Gouge (1575-1653): Correcting and Instructing Children

From Domestical Duties. 

Some headings are not the author’s.  There have also been some minor updating of old English words and punctuation.

And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. – Ephesians 6:4

Fix precepts in your children’s minds

The word “admonition,” according to the notation thereof, has a particular relation to the mind, and points out an informing and instructing of it. It is taken either for the action of admonishing (as Titus 3:10, “reject an heretic after the first and second admonition”), or for the thing admonished, in which latter sense most do here take it. Yet, would I not have the former clean [completely] excluded, for according to the full meaning of the word, I take thus much to be intended.

As parents deliver good precepts and principles to their children, so they must be careful, by forcible and frequent admonitions, to fix and settle them in the mind of their children. The Law expresses as much by another metaphor which it uses, in a direction which it gives to parents, saying, “thou shalt whet or sharpen God’s Laws upon thy children.” That is, “thou shalt teach them diligently unto them”.

The more pains that are taken in this kind, the less labour will be lost. That which at first is little heeded, by much urging and pressing, will for ever be held, as a nail that at one blow scarce enters, [yet] with many blows is knocked up to the head.

Add instruction to discipline

The addition of the word “admonition” unto “nurture”, is not (as some take it) a clear explanation of the same point, but also a declaration of a further duty, which is this:

As parents, by discipline, keep their children under, so by information they must direct them in the right way. Solomon both delivers the point, and also adds a good reason to enforce it; for says he, “Train up a child in the way that he should go” (there is the duty), “and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (and there is the reason) (Prov 22:6). Keeping a child under by good discipline may make him dutiful while the father is over him, but well-informing his understanding and judgment is a means to uphold him in the right way so long as he lives.

Teach your children the fear of God

The last word (of the Lord) [Eph 6:4; vis. “admonition”] intimates the best duty that a parent can do for his child. Admonition of the Lord declares such principles as a parent has received from the Lord, and learned out of God’s word.   Such as may teach a child to fear the Lord, such as tend to true piety and relation.  Whence further I observe that parents must especially teach their children their duty to God. “Come children” (says the psalmist) “hearken unto me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord”.

Correct your children

The latter and more proper kind of correction, which is by stripes and blows, is also a means appointed by God to help the good nurture and education of children. It is the last remedy which a parent can use, a remedy which may do good when nothing else can.

It is written by the Holy Ghost, both expressly commanded and also often pressed under these and such like phrases:

  • Chasten thy son (Prov 19:18)
  • Correct thy son (Prov 29:17)
  • Withhold not correction from the child (Prov 23:13)
  • Thou shalt smite him with the rod (Prov 23:14)

Were there no other motive, this would be sufficient. God’s charge was such a motive to Abraham, as at it he would have sacrificed his son (Gen 22:2,3), and will you not, at God’s command, correct your child?

It is further commended by God’s own example, which is not only set forth in some particular instances, but by His general [and] constant dealing with all, and that as an especial token and fruit of His love.

  • For whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives. (Heb 12:6)
  • If ye be without chastisement whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons (Heb 12:8)

Let this example of God be well weighed, for it is of great weight. Who can better tell what kind of dealing is fittest for children than God? Who can better nurture children than God? Who more truly aims at, and procures the good of children than God? Yea, who treats children better than God? If God, the father of spirits, in wisdom and love, deals so with His children, fathers of the flesh may not think by the contrary to so act in wisdom or love. Their wisdom will be folly; their love hatred [due to indwelling sin]. [Yet,] upon these grounds, it is taken for a thing granted that parents (who tender [consider] the good of their children, as they should) chastise their children as need requires.  For it is said that the Lord corrects whom He loves, as a father the son in whom he delights (Prov 3:12). If parents used it not, this would be no good inference to say, as a father (again, as a thing without controversy it is said), “We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us” (Heb 12:9).

The grounds of the equity of this duty, respect [concern] partly the children corrected and partly the parents that correct. In regard of children, it frees them from much evil and works in them much good.

Correction is as physic [medicine] to purge out much corruption which lurks in children, and as a salve to heal many wounds and sores made by their folly. In which respect Solomon says that:

  • Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him (Prov 22:15).
  • The blueness of a wound is a purging medicine against evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly (Prov 20:30).

In regard of the inward operation of this physic [medicine], correction is further said to preserve a child from death:

If thou beatest him he shall not die (Prov 23:13).

And that not only from   temporal death (as many children are thus preserved from the Magistrate’s sword), but also from external death:

Thou shalt deliver his soul from hell (Prov 23:14).

Note this, you cockering [overly-indulgent] parents, whose over-much lenity [unseasonable compassion] is very great cruelty. For may we not justly count him a cruel parent that should suffer diseases, boils, sores, and wounds to remain, increase, and fester in his child, and give him no physic, nor apply any plasters, or medicines to him? And who sees his son running into a flaming fire or deep water, and would not hold him back? Even so cruel, and more cruel are they, who suffer their children to run on in evil, rather than correct them.

Answers to objections

Objection 1: Who can endure to make his own child smart and to put him to pain?

Answer: The future fruit is more to be considered than the present pain. Potions, pills, and corrosives, are fulsome, bitter, and painful; but because there is a necessity of using them, and great mischief is prevented by the use of them, wise parents will not forbear them for the sensible bitterness and pain. The Apostle thus fitly answers that objection: “No chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Heb 12:11). This may be applied to parents’ corrections as well as to God’s.

The good which correction brings to children is by Solomon noted in this and such like phrases:

The rod gives wisdom (Prov 29:15),

for it makes children observe what is good, and what is evil; what is commendable, and what is blame-worthy, and accordingly [encourages him] to do the good and leave the evil, which is a great point of wisdom.

Objection 2: Instruction will better do this.

Answer: Instruction may give them more knowledge, but it is correction which brings them to practice what they know, which is the chief point of wisdom (Matt 7:24).

A promise of peace and quiet

In regard of parents, due correcting of their children both frees them of many inconveniences, and also brings to them much quiet.

  1. It spares them much pains. Many admonitions, oft repeated, and inculcated again and again, will not make many children so much to heed wholesome and good advice as [will] a little correction. They are much more sensible of smart [pain] than of words.
  2. It prevents much grief, shame, and vexation. A foolish son is a grief to his father and bitterness to her that bare him (Prov 17:25), but it is the rod of correction that drives away foolishness (Prov 22:15), and so prevents that grief and bitterness.
  3. It frees them from the guilt of their children’s sin, so as they are not accessory thereto, as Eli was (1 Sam 3:13). For correction is the last remedy that a parent can use. If by that he can do no good, it is presupposed that he has done his utter-most endeavour.  In which respect, though the child die in his sin, yet the parent has delivered his own soul.

The quiet which is brought to parents by correcting their children is thus noted out by Solomon, “Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest, yea he shall give delight unto thy soul” (Prov 29:17). For children well nurtured, and by correction kept in a filial awe, will so carry themselves as their parents may rest somewhat secure, and not disquiet themselves (as they do with children set at liberty).  Indeed, as trees well pruned and ground well tilled, they will bring forth pleasant and abundant fruit; and so their parents will have just cause to rejoice in them.

Specific counsel in correcting your children

For well using this biting corrosive of correction, parents must have respect to the matter for which they do correct, and to their manner of correcting.

In regard of the matter, these three things must be noted:

  1. That they be sure there is a fault committed. There must be just cause of correcting, or else more hurt than good will proceed from thence. If corrosive be laid where there is no sore, it will make one. If correction be unjustly given, it may provoke to wrath but will do little good. This is it wherein earthly fathers are taxed, and made unlike to God, for that many times they correct after their own pleasure (Heb 12:10), which is a point of great injustice.
  2. That the fault be made known to the child corrected. Correction must be for instruction, which cannot be [so] except the child know why he is corrected.  For it is all one [the same] to him as if he were corrected for no fault, if he does not know his fault. God thus at first proceeded with the serpent, with Eve, and with Adam (Gen 3:11). Thus [do] judges proceed in punishing malefactors. Yea thus will men [even] deal with a dog. Should they not much more with a child?
  3. That the faults be such especially, as the parents can shew to their children (if at least they be of so much discretion) to be against God’s Word; as swearing, lying, pilfering, and the like: for (a) these are most dangerous faults, and therefore more carefully to be purged out, and (b) the child corrected will thus be the better evicted [convinced] of his fault, the more [he may] condemn himself, and more contentedly [he might well] bear the correction.

In regard of the manner of correcting, four general and four particular rules are to be observed:

General rules

  1. An eye must be had to God’s manner of correcting His children, and in particular of God’s correcting the parent Himself. No better general direction can be given, for God’s pattern is a perfect rule.
  2. Prayer must be made by parents for themselves and for their children. For themselves, to be directed in doing it; for their children, to be bettered by it. Thus will good physicians in ministering physic [medicine]. In all duties prayer is to be used, and especially in this. A parent is ready [i.e., quick], partly through his own intemperate passion and partly through the child’s impatience, to fall into one extreme or other. This is not to impose upon all, whensoever they take up the rod, to go and make a solemn prayer, but to lift up the heart for direction and blessing.
  3. Correction must be given in love. All things must be done in love (1 Cor 16:14). Much more this than carry a shew of anger and hatred. In love, they will give physic [medicine] to their children, and splinter a joint, if need be. God corrects his children in love; so must parents.  Love will make them do it with tenderness and compassion.
  4. Correction must be given in a mild mood, when the affections are well ordered, and not distempered with choler [anger], rage, fury, and other like passions. Disturbed passions cast a mist before the understanding, so as a man cannot discern what is enough, [or] what [would be] too much. When passion is moved, correction must be deferred. God corrects in measure.

Particular rules

The particulars are these:

  1. Due order must be kept. Correction by word must go before correction by the rod. “I rebuke and chasten, saith the Lord”. Thus a parent will shew that he takes no delight in smiting his child. It is necessity that forces him thereunto. Thus a parent shews himself to be like God who does not punish willingly (Lam 3:33). Physicians, when they minister strong physic [medicine], will give a preparative, [and so] rebuke may be as a preparative. Good and pitiful surgeons will try all other means before they come to [pierce with a] lance and spear.
  2. Due respect must be had to the party corrected. If he be young and tender, the lighter correction must be used. Solomon oft mentions a rod, as meet [suitable] oft for a child, for that is the lightest correction. So, if the child be of a flexible and ingenuous disposition, soon snapped, the correction must accordingly be moderated. If he be well grown, and withal be stout [strong] and stubborn, the correction may be more severe.
  3. Due respect must be had to the fault. Sins directly against God, open, notorious, scandalous sins, known sins, sins often committed, in which they are grown up, and whereof they have gotten an habit, are with greater severity to be corrected.
  4. A parent must behold his own faults in correcting his child’s. This will ensure that more compassion will be wrought in him.

Avoid over-correction

They who offend in the other extreme of severity, of the two [extremes of over-indulgence and severity] are the more unnatural parents.   These offend directly against the first branch of the text, “Provoke not to wrath”. Nothing more provokes than immoderate severity: for…

  1. It argues no love in the parent but rather hatred, at least wrath and other such like distempered affections.
  2. It does not soften the child’s heart, but rather hardens it.
  3. It makes him [the child] dull and stupid, and clean [completely] perverts the right and true end of correction.
  4. It oft makes a child think of doing some mischief to his parent or to himself.

Watch for these evidences

That parents may the rather take heed of this extreme, I will briefly note wherein excess in severity is showed.   It is showed, when correction is given…

  1. For no fault. In this case, though correction be never so light, it is too severe.
  2. For small faults, in wrath and fury, though the stripes be few and light, yet the parent’s behaviour is too much severity.
  3. To children that are young and tender, or soft, mild and ingenuous, as if they were in some years, the most obstinate and perverse that could be.
  4. Too often, for everything done amiss. Parents should rather seem not to see or hear many things which they see and hear.
  5. Too sorely. The child is lamed, or some way so hurt, as he shall feel it as long as he lives.