Friday, December 26, 2008

2 Catechesis and the Privilege of Raising Children in the Fear of God

"Let the word of God dwell richly in you," the Apostle tells us in Colossians 3:16. A primary means of obedience to this command is to read the Scriptures daily in our families, as Matthew Henry counsels in his treatise, Family Religion. The daily reading of the Word of God surely brings forth fruit pleasing to the Lord.

Additionally, the Puritans and Reformers counselled the use of good catechisms, which explain and expound the truth of God - not that they replace Scripture, any more than preaching replaces Scripture - but they draw the doctrine of Scripture out by summarizing and collecting teachings from various places, to give memorable expression to God's truth. In our family catechism is an important part of our evenings, and a means for me to rightly teach and train our children in their walk before the Lord. It is so beautiful to see their progress in learning, and beyond remembering the answers to questions posed to them, to see them actively applying what they have learned in other contexts.

Matthew Henry strongly motivates the use of catechesis, and discusses the fruits of it, in the extract from Family Religion below:
This way of instruction by catechising does in a special manner belong to the church in the house; for that is the nursery in which the trees of righteousness are reared, that afterwards are planted in the courts of our God...

The baptism of your children, as it laid a strong and lasting obligation upon them to live in the fear of God, so it brought you under the most powerful engagements imaginable to bring them up in that fear... you are unjust to your God, unkind to your children, and unfaithful to your trust, if having by baptism entered your children in Christ's school, and listed them under his banner, you do not make conscience of training them up in the learning of Christ's scholars, and under the discipline of his soldiers.

Consider what your children are now capable of, even in the days of their childhood. They are capable of receiving impressions now which may abide upon them while they live; they are turned as clay to the seal, and now is the time to apply to them the 'seal of the living God'. They are capable of honouring God now, if they be well taught: and by their joining, as they can, in religious services with so much reverence and application as their age will admit, God is honoured, and you in them present to him 'living sacrifices, holy and acceptable'. The hosannas even of children well taught wil be the perfecting of praise, and highly pleasing to the Lord Jesus.

Consider what your children are designed for, we hope, in this world; they must be a 'seed to serve the Lord', which shall be 'accounted to him for a generation'. They are to bear up the name of Christ in their day, and into their hands must be transmitted that good thing which is committed to us. They are to be praising God on earth, when we are praising him in heaven. Let them then be brought up accordingly, that they may answer the end of their birth and being. ...(p. 36, Family Religion, Matthew Henry)
God has given us length of days and closeness of contact with our children in order that we might care for them in, to use Henry's phrase elsewhere, 'the nursery in which trees of righteousness are reared.' They aren't to be thrust out the door to fend for themselves at a young age, but nurtured and cared for, and made strong in the Lord's teaching. We must undertake this from day one, and not be pleased to lose time - but take it, all for God's glory, and take seriously the role we have been given by God as parents. They are indeed God's lambs in our care. Henry next turns to a more direct and serious motivation as he closes the section of this work on catechism:
Consider especially what they are designed for in another world: they are made for eternity. Every child you have has a precious and immortal soul, that must forever either in heaven or hell, according as it is prepared in this present state; and perhaps it must remove to that world of spirits very shortly: and will it not be very sad, if through your carelessness and neglect, your children should learn the ways of sin, and perish eternally in those ways? Give them warning, that, if possible, you may deliver their souls; at least, that you may deliver your own, and may not bring their curse and God's too, their blood and your own too, upon your heads. (p. 36-37, Family Religion, Matthew Henry)
Stern warning... but afterward a necessary pastoral word:
I know you cannot give grace to your children, nor is a religious conversation the constant consequence of a religious education; 'the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong' (Eccl. 9:11), but if you make conscience of doing your duty, by keeping up family doctrine; if you teach them the good and the right way, and warn them of by-paths; if you reprove, exhort and encourage them as there is occasion; if you pray with them, and for them, and set them a good example, and at last consult their soul's welfare in the disposal of them, you have done your part, and may comfortably leave the issue and success with God. (p. 37, Family Religion, Matthew Henry)
Thanks be to God that the salvation of our children is in His hands. We may freely teach and raise them to trust in His Son and walk in His ways - freely, because we know that the work is the Lord's, and by His Holy Spirit he shall bring forth His fruit. Our duty is to obey, and faithfully carry out His call upon us as parents - the increase is His; and so is the glory.


Vic said...

Beautiful post and much needed. Another great book on this is the one written by the puritan James Alexander "Thoughts on Family Worship."

For a great exposition on the biblical basis of catechism click on the following link. It is a catechetical sermon on why we ought to catechize by Rev. John Sawtelle from All Saints URC.

Todd said...

Thanks, Vic - Alexander's book is really excellent, and another I usually recommend is "The Godly Family", which has articles by Whitefield, Venn, Doddridge, Davies and others. More recently, Recovering Catechism by Donald Van Dyken also is a great resource. Thanks, too, for the plug for Sawtelle's sermon.


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