This sermon on Christian education by the Rev. Herman Hoeksema was preached in September, 1916, when Hoeksema was still a minister in the Christian Reformed Church. It was published in the September 1, 1927 issue of the Standard Bearer (Vol. 3, pp. 532-536). The sermon is fitting for the beginning of the school year. [It was republished in the Sept.1, 1995 issue of the Standard Bearer.]
"And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." Deuteronomy 6:7
That the education of children is one of the most important subjects that can possibly demand our consideration is a truth that is clearly realized, not only by the Christian, but still more so by the people of the world. Especially is this true of our own age. Witness the many books that are published on the subject, the many magazines that see the light and that are devoted particularly to educational problems, the large sums of money that are spent, the laws that are enacted, the edifices that are raised—all in the interest of education. On the importance of education in general, therefore, we are entirely agreed.
But there is more. I may safely limit this statement. For I am entirely safe in saying that we also agree that our children ought to have a Christian education. There is no one that would deny this, apart now from the question as to the character this Christian education ought to assume. For as Christians we all agree that we are not satisfied to know that our children receive an education of the world and for this world, but we confess that we are pilgrims, that we are travelers to another city, and that, somehow, the education of our children must be related to that other city that is in heaven. I repeat, therefore, that as Christian parents we cannot be indifferent with regard to the religious instruction of our children. Religious instruction they certainly must have, and they must be brought up in the fear and admonition of the Lord, our covenant God in Christ Jesus.
Once more I will limit this statement, and maintain that as Reformed Christians we will also insist that our children must receive a religious education of a very marked type. That we agree on this is evident from the confession we repeat every time we offer our children for baptism. We promise to bring them up "in the aforesaid doctrine, or help or cause them to be instructed therein to the utmost of our power." This is very significant. For this doctrine is the Reformed doctrine. And one of the characteristic features of the Reformed faith is that it confesses that all things exist for the glory of God, that even our salvation is not the ultimate end of all things, but that it is a means to an end. It is, for the Christian of the Reformed type, not sufficient to know that his sins and the sins of his children have been washed away in the blood of Christ Jesus, and that now he and they are marching heavenward. On the contrary, his covenant God did save him, in order that with His children he might be to the praise of His glory, here in the church militant and in the midst of the world, and presently in the glory of heavenly perfection. He must fight the good fight. He must walk in the precepts of his covenant God. He must reveal himself as a child of light in every sphere of life.
Now, this conviction has a definite influence upon one's conception of the task of education. Were it different, it might be an irrelevant matter as to what sort of education the child might receive to help him through this world, as long as he is saved. But entirely different it becomes if also the salvation of your child is in your view only the means to the highest aim: the glorification of the Most High. Then you will aim in your education at the perfect man of God, knowing the will of his God for every sphere of life and for every step he takes upon the path of life, and you will take care that in his life he is well equipped with a clear and concise knowledge of all the precepts of the Most High. And since for the Reformed Christian the subject of the education of his children is so highly important we thought it very appropriate to devote our discussion to this topic this morning and in connection with the words of Deuteronomy 6:7 to speak to you on:
The Lord's Command Regarding the Instruction of our Children
In respect to the material of that instruction
I think we will all agree if we define education, in the sense in which we are dealing with that subject this morning, as the impartation to the child of knowledge regarding his material and spiritual relation to the world. With this all education has to do. We bring children into the world. And when these children come to consciousness, that world is strange to them if they are not informed about their relation to the same. But to the Christian this is not enough. No, there is not only a world, but there is also a God. And the child must also learn to see his true relation to that God. In short, principally the education of the child must give him an answer to the question: Who am I? Who am I in relation to the world in which I live? Who am I in relation to my God? And thus education becomes the transmitting of such knowledge from generation to generation. But when our text says, "Thou shalt teach them unto thy children," it uses in the original a word for teaching that places the nature of education in a very peculiar light. The word really means, in the first place, "to sharpen," and is used, for instance, to denote the sharpening of a sword. From this basic idea it further derives the meaning "to sharpen the tongue," and further to use pointed speech, to express oneself definitely and concisely, and in this sense it is finally used to denote the idea of teaching. To teach, according to this idea, is to sharpen in. Inscherpen, the Dutch would say. Education according to this conception must not be vague or indefinite, but sharp and concise. So definitely was this idea of conciseness conceived of as essential to education that, in the view of Scripture, to teach meant actually the same thing as to express something clearly and sharply to the understanding of the child.
The question, then, is, what must be taught according to the words of our text? What is the material of this instruction? Our text tells us: "Teach them unto thy children." In the words immediately preceding our text the man of God says to the people: "And these wordswhich I command thee this day shall be in thine heart." In our text he refers, therefore, once more to these words, and he enjoins the children of his people that they shall also teach them to their children, to the seed of the covenant. Nor is it difficult to find out what is really meant by "these words." They simply refer to the law of the covenant God, as has been delivered unto Israel before, and as is now repeated by the man of God summarily, as they are about to enter the promised land, and as he is about to leave them. All the precepts of Jehovah the parent must teach definitely and concisely to his children. And these precepts are again expressed in principle in the fifth verse of our chapter, where the prophet says to his people? "And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might." In brief, Scripture here, as well as throughout, knows of but one kind of actual religion. It is the religion of obedience. And again the Word of God knows of but one kind of obedience. It is the obedience from love. Obedience and love are for that very reason often used interchangeably in Scripture, seeing that they signify the very same thing, and the one without the other is inconceivable.
For this reason, it is to the obedience of God's covenant people that the man of God refers in this text. The natural man does not know the love of God, for his mind is enmity against God and he walks in darkness. But God's people, the people the man of God is here addressing, have been saved and redeemed by the power of His grace. They are once more His covenant people. God cleansed them and forgave all their iniquities. God delivered them and formed them to be a people unto Himself. He spread abroad in their hearts a new love, the love of God in Christ Jesus. In that love they must obey the Lord their God and keep His precepts. This obedience must be an obedience from the love of their whole heart, with all their mind and soul and strength. For, mark you, Scripture knows of no division of our life, one part for the exercise of this obedience in covenant love, and another part entirely separated from that love. The Christian possesses but one life. And that whole life must be consecrated to the Lord his God, who redeemed and delivered him. In other words, all the time and everywhere, in the midst of the world or in the church, in the home or in society, he must reveal himself from the principle of the new life he received from his covenant God by grace. Thus we promise and confess it in our Baptism Form so beautifully and truly, when it says that our part of the covenant is that we love the Lord our God with all our mind and heart and soul and strength, and walk in new obedience before Him. To know, therefore, and to keep the precepts of the Lord our God and to acknowledge no other precepts than His, that is our covenant religion.
But if this is true, then it is also clear that we must teach these precepts and none other to our children. For the Lord established His covenant with us and our children in the line of generations. With us and our seed the God of our salvation raises His blessed covenant. We and our children are His covenant people. And, therefore, very logically, the man of God comes to this injunction: "And thou shalt teach them unto thy children." In all our life, at home or at large, in the church or in the world, we have to do with the precepts of our God and we acknowledge but one Lord. These precepts are the rule of our thinking and willing, of the life of the soul and of the body, our guide according to which we desire by the grace of God to walk in every sphere of life. But then, it is evident that also these precepts must constitute the subject material of all our education, and that it is quite impossible to conceive of any sphere or branch of instruction from which these precepts of our God may or can be excluded. If, therefore, you ask What, according to Scripture, must be the material in which our covenant children are instructed? we answer without hesitation: The precepts of the Lord our covenant God with relation to every sphere of life.
In regard to the time for that instruction
That such is actually the conception of the words of our text is evident. Let us ask the question: How much time must be devoted to this instruction in the law of the Lord? A few hours, say, every day? Or must this instruction in the precepts of Jehovah perhaps be limited to the Sabbath day? Shall we transfer the burden of this injunction to the preaching in the church and to the Sunday School? And is it sufficient if, in addition to all this, the children receive an hour's instruction in the precepts of the Lord in catechism during the week? Listen. The text says: "Thou shalt talk of them (these precepts) when thou sittest in thine house and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou risest up and when thou sliest down." Now, this is expressing the thing figuratively, but very concisely and unambiguously. It simply tells us that we must instruct our children in the precepts of the Lord all the time and everywhere, in the home and outside of the home, and that there is no education that has nothing to do with the law of the Lord. That is simply all. Always, in the home and out of the home, from morning till evening, Israel must instruct his seed in these precepts of Jehovah. There was nothing else for the young covenant child to learn outside of that law of God. Nothing else might the parent-teacher have in his mind but to instruct the child in that law. And, therefore, it is perfectly clear that our text deems the instruction in that law all-sufficient. That does not mean that the young Israelite might learn nothing but the law of the ten commandments, learn nothing but how to sing the songs of the fathers, how to celebrate the solemn feasts, and how to bring his sacrifices and tithes. No, the Jew of old did not know of such a narrow conception of religion and of the law of God. But it meant that the Israelite, always and everywhere, had to live according to the will of God, and for every sphere of life he had to teach his children those same precepts.
Notice, in the second place, that all this time the parent is held responsible for the training of his children. Moses does not at all address the congregation of the people of God in general, but emphatically he speaks in the singular. He addresses the individual parent. Thou shalt teach them unto thy children. Thou shalt talk of them, etc. Education is, therefore, the duty of the parent and of no one else. This stands to reason. In the first place, there is no one that has more right, more God-given right to the child than the parent. Education determines to a large extent what the child shall be in the future, how he shall think and act. And surely there is no one that has more right to determine this than the parent. But especially is this so with covenant parents. They are believers, and they are the ones that are held responsible, and that express the promise before God and His congregation time and again that they shall see to it that the children are educated according to the doctrine of the covenant. They, therefore, have the duty to educate their children, and no one else has that obligation as they have. The parent, according to the words of our text, must educate his children always and everywhere, in the home and outside, from morning till evening, in the commands of the Most High.
It is, therefore, not true at all that the parent can educate his children at home in the precepts of the Lord, and that he can excuse himself for the rest and say that he can do no more, that he has fulfilled his duty and lived up to his promise. No, that does not at all finish his task. The parent must also educate his children outside of the home. In the catechism and in the school, on the street and in every other place, it is the parent whose duty it is to educate his children. He may perhaps perform that duty through someone else, that is, his servant, but that does not make any difference. Not the teacher, private or public, has any duty regarding your children. The duty to educate them is yours, and it can only become the duty of the teacher by your employing him.
From this follows in the second place that you are responsible for all that your child is taught. It is not thus, that you are responsible for what the child learns directly in the home, and someone else for what he learns in the school, and again someone else for what he learns in the catechism and in the Sunday School. You are responsible always and everywhere. Not as if these other persons that teach your children have no responsibility. Surely they do. But their responsibility is entirely different from yours. You are responsible for all that your child is taught, responsible before God. Of course, we realize that this was far easier in the time of Moses and the children of Israel than in our modern times. Life was so much more simple. The parent was not so busy from morning till night that he could find no time personally to instruct his children in the precepts of God. And life was not so complicated, not so exacting, the child did not have to learn so much, all things were more simple than they are today. And for that reason the education in the home was either the only or impression in your homes that the precepts of the Lord are dominating there? Or are material things predominating, perhaps the one thing that receives attention? Do you, when you are with your children, perhaps leave them alone and read the newspaper? Or talk about parties and picnics and outings and automobile rides, and nice dresses, or about the homely face of the new neighbor-lady, about the new hats you saw in church, and the faults of brother so and so? In a word: what is the sphere in which your children live in the home? What is the literature you allow them to read? Is also that literature based upon and permeated by the precepts of the Lord? Where are your children when they are not at home? Who are their friends? Is this entire sphere such, nay, I will not say that they gradually drift away from Christianity in general, but yet such that they become alienated from their own church circle? Remember, it is you that are responsible as parent, from morning till night, responsible that your children are instructed and brought up in the precepts of the Most High.
And how is it when you walk by the way? In other words, how is the education of your children outside of your home life? Do they come to catechism regularly? And when they come are they well prepared? Are you cooperating with us also in this respect? Especially in respect to our young people, and still more especially in respect to our young men, I would urge you: See to it that they are educated in the precepts of the Most High. To some of you directly, I would come and remind you of the fact that Catechism again starts. Some of you, alas, already are old enough to assume your own responsibilities and still you have not confessed your God as your personal Lord. Remember, we expect you in the class. Do not withdraw yourselves from the influences of the precepts of God. And, finally, parents, how is the education of your children in the school? Oh, I hear many of you say, as you have also told me when we visited you in your homes, the education in our public schools is good enough! According to what standard do you call it so, my brother and sister? According to the standard of the Word of God? God tells us that in the home, and without, the children must be instructed in the precepts of the Lord. And that no one but you is responsible for this education. That this education in the commands of the Lord must not be vague, but must be pointed and definite. I ask you this morning to go to your God and honestly tell Him that you are living up to this respect, and that your child is educated, not once in a while, but from morning till evening, and everywhere, hi the precepts of the Lord. No, we need not talk about our public schools. But this you know as well as I do, that they receive no covenant education in those schools. Your children must have a covenant education and nothing less. For this is the injunction in the words of our text, that in the home and without, from morning till evening, the children must be brought up in the precepts of the Lord for every sphere of life.
In regard to the basis of that instruction
But, I hear someone remark, this command was given to Israel of old and not to the people of the New Testament. Many laws and commands are given in the Old Testament that are obsolete, that are not at all applicable to the days of the new dispensation, and this is one of them. We frankly admit that the first statement is true. There are, indeed, many laws given in the Old Testament that have no direct value, no binding force for our day. But it is not true that commands like the one we have discussed this morning also belong to that category. This temporal and passing character of the Old Testament is true only of those precepts that applied to the particular dispensation of Israel, in their religious and civic life. There were laws regarding their religious life, laws regarding sacrifices and feasts, that have passed away with the coming of Christ, that have lost their binding force when the Lamb of God was sacrificed on Golgotha and the veil rent in twain. There were also laws that applied to the particular civic life of the theocracy of Israel, and also they have lost their particular force with the passing away of Israel as a nation. But this is not true of those laws that dealt with general subjects, that gave precepts in regard to life in general. The education of our children is not something that applied to Israel alone, but it is general in its character. And, what is more, the basis of this command is not found in something that is applicable to Israel alone, but it holds as well for the people of God of all ages.
In the first place, we find that this command is based upon and brought into direct connection with the covenant relationship of the people of God. God has established a covenant with Israel as a nation. Thus the man of God has told them in the chapter preceding ours. In that covenant, God had promised to bless them and to give them Canaan for an everlasting possession. But He also had His demands. The people had received blessings from their covenant God. He had delivered them from the house of bondage, and He would give them the land of the promise. But there was also another side. The people were in duty bound to walk in the way of the covenant and to love the Lord their God with all their heart, and with all their mind, and with all their strength. And from this same covenant obligation follows also their duty to educate their children, always, in the fear of the Lord, so that also they may know His precepts, understand their covenant relation, and learn to walk in the way of that covenant that God has established with them.
In the second place, the general character of this covenant education is based upon a general principle also. It might be remarked, as we have heard it so often, that the instruction in the law of the Lord is sufficient if it is given in the home and in the catechism, in the home and in the church, but that the school education has nothing to do with it. And again, upon the basis of Scripture, this must be denied. The principle of such a statement is wrong. God told His people of old that they should educate their children from morning till night and everywhere in the precepts of the Lord. And why? Because in the immediate context we read that the Lord our God is one Lord. He is Lord, Lord over all. Lord over every sphere of life. His precepts cannot be excluded from any sphere. Therefore, Israel had to educate his children only in His precepts. Not in one part of life the precepts of the Lord, and in another part these precepts excluded; but in all life these precepts are to be acknowledged. And thus also with our preparation for that life. Not the precepts of the Lord in one part of the education and another part nothing to do with this law of God. But all our education must be permeated with the precepts of the Lord. This holds true today as well as in the time of Israel—because the Lord our God is one Lord.
Also we are a covenant people. Every time when we come with our babes before God and His congregation, for baptism, we confess that we have an eternal covenant of grace with God. We confess that in that covenant God gives to us and to our children all the blessings of salvation. We confess that also our children are really in that covenant of grace, that they are partakers of grace, that they are sanctified in Christ, that they are members of His body, that they are children of God, heirs of the kingdom and of the covenant. And every time we confess that it is our side of the covenant to walk in new obedience from true love of that covenant God who has so richly blessed us. And every time you, therefore, promise that you will to the utmost of your power teach your children the way of the covenant, and that you will help and cause them to be instructed therein. You see, that same basis still exists, the basis of the covenant, for we are a covenant people. And upon that same basis we come to you with the same Word of God and say: Ye shall teach them unto your children and talk of them in your home and outside of your home and everywhere. And since conditions are such that undoubtedly you will have to entrust a large part of your children's education to others, there we again come to you and say: Send them there where you know that they receive a covenant education, an education in the precepts of the Lord. Send them to our catechism classes regularly and do not neglect it, send them also to our Christian schools, where you know that they receive the education they must have.
And finally, also today, the Lord our God is one Lord. Also today He is Lord over all—Lord not only in the church, but Lord also in the state, Lord also in social life, Lord in our home life, Lord in the life of our education. For that very reason, also today His precepts are valid for every sphere of that life. But if this is so, then it is also clear that the child must learn to see and honor those precepts, for all those spheres, and that. those precepts must form the very basis of his education. Religion must not be something that is added to our life, but it must be the heart of our life. Religion must not be something that is added to our education; but it must be the heart of our education, the precepts of the Lord must be the basis from which our entire education must proceed.
And, therefore, we come once more to you upon the basis that the Lord our God is the one and only Lord over all. We come to you as your pastor, anxious about your spiritual welfare, anxious that also your children shall be educated in the fear of the Lord; and we enjoin you to be faithful in the home, and to talk of the precepts of the Lord to the children God has given unto you, from morning till night, definitely and sharply, to be faithful in regard to the catechism classes that are presently to begin again for the coming season, faithful in regard to the education the child receives in the school, and to send them to that school of which you are certain that they will receive a covenant education. Then we have hope also for the future. For then we have the promises of God for His faithful covenant people, that He will continue to bless us and our children, as His people, and we shall walk before Him in childlike obedience, subjects of His kingdom, in the home, in the church, in society, and in the great land in which God has given us a place, acknowledging His one and only Lordship.
Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965) was born in Groningen, the Netherlands on March 13, 1886 and passed away in Grand Rapids, MI on September 2, 1965. He attended the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church and was ordained into the minitry in September of 1915.
"H.H." is considered one of the founding "fathers" of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. He and his consistory (Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI) were suspended and deposed from their offices in 1924-1925 because of their opposition to the "Three Points of Common Grace" adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in the Synod of Kalamazoo, MI in 1924. He, together with Rev. George M. Ophoff, Rev. H. Danhof and their consistories continued in office in the "Protesting Christian Reformed Church" which shortly thereafter were named the "Protestant Reformed Churches in America."
Herman Hoeksema served as pastor in the 14th Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, MI (1915-1920), Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1920-1924), and First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1924-1964), He taught in the Seminary of the Protestant Reformed Churches from its founding and retired in 1964.
For an enlarged biography, see: Herman Hoeksema: Theologian and Reformer