EARLY in his reign Solomon was presented with one of the most momentous and alluring choices that have confronted any man: the Lord said to him: “Ask what I shall give thee”. Solomon’s choice was very prudent: “Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people”. Whatever unhappy features the subsequent history of Solomon may exhibit, we must marvel at his restraint on this occasion. His decision was plainly influenced by his early training; not in vain had David exalted the virtues of knowledge and wisdom. We have already indicated in our first article how the early chapters of Proverbs seem to preserve David’s instruction to his son. Indeed, it is not difficult to detect the very accents of Proverbs in David’s final charge to his successor on the throne: “And thou … my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind … if thou seek him, he will be found of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever” (1 Chron 28:9). There is in all this conclusive evidence that David faithfully discharged his deepest obligations to his son, making sure that he was nurtured in the fear of the Lord. It should be remembered that David was already on the throne when Solomon was born. The burdens of his royal office were doubtless heavy and his attention would constantly be engrossed with a variety of problems. Yet he did not fail in his duty as a father. Here is a point to be noted by all brethren with children. Pressure of business, secular or ecclesial, only too often leads to the neglect of the young. It is possible to find time for everybody except one’s own family.

The mother’s influence is no less important than the father’s; in many ways it is more intimate, subtle and pervasive, especially in the early, highly formative years. The observation has frequently been made that the chroniclers of Judah and Israel seem anxious to call to our notice the effects of the mother’s influence: “So king Rehoboam strengthened himself in Jerusalem, and reigned … and his mother’s name was Naamah an Ammonitess. And he did evil, because he prepared not his heart to seek the Lord” (2 Chron 12:13,14). Thus early in Israelitish history, the folly of an alien marriage is tragically illustrated. Men are sowing the wind when they take a woman to wife without any regard to her religion. Ahab made the error of marrying Jezebel, the dominating but evil Zidonian. It required the rugged personality of Elijah to combat such a shrew. Jehoshaphat, the kindly king of Judah, unwisely associated with the northern kingdom, helping the ungodly Ahab in his enterprises. Doubtless as a result of this association, Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram married Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab. She was very probably also the daughter of Jezebel, though this fact is not expressly stated (no other wife of Ahab is mentioned, and one can hardly imagine Jezebel tolerating any rival). Of this godless alliance between Jehoram and Athaliah was born Ahaziah, about whom the narrative makes this remark: “He also walked in the ways of Ahab: for his mother was his counsellor to do wickedly” (2 Chron 22:3).

More cheerful in character are such observations as we find in 2 Chronicles 24: “Joash was seven years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Zibiah of Beer-sheba. And Joash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest”. Similarly, in the following chapter, the beneficence of the mother’s influence is hinted at: “Amaziah was twenty and five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty and nine years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Jehoaddan of Jerusalem; and he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a perfect heart”. This latter passage serves to remind us of a fact already mentioned, and which is conspicuous in Solomon’s instance: the training in youth, influential as it is, is not the only factor. The child reaches what we are pleased to call years of discretion, develops his own personality and pleases himself whether he heeds the counsel imparted by his elders. All that the parent can, and should do, is to ensure that sound instruction is imparted and that the home environment is helpful to the child’s spiritual education.

It would be idle to pretend that every Christadelphian parent is ideal, or even wise. In this respect, as in many others, it is possible for all to fail. Our homes may be a great power for good or evil. The attitude of the elders towards God and His word will inevitably influence the children. Conversation into which God’s name enters quite spontaneously, a constant sense of His presence, subduing irritation and removing asperity, will create the atmosphere favourable to the flowering of the Christian graces in old and young. On the other hand, mere indoctrination will never suffice. Too circumscribed, it will cramp the mind; belied by conduct out of harmony with our profession, it may repel the young or fashion them into unlovely reproductions of ourselves. We must be especially watchful of our words in the company of our children, who form so much a part of our lives that we are frequently unconscious of their presence. They may thus listen to some exceedingly uncharitable criticisms of brethren and sisters, and neighbours, or have divulged to them the scandals of ecclesial life. Surely we should always exhibit a generous attitude to our fellows, and at no time more than when our children are listening. If, as is inevitable on occasion, personalities must be discussed, an opportunity should be chosen when the young are absent. It is all too easy for vendettas to develop in ecclesias and for deeply rooted and grossly unjust prejudices to be transmitted from parent to child.

Another fault evident in some cases is the lack of adequate parental authority and control. There has been a general reaction against Victorian severity, encouraged to some extent by the teaching of modern psychologists who talk in frightening terms of complexes and maladjustments. Whatever exaggerations their teaching contains, we cannot afford to ignore everything they say. Even in these days an overbearing or repressive parent can do real damage to a young mind. The lives of some are darkened by memories of a cold and drear childhood; the softer qualities, as important in their way as the more rugged, can scarcely show themselves in a chill and joyless atmosphere, yet it must be said to the credit of some admirable characters that the consciousness of what they themselves missed has filled them with the resolve to brighten the childhood of others. However, the more common danger today is not that of repression but rather of excessive liberty. Influenced by an over emphasis on self-expression, many parents allow their children too much rein. In a Christian home this is a lamentable error and all the more difficult to understand in view of the dictates of common sense and the repeated stress in Proverbs on the need for wise control. We read: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes” (13:24); the lesson here enjoined could be reinforced by other citations. The passage we have chosen has a special interest in view of the clear allusion to it in Hebrews 12: “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” Proverbs 13:24 is thus no incitement to brutality; the chastening should be the expression of the father’s love and of his concern for his son’s development. This was the motive which inspired the trials to which God subjected Israel in the wilderness; the attentive reader may well, indeed, have been reminded by the quotation above from Hebrews 12 of the words of Deuteronomy 8:5: “Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee”. None who has studied the narratives of the Exodus or of the time of the kings can doubt God’s patience with His children.

This reflection serves to remind us of Paul’s words in Ephesians 6: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right … and, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord”. Once more the balance of Paul’s mind is admirably illustrated; the rearing of children is not, as some are inclined to think, the exacting of blind obedience on the part of the children to every command, however unreasonable or foolish it may be. A responsibility is also laid upon the parents not to exasperate the children unnecessarily. So many have no sympathy with the young. If ever they shared the interests and delights of youth, the fact is forgotten and all youthful pursuits are dismissed as mere vanity. The fault can also be seen in some teachers who are quite remote from their charges.

Hitherto we have dwelt rather on general principles. There is need to remind ourselves again of the obligation which God imposes on us to give formal instruction to our children (Deut 6:7 is one of the most pointed passages in this connection). Parents should therefore endeavour to devote some time every week to talking to their children about God and the Scriptures. There are still some who have family readings and prayers. Too much of this, especially with very young children, is doubtless irksome, but this is no reason for abandoning what is an excellent practice. There can be no finer method of expressing, or promoting, the unity of the family. If the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, we cannot too early set about fostering in the young a reverence for their Creator. It is relatively easy, in comparison to demonstration that man is mortal. Concentration on this kind of truth, important as it is, can induce that unfortunate attitude to the Bible which regards it as an arsenal of proof texts to be used in assailing our religious adversaries. Much more difficult is the task of kindling the love of God; once awakened, this will develop the correct attitude to the Scriptures, and a right apprehension of their teaching. Then such passages as Psalm 139 will come to be as familiar as Psalm 49, and John 13 as the end of Matthew 19.

Unquestionably, the ideal parent requires a whole array of qualities. Each man in his time plays many parts but there is no role more exacting than that of mother or father, demanding as it does wisdom, insight, tact, patience and restraint. In the process of rearing the young, the parent learns at least as much as the child. Yet there is no nobler task, none attended with the promise of sweeter rewards. It is as well that we should occasionally feel our insufficiency; this consciousness should move us to seek grace from the greatest of all Fathers: “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith nothing wavering”. It is in the light of such wisdom alone that we can hope to train our sons and daughters to be worthy disciples of the Son of God. Success in this endeavour is one of life’s supreme experiences. Surely the task is worth the effort.