Parents! It is in your hands to do your children the greatest kindness, or cruelty, in all the world! Help them to know God and to be saved, and you do more for them than if you helped them to be lords or princes. If you neglect their souls, and breed them in ignorance, worldliness, ungodliness, and sin; you betray them to the devil, the enemy of souls, even as truly as if you sold them to him! You sell them to be slaves to Satan! You betray them to him that will deceive them and abuse them in this life, and torment them in the next!
I do verily believe that if parents did their duty as they ought, the Word publicly preached would not be the ordinary means of regeneration in the church, but only without the church, among practical heathens and infidels.
Higher than every painter, higher than every sculptor and than all artists do I regard him who is skilled in the art of forming the soul of children.
We must reject our well-meaning but misguided spiritual determinism. As it turns out, it doesn’t all depend on us. The Bible is full of examples of spiritual giants producing rascally children and noble kin coming from polluted loins. While the proverbial wisdom of Scripture (Prov. 22: 6) and the promises of the covenant (Gen. 17: 7) tell us that good Christian parents and good Christian children normally go together, we must concede that God is sovereign (Rom. 9: 6– 18), salvation is a gift (Eph. 2: 8– 9), and the wind of the Spirit blows where it wishes (John 3: 8).
We have failed to understand that children and young people are not God-lovers until the Spirit changes them. They are dead to God. Our attempts at getting these young people to “pray the prayer” when they were small have not necessarily made them children of God. Their behavior belies the true state of their hearts. God has said that the only hope for them, therefore, is the regenerating work of the Spirit in the context of the preaching of the Word (James 1:18). However, our inadequate view of depravity and the inability of man has led us to resort instead to a greater confidence in entertainment to reach them and a minimizing of the use of the Word. If God has ordained that the Word and the Spirit are the only hope for these kids, then we should not avoid the means God has promised to bless.
The miracle of the new birth is no less possible to God if our child is attentive to Him or running away from Him. Our child is like all other children when it comes to God’s grace. He is dead spiritually whether he is in church or not, whether he listened well to the truths we tried to teach him or did not, whether he has some interest in God now or has none at all. He may be converted in the pig pen or the pew and we do not know in this case what is preferred by God.
Your own disobedience in the past will not ultimately keep your child from becoming a believer. It is pointless to berate yourself for any wrong behavior on your part as if it were the reason your child is without Christ. This does not mean that we as parents should not repent and do better, and even admit wrong to our children. But the reason your child is without Christ is related to his or her own sin. Every parent is sinful and inconsistent. This has never been a barrier to God if He desires to save your child. Illustrations abound of children who come from far less godly families who are nonetheless converted to Christ. In fact, this may have been the case in your own experience.
You cannot save your child yourself no matter how hard you try. You are in a position of trust alone. This is good because it is the only way to please God (Heb. 11:6). Your rest in God, while simultaneously praying to the God who answers prayer, will be an encouragement to others in the same situation It will also help you respond to your child more positively, and will make your life far more joyful than your anxiety ever could.
I have tried to say with as much clarity as possible, and often, that the assurance a (child) has that he or she is actually a Christian does not have to do with praying a prescribed prayer, being affirmed by a Christian leader, walking an aisle, signing a card or raising a hand, but whether that person has life from God… What are these signs of life?
1. There is the sign of repenting and believing itself. The dead boy or girl now trusts Christ as his or her only hope for heaven. There is no mixture of trust in self or works or religion, but only in Christ and what He has done and will do.
2. There is a new valuing of the Scriptures. I cannot say this clearly enough. If I am to know you, I will know you principally by your words as you express yourself and communicate your thoughts. God’s Word is His principal communication of Himself. But it is more than just the words themselves that is important in this change. It is the Spirit working in the words that gives understanding and that “knowing” of Christ. Christ said, “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me” (John 6:45). This is granted – and not to all (Matthew 13:11).
3. There is obedience from the heart. All kids may be taught to obey like Pavlov’s dogs. If there is enough discipline and incentive, any child can straighten up. And, it is right for parents to expect this obedience even from unconverted children. Yet, when a child is made alive there is a new sensitivity to sin and a new and higher motivation and inner compulsion to obey. You will see obedience from the heart as if the child were newly constituted. In fact, he is. I am not saying that he will be perfect, any more than you are. But something has taken place on the inside that is unmistakable.
If a more intense and prayerful approach to our young people does not reach them, or if many refuse to participate because there is not enough entertainment to appeal to their love of pleasure, then we should not be confused. Our children are like all the rest of the world in their attitude about God (Eph. 2:1-3). They run from the light, just as Jesus said (Jn. 3:19-21).
God is sovereign, but parents are responsible. God’s sovereignty is our hope. Parents are utterly dependent on God. He can save any child, no matter how dark the circumstances. On the other hand, God normally reaches children through their parents. It is fatal to presume on God’s sovereignty by neglecting parental faithfulness. Yet it is also a mistake to assume that it all depends on us. It doesn’t. In fact, none of your efforts will prevail unless God bestows the gift of faith on your children. We are utterly dependent and responsible at the same time.
New birth is known by its fruits, not by a decision. The most important fruit is hunger for God Himself. Effective parents assume this, and patiently wait for sustained fruit before they render a verdict.
The man who does not make the eternal welfare of his children, the supreme end of all his conduct towards them, may profess to believe as a Christian – but he certainly acts as an Atheist! …It is in the highest degree inconsistent, absurd, cruel, and wicked – for a Christian parent not to be supremely desirous of the everlasting welfare of his children! Let a supreme concern for their immortal interests be at the bottom of all your conduct, and be interwoven with all your parental habits!
How can children exercise true saving faith before they are old enough to understand and affirm essential, objective elements of gospel truth? Saving faith is not blind faith. Real saving faith cannot be ignorant of essential gospel concepts such as good and evil, sin and punishment, repentance and faith, God’s holiness and His wrath against sin and the meaning of the resurrection and lordship of Christ.
Children cannot be saved until they’re old enough to understand the gospel clearly and embrace it with genuine faith. But you start as soon as you can teaching them and God knows when that heart readiness has come. People always ask me, “At what age?” It’s different for every child and different in every circumstance. But they do need to be mature enough to understand sin and righteousness, to understand repentance and faith, to understand punishment. They need to be old enough to understand the seriousness of their sin, the nature of God’s holy standard. At what age? It varies from child to child. But at the beginning you just start teaching and teaching and teaching and as they develop that understanding, God will work His work when they reach the point of comprehension.
Becoming mature Christians will require the sovereign work of God. Only God can save and sanctify. Still, God uses men and means. Certainly we as parents must seek to bring our children to Jesus Christ for salvation. But salvation is not the end of the journey. It is only the beginning. The destination toward which we are headed with our children is nothing less than maturity in Christ.
Because of God’s sovereign grace and His providential design some children are placed in a home where the gospel is lived and taught, which should give every believing parent good reason to hope that God intends to save them (John 5:34; 2 Peter 3:15).
Parents, be exemplary. Your example may do much towards the salvation of your children; your works will more work upon your children than your words; your patterns will do more than your precepts, your copies more than your counsels.
Till your children are brought home to God, they are the slaves of devils. In a word, can your heart endure that your children should be banished from the Lord Jesus Christ, and anguishing under the torments of sin among devils in outer darkness through eternal ages? Don’t call yourself a parent; you are an ostrich! Do not call these young ones the children of your compassions; you have no compassion!
Wrestle with the Lord. Accept no denial. Earnestly protest, “Lord, I will not let Thee go unless Thou bless this poor child of mine and make it Thine own!” Do this until, if it may be, your heart is raised by a touch of heaven to a belief that God has blessed this child, and it shall be blessed and saved forever.
All this that we here [in hell] suffer is through you. You should have taught us the things of God, and did not. You should have restrained us from sin and corrected us, and you did not. You were the means of our original corruption and guiltiness, and yet you never showed any competent care that we might be delivered from it. Woe unto us that we had such carnal and careless parents; and woe unto you that had no more compassion and pity to prevent the everlasting misery of your own children.
It is a masterpiece of the devil to make us believe that children cannot understand religion. Would Christ have made a child the standard of faith if He had known that it was not capable of understanding His words?
All children, like their parents before them, are rooted in fallen Adam (see Rom. 5:12). The perfect, infallible portrait of every soul who has ever lived was painted by Paul in Romans 3:10-11: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” Sin is so rooted in us that every part of the human personality is tainted. This, of course, doesn’t mean that all people are as bad as they can be or that they don’t do good things (see Luke 11:13). But it does mean that apart from God’s grace and the God-ordained graces of human discipline, children will naturally gravitate to sin – quite apart from the tricks of the devil or their “corrupt” little friends (Kent and Barbara Hughes).
One of the reasons teenagers are not excited about the gospel is that they do not think they need it. Many parents have successfully raised self-righteous little Pharisees. When they look at themselves, they do not see a sinner in desperate need, so they are not grateful for a Savior (Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp).
Ye have lost a child; nay, she is not lost to you, who is found in Christ; she is not sent away, but only sent before; like unto a star which, going out of sight, does not die and vanish, but shines in another hemisphere.
To love the soul is to really love. To pet and pamper and indulge your child, as if this world was all he had to look forward to, and this life the only period of happiness—to do this is not true love, but cruelty. It is treating him like some beast of the earth, which has only one world to look to, and nothing after death. It is hiding from him that grand truth, which he ought to be made to learn from his very infancy—that the number one goal of his life is the salvation of his soul.
Nothing is more important in the life of your child than to be sure that his or her soul is with the Lord. Can you even imagine the thought for a second, parent, that your child could be separated from you one day eternally in hell? So much energy is devoted to college choices and career pursuits and athletic, artistic and academic accomplishments and wedding plans and the list continues. And all of this is important, but nothing is more important than the spiritual soul of your child.
Parents, by nature, your children want to feel special. Will they learn that from you? And will you reject the superficial spoiling, self-esteem movement, permissive attitudes and worthless flattering in your efforts to achieve it? Start with God’s image. Then cultivate their love for God’s image. Then show Christ as the solution to repair God’s image. Nurture their relationship with Christ toward His causes. Only then will our children find their worth in life.
Children need to be saved and may be saved. The conversion of a child involves the same work of divine grace and results in the same blessed consequences as the conversion of the adult. But there is this additional matter for joy, that a great preventive work is done when the young are converted. Conversion saves a child from a multitude of sins. If God’s mercy shall bless your teaching to a little prattler, how happy that boy’s life will be compared with what it might have been if it had grown up in folly, sin, and shame, and only been converted after many days! It is the highest wisdom to pray for our children that while they are young their hearts may be given to the Savior.
We are convinced that all of our race who die in infancy partake in the redemption wrought out by our Lord Jesus. Whatever some may think, we believe that the whole spirit and tone of the Word of God, as well as the nature of God Himself, lead us to believe that all who leave this world as babes are saved.
I rejoice to know that the souls of all infants, as soon as they die, speed their way to Paradise.
A child of five, if properly instructed, can as truly believe and be regenerated as an adult.
A child who knowingly sins can savingly believe.
Those children who are of sufficient years to sin and be saved by faith have to listen to the gospel and receive it by faith. And they can do this, God the Holy Spirit helping them. There is no doubt about it, because great numbers have done it. I will not say at what age children are first capable of receiving the knowledge of Christ, but it is much earlier than some fancy.
Your children need God’s law, but you cannot ask the law to do what only grace can accomplish.
The focal point of your discipline and correction must be your children seeing their utter inability to do the things which God requires unless they know the help and strength of God. Your correction must hold the standard of righteousness as high as God holds it… The alternative is to reduce the standard to what may be fairly expected of your children without the grace of God. The alternative is to give them a law they can keep. The alternative is a lesser standard that does not require grace and does not cast them on Christ, but rather on their own resources. Dependence on their own resources moves them away from the cross. It moves them away from any self-assessment that would force them to conclude that they desperately need Jesus’ forgiveness and power.
Let’s rethink this matter of getting your children saved. Perhaps one of the problems with this perspective is that it looks for a major spiritual event of salvation and misses the spiritual process of nurturing your children. It is your task to faithfully teach them the ways of God. It is the Holy Spirit’s task to work through the Word of God to change their hearts. Even when the Spirit illuminates and quickens them to life, it is a life of progressive growth.
The Gospel seems irrelevant to the smug child who isn’t required to do anything he does not want to do. It seems irrelevant to the arrogant child who has been told all his life how wonderful he is. But the gospel has great relevance for the child who is persuaded that God calls him to do something that is not native to his sinful heart – to joyfully and willingly submit to the authority of someone else! Only the power of the gospel can give a willing heart and the strength to obey.
My dear children, never did I pass a more truly solemn or interesting moment than that in which my firstborn child was put into my arms and when I felt that I was a father. A new comfort was then produced in my heart which every succeeding day has tended to confirm and strengthen. I looked up to heaven and breathed over my baby the petition of Abraham for his son. “O that Ishmael might live before You.” Recognizing in the little helpless being which had been so lately introduced into our world, there was a creature born for eternity and who when the sun shall be extinguished would be still soaring in heaven or sinking in hell. I returned to my closet for private devotion and solemnly dedicated the child to the God who had given me the precious life. And I earnestly prayed that whatever might be his lot in this world, he might be a partaker of true holiness and numbered with the saints in everlasting glory.
At what point, then, is a child capable of understanding the gospel, repenting from sin, and savingly trusting in Christ? Again, Scripture gives no specific age limit. In our experience, however, we have found that most children do not really begin to objectively evaluate their own thoughts until they reach junior high. Before then, they usually feel little concern over the contradictory values to which they cling. Seldom during elementary years do they conscientiously think about and spiritually evaluate life’s demands independently of their parents. This does not mean that all young children are incapable of committing the rest of their lives to Christ and being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. However, prior to adolescence, few children truly appreciate the significance of their separation from God, and few have sufficient mental sophistication to project far enough into the future to commit “the rest of their lives” to anything.
Godly parents cannot convert their children. God alone can do this. But they can lead them to Jesus, and bring them up in the fear of the Lord. And when they have done this, they have done all they can do; for the Holy Spirit alone can change the heart. They must be born again. Christ has said it. It is not a change of sentiment, nor an outward reformation of life; it is a new heart implanted by the Holy Spirit.