Teaching Children about God
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.Psalm 110:10
I very readily allow that no human endeavors, either of ministers or of parents, can ever be effectual to bring one soul to the saving knowledge of God in Christ without the transforming influences of the blessed Spirit. Yet you well know, and I hope you seriously consider, that this does not in the least weaken our obligation to the most diligent use of proper means. The great God has stated rules of operation in the world of grace as well as of nature. Though He is not limited to them, it is arrogant and may be destructive to expect that He should deviate from them in favor of us or ours.
We live not by bread alone, “but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Were He determined to continue your lives or the lives of your children, He could no doubt feed or support you by miracles. Yet you think yourselves obligated to a prudent care for your daily bread. You justly conclude that, were you to neglect to administer it to your infant offspring, you would be chargeable with their murder before God and man; nor could you think of pleading as any excuse that you referred them to miraculous, divine care while you left them destitute of any human supplies. Such a plea would only add impiety to cruelty and greatly aggravate the crime it attempted to palliate. As absurd would it be for us to flatter ourselves with a hope that our children should be taught of God, and regenerated and sanctified by the influences of His grace, if we neglect that prudent and religious care in their education which it is my business this day to describe and recommend...
Children should undoubtedly be trained up in the way of piety and devotion towards God
This, as you well know, is the sum and foundation of everything truly good. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 110:10). The Psalmist therefore invites children to him with the promise of instructing them in it: “Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the LORD” (Ps. 34:11). And, it is certain, some right notions of the Supreme Being must be implanted in the minds of children before there can be a reasonable foundation for teaching them those doctrines that peculiarly relate to Christ under the character of the Mediator. “For he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb. 11:6).
The proof of the being of God and some of those attributes of the divine nature in which we are most concerned depends on such easy principles that I cannot but think the weakest mind might enter into it. A child will easily apprehend that as every house is built by someone and there can be no work without an author, so He that built all things is God. From this obvious idea of God as the Maker of all, we may naturally represent Him as very great and very good, that they may be taught at once to reverence and love Him.
It is of great importance that children early imbibe an awe of God and a humble veneration for His perfections and glories. He ought, therefore, to be represented to them as the great Lord of all. And, when we take occasion to mention to them other invisible agents, whether angels or devils, we should always represent them as entirely under the government and control of God...
There should be a peculiar caution that when we teach these infant tongues to pronounce that great and terrible name, the Lord our God, they may not learn to take it in vain, but may use it with a becoming solemnity, remembering that we and they are but dust and ashes before Him. When I hear the little creatures speaking of “the great God, the blessed God, the glorious God,” as I sometimes do, it gives me a sensible pleasure. I consider it as a probable proof of great wisdom and piety in those who have the charge of their education.
Yet, great care should be taken not to confine our discourses to these solemn views lest the dread of God should so fall upon them that His excellencies should make them afraid to approach Him. We should describe Him as not only the greatest, but the best of beings. We should teach them to know Him by the most encouraging name of “The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exod. 34:6-7). We should particularly represent His goodness to them: with what more than paternal tenderness He watched round their cradles, with what compassion He heard their feeble cries before their infant thoughts could form themselves into prayer. We should tell them that they live every moment on God and that all our affection for them is no more than He puts into our hearts and that all our power to help them is no more than He lodges in our hands.
We should also solemnly remind them that in a very little while their souls are to return to this God. As He is now always with them and knows everything they do, speak, or think, so He will bring every work into judgment and make them forever happy or miserable. Here the most lively and pathetic descriptions that the Scriptures give us of heaven and hell should be laid before them and urged on their consideration.
When such a foundation is laid in the belief of the being and providence of God and of a future state both of rewards and punishments, children should be instructed in the duty they owe to God. They should particularly be taught to pray to Him and to praise Him. It would be best of all if, from a deep sense of His perfections and their own necessities, they could be engaged to breathe out their souls before Him in words of their own, were they ever so weak and broken. Yet you will readily allow that, until this can be expected, it may be very proper to teach them some forms of prayer and thanksgiving, consisting of such plain Scriptures or other familiar expressions as may best suit their circumstances and understandings.
Children must be trained up in the way of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ
You know, my friends, and I hope many of you know it to the daily joy of your souls, that Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). By Him we have boldness and access with confidence to a God, who might otherwise appear as a “consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). It is, therefore, of great importance to lead children early into the knowledge of Christ, which is no doubt a considerable part of the “nurture and admonition” of the Lord, which the Apostle recommends and was perhaps what he principally intended by those words (Eph. 6:4). We should, therefore, teach them early that the first parents of the human race most ungratefully rebelled against God and subjected themselves and all their offspring to His wrath and curse (Gen. 1-3). The awful consequences of this should be opened at large, and we should labor to convince them that they have made themselves liable to the divine displeasure — that dreadful thing! — by their own personal guilt. Thus, by the knowledge of the law, should we make way for the gospel — the joyful news of deliverance by Christ.
In unfolding this, great care ought to be taken that we do not fill their minds with an aversion to one sacred person while we endeavor to attract their regards to another. The Father is not to be represented as severe and almost inexorable, hardly prevailed upon by the intercession of His compassionate Son to entertain thoughts of mercy and forgiveness. Far from that, we should speak of Him as the overflowing fountain of goodness, whose eye pitied us in our helpless distress, whose almighty arm was stretched out for our rescue, whose eternal counsels of wisdom and love formed that important scheme to which we owe all our hopes. Our children should be early taught what that scheme was, as far as their understanding can receive it and ours can explain it. We should often repeat to them that God is so holy and yet so gracious that, rather than He would on the one hand destroy man or on the other leave sin unpunished, He made His own Son a sacrifice for it, appointing Him to be humbled that we might be exalted, to die that we might live.
We should also represent to them — with holy wonder and joy — how readily the Lord Jesus Christ consented to procure our deliverance in so expensive a way. How cheerfully He said, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:7, 9)! To enhance the value of this amazing love, we should endeavor, according to our weak capacities, to teach them who this compassionate Redeemer is, to represent something of His glories as the eternal Son of God and the great Lord of angels and men. We should instruct them in His amazing condescension in laying aside these glories that He might become a little, weak, helpless child, and afterwards an afflicted, sorrowful man. We should lead them into the knowledge of those circumstances of the history of Jesus that may have the greatest tendency to strike their minds and to impress them with an early sense of gratitude and love to Him. We should tell them how poor He made Himself that He might enrich us, how diligently He went about doing good, how willingly He preached the gospel to the lowest of the people. We should especially tell them how kind He was to little children and how He chided His disciples when they would have hindered them from being brought to Him. It is expressly said that Jesus was much displeased and said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16) — a tender circumstance that perhaps was recorded, in part at least, for this very reason: that children in succeeding ages might be impressed and affected with it.
Through these scenes of His life, we should lead them on to His death. We should show how easily He could have delivered Himself — of which He gave so sensible an evidence in striking down by one word those who came to apprehend Him (John 18:6) — and yet how patiently He submitted to the most cruel injuries: to be scourged and spit upon, to be crowned with thorns, and to bear His cross. We should show them how this innocent, holy, and divine Person was brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and, while they were piercing Him with nails, instead of loading them with curses, He prayed for them, saying, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
We should lead on their thoughts to the glorious views of Christ’s resurrection and ascension and tell them with what adorable goodness He still remembers His people in the midst of His exaltation, pleading the cause of sinful creatures, and employing His interest in the court of heaven to procure life and glory for all that believe in Him and love Him.
We should then go on to instruct them in those particulars of obedience by which the sincerity of our faith and our love is to be approved. At the same time, we must remind them of their own weakness and tell them how God helps us by sending His Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts to furnish us for every good word and work. An important lesson without attending to which our instruction will be vain and their hearing will likewise be vain!