Ephesians 6:4: Instructing our Children
John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, was born in 1725 and at the age of 7 his mother Elizabeth died of tuberculosis. She was sickly the whole of his childhood. One biographer writes: ‘Though Elizabeth was unable to function as she might have wished, she did not squander her days. Knowing that time with her son might be short, she determined to make the most of what remained. She took on the role of teacher and spent hours with John each day. She was a good instructor, and he was an eager, bookish student. He progressed quickly. “When I was four years old, I could read, (hard names excepted,) as well as I can now: and could likewise repeat the answers to the questions in the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism, with the proofs; and all Dr. Watt’s smaller Catechisms, and his Children’s Hymns.” From this list of material we know that Elizabeth consistently trained her son in Reformed theology. John later wrote, “As I was her only child, she made it the chief business and pleasure of her life to instruct me, and bring me up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” As Newton reflected over his life and conversion he credited his mother’s instruction and love. ‘When John Newton looked back on his life, he was quick to give credit to his mother. He knew his eventual salvation was inseparable from the early training he had received on her knee and from the many prayers she had prayed on his behalf. “Though in process of time I sinned away all the advantages of these early impressions, yet they were for a great while a restraint upon me; they returned again and again, and it was very long before I could wholly shake them off; and when the Lord at length opened my eyes, I found a great benefit from the recollection of them.” Elizabeth, he said, had “stored my memory, which was then very retentive, with many valuable pieces, chapters and portions of scripture, catechisms, hymns, and poems.”
Though Elizabeth was gravely ill for all of her son’s early life, she did not allow her condition to keep her from fulfilling her God-given duty. To the contrary, her illness made her urgent to lay an early foundation of Christian doctrine and practice. She used what strength she had to express the deepest kind of love for her son. She taught him to know God’s existence, God’s holiness, and God’s demands on his life. She taught him songs that would remain in his mind and heart until his dying day. She taught him to honour the Bible and to turn to it for spiritual knowledge and strength. She taught him the good news of the gospel, that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. She displayed a sweet submission to God’s will and a deep piety, treasuring and obeying God’s every word. As biographer Jonathan Aitken says, “The spiritual lessons the boy had learned at his mother’s knee were never forgotten. They become the foundation for Newton’s eventual conversion and Christian commitment.” We cannot understand this great man apart from his godly mother.’
The impact of a parent’s instruction is encouraging for us as we continue to spend time in Eph. 6:4, ‘Fathers do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.’ We have been looking at parenting through the lens of representing Christ as Prophet, Priest and King. We began last week to discuss our prophetic role as we instruct our children. Today we continue to look in particular at the responsibility to develop the understanding of our children spiritually. We have dealt with the question of schooling, teaching our children to engage socially and to be aware of their physical bodies, but it is their souls, their salvation, their relationship with God that we want to focus on today.
We have already spoken about the fact that one of the purposes of marriage is to produce godly offspring, this is clearly taught in Mal. 2:15. As we read the scriptures we see bad examples of this, for example, the high priest Eli who did not discipline his sons when they were abusing the worshippers of God. But we also good examples of those who did indeed teach their children, Timothy had a godly mother and grandmother who taught him the scriptures from birth, 2 Tim. 3:14-15, ‘But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.’ It is God’s will that parents bring their children up knowing God and His law, speaking of Abraham it reads in Gen. 18:19, ‘For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” And again when Moses instructs Israel he says, Deut. 6:4-9, ‘“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.’ Speaking as a parent I can say that this is the most important aspect of my parenting. I don’t care if my sons marry well, have lots of lovely kids, own their own house, have success in their jobs and do well in general, compared to my desire that they might know and serve the Lord. If they were bums who loved Jesus I would be the happiest father on earth.
Do today we want to talk about shaping our children’s spiritual understanding. We do this in two key ways, in what we do and in what we say.