On Raising Disciplined Children

By Charles Bridges

"We pity orphans" - remarked a wise Christian parent - "who have neither father nor mother to care for them. A child indulged is more to be pitied. It has no parent. It is its own master, peevish, forward, headstrong, blind; born to a double portion of trouble and sorrow above what fallen man is heir to; not only miserable itself, but worthless, and a plague to all who in future will be connected with it." ’

Discipline is the order of God’s government. Parents are his dispensers of it to their children. The child must be broken in to "bear the yoke in his youth" (Lam. 3: 27). Let reproof be first tried; and if it succeed, let the rod be spared (Chap. 17: 10). If not, let it do its work. Eli gave the reproof, "but spared the rod." The rod is evidently to be taken literally. not metaphorically; corporal, not spiritual chastisement.

But look at the child left to himself - without restraint. A more perfect picture of misery and ruin cannot be conceived. His evil tempers are thought to be the accident of childhood. "They will pass away, as his reason improves. Time only can mend them." But, in fact, time of itself mends nothing. It only strengthens and matures the growth of the native principle. This, being a decided bias to evil, must tend to deadly injury. The mother cannot conjecture the future stature, health, talents, or prospects of her newborn infant. But of one thing she may be absolutely certain - a corrupt and wayward will. The poison, however, does not appear at first. No special anxiety is excited. The child is not nurtured in wickedness, or under the influence of bad example. He is only left to himself. Left! The restive horse, with his rein loosened, full of his own spirit, plunges headlong down the precipice. The child, without government, rushes on under the impetuous impulse of his own will; and what but Al- mighty sovereign grace can save him from destruction? Many a hardened villain on the gallows was once perhaps the pleasing, susceptible child; only left to himself, to his own appetite, pride, and self-willed obstinacy.

The sound discipline of heavenly guidance is our Father’s best blessing. His most fearful curse is to be given up to our own ways, "to walk in our own counsels" (Ps. 81: 12). A child thus left is at the furthest point from salvation, in the very jaws of the devouring lion.

We turn now from the ruined child to the disgraced, broken-hearted parent. The mother only is mentioned, as the chief superintendent of the early discipline, perhaps also as the most susceptible of the grievous error. For if the father’s stronger character induces him to "provoke his children to wrath" (Col. 3:21); to rule rather by command than by persuasion; does not the mother’s softer mold tend to the opposite evil? And so far as she yields to mistaken indulgence, she bears the greater share of the punishment. It is not, that she is brought to trouble, or even to poverty; but to that, which is the most keenly felt of all distress - to shame. Nowhere is God’s retributive justice more strongly marked. The mother’s sin is visited in the proportioned punishment. What greater affliction, than the shame to which he brings her? Parental influence is lost. The reverence of authority is forgotten, as a by-gone name (Chap. 19:26). The child rules; instead of being as a corrected child, in subjection (Heb. 12:9). The parent fears, instead of the child; and thus virtually owns her own degradation. Instead of "the wise son, that maketh a glad father," it is "the foolish son, that is the heaviness of his mother." The sunshine of bright prospects is clouded. The cup of joy is filled with wormwood. The father’s mouth is dumb with the confusion of grief. The dearest object of the mother’s tenderness, instead of being the staff and comfort of her age, bringeth her to shame. Truly children, thus left to themselves, will mingle the bitterest cup that man can ever have to drink, and stir up the saddest tears, that ever eyes can have to weep.

This is not a trial which, like many others, she might cover in her own bosom. Alas! The shame is too public to be concealed. What must have been the open dishonor upon Eli’s name when ’the sins of his children made men abhor the offering of the Lord!" When the treason of David’s sons brought him to shame in the sight of all Israel, surely his own conscience must have brought his own perverted fondness to mind, as the cause of their ruin; both left to themselves - one palliated in the most aggrieved sin; the other having been not even corrected by a word (1 Kings 1.5-9). And if the shame before men be so bitter, what will be the overwhelming confusion at the great consummation, when the evil propensities, cherished with such cruel fondness in the parental bosom, shall produce their harvest "in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow!" (Isa. 17:11).

Oh! As our children’ s happiness or misery, both for time and eternity, is linked with our own responsibilities, shall not we "watch and pray," and resist "the weakness of the flesh," in self-denying firmness? "Take this for certain" - says Bishop Hopkins -"that as many deserved stripes as you spare from your children, you do but lay upon your own back. And those whom you refuse to chastise, God will maker severer scourges to chastise you." At whatever cost, establish your authority. Let there be but one will in the house. And let it be felt, that this will is to be the law. The child will readily discover, whether the parent is disposed to yield, or resolved to rule. But however trifling the requirement, let obedience be, in small as great matters, the indispensable point. The awe of parental authority is perfectly consistent with the utmost freedom of childlike confidence. Nay - it is the very foundation of it (for the child can hardly appreciate the kindness of a parent, whom he thinks afraid to strike), while it operates as a valuable safeguard against a thousand follies of uncontrolled waywardness. But ever let us put the awful alternative vividly before us. Either the child’s will, or the parent’s heart, must be broken. Without a wise and firm control, the parent is miserable; the child is ruined.

"I earnestly entreat you" - writes the wise and experienced Josiah Pratt to his children - "to subdue the wills of your children most tenderly if you can? But if not, your duty and your love require measures, which shall enforce obedience. Commit yourselves as little as may be into a contest with your children. But having once done this, you must maintain the contest till the child yields. Every such victory will make the next easier, and in all likelihood deter the child from entering on another contest. And you must make thorough work of it, if you would bless the child. The guile of the heart is seen in combination with its self-will, in trying to evade your authority. A very young child puts forth perhaps his first approaches to sin in acts of cunning and rebellion. Rely with unshaken confidence on that divine maxim - ’Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it."’