The Duties of Parents

by J.C. Ryle

summarised by Andrew Haylett

John Charles Ryle, evangelical churchman, was Bishop of Liverpool between 1880 and 1900, and exercised a ministry over a period of more than fifty years. His writings are full of Biblical, practical and balanced wisdom. The material below is summarised from the chapter The Duties of Parents from his book The Upper Room (Banner of Truth, 1990).

"Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Proverbs 22:6.

We are all in great danger of coming short of our duty. We see the faults of others more quickly than our own. Are we doing all that we can? Our own judgment is not always accurate; it must be brought before the bar of Scripture. How, then, are we to train up our children?

1. Train them in the way that they should go, and not in the way that they would. Children are born with a bias to evil, with a corrupt and sinful heart (Prov. 22:15, 29:15). Think, judge and act for your children as for one blind. Deal with his mind as you deal with his clothes and food. Deal sternly with self-will.

2. Train up your child with all tenderness, affection and patience. Do not spoil your child, but let him see that you love him. Show kindness, long-suffering, sympathy in everything. It is easier to draw than to drive. Sternness and severity shut up the heart. Much patience is necessary in training a child, but without it nothing can be done. Do not lose your temper. Keep a hold of your child's affections (Col. 3:21).

3. Train your child with an abiding persuasion on your mind that much depends on you. Grace and nature are powerful forces, but the upbringing and education of childhood are powerful too. We must not wait for a visible work of grace, but must endeavour to make every impression on our child.

4. Train your child being continually aware that his soul is the first thing to be considered. No interest should weigh as heavily as his eternal interest. In every action, consider, "How will this affect his soul?" Set before your child the chief end, the salvation of his soul. We are training our children for heaven.

5. Train your child to a knowledge of the Bible. Our children cannot be acquainted too soon or too well with the Scriptures. A grounding in the Bible will protect them from false doctrine and instability. Train your child to read the Bible reverently, regularly and thoroughly. Do not hide any of God's truth from them. Help them to hide the Word in their hearts.

6. Train them to a habit of prayer. Prayer is the distinguishing mark of the Lord's people, and the secret of spiritual prosperity. It is the mightiest and the simplest instrument. Encourage your children from a young age to pray diligently. Teach them the words and the manner of prayer, by precept and example.

7. Train them to habits of diligence and regularity concerning public means of grace. Tell them of the privilege of entering the house of God, of public prayer, the presence of Christ amongst His people (Heb. 10:25). Do not allow excuses for non-attendance. Have them sit near you and behave well. Some say the exercise is useless, that the child cannot understand. This is contrary to Scripture; children are to be present, and will learn to understand (Ex. 10:9; Josh. 8:35; Ex. 34:23; Acts 21:5).

8. Train them to a habit of faith. Train them to believe what you say, to feel confidence in your judgment and opinions. We do not need to give a reason for all that we desire our children to do, although we may reason with them at certain times. Witness the example of Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 22).

9. Train them to a habit of obedience. No habit has such an influence as this. Commands must be obeyed. Obedience is faith visible, faith acting and faith incarnate, the test of true discipleship (John 15:14). It is required by the fifth commandment. It was observed by our Saviour Himself (Luke 2:51). Happy children are those trained in obedience. Do not make excuses to yourself or to others for your child's disobedience. Our children must obey their earthly parents and their Father in heaven.

10. Train them to a habit of always speaking the truth. The devil is the father of lies, but God is the God of truth. Evasion, excuse-making and exaggeration are all manifestations of untruth. Train your child to speak the truth at all costs, and to shun the habit of concealment. It will be a mighty help to be able to trust the word of your child.

11. Train them to a habit of always redeeming the time. Idleness is the devil's friend (Ezek. 16:49). We were not created to be idle; the angels and the redeemed saints in heaven all have work. Idleness leads to many other sins. Teach your child the value of time, to give his whole heart to his lessons, even to his amusements.

12. Train them with a constant fear of over-indulgence. Tenderness and affection are natural, but an excess thereof is to be feared. Do not be blinded to your children's faults. Punishment and correction are disagreeable, but children must not be spoiled (Prov. 13:24; 19:18; 23:13,14; 29:15,17). See the example of David's children; Amnon's incest, Absalom's murder, Adonijah's scheming, their father's failure (1 Kings 1:6). Do not make your children idols; learn to say "No." Do not let any faults go unnoticed.

13. Train them remembering continually how God trains His children. God is preparing us for His abode. He knows our trials, temptations and privileges. He gives us all that we need to bear the most fruit. He also withholds those things that would not be good for us. He leads us in ways that seem dark and mysterious. He chastens us with trial and affliction. We never think that our heavenly Father treats us unwisely; he obtains more happiness for us that we would for ourselves. In all these ways, you must model to our children the dealings of your Father with you yourself; train your children as He trains His.

14. Train them remembering continually the influence of your own example. Instruction will profit little unless it is reinforced by the pattern of your own life. We little know the power of good example. Children often learn more by the eye than by the ear. Imitation is a stronger principle than memory. You must be a living epistle of Christ. Be an example in temper, in faith, in kindness, in humility. Children see through hypocrisy easily.

15. Train them remembering continually the power of sin. Do not expect to find your child's mind a blank sheet of paper. All manner of evil attitude and behaviour flows from the child's heart. Do not be discouraged, but use every means which seems most likely, under God's blessing, to counteract the sinful tendencies. Remember their natural depravity, and take care.

16. Train them remembering continually the promises of Scripture. The promises of God have strengthened the hearts of believers in every generation. The promises of Scripture are the words of the King of kings, Who never changes. Nothing is too hard for Him to perform. The promises speak of the later years; when a child grows old. We may not see all the fruits of our labours at first, or at all. You must sow in hope and plant in hope. Take courage and persevere (Heb. 12:11; Matt. 21:29).

17. Train them with continual prayer for a blessing on all you do. If the Lord does not touch the hearts of your children, your labour will be in vain. The Lord is ever willing to hear, far more so than we are to pray. Remember that your children are given to you by God (Gen. 33:5; 48:9; Ps. 127:3). Intercede for them often at the throne of grace.

In conclusion, remember that though God is sovereign and does all things according to the counsel of His own will, He also works by use of means, which we neglect at our peril. Sound training in the home is the root of godliness. Train up your children for the sake of their souls and for the sake of your comfort and peace; take care lest you lay up misery in old age. If we truly realise from our own experience the difference between the state of nature and the state of grace, we will not leave our children to their own devices. Let us realise the preciousness of our Lord and Saviour, and endeavour by all means to lead our children to Him, that they may find life in Him.

Copyright © Family Matters 1997