TEXT: EPH. vi.4.
IN making special mention of our children in our prayers, as we have done to-day, what we have chiefly in our thoughts is not merely to commend their earthly life and welfare, with all that affects it, to God's gracious care; we are much more concerned to obtain a blessing on the unfolding of their spiritual faculties, that it may be carried on in a right way, well-pleasing to God. This prayer is prompted in the first place by the humble conviction that if our manifold cares and painstaking for our children, which fill up so large a part of our life, are to prosper according to our heart's desire, the Holy Spirit must work in them; and further, we are encouraged to offer the prayer by the devout confidence that this is so. It is just in this confidence that we present our children in their tender infancy to be received by the heavenly Father into the Christian Church, that is, into the fellowship of His Spirit, by the sacrament of baptism; and as often as we take part in such an act we anew acknowledge this conviction and profess this confidence. It is reasonable, therefore, to sup pose that we should be agreed as to the kind of influence we exercise on the young, and that in the hands of all Christians this important work should take one and the same direction. For if the Spirit of God is at work in the hearts of our children, what can we desire but to be His instruments? For Him alone, and in His name, not for ourselves, can we expend our cares on them. To try to make out of the rising generation either a profit to their elders or an exact copy of them, is an aim which we must leave to those who think first and most of themselves, because they lack this glorious faith in a divine Spirit who works in man, and with that, necessarily, the faith that there can be any progress in all that makes man's true dignity. But for us, let our one aim in the training of our children be the honour of God; they are the fairest portion of the vineyard which He has set us to cultivate. The essential point in all Christian training of children is to make them susceptible to the influence of the Spirit who is promised to them as well as to ourselves. We are to aim at this by trying to check the earliest symptoms of whatever might afterwards interfere with or oppose that influence, and striving by word and deed to awaken in them longings for what they can attain to only by the Spirit's help we are to do it by helping them to judge clearly of every human model that appears to them worthy of imitation, and making them quick to see what is to be rejected. Thus they will be prepared for receiving and retaining the image of the Saviour; and this is the aim and spirit that should characterize both our general inter course with the young, and all the special loving cares that we bestow on them. And the less of selfishness there is in this love, the less these efforts depend merely on natural feeling and impulse, the more possible and right it is for the whole of us as a community to participate in both. We can receive all the little ones without distinction, as the Lord said, in His name, for they are all represented to us by that child whom He set before the disciples; and while it is a most precious blessing from God to be directly entrusted with the care of a portion of the younger generation, there can be no object more worthy of the exertions of those who have not been thus privileged, than the furthering of this great work by every means in their power, despising no part of it that may fall to their share. In this sense of brotherly and common interest, therefore, let us pursue our meditation on this subject to-day, and may God grant us His blessing.
In this passage we find another precept added to that which I lately took as our subject of discourse from another epistle. That first exhortation was meant to set before us that which, according to the mind of the apostle, we ought most carefully to avoid in the training of children; this further counsel is meant, I might say, to include everything that ought to find a place in our intercourse with them, in order to their being brought up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord. It may indeed seem at first sight as if the apostle's direction were partial and insufficient. When we remember on how many different things we expend labour and pains in the education of the young, and how we all, without exception, have it in view not merely that they should turn out pious and Christian people, but that they should be thoroughly fitted for every worldly business they may engage in, and should develop every pleasing and estimable quality of mind and heart, this thought may very naturally arise. But the apostle's own feeling was certainly not that he was speaking of some single part of the work, incidentally selected, but that he had hit on a counsel which included everything. Let us then see if we cannot find in these words the basis of all training such as God approves, And to this end we must inquire what is implied in doing everything for the young, first with a view to discipline, and secondly for a purpose of admonition.
I. What then is included in, and what is meant by, all our dealings with the young who are growing up among us tending to their discipline; all that we teach them or enjoin on them, or give or deny them. We must first of all clearly ascertain the meaning of the expression, on which everything depends in the question before us.
Discipline is by no means synonymous with punishment, though in common conversation we are accustomed often to use it so; but something entirely different. For punishment is incurred by disobedience; discipline takes obedience for granted: punishment gives children merely something to suffer; discipline, something to do: punishment adds something of a disagreeable and bitter feeling, more or less voluntary on the child's part, to what is already wrong and deserving of blame in him; while discipline rather calls forth a commendable exertion of his powers to accomplish something or to do without something; an effort which is in itself sufficient to produce a feeling of inward joy. And just as the law never effects anything better than the knowledge of sin, and gives no strength to do right; as little can punishment, which derives its power from fear or from bitter experience, produce anything but an outward avoiding of sin, without any turning away of the heart from evil. Tor the heart can be disposed towards good only by love, which drives out fear, and with fear all the power of punishment. But discipline, which aims by steady exercise to control and regulate every emotion, and to subdue all the lower instincts of nature under the rule of the higher, imparts a salutary knowledge of the power of will, and gives an earnest of liberty and internal order. Such is discipline: and so very different is it from punishment that, as all will readily admit, the more we find ourselves obliged still to have recourse to punishment after our children have be come capable of a conscious effort of will and of being stirred to shame, the more undeniable witness do we bear against ourselves that we have erred and have done too little in the way of discipline. For if we felt that we were teaching our children the right use of discipline, so that they had begun to exercise a habitual command over themselves and to be wrought upon by the nobler emotion of shame, we should have no need to call fear to our aid in order to quell one mere external manifestation by means of another. And thus, too, we should experience that the larger a place we have given to discipline in our method, the more must punishment lose its effect; because the young mind is already practised in refusing to have its decisions influenced by considerations either of pleasure or the reverse.
But while discipline is on the one hand an entirely different thing from punishment, it is just as far, on the other hand, from that indolent quiescence in which unhappily so many think they may watch the development of their children. Such persons forget that while God the Lord has, it is true, set heaven before us as a state in which we may satisfy ourselves with simply beholding, and with enjoying the blessings that flow to us through the exercise of heavenly energies, it is far from being so among men on earth. God has placed us here, not as spectators, but as rulers in His name; as His instruments through whom He means to carry out all His gracious purposes towards man; the strong and those of riper years guiding and bestowing care on the weak and the young. The right form for this rule and this painstaking as regards the young is discipline; but if we take no pains we impede the fulfilment of the divine promises. And if, where the system of punishment prevails, it might seem as if all hope of the Spirit of God being able to take possession of the young minds had been given up, the only endeavour being to keep each part of the natural disposition in check by means of some other part; it is equally true that the hope which predominates where the system of easy-going, indolent looking-on at the development of our children is followed is a delusive hope, which is only too likely to be put to shame. For if it is expected that admonition alone is to take the place of discipline, this hope is grounded on the illusive idea that everything can be effected by words, and that action is unnecessary: or if the non-interference extends to speech as well as to more active efforts, there is in that case a more mischievous delusion; whether it be the idea that a work of the Divine Spirit may begin in the children without God making use of the parents and others as His instruments; or even that they may naturally develop good dispositions and habits without that Spirit who is the life of the Christian Church, and who, in these words of our text, calls on us to train our children by discipline. And the further we are, on the one side, from that miserable condition, as slavish as it is tyrannical, of being satisfied with what can be accomplished by punishment; and the more free we keep, on the other side, from the dangerous error of nattering ourselves that in those respects which depend chiefly on us, our children can of themselves turn out well; just so much the more must we feel and acknowledge the great value and importance of discipline. But we must practise it not only now and then on special occasions, when we are struck by some quality or disposition in excess that seems to call for repression, or by some deficiency that indicates a need for stimulus; but seeing that discipline is the one thing besides admonition which the apostle commends to us in the training of our children, that training will only be of the right kind when all our dealings with our children and all the occupations we prescribe or allow to them become to them means of discipline, and are prescribed or allowed only in that light. This perhaps sounds strange and too severe; but it is just as true as it will prove, on closer consideration, to be kind and loving.
For where could Christian parents be found who would not try, so far as their position enabled them, to have their children instructed in all kinds of useful knowledge, and taught by practice to acquire skill in all desirable arts? Do we not in fact hold all those who "neglect this guilty of a grievous wrong against their children and against the Lord who has committed them to their care? But are all, even of those who fulfil these duties, deserving of unqualified commendation? I think not. For if we see that parents, or those who occupy their place, do these things in an unreflecting way, just as the fancy may strike them, then, even if their operations turn out well, we do not give them the credit of the success, but ascribe it to the generally prevalent good customs and methods which they have followed without knowing why they did so. Or when we see that parents do act with consideration, and have reasons for what they decide on, are they, even in that case, sure always to be worthy of praise, and is it all the same, in our opinion, what their reasons may be? If parents, instead of waiting to see what their children may show an inclination or a natural turn for, or taking into account any such tendency that may already have shown itself, selfishly insist on keeping them to the parents own special line of life, and wish only to have the children initiated into that, in order to make them as like themselves as possible, have we not here bitter cause to complain of an un-Christian exercise of authority over the young? And must it not be a source of both pain and indignation to the young themselves, when they are old enough to understand the conduct of those who brought them up, to feel how much selfishness was mixed with the love of their parents and guardians? Or, again, if a direction towards some definite line of life is given to the young by the kind and character of the instructions and training given to them, from such motives as these: that this special course seems to offer tempting worldly prospects; that patronage and support of various kinds make it easier and pleasanter than other paths might be; that wealth and honour seem to beckon from its goal more distinctly than from other directions: -- is there not cause of reproach in this case also, that an utterly blind despotism is guilty of the grievous wrong of daring, for the sake of uncertain worldly advantage, to turn aside the young nature from that for which God has created it, and so to cripple its actings by a sense of constraint? And what can be the effect on the young themselves, but that either they will be misled into treating the things about which we exhort them as matters of indifference in themselves and holding them lightly, while they esteem worldly gain the really highest thing; or that, not less to the damage of their souls, their reverence towards those whose example they ought to follow must suffer shipwreck.
Or, to take another case: parents may take careful note of any indications their children give of natural gifts, and then, as if it were only a question of winning a race, strain every nerve to the utmost -- often at the cost of a lifetime's happiness to their children, and at the risk of all permanent success -- only that they may have the gratification of seeing their children surpass others, so that the excellence of their training may be admired, whether in the strictly correct conduct of their young people, or in the stores which they have acquired in the line of art and science. How this grieves us to the heart, to see even the noblest gifts of the young under such guidance made to subserve only vain and sordid ends!
In view, then, of all these ways in which we are liable to go wrong, we cannot but feel how difficult it is to keep a clear conscience in this important business. How alone shall we keep it void of offence? Certainly in no other way than this: we must neither set before ourselves any worldly aim in the education and training of our children, nor teach them to think of anything merely worldly and external as the object to be attained by it; but rather, putting out of view all other results, we must try to Lave them made distinctly conscious of what powers and capacities they possess which may, by and by, be used in carrying on the work of God on earth; and to have those powers brought under the control of their will, by their learning both to overcome indolence and dissipation, and to guard against being passionately engrossed in any single object. And this is just what the apostle means. For instruction and training of all kinds, so directed, will only serve as discipline to the young; and only by such discipline will they acquire a real possession in the shape of a thorough fitness for every work of God that, in the course of their life, they may find occasion to do.
But see still further how far the province of discipline extends. Even in the intercourse with their equals, and the pleasures suitable to their age which we permit our children to enjoy, our first consideration must be that these things are such as will tend to their discipline. This may, I admit, seem specially hard, that the very things that are meant for recreation and unfettered amusement should be used as means of discipline. But children receive quite as much of their education by companionship and in their plays as by direct instruction and regular work; and therefore when the apostle insists on their being trained by discipline, he refuses to look at even this part of their training in any other light. And as we cannot but acknowledge that, even with the best will, much is overlooked in the companionships and amusements of our children, so that they do receive spiritual injury; would it not be well for us to consider whether this may not result from neglecting this view of the subject, and regulating this important part of our children's lives on some other principle? I do not wish to speak of those parents and guides who have regard solely to worldly and external considerations in directing the companionships of the young. We know how ill such arrangements usually turn out; how the children some times become hard and obdurate, and sometimes deplorably pliant and easily led; and how, for the most part, their bright childhood passes joylessly away. I wish rather to think only of those who select so anxiously and cautiously the company in which they allow their children to mix, that they have only desirable examples before them, while all quarrelling and passionate excitement are as much as possible avoided. For even care such as this is often far from being successful; some of the children turning out vain and puffed up with conceit, others peevish and discontented, and none perhaps attaining to a salutary self-knowledge. Whereas, if we look at it simply in this light, that our children's intercourse with others is to be to them, as ours is to us, a means of discipline; teaching them to hold fellowship even with characters very different from their own, and each to make a happy life for himself by being ready to help others and willing to give way to them, and learning to suppress all disturbing and unfriendly feelings; then even in this position they are taken care of in the best way, if only at the same time we maintain rule and order, and keep away from them temptations that might be too strong for them. And it is the same as to their amusements, if we look at them in the light of discipline. In their games they learn to use and control all the powers that are least called forth in their work; in this way they will have the greatest benefit and the greatest enjoyment from them, and there will be the less danger of their be coming devoted to pleasure, or lazy and averse to work, liking mere pleasure as opposed to exertion; or even perhaps, if there is anything of sloth and idleness in their recreation, becoming ungodly and giving place to the devil.
Thus, then, it appears to me that the apostle was entirely right in laying down no other rule as to all the doings of the young of which we have the regulation and control, than that they should all serve in the way of discipline. And the more perfect we try to make our training, the less must there be which we have not been able to direct on that principle. And the more such training grows out of the circumstances of everyday life, without any need of altering or interrupting its natural course, so much the more pleasing to God, we may be sure, and the more certain of a prosperous issue, is the work of our love and wisdom on behalf of the young.
II. But, my friends, however excellent a thing it is to train our children by discipline, what is, after all, the highest thing that can be effected by this means? The preparing of the way for the Lord, that He may be able to enter; the adorning of the temple, that He may be able to dwell in it: but towards the actual entering and indwelling of the Lord, discipline can contribute nothing. To have all the human powers, in so far as they are capable of serving the purposes of the Spirit, trained and brought under control, so that they are accustomed only to act at the bidding or permission of a higher power that warns and commands through parents and teachers, -- this is the work of discipline; and an admirable and excellent work it assuredly is. But even if our children learn ever so well in loyal obedience, to set aside their own pleasure and conform to the wishes of their elders, what profit is it, if a time does not come when the joy of the Spirit arises in their hearts to fill the place of the repressed pleasures of the flesh; when they, of their own accord, make a habit of following the good ways into which previously our will has drawn them; that is to say, what have we gained, if the Spirit of God does not actually come and make His abode in their hearts? For, until this takes place, the care and pains of our training have not attained their end; not until then have the faculties which we have drawn out and trained found their true Master; not till then can we comfort ourselves with the thought of one day seeing our children working alongside of us as independent members of the Christian community. And this, we are all well aware, no discipline is capable of bringing about. But, it may be asked, is this not as really beyond the province of all human influence as it is beyond that of discipline? Can we in any way whatever contribute to this end? Does not the Lord Himself say, that the Spirit moves where He will, and that we cannot so much as know, much less command, where He is to go? Yes, we recognise the truth of that word of Christ in this connection also, and therefore willingly confess our inability; both that God alone may have all the glory, and for the mournful comfort of all Christian parents to whom God has appointed the pain of seeing that their children do not come direct from their training hands as temples of the Divine Spirit, and to whose sorrow we have no right to add bitterness by assuming the place of judges, and charging them with the blame of their children not yet having received the Spirit of God. But while acknowledging our helplessness, let us not forget that the same Saviour who spoke of the Spirit acting where He will, yet charged His disciples to go and teach all nations; and that it was just by this free movement of the Divine Spirit that the mouths of those on whom He descended were opened to declare the mighty works of God; that is, above all, His works wrought on the soul of man, for there are none mightier. This, then, is what we are capable of doing, and what we are even commanded to do; in our daily intercourse with the young to commend the mighty works of God, that we may stir up in their minds aspirations after a happier condition, in which the Divine Spirit is won to enter the heart of man; and this is what the apostle, in the part of our text which we have still to consider, calls the admonition of the Lord.
And here I must begin by examining an opinion very common even among well-disposed people, which might seem to find some sanction in these words of the apostle. It is said that as he speaks first of bringing up our children by discipline, and then mentions the admonition of the Lord as the second thing, he must agree with those who think it is right to guard against speaking too early of divine things to the young and directing them to the Saviour, and that not till those riper years, when discipline shall have completed its work, will the young be capable of receiving the admonition of the Lord. But we must certainly acquit the apostle of holding any such opinion, and that all the more confidently because we are sure that no one in his days would have taken this view, not even those who now defend it. For in those early days of Christianity, -- when Christians were not only closely surrounded everywhere with heathen or Jewish life, but were also exposed to their adverse influence and opposition, -- if parents had deferred the admonition of the Lord to such a time, it must often have happened that, before it arrived, the young spirit was already deeply involved in un-Christian ways. But does this not apply to every time, only in other forms, so long as there is still a struggle between light and darkness? Docs not ungodliness of every kind surround us only too closely on every hand, seeking to obtain a footing, and to disturb the holy regulations of Christian society? Has the enemy fallen asleep, who, while we sleep, is wakeful enough to sow tares among our wheat? And if he is sure to do this always, what will he not do, if we till the field indeed, but neglect to sow the wheat? will he not in that case completely fill it with tares, so that there will be no room left for the good seed? Therefore the admonition of the Lord, which the apostle enjoins, must be found side by side with discipline, as soon as we perceive that ungodliness is be ginning insidiously to approach the young minds. And with good reason; for we cannot permit it to have scope, we know of nothing else to oppose to it but the one power in which we know safety is to be found the power of redemption. Therefore as soon as the age of innocence is past, as soon as sin becomes active and the law has brought some knowledge of sin, it is a fitting time for us to make the erring soul conscious of the need of a higher help, to bring it into contact with God, and seek to arouse in it love to the Saviour who is the fountain of life and blessedness, and love to God who has given us His Son. And this is the admonition of the Lord.
But what are the grounds on which it is possible for even well-meaning and pious Christians to fear that the young may be too early and to their injury admonished concerning the Lord? They evidently consider that the young can not yet understand what we tell them about God and the Saviour, and therefore will either take up some wrong and merely natural and external idea, the effect of which will be, partly, to degrade the holiest things, and partly, to prepare the way for unbelief when they see, as they grow older, how poor and vain their conceptions were, and yet suppose that this is really what was taught them in child hood; or our instructions will become to them a dead letter, which they retain and repeat without thought; which will cause sacred things to lose their power with them, and will blunt and deaden beforehand the desire after those things that would otherwise have awakened when they were older. But let us ask, do we ourselves, then, comprehend God? are we capable of fathoming and measuring the Saviour? are we able to express in precise, universally applicable and universally intelligible language His mysterious influence on us? and do we, because of our inability to do this, refrain from dealings with our God and Saviour, or from conversation and teaching concerning Him? And again, how could we begin and carry on the education of our children at all how strictly should we not have to shun all their questions if we wished to avoid everything in teaching and conversation that they could not understand? Is any thing that they meet with for the first time, and from which we have no power to divert their attention, more comprehensible to them than the Eternal? Is it to be supposed that their first ideas even of the things of this world can be exact and right, and not, rather, all formed according to their own childish fashion? And yet as their characters gradually develop it becomes evident that even in this childish way they have got hold of the germ of the truth, which goes on unfolding with growing power, and in due time casts away the husk that protected without disfiguring it. Therefore we may hope that this will still more be the case when we talk with them about Him who is Himself the Truth; that a living seed, though hidden in a poor husk, will gain a firm hold in their souls; and hence there is here no reason for withholding from them the knowledge of God and of the Saviour. But even supposing that we wished to do so, should we be able? And do we not feel constrained to say, God be praised that it is not in our power! for if it were, the indications in our domestic and social life of our belonging to a people of God and forming a community of believers would be far more rare than unhappily they already are. No; this cannot in any way be so kept concealed that the children should not very early hear some thing of God and their Redeemer.
And as to the fear that too early teaching about God and divine things might become to the children only a dead letter; it would, no doubt, be well grounded, if our instructions were only meant to satisfy a mere curiosity which had arisen in their minds about this as about other and mere outward subjects. But that would be no admonition of the Lord; for admonition has always a reference to something that the person has to do and to alter, especially in himself. Therefore it is especially when we wish to affect the inmost feelings of our children that the apostle would have us turn their thoughts towards the Lord. If we see them indulging in emotions either of joy or vexation, that border on sin, we are to point out to them the difference between godly and ungodly modes of feeling. And does it not seem to you that this difference will be best understood by a mind which has already felt the stirring of better things? If we see them presumptuously uplifted, though it may be only in half-childish over-confidence, or depressed and disheartened, -- and this still more if they are old enough for greater and graver concerns to have a place in their lives -- we can tell them of man's dependence on God. We can tell them of the blessedness of him who, making it his one endeavour to fulfil the will of God, holds fast, amidst all earthly reverses, the comfort that, without the will of the Father, from whom come none but good gifts, not a hair of his head can perish; and who uses all earthly possessions as entrusted to him by God for the furtherance of His work. And do you think they cannot understand this as soon as a sense of duty has been awakened in them, and they have noticed something of the difficulties of life? When we see that in their awakening minds conflicting thoughts accuse and excuse one another,' we are to point them to that law which God has written in men's hearts and made manifest in His Son, and teach them to distinguish its voice. And do you think they are not capable of fixing their eyes on that guiding star as soon as uncertainty and conflicting judgment has begun in themselves?
And it is not simply to God that we are to lead them in this way, but equally and at the same time to the Saviour, out of whose fulness they, like ourselves, must from the very beginning receive all knowledge of God and all enjoyment of fellowship with Him. This is indeed the direct meaning of the apostolic words; for it is Christ who is the Lord, and the admonition towards God is only included in the admonition towards Christ; as the Son presupposes the Father. And as the Saviour Himself commanded His disciples not to forbid the little ones to come, and thereby made it plain that even for them there was to be a blessing in His presence; we may neither doubt of our having the right nor of its being our duty to bring our children early to Him who came for their salvation also, that He may bless them. Did not He Himself thank His Father that He had revealed the mystery which the wise and mature of His time would not receive, to the little ones who greeted Him with songs of praise as the Saviour who was to come. Why should it not be specially fitting, at that tender age when the mind draws so much of its food from pictures, to seek God also in a picture, -- Him of whom we are permitted to make no image for ourselves, in that picture which He has Himself given to us; why should it not be fitting that the little ones should see and honour the Father in the Son, and direct their earliest pious aspirations to the express imago of the divine nature, the brightness of the heavenly glory in earthly and human form? Why should not the young, as soon as they begin to distinguish between good and evil in themselves, to require perfection of themselves, and to have some misgivings of its being unattainable, be capable of receiving into their hearts Him who knew no sin? Why should not they, who owe their birth and their sustained life to human love, be both able and willing to hear and to obey the voice of divine love in Christ? Why, as soon as they begin to feel the burden of the law and to dread the bondage of sin, should it not be possible to point them, for their comfort and encouragement, to Him who alone is able to make them free from both? And how can we but lead them to Him, as soon as their attention is sufficiently aroused by what they hear about Him to make them ask, Who is He? Indeed as soon as they become capable of ob serving ourselves and our whole manner of life, and begin to take note of the more inward and spiritual part of it, and to ask, Why is that? could we at such a time deny to our children the presence of Him whose life in us makes every thing in us that they honour and love? Would it not be taking to ourselves the honour that is due to Him, if we did not direct them, for help in becoming such characters as they admire, to Him who gave Himself that He might sanctify to Himself a people fitted for good works. Let us then, in this direction also, lay aside every anxious fear, and train not only the growing-up young people, but also, as the apostle says, the children, in the admonition of the Lord, in the firm confidence that, as soon as sin can be recognised and felt, and the fruit of the Spirit desired, it can no longer be too early to tell the news of grace and salvation.
But just as we saw that everything that we teach our children and set them to do must tend to their discipline, if the apostle's first word is to be fully carried out; so we should very imperfectly fulfil the second if we limited its meaning to words of instruction, and to such words alone as bear directly on spiritual subjects. On the contrary, every admonition must be an admonition towards the Lord, for otherwise some of them would very soon contradict others; and every method by which we seek to influence and stir their hearts is an admonition. Therefore if we wish to excite in them love of what is good and right, let us not point out to them the earthly blessings that result from it; if we wish to warn them against the evil that is beginning to show itself in their hearts, let us not talk to them of the bad consequences which it brings; for that would be an admonition towards the things of this world, not an ad monition towards the Lord; but let us teach them to discern what is like God and pleasing to Him, or not so; what is according to the covenant and command of the Saviour, or the reverse; and this also will be an admonition to the And if we cannot hinder the whole chequered drama of life unfolding ever more fully before them as time goes on, with all the follies and weaknesses of men as well as with everything good and noble; let us try rather to turn away their thoughts about it from the judgment of men, from the blame or the admiration of the world; lest we should be admonishing them to vanity and to eye-service before men. But on the one hand while we show them how difficult a thing it is to judge what is in man, let us exhort them to the sole fear of Him who alone understands how to judge. And while on the other hand we teach them to recognise the first appearances in their own hearts of all the wrong and evil that cannot fail to be there; and to seek out the hidden virtues of Christ's disciples, often very far from what makes the greatest show in the eyes of the world; let us by this also turn their thoughts to the Lord, who sees secret things, and tries the heart and the reins.
But more than all words, our most powerful admonition to the Lord must be our whole daily life, lived with our children in true and faithful love; and this just as certainly as that God is love, and love is the most universal and intelligible manifestation of the Eternal. If they feel our love pervading everything, not as a mere form of selfishness, that seeks only to be pleased and caressed; not as the whim of the moment, favouring and slighting with out reason; nor yet a variable natural instinct, that may easily grow cold, or degenerate into weak indulgence; but as a reflection -- feeble, it may be, yet not too dim to be always more or less recognisable -- of the eternal love, and as having the closest connection with that service which we have vowed to the Saviour as our Head: this will be the most powerful of all admonitions to the Lord; and only through this will they learn to understand and practically to accept all the rest.
In this way, then, the apostle proves his point, that everything that we can do with our children is summed up in this, that we bring them up in discipline and in the admonition of the Lord. But here we are constrained to say, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God! For if everything is to tend to discipline and the admonition of the Lord for our children, we must lay aside all vain and ungodly views that terminate on the transitory concerns of this world, and seek only that our houses may become temples of the Holy Spirit, and that the abundant blessing of God may abide among us; we must not cease to receive willingly and joyfully into believing and obedient hearts every admonition to the Lord which we ourselves still need, that we may go on growing in purer love and more thorough self-command, and so allow nothing to frustrate our great aim of having our children brought to the Lord. If we keep this aim steadily in view, we shall certainly become aware that God is with us, helping in the work; and so far from the most assiduous care for our children interfering with our own spiritual life, that life will, through this very work, open out to us in the most wonderful way. For in working for the training and sanctifying of others, we are ourselves sanctified and trained; and thus a building according to God's mind will rise on the foundation which He Himself has laid, and which none may remove with impunity. Amen.