Scripture: Psalm 127
It is not so easy to make a speech on the subject of the implications of the covenant for the home. I suppose that some of you would say, “How can that be? After all, you have had eight children of your own. You have had lots of experience.” But part of my experience is this: that those who have no children of their own are the experts on bringing up children and establishing a home, while those who have struggled through the years when children were in the home are aware of how difficult the task is.
I am thankful that we have the Word of God. The Word is an objective standard that comes to us with authority, to which we are to conform our covenant calling in the home. And obedience to the Word will be blessed.
God’s Word is replete with information concerning what constitutes a covenant home, that is, how the principles of the covenant are to be applied to life in the home. I can only call your attention to some of those things. I have chosen to call your attention to the most important.
I am aware of the fact, of course, that not all of you have children at home. Perhaps you have a home where the children are grown up and now married and the responsibility of bringing up children is no longer yours. I would like to relieve your mind of the thought that you have no responsibility any longer. It was once my hope that when my children finally left the home that at last the responsibility that fathers and mothers have towards their children would be gone. Such is not the case. The responsibilities, in a certain sense, grow, because covenant parents cannot escape a sense of responsibility for their children, for their grandchildren, and, if you live long enough, even for your great grandchildren. The responsibilities seem to grow heavier rather than lighter. That means, and this is the point I want to make, that if your children are grown and have homes of their own, your responsibilities towards your children and towards your grandchildren have not ceased. You must, insofar as you are able, and taking into account also the circumstances, still assume the responsibilities of assisting your children and grandchildren in establishing covenant homes.
Some of you are not yet married. This discussion may be of profit to you. If your desire is to marry and to establish a covenant home, you ought to give serious thought before marrying to what the Bible tells us about a covenant home.
God established the home as an institution of creation. He did that when He brought Eve to Adam and instituted marriage. This institution of marriage included God’s command: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” ( Gen. 1:28 ). That was the word of God’s command that established the home.
You notice that the home is the only institution of society that God established in connection with creation. He established only the home because the other institutions of society, now so familiar to us, grew organically out of the home. It does not make any difference what institution you speak of—whether you speak of the institution of government, the institution of the shop (that is, the place of employment), the institution of the school, or even of the church (although the church, of course, arose and was established by God only after the Fall). Organically, in the history of mankind, all these other institutions arose out of the home and have their roots in the home. They draw their life from the home. They draw their spiritual, moral character from the spiritual and moral character of the home. This means, of course, that the chaos that is present in all institutions of society today is to be tracedback to the chaos that exists in the home.
It amuses me that in our own country (although it is also unspeakably sad), the government almost every year, regardless of who occupies the White House, creates “Blue-ribbon Panels” to discuss and come up with reasons why the schools are not functioning as they should. Many of the children are not receiving an adequate education, so that even graduates from college are illiterate. These committees are composed of high-powered men insociety, professors of prestigious universities and professional educators. Millions of dollars are spent on such studies. Year after year this is repeated. They all come up with learned reasons why the schools are a failure, and with ways in which the schools can be improved. Usually it all comes down to this: the government must spend more money on the schools. Money will solve the problems. The Christian knows better. But the experts do notconsult the Christians, of course.
The problem with the schools is simply the home. The home is a shambles. It is a moral wreck. Divorce and remarriage prevail in the land. Homosexuality is on the increase and is approved by government. It is becoming almost a byword that children in most homes are what are called euphemistically “latchkey children” because they carry their own key to the house. Mother and father are both out working. The children have to shift for themselves. Single-parent families contribute immeasurably to the moral decay in the home.
Because all the institutions of society have their roots in the home, there are no solutions to the moral ills of society without establishing once again the home as Scripture defines it—something that will never happen in the history of our world. We must be prepared for that. It will not happen, I guarantee you. It is impossible in America and the British Isles to stem the tide. When even evangelical and conservative churches approve of divorce and remarriage, how is one ever going to stem the tide and return to solid homes based on the foundation of Scripture? It will not happen.
That means, however, that the Christian must exert himself with all the effort at his disposal to build and establish a Christian home that is free from the influences and corruption of society. This must be done not only in order that the Christian home may be a witness, a shining light in a dark and sinful world; it is also for the sake of the church and the cause of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What is true of society in general is true of the church as well. When the home deteriorates and becomes a moral shambles, the church will lose its strength. We do well, therefore, to speak of what constitutes a covenanthome.
First of all, it is necessary to point out to you that a Christian home is also a picture of God’s covenant; and it is proper, therefore, to speak of covenant keeping in the home. Not only is the institution of marriage created and instituted by God as a picture of His covenant, but the home, the family, is also instituted by God as a picture of His covenant.
The family is a picture of God’s covenant, in the first place, because at the heart of the family is a husband and a wife—a believing husband and a believing wife—who are not only husband and wife but also brother and sister in Christ. I recall well the time when, some fifty-odd years ago, my wife and I were married in First Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The reception that followed the wedding ceremony was closed with prayer by a professor under whom I was studying at the time—Rev. George Ophoff. In the course of his prayer—I vividly remember it—he said something about asking the Lord to bless my wife and me, who were not only husband and wife but also brother and sister in Christ. That was the first time that thought had ever occurred to me. And it struck me so forcibly that I did not hear another word of Rev. Ophoff ’s prayer. I am not sure I even heard the “Amen.” Brother and sister! That is the spiritual relationship of a covenant marriage. In fact, it is that relationship of brother and sister that is the everlasting relationship that endures when marriage fades away and when the church is taken to glory. There are no husbands and wives in heaven—just brothers and sisters. The fact is that the family, the covenant family, is also, as a family, a picture of God’s covenant. God’s covenant of grace is a revelation of His own covenant life that He lives in Himself. The doctrine of the Trinity is not cold, abstract theology. It is a glorious truth. God, who is three in person—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—but one in essence, lives in Himself the perfect covenant life of a family. And when He reveals that covenant life that He lives in Himself, He does not just simply give us some information about the covenant life that He lives as the one true and living God, but He takes His people into that life. He adopts them as His children. So a covenant family is a revelation of, a picture of, the covenant life that God lives in Himself and the covenant life as we in heaven shall know it perfectly when all the institutions of this world pass away.
So, when you speak of the implications of the covenant for the home, then you must understand that a covenant home is a home patterned after the relationship of God with His people.
In that family of God, God—the triune God—is the Father of His people. He begets them to new life, a second birth by regeneration. He adopts them, signing and filling in the adoption papers with the ink of the blood of the cross of Christ. He makes them His children so that by His Spirit in their hearts (as Paul expresses it in Galatians 4:6 ) they are able to say, “Abba, Father.”
“Father.” I wonder if you appreciate what that means. You will be hard-pressed to find any place in the Old Testament where the saints called God their Father. It was well-nigh impossible in the Old Testament to do that because the Spirit had not yet been poured out. “But when the fulness of time was come,” Paul says, “God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.” Christ gives them His Spirit whereby they are able to say, “Abba, Father” ( Gal. 4:4-6 ). There must have been something that was totally startling to the disciples when, as instructed by the Lord in prayer, they were taught to say, “Our Father.”It must have come like a thunder clap. They had never before heard anything like that. “When ye pray, say, Our Father.”
That is the family of God. Now in that family of God, Jesus Christ is the First-born, the elder Brother. I do not want to take the time to explore with you that rich concept of the first-born as it was typically in the old dispensation. Let me merely point out to you that the first-born in the families of the Hebrews had dominion over his brethren, received a double portion of the birth-right, and was the heir of the covenant blessing. Christ is theFirst-born in the family of God. He is the First-born because He is the eternal Son of God in our flesh. And, therefore, He is responsible for and has dominion over all His brethren. He rules by His sovereign power and grace over the family of God. All the family of God belong to that family only because Christ, as the First-born, paved the way, if you will, by opening the womb of God’s counsel in the eternal decree of election in order that all of Hisbrethren might follow.
But there is more to it than that. The family is also a covenant family because there must be, in the family, if it is a covenant family, a fellowship of life, of love, and of joy and peace. Fellowship!
Now I am going to get a little bit ahead of myself here. One of the highest expressions of fellowship in the life of a family is mealtime. That is the time when the family is together, is able to pray together, and can talk together. But, above all, there is something about eating and drinking together that constitutes in itself fellowship. When I was pastor of a congregation in the western part of America, I frequently had to go on what in our churches are called classical appointments, sometimes thousands of miles from home. I had to leave my poor wife with four naughty boys while I was off on preaching assignments in distant parts of the United States. Of course, I had to eat alone. That was the worst time of the day—when I had to sit there at the table and eat alone. It was barely tolerable. The only way I could stand it was to bury my head in a book. And, of course, when one buries his head in a book, he soon forgets the food on his plate and it gets cold and tasteless (which it was to begin with because I did not know how to cook). So, finally, one of the members of the congregation said, “We think you are lonely, so we brought you a television set.” Television set!? I said to him, “You really did not have to do this. I have better comedies at home.”
Eating and drinking constitutes in itself fellowship. It is exactly for that reason that the Scriptures (in Revelation 19 , speaking of the final glory of the covenant) describe the covenant in terms of a feast. Revelation 19:9 calls the blessedness of heaven the wedding feast of the Lamb. That is because of the fact that in glory, although in a profoundly wonderful and spiritual way, we will be with Christ to eat and to drink and to have fellowship— the fellowship of laughter and fun—about the heavenly table where we are fed forever with heavenly food. That also constitutes part of the figure of the covenant in family life.
Having said those things, there are some things that, to me, are the essential ideas in Scripture as to what constitutes a covenant home. I have five or six points to make. I am not necessarily going to give these points in any order of importance. They are points that seem to me to constitute the essence and heart of a covenant home.
In the first place, a covenant home is a home where every member of the family has his or her own place. I think you have to have children to experience that fully, or you have to have been brought up in a family with many children. Each child that God puts in the home is different. Husband and wife are two different people. Sometimes when I stand before a couple that are being married I marvel at the miracle of God—that two people who are so different can live together in a most intimate relationship of life. But each child also has his or her own place. So true is that, that if, for example, in a home with children, God should take from that home a child in its infancy or early youth, we even say to each other, “His place is empty.” No one else can take that place, even if God should bless that home with additional children. Each additional child occupies his or her own distinct place in the family and cannot ever take the place of the child whom God has taken away.
That is true of father, of mother, and of each child. And that is the way it is in the family of God. When God from all eternity, according to the decree of election, chooses His family, each member of the family has his or her own important place. With such precision, with such exquisite perfection, does God accomplish this that the family, as it is finally brought to glory in heaven where Christ has prepared for the family a home of many mansions, thefamily is perfect and is complete. There is no possibility of having any more in that family. It is ordained by God with each in his own place. No place is empty.
Now I want to talk about that for just a few moments. The place of the father in the home is the place of prophet, priest, and king. That is a responsible position. That means that he represents in the home Christ Himself, who is the officebearer in the family of God. As prophet, he is responsible for bringing the Word to his family. As priest, he is responsible for being the intercessor of his family. Perhaps we forget that sometimes. I think of Job. Before disaster struck under the sovereign control of God and by the instrumentality of Satan, we are told that Job was an upright man, perfect in all his ways, who feared God and eschewed evil. One of the things that he did was pray for his family. His sons and his daughters were wont to feast on their own because they had, apparently, grown up. Every day Job made sacrifices for his family and said, “Lest they have sinned and cursed God.” He prayed for them. He prayed not only in general for them. He prayed as their intercessor, bringing their sins before the throne of God’s grace ( Job 1:5 ). By his prayer the family was sanctified. That is the responsibility of one who is a priest in a covenant home.
As king, the father rules. He does not rule as a tyrant or as a dictator. He does not rule with an iron rod harshly and cruelly. But he represents the rule of Christ in all of Christ’s compassion and love, and yet sovereign authority, in the home. He represents Christ because it is through him that Christ rules the family. I do not want to make light of that, or minimize its importance. I am not at all sure how to emphasize it except by personal experience. When we had children in the home, little children in the early years of our marriage, there were times when I would get up in the morning in a way that could only be described as grumpy and out of sorts. And frequently, at the breakfast table, that grumpiness would immediately show through. Not much time elapsed at the breakfast table before the children were squabbling with each other, fighting and kicking each other under thetable, and arguing about each piece of toast that came out of the toaster. As I pondered that, and the reason for that, it dawned on me that although my children were totally depraved as well as I, nevertheless, a lot was to be laid at my feet because I came to the table grumpy; my grumpiness soon spread to the other members of the family—sometimes, sad to say, even to my wife. What I am saying is this: So important is that idea of headship, that the father is ultimately responsible before God for determining the entire atmosphere (spiritual and moral) of the home. How he conducts himself, how he lives with his wife, how he shows her his love, how he deals with his children, what is his mood, what is his attitude—all this determines, in large measure, the attitude that prevails in the home. God wants it that way. God has so ordained that the father is the responsible head of the home.
The mother has her place in the home. You notice that I say her place is in the home. Let us assume that. One of the curses of our modern times is the curse of mothers working when they should be at home. I have heard all the excuses—we can’t pay the mortgage on the house, we can’t pay the Christian school tuition, it’s so outrageously expensive to have a large family educated in the Christian school that the mother has to work in order to pay the bills. I do not believe that. I went to a Christian school during the depression when my father was making five hundred dollars a year, which at today’s rate of exchange comes to three hundred pounds a year. He paid the Christian school tuition. It had to be paid every week. We did not always eat what we wanted to eat. We did not have any new clothes. All our clothes were given to us (although it never bothered us as children). But the Christian school tuition had to be paid. That was all there was about it. Whatever my father may have earned, out of the money he received came first of all the budget for the church and the Christian school tuition. The rest was used for food and clothing.
Mothers in the home are so important that, if you read the Old Testament, you discover, perhaps to your surprise, that at those crucial times in Israel’s history when everything was going wrong, apostasy was setting in and the worship of Baal or some other god or goddess of the heathen was prevalent, godly mothers were the ones who kept the flame of the hope of Israel burning. Godly mothers, when fathers were apostate, were the strength of the home. Godly mothers kept the home. Think only of Rebekah, and of Hannah, who had a spiritual nothing for a husband, one who could not even understand why she wanted children so badly because of her longing for the hope of the promise. Have you ever read the song of Hannah when Samuel was born and compared it with the song of Mary in the gospel of Luke, chapter 2? They are almost the same. She wanted a child because in her burned brightly the hope of Israel that out of them would come the Christ. I think of Jehosheba, the wife of Jehoiada, who took the infant Josiah and hid him seven years, until the time when he could be crowned king and Athaliah overthrown. There are many such women. The Old Testament is replete with them.
Surprisingly enough, the same thing is true of the new dispensation. You cannot read the biographies of saints without being struck by the fact that the most godly of men in the history of the church of Jesus Christ were men of whom history says almost nothing about their fathers but speaks in glowing terms of their mothers. Think of Chrysostom, the golden-tongued orator whose mother led such a life of piety in the godless city of Antioch in Syria that even the heathen said, “What mothers these Christians have.” Think of Monica, the mother of Augustine. Think of the mother of Thomas Aquinas. While you may not want to consider him a saint, he emerged as the powerful theologian that he was because of the influence of a godly mother. It certainly is true that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.
A mother’s place is important because the father has to go out and earn his daily bread. Mother’s place is important because if the father is a prophet, the mother is a prophetess. If the father is a priest, the mother is a priestess. If the father is a king, the mother is a queen. She has to take care of the family. Frequently the burden of the instruction of the children falls upon her. She has to provide for the needs of her husband. She has to support her husband and be a help to him in his own place and calling in the kingdom of God. If he is an elder, his wife has to be his support and his help. If he is a minister of the gospel, his wife has to be sure that in her busy life and the heavy demands that are placed on her by the children, she can help him in his calling to serve the kingdom of heaven.
What would a covenant home be without a mother? It would not exist. No wonder Scripture sings the song of a godly mother and wife who is more precious than rubies (Prov. 31:10-31 )! A covenant home is a home where a mother occupies an important place in the life of the family.
The elder brother also occupies a unique place, because the covenant family is a reflection of the family of God. I wonder sometimes how much we are aware of that. I knew a family where I used to stay quite frequently when I preached in that congregation, a family of nine boys—no girls. How that mother ever coped with nine boys I will never know. But they had a keen sense of the importance of the first-born of the family. The father, who had his own chair in the living room, which was, of course, the best chair, had the second best chair next to him at his right hand, which was the chair for the eldest of the sons at home. No one else might sit there. And if someone did happen to be sitting there and the elder brother came into the room, the one occupying his chair immediately got up and vacated that chair so that the elder brother could sit in it. That was not only a symbolic thing in that family. The elder brother was responsible, because the mother was unbelievably busy, for the good behavior of his brothers in the home. He was responsible to see to it that they did their chores every day. He was responsible to see to it that they all got off to school on time and dressed properly. He was responsible, by his conduct, to be an example to his brothers in their lives. He even was responsible, when he became old enough to do that, to admonish his brothers. Now, I know, he did not always do that faithfully. Families have a great deal of sin. But, nevertheless, the family insisted upon that. And that position of elder brother in the family remains a responsible position till that elder brother leaves the home, when that responsibility devolves on the next in line.
It is part of the experience of my life that that responsibility of an elder brother never ceases. And when the family has a very aged father or mother, then the tables are almost turned. While all our lives my father was responsible for us, and continues to be, suddenly in his old age the eldest becomes responsible for him—the decisions that have to be made for his care and for the years of his declining age.
So it is with all the children. Somehow or another, in a covenant family, it is the eldest upon whom devolves the final responsibility that has to be borne for the welfare of the family—even when everyone is married. If you are intent on establishing a covenant home, you must teach your elder son that that is part of his responsibilities in the home.
So each has his or her own place. An important place it is, a place in a covenant family that is a picture of the family of God.
In the second place, a covenant home is a home that has the Word of God at its centre. Now I want to speak about the importance of family devotions. Family devotions have fallen on hard times. Partly the reason is that everyone is so frantically busy that no one has any time for devotions. The father goes to work early. The children stagger out of bed an hour or two later, run about getting their clothes on and books together, packed away in their backpacks so they can dash off for school, perhaps grabbing a piece of toast as they make their way out of the door. And when the evening comes, mother is scheduled to go here and father is scheduled to go there; this child is working at this place and that child has to go to practice soccer. In the busy and sometimes hectic life of the family no time is available to have devotions together. The best practice is that a family have devotions at the beginning of the day at the breakfast table and at the end of the day at the dinner table. My father tells me that his own father, who was a painter and who had to work hard for a living, left for work at six o’clock in the morning. The children were all out of bed by five-thirty because my grandfather insisted that all the family be together at the table for devotions and for breakfast. The same thing was true in the evening. If he had to finish a job and it kept him at his work until seven or eight o’clock, no one ate until he was home and until the family together could have its devotions.
As far as the devotions themselves are concerned, there are families that have devotions, but they are of such a hit-and-miss character that they amount to almost nothing. The father reads a passage from the Scripture in a voice conducive to putting the children to sleep, and his prayers are mumbled, if he prays at all, so that one can hardly make them out. And at the moment they faintly hear an “Amen,” everyone dashes off in different directions.
I suggest to you that you must make an effort in your home, if you want to follow the biblical pattern of making the Word of God and prayer the centre of family life, that you take time with your devotions; that you begin the meal with prayer, asking God’s blessing; that you end the meal with prayer by thanking the Lord for His goodness; and that Scripture reading be meaningful.
You ought to have a Bible dictionary sitting on the shelf by the table so that you can look up the word “Mizar” when you come to it in the Psalms. I doubt whether ten of you here know what the word Mizar means. You ought to have a good commentary, so that when you come across a difficult passage where you say, “I’m not sure what this means,” you can look it up. I suggest that if you want a good commentary, you cannot do any better thanCalvin. Calvin, to this day, is the commentary that I use the most. He is the best. You do not have to read the commentary every time. But at those points where father, mother, and the children are puzzled by the meaning of the text, read Calvin. He is almost always right. He had an insight into the Scriptures from which we can profit all our lives. It is much better to read three verses from the Bible and know what they mean than it is to read Psalm 119 when no one is paying attention.
Take the time to explain the passage to your children. Take the time before you read to tell them about this passage. And, by all means, do not skip about from place to place in the Scriptures in your Bible reading, but start with Genesis 1 and read through the Bible from beginning to end, including the laws. If you will take the time to explain them and the reason for them, you will find that your children can even be interested in the laws; but you must point them to the reason for the laws in Israel’s history and to their fulfillment in our Lord Jesus Christ—something not all that difficult to do if you will only take the time to understand them just a bit. Get the children involved in discussing the meaning of the passages, and you will be surprised what questions they ask and what knowledge they gain from taking the time to make Scripture reading important.
And when you pray, bring the needs of the family to God—not your own. You must have your own private devotions for that. But the family has all kinds of needs. Pray for your wife, who needs the grace of God in the difficult and trying task that God has laid upon her. Pray for your children. Pray for your family in times of deepest woe and trouble. Pour out your soul to the Lord on behalf of your family in these difficult times. And when theLord’s blessings rain upon your family, be thankful and let the family with you shout for joy in your prayers to God who deals so graciously with you. You are praying for the family. And you must pray in that way.
Because my father insisted on Christian education for us, I was forced to travel two thousand miles from home in my junior and senior year in high school to attend a Christian high school. I had to stay with an uncle who was a godly man and the home was a godly home. But my uncle had one very irksome habit. When he would come home from work, his wife would have to report to him all the peccadilloes of which we were guilty during the day. And in the prayer at the beginning of the meal, he would start with the oldest and he would bring to the throne of grace the sins of so-and-so and what so-and-so had done. If you were near the bottom of the list, you spent a lot of time squirming in your seat. He used his prayers to reprimand us.
Now, do not get me wrong. We needed the reprimand. If he had taken us aside at a proper time and showed us why what we did was wrong and called us to repentance, we could have taken that. That was our due. But to wait one’s turn in prayer-time at the table to receive his reprimands (which were sharp) was a very, very trying experience. Do not ever do that! There may be times when, perhaps, a sin of a child in the home is so great and has affected the family so much that you must mention it in prayer at family devotions. But do not use prayers to escape your responsibility to talk with your children about their sins. Make your devotions important in the life of the family.
A covenant family is a family where covenant instruction is fundamentally important. If I were creating this list in order of importance, I would probably make this first. The Bible keeps emphasizing this all the time. When God came to visit Abraham in the plains of Mamre and He and His companions walked with Abraham in the direction of Sodom and Gomorrah, along the way God stopped and consulted with His companions. He asked them the question: “Shall I reveal to Abraham the counsel of my will with respect to Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot and, really with respect to the church of all ages, as it is called to live in a world that is ripe for judgment? Shall I do that?” And the answer that He Himself gave is this: “Yes, I will tell Abraham what I am going to do.” Why? Because I have known him, “that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he has spoken of him” (Gen. 18:19). That is, “I am going to make known to Abraham the mysteries of My counsel because he will instruct his children. And by means of that instruction, I will bring upon Abraham that which it is My purpose to do.”
In the book of Judges, you have only to read into chapter two to discover the reason for the unspeakably sad history of the people of Israel in those days. What is that reason? A generation arose that knew not the Lord, neither the wonders that He had performed for Israel ( Judg. 2:10 ). Instruction had fallen in bad repute. The children of Israel did not know the wonderful works of the Lord. That is why the sad history of the judges is a part ofOld Testament history. Psalm 78 drives home the point that covenant parents must instruct their children from generation to generation (vv. 1-8). And the wise king of Israel in the book of Proverbs speaks of the fact that one must train up his child in the way that he should go, and when the child is old, he will not depart from it ( Prov. 22:6 ).
Concerning that covenant instruction, much could be said.
In the first place, it ought to be clear to you by this time that covenant instruction is based on the principle that God saves His children in the line of generations and gathers the members of His own family in the families of believers. He does that by way of covenant instruction. That is the means He uses. So important is that means that a failure to bring up our children in the ways of God’s covenant results in our being cut off in our generations.
Now, I am aware of the fact, of course, that part of covenant instruction is the establishment of Christian schools. That is another reason why God’s people, when they are scattered hither and yon, ought to come together so that, if at all possible, they can establish Christian schools where their children can be taught in the truths of God’s Word in creation and history from the viewpoint of the Scriptures and the Reformed faith. Nevertheless, thehome is the fundamental institution of society, and the school can never rise in its moral character or in the quality of its instruction, from a spiritual and confessional point of view, higher than the level of the home. The home is important for covenant instruction.
The instruction of the home is unique. The power and beauty of the instruction in the home is this, as Deuteronomy 6 points out in such an eloquent way, that the parents are so diligent in their covenantal walk in every part of family life that by their very example they teach the children how to walk in the world as covenant children and how, finally, to establish their own covenant homes. Example does not exclude verbal instruction. Of course not. But example is the character of the home. In times of great grief, great trouble in the home, the attitude of the parents towards these afflictions and chastisements that God is pleased to send will determine how the children will learn to deal with them when they grow older. When the parents are prosperous and there are seemingly few clouds on the pathway of life, their attitude towards the things of this world, their thanksgiving in times of prosperity, and their right use of material things will teach the children that material things are not ends in themselves but are to be used for the kingdom of God. The normal, God-ordained life of a covenant family is the most powerful tool of instruction there is.
Daughters will learn how to take care of their husbands when they marry by watching mother. They will even learn how to cook and sew. Sons will learn how to be the head of the house because they have a father who took that position as head of the house. To this day, when I am confronted with a difficult question on what to do in the family, I frequently ask myself, what would my father have done? That is the kind of impact that covenant parents have on their children. When a mother devotes herself to the difficult (I would almost say, boring and unappreciated) task of bringing up her children—putting bandages on their skinned knees, comforting them when they come home from school crying because they have been teased, showing them that the favor of God is the thing that counts, feeding them, loving them —in all these ways she makes a lasting, indelible impression on her daughters and on her sons.
It is a striking thing (it was true in our family and, I suppose, it is true in every family) that when the children are home the sons are closest to their mothers and the daughters are closest to their fathers. The daughters always came to me when they wanted advice on something. My sons always went to my wife. And then they were married and it turned around. Now my daughters always go to her and my sons come to me. That is a peculiar thing. I have no explanation for that. But it is part of covenant instruction. And it is a part of the lasting influence that parents have on their children and part of that truth that God continues His covenant in the line of generations through the power of covenant instruction.
Part of that covenant instruction is that we teach our children the ways of God’s covenant. We tell them, “You must walk as a child of the covenant. You must learn to do that now. You must learn to do that as you grow up, as you take your place in the church, when you establish your own home. You must walk as a child of the covenant.” When a child refuses to walk in the ways of God’s covenant that child must be rebuked, admonished, andchastised, as God does with us when we sin. They must be told, “If you do not walk in the ways of God’s covenant and you refuse to turn from your evil ways, you show by that that you are not a true child of the covenant at all.” Covenant parents know that not all their children have the promise of God that God will save them. The lines of election and reprobation cut right through covenant homes, as they did in Israel and in the family of Isaac and Rebekah. Parents have an obligation in that regard. Tough love? I’m not sure what that means. But the obligation of covenant parents is to warn their children of sin and its consequences.
Another curse that plagues the church and covenant homes is permissive parents. The consequences are evident in the schools. The teacher sends a note home: “Johnny did this in school.” And the parent rushes to the phone and dials the teacher’s number: “My Johnny would never, never, do a thing like that. Something’s wrong. Maybe he was driven to it by unkind classmates,” or whatever. So the parents hold a hand over Johnny’s head and Johnny chuckles to himself: “I can do as I please and I can always hide behind mum’s skirts.” Permissive parents are a curse on covenant homes and ultimately destroy them.
There are two things in the home that are curses of our modern generation. One is the television set. I do not know if as an adult you can handle a television set, but it is a curse on a home with children. My wife and I told the children when they first began to realize what was going on about them: “No television in this house. You can have all the books you want. You can go the library every week if necessary to get your books, but no television. And no watching television by the neighbor. We will not have you watching that stuff.” Now, I am not saying that the television set is wrong in itself. But it is an unbelievable power for evil in the home. And I am not talking now about the pornography on the television, about the comedies that destroy everything sacred in a humorous way, that exalt the henpecked husband and the disobedient child, and make a joke of adultery and fornication. I am not talking about that. I am talking about all aspects of TV.
Malcolm Muggeridge wrote a book quite a few years ago: The Fourth Temptation. It was a book that contained the speeches that he delivered to religious television broadcasters. Among the many things he said in the speeches was this: “Television by its very nature is incapable of bringing anyone reality.” You cannot learn the truth about anything from television. It is impossible.
But even that is not the worst. You can listen to the BBC or ITV, I suppose, and pick up some of the news, and they might be right on the weather, although for two weeks now, I am told, they predicted rain and gusty winds every day and we have had marvelous weather (with an occasional shower), so I am not even sure about that. But I am talking about the advertisements. Now I know that here you do not have so much of that. But in America the advertisements constitute about a half of every program. Sex is the one thing that is used to sell cars and almost everything else. If a woman, dressed like the women in those ads and speaking the language that they speak on television, would come to the door of my house and say, “I would like to come in and talk to your children;” I would say to her, “Get out of here, you whore. I won’t let you in this house.” But we let her in through the television set and nobody thinks anything of it. There she is, spewing her filth and acting in the most outrageous, immoral way, dressed in the most immodest fashion. But, because it is an advertisement, we do not seem to mind. There she is in the home, for all of that.
The second instrument of destruction in the home is the computer. And, once again, I am not against computers. I use one myself all the time. I am not even against the Internet so much, although I prefer myself to use it only for e-mail. But I know marriages that have been broken up because of pornography on the Internet. These pornographers are unbelievably bold. There was a time, until I got a filter on my computer that filters out the “spam,” when the e-mail that came in was such utter filth that it was almost impossible to believe that that stuff was going on in the world.
Now it just so happens that my children and my grandchildren know a whole lot more about computers than I do. When something goes wrong with my computer and I cannot get my son to come over to help me at the time, I can usually get some help from my eight or nine year old grandchild because he knows more about it than I do. It is that very knowledge of computers with which our children are growing up that makes those things suchinstruments of evil if our children are not taught the terrible, frightening evil of that sewer of filth that pours into the homes.
I suggest to you that you be aware of this and guard against this and by your own example, if you have children in the home and a television set, be careful! It would be better to throw the thing on an ash heap than fill the souls of your children with the moral rot that is found in this modern invention.
But I must end. This, then, in conclusion.
The home is composed of a covenant father, a covenant mother, and covenant children. They are all sinners. Planted in the very heart of the home must be the cross of Jesus Christ. That is the only place for all to go. The children have to be taught by the example of their parents at the foot of the cross. The children have to be taught that repentance means to seek forgiveness in the cross, and that in the cross of Jesus Christ alone is to be foundthe power of a godly and holy walk. There is nowhere else to get it. The cross is the place. And so the family must find itself frequently together at the foot of the cross beseeching the Lord of all mercies that He will have compassion on them in their struggle, their difficult struggle, in a Christian home; that He will be merciful and forgive sins; and that He will do His work, though He is pleased to use us as weak and frail instruments, and give to us grace that our homes may be shining lights in the darkness and evil of our present time.