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Maurice Roberts


The Jesuits are one of the most deplorable societies ever created by man on earth, but they have given us one of the most important insights we possess: 'Give me a child till he is seven years of age and then do what you like with him.' They have had the acuteness of mind to see that what we learn first we learn most formatively. Our mind and body, soul and heart, conscience and religion are all moulded for good or ill at the dawn of life, while every part of us is soft and plastic, easily shaped by adult hands and fashioned by our whole environment.


It is not our intention here to speak only on the upbringing of children, but it would be wrong to leave the application unmade. Christian parents ought to look upon the first seven, or ten, years of their children's life as crucial in their development. It is in these years, if ever, that the child needs to be surrounded by all that is wholesome, healthful and helpful to body, mind and soul. These are the years which make or mar the character. Too much love and protection there cannot be in this period of the child's life. Due firmness and due discipline there must be also. Good habits must now be taught to the child. These should include respect for elders, attention to the Bible at home and in church, regard for the Lord's Day, regularity in prayer, grace before food, a pattern of sleeping and rising and a realization that the world we live in is for work rather than play.


The sad but well-known fact is that many parents today are too selfish or too busy to put in the time and effort needed to mould their children's characters into proper shape. The average modern child, like Topsy, might well say: 'I 'specs I grow'd'. 'Growth' there has been, but of a sort that owes more to casual influences than parental care: programmes on a screen, playmates down the street, comics picked up at random, ball games day and night, scraps of popular cunning in a society seeking survival. Nothing about righteousness; less than nothing about God; absolutely nothing about Jesus Christ. Whilst the average church-going family is much above this standard, there are too many Christian homes where children get only minimal care and instruction.


If, as we have said, it is true that what we learn first we learn best,


it must also be true that what we learn first, when wrongly taught, we learn worst. Bad habits learned early are hardest to correct in others and in ourselves for the simple reason that they have been with us longest and so are most deeply ingrained in our nature. This fact, it seems to us, is one reason why there are so few great and saintly Christians met with in our age. Converts today are often called by grace from worldly, ill-trained backgrounds in which the first patterns of life and thought have been formed under non-Christian influences. As a consequence, when they come to Christ (say, at the age of twenty) they have a whole twenty years of paganism, practical and theoretical, to unlearn. In the weak climate of modern church life they will probably meet so few outstanding Christians that they will not rise above mediocrity. Thus mediocrity becomes the norm and unconsciously perpetuates itself.

The lesson from this to Christian parents is surely obvious. If this vicious circle of mediocrity is to be broken our young children need to be brought up in a way rarely met with today. Our Puritanism needs to come down from the bookshelf and become a living force within the home once again. We do not have in mind the revolting thought that parents are to groom their sons to become a generation of 'Little Lord Fauntleroys'. But, without forcing the rosebud unnaturally it is possible for believing families to set high Christian standards before children's minds at an early age.


Nowadays the church of Christ needs a fresh crop of excellent men like William Perkins, Matthew Henry, and Robert M'Cheyne to raise the standards. Whilst only God can give children saving grace, we as parents can see to it that they have all that common grace can give. This must mean that what they learn first they learn well. When by grace they are later converted they have then already got a mind well-stored with Scripture and sound doctrine and a life-style which is in clear outward accord with the law of God. From such homes do great saints come.


The danger we have drawn attention to has a very considerable bearing too on the duty of the local church as well as on the Christian home. All too often the standards are set in a local church on the tacit assumption that the voice of the people is the voice of God. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in matters of church worship.


If our cherished theology is to bear fruit in the lives of the rising generation it must find fuller expression in our church worship. Sad to say, it happens all too often that the fine theology of the Reformers is reflected in the sermon, but not in the substance of the prayer nor in the materials of our singing. This must produce a hybrid type of Christian worship, in which the sermon looks to Calvin and to Geneva while the singing looks to campus crusade and the endless singing of choruses.


What we sing to God can be almost as influential in the development of Christian character as hearing sermons. The proof of this is to be found in any prayer meeting on earth. People quote from their manuals of praise as often as they do from the Word of God itself. They may even use expressions drawn from Scripture and phrases taken out of their chorus book in the same prayer, even when these are inconsistent with one another. The fault surely lies in the practice of the local church in their not ensuring that in the service of God's house nothing but the best is allowed to be used.


What converts first learn from their churches they will very quickly learn to regard as the norm. The Jesuit principle will apply every time. While converts are still young and therefore new to the faith (whatever their church background), they will be ready enough to learn to correct their previously bad habits of worship. They are still young enough in the faith to be open to biblical influences in the church where they are converted. But this teachableness will harden in a few years' time. What they find at first they will, in most cases, come to regard as normal and right, without examining theological principles of worship for themselves. For this very reason it is a church's wisdom to keep everything out of public worship which has no good warrant to be there. It is a thousand pities if what our converts first learn in God's house has to be some day regretted.


It belongs to the genius of biblical religion and of the Reformed faith to aim at perfection since that is the character of the God whom we serve. It is not enough to have men and women brought to a profession of trust in Christ. Our aim is to 'present every man perfect in Christ Jesus' [Col. 1:28 ]. This is a mighty and a strenuous task but it is the task of the Christian and of the minister. Conversion is to be viewed, not as the end, but as the beginning. Our converts have to be shown the best example as well as fed with the best teaching that we are capable of giving them. This must surely have been the goal at which the apostle Paul aimed when he advised his converts to 'mark them which walk so as ye have us for an example' [Phil. 3:17 ].

The bearing of this upon our subject must be clear enough. If our churches are to grow in grace and spirituality they need more than sermons and sound worship. Even when these great mercies are to be had in a congregation they are not all that is required for the health of the church. To excellence of preaching and of worshipping there needs to be added the excellence of exemplary living. Surely this is the reason why Paul's epistles contain so many references to ethical duty.



The first and second chapters of Titus may serve to illustrate this point perfectly. Titus' commission is, among other things, to 'set in order the things that are wanting' (Titus 1:5 ). All was not done when elders were ordained nor even when the mouths of unruly deceivers were stopped (Titus 1:5 , 10-11). The purity of the church and its preservation in health cannot be maintained by the appointment of office-bearers alone, or by the orthodoxy of its teaching ministry. More is needed. Hence Paul proceeds to lay down ethical guidelines for the membership of the church, especially for persons of maturer age. The 'aged men' are to be exemplary (Titus 2:1 ) and the 'aged women likewise' are to act in a manner which `becometh holiness' (Titus 2:3 ). They are to 'teach the young women' (2:4) by precept and by example how to adorn the doctrine of the gospel. `Young men' are to be similarly 'exhorted to sober-mindedness' (Titus 2:6 ). Not only by preaching is this to be done. Titus himself must 'in all things show himself a pattern of good works' (Titus 2:7 ). The lesson is clear: example is infectious.


Our modern churches make a good deal less of the place of holy example than they should. The effects are often all too visible. Gravity and sober-mindedness are scarce virtues. Elderly Christians of exemplary spiritual character are all too few. It is small wonder if young converts, having nothing higher to look up to than one another, have been allowed to take their standards from themselves. Again, what has been first learned has generally been worst learned. A better way has not occurred to anyone in the fellowship and so standards are allowed to slip to something just above the level of the world outside.


The challenge of our day is for some who love the truth to consecrate themselves to God with exceptional dedication. They would need to deny themselves and take up Christ's cross in an uncommon measure. They would need to be early and late at the Word of God. They would require to learn the meaning of that mortifying expression 'fasting and prayer'. They would have to live above the crowd and be oblivious to its sneer. They would need to be men of vision and of perseverance as they tread the steep upward path. They would have to aim for a maturer godliness than they have witnessed around them. But they would have at last their reward. They would shine like stars in all our modern churches. They would raise the standards and show how much holiness is possible to sinners on earth. Brainerd is gone and M'Cheyne is gone. Who is yet to come?


Maurice Roberts – Copyright


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