The Importance of Family Education
The Reformers, in agreement with our confession, saw the necessity of good instruction in biblical doctrine and in the required way of life.
We read in a periodical: "We have found that most Christian teenagers are ideologically naked, for they do not understand the difference between liberal and conservative, humanist and Christian, evolutionist and creationist, and many have difficulty differentiating between Christian morality and worldliness." This is a sad conclusion. It means that these teenagers are unarmed, without weapons in the heavy spiritual battle, in this age of great decay.
The enemies of Christianity, however, are not unarmed. They have an ideology, a worldview, a mission, an utopian vision. They have the urge and also the ability and opportunity to lure the "disinherited," and especially the half-baked intellectuals of so many big and small nations, to join their camp.
The youth in communist countries are trained in that ideology, are formed into militant young people who join the battle for world dominion, for supremacy of their false "religion.'' Their leaders see the high value of having a grasp upon the youth.
And what do we see in the free West? Vague philosophies of relativism and even nihilism rule. Many young people, and older people, have been robbed by secularism of the very ideas worth living and dying for.
While the communists are willing to sacrifice and even to die for their "faith," no one in the West is willing to die for "Wall Street," Hollywood, Disneyland, or any other assortment of the secular, materialistic articles of Western beliefs. And that is comprehensible, for there can and will be no ideas worthy of total commitment as long as we reject the light of God's infallible Word. The Bible contains the ideas, the facts that the West needs for survival: the true worship of God, duty, honor, morality, family, etc. But the West has other ideas, particularly that no ideas can be true, since all truth is relative. And we can understand that men do not willingly die for a relative ideology. So resistance is broken down and with more dangerous weapons than nuclear arms, the free West is attacked, polluted and influenced, so that weakened and corrupted people, as ripe fruits, simply will be thrown into the lap of the communists.
But you may say: "Is there not in many churches still given much instruction also for the youth?" I believe so, but what are the ideas that are taught? Isn't it often the false religion of humanism, a religion of the worship of men? Is it not often that the very truth is darkened and the lie promoted? In many so-called evangelical groups man with his free will is placed on the foreground. The work of God's sovereign grace is placed in the background and denied. Or a dead orthodoxy without warmth and without true God-given experiences is taught, which also will not impress our rising generation.
How is this now among us? A good Christian education is very necessary and we hope that the Lord will provide in that respect in the future. However, if true experiential life and instruction are missing, if there is only a dead construction of the building and the heart of it – life in the fear of God, experiential knowledge – is missing, do we really believe that we can resist the attacks of other ideologies, that we can keep our youth? You might say: "We can never keep our youth, that is the work of God.'' That's right, but He uses men and means. Very important means are teachers, instructors, educators and they who have to bring them up, to train them in the aforesaid doctrine, to teach them the ways of the Lord.
May we acknowledge the Lord for the benefits He has given us, which He still did not take away from us, in spite of our sins which provoke Him to anger, in spite of the privileges that we often use so carelessly.
What a terrible judgment it would be if the practice of what we confess would be missed, if the light were taken away from the church or put under a bushel, and the salt of the earth would lose its savor! Corruption would increase, decay would progress, and so little would be seen that could cause our children to become jealous of God's people.
The Lord has promised in Psalm 72:5, "They shall fear Thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations.'' That is an encouraging word for those who mourn because of the sad condition of the church, and those who are disappointed because the fruits they see on their labors are little.
The name of the greater Solomon will endure forever. Men shall be blessed in Him. The Lord realizes that by use of the means, He not only crowns His own work, but He causes sinful and unqualified people to work under His blessed hands, encouraged, enlightened and instructed by Him. How very important their work of education in the family is!
With thankfulness Paul mentions in 2 Timothy 1:5, "When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice, and I am persuaded that in thee also.'' We do not know so much of that grandmother Lois, but from what we know, it is clear and evident it was God's work in her. It was unfeigned faith, true saving faith that dwelt in her, so it was not a superficial emotion, but it had habitation in her. It caused her to bring forth fruits of true hope and firm love, for it was a living faith. Then you cannot keep silence, you have to be a witness, telling your children in all simplicity that the Lord is good and merciful, holy and righteous, and worthy to be served particularly in our youth. Then we admonish with love and recommend the service of God wholeheartedly.
That faith dwelt also in Timothy's mother, in Eunice. Evidently the Lord blessed the instruction and answered the prayers of that godly grandmother. And so Eunice also became a praying, but also working mother. No, not a working mother who neglected her first task, the bringing up of her child. An evil, that is seen also among us. It seems that the role of a mother is a humiliating task, but in fact it is a position of honor for the woman. Eunice became a working mother with her prayers clinging to the throne of grace, but also with her deeds. She spoke, she taught, and not only with words, but also with her life, her example.
And the Lord blessed it. This faith also dwelt in Timothy, by sovereign grace, in His undeserved goodness. It pleased the Lord to sanctify the instruction of these godly women.
How is this in our family? Are there such praying and working mothers and fathers? One thing is needful for us and our children. But do we realize that, and do our children see and hear that?
The teachers of our schools sometimes meet each other, in conferences or other meetings, to discuss difficulties and problems, to ask for the advice of others. That is good, useful and encouraging. We need guidance, we need to be taught and advised for this important task.
An excellent source of instruction and guidance for school teachers as well as teachers at home can be found in some of the books of our old writers, men of the Second Reformation. One of them was Jacobus Koelman, the minister of Sluis in Vlaanderen, who wrote a very instructive book: De plichten der Ouders, in Kinderen voor God op to voeden. The title already explains the purpose of this work; to instruct parents, by showing them their duties to bring up their children for God, and to His honor. It is very practical, containing much biblical advice for education. In various chapters he deals with education of very young children up to six years, and of children of six to twelve years and older.
He tells parents to show their children their sins and how to discipline them. He speaks very practically about the language children use, rough words and profane language. He also discusses the hallowing of the Sabbath day, disobedience, quarreling in families, reading of evil books, evil company and wrong friends. But he also gives counsel on how to reprimand, how to punish – not in passion, but with love and explanation.
Then he gives advice on how to teach children to pray, and what they may ask the Lord for. Finally, he gives rules and advice on implanting godliness in the hearts of children, knowing that only the Lord can open their hearts, and that all endeavors are dependent on His blessing. He emphasizes the importance of having conversations and discussions with your children. Speak with them, and show yourself an example of respectfulness when you speak about God and His holy works. Speak with reverence about God's servants, about His people. Speak about loathing of sin, and with sincerity about the misery of the ungodly. Tell them with persuasion of the happiness of God's children. Prove that God's children are rich, although often poor in the eyes of worldly people; that they are glorious, highly privileged and that they only have true happiness and gladness. Tell them also who the children of God are. Explain to them some marks of new life and the fruits of true faith.
Speak with them about the fall of man, about the glorious state of rectitude, about misery and perdition, about the curse that they brought upon them, and tell them who the unconverted, the miserable are.
Teach them also how to read the Word of God. Speak of God's incomprehensible love revealed in giving His only begotten Son as a sacrifice for sin. Koelman very practically encourages parents to speak about the covenant of grace, and about the Mediator, Jesus Christ. Tell your children of His submission to the law, His obedience, humility, meekness, mercy, humiliation, heavy suffering, His offices, but also of His victory and His glorification.
Koelman earnestly recommends that parents speak about death, explaining that we all have to die, and the importance of this life as a preparation for death. Show them why God-fearing people do not have to be afraid. Give examples of blessed deathbeds, wherein the powers of God's grace were revealed. Try to make them jealous of those people. But tell them also how terrible it will be to die without grace, and then to have to appear before the judgment seat of God.
Show them that great difference between the place where the goats have to be sent, and the place where the sheep will be gathered. Oh, what a tremendous difference between eternal punishment and eternal joy!
Explain to them the marks of the sheep, of their sincere love for God and all His people, their sorrow about sin, their hatred of all iniquities and their heavy strife against them, also their taking refuge in Christ, their faith, hope, their works of love and their thankfulness.
How ashamed we have to be, when we see how far away we are from Koelman's recommended practice! Where are the unworthy beggars, the compassionate teachers at home, moved with the salvation of the souls of the children entrusted unto them?
Dear parents, educators, teachers, children and students; may we repent, confess our guilt, beg for grace and flee unto Him who is the great Teacher of His often disobedient, but happy and blessed children.