Old Wisdom, Recommendations

A Charge to Parents from 1671

I found this little book called “A Token for Children” referenced in Elizabeth Gill’s obituary penned by her father, John Gill.  It was apparently one of her favorite books alongside The Pilgrim’s Progress.  The book is itself worth reading, but I wanted to share the introduction in particular. I couldn’t find a clean copy online.  I’ve added some linebreaks and modernized the punctuation just slightly.

~ * ~

To all Parents, School-Masters, and School-Mistresses, or any that are concerned in the EDUCATION of Children.

Dear Friends, I Have often thought that Christ speaks to you, as Pharaoh’s daughter did to Moses’s mother, “Take this child, and nurse it for me.” Consider what a precious jewel is committed to your charge, what an advantage you have to shew your love to Christ, to stock the next generation with noble plants, and what a joyful Account you may make, if you be faithful: Remember, souls, Christ and grace cannot be overvalued.

I confess you have some disadvantages, but let that only excite your diligence; the salvation of souls, the commendation of your master, the greatness of your reward and everlasting glory, will pay for all. Remember the devil is at work hard, wicked ones are industrious, and a corrupt nature is a rugged, knotty piece to hew: But be not discouraged: I am almost as much afraid of your laziness and unfaithfulness, as any thing. Do but go to work in good earnest, and who knows but that rough stone may prove a pillar in the temple of God?

In the name of the living God, as you will answer it shortly at his bar, I command you to be faithful in instructing and catechizing your young ones; if you think I am too peremptory, I pray read the command from my master himself, Deut. vi. 7. Is not the duty clear? and dare you neglect so direct a command! Are the souls of your children of no value? Are you willing that they should be brands of hell? Are you indifferent whether they be damned or saved? Shall the devil run away with them without controul? Will not you use your utmost endeavour to deliver them from the wrath to come? You see that they are not subjects uncapable of the grace of God; whatever you think of them, Christ doth not slight them; they are not too little to die, they are not too little to go to hell, they are not too little to serve their great master, too little to go to heaven; For of such is the kingdom of God; and will not a possibility of their conversion and salvation, put you upon the greatest diligence to teach them? Or are Christ and heaven, and salvation, small things with you? if they be, then indeed I have done with you: but if they be not, I beseech you lay about you with all your might; the devil knows your time is going apace, it will shortly be too late.

O therefore what you do, do quickly, and do it I say, with all your might; O pray, pray, pray, and live holily before them, and take some time daily to speak a little to your children, one by one, about their miserable condition by nature; I knew a child that was converted by this sentence, from a godly school-mistress in the country, “Every mother’s child of you are by nature children of wrath.” Put your children upon learning their catechism, and the scriptures, and getting to pray and weep by themselves after Christ: take heed of their company; take heed of pardoning a lye; take heed of letting them mis-spend the sabbath; put them, I beseech you, upon imitatating these sweet children; let them read this book over an hundred times, and observe how they are effected, and ask them what they think of those children, and whether they would not be such? and follow what you do with earnest cries to God, and be in travel to see Christ formed in their souls.

I have prayed for you, I have oft prayed for your children and I love them dearly; and I have prayed over these papers, that God would strike in with them, and make them effectual to the good of their souls. Incourage your children to read this book, and lead them to improve it. What is presented, is faithfully taken from experienced, solid christians, some of them no way related to the children, who themselves were eye and ear witnesses of God’s works of wonder; or from my own knowledge, or from reverend godly ministers, and from persons that are of unspotted reputation, for holiness, integrity, and wisdom; and several passages are taken verbatim in writing from their dying lips. I may add many other excellent examples, if I have any encouragement in this piece, which the author had done, in the Second Part. That the young generation may be far more excellent than this, is the prayer of one that dearly loves little children.

JAMES JANEWAY.James_Janeway

Janeway was a nonconformist preacher so popular and so hated by the Church of England that they attempted to assassinate him twice.  He and his brothers (all duly ejected from the Church of England) all died very young from tuberculosis – James at 38.  This book was read not only in the Gill family, but often by the Spurgeons as well.

Mothering, Studying God, Time Management

Always prepared to give an answer?

Julie / January 22, 2016

Today someone asked me how it is that I always seem to be so peaceful.

Someone whom I have no reason at all to believe is a Christian; someone whose relationship with me does not generally entail talking about religion or personal beliefs at all, in fact, whose relationship with me (i.e., “professional”) makes such conversation socially verboten.

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…
(1 Peter 3:15)

Needless to say, I was caught off-guard by her question.  I have a neat litany of excuses for my failure: the irregularity of the conversation, the exhaustion deluging my brain, my todo list burning a hole in my pocket, the rarity of my interaction with nonbelievers at all now (as a SAHM)… I was very much off-guard.  Secondly, the subtlety of the question threw me—”peaceful” didn’t immediately turn my brain to the Gospel.

I have lots of excuses.

The conversation was not a total flub, because for some odd reason, she kept pushing it and, surprisingly, turning it in ever more spiritual directions.  I felt like I’d stepped into the twilight zone and was off-balance and uncertain the entire time.  Looking back, I feel like the conversation was enough that God could use it, or that I could bring it back up again on the strength of the conversation, but I’m also really sorrowful at my own ineptitude and inattention and lack of focus.

“Always being prepared.”  I would have done better if she had asked me a direct question, like, “how do I go to heaven?” or “how does your faith help you remain calm?”  Or, “why is this theological confession better than that one?”  I could have done well with any of those questions, had my brain snapped into focus and put on the evangelism track.

But sadly, preparation doesn’t mean knowledge here.  It doesn’t mean ability to argue theological points.  Peter is talking in the context of suffering Christians in a hostile world, and what is the source of the “preparation” he names?  “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.”

My problem was that my brain was going a thousand places this morning, none of them focused directly on Christ.  I was totally being “a Martha.”  I’d thought plenty about theology this morning, but not much about its Author.  My fellow conversationalist actually asked me (if you’re a Yankee, you know how shocking this is) if I prayed in the mornings—and all I could think of was, well, I sure hadn’t THIS morning!  My answers were all over the place because my heart was all over the place.  God gives me peace when our son has facial palsy—a peace I have very much clung to in the past week and a half—but somehow, the lesser things, I act like I can strike out on my own.  I can bundle my kids up and out the door, carefully-organized schoolwork schedules in hand.  I can get everyone breakfast, everyone in shoes, raggle-taggle hair tamed, snacks packed… all in my own strength.

But I can’t.  This morning was absolutely shattering to my self-inflated spiritual ego.  It doesn’t matter how much Scripture I read or recite, how many theological terms I can rattle off, or how excellent of “Christian” parenting advice I can dole out when others ask me… if my very own heart is not filled up with honoring Christ, it’s all rubbish, to quote Paul.

It’s a quiet little sin to simply lose focus, to stop feeling thirsty for the refreshment of the Spirit, to stop depending on Him and glorifying His holiness and instead to fall into pride and self-focus, distraction, and worry.

Such a quiet little sin.  But such a lethal one.  I’ll never get this morning back.

(Written July 2015, forgot to post it.)

Mothering, Pregnancy

2 Timothy 1:7 for Expectant Mothers

Julie / November 7, 2015

2 Timothy 1:7, hcsb:

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.

No question at all that this verse is not talking about labor and pregnancy.  It’s talking about the Spirit, about faith, about not being ashamed of the Gospel.

And yet: our faith in Christ does inform and mold Christian childbirth.  This verse has meaning to anyone who is struggling with fear.

Our identity in Christ necessarily transforms our approach to birth.

God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness

Right out of the gate, here’s a thing to cling to: God didn’t make us fearful.  Fear is not a “natural” thing or a good thing—fear is the opposite of what we’re supposed to be.  Fear is not resting in God’s sovereignty.

Further, we’re commanded multiple times not to fear.  Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

We don’t fear because God strengthens, God helps, God upholds.  And God is mighty.

Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let you requests be made known to God.”

We don’t fear because we pray.

Psalm 56:3: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?”

We don’t fear because we trust.  We don’t fear because God has promises.

Joshua 1:9: “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

We don’t fear because God is with us, everywhere, always.

But one of power…

So we don’t have a spirit of fear—we have a Spirit of power.  This calls to mind the contrast of Romans 8:15: “you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”  We don’t have a spirit of fear, we have the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of power, the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit that brings us into union with our Father.

The Spirit teaches us (John 14:26), helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26), guides us into truth (John 16:12), gives us freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17), and causes us to abound in hope and peace (Romans 15:13).

We have been given the Spirit of power not the spirit of fear.  It is this Spirit who goes before us and with us into delivery rooms.  It is this Spirit who calms our minds and assures us that God is trustworthy, that God is mighty, that God will keep His word, that God is with us.  It is this Spirit who gives us endurance through hardship, who helps us resist the temptation to fear and sin in the middle of suffering.

…of love…

How do we love in labor?  The same Spirit of power is a Spirit of love, teaching us to love.

First of all, we can love God.  We can love by seeking His glory in our births, by praising Him—as 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances”—even contractions.  We can bear testimony of Him.  We can obey His commands.  We can testify that “the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Secondly, we can love our neighbors.  We can put others first even in the midst of great tribulation.  We can live according to the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  We can beat our bodies into submission so that we do not sin against those around us even in the most trying moments.

…and sound judgment.

I really love this part, it’s so encouraging.  God has not given us a spirit of fear, but… of sound judgment!  So much of birth is about decisions and terror and distraction and yet—we have a Spirit of sound judgment.  We have a great long book of Scripture with many, many principles that apply to birth.  We have Proverbs.  We have so many verses, truths to turn to, about suffering.  About endurance.  About rewards.  We have testimony that children are good.  We have this encouraging little testimony from Jesus: “Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world” (John 16:21).

We have countless comparisons of birth that experiencing it can help us understand better—creation is groaning as in childbirth (Romans 8:22) and we are groaning similarly waiting for the redemption of our bodies (v. 23)?  Now, we understand that groaning better, as we have groaned.  And we understand the joy that awaits.

We have Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”  We plan.  But God is sovereign and does the ultimate work, brings it all together, to the conclusion He chooses.

As Christian women facing the worst travail of most of our lives (and praise God for even that!), we rest in Him, and are encouraged and strengthened and have HOPE because our Spirit is not one of fear—our Spirit is the very Spirit of God, and He goes with us and upholds us and strengthens us and girds our minds—even in the midst of great physical horror.

I write this a day over-due with our own son, so I’m entirely talking to myself here. 🙂

Homeschooling

A Guiding Verse for Homeschool

Julie / October 8, 2015

There is one verse in the Bible that has become very central this year to the way we do homeschool—Ecclesiastes 12:12.  Here it is in context (vv. 9-14):

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

There are many other verses, of course; Deuteronomy 6:7, for instance, is at the very forefront as well, but Ecclesiastes 12:12 cuts against homeschooling “culture” in general.  “School” is not about amassing the most knowledge or meeting lofty academic goals.  Nor is it about pursuing our own passions or teaching kids to love learning.

The Words of the Wise

The first thing we’re about, here, is the words of the wise.  Solomon says these are the truths given by one Shepherd.  This isn’t just random wise words, the wisdom of the ages and the sages, but rather, the wisdom of God Himself.  And there’s a promise here, as well—that these sayings are like goads, pushing us to do what we ought, and like nails firmly fixed, of great duration.  This is what we should be studying: true wisdom.  James 3:17:

…the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

Beware of Anything Else

This is huge: if it isn’t wisdom from God, beware.  When we study worldly philosophers—Plato, Socrates, the great men of the Renaissance, those in other religious traditions—do we teach them in a positive light, or do we teach beware?  The Hebrew here carries the connotation of admonishing, specifically, not just be “wary” but actively caution against them, teach, shine the light on the falseness therein.  This is especially relevant when we come to classical education: we must be careful not to lift up these worldly and ultimately inadequate philosophers.  It is one thing to know what they teach, but we must not be caught up in it.  It isn’t Scripture, it isn’t God’s wisdom, and we must teach it and teach against it.  We must remember that even the best philosopher of the world is an enemy of God.

A Weariness of the Flesh

“Much study.”  This is a great temptation of mine, both personally and in teaching.  I love knowledge.  I love reading books and learning new things.  I want the children to know all the things, too.  But, there’s a very selfish angle there, and I think that’s exactly what Solomon is getting at when he says much study is a weariness of the flesh.  It springs from our sinful natures.  At a certain point, a certain approach, studying is a fruit of the flesh, not a fruit of the Spirit.  At a certain point, studying is not “setting your minds on things above,” but it actually begins to detract from that focus, both temporally (we ought to study “to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth,” 2 Timothy 2:15, not for worldly knowledge) but also in subject matters it can draw us away from God.  We have to be careful of what we study, why we study it, and how much time we’re devoting to studying it.  We are called to prepare for heaven, not to be philosophers much learned in the worldly arts.

The End of the Matter

“Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”  Having affirmed the good and warned against the bad, Solomon offers this final conclusion, and says, this is it.  Fear God, and keep His commandments.  The end, the book is closed, there’s nothing to say beyond that.  This is why we’re here.  This is why we homeschool.  This is is what we homeschool.  This is what we care to have our kids walk away with: fear God, keep His commandments.  Everything we do and teach must be tightly focused on those two things.

Of course, Ecclesiastes 12 just led us straight back to Deuteronomy 6 after all:

These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise…

Homeschooling, Recommendations

Our School Year, 2015

Julie / August 29, 2015

S asked me to put together a list of what curriculum we’ve found useful, and—overwhelmed at the magnitude of that task, it finally occurred to me that probably the simplest way to do so is just to explain what we’re actually doing, and a couple sentences about why.  One caveat, this is more like “this very month,” because different kids are in different parts of their grades… some of these we JUST started and some are almost finished. (more…)

Mothering

Hope for Christian Parenting

One of the giant incongruities of being a credobaptist in a Presbyterian church is all this talk of covenant children.  I’m still not entirely sure what they mean, but we believe our children are born depraved and lost.

Which is depressing.

But also inspiring.  Because the Bible speaks to Christian parents, credo or paedobaptist, in two large subheadings: responsibilities of Christian parents, and promises for Christian parents.

Responsibilities of Christian Parents

If I look at all the verses to do with parenting in Scripture, I see three main themes emerge:

1. Train them in the way they should go.

  • “Train up a child in the way he should go…” (Proverbs 22:6a)
  • “…a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15b)
  • “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24)
  • “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.” (Proverbs 23:13)
  • “Discipline your son…” (Proverbs 29:17)
  • “Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.” (Proverbs 19:18)
  • “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)

Further, we see disobedient children are in the group of condemned people who will appear in the latter days:

“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,” (2 Timothy 3:2)

Disobedience is a profoundly serious thing.  In Deuteronomy “stubborn and rebellious” children who would not relent from their rebellion were taken out by their parents to the elders of the city and stoned (Deuteronomy 21:18-21).

2. Teach them diligently, formally, informally, and by example.

  • “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity,” (Titus 2:7)
  • “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.“ (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)
  • “…from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus…” (2 Timothy 3:15)
  • “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

3. Treat them rightly.

  • “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
  • “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” (Colossians 3:21)
  • “It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, “(Matthew 20:26-27)

Promises for Christian parents

They will bring you delight:

  • “…and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart. “(Proverbs 29:17)
  • “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” (Psalm 127:3)

They will be wise:

  • “The rod and reproof give wisdom…” (Proverbs 29:15a)

they will be saved from death:

  • “Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death.” (Proverbs 19:18)
  • “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.” (Proverbs 23:13)

They will continue in the way of the Lord:

  • “…even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6b)
  • “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11)
  • “…from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus…” (2 Timothy 3:15)