`Come, ye children, hearken. unto me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
What man is he that desireth life,
And loveth many days, that he may see good?
Keep thy tongue from evil,
And thy lips from speaking guile.
Depart from evil, and do good;
Seek peace, and pursue it.’
Ps. 34: 11-14.
There is a science called Ethics, which seeks to discover the laws which should regulate human conduct, and so to teach the art of living aright. In the pursuit of its object, the science seeks to find out what is the moving principle which urges men to act as they do, or, in other words, what the aim is they propose to themselves. In the discussions on this point, the word that comes up universally is, THE GOOD. Men propose to themselves some good or other as the reward of their efforts.
The students of Ethics are divided into two great schools according to the meaning they attach to the word ‘good.’ With some, it expresses the good of well-being, the possession or enjoyment of what is desirable. They maintain that happiness, our own or that of the human race, the fear of pain and the desire of pleasure, is and ought to be the motive of conduct.
Another school takes higher ground. It maintains that, though the desire of happiness is innate and legitimate, it may not be man’s first or ultimate aim. Happiness will be the accompaniment and the reward of something higher. The good not of well-being but of well-doing is the only true good. The ideas of right and wrong are deeper and holier than those of pleasure and pain. To teach men to do good is their ideal.
In the words of our psalm, children are invited to come and learn what the secret of a happy life is. The call appeals to the desire for happiness: ‘Who is he that would see good?’ The teacher promises to show the path to the enjoyment of true well-being. That path is, `Depart from evil, and do good.’ God has so ordered our nature that well-being will follow well-doing: to do good is the sure way to see good.
But our inspired teacher goes further. He not only tells of our seeing good and doing good, but would teach us the secret of being good. This human science cannot teach. It may speak of the value of uprightness and purity in the inner motive to make conduct really good; it cannot show us what the true, the only pure and purifying motive is. The Psalmist tells us, `Come, ye children, hearken unto me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.’ The fear of the Lord — this is the beginning of all wisdom and goodness. It is doing what we do, unto the Lord, for His sake and as obedience to Him; it is our personal relation to God that makes conduct really good. To fear God — this is being good; then follows doing good; then seeing good.
Christian parents have in this call, `Come, ye children, hearken unto Me,’ words prepared for them by the Holy Spirit to use with their children. They are God’s ministers to teach the children the fear of the Lord, the path to the true, the highest good. Let us try and take the lessons home to ourselves that we have to give them.
To begin with the lowest, ‘seeing good’: `What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good?’ Let parents not be afraid of promising their children that it shall be well with them if they do indeed fear God. With a Creator of infinite goodness and wisdom it cannot be otherwise: doing right and pleasing Him must bring blessing and happiness. The desire for happiness may not be the only or the first motive for a man’s conduct. Experience has proved that those who make it their first object fail; while they who gave it a second place, subordinate to duty, find it. It is so in religion very specially. God commands us to be happy; He promises us joy; but always in connection with our being in the right relation to Himself and His will. So the previous verse had said (ver. 10), `They that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.’ The promises that God will do us good are many. `I will surely do thee good,’ He said to Jacob. To Israel He spoke: ‘Do right and good, that it may be well with thee.’ The principle expressed in the prayer, `Be good to them that do good,’ tells that the favor and friendship of God, His peace and presence, His guidanceand help, will come to those who do His will. Such obedience and doing good will bring a blessing even for this life too.
Let our children learn it early, that if they would see good it will be found with God. Let them learn it of us, not as a doctrine, but as a personal testimony; let us show them that the service of God makes us happy, and that the good which God bestows is our one desire and our highest joy.
The next step is doing good. Let us seek in the hearts of our little ones to link inseparably well-doing and well-being. `Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord,’ The Christianity of our day has so learnt to seek only safety in religion, but pleasure and happiness in the world, that it will need a very clear testimony to fill our children with the thought that to do God’s will and serve is in itself blessedness, is enjoyment. No trouble ought to be great, if we can teach them these lessons.
And now comes the teaching as to what doing good is: `Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.’ Sins of the tongue, sins of disobedience, sins of temper: these are the three principal temptations children are exposed to, and against which parents have to guard them.
`Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile.’ Let the Christian parent strive after a deep conviction of the power of the tongue. It reveals what is in the heart; it sets it further on fire, by encouraging the utterance of the evil there. It is the medium of intercourse and influence on others. It is the index of the presence or the want of that integrity or uprightness which is the very foundation of true character. Parents! study above everything to make your children true — first true in words, and then true in heart and deed. A child’s truthfulness and integrity may be the beginning of his walking in the truth of God. `I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth:’ let this be your aim even with the little children.
`Depart from evil, and do good.’ To a young child the first evil is that which his parent forbids. The parent is to him as a conscience, as a God. Train your little ones to flee from evil, to depart, to come away from everything naughty and forbidden. And to do good: keep it occupied, if possible, in what is good, as being allowed by you and pleasing to you. Stir and strengthen its young will, train it to do good; not to think and wish and feel good, but to do it. It is the will, and what it does, that makes the man.
Seek peace, and pursue it.’ To quarrel is a sin that comes so easily with children. Let us train ours to respect the rights of others, to bear and to forgive when ours are affected, or to seek redress only from the parent. `Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God,’ — this is one of the words to which the education of the nursery and the home must lead them.
But we have still the highest good to speak of: we must not only seek good, and do good, but be good. Only a good tree can bring forth good fruit. And what is it to be good? What is the disposition that makes the good man or the good child? ‘I will teach you the fear of the Lord.’ There is none good, and no good, but God; if we seek and find Him we find all good. It is in the fear of the Lord that good conduct has its spring, that virtue has its worth. `In singleness of heart, fearing God: whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord;’ it is the personal relation to God carried out into all our conduct that constitutes the fear of the Lord. It is not the fear of a slave, but of a child, twin sister to hope and love: `The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear Him, in those that hope in His mercy.’
And how can the fear of the Lord be taught? Dear Christian parents! you know the answer: only by yourselves walking in the fear of the Lord all the day. Seek to train your children to understand the connection between seeing good, or always being blessed and happy; and doing good, or a life in which we always choose what is right; and being good, or having a heart filled with the fear and love of God. Train them to it by living it. Let them see you walk in the fear of the Lord all the day, His holy presence resting on you and brought with you into daily life. Let them see in your conduct that religion is a holy sentiment and emotion, a power in the heart which moves the will in everything to do what is good. And let the light of your eyes and the brightness of your face be the exposition and the confirmation of God’s truth, `blessed is the man that feareth the Lord.’
O my God! I ask for grace to take to heart, and wisely to apply in dealing with my children the lessons of Your Word.
May my whole intercourse with them be full of the joyful assurance that the fear of the Lord is the path to the enjoyment of all good, and that Your service is happiness. Let this be so real that all thought of there being pleasure in the world or sin may pass away.
Help me to teach them the fear of the Lord by instruction, and example, and the spirit of my life. May thoughtfulness, and truthfulness, and lovingness mark the conversation of my home, and the life of all be holy to the Lord. Day by day I would show them, through Your grace, how departing from every — even little — evil, and doing good, with a following after peace and holiness, is what Your fear teaches.
Give me grace, above all, to teach them that the fear of the Lord itself is the true good, the principle of all good. May we walk as children in the full light of Your countenance, only fearful of offending You, or not rendering Your Holy Majesty the reverence due to You. And let ours be the true Christian life of Your disciples of old, who, walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.
O my God, I beseech You, make me a parent such as You would have me, and let on me and my home Your blessing rest. Amen.