In the preface to his book entitled The Upper Room, J.C. Ryle writes these words about the compilation of articles that will follow: “All of them, I venture humbly to think, will be found to contain some useful truths for the times, and words in season.”
Those words were written back in 1887 and yet, reading them in 2014, it is as though they were written for today—applicable truths for this time, and needed words in this season. One of the articles in this book that impacted my heart most is an article written for parents about how to raise our children in the way they should go. It’s a wonderful article full of convicting truth, but in every way seasoned with grace, intended to encourage, and full of hope.
Ryle calls the article The Duties of Parents, but I wonder, if he were one of our contemporaries and was writing today, perhaps J.C. Ryle would contribute to a blog and would have called this article 17 Things Every Christian Parent Must Do.
The following 17 points (along with the many tweetable thoughts quoted underneath) are all Ryle’s points and words. The full article was several thousand words long, so I’ve chosen favorite quotes from each point. I’m writing them here not only to better remember them and engrain them upon my own heart, but also because I know others might benefit from these reminders, too.
1. Train them in the way they should go, and not in the way that they would.
The child knows not yet what is good for his mind and soul, any more than what is good for his body. You do not let him decide what he shall eat, and what he shall drink, and how he shall be clothed. Be consistent, and deal with his mind in like manner. Train him in the way that is scriptural and right, and not in the way that he fancies.
2. Train up your child with all tenderness, affection, and patience.
Love should be the silver thread that runs through all your conduct. Kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, forbearance, patience, sympathy, a willingness to enter into childish troubles, a readiness to take part in childish joys—these are the clues you must follow if you would find the way to his heart. …Sternness and severity of manner chill them and throw them back. It shuts up their hearts, and you will weary yourself to find the door.
3. Train your children with an abiding persuasion on your mind that much depends upon you.
God gives your children a mind that will receive impressions like moist clay. He gives them a disposition at the starting point of life to believe what you tell them, and to take for granted what you advise them, and to trust your word rather than a stranger’s. He gives you, in short, a golden opportunity for doing them good. See that the opportunity be not neglected, and thrown away. Once let slip, it is gone forever.
4. Train with this thought continually before your eyes—that the soul of your child is the first thing to be considered.
Precious, no doubt, are these little ones in your eyes; but if you love them, think often of their souls. No interest should weigh with you so much as their eternal interest. No part of them should be so dear to you as that part which will never die. The world, with all its glory, shall pass away; the hills shall melt; the heavens shall be wrapped together as a scroll; the sun shall cease to shine. But the spirit which dwells in those little creatures, whom you love so well, shall outlive them all.
5. Train your child to a knowledge of the Bible.
See that they read it regularly. Train them to regard it as their soul’s daily food—as a thing essential to their soul’s daily health. I know well you cannot make this anything more than a form, but there is no telling the amount of sin which a mere form may indirectly restrain. …Fill their minds with Scripture. Let the Word dwell in them richly. Give them the Bible, the whole Bible, even while they are young.
6. Train them to a habit of prayer.
Prayer is the very life breath of true religion. Prayer is, of all habits, the one which we recollect the longest. Many a grey-headed man could tell you how his mother used to make him pray in the days of his childhood. Other things have passed away from his mind… passed from his memory, and left no mark behind. But you will often find it is far different with his first prayers. He will often be able to tell you where he knelt, and what he was taught to say, and even how his mother looked all the while. …Reader, if you love your children, I charge you, do not let the seed-time of a prayerful habit pass away unimproved.
7. Train them to habits of diligence and regularity about public means of grace.
Tell them the importance of hearing the Word preached, and that it is God’s ordinance for converting, sanctifying, and building up the souls of men.
8. Train them to a habit of faith.
I mean by this, you should train them up to believe what you say. You should try to make them feel confidence in your judgment, and respect your opinions as better than their own. …Tell your children, too, that we must all be learners in our beginnings—that there is an alphabet to be mastered in every kind of knowledge—that the best horse in the world had need once to be broken—that a day will come when they will see the wisdom of all your training. But in the meantime if you say a thing is right, it must be enough for them—they must believe you and be content.
9. Train them to a habit of obedience.
This is an object which it is worth any labour to attain. No habit, I suspect, has such an influence over our lives as this.
10. Train them to a habit of always speaking the truth.
Press upon them at all times, that less than the truth is a lie; that evasion, excuse making, and exaggeration are all half-way houses towards what is false, and ought to be avoided. Encourage them in any circumstances to be straightforward, and, whatever it may cost them, to speak the truth.
11. Train them to a habit of always redeeming the time.
Teach them the value of time, and try to make them learn the habit of using it well. It pains me to see children idling over what they have in hand, whatever it may be. I love to see them active and industrious, and giving their whole heart to all they do; giving their whole heart to lessons, when they have to learn; giving their whole heart even to their amusements, when they go to play.
12. Train them with a constant fear of over-indulgence.
Parents, I beseech you, for your children’s sake, beware of over-indulgence. I call on you to remember, it is your first duty to consult their real interests, and not their fancies and likings—to train them, not to humor them, to profit, not merely to please.
13. Train them remembering continually how God trains His children.
There is no surer road to unhappiness than always having our own way. To have our wills checked and denied is a blessed thing for us; it makes us value enjoyments when they come. To be indulged perpetually is the way to be made selfish; and selfish people and spoiled children, believe me, are seldom happy. Reader, be not wiser than God; train your children as He trains His.
14. Train them remembering continually the influence of your own example.
Be an example of reverence for the Word of God, reverence in prayer, reverence for means of grace, reverence for the Lord’s day. Be an example in words, in temper, in diligence, in temperance, in faith, in charity, in kindness, in humility. Think not your children will practise what they do not see you do. You are their model picture, and they will copy what you are. Your reasoning and your lecturing, your wise commands and your good advice; all this they may not understand, but they can understand your life.
15. Train them remembering continually the power of sin.
Children require no schooling to learn to sin. But you must not be discouraged and cast down by what you see. You must not think it a strange and unusual thing, that little hearts can be so full of sin. It is the only portion which our father Adam left us; it is the fallen nature with which we come into the world; it is that inheritance which belongs to us all. Let it rather make you more diligent in using every means which seem most likely, by God’s blessing, to counteract the mischief.
16. Train them remembering continually the promises of Scripture.
Train up your child in the way he should go, and when he is old he shall not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). Think, too, what the promise contains, before you refuse to take comfort from it. It speaks of a certain time when good training shall especially bear fruit—“when a child is old.” Surely there is comfort in this. You may not see with your own eyes the result of carefully training, but you know not what blessed fruits may spring from it, long after you are dead and gone.
17. Train them, lastly, with continual prayer for a blessing on all you do.
Without the blessing of the Lord, your best endeavours will do no good. He has the hearts of all men in His hands, and except He touch the hearts of your children by His Spirit, you will weary yourself to no purpose. Water, therefore, the seed you sow on their minds with unceasing prayer. The Lord is far more willing to hear than we to pray; far more ready to give blessings than we to ask them; but He loves to be entreated for them. And I set this matter of prayer before you, as the top stone and seal of all you do.
Ryle concludes this article by writing that he will pray for all who read this paper. Isn’t that awesome? Back in the 19th century, an old, grey-haired man was praying for all the parents who would read his words—a prayer that, in God’s providence, would include fathers and mothers hundreds of years after his death.
The concluding words of Ryle’s prayer for the readers are these: “The Lord grant this, and then I have good hope that you will indeed train up your children well—train well for this life, and train well for the life to come; train well for earth, and train well for heaven; train them for God, for Christ, and for eternity.”