Forty-Third Day – The Holy Spirit in the Family

`Thou therefore that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?’ Rom. 2: 21.

Nothing can be more inconsistent and vain than the attempt to teach others without teaching ourselves. It is in ordinary instruction only what the teacher is really master of and has thoroughly made his own, that he can successfully communicate to others. In the higher sphere of the life, truth which a parent has to impart, it holds far more good: it is only the lesson I first teach myself that I can really teach my child. One of the first laws in the science of home education is, that it depends far more on example than precept; what parents are avails more than what they say. There is not one of the great lessons of child-life which the parent must not first himself learn. Let us look at some of them.

The great aim of education is to give the child, when grown up to manhood, the perfect mastery and the ready use of all the wondrous powers God has endowed him with. To this end a wise self control is one of the first of virtues. As little as a state can prosper if there be no wise, intelligent ruler to make its laws and provide for its needs as they arise, can there be happiness in the little empire within man’s bosom, unless everything be subject to a ruling power. The child cannot be too early trained to habits of quiet thoughtfulness in speech and act, giving time and opportunity for mind and will to hold their rule. This training comes far more through example than precept. It is the atmosphere of a well regulated home, the influence of the self control which parents exhibit, which unconsciously set their mark on the child. When parents give way to impulse and temper, perhaps at the very time when professing to reprove or restrain the child’s temper, the effect of the good advice they mean to give is more than neutralized by the evil influence of the spirit displayed. It is the spirit that influences. The child may never look up and say, but God’s Word on its behalf says, `Thou that teacheth another, dost not thou teach thyself?’ If parents honestly watch themselves, they will often discover the causes or the helps to their children’s failings in themselves. Such discovery ought to lead to very earnest confession before God, to a very hearty surrender to the teaching of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. We can depend upon the Divine renewal to fit us for true self control; and what we so by grace teach ourselves will in due time influence our children also.

But the self control must know its object and the path to reach that object. The child finds both in the word we have already repeated so often — obedience. He must control himself to be able to render obedience to his parent, that in that he may be trained to what will be his liberty and his glory, obedience to God. But here again the parent’s obedience will be contagious, it will inspire the child. If the parent’s position be all one of privilege and liberty and command, the child may feel that the burden of obedience is all put upon him, the weaker one. `Johnny,’ said a father once to a child, who was hesitating about obeying his father’s will, `whose will must you do, your own or papa’s?’ `Papa’s will,’ was the reluctant answer. But on it followed at once the question, `But whose will must papa do, then?’ The father was able at once to answer, `God’s will,’ and to explain how he considered such obedience, to a wiser and a better will than his own, his greatest privilege. He could at once take his place by the side of his child as also having to give up his own will. The parent who can appeal to his daily life with his children, that they know how he in all things seeks to do the will of his God, and can in his prayers, in their presence, appeal to his God too, will find in the witness of such a life a mighty power to inculcate obedience in the child. When, on the contrary, the seeking of our own will marks our relation with our children, we need not wonder if our education is a failure. Let us turn at once and hearken to the voice, `Thou that teachest another, dost not thou teach thyself?’

Very specially does this hold true of that great commandment which is the fulfilling of the law. Family life has been very specially ordained of God as the sphere where love can be cultivated. In nothing is our self control to be more proved than in loving others, in restraining everything that is selfish or unloving. In the daily life of our children with each other and their companions, we have in miniature the temptations to which later life will expose them. For the exercise of the virtues of gentleness and forbearance, of forgiveness and generosity, of helpfulness and beneficence, continued opportunity will be found. Principles must not only be inculcated, but the trouble taken to lead the child to do the right thing easily and lovingly. Many a one wishes to help the poor, for instance, but does not undertake it, from not knowing how to set about it. It is one of the highest parts of a right Christian education to make beneficence the chief object of life, and awaken the desire to live to make those around us better and happier. But we feel at once how all this can only be attained as the parents teach themselves, and, for their own sakes, as well as their children’s, cultivate the virtues they inculcate. In the daily life of the family the parents must seek to prove that love is the law of their life. It must be understood that unkind words, harsh judgments, unloving reports, form no part of their conversation. In the intercourse with each other, with children, with servants, with friends, and the world around, love, God’s love, must be sought after and manifested. In the sympathy with the needy and wretched, in the thoughtful study of everything by which those who have none to care for them can be helped or comforted, in the actual loving self-denial exercised for the sake of the poor or the suffering, the example of Christ and His love must lie reduced to practice in daily life. Thus alone can education to a life of love be truly successful.

`Thou that teachest another, dost thou not teach thyself?’ With what searching light these words ask whether as parents we are doing the first and most needful thing for being successful teachers of our children: teaching ourselves. Yes, parents, teach yourselves. If we are to train our children wisely, we must go through a new course of training ourselves. We have to put ourselves to school again, and to be teachers and scholars in one. Of the two scholars whose education has to go on simultaneously, the parent and child, the parent will often find that the child makes more progress. The lessons which the attempt to train a child teaches parents, are often of greater importance and difficulty than those the child has to learn. It is especially well if the first lesson is learnt — the need of self-teaching, the need of teachableness, the need of continual daily learning.

Let the parent who begins to see this realize what it means to become a scholar. All schooling requires time and trouble, patience and payment. Teaching that costs nothing is of little value. No one can graduate as even fairly competent to train a child for eternity, without making sacrifices. Take time to study God’s Word and what it says of a parent’s duties. Study man’s moral nature, with its wonderful capacities, as the sacred trust committed to your care. Teach yourself to cultivate that nature to its highest fitness for God’s service: it will be the best preparation for teaching your children aright. And if you feel how much you need the help of some friend to stimulate and to guide — let Jesus be that teacher. He came and taught Himself, that He might know to teach us; He learned obedience that He might show us the way. He came to show us the Father; He will so reveal the Father’s love and grace, the fatherly tenderness of our God, that we shall be full of a joyful assurance that He will not refuse to teach and enable us to be true fathers and mothers to our children. And we shall understand that to be ourselves teachable, obedient, loving children of the Heavenly Father, is the surest way of having our children teachable, obedient, and loving too.

Gracious God! I come again to seek the grace I need for filling rightly my place as a parent. I ask of You to imprint deep on my heart the solemn thought that I can effectually teach my children only what I really teach myself, and that I can only expect the truth that influences my own life really to influence theirs.

O my God! I think with shame of how much that I reprove in them, is only the reflection of what they have seen in me. I confess how much there has been wanting of that spirit of childlike love and self-denial, of joyful obedience to You, and thoughtful self-sacrifice for others, which would have been to them the highest education. O my God! forgive me what is past, and give me grace in everything to teach myself what I want to teach my children.

Be pleased especially to make me feel deeply that it is as I live as an obedient child with my Father in heaven, that I can teach my children and expect them to be obedient to me. Lord! may childlike simplicity and obedience be the atmosphere my home breathes, the bond that makes parents and children one. As I think of my own slowness in learning, may I be very patient and gentle with my children, and yet full of hope that the lessons I impart to them will have their effect.

Jesus, Master, teach me Yourself, that with Your teaching I may teach my loved ones. Amen.