the work entrusted to them. They may pray earnestly at times that their children may be saved; they know not that it is of more importance to pray daily that they themselves may be fitted to guide their children aright. With others the neglect of the duty rests on wrong principles thoughtlessly adopted. They admire a strong will; in the waywardness or self-assertion of a child's will they often see nothing but cause of amusement or admiration. They wish to see their child grow up a strong, bold character, able to do and dare; they would not for anything weaken his will. They know not that a wayward will is a curse; and that a will that masters itself to obedience is the truly strong will. No wonder that the children later on should be disobedient or unruly. And then with others the neglect of the duty comes from simple weakness and sloth. They admit that it is their duty; but it is so hard; it takes so much time and thought. It is so trying to their love to punish or to thwart the child, and, under cover of the name of tenderheartedness, the authority with which they have been entrusted of God is neglected and abused. Let parents take time and thought to realize: to rule a child is as distinctly God's command as to love it or to care for it. The interests of parent and child demand it; the time and labour spent in cultivating this grace will be richly rewarded.
But still there are parents in whom neither of the causes of failure mentioned hold good. They do rule themselves, and they do seek to rule their children, and yet have failed. The cause must be sought deeper: the want of the Divine blessing must be sought in the want of true faith and consecration. There are some children easily ruled; there are others of nervous temperament or wayward disposition who appear to defy control. 'The things that are impossible with men are possible with God.' Education is a work in which the parents are meant to be God's servants, His fellowworkers; but to work really with God means to walk closely with Him. It is to the soul that is wholly given up to Him, and seeks undividedly to do His will, that the power of faith will be given to hold fast the covenant, and to live in the assurance that God Himself will do the work. Let there be but simple, childlike heart-searching, to see if there has not been in our aim with our children desire for worldly honour or position; the spirit of the world is the most secret but most certain hindrance to true faith. Let the surrender of ourselves and our children—not only to God's mercy, to save, but to God's will, to rule and use— be complete and unreserved; we shall find God to be our ally, our covenant-helper in training the children; and with Hini on our side we must prevail. To have had power with Him in prayer is the sure guarantee of victory with the child.
Parents! the work entrusted to us is holier than we know. The precious instrument, so delicate, so wonderfully made, so marred by sin already, and so exposed to its power, is of such inconceivable worth. To take charge of an immortal soul, to train a will for God and eternity, surely we ought to shrink from it. But we cannot. If we are parents, the duty is laid upon us. But, thank God! sufficient grace is prepared and promised too. If we do but give up our home and our life to God for Him to come in and rule, He will Himself take possession, and by the gentle influence of His Holy Spirit bow their will to Himself. And the discipline which our thus ruling the children brings will be the best preparation for our ruling in God's house, with that rule of which Jesus speaks: 'He that is chief among you, let him be servant of all.' If, for the sake of serving God in our homes, we deny ourselves to acquire real influence and power to rule with our children, He will count us worthy of influence and power with our fellow-men and in His Church. Faithfulness in the home rule will give power to take care of the Church of God,—will be, as it was with Abraham, the secret of admission to the counsel of Him who rules the world, to the power that prevails with God and men.
Adorable Lord God! we worship Thee as the Ruler of the universe. Righteousness and judgment are the foundation of Thy throne. Thou art gracious and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. Thy kingdom ruleth over all; and Thy rule is everywhere the fountain of all blessing and good.
O Lord! it hath pleased Thee to ordain that in each home on earth Thy heavenly rule should have its reflection. Thou hast given to parents power and authority over their children to rule in Thy name. Thou hast promised to give them all needful wisdom and strength for maintaining that authority, and ruling their children well.
We have to confess with shame how often this holy trust of ruling in Thy name has been neglected and abused. We beseech Thee to forgive us. We beseech Thee to deliver us from all that hinders that rule. We desire to take it up as a life-work in Thy strength. May a holy self-rule fit us for a happy home rule. We desire to make the work Thou givest us a study and a pleasure; to fit ourselves carefully for doing it well. Be Thou our Teacher and our Help.
Lord Jesus! we do indeed yield our homes and our children, our lives and all our powers, to be wholly Thine. Thou art able to keep that which we commit to Thee. Keep our homes as Thy sacred dwelling-place, where we and our children serve Thee in righteousness and love, in peace and in great joy. Amen.