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From his commentary on the book of Proverbs


Charles Bridges (1794-1869) was a great evangelical leader in the Church of England of the 19th century.


Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)

The hopes of at least two generations hang upon this most important rule.  How can we look on a child without thoughtful anxiety?  An existence is commenced for eternity.  No power of earth or hell can crush it.  The whole universe does not afford an object of deeper interest.  It is an “arrow in the hand of a mighty man;” a most powerful instrument of good or evil, according to the direction that is given to it.  (Ps. 127:4.)  

Everything hangs on his training.  Two ways lie before him – the way in which he would go, headlong to ruin; and the way in which he should go, the pathway to heaven.  The rule for training implies obliquity.  A young and healthy tree shoots straight upwards, and, instead of putting forth crooked and deformed branches, gives promise of a fine and fruitful maturity.  

But all training, save [except] on the principles of the Bible, must be injurious.  To expand, without soundly enlightening, the mind, is but to increase its power for evil.  Far better to consign it to total ignorance, inasmuch as the uninstructed savage is less responsible, less dangerous, than the well-furnished infidel.  

Yet the religious training must not be the border of the garment, which might easily be cut off.  It must be the pervading substance throughout.  Begin, as Hannah did, with the dedication of the child to God.  (1 Sam. 1:28.)  This done – train him as God’s child, entrusted to your care.  Ask guidance from day to day – “How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?” (Judg. 13:12.)  Train him, as a baptized child, in the principles of his baptismal engagements.  Pray for him.  Teach him to pray.  Instruct him “from a child in the Holy Scriptures,” as the sole rule of faith, and directory of conduct.  [2 Tim. 3:15.  Comp. the wise man’s own training, chap. 4:3,4.]  

Indeed, unless you give a child principles, you leave him utterly helpless.  And yet too often parents have no established principles of education themselves.  The children are theirs.  Something therefore must be done for their training for future life.  But ignorant as they are of their moral state, and of their besetting evils, they are utterly unable to apply any effectual discipline.  The child therefore becomes the victim of his parent’s ignorance.  His education in all its important departments is neglected.  The impulse of caprice gives the only direction, and in this atmosphere of confusion parental authority soon fails to controul the far mightier influence of passion.  

Certainly, admitting the divine inspiration of the Scriptures, nothing can be more ruinous than to thrust them out of their place, as the sum and substance of educational principles.  Never was Scriptural training more momentous.  From a defect here many young persons are tossed to and fro in every vacillation of error; and the anxious attempt to set them right we find to be ‘building where there is no foundation, or rather, where there is not so much as ground to build upon.’  [South’s sermon on the text, vol. 1.]  In fact, the mind, abhorring a vacuum, must have some notions.  And the alternative is not between sound principles and none; but between wholesome truth and those crude or poisonous errors, which the subtle enemy is ever ready to inject, and the corrupt heart equally prepared to receive.  Nor let the formation of sound practical habits, diligence, industry, and self-government, be forgotten.  Let the child be trained, like the soldier under arms, to endurance, order and subjection. 

But we must not forget the distinct track of the educational training – the way in which the child should, not that in which he would, go.  Heaven and hell are not more opposite than these two ways.  Indeed they are identified with the narrow and broad way, in one of which every child of Adam is walking.  The child’s will revolting from God is the certain way to ruin.  The way back to God, marked out in the Bible, is consecrated by his blessing, and is the sure way to heaven.  Wisely does Solomon direct us to begin at the mouth or entrance of his way, [Heb. See Schultens and the general voice of critics.]  at the first opening intelligence.  The more early the training, the more easy the work, and the more encouraging the results.  Our character largely takes the form of that mould into which our early years were cast.  Much in after-life, both good and evil, may be traced back to the seed sown in the days of infancy.  It is a matter of experience, that what is early learnt, is most tenaciously retained.  It stands the friction of time with the least injury.  Far better, instead of waiting for the maturity of reason, to work upon the pliability of childhood.[1]  The gardener begins to graft in the first rising of the sap.  If the crooked shoots of self-will and disobedience are not cut off, their rapid growth and rapidly growing strength will greatly increase the future difficulty of bending them.  Present neglect occasions after risk and perplexity.  We may begin our work too late, but we can scarcely begin it too soon.  [Eccles. 11:6. Isa. 28:9, 10. Lam. 3:27]  If the child be too young to teach to read, he cannot be too young to teach to obey.  Never let the watchfulness to check the buddings of evil, and to cherish the first tenderness of right feeling, be relaxed.  The ceaseless activity of the great enemy teaches the value of early training.  Be beforehand with him.  Pre-occupy the ground with good seed, as the most effectual exclusion of his evil tares.  (Matt. 13:25-28.)  Be at the mouth of the way with wholesome food, ere he has the opportunity of pouring in his “bread of deceit;” ere nature is hardened by the habits of sin or brutalized by familiarity with vice.  

But this training must be practical.  The mere talk to a child about religion, without bringing it to bear upon his loose habits, and self-willed tempers, is utterly ineffective.  None of us liveth to himself alone.  We are all spreading around us an influence, whether for good or for evil.  Here therefore in our families lies the responsibility of Christian consistency.  If the child hears of godliness, and sees but wickedness, this is bringing him bread with one hand, and poison with the other; ‘beckoning him with the hand to heaven, and at the same time taking him by the hand, and leading him in the way to destruction.’ [Abp. Tillotson’s Sermon on Education.]  Who would receive even the choicest food from a leprous hand?  Neglect is far better than inconsistency; forgetfulness, than contempt of principle.  A child learns more by the eye than by the ear.  Imitation is a far more powerful principle than memory.  A well-trained child gladly looks to his parent’s godliness as his model picture, to copy after.  A wayward child eagerly seeks for the excuse of his own delinquency, and this discovery in parental example will harden him in infidelity and ungodliness.  

This training is indeed a work of watchful anxiety, attended with painful, and often long-protracted, exercise of faith and patience.  Who could hold on in it, but for the Divine support of the parental promise – When he is old, he shall not depart from it?  The man will be, as the child is trained.  Education is utterly distinct from grace.  But, when conducted in the spirit, and on the principles, of the Word of God, it is a means of imparting it.  Sometimes the fruit is immediate, uniform, and permanent to the end.  [1 Sam. 1:28. 3:20. 12:2, 3. Ps. 92:13-15]  But often "the bread cast upon the waters of the covenant is found," not till "after many days" (Eccles. 11:1); perhaps not till the godly parent has been laid in the grave.  [2 Chron. 33:11-13.  'It is no small mercy,' said Mr. Flavel, alluding to this case, 'to have thousands of fervent prayers lying before the Lord, filed up in heaven for us.' – Fountain of life, Sermon 20.]  Yet the fruit, though late, will not be the less sure.  (Hab. 2:3)  The child may depart when he is young.  But when he is old – in after years, smothered convictions will bring back the power of early impressions.  The seeds of instruction will burst forth into life.  [Timothy was instructed as a child, but not converted till adult age. Comp. 2 Tim. 3:15, with 1 Tim. 1:2]  He will find it "hard" in a course of sin "to kick against the pricks."  (Acts 9:5)  The Scriptures, fastened on his memory, will force themselves upon him with many a sharp and painful struggle.  Conscience will disturb his pleasures, and embitter the sweetness, which he had found, or fancied that he had found, in his sins.  The remembrance of his father's house brings the prodigal "to himself," and he comes home with shame in his face, tears in his eyes, and godly sorrow in his heart.  (Luke 15:17-20)  

If then the promise is not fulfilled, it is because the duty is not performed.  Never does God give a command, but he will give his sincere servant grace to obey it.  The duty is not therefore to lie down in despondency, or even heartless prayer, but to “go forward” (Exod. 14:13 ) in painful [painstaking] obedience.  With such a plain promise – the promise of “him who cannot lie, or repent,” and who will be true to every tittle of his word (Num 23:19 ) – need we ever be cast down? – “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18:14.)  Cultivate then the exercise of parental faith; trusting, not to what we see, but to what God has engaged; like our father Abraham, “against hope, believing in hope.”  ( Rom. 4:18-20.)  Expect the fulfilment of the parental promise, as confidently as any other free promise of the gospel.[2]  Exercise faith in the full energy of Christian diligence, and in the patience of Christian hope.  Leave God to accomplish his own gracious will.  If his Sovereignty reserves the time and means to himself, his faithfulness secures the promise to us, which is, and ever must be – “Yea, and Amen” – “I will be a God to thee, and to thy seed after thee.  I will pour out my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring.”  [2 Cor. 1:20.  Gen. 17:7.  Isa. 44:3-5.]

This is the reward of faith to those, who make the salvation of the soul the primary object of education.  But the mass of mankind deal with their children, as if they were born only for the world, with nothing to look to after death.  Wholly leaving out the mighty question – the great end of life – 'How this or that matter affects their soul' – the only thought is – 'Must they not be like others, to make their way in the world?'  Thus they fearlessly bring them into contact with the evil around them, set their feet in the "broad road of destruction," and bid them go on with the rest.  In all important matters they educate them consistently for time, not for eternity.  They concentrate their grand interest on matters, in which the soul has no concern; accomplishments or scholarship, not godliness; refinement of taste and manners, not soundness of faith.  Need we say, that this is an education without God, without his promise, without rest?  The parents of such children, and the children of such parents, are alike objects of compassion.  Eternity will bring a solemn account to both.


[1] Mr. Locke does not hesitate to affirm, 'that of all the men we meet with, nine parts out of ten are what they are, good or bad, useful or not, according to their education.'  Thoughts concerning Education.  The heathen moralists seem well to have understood the subject.  Horace, after alluding to the early discipline of the colt and the hound, applies it

– Nunc adbibe puro

Pectore verba, puer; nunc te melioribus offer.

Quo semel est imbuta recens, servabit odorem

Testa diu.– Epist. lib.i. ii. 67-70.

– Adeo in teneris consuescere multum est.' – Virg. Georg. ii. 272.

'Udum et molle lutum es; nunc, nunc, properandus, et acri

Fingendus sine fine rotâ.' Persius, Sat. iii. 23, 24.

[Note by author]


[2] Such as John 6:37 – couched in the same grammatical terms – a promise connected with a duty, as the encouragement to duty – “Him that cometh – he that traineth; – no wise cast out will not depart.  Yet the latter is often considered a general promise, admitting of various and indefinite exceptions.  The other is “Yea and Amen.”  But we might ask – How can we loosen the ground of one promise, without shaking the foundation of all?  And do not admitted exceptions in the educational promise give occasion to many an exercised Christian to find his own exception in the Gospel promise?  We fully concede, that here the ground is more clear to the exercise of faith.  We have the demonstrable certainty of the work of the Son, the faithfulness of the Father, and the agency of the Spirit, drawing the "given to come" –  the compact of the Eternal Three unchangeably fulfilled.  In this parental promise the manifestly imperfect training of the parent, and the wanton rebellion of the child, clouds the ground of faith to our vision.  But this touches only the apprehension of the ground, not the ground itself.  If the performance of the parent’s duty in the one promise were as certain, as the work of God in the other, would not the assurance of the promise in both cases be equally firm?  We cannot indeed anticipate an universal fulfilment of the promise.  Yet, as believers in the inspiration of Scripture, we are bound implicitly to receive it.  Is it not far safer and more satisfactory to take all the promises of the Bible upon the same ground?  The cases that appear to contravene the educational promise may be fairly explained.  The promise is not falsified, but the Lord’s time of fulfilment is not yet come.  Or – has not some important element of education been omitted?  Has not some disproportion of one or other part of the system hindered the efficiency of the whole?  Have instruction and discipline been always accompanied with prayer and faith?  Or has prayer been always confirmed by consistent practice?  Do not man’s indolence, self-indulgence, unbelief, unfaithfulness to the conditions implied, wither the blessing?  While Abraham, training up his family for God, shall find him “faithful that promised” (Gen. 18:19, with Heb. 10:23 ) the Elis and the Davids – good men, but bad parents – (1 Sam. 3:13 ; 1 Kings 1:6) shall know “God’s breach of promise.”  (Num. 14:34.)  It is too deep for man to reconcile the absolute election of God with weak, imperfect, unfaithful fulfilment of duty.  Nevertheless in all cases – “Let God be true, and every man a liar.”  (Rom. 3:4.) 

[Note by author]



A Commentary on Proverbs,” by Charles Bridges. First published 1846. This edition reprinted by The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987. pp 401-406.