“Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord. … 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.)
The Lord commanded Adam and Eve to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” with their children (Gen. 1:28), with the promise that they would find joy in their posterity.
However, he has always required that parents do more for their children than simply beget them. Parents are expected and even commanded to teach their children the gospel of Jesus Christ and to help them learn how to apply it to the events and circumstances of life.
This major facet of parenthood was highlighted by King Benjamin when he admonished his people:
“And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another. …
“But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; … to love one another, and to serve one another.” (Mosiah 4:14–15.)
And the Proverbs tell us that the “rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.” (Prov. 29: 15.)
In writing to Timothy, Paul outlined the qualifications of a bishop, qualifications that apply to all fathers. He wrote that a bishop should be “one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity: (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God?)” (1 Tim. 3:4–5.)
To the Latter-day Saints the Lord has said: “… inasmuch as parents have children … that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin shall be upon the heads of the parents. … And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.” (D&C 68:25, 28.)
There have also been warnings and reproof when parents, for whatever reason, have neglected to lead their children correctly. Joseph Smith recorded: “Now, I, the Lord, am not well pleased with the inhabitants of Zion, … and their children are also growing up in wickedness. …” (D&C 68:31.)
In some instances, the Lord has spoken of specific parents. For example:
“… I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth. But … Frederick G. Williams, … You have not taught your children light and truth, according to the commandments.” (D&C 93:40–42.)
“Verily I say unto … Sidney Rigdon, that in some things he hath not kept the commandments concerning his children; therefore, first set in order thy house.” (D&C 93:44.)
In earlier days some Nephite fathers were so negligent in family responsibilities that Jacob said to them: “… Ye have … lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you …” (Jacob 2:35), “and also remember that ye may … bring your children unto destruction, and their sins be heaped upon your heads at the last day” (Jacob 3:10).
How often do we tend to rationalize parental neglect with activity in the Church? Eli ministered faithfully in his calling as a priest but apparently neglected his family. When his children followed after wickedness, the Lord said: “… I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house. … For I have told him that I will judge his house for ever for the iniquity which he knoweth; because his sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.” (1 Sam. 3:12–13.)
Parents who are careless in the gospel unwittingly teach their children to be careless. We read: “And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.” (D&C 93:39.)
As Ezekiel succinctly put it: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” (Ezek. 18:2.)
Although we know the scripture says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6), we wonder sometimes what is happening to our children with all the training we give them. But as they mature, children tend to fall back on the ways of their parents, even though they sometimes stray a little as youngsters. Good teaching by parents may not bear its real fruit until the children are mature.
There are many examples of parents teaching the gospel to their children. Adam and Eve “made all things known unto their sons and their daughters.” (Moses 5: 12. See also Moses 6:6.) Of Abraham, the Lord said: “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord. …” (Gen. 18:19.)
We know too that Nephi, “having been born of goodly parents, … was taught somewhat in all the learning of [his] father. …” (1 Ne. 1:1.)
Enos tells us, “… [my father] taught me in his language, and also in the nurture and admonition of the Lord—and blessed be the name of my God for it … and the words which I often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.” (Enos 1:1, 3.)
Paul delineated a parental pitfall when he commented that there were in the church “ten thousand instructors,” but not many “fathers.” (1 Cor. 4: 15.) The need, therefore, is not for parents who merely give facts, but for fathers who comfort and exhort “as a father doth his children.” (1 Thes. 2:11.)
Furthermore, Paul was calling for gentleness in correcting children when he said: “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged” (Col. 3:21), “but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4), for “the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle … , apt to teach, patient” (2 Tim. 2:24).