THE CHILDREN FOR CHRIST.
'Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.'—Eph. vi. 4.
'Fathers ! provoke not your children, that they be not discouraged.'—Col. iii. 21.
'Love suffereth long, and is kind ; seeketh not her own, is not provoked.'—1 Cor. xiii. 4, 5.
'Train the young women to love their children.'—Tit. ii. 4.
rpHE apostle had noticed in the houses he
JL visited, how sadly education often suffers from a want of love. And so, in addressing different classes in his general epistles, he speaks specially to fathers, and, on the two occasions in which he names them, repeats the warning to them not to provoke their children to wrath. His words suggest the three thoughts that a child is often very provoking, that a father often allows himself to be provoked, that then the result generally is that he again provokes the child to wrath. Instead of thus, by his reproof, being the help and the strength of his .child in seeking what is good, he discourages and hinders him. Paul's warning opens up to us the whole subject of the difficulty of giving reproof or punishment in the right spirit, of the need of patience and wisdom and self-control, of the secret of a parent's rule being this, that it is to be a reign of love.
Let us mark first that fathers are here specially addressed. They are expected to take a part in the management of the children. There are many fathers who neglect this, and seek to throw the work entirely on the mother. When returning home from the day's labour, they do not feel inclined to trouble themselves, and the children are regarded more as a burden and a weariness, than as a charge entrusted by the Lord, to be met in the spirit of love and gladness. God has joined to the weakness and gentleness of the mother the firmness and strength of the father; it is as each takes his share in the work, and becomes the helper of the other, that the Divine blessing may be expected. On this account it is of such great importance that in addition to the daily united devotions at the family altar, there should be set times when father and mother join in reading and conversation and prayer on the training of their children. One half-hour a week set apart for this purpose, if it were only for one year, would bring a rich reward. It would supply the lack of a training-school for parents, and draw attention to many an important lesson which is otherwise not noticed in the presence of work. It would give the opportunity for a mother's calling for, and receiving a father's aid and guidance. It would bring the blessing on conjugal and parental love, of which Peter speaks: 'Ye husbands, dwell with your wives according to knowledge, giving honour unto the woman, as unto the weaker vessel, as being also joint heirs of the grace of life; to the end that your prayers be not hindered.' Let every father accept his calling to take his part in the training of the children.
'Ye fathers! provoke not your children unto wrath.' The occasion of this taking place is ordinarily that the child has first provoked the father. A child is sometimes wayward, often thoughtless, always feeble and ignorant, so that even what was well meant may be the cause of annoyance. It is only when the nature of the child, and specially its weakness and sinfulness, is carefully and lovingly taken into account, that the parent will be able patiently to bear with it and rightly to train it. It is the privilege and honour of the parent to have this immortal spirit, with all its failings and with all the trials of patience it involves, entrusted to his charge, with the view of his being the artificer through whom God is to make of it something of beauty and of glory for Himself. Let parents lay their account with the weakness and the wilfulness of their children; let them not be surprised or taken at unawares by what may be trying to temper and to patience; they will see the need for preparing themselves for their holy work by faith in Him who fits us for every work He gives us to do.
'Ye fathers ! provoke not your children to wrath.' There is much in some children that is provoking, there is much in some fathers that is easily provoked: beware above everything of giving way to such provocation; it has been the ruin of many a child. To educate a child is impossible without self-control. If anywhere, in this that scripture is true,' Ye have need of patience,'' Let patience have its perfect work.' The whole life of the Christian is meant by the Father in heaven, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to be one of watchfulness and self-recollection. In home life these graces are specially indispensable. The sudden outbreaks of temper in children, the little vexations arising from their disobedience or neglect or mistakes, their little quarrels and naughtinesses, are all so many occasions on which a father needs the love that is not easily provoked. God meant the rule of the family to be like His own, a reign of law inspired by love.
'Ye fathers! provoke not your children to wrath.' However provoking the child may have been, however much inclined the father may be to feel provoked, he must see to it that he does not provoke the child to wrath. One provocation calls forth another, an angry father, giving way to his failing of being provoked easily, makes an angry child. There is innate in each human bosom a sense of the dignity of government and the duty of submission to authority. The calm, quiet assertion of authority helps greatly to bring the offender to the acknowledgment of the justice of his punishment. When, instead of trusting to this, the parent gives way to anger and passion in the sharp reproof or the hasty punishment, the child's passion is roused too, and he is angry and vexed at an infliction of which he does not understand the reason or perhaps the justice. Passion ordinarily rouses passion; the parent is the teacher and example of the child appointed of God to meet and conquer outbreaks of his passion by the gentle firmness of love: how sad when the very opposite is the case, and a father's hasty anger inflames a child's passion, and he becomes his provocation to wrath!
'That they be not discouraged.' In the struggle between good and evil that goes on in the child, there is nothing so much needed as that he should be encouraged to believe that the victory of the good is within his reach, that goodness is possible and pleasant. To inspire a child with a holy confidence in what, by God's grace and the aid of his parents, he can accomplish, is one of the blessed secrets of success in training. In training a horse the utmost care is taken never to overtax it, or give a load, that might lead to failure; at each difficult place you see its master all alert with voice and hand to inspire it with confidence; it must not know that it cannot succeed. That the child may never be discouraged by thinking that its weakness is not taken account of, that its little reasonings are not regarded, that it has not received the pity or the help or the justice it expects, will need a love which children all too little receive, and a thoughtfuluess which parents all too little bestow.
'Ye fathers! provoke not your children to wrath.' The education of a child is a holier work than many think. It needs above everything self-training. This was one of the objects with which God created the family relation: it is one of its chief blessings. Without his knowing it, your child is God's schoolmaster to bring you ever nearer to Christ. Not only does the child, in his tenderness and lovingness, call forth the love of your heart; his waywardness and wilfulness call for it still more, as they put it to the test and school it in forbearance and gentleness. Study to have every token of your displeasure, every reproof and every punishment, so marked by love that through it all the child may really be encouraged into goodness.
But it is not by reproof and punishment, however gently and wisely administered, that parents will keep their children from getting provoked or discouraged. This is but the negative side; the positive is of more importance. Prevention is better than cure. Cultivate ever in yourself and the child that state of feeling which takes away the opportunity of its coming into collision with you. Endeavour by your own tranquillity, gentleness, and kindliness to promote the same feelings in the child. Count upon the wonderful ascendency and influence over children that sympathy gives, in both its aspects. Throw yourself in sympathy into their interests, entering into their state of mind and feeling. Expect them—for their nature is as keenly susceptible of sympathy for others as from others—to enter into your spirit and temper, and instinctively to yield themselves to its influence. And as you seek to maintain the rule of love,—not the mere love of natural instinct, but of love as a principle of action, earnestly sought in prayer from above, and carefully cultivated in all your family life,—you will find how the children will catch its spirit, and become your helpers in making your home the reflection of the life of love in which the Heavenly Father guides and trains His children.
Gracious God and Father! the longer we listen to the teaching of Thy Word on our duty as parents, the more deeply we feel the need of a Divine grace for doing that work aright. I come to Thee with the humble confession of my sin; how often sin in the child has only been met by sin in the parent, to call forth in the child new sin, and to discourage him in the battle with it. And Thou hadst meant the parent to be to the child the model of a holy, patient love, uniting and helping its feebleness, and by his example encouraging him into the assurance that he, too, can conquer.
O God! we beseech Thee to open our eyes that we may know our holy calling. Give us a deep conviction that nothing but Thine own Spirit, dwelling in us day by day, can fit us for training sinful beings in a life of holiness; that nothing but the most entire surrender to walk with Thee, and to be in everything guided and possessed by Thy Spirit, can prepare us for the work of parents. O God! we pray Thee especially for a baptism of love, of Thine own love. May a holy wisdom and patience in meeting each little outbreak of the evil nature, may the power of a love that enables us to bear and yet to conquer, as well as to inspire our child with confidence in us and the victory of good, be given us. 0 God! we would train our children after Thy mind, and to be a pleasure to Thee; be Thou our help. Amen.