The wisdom of J.C. Ryle keeps on coming! In this, the twelfth, section of his paper, he writes:
Train them with a constant fear of over-indulgence.
Ryle’s main point here is that as parents, we must be actively engaged in discipline and correction of our children. The thought of discipline is “unpleasant,” yes. But it is necessary. If we don’t teach our children through these means, they will become “over-indulgent,” believing that their sinful attitudes and behaviors are acceptable.
In our nation today, discipline has become something that is often thought of as being “old-fashioned,” “abusive,” or “unnecessary.” We–and our children–are taught by our culture that our little ones are inherently good. They don’t need correction as much as they need re-direction. Parents, we are told, should avoid discipline at all costs, because it might hurt the psyche of their children. Rewards should be used extensively to praise positive behavior, but inappropriate behavior should be addressed by removing privileges. Some might even say that you shouldn’t even go that far–that behavior should just be “tolerated” or “managed” in some sense, remembering that children will outgrow this “stage.” But the consensus seems to be that punishment should generally be avoided.
All of this sounds good, if their premise is true–that children are inherently good.
But, they aren’t. Children–as hard as this is for modern-day Americans to admit–are born sinful (Romans 3, Ephesians 2). Our sweet innocent-looking children have foolishness “bound in their hearts” (Prov. 22:15). So they don’t just need to re-directed and better-nurtured. They need to be re-born. They need God to soften their hearts and change them with the gospel.
And the loving discipline of godly parents is a primary means by which God does this work of helping children see their own guilt and their own need of salvation….The Proverbs speak to the importance of discipline–see Proverbs 13:24, 19:18, 22:15, 23:13-14, and 29:15, 17. But these are not just Old Covenant instructions. In Ephesians 6:4, Paul tells new covenant fathers to raise their children in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
But why is this so important? Couldn’t we raise well-adjusted kids without disciplining them?
If discipline is withheld, children will likely never learn to deny self. They will likely never see or feel the wrong-ness of their sin. They will assume that their desires and actions are acceptable. After all, if as their parents, we are not addressing their sin, disciplining them, and calling for them to change, why would they ever assume that God would? Will they not assume that God is just like mom and dad–passively tolerating their sin? Will they even be able to conceive of themselves as “sinful” if they are not lovingly having a light shone on their rebellion?
As Ryle remind us: “If you never punish your children when they are in fault, you are doing them a grievous wrong.”
Want to know how to discipline? Check back next time!