I must confess that despite being a parent of two beautiful children, I have not read many parenting books. This is primarily because I don’t like them – they annoy me. I’ve read the Bible, though, and that seemed sufficient to me.
However, reading topical books can often give us helpful insights and food for thought. A few months before the birth of my first-born son, I started skimming through some parenting books. All I saw was page after page of expert ‘opinion’ and supposed ‘wisdom’ that ignored God as the author and director of life, endowed children with saintly innocence, and gave no thought to the reality of death and what may come after it. Hardly any of these books spoke about true parenting: how to bring up our children in ‘the training and instruction of the Lord’ (Eph. 6:4).
This is where J.C. Ryle’s booklet Duties of Parents stands almost alone in this oversaturated market.
Written over one hundred years ago, the language of this little booklet has become outdated, but the principles it gives us for parenting have not. In the past, when speaking with expectant parents, I would recommend Ryle’s booklet to them, but in the back of my mind would be aware of the fact that for some, the language would be hard to understand and therefore put some people off. So, in the spring of 2011, I set about using my spare time to translate the booklet into modern English.
I have tried to put the content of the booklet into modern English in such a way that will make sense to us in the here and now without losing the essence of what Ryle was originally trying to convey. As I have worked through the booklet, I must admit that it has challenged me and brought me to account with regard to my parenting. There have been a number of instances where I have had to think long and hard about what Ryle was saying and whether or not I agree with it. This has been a healthy thing for me because I have had to put aside my cultural presuppositions, go back to the Bible and allow it to have the authority over my heart and Ryle’s work, not vice versa. Kirsten, my wife, usually observed the greatest change in me and our family as a result of wrestling with these difficult sections. It is also worth noting that J.C. Ryle deserves much credit because in these instances it was my heart that needed correcting, not his work.
A number of the principles in the booklet will be hard to hear and even harder to put into practice. For instance, the chapter entitled Your Children and Church will challenge your assumptions on how you parent your children in your church, and the chapter on Your Children and Obedience will stand out as being massively countercultural. But just because something is challenging or goes against the grain of our culture does not make it irrelevant or wrong. J.C. Ryle’s work is founded on God’s Word from the outset, and is full of biblical principles for parenting. ‘. . . the word of God is living and active . . . it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow’ (Heb. 4:12). Biblical parenting is timeless and therefore always timely, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel.
It is common for parents to be weighed down with the sheer burden of trying to be ‘good’ parents. We must always keep in tension our responsibility and God’s sovereignty in every aspect of our lives – including our parenting. Our responsibility is to train our children to know and rightly fear Jesus as Lord. God’s sovereignty is what actually brings them to know and rightly fear Jesus as Lord – and this is a gift of grace. We mustn’t pair one off against the other, or overlook one for the other. We must take our responsibility seriously, repent if need be . . . and leave the rest to God.
If you want to be a good Christian parent, then start by recognising that you cannot do it – at least not on your own. Humble yourself before your heavenly Father and, trusting in all that Jesus has done, ask him to make you into a parent after his own heart through the work of his Spirit in you. Then, by grace, you are free from all condemnation and guilt and can get on with the job of being the parent that Scripture directs you
And so my prayer is that this booklet is easy to understand and is practically useful, while remaining biblically grounded – and therefore honouring to Ryle’s original work.
Taken from the Foreword of Duties of Parents.