`Before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.’ Isa. 7: 15.
Of all the wondrous powers with which God has endowed man, his will — the power of determining what he does, and so what he is — is the most wonderful. This is indeed the deepest trait of the Divine image, because even as God was what He is, of Himself and not of another, so He gave man to a very large extent the power of deciding and making himself. The mind, with all its wondrous capacities, the soul, with all its wealth of feeling, man’s moral and religious nature, all these have been given that he might be able to exercise aright that royal prerogative of the liberty he has from God to will himself, and so to fashion his own being and destiny for eternity.
And it is to the parent that the solemn task is entrusted of teaching the child how to use this will aright. This delicate instrument, on which in after-life the weal or woe, not only of the child, but of others, is to depend, is put into the hands of the parents to keep, to direct, to strengthen, and to train the child all unconsciously to hold and to exercise it to the glory of the God who gave it. One would imagine that parents would shrink from the task with trembling, or, if they heard how the wisdom was to be obtained to execute it aright, would count no sacrifice too great to secure it. To those who seek the wisdom from God in faith, and in His fear seek to understand and fulfil their task, success is possible, is even promised.
The problem is one of great delicacy, to combine the greatest degree and the fullest exercise of personal liberty with perfect obedience. God’s Word has more than once taught in that obedience is the child’s first virtue — that in yielding it, his will is to be exercised. He is to obey, not because he understands or approves, but because the parent commands. In this he is to become the master of his own will, that he voluntarily submits it to a higher authority. Obedience from this principle will thus secure a double good: while guiding the will into right habits, it strengthens the command the child has over it. When first this has been attained, a safe foundation has been laid for the further exercise of the child’s free will in the deliberate choice of what appears to him best. It is this that the parent must regard as his highest and most blessed work. `Before the child knows to refuse the evil and choose the good,’ in this first stage of childhood, simple obedience is the law. As he grows out of it, it is still a parent’s influence that must train the young will to exercise the power on which in after-life everything depends; he must now be trained himself to refuse the evil and choose the good.
And how is this to be done? The choice of the will depends upon the impulse and motives which prompt it to action. These impulses and motives again depend upon the objects presented to the mind, and the degree of attention with which they are regarded. In our fallen nature, the soul, dwelling in the flesh, and surrounded by the world, is far more alive to the visible and the temporal, than the unseen and the real: it is deceived by what appears pleasing or beautiful; the influence of what is present and near outweighs that of the distant, though of infinitely greater worth. It is the work of the parent to present to the child the true motives of action, and thus aid it in refusing the evil and choosing the good. The beauty of virtue, the nobility and happiness of self-denial, the pleasure that duty brings, the fear and the favor of God — not in these words, but clothed in forms suited to a child’s apprehension, the parent holds up to his view objects that awaken emotions by which the will is guided gladly to choose the good. Amid the thoughtlessness of childhood, that lives in the seen and the present, the parent acts as a conscience to the child, calling it to be true to its higher instincts and convictions, and leads to the true pleasure with which duty rewards even the young. But the training of the child aims specially at teaching it to refuse the evil and choose the good when there is no parent near to help. In conscience every man possesses a guardian and helper of inestimable value in the path of right. A wise training can do much to establish the authority of this inner rule, and to lead the child to look upon the indwelling guest, not as a spy or a reproachful enemy, but as the truest friend and best companion. Let the authority of the parent and of conscience be linked together, that even in the parent’s absence the weight of his influence may be felt. If the success of all true education consists in aiding the pupil to teach himself, the aim and success of moral training must specially consist in forming the habit of ruling himself, and always listening to the inward monitor. Cultivate in the child the power of self-control, of recollection, of quiet thoughtfulness, that he may always wait to listen for the gentle inner whisper that tells him to refuse the evil and choose the good.
Conscience, however, can only tell to do the right; what the right is it cannot always teach. The mind may be wrong in its views of good and evil, and faithfulness to conscience may even lead to choose the evil and refuse the good. The inner light shines upon the path of what we think duty: it is only the light from above that shows what that duty really is. ‘Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.’ One of the most precious influences of a godly education is, not so much the knowledge of what the Bible contains, as the consent of the heart to take God’s Word as the standard of good and evil, and the desire to let it decide in every choice. The authority of the parent, of conscience, of God’s Word: here is a threefold cord that cannot be broken, binding the child to the throne and the will of God, there to know to refuse the evil and choose the good.
We need hardly repeat again how such an education is not to take the place of Divine grace, but to be its servant; both in preparing the way for God’s Spirit, by forming a strong and intelligent will to be afterwards used in God’s service, and in following up the work of grace, by guiding it in the path where all God’s perfect will is to be accepted as the rule of conduct. Such a training, that the child may know to refuse the evil and choose the good, is of unspeakable value. When once the eyes of the parent are opened to the meaning of the words, he will see how in every step of life, in every action, there are two motives contending for mastery, and the choosing between the evil and the good is the solemn life-work being carried on all the day. He will recognize the responsibility entrusted to him of awakening, guiding, strengthening that young will, on which such infinite issues depend, and feel that if he can do this one thing well, he has done his highest work.To know to refuse the evil and choose the good will be to choose Christ and holiness and eternal life.
Dear parents, God’s highest gift to man in creation was his will, that he might choose the will of his God. Your highest work is to take charge of that will in your child, and be God’s minister in leading it back to His service. Pray earnestly for light on this holy trust committed to you. Study carefully the wondrous character of this remains of the Divine image. See in it the power to which the gospel comes to make it free to choose God and His service, Christ and His love. Realize your own incompetency aright to influence a will in which the powers of light and darkness are wrestling for supremacy. And cast yourself on the covenant for the leading of the Holy Spirit in your work, for the renewal of the Holy Spirit in your child, that it may be your and his joy to see his will given up to choose the good, to choose God.
O Lord my God! how holy is the work You have committed to a parent. Open my eyes, I do pray You, to see its responsibility. May the traces of the Divine image to be seen in the child’s power of willing, and so making himself, stand out clear to me. May the tremendous issues for time and eternity depending upon the right use of his will be ever before me. May I feel aright the danger from the corruption of sin within and temptation from without. May I realize the wonderful power entrusted to me, by Your giving the child’s will, into my power. And may a due sense of my own impotence, and Your Almighty Power working in me, combine to keep me humble and yet hopeful, conscious of my weakness, but confident in You. O God! teach me to form and train the will of my child to refuse the evil and choose the good.
Lord! make me very gentle and patient under a sense of my own wilfulness. And very watchful, because of the sleepless vigilance of the enemy, and the hourly danger of my child. Ever faithful to fulfil my commission well. And very full of trust, because You are my Help and my Father.
O my God! do it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.