THE CHILDREN FOR CHRIST.
'Train up a child in the way he should go ; and even when he is old, he will not depart from it.'—Prov. xxii. 6.
THIS promise is the Scripture expression of the principle on which all education rests, that a child's training can decide what his after life is to be. Without this faith there could be no thought of anything like education; when this faith is elevated to a trust in God and His promises, it grows into the assurance that a parent's labour will not be in vain in the Lord.
Education has been variously defined as fully developing a child's faculties, fitting him to fulfil his destiny, developing in him all the perfection of which he is capable. Such definitions have their value for every parent who would thoroughly understand his work, and yet their application is dependent upon the further statement of what his faculties and his destiny really are, and wherein his highest perfection would consist. It is only when the real aim of education is first clearly and firmly grasped that its work can be successful. Just as, in our text, everything will depend on a correct view of what is 'the way in which he should go,' only then can the training do its work in the assurance of the Divine fulfilment of the promise.
There have been so many failures in religious training, that a spirit of doubt has grown up as to whether a principle like this can be regarded as holding universally good. With such doubt we undermine God's covenant. Let us rather believe that the failure was owing to man's fault: 'Let God be true, and every man a liar.' Either the parent did not make 'the way in which he should go' his one aim in the child's training, or the training in that way was not what God's Word had ordered it to be. Let us see what the Word teaches us on each of these points.
As to 'the way in which he should go,' we need be in no doubt. The names Scripture gives to this way make clear what it is. 'The way of the Lord,' God calls it, when He speaks of Abraham training his children; and we often read of 'walking in His ways,' 'the way of His footsteps,' ' the way of His commandments.' It is called 'the way of wisdom,' 'the way of righteousness,' 'the way of holiness,'' the way of peace,' 'the way of life.' It is 'the new and living way' opened by Christ for all who will walk in His footsteps; it is Christ Himself, the living Way, of whom Scripture says, 'Walk in Him.'
There are many religious parents, who are most anxious to see their children saved, but who do not choose this way for them; they do not decide on it distinctly as the one only way in which they are to walk. They think it too much to expect that they should walk in it from their youth, and so they do not train them to go in it. They are not prepared to regard the walking in this way as always the first thing. It is not their first aim to train whole-hearted, devoted Christians. There are worldly interests must not be sacrificed. They are not always ready themselves to walk in that way only and wholly—' the narrow way ;' they have chosen it, but not exclusively and finally. They have their own thoughts as to the way they and the child may go. No wonder that with a great deal of apparent religion their education fails; a mistake here is often fatal. There may be no doubt or hesitancy; 'the way of the Lord' must be heartily accepted as alone 'the way in which he should go.'
'In the way in which he should go, train up a child.' Train, a word of deep importance for every teacher and parent to understand. It is not toiling, not teaching, not commanding, but something higher than all these; that without which the teaching and commanding is often more harm than good. It is not only telling a child what to do, but showing him how to do it and seeing that it is done, taking care that the advice or the command we give is put into practice and adopted as a habit.
What is needed for such training we can understand easily if we look at the way in which a young horse is trained. How it is made to yield its will to its master's, until at last it is in perfect sympathy with him, and yields to his slightest wish! How carefully it is directed and accustomed to do the right thing until it becomes a habit, a second nature! How its own wild native tendencies, when needful, are checked and restrained! How it is encouraged and helped to the full exercise of its powers in subjection to this rule, and everything done to make it bold and spirited! With what thoughtful care I have seen a coachman watch his young horses, and sit ready, at any difficulty, to help them with voice and hand, lest they should lose their confidence or be overcome by some difficulty they had to surmount! And I have thought, Would that parents bestowed somewhat of this care on training children in the way they should go!
Training may now thus be defined: accustoming the child to do easily and willingly what is commanded. Doing, doing habitually, doing from choice,—this is what we aim at.
Doing. The parent who wishes to train not only tells or commands, but sees that the thing is done. To this end he seeks to engage the interest and affection of the child on the side of duty generally, as well as of the duty specially to be performed. Knowing how naturally thoughtless and fickle a child's nature is, he urges or encourages, until the thing, which involves self-denial or difficulty, is performed. He is careful not to give too many commands, or to give them hastily; he begins with commands to which submission is most easily secured, that so the thought of obedience may not too much be linked with the thought of what is displeasing or impossible. But the great thing is, whether he appeals to the motive of authority or of love, of duty or of pleasure, that he watches the child through the struggle, until the consent of the will has become deed and action.
Doing habitually is, we said, an element of training. Success in education depends more on forming habits than inculcating rules. What the child has done once or twice he must learn to do over and over again, until it becomes familiar and natural; it must feel strange to him not to do it. If the educator be content with the first acts of obedience, sloth, fprgetfulness, and reluctance to effort, the evil of his nature and self-will, may soon come in and break the power of the incipient habit. The parent silently watches, and, when there is danger of a retrograde step, interposes to help and confirm the habit until its mastery is secure. Going on from a first and a second command, in which obedience has been secured, the principle is extended until the child comes to feel it quite natural that in all things he should do the parent's will. And so the habit is formed of obedience, which becomes the root of other habits.
Doing from choice. This is something higher,— the true aim of education. You may have good, obedient children, in whom there never has been much resistance to a parent's training, who render habitual and willing obedience, and yet, when left to themselves in later life, depart from the way in which they were trained to go. The training was defective ;_ parents were content with habits without principles. The training of the young horse is not complete until he delights, full of joy and spirit, to do his work. It is the training of the will that is the aim of education. Beginning with obedience, the parent has to lead the child on to liberty; the apparent opposites have to be reconciled in practice; really to choose and will for himself what his parent wills, to find his happiness not only in the obedience to the parent's command, but in the approval of the thing commanded, — this is what the child must be formed to. And here is indeed the highest art, the real difficulty of training a child in the way he should go.
But just here the promise of Divine grace comes in. No mind has yet apprehended the wondrous interplay of God's working and our working in the matter of our salvation; and as little in the salvation of our children. But we need not to understand it to be sure of it, or to count on God's faithfulness. Where the believing parent seeks not only to form the habits of obedience, but in prayer and faith to mould and guide and strengthen the will of the child in the way of the Lord, he may count upon the workings of God's Holy Spirit to do what God alone can do. In covenant with God, as His fellow-worker and minister, he does not shrink back from this highest and holiest of tasks, the training of that mighty power, a will made after the image of God's will, and now under the power of sin. He reckons on a Divine wisdom to guide him; he counts on a Divine strength to work with him and for him; he trusts in a Divine faithfulness to make the word true and sure in all its fulness, 'Train up a child in the way he should go; when he is old, he will not depart from it.'1
1 See Note A, at close of volume, on training.
Holy Lord God! with fear and trembling I bow before Thee in view of the work to which Thou hast called me. O my God! I feel deeply that I lack wisdom; I come to Thee, who givest liberally, and upbraidest not. Thy word has said, it shall be given.
Lord! give me the spirit of wisdom, that I may understand aright the wondrous nature of that immortal spirit that has been put into my charge, with its power of mind and emotion and will. Give me wisdom, that I may know the way in which the child should go, even the way of Thy footsteps, and let me so walk in it that he may learn from me that, as there is no other way well pleasing to Thee, so there is no other way that can give us true pleasure. And give me wisdom, that I may know how to guide and influence the will, that it may give itself first to my will, and then to Thine, to choose only and always Thy way. Lord! give me wisdom to train my child in the way he should go, even the way of the Lord.
And, O my God! strengthen my faith to hold fast the blessed assurance that a godly training in Thy fear, and under the rule of Thy spirit, cannot fail. Thy promise is sure, Thy power is infinite; Thou wilt bless the seed of Thy servants. Amen.