“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6.)
This counsel is prompted by the conviction that training our children is the best antidote to the materialism, irreverent secularism, declining morality, adult and juvenile delinquency, increasing crime, and general disregard for the laws of God and the dignity of man that so plague our present world.
It is not my purpose to harrow up your souls by dwelling upon the sordid aspects of our times. My purpose in calling it to your attention is that unless these pernicious influences are checked in our families, and in our own lives, they presage great sorrow and sadness in the lives of parents, children, and all who succumb to the spiritually antagonistic philosophies, attitudes, and practices of our time.
The Church can and will assist parents in training their children. But it can only assist. The Church is not and cannot be a substitute for parents in their most urgent parental responsibility, which according to the Lord is to teach their children “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.” (D&C 68:25.)
Eighteen months after this instruction to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord explained that all children are innocent before him in their infant state, but thereafter “that wicked one cometh and [by persuading them to disobedience] taketh away light and truth. …
“But I have commanded you to bring up your children in light and truth.” (D&C 93:38–40.)
The Lord then communicated with some of the leading brethren, first Frederick G. Williams: “You have not taught your children light and truth, according to the commandments; and that wicked one hath power, as yet, over you, and this is the cause of your affliction.” I wonder if some of our afflictions, some of our own juvenile delinquency is because some of our children have not been taught light and truth.
The Lord did not leave Brother Williams in any doubt as to his responsibility in the matter, for he continued, “And now a commandment I give unto you—if you will be delivered you shall set in order your own house.” (D&C 93:41–43.)
The Lord then indicated to Sidney Rigdon that he had “not kept the commandments concerning his children” (D&C 93:44) and commanded him to do so. He also reproved Bishop Newel K. Whitney for the misconduct of his children, saying of him that he “hath need to … set in order his family, and see that they are more diligent and concerned at home.” (D&C 93:50.)
Even the Prophet Joseph Smith was reprimanded for failing to properly train his family: “Your family must needs repent and forsake some things.” (D&C 93:48.)
Parents today are under the same obligation as were these early brethren to guide their children and encourage them to forsake those things that discourage the presence of the Spirit in their lives. The consequences of failing to train our children in the principles of the gospel are just as serious now as they were then. Although in the revelation the Lord spoke to fathers, the obligation rests just as heavily upon mothers.
As we bear this great responsibility, we must not be so busy with feeding, clothing, housing, and otherwise looking after the temporal needs of our children that we neglect the important things, the things calculated to fortify them against the evils of the world and prepare them for eternal life. We must not, as someone has said, become so intent upon climbing the mountain that in our exhaustion we fail to see the view from the top. Some of us are so caught up in the things of this world that, I fear, we have lost sight of the gospel view.
It ought to be sobering to Latter-day Saints to contemplate how completely the juvenile misdeeds of our time would be eliminated if all practiced the things which the Lord has specifically directed us to teach our children.
Obedience, for example. “Your family must needs … give more earnest heed unto your sayings, or be removed out of their place,” said the Lord to the Prophet Joseph. (D&C 93:48.) And what were the Prophet’s sayings concerning lawlessness? “We believe in … obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” (A of F 1:12.)
Proper training in this fundamental principle of real and willing obedience to the laws of the land would effectively eliminate much vandalism and crime.
Another principle that the Lord has directed us to teach our children is work. Neglecting to teach this principle contributes to many of our present vexations with youth. “An idle brain,” so the saying goes, “is the Devil’s workshop.” This is no doubt true because the scriptures associate idleness with things most despicable. Describing the remnant of his people from the vision in which he saw them, Nephi said, “After they had dwindled in unbelief they became a … loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations.” (1 Ne. 12:23; italics added.)
In condemning idleness in our dispensation, the Lord associates it with juvenile delinquency and wickedness, specifically with greediness: “The idler,” he says, “shall be had in remembrance before the Lord,” adding, “I … am not well pleased with the inhabitants of Zion, for there are idlers among them; and their children are also growing up in wickedness; they also seek not earnestly the riches of eternity, but their eyes are full of greediness.” (D&C 68:30–31; italics added.)
I want to mention another practice that the Lord has specifically commanded us to teach our children—namely, to pray.
Speaking of the inhabitants of Zion, the Lord said, “They shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.” (D&C 68:28.)
“Pray always,” said the Lord to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work.” (D&C 10:5.)
Daily secret and family prayer is particularly imperative in this day when latter-day cultures seem to be trying to eliminate God and his righteousness from the daily lives and affairs of men.
No wise Latter-day Saint parent, with an understanding of the power of prayer and the irreligious trend of our society, will fail to train his or her children to pray. No person has a stronger weapon against the power of evil than he who with unbroken regularity goes night and morning on bended knee before our Heavenly Father in sincere and humble secret prayer.
Furthermore, I hope that parents do not underestimate the power of their own daily prayers in behalf of their children. It was the prayers of Alma in behalf of his wayward son and his son’s companions which helped bring them to repentance.
There are, of course, many other truths that the Lord expects us to teach our children. They are to be found in the scriptures and in the counsel of latter-day prophets.
But after knowing what it is we must teach, it is equally important to know how to teach gospel truths to our families. This matter of how to teach is something we must learn for ourselves through study, experience, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which “shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith.” (D&C 42:14.) Whatever our method, however, we should remember that our teaching, to be successful and effective, must convince our children that living the gospel is the way to happiness. If they feel that the discipline, attitudes, and practices to which they are subject are arbitrary, that without reason they restrict their activities and keep them from enjoying life, they will conform only so long as we have them under our immediate influence.
How, then, do we apply all that we do in a way that will encourage them to stay close to the gospel? The following counsel which the Lord gave to the Prophet Joseph Smith is a sure guide for all parents:
“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
“By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
“Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
“That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.” (D&C 121:41–44.)
By the exercise of patience, long-suffering, and love, the goodwill and confidence of our children will be won. If time and understanding are devoted to teaching and training them to voluntarily comply with the revealed truths of the gospel, little by little they will, responsive to your guidance, come to realize and appreciate that “men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Ne. 2:25.) The Prophet Joseph said, “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it.” Our children must, as a result of our guidance and through their own experience, come to believe and know that it is as the Prophet said: “This path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God.” (History of the Church, 5:134–35.)
Let us teach our children that, as Alma told his son, Corianton, “wickedness never was happiness.” (Alma 41:10.) Let us teach them that the consequence of procrastinating repentance is ultimately destruction: “Ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late,” Samuel the Lamanite told the wayward Nephites, “and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head.” (Hel. 13:38.)
Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we must help our children to understand these great truths as they grow up. We can help them to understand by approving proper conduct and by letting them know that improper conduct brings sorrow.
Ours or any society will be put in order only when, by precept and example, parents teach and inspire in their children a willing resolution to live the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For when one receives a witness of their divinity and glimpses the joy of their promise, he will pray fervently, work diligently, and strictly obey the commandments of God, which of course include the laws of the land.
I would like parents to feel the spirit of the Book of Mormon in this matter of training children. Speaking to his people who had been moved to repentance and strengthened in their faith by his great farewell address, King Benjamin instructed them concerning the training of their children:
“And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, … and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should … always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, … and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith. …
“And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins. …
“And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man … that which is his due.
“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, and serve the devil. …
“But ye will teach them to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.” (Mosiah 4:11–15.)
I remember reading that passage with one of my sons when he was in Primary. We were reading the Book of Mormon together, a verse at a time, he a verse and I a verse. As we read this passage, he was so moved by the statement “ye will not suffer your children that they … transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil” (Mosiah 4:14) that as he thought of some of his own pranks, tears came to his eyes. From that time, until he grew to be a man, if ever he was of a mind to quarrel and this statement was brought to his attention, his eyes would fill with tears.
I assure you, my brothers and sisters, that training our children will be easier if we can get into their hearts and feelings the attitude and spirit of this great sermon of King Benjamin. Let us seek to imbue our children with the spirit of the gospel and then our children will not have a mind to injure one another and others, but to live peaceably and to render to everyone that which is his due. Teach them, as Benjamin said, “to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; … teach them to love one another, and to serve one another.” (Mosiah 4:15.)
If mothers and fathers would, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, firmly conform their own lives to the commandments of the Lord and then follow his counsel and that of his prophets to train up their children in the way they should go, the Latter-day Saints would soon be at the gates of that glorious state enjoyed by the Nephites when “there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another,” when “because of the love of God which did dwell in [their] hearts … there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness.” (4 Ne. 1:2, 15–16.) So blessed were those Saints that the prophet historian said, “Surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.” (4 Ne. 1:16.)
Let us not forget that the Lord has given us the assurance that our present dispensation will enjoy a like society.
But we have much yet to do in setting aside the evil influences of our time. Latter-day Saint parents, teachers, and leaders, need to renew their diligence in setting their houses in order and, in fervent prayer, seeking to lovingly and successfully teach their children in the way that they should go to obtain true happiness in their lives.
Some Points of Emphasis. You may wish to make these points in your home teaching discussion:
1. Training our children is the best antidote to the problems that plague our present world.
2. The Church can and will assist parents in training their children. But it is not and cannot be a substitute for parents.
3. We must not be so busy with looking after the temporal needs of our children that we neglect the things calculated to fortify them against the evils of the world and prepare them for eternal life.
4. After knowing what it is we must teach, it is equally important to know how to teach gospel truths to our families. We must learn how for ourselves through study, experience, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which “shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith.”
5. Our teaching, to be effective, must convince our children that living the gospel is the way to happiness. By the exercise of patience, long-suffering, and love, the goodwill and confidence of our children will be won.
1. Relate your personal feelings about the importance of setting in order our houses. Ask family members to share their feelings.
2. Are there some scriptures or quotations in this article that the family might read aloud and discuss?
3. Would this discussion be better after a pre-visit chat with the head of the house? Is there a message from the quorum leader or bishop?