Train Up a Child

“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 century Christians “Be not deceived: Evil company corrupts good morals” (1 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” and “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” and “to teach”. But the 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 Dedication. (1) 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 count…” 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 training: 1. Subdue self-will in the child and thus work together with God to save his soul. 2. Teach him to pray as soon as he can speak. 3. Give him nothing he cries for, and only what is good for him if he asks for it politely. 4. To prevent lying, punish no fault that is freely confessed, but never allow a rebellious, sinful act to go unnoticed. 5. Commend and reward good behavior. (6) Strictly observe all promises you have made to your child. (2)

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 living God” (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 Pilgrim’s Progress 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 would write, “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.” (3) 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.

(1) Robert Alden, Proverbs, (Grand Rapids, MI : Zondervan, 1983), p. 160
(2) William MacDonald, Believers Bible Commentary, Proverbs, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), p. 847
(3) Rodney Thomson, Prince of Preachers, (Sarasota, FL: Christian Soldiers, 1999), p. 7