11 August, 2006

To Spank or Not to Spank

The spanking of children is a topic that sends many strong emotions stirring through the hearts and minds of Christians. Some Christians say that spanking is 100% necessary to be obedient to God in the area of the rearing of children. Other Christians believe that spanking is borderline abuse or just bad parenting.

It seems to me that the word of God promoted the idea of chastisement quite clearly. My confession is that in my family we do use spanking as one of the disciplinary techniques for raising our children. When one spanks it needs to be out of love and with the goal of restitution of the relationship between parent and child; but more importantly, between family and God.

Charles Bridges is one of my favorite commentators on the book of Proverbs. He presents a balanced view as well as a Christological view of the topic.

Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction
shall drive it far from him. -Proverbs 22.15

What parent, what instructor of children, will not bear sad, but decisive, testimony to the foolishness of the child? 'A little innocent' --is the miscalled name of fondness and fancy. One only of Adam's race, and he--adored be his name! preserved by his holy conception (Luke, i. 35)--lays claim to it. Foolishness is the birthright of all besides. The early development of waywardness and passion,--even before the power of speech;* before the child is capable of observing and imitating those around him--is a touching, but undeniable, evidence of the innate principle. Resistance therefore cannot begin too early. Education should commence even in the cradle.

Observe--it is foolishness, not childishness. That might belong to an unfallen child. No moral guilt attaches to the recollection "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child." (1 Cor. xiii. 11.) A child is to be punished as Mr. Scott wisely observed--'not for being a child, but for being a wicked child.' Comparative ignorance, the imperfect and gradual opening of the faculties, constitute the nature, not the sinfulness of the child. The holy "child increased in wisdom." (Luke, ii. 52.) But foolishness is the mighty propensity to evil--imbibing wrong prin- ciples, forming bad habits, entering into an ungodly course. It means the very root and essence of sin in a fallen nature--the folly of being revolted from a God of love. It includes all the sins of which a child is capable-lying, deceit (Ps. lviii. 3), wilfulness, perverseness, want
of submission to authority (Job, xi. 12)--a fearful aptness for evil, and revulsion against good. It is not the sheet of pure white paper; not the innocent, or even the tractable, creature, easily guided by proper means, that we have before us; but a little heart full of sin, containing all the seeds of future evil, multiplying to a fruitful harvest. We delight in our children's harmless play. We would make ourselves one with them in their sportiveness. But this foolishness-- visible every hour before our eyes--never let it be a subject of sport, but of deep and constant sadness. Nor let childhood plead as an excuse for this foolishness. Children's sins may not be chargeable with the guilt of adult responsibility; yet God has awfully shewn, that they are sins against Himself. The judgment on the "little children" of Bethel is enough to make "both the ears of" thoughtless parents "to tingle." (2 Kings, ii. 23, 24)

But whence the origin of this foolishness? "Look unto the rock whence we are hewn." Look unto "Adam" our father, and unto "Eve that bare us." (Isa. li. 1, 2.) As is the root, so ate the branches. As is the fountain, so are the waters. Our nature was poisoned at the spring. Our sinful parent, having lost God's image, could only "beget a son after his image" (Gen. v. 3)--a sinner begetting a sinner. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh" (John, iii. 6), and could be nothing else. Now "who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" (Job, xiv. 4; xxv. 4.) The creature therefore is produced into being with a radical enmity to God;--"by nature" therefore "a child of wrath."
(Eph. ii. 3.) The entail is held from "our first father," and can never be cut off. There is no division of this sad inheritance. Each of his children has the whole. His Maker testifies, that he is "a transgressor from the womb, that his heart is evil from his youth."1 In shame he acknowledges the testimony--"Behold! I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." (Ps. li. 5.) If the joy of a child's birth blot out the remembrance of its pain and sorrow (John, xvi. 21), yet must not this joy be chastened in the humbling recollection of what
the child brings into the world--foolishness? That self-will, that proud independence, that shakes the very foundations of society, is the birth-sin of our fallen nature. Nor does it lie only on the surface, like some childish habits, easily corrected. It is bound in the child's heart,
'held firmly there by chains invincible to human power.'* It is incorporated into his very nature. And so various are its forms, so subtle its workings, that the wisest parent is often at a loss how to detect and treat the evil.

The prescribed remedy, however, is clear. It is vain to bid the foolishness depart. And little inclination is there in the child himself to drive it far away. The rod of correction is distinctly named, and repeatedly inculcated, as God's own means for this important end. And surely the thought of having been an instrument of producing nature envenomed against a God of love must constrain the parent to use the means thus divinely appointed for destroying the deadly

Only let the child see, that, as with our heavenly Father, love is the ruling principle;1 that we follow the example of the wisest and best of parents, that we use his rod for driving men from foolishness;2 that, like him, we "chasten, not for our pleasure, but for our child's profit" (Heb.
xii. 10); not from caprice or passion, but from tenderness to his soul. Use the Lord's means, and we can then, what otherwise we cannot do, wait in faith for the promised blessing. Many a stirring movement of the flesh will be restrained. Man's will will be put down, and God's will
gain the supremacy. Shame of sin will issue in abhorrence; and in this sorrow and humiliation the path of wisdom will be chosen, loved, and followed. (Chap. xxix. 15.)

We have indeed no right to demand to see God's reasons for his ordinance. Yet we may be permitted, in part at least, to trace its workings. Habits are of immense value, as wrought into the character by the Holy Spirit. But there must be a beginning, and the use of means to fix the principle. If a child be punished for falsehood; to avoid future punishment, he abstains, and speaks the truth. As he advances, he finds the blessing and comfort of the right path. He
learns gradually to speak truth from a higher motive. Insensibly his conscience acquires tenderness respecting it; and it becomes a principle in his character. Thus the rod of correction performs its work with permanent benefit.

* Augustine mentions a living demonstration of the fall--the sight of an infant, before
it could speak, shewing an evident look of envy and passion towards another infant about
to share its nourishment. He adds--in reference to himself--'When? I beseech thee, 0
my God, in what places, when or where, was I innocent?'--Confess. lib. i. c. 7.


Anonymous said...

"Augustine mentions a living demonstration of the fall--the sight of an infant, before
it could speak, shewing an evident look of envy and passion towards another infant about
to share its nourishment."

-Wow, I get this haunting image of Jacob and Esau when I think about this. Even from the womb...

-On an etymological note, not how it's used today, there's something to the saying 'beating the hell out your children'. We are not to advocate abuse or exasperation of children.

-One thing that we've been 'beating' into our children is that we are to obey out of thankfulness to God for His salvation of us in Christ. Not fear of punishment.

-Discipline is assumed in discipleship. That means encouraging, promoting, putting on a pedestal when the child does what's right (and rewards too... candy's a good one). And when the child does what is not according to Scripture, is disobedient, sins, we are to apply the rod of correction appropriate to the nature of the offense. Without prayer and repentance on the child's part and without the parent's instruction, this is worthless. The child needs to realize that he's offended the LORD and sinned against the grace we have in Christ.

-Consistancy is imperative. If we don't do it, we're training up a hellion. We're then disciplining them to believe that God's word is a matter of preferrence, and really doesn't matter. We will disciple our children, that's not the matter at hand. Will we discipline in subjection to God's word or not? I'm going to do so and am doing so.

Mark said...

Excellent stuff. I just saw this past week that Bridge's Proberbs commentary is available for free online, but haven't gotten around to checking it out. Glad you put this up, now I've got more incentive to make that download.

I think your point about the purpose of discipline is dead-on. Fathers are shepherds, not cops, and should be seeking to train their children through discipline.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

I prefer to say "beat down," but that's just me.