Training up a child in the way he should go

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Puritan Board Freshman
​[BIBLE]Proverbs 22:6[/BIBLE]
I know of a few people who​, in my mind​, were trained up biblically when they were children. They were faithful members of Reformed churches with their families, sat through and participated in daily family devotions, and were disciplined appropriately with spanking. Despite their upbringing, as adults, they consistently behave like unbelievers. This baffles me.

I don't have any specific questions and my thoughts are all disjointed--I ​would appreciate any​ help thinking this through.

​Perhaps this just goes to show that the "foolishness of preaching" itself does not save. It is God's irresistible grace that draws people to Himself--though He may sometimes use preaching.​..​

:think: ???


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Some people, even in our Ref. churches, think there is a input-output "law" at work in the matter of making little Christians. This is a grave error, ignoring the proper role of the Spirit, and of prayer.

There's a balance to be struck between people who ignore the ordinary means and methods shown in the Word--who think the church's children are about a coin-flip's chance of being "elect," or else guaranteed elect, regardless of the attendance on parental, ecclesial, and neighborly duties; and those who think purely in terms of discipline and law--as if regulation was the divinely ordained tool for the production of faith, and one has a right to see positive results ordained from sufficient care in exercises.

We should work, and pray. And our confidence should be in the prayer, not the work. We shouldn't have too much confidence any good will come when we neglect to "train up a child," contenting our conscience that "Hey, I prayed." That's presumption in one direction. Likewise, we shouldn't have confidence in nothing more than training--not only because we have about a <1% chance of pulling off the discipline without fail, but also because training alone is useful for creating hypocrites and not much more.

The Spirit blows where he wills. But he has also promised to work in particular ways, and we should take him at his word. "Will not the judge of all the earth do right?" "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." The Spirit is more abounding in our age than he was in the previous (OT) age; he is more present for our help in this matter of child rearing than before. So, we should be praying for his help the more; and expect to see more grace among our offspring than ever before.

Love for the child in Christ must be the first impulse of the parent and the pastor. The law must be seen as a tool for discipline, and not as a mold for pressing out Christians. Grace must precede the law, and follow it. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," must be the message that comes to the household not only on the day salvation comes to it, but on every day thereafter.

The Reformed who rest in their election, in covenant identity, in the doctrine of perseverance rather than in the practice of it; in short, who do not rest in grace today, and not only yesterday--they do not understand their own faith! The mercies of God are not new to them every morning, but have become just part of their dusty, mental furniture. They hope in the Lord by rote, and expect their children will adopt their tradition by inertia. Woe betide them.

But there will still be those who, though believing and praying, see a child stumble away. All I will declare is this: keep praying, dear parent. If you leave off, giving up hope, then you have abandoned the one and only recourse you ever had. The only promise is, "I will be God to you and to your children." So, believe it and pray for its realization. In the end, all you have is not in works, training, discipline, the bare means and no Spirit; all you have is the promise.
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Puritan Board Professor
One of the toughest lessons I am learning is that we ought to be willing to "give up" a dear loved one to hell if it is His will. My mother expressed this to me one day. She being a mother of 9 said "I do not expect all my children to make it but I shall pray for them till the day I die." I have seen Our Lord work in unbelievable ways with many of my blood brothers and sisters (including myself) and I am learning to "give up prayers" to The One I know shall do all according to His will, be it be good or bad.

Jack K

Puritan Board Professor
Bruce's comments are excellent.

Put confidence in Christ, not in parenting methods (even very good methods). Be a parent of faith above all else. This is the chief lesson I've learned in 15 years of parenting, and I suspect I will still be learning much more along these lines in the years ahead. The proverb you cite is a good truism, but it does not negate the fact that in all we do we look for Christ to be Savior and Helper rather than putting our trust in methodology.


Puritan Board Junior
I rest my hope and my prayers for my children and grandchildren on the great and exceeding precious covenant promises that were pledged to Abraham, and continue down through the ages to those who by faith are his seed. Parental love which yearns over them is insufficient, there needs be a more sure foundation, even the blood of the everlasting covenant. That the God of my Fathers, my God, will be the God of my children and children's children. Faith can only operate on promises, promises which are sealed by the blood of the spotless lamb. The other thing to note is that the Proverb text states, "train up a child in the way that he SHOULD go," not Will go? As Parents our responsibilities are to met with faith working by love. Once they are beyond our charge they are to seek the way they should go, and we, well we still keep sueing God's faithfulness.

Rev. Todd Ruddell

Puritan Board Junior
All these comments are well-said. We run in the roads that the Lord has charted for blessing, never trusting in the means themselves, but in God. The Larger Catechism, Q105, what are the sins forbidden in the 1st Commandment speaks of trusting in lawful means as a sin of idolatry, citing Jeremiah 17.5, "trusting in man, making flesh his arm".

I would also add that you have not seen the end of the lives of the people you have spoken about. Some who have been raised in the Church, and depart in their early adulthood, return later in life. John D. Wells, (Princeton Graduate, 19th century pastor in New York) in his book, "The Pastor in the Sick Room" speaks of just this circumstance, and relates his own experiences as a pastor ministering to the dying how often it was that those raised in the Church, even though they had apparently apostatized, were quite receptive to hearing of Christ as the end of their lives drew near. His own testimony in this regard was that he believed many of them were converted very late in life.

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
I can scarcely improve upon what Bruce wrote (of course that's always the case). I'll just add another perspective to the text itself.

First, it is wisdom literature and that means that it is not to be taken as another kind of teaching. Doug Wilson abuses Wisdom literature repeatedly by constraining the text to a single meaning and making an input-output expectation of the text. That's an example of where Bruce notes that some assume that if they parent properly that they'll achieve virtually assured results. Don't ever buy a book with "...God's way..." in the title when it comes to things like parenting or math.

Second, as Bruce noted, we need not be too hasty in concluding that because we are not God that there is little to no relationship between parenting and the godliness of our children. We might as well say that preaching and the sacraments do not guarantee election and so they bear no direct relationship to salvation.

Children, for good or ill, learn habits from their parents. They imitate them. This is frightening to me at times. Proverbs is full of wisdom about patterns of thinking and behavior that promote godliness. Better to learn from Dad that there are prostitutes at a certain part of town that will entice you (so stay away) than to wander there and be caught up in a situation because you're naive. Better to learn from Dad and Mom what it looks like to be praying to God and studying the Bible and repenting of your sins than to never see this in the home. Better a son learns from his father how to battle lust within his members at a young age than to struggle with sexual impurity for years.

Much of the wisdom needs to be thought of as being helpful in the realm of sanctification. What habits can we form that promote godliness? We need not look at these things as formulas for success as much as principles that are applied in the context of a community of believers who are urging one another on in their battles with the world, the flesh, and the devil.

One of the things that trips people up with the Puritans is that they can't tell the difference between godly principles and human regulations. They appear to be the same to the casual observer. The tradition of the Scribes and the Pharisees is akin to Canon Law in the Roman Catholic communion. All the work has been done for you to help you figure out what you may or may not do. Puritan works on casuistry, by contrast, gave Scriptural principles for different scenarios that people find themselves in. The Puritans didn't say: do this specific action and you are obeying the Law. Instead, they said: here are some Scriptural principles and now apply the Word of God to your life as you meditate upon the Word and the Spirit convicts your conscience on how you will seek to honor Christ.

The Proverbs are the same thing. They are not Canon Law (telling you how to wipe your behind in order to fulfill the Law) but they are inspired principles for pilgrims on the way to integrate with the rest of the Scriptures as Christians pray and meditate upon the Word as it applies to their circumstances.

So it is with parenting.


Staff member
"The Reformed who rest in their election, in covenant identity, in the doctrine of perseverance rather than in the practice of it; in short, who do not rest in grace today, and not only yesterday--they do not understand their own faith! The mercies of God are not new to them every morning, but have become just part of their dusty, mental furniture. They hope in the Lord by rote, and expect their children will adopt their tradition by inertia. Woe betide them."
Beautifully stated, Pastor Buchanan. May I quote this in another context?

Grace grace, grace, that's been my chief learning as a parent!


Puritan Board Freshman
Thank you all for your wise input. There is obviously much I do not know. I don't have any children, but I do have a young sister who I am trying to train. That's not the same as being a parent, I know, but I have prayed for her often--almost daily, and will continue to do so.
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