For the last several days I have been in Washington D.C. attending the annual ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) meeting. Camaraderie with colleagues past and present was especially sweet. Besides this, the highlight was an evening walk through the National Mall guided by a friend who now works at the State Department. Of the various sites, I was especially drawn to the relatively new National World War II Memorial (2004). Amidst the animated fountains I reflected on the spirit, sacrifice, and commitment of Americans belonging to what some have called “the greatest generation” of our country. It made me think of how I am forming my own children with a view to future generations.
Bishop of Liverpool and Victorian Church leader, J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) was well known throughout the 20th century for his writing on spiritual and practical issues. His great aim was to encourage serious Christian living, which included responsible child-raising. Along this line he writes the following:
“It is a subject that concerns almost all. There is hardly a household that it does not touch. Parents, nurses, teachers, godfathers, godmothers, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters,—all have an interest in it. Few can be found, I think, who might not influence some parent in the management of his family, or affect the training of some child by suggestion or advice. All of us, I suspect, can do something here, either directly or indirectly, and I wish to stir up all to bear this in remembrance. . .1
Soul love is the soul of all love. To pet and pamper and indulge your child, as if this world was all he had to look forward to, and this life the only season for happiness—to do this is not true love, but cruelty. It is treating him like some beast of the earth, which has but only one world to look to, and nothing after death. It is hiding from him that grand truth, which he ought to be made to learn from his very infancy,—that the chief end of his life is the salvation of his soul.
A true Christian must be no slave to fashion, if he would train his child for heaven. He must not be content to do things merely because they are the custom of the world; to teach them and instruct them in certain ways, merely because it is the usual; to allow them to read books of a questionable sort, merely because everybody else reads them; to let them form habits of a doubtful tendency, merely because they are the habits of the day. He must train with an eye to his children’s souls. He must not be ashamed to hear his training called singular and strange. What if it is? The time is short,—the fashion of this world passeth away. He that has trained his children for heaven, rather than for the earth,—for God, rather than for man,—he is the parent that will be called wise at last.2”
1 J. C. Ryle, “The Duties of Parents,” in The Upper Room (1888; reprint, London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), 283.
2 Ibid., 290.