`Thou honourest thy sons above Me; them that honour Me I will honour, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed.’ 1 Sam. 2: 29, 30. `I will judge his house for ever, for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.’ 1Sam. 3: 19.
Some men are born to rule; it costs them no trouble, it is their very nature; they often do it unconsciously. Others there are to whom it never comes natural; they either shrink from it, or, even if they attempt it, utterly fail. They appear to be wanting in the gifts that fit them for the work; it is always a struggle and an effort. In ordinary life men can choose, or are chosen for, the situations they have to fill as rulers or commanders. In family life we see a strange and very solemn spectacle: every parent has to rule, whether he be fit for it or not. Nor does the fact of his unfitness take away his responsibility; the terrible consequences of his failure to rule are still visited upon himself and his children. The picture of feeble old Eli, faithful to God’s cause and ready to die for the ark of God, but unfaithful to his duty as parent, and unable to restrain his sons, suggests to us the very needful inquiry as to the causes, the consequences, and the cure of parental weakness.
1. We have spoken of natural incapacity for ruling as one cause. But this is never so absolute that determined effort could not to some extent remedy it, much less that the grace of God could not change it. We must therefore look for other causes. And of these the chief is the want of self-discipline. A Christian may not ask what is easy or natural, what he likes or what appears possible. His one question must be, What is duty? what has God commanded? There is wonderful strengthening, even for the weakest character, in giving itself up to the Divine ‘ought’ and ‘must’ of God’s will. The fear of grieving the Father, the desire of pleasing Him, the assurance of His strength to aid our weakness — such thoughts awaken and fortify the energies of the soul. The will wakes up, and nothing is so invigorating as the hearty effort to obey. It is because the Christian parent too little realizes, and is too little taught by the Church, that ruling his home well is a simple matter of duty, a command that must be obeyed, that so many children are ruined by parental weakness. Not to restrain the child is to dishonor God by honoring the child more than God, because the duty God has imposed is made to give way to the child’s will.
Closely connected with this is the good-natured weakness, misnamed kindness, which cannot bear ever to reprove, to thwart, or to punish a child. It is nothing but a form of sloth: it cannot take the trouble to rule and guide its feelings by God’s Word; it refuses the pain which punishing causes the parent. Alas! it knows not how it chooses the greater pain of seeing the child grow up unrestrained. No grace of the Christian life is obtained without sacrifice; this very high grace of influencing and forming other souls for God needs special self-sacrifice. Like every difficult work, it needs purpose, attention, and perseverance.
But the chief cause of parental weakness will be found deeper still — the want of a life of true devotion to God Himself. God is the great Ruler and Educator; the powers that be, the parents’ powers, too, are ordained of God; he who does not live under command to God in his own life has not the secret of authority and command over others. It is the fear of God that is the beginning of wisdom, of wisdom for the work of ruling too; it is the failure in personal godliness that is the root of parental failure.
2. And now the consequences of such parental weakness. There is one element in the law of consequences under which we live that makes it specially solemn and terrible. It is this, that ordinarily they are not experienced until it is too late to redress them. Our actions are seeds; no one who looks at the little seed could ever imagine what a great tree, what noble or what bitter fruit, could come from it. Consequences, as seen in those around us, somehow hardly affect us; self-interest flatters itself with the pleasing hope that, in our case at least, the results will not be so disastrous. Let me plead with parents, when conscience or experience tells them that they too have been guilty of consulting the will of their children more than the honor of God, to look at the picture of Eli and his home under God’s judgment. Let them ponder carefully what God says. Let them remember that throughout the universe there is no well-being but in harmony with the law of our being. In earth and heaven, in nature and grace, in the individual, the family, and the Church, obedience to the law under which God constituted a creature is the only possible path to happiness. To disobey that law is to court misery. And if the parents, destined of God to bear in the home the likeness of His own Fatherly rule, from ignorance or sloth give way to weakness, they must expect the natural results. It may not always become manifest in the same degree or with equal speed, but in the loss of power to their child’s character, in the loss of peace and happiness, in many cases in the loss of the soul forever, they must reap what they sow. God appointed parental rule in the family as the symbol of His own authority, in which parents and children alike are to honor Him; to dishonor Him is to lose His favor and blessing.
3. The cure of such weakness. In speaking of the causes, we have already indicated some of the remedies. The first one is this: the determined purpose, by God’s grace, to do God’s will. My duty is never measured by what I feel it within my power to do, but by what God’s grace makes possible for me. And I never can know fully how much grace can enable me to do, until I begin. It is only little by little that the evil habit will be conquered. But to him that has, more shall be given. Let the weak parent accept it as a God-imposed duty: he must rule his children. Let him remember that not to rule and restrain his children means that both parent and child dishonor God by not doing His will. Let him yield himself to the God of grace, with the purpose to do His will, however impossible it appear; the surrender will be accepted, and the grace not withheld. Step by step, amidst many a failure, the honest effort to do God’s will cannot remain without its reward.
Next to this, let the parent who has failed, study some of the simplest laws in the art of ruling. It is often owing to the entire ignorance and neglect of these that failure comes. Ruling, like any other art we are ignorant of, must be learnt. Some of these rules, as often given, are as follows: Do not give too many commands at once; begin if need be with only one. If you secure obedience to one, your own and the child’s consciousness of your power to rule is established. Do not command what you cannot enforce, or what the child has not the power to obey. Begin and prove your authority when it is easy for you to secure obedience and the child to render it; in all learning we proceed from the easy to the less easy. Let the command be given in quiet, deliberate tones, with full self-control; hasty, ill-regulated injunctions lead to disobedience. Self-rule is the secret of all rule; as you honor the law yourself in self-command, others learn to honor it too.
Above all, let the Christian parent who would rule well, remember God. He is God’s minister, doing God’s work. God loves the children, and wants them trained for Himself. He is your covenant-God; depend upon Him to be your help and strength. It is God who, through you, will rule your home. Yield yourself to Him. Pray not only for help, but believe most certainly it is given. Believe not only, but act in the assurance that it is given, and is beginning, little by little, to work in you. Say to your Father that you desire to do your duty at any risk, and to honor Him with your children. And, depend upon it, in the spirit of a quiet, restful assurance, that here, too, God’s strength will work in your weakness.
O my God! with fear and trembling would I bow before You, the righteous God, who will not give Your honor to another, nor suffer sin, even in Your servants, to go unpunished. Impress deeply upon my heart, O Lord, the solemn lessons You do teach Your Church by the terrible sight of Your judgment on the house of Eli Your servant.
Not to rule and restrain our children, to give them their own way, is to honor them more than You. Ere we think it, weakness becomes wickedness, in ourselves and our children too, You have made every parent after Your image, a king in his home, that he may rule his home well, and command his children in the way in the Lord. On his exercise of authority, and their rendering of obedience, You have made Your blessing dependent.
O God! have mercy upon us. Let the thought of Your command to rule our home, of Your judgment on disobedience, of Your promised grace to those who give themselves to obey, of Your blessing on a home ordered in Your fear, stir us with our whole heart to fulfil our holy calling in Your fear. And let us, above all, believe that as we and our children in this fulfil Your will, we are in the path of true blessing for this life and the life to come. Amen.