The training of a child
I. THE NEED OF THE TRAINING . This arises from various causes.
1 . An undeveloped condition. Each child begins a new life. If all that were desirable could be found wrapped up in his soul, this would need to be developed by education.
2 . Ignorance. The child does not come into the world with a ready made stock of knowledge. He must learn truth and be made to see the right path, which is at first unknown to him.
3 . Weakness. The child needs not only to be taught, but to be trained. He must be helped to do what is at first too much for his strength. His better nature must be drawn out, nourished, and confirmed.
4 . Evil. A child's mind is not a tabula rasa. We need not go back to Adam for evidences of hereditary evil. The child inherits the vices of his ancestors. Thus "foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child." Before he is guilty of conscious sin the tendency to wickedness begins to work within him.
II. THE AGE OF THE TRAINING . This is to be in childhood, for various reasons.
1 . Its susceptibility.
"Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison house begin to close
Upon the growing boy.
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sets it in his joy."
Faith is natural to children. They cannot become theologians, but they may be citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Thoughts of God and Christ, and the call to the better life, can be well received by them.
2 . Its dangers. Children are open to temptation. If not trained in goodness, they will be trained in evil. Some have thought that children should not be biassed in their religious ideas, but left in freedom to choose for themselves. We do not do this in secular matters, trusting them to choose their own methods of spelling and to manufacture their own multiplication table. If we believe our religion to be true and good and profitable, it is only a cruel pedantry that will keep it from children for fear of prejudicing their minds.
3 . Its duties. Early years should be given to Christ. He seeks the opening bud, not the withered leaf.
III. THE LAW OF THE TRAINING .
1 . In action. There is a practical end in education. We are not merely to teach doctrine, but chiefly to train conduct.
2 . According to right. This is not a question of taste. There is a way in which a child ought to go. It is his duty to tread it, and ours to lead him in it.
3 . According to future requirements. While the main principles of education must be the same for all children, the special application of them will vary in different cases. We have to apply them to the specific career expected for each child. The prince should be trained for the throne, the soldier for the field, etc.
4 . According to personal qualities. Each child's nature needs separate consideration and distinctive treatment. The training that would ruin one child might save another. We have not to drill all children into one uniform fashion of behaviour; we have rather to call out the individual gifts and capacities, and guard against the individual faults and weaknesses. Thus the training of a child will be the directing of his own specific nature.
IV. THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE TRAINING . "When he is old, he will not depart from it." Age stiffens. It is well that it should grow firm in the right. Here is the reward of teaching the young. The work is slow and discouraging, and at first we see few results; perhaps we imagine that all our efforts are wasted upon thoughtless minds. But if the work is hard to begin, there is this compensation in it—when it has fairly laid hold of a child, it is not likely to be ever effaced. The teachings of the Sunday school are remembered after many a long year.
The theme of the earlier part of the chapter may be said to be the good name: the blessings in the possession of it, and the conditions for the acquirement of it—partly negatively, partly positively, described.
Means to the preservation of the good name
I. EARLY TRAINING . ( Proverbs 22:6 .) The young twig must be early bent. Experience teaches us that nothing in the world is so mighty for good or evil as custom; and therefore, says Lord Bacon, "since custom is the principal magistrate of man's life, let man by all means endeavour to obtain good customs. Custom is most perfect when it beginneth in young years; this we call education, which is in effect but an early custom. The tongue is more pliant to all expressions and sounds, the joints more supple to all feats of activity and motions, in youth than afterwards. Those minds are rare which do not show to their latest days the ply and impress they have received as children."
II. INDEPENDENCE . ( Proverbs 22:7 .) How strongly was the worth of this felt in those ancient times! Poverty and responsibility to others are to be avoided. Many are forced into distress of conscience and to the loss of a good name by being tempted, for the wake of the rich man's gold or the great man's smile, to vote contrary to their convictions. Others will sell their liberty to gratify their luxury. It is an honest ambition to enjoy a competence that shall enable one to afford to be honest, and have the luxury of the freest expression of opinion. Hence frugality becomes so clear a moral duty.
III. INTEGRITY . ( Proverbs 22:8 .) Ill-gotten gains cannot prosper. "The evil which issues from thy mouth falls into thy bosom," says the Spanish proverb. The rod wherewith the violent and unjust man struck others is broken to pieces.
IV. NEIGHBOURLY LOVE ( Proverbs 22:9 .) "Charity gives itself rich, covetousness hoards itself poor," says the German proverb. "Give alms, that thy children may not ask them," says a Danish proverb. "Drawn wells are never dry." So give today, that thou mayest have to give tomorrow; and to one, that thou mayest have to give to another. Let us remember, with the Italian proverb, that "our last robe is made without pockets." Above all, if our case is that "silver and gold we have none, let us freely substitute the kindly looks and the healing words, which are worth much and cost little."
V. A PEACEFUL TEMPER . ( Proverbs 22:10 .) Let the scoffing, envious, contentious temper be cast out of our breast first. As for others, let us strike, if possible, at the cause and root of strife. Let there be solid argument for the doubter, and practical relief for actual grievances. Let us learn from the old fable, and follow the part of Epimetheus, who, when evils flew abroad from the box of Pandora, shut the lid and kept hope at the bottom of the vessel.
VI. A FAITHFUL AND CONSTANT HEART . ( Proverbs 22:11 .) The greatest treasure to an earthly monarch, and dear above all to the King of kings. "He who serves God serves a good Master." Grace and truth are upon the lips of God's Anointed forevermore. And to clench these proverbs, let us recollect that nothing but truth in the inward parts can abide before the eye of Jehovah. "A lie has no legs." It carries along with itself the germs of its own dissolution. It is sure to destroy itself at last. Its priests may prop it up, after it has once fallen in the presence of the truth; but it will fall again, like Dagon, more shamefully and irretrievably than before. Truth is the daughter of God (Trench).—J.
Very many parental hearts have leaned their weight of hope on these cheering words—many to be sustained and gladdened, some to be disappointed. We look at—
I. THE BROAD SPHERE OF PARENTAL TRAINING . What is the way in which a child should be trained to go? It is one that comprehends much. It includes:
1 . Manners. These are not of the first importance, but they have their value. And if politeness, demeanour, bearing, be not engraven in the young, it will not be perfectly attained afterwards.
2 . Mind . The habit of observing, of thinking, of reasoning, of sound reading, of calm consideration and discussion.
3 . Morals. The all-important habits of truthfulness, of temperance, of industry, of self-command, of courage, of pure and stainless honesty, of unselfish considerateness, of generous forgiveness.
4 . Religion. The habit of reverence in the use of the Divine Name, of public worship, of private prayer, of readiness to learn all that in any way God is willing to teach us.
II. THE STRENGTH OF THE PARENTAL HOPE . Let the child be trained in these right ways, "and when he is old," etc.
1. The assurance of habit. When we have firmly planted a good habit in the mind and in the life, we have done a very great and a very good thing—we have gone far toward the goal we seek. For habit, early formed, is not easily broken. We sometimes allude to habit as if it were an enemy. But, in truth, it is our best friend. It is a gracious bond that binds us to wisdom and virtue. Without it we should have no security against temptation; with it we have every reason to hope that youth will pass into prime, and prime into old age, clothed with all the wisdom and adorned with all the grace that it received in its early years. What makes the assurance the more strong is that habit becomes more powerful with each effort and each action. Every day the good habits we have formed and are exercising become more deeply rooted in the soil of the soul.
2 . The assurance of the common experience of mankind.
III. THE NECESSARY LIMIT . Not the very best training of the very wisest parents in the world can positively secure goodness and wisdom in their children. For when they have done everything in their power, there must remain that element of individuality which will choose its own course and form its own character. Our children may choose to reject the truth we teach them, and to slight the example we set them, and to despise the counsel we give them. In the will of every child there is a power which cannot be forced, which can only be won. Therefore:
1 . Let all parents seek, beside training their children in good habits, to win their hearts to that Divine Wisdom in whose friendship and service alone will they be safe. Where sagacity may fail, affection will triumph. Command and persuasion are the two weapons which parental wisdom will do its best to wield.
2 . Let all children understand that for their character and their destiny they must themselves be responsible. All the very worthiest and wisest influences of home will lead to no good result it' they oppose to them a rebellious spirit, if they do not receive them in the spirit of docility. There is but one gate of entrance into life, and that is the personal, individual acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Lord and Saviour of the spirit. The parent may lead his child up to it, but that child must pass through it of his own accord.—C.
Train up a child in the way he should go. The verb translated "train" ( chanak ) means, first, "to put something into the mouth," "to give to be tasted," as nurses give to infants food which they have masticated in order to prepare it for their nurslings; thence it comes to signify "to give elementary instruction," "to imbue," "to train." The Hebrew literally is, Initiate a child in accordance with his way. The Authorized Version, with which Ewald agrees, takes the maxim to mean that the child should be trained from the first in the right path—the path of obedience and religion. This is a very true and valuable rule, but it is not what the author intends. "His way" must mean one of two things—either his future calling and station, or his character and natural inclination and capacity. Delitzsch and Plumptre take the latter interpretation; Nowack and Bertheau the former, on the ground that derek is not used in the other sense suggested. But, as far as use is concerned, both explanations stand on much the same ground; and it seems more in conformity with the moralist's age and nation to see in the maxim an injunction to consider the child's nature, faculties, and temperament, in the education which is given to him. If, from his early years, a child is thus trained, when he is old, he will not depart from it. This way, this education in accordance with his idiosyncrasy, will bear fruit all his life long; it will become a second nature, and will never be obliterated. The Vulgate commences the verse with Proverbium est, taking the first word substantively, as if the author here cited a trite saying; but the rendering is a mistake. There are similar maxims, common at all times and in all countries. Virg; 'Georg.,' 2.272—
" Adeo in teneris consuescere multum est ."
Horace, 'Epist.,' 1.2, 67—
" Nunc adbibe puro
Pectore verba, puer ."
For, as he proceeds—
" Quo semel est imbuta recens, servabit odorem
Testa diu ."
Thus we have two mediaeval jingles—
" Cui puer assuescit, major dimittere nescit."
"Quod nova testa capit, inveterata sapit ."
Then there is the German saw, "Jung gewohnt, alt gethan." "What youth learns, age does not forget," says the Danish proverb. In another and a sad sense the French exclaim, "St jeunesse savait! si vieillesse pouvait!" All the early manuscripts of the Septuagint omit this verse; m some of the later it has been supplied from Theodotion.