Charles Hodge on Christian Nurture

Charles Hodge
Tuesday, June 12th 2007
Jan/Feb 2001

[It is] a scriptural truth that the children of believers are the children of God; as being within his covenant with their parents, he promises to them his Spirit; he has established a connection between faithful parental training and the salvation of children, as he has between seed-time and harvest, diligence and riches, education and knowledge. In no one case is absolute certainty secured or the sovereignty of God excluded. But in all, the divinely appointed connection between means and end, is obvious.

That this connection is not more apparent, in the case of parents and children, is due in great measure, to the sad deficiency in parental fidelity. If we look over the Christian world, how few nominally Christian parents even pretend to bring up their children for God. In a great majority of cases the attainment of some worldly object is avowedly made the end of education; and all the influences to which a child is exposed are designed and adapted to make him a man of the world. And even within the pale of evangelical churches, it must be confessed, there is a great neglect as to this duty.

…We of course recognize the native depravity of children, the absolute necessity of their regeneration by the Holy Spirit, the inefficiency of all means of grace without the blessing of God. But what we think is plainly taught in Scripture, what is reasonable in itself, and confirmed by the experience of the church, is, that early, assiduous, and faithful religious culture of the young, especially by believing parents, is the great means of their salvation. A child is born in a Christian family, its parents recognize it as belonging to God and included in his covenant. In full faith that the promise extends to their children as well as to themselves, they [give] their child to him in baptism. From its earliest infancy it is the object of tender solicitude, and the subject of many believing prayers. The spirit which reigns around it is the spirit, not of the world, but of true religion. The truth concerning God and Christ, the way of salvation and of duty, is inculcated from the beginning, and as fast as it can be comprehended. The child is sedulously guarded as far as possible from all corrupting influence, and subject to those which tend to lead him to God. He is constantly taught that he stands in a peculiar relation to God, as being included in his covenant and baptized in his name; that he has in virtue of that relation a right to claim God as his Father, Christ as his Saviour, and the Holy Ghost as his sanctifier; and assured that God will recognize that claim and receive him as his child, if he is faithful to his baptismal vows. The child thus trained grows up in the fear of God; his earliest experiences are more or less religious; he keeps aloof from open sins; strives to keep his conscience clear in the sight of God, and to make the divine will the guide of his conduct. When he comes to maturity, the nature of the covenant of grace is fully explained to him, he intelligently and deliberately assents to it, publicly confesses himself to be a worshipper and follower of Christ, and acts consistently with his engagements. This is no fancy sketch. Such an experience is not uncommon in actual life. It is obvious that in such cases it must be difficult both for the person himself and for those around him, to fix on the precise period when he passed from death unto life. And even in cases, where there is more of a conflict, where the influence of early instruction has met with greater opposition, and where the change is more sudden and observable, the result, under God, is to be attributed to this parental training.

What we contend for then, is, that this is the appointed, the natural, the normal and ordinary means by which the children of believers are made truly the children of God. And consequently this is the means which should be principally relied upon, and employed, and that the saving conversion of our children should in this way be looked for and expected. It certainly has the sanction of God. He has appointed and commanded precisely this early assiduous and faithful training of the young. These words, saith the Lord, which I command you this day, shall be in thine hearts: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou risest up. Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. As this method of religious training has the sanction of a divine command, so it has also the benefit of his special promise. Success in the use of this means is the very thing promised to parents in the covenant into which they are commanded to introduce their children. God, in saying that he will be their God, gives them his Spirit, and renews their hearts, and in connecting this promise with the command to bring them up for him, does thereby engage to render such training effectual. Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it, is moreover the express assurance of his word. There is also a natural adaptation in all means of God's appointment, to the end they are intended to accomplish. There is an appropriate connection between sowing and reaping, between diligence and prosperity, truth and holiness, religious training and the religious life of children.

1 [ Back ] Excerpted from Essay and Reviews by Charles Hodge (New York: Robert Carter and Bros., 1857), 307-311.
Tuesday, June 12th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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