Skip to content

The Value of the Child

Martin Galstad

1936 Synod Convention Essay

In his essay on Seneca, Dean Farrar comments on the remarkable truth that “the ancient writers, even the ancient poets, but rarely refer, even in the most cursory manner, to their early years. Whereas there is scarcely a single modern poet who has not lingered with undisguised feelings of happiness over the gentle memories of childhood, not one of the ancient poets has systematically touched upon the theme at all.” “How is it,” he asks, “that to the Greek and Roman poets that morning of life, which should have been so filled with ‘natural blessedness’ seems to have been a blank? How is it that writers so voluminous, so domestic, so affectionate as Cicero, Virgil, and Horace do not make so much as a single allusion to the existence of their own mothers?” He answers the question by saying that “the explanation rests in the fact that in all probability childhood among the ancients was a disregarded, and in most cases a far less happy period than it is with us.”

With the Greeks and Romans, the birth of a child was not necessarily a cause for joy. When the babe was first shown to its father, the father would perhaps stoop down and take it in his arms as a sign that it was received as a member of the family. If the father showed no interest, the child was exposed in some lonely or barren place to the mercy of the wild beasts or of the first passer-by. Even today, among certain people untouched by the gospel of Christ, infants are sacrificed to the waters of the Ganges. And among our own American type of heathen, the child is by no means looked upon as an unmixed blessing from on high — murdered, as it often is, before it sees the light of day.

“Strange as it may sound,” says Edersheim, “it is strictly true that, beyond the boundaries of Israel, it would be scarcely possible to speak with any propriety of family life, or even of the family, as we understand these terms.” Just as we owe thanks to God and His word for all the blessings we enjoy, so must we give Christianity credit for the halo of romance that has shed its spell over childhood in this our age of grace. It took Christian influences to make a poet sing:

“Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,

Make me a child again, just for tonight.”


Scripture’s Estimation of the Child

In speaking about the value of the child, how could we better speak, than to speak “as the oracles of God”? “Children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man, so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.” Ps. 127:3–5. That is Scripture’s estimation. Esau meeting Jacob asked who those were with him. “The children which God hath graciously given thy servant” was the answer. Gen. 33:5. “Children’s children are the crown of old men; and the glory of children are their fathers,”says a sacred Proverb. Prov. 17:6.

Time and again we see in Holy Writ that God considers children the important link in propagating the true religion and worship. “The background of early history shows that Adam was a priest in his own house and tried to teach his children the sacrifices which might be acceptable to the Lord by virtue of their pointing forward to the one great sacrifice whose offering stands in the center of human history, Jesus Christ.” Adam’s wife thought that her firstborn son was the Redeemer. We know that Adam’s son, Abel, was one of the faithful, having been taught by his parents. It was in the time of Enos, the third generation, that formal worship was set up. That there always was a godly line of people we know from our Old Testament Bible History. Noah did not gain many converts, but he saved his own sons for God. Then we have that excellent recommendation that God gives to Abraham, that testimonial of faith­ fulness in child-training which sounds like a benediction from on high: “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment.” Gen. 18:19. Even at the time of enslavement in Egypt before the exodus, child-training can not have gone by default for we find that “by faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents” and that “by faith he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God.” Heb. 11:23–25.

In the last chapter of the book of Proverbs we have “The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.” Prov. 31:1. Lemuel then gives his description of a virtuous woman, and his words are surely a good sign of faithful teach­ ing on the part of “a mother in Israel.”

It is in his farewell address to the congregation of Israel that Moses first rehearses the Royal Law of Love to God and man and then exhorts them saying: “These words which I command thee this day shall be in thy heart, and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thine children.” Deut. 6:6f. — We are seeking to show that through children God maintains the true religion.

In Joshua 22, we read that the Reubenites built an altar for the express purpose of perpetuating the true worship. They wanted their children immediately to see that they were at one with Israel.

Whenever Israel celebrated the passover, the smallest child of the household should ask the father of the house the meaning of the celebration. Then the father would relate the whole his­ tory of the Chosen People, beginning with the bondage in Egypt. And the more minutely he described it, said the Rabbis, the better.

Again Scripture says: “Take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons.” Deut. 4:9. Listen to Asaph in the 78th Psalm: “I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation.”

The prophet Joel begins his message to the people by saying: “Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation.” Joel 1:3.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” says Proverbs 22:6. The abundant reference to child-training in this book alone establishes the importance of the child to the Old Testament believers.

The lack of diligence with his sons on the part of Eli was the cause of great harm.

Quoting Edersheim, we read that “Ecclesiasticus shows that even in comparatively late and degenerate times the godly up­ bringing of children occupied a most prominent place in religious thinking.”

In the New Testament we find child-training no less important. And strange as it seems, we note here the spiritual influence of mothers rather than of fathers. Although it is not always directly stated, yet every circumstance points to the spiritual watchfulness of such as Salome, mother of Zebedee’s sons, the mother of Mark, and Priscilla, who, together with her husband Aquila, was able to help teach even an Apollos “the way of the Lord more perfectly.” Acts 18:26.

The shining New Testament example of child training is that of Eunice, the daughter of the pious Lois, and her child Timothy. How Eunice came to marry a heathen is a mystery. Neither do we know how her family came to settle in the heathen city of Lystra, where there was no synagogue. We do not even read of a meeting place for prayer, as there was at Philippi, where Paul met Lydia. Thus the little boy, Timothy, grew up where there was no synagogue, in which he might hear Moses and the Prophets read. Evidently there was no religious companionship, no religious example, not even from his father. Everything was against a godly upbringing of the little boy except that “from a child” he had “learned the holy scriptures” from his mother.

Let this suffice to show from God’s word that God considers children an important link in the continuation of the true religion and worship.

We can hardly pass from Scripture’s estimation of the child without saying that the Bible makes the child a pattern of humility and faith and faithfulness for all of us. Jesus declared: “Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 18:3. Even the mighty David said: “Lord, my heart is not haughty … I have behaved and quieted myself as a child.” Ps. 131. “In malice,” says Paul to the Corinthians, “be ye children.” I Cor. 14:20. Of little children Jesus says that “of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Luke 18:16. And our willingness to learn God’s word is to be like that of a child’s desire for food. “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word,” writes St. Peter. I Pet. 2:2. And he says that we shall “hope … as obedient children.”


Jewish Estimation of the Child

When we stated the Scriptural estimation of the importance of the child, we might have added the Jewish saying: “Weep sore for him that goeth away, for he shall return no more.” That saying was applied to him who died childless.

For a better understanding of Jewish child-training, let us look at the relationship that existed between parents and children at the time of Christ. The Jews had, according to Edersheim, a multiplicity of terms to designate the various stages of child-life: “yeled,” newly born; “yonek,” a suckling; “olel,” suckling, but asking for bread; “gamul,” the weaned one; the “taph,” pictured as clinging to his mother; the “elem,” becoming firm and strong; the “naar,” youth, literally one who shakes himself free; and the “bachur,” the ripened one, also the term applied to a young warrior. Certainly such designations show the fondness with which they valued their children and observed their development. “There were no homes like those in Israel.”

Six or seven years was the age at which a parent in Palestine was legally bound to attend to the schooling of his son. Earlier education in schools was considered unsafe for physical health. “If we come upon an admonition to begin teaching a child, when it is three years old,” says Edersheim, “this must refer to such early instruction as that of certain passages of Scripture, or of small isolated portions and prayers, which a parent would make his child repeat from tenderest years.” He continues: “Looking back, a man must have felt that the teaching which he most — indeed one might almost say exclusively — valued had mingled with the first waking thoughts of his consciousness.” In view of this, Philo could honestly say that the Jews were “from their swaddling clothes … trained by their parents, teachers, and instructors to recognize God as Father and as Maker of the world,” and that “having been taught the knowledge from earliest youth, they bore in their souls the image of the commandments.” Josephus testifies that “from their earliest consciousness” they had “learned the laws, so as to have them, as it were, engraven upon the soul.” In his dissertation on the final command of Moses, Josephus also says this about children: “Let the children also learn the laws, as the first thing they are taught, which will be the best thing they can be taught, and will be the cause of their future felicity.”

Now to those who think that such child training is too limited a program for our day, a paragraph from Edersheim’s study of the subject lends a stinging rebuke: “In the days of Christ the pious Jew had no other knowledge, neither sought nor cared for any other — in fact, denounced it — than that of the law of God. … The knowledge of God was everything; and to prepare for or impart that knowledge was the sum total, the sole object of his education. This was the life of his soul — the better, and only true life, to which all else, as well as the life of the body, was merely subservient, as means towards an end.”

We need apologize to no man for sacrificing service to mankind on the altar of pure knowledge. And if anyone thinks that knowledge in the head must fail to affect the sentiments of the heart, even when the Word of God is involved, let him hear how, according to Josephus, the children also lamented with their parents at the death of Moses: “The multitude fell into tears. … The children also lamented still more, as not able to contain their grief; and thereby declared, that even at their age they were sensible of his virtue and mighty deeds; and truly there seemed to be a strife betwixt the young and the old, who should most grieve for him. The old grieved, because they knew what a careful protector they were to be deprived of, and so lamented their future state; but the young grieved, not only for that, but also because it so happened that they were to be left by him before they had well tasted of his virtue.” Antiquities 4:8, 48.


Modern Estimation of the Child

Modern psychology and education considers the child’s mind as a clean tablet upon which anything can be written and it will stay. Scripture knows the child as conceived and born in sin, but in this that the modernist and infidel teacher can write what he pleases on the young mind and it will stay, there is much truth. It so happens that the devil knows this. His attack on souls in this age is largely through the schools and colleges, where the seed most surely takes deep root and bears the vile fruit which today swamps the law, the court, the penitentiary, and the gallows, to say nothing of the harvest Satan reaps for all eternity.

But speaking historically, the diligence with which Luther, one of the very first modern men, attended to the education of children is well known. To him, a lasting cleansing of the church was considered impossible without great stress laid upon teaching religion to the child in a Christian day-school. Perhaps most of us remember his forthright words: “It is a hard matter to tame old dogs and make old rogues pious, to do which the ministry labors and very often labors in vain; but it is an easier matter to bend and train young. trees, although indeed some may break during the process.” Luther also said, “Where the Holy Scriptures do not rule, there I would indeed advise nobody to place his child.”

The position of the church at Rome on the importance of child-training and segregated education is well known to all the world.

Nor are our churches alone in their estimation of the importance of youth. The frowning brows that rule with hard hands in Germany and Italy today have built up their systems upon the young. The ascendancy of both Hitler and Mussolini was definitely the result of a youth movement. The red hands of Russia are not a bit slow in making their system the textbook and teacher of the growing infants and children. In our own land the amount of effort expended upon the innocent children of the schools throughout our land by haters of God and things American can hardly be believed.

Dare we as children of God be less wise than the children of this world in the matter of the value of Christ’s lambs in our midst? Does it not behoove us to keep faith with the fathers? One of them said, in 1883: “A church without such (parochial) schools is like a ship going out on the great ocean without a plentiful supply of coal. If the coal is exhausted, parts of the ship must be taken for fuel, until the ship bids a sore aspect.” And in 1875 the President of our Synod confessed in his annual report: “As I see it, a thoroughly Christian educational system is the chief of all conditions for our church body’s health and development in this country. But in the gross neglect thereof, in a non-Christian, irreligious, more or less worldly-minded training of our children and youth, I see the decay and destruction of our beloved church within a few generations.” But if we are obedient to God’s will in this matter and faithfully do what God wills, then the children of our church will shine like diamonds in the crowns of saints in the kingdom above. “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying: This is the way; walk ye in it.” Is. 30:21.