Restraining Children

A Sermon by Glenn Conjurske

Recorded, Transcribed, and Largely Revised

Last Sunday morning we talked about disciplining children, and at the end of that sermon I rather cut things short, because I was running out of time, but we looked at two scriptures towards the end of that sermon, and I want to begin with those two this morning. The first one is in I Samuel 3:13. God is speaking of the house of Eli. Beginning at verse twelve he says, “In that day I will perform against Eli all things which I have spoken concerning his house: when I begin, I will also make an end. 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.” Eli’s sons were bad, and the responsibility for it is laid upon Eli himself. It says, “for the iniquity which he knows.” He knew what his sons were, and he didn’t restrain them. He likely reproved them, but that is not enough. Some parents reprove and nag their children all day long, and never restrain them at all. All of their reproving is worse than useless—-does a great deal more harm than good—-unless they restrain their children by the use of authority. That means requiring something of them, and enforcing it by discipline. Nothing else can be called restraining, and anything less is not worth a straw. The more you talk, without enforcing, the more damage you do to your children, and the less they respect your authority.

The responsibility for all of this falls upon Eli, but the judgement falls upon Eli’s sons. This is a solemn thing when you are dealing with immortal souls—-and every one of those little children is an immortal soul.

Now whatever your doctrinal persuasion is, whether you’re Calvinist, or Arminian, or any shade between, or maybe any shade on either end, everybody believes in the depravity of the human race. You believe in the depravity of man. However you want to explain it, or however your doctrine exactly comes out, you do believe in the depravity of man. All you have to do is look around you, or read the newspaper, and if you don’t believe in it, you will. Man is evil. But here a difficulty comes in. We have a conviction of the depravity of man, and yet when it comes to their own children, a lot of parents don’t seem to be able to feel it. It seems that though the race is depraved, their own child can do no wrong. I’ve seen this even when the children were full grown. In the case of a divorce that I knew of, this fellow was really quite a scoundrel. He was a hard fellow to live with. He had a violent temper. And yet in his mother’s eyes it was all the wife’s fault. “My boy is all right.” Well, I told her, “When you take that kind of ground, and defend your boy, and excuse your boy, when he certainly is at least one half at fault, you’re only hurting him. You’re not helping him at all. You’re not helping the situation at all, either.” But I believe that the human race is depraved, and that means your children are depraved, and that is the big reason why we need to restrain them.

There are two reasons why, by nature, they are not going to do what’s right. In the first place, because they don’t know what it is. When they’re born they are absolutely ignorant. They know nothing. They have no idea what they ought to do, or what they ought not to do. They don’t have any idea that they shouldn’t play out in the middle of the road, or that they shouldn’t touch the hot stove, or that they shouldn’t play with your glass dishes. They know nothing. And the second reason is, because even when they do know what they ought to do, they are inclined to do the opposite, because of the inherent depravity of the human race. They are inclined to do what they know they ought not to do, and they’re inclined not to do what they know they ought to do. And therefore it’s the parents’ responsibility and duty to restrain children. In other words, not to allow them to do what they want to do.

Now, it’s a plain fact that a child who is not restrained will grow up to be without restraint. In plain English, he will be wicked.

Now, I want you to turn to the other scripture that we looked at last Sunday, which is in I Kings, chapter one. You see here the case of David, who was a man after God’s own heart, and who failed miserably in raising his own children. I suppose that David had enough children that he probably had some good ones, but he also had several that we know of that were very bad. And it gives you the reason why some of David’s children were very bad in this first chapter of I Kings, the sixth verse. We’ll begin with verse five, “Then Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, I will be king: and he prepared him chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him.” In other words, he prepared a rebellion against the king. And the reason for this is given in the next verse. It says, “His father had not displeased him at any time in saying, Why hast thou done so?” David evidently had a weakness. He was a man after God’s own heart. He was a shepherd. He was a gentle and tender shepherd. And it may be that his weakness was a carrying too far of a strength, and that often happens. Some people are strong to the point of weakness in certain things. You know too much of a good thing is a bad thing. David may have been a very gentle shepherd, but he was evidently gentle to the point of softness. And softness is always destructive. David had one son who raped his sister, and another who murdered his brother. How did David’s sons get to be that way? I suppose in the same way that this son, Adonijah, got to be where he was. David didn’t restrain or displease him. Probably when the young fellow was two years old, when he wanted to pull the cat’s tail, David let him pull the cat’s tail. Why? Well, because he wanted to. And if he wanted to go out and pick the flowers, then David let him pick the flowers, because he wanted to do it. It says, “He had not displeased him at any time by saying why hast thou done so?” If his child wanted to sit in the meeting and take a hairbrush and beat on the chair, he let him do it. Or if he wanted to turn the light off and on, then his father just let him do it—-no harm in it.

You see what I’m suggesting here are things that children should be restrained from doing. They ought to be restrained from whatever is improper, and from whatever does not pertain to them. I had a fellow in the congregation who let his two-year-old son hold a hymn book while we sang. I asked him why he did it, and he said, “I’m teaching him responsibility.” Said I, “No, you’re teaching him irresponsibility. You’re teaching him that he can have what does not pertain to him.” Children ought to be restrained merely for the sake of teaching them restraint. If they’re allowed to have whatever they please, well, when the kid is two years old he may be pulling the cat’s tail, and when he’s five years old, maybe putting a clothes pin on the cat’s tail. Maybe when he’s twelve, drowning the cat. And when he’s sixteen he’ll be raping his sister. Whatever he wants he just takes it, because he has never been restrained. He’s never learned to take “no” for an answer. He hasn’t had his will crossed. He hasn’t been displeased.

Now the only way in the world that you can restrain a child is to displease him. And this it says David had not done. He had not displeased his son at any time. David had another son, Absalom, who was a murderer and a rebel. And I suppose the same process took place. When he was a little kid, if he wanted to pull the shades up and down, or open and shut the curtains, or turn the light off and on, or play with the china tea pot, he wasn’t restrained. Oh! you mothers would restrain him from that, for fear he would hurt the tea pot, but you don’t worry about the lack of restraint hurting the child. Absalom was left to do what he wanted to do. If he wanted to sit in a meeting and play with a Bible or hymn book, he was allowed to do it. Just because he wanted to. And when he got bigger he was not in the habit of taking “no” for an answer. Whatever he wanted to do, he did it. If he wanted to kill his brother he did it. If he wanted to take the kingdom he did it. And the same thing with Adonijah. When he was a little boy, he wasn’t restrained. It says specifically concerning him, “His father had not displeased him at any time, saying, Why hast thou done so?” In other words, if Adonijah did something, David just winked at it, and said, “That’s all right. It’s innocent. It doesn’t hurt anything. Let him do it.” When he grew up, he said, “I think I’ll take the kingdom.” Then it was too late, of course, to displease and restrain him. Charles Wesley wrote a very solemn poem on this scripture, “His father had not displeased him at any time.” It says,

“The parent indolently mild
May here his fatal dotage see:
Afraid to vex thy darling child,
Thy darling child shall trouble thee,
Make his indulgent father smart,
And break thy old, fond, foolish heart.

“What pity ’tis to cross his will,
His clamorous appetites deny,
Restrain the acts of childish ill,
And make the fretted infant cry,
Harshly his little faults reprove!
How can I grieve the son I love?

“Continue then thy son to please,
Leave him to nature’s discipline,
Till ripe in full-grown wickedness
He claims the wages of his sin,
The wrath of heaven’s impartial Lord,
The edge of the Avenger’s sword.”

Now it may be difficult to see the connection between Adonijah’s end and the fact that when he was two-years old his father didn’t restrain him from little, apparently harmless or innocent things that he wanted to do. But it says, “His father didn’t displease him.” It may be difficult to see the connection, but a child that isn’t restrained does grow up to be without restraint. And by the way, if he isn’t sufficiently restrained, he’ll grow up without sufficient restraint—-and there will be little difference in the end. As time goes on the little, innocent things won’t satisfy him any more, and he’s going to have to start taking bigger things, until when he comes to the final end of the thing he says, “I’ll take the kingdom.”

I want you to see something about this man’s character. In I Kings 1:5, he’s determined that he’s going to take the kingdom. He was miserably defeated, but it didn’t cure him. It didn’t change his character in the least. He didn’t walk softly, and say, “I’ve learned my lesson.” No, just the reverse. You go to the second chapter of II Kings, and you find him going through Solomon’s mother to ask for Abishag the Shunammite—-the most beautiful young woman they could find in the kingdom. He had no sense of the fact that he didn’t deserve anything, but just figured that if he wanted it, he could have it. You would think that after he had been such a rebel, and determined to take the kingdom for himself, and was defeated, you would think he would have gone home and walked softly, and said, “I’d better behave myself.” But no, he was used to getting whatever he wanted, and did not know how to take “No” for an answer. Solomon saw plainly enough what kind of character it manifested, that he would make such a request at such a time, and he said, “He’s spoken this word against his own life.” And all of this was the result of his lack of restraint from the time that he was a little child. His father never displeased him, and said, “Son, you can’t have that.”

The fact is this: You want to discipline and restrain your children as God restrains you, because you are in the place of God to your children. It is a simple fact that the Bible itself is essentially a book of restraint. It is filled with negative commandments—-New Testament as well as Old Testament. The way to heaven is “the narrow way.” It is the way of self-denial and self-restraint. The way to hell is the broad way—-the way which is without restraint.

Now, we ought to be dealing with our children exactly the same way. In other words, we should not leave them free to do what they choose to do. We should be telling them what they ought to do, and for several good reasons. For one, because you know better than your children what ought to be done. You know what’s good for them. You know what’s good for yourself, and that, by the way, should be a consideration. If you need quiet, your children should not be allowed to make noise. You know what’s good for the household. If you let every child in the household do exactly what he pleases, you’ll have a mighty sorry household. The Bible gives us prohibitions, numerous prohibitions. And on the other side, positive commandments, things that we must do. Why is this? Well, every one of those things that God tells us that we must do, or that we cannot do, is crossing our will. The things which he forbids us to do are the very things that we would naturally be inclined to do. The things which he commands are the very things that we would not be inclined to do.

Now, that’s exactly the way we ought to be dealing with our children. And I will say this: the well-being of your child is absolutely dependent upon it. How is it that we have any security at all in God’s dealings with us? How do we know that we’re accepted with God? “Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” (I John 2:3). If we didn’t have any commandments, we could not have any security. I was talking with a hyper-Calvinist one time—-a Primitive Baptist—-and you would think if anybody on earth should have assurance of salvation, it should be a Calvinist. But this fellow had none. You know why? Because in his doctrine nothing depended upon himself or upon anything that he did. He could not say, “Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” Keeping the commandments of God had nothing to do with the question. The sovereign will of God determines all—-the secret and unrevealed decree of God. And he explicitly denied that he had any security of salvation. You can’t know who’s saved. You can’t know by their life. But this nonsense only goes to prove to me and enforce more strongly to me that that is where our security is. We have our sense of security only in the fact that we know what God’s will is, and we do it. And if it weren’t for all the “bands and cords” that he laid upon us, we couldn’t have any sense of security—-and neither can your child.

The fact is, the children and young people of the world are crying out for authority. They want somebody to tell them what to do, and nobody will. Therefore they’re insecure. There are two things that will make a child insecure. One is lack of love, and the other is lack of authority. Children must have both to be secure. I think David lost his sons because he was too soft. There’s danger on both sides. You can be too soft with your children, and you can to be too hard on them. The two things that must come into play in raising children are love and authority. If you’re all on the side of love, you’re too soft. If you’re all on the side of authority, you’re too hard. Now I’ll say this, I believe that if you’re too hard with your children you may probably lose about half of them. If you’re too soft, you’ll lose them all. And generally what happens is that when parents are too hard—-too much on the side of authority—-the children will rebel, or at least go through a rebellious stage. But usually they’ll come back. But when parents are too soft, they lose their children forever. David was too soft. He didn’t restrain his children, and he didn’t displease them.

And one thing that you have to understand about restraining children is that the only way that you can do it is by displeasing them. I’ve seen parents who try to restrain their children without displeasing them, and it doesn’t work. It’s a constant battle, and the child is almost always on top. Instead of displeasing the child, they try to bribe him. “Johnny, if you quit that, I’ll give you a piece of candy.” Or try to pacify him—-or sweet-talk him—-or try to make a trade—-or distract him. “Johnny, if you’ll get down off of that top shelf, I’ll let you play with the teddy bear.” Or try to coax him. I’ve been in houses where it was absolutely unpleasant just to be there. You could not carry on a conversation, because the mother had to spend half or three-quarters of her time trying to pacify, and bribe, and coax, and sweet-talk, and soft-talk this little toddler to get him to do her will. But she was determined she was going to do everything but displease him. No conversation possible because of the constant interruptions—-mother constantly trying to restrain little Johnny, without displeasing him. And, of course, the child is running the house. He needs a mother who will lay down the law, and say, “This is what you will do, and this is what you will not do, and I will not hear one word of back-talk about it.”

Displease your child. In plain English, cross his will, and say, “Johnny, you can’t do that, and the reason you can’t is because your father says so.” If they don’t have that restraint, that well-defined limit as to what they can do and can’t do, they won’t have any security. When a child doesn’t know what’s expected of him it will make him insecure, and it will make him bitter. And it will make him unrestrained and self-willed.

And by the way, you start when the kids are little. You start when they learn how to reach out for things, and learn how to crawl around and get into things that don’t pertain to them. That’s when you start restraining them. And at that time you’ll find it easy to do. I have found it so. If you don’t do it then, you’ll find it much more difficult when they get older—-when self-indulgence has become their habit and character.

And you know, every once in a while you’ll have a family come to visit your home, and the kids can’t stay out of anything. The kids are into everything that doesn’t pertain to them—-can’t keep their hands off anything. Why is that? Because they’re not restrained at home. They’re allowed to do what they want to do at home. I’ve seen the same thing in the grocery store. The little kids go into the store, and their fingers are into everything they can reach. They grab the strawberries out of the bin, and start eating them. They grab the candy bars, and their mother’s a wreck by the time she gets done shopping, because she spent the whole time running after little Johnny trying to keep him out of everything, without creating a scene, or having him throw a tantrum. Well, if she would simply restrain him at home, she wouldn’t have any such trouble. I take my little children to the store, and I may remind them when we go in the door, and say, “You understand now you can’t touch anything in the store”—-and that’s the end of it. But they know what it is to be restrained.

Now you see they have to learn to take “No” for an answer. They have to learn to be denied. And, the result of that when it is consistently done, is that they will learn how to deny themselves. And that is one of the first principles of Bible religion—-“Deny yourself.” The child who has not been denied has an awfully hard time learning to deny himself. Amnon looked at his sister and fell violently in love with her. He didn’t know how to deny himself. He didn’t know how to say in his heart, “She is not for me, and desperately as I want her, I will not touch her.” No, he just went and took her and deceived her and raped her. He didn’t know how to deny himself. He had never been taught to be denied. And of course that’s the problem with the American society today. No self-denial. And this self-indulgence is nearly as rampant in the church as it is in the world. Indeed, there are many who preach it as the gospel.

But by restraining your child, you can actually bring him near to the kingdom of God. You can teach him to deny himself—-which he absolutely must do to repent and follow Christ. But if he’s allowed to do as he pleases, and to have his own way, oh! he’ll have a hard time of it to learn to deny himself and take up his cross and follow Christ.

Now what is it that you should restrain your children from doing? First of all, from doing anything which is intrinsically naughty. In that category I put fussing, sassing, fighting with brothers and sisters, any kind of back-talk or making excuses. With some children, every time you require something of them, their first word is, “Why?” Why are they saying “why?” to you every time you tell them to do something? It’s just a form of asserting their will against yours. And so I would say to my children, “If you really want to know why, I have no objection at all to your asking why. But you do the thing first, and then ask me why.” But I know my own children. They were not asking why because they wanted to know why. They were just resisting my will. For this they should be disciplined, and they ought to be taught that they cannot answer back when they are told to do something. This ought to be an axiom in their existence, as it was with one little boy I knew, who had it so ingrained in his mind that he could not say “why?” that he couldn’t say the alphabet. Whenever his father got to “x, y, z,” he shook his head and said, “No say Y.”

Another thing that I’ve had difficulty with in some of my children is making excuses. Every time you tell a child to do something they make an excuse. In other words they give you a reason, or an excuse, why they shouldn’t have to do it. “Son, I’d like you to go out and get some fire wood.” “Oh, it’s not my turn.” “It’s too cold out.” “I don’t have any shoes on.” “I can’t find my coat.” Usually the excuses that they give you aren’t even true. It’s just a way to resist your will, and it should not be allowed. They should be restrained from it, and be brought to the place of immediate, exact, and cheerful obedience.

Some have raised the question, “Should we discipline children for other things besides directly disobeying us?” And I believe, yes, we should. We should discipline them for anything that is intrinsically naughty—-such as fussing, fighting, and sassing. You say, “Well, what if they didn’t know any better?” If you’re doing your job that could only apply to the first offense. If they’ve been fussing for a year and still don’t know any better, you are desperately derelict in your duty. The first thing involved in restraining children is to let them know what they can and can’t do, and they should be definitely restrained from anything that’s intrinsically naughty, anything that’s wrong or evil.

That part is obvious. But let’s go farther than that. Anything which is a nuisance. Now at this point some of you may begin to disagree with me, but listen to me anyway. Anything which is unnecessary and a nuisance, they should be restrained from doing—-from carelessly kicking up rugs or slamming doors, or leaving doors open which ought to be shut. You can say, “It’s innocent. He doesn’t know any better. He’s just a child. You know you have to let children be children.” But what he’s doing is a nuisance, and that carelessness which you wink at belongs to that child’s character, and it is not innocent at all. It’s depravity. It’s selfish thoughtlessness, which will characterize your child for the rest of his days, if you don’t get down to business and root it out of him. I know as a matter of fact that a great many parents will not restrain children from that kind of thing. Mothers will run themselves ragged running around the house picking up after their children, or closing doors after them—-or stand by and allow them to ruin the door, or the landlord’s door, by slamming it. They should be restrained from that kind of behavior. They should be taught that you don’t take things down and leave them on the floor. You put them back up when you’re done with them. They should be restrained from any kind of behavior which is unnecessary and any way a nuisance, or any way harmful—-which makes work for other people, damages anything, or undoes anything that ought not to be undone.

Children should also be restrained from everything which is improper or unbecoming. Some little children will walk up to any adult and strike up a conversation—-or join in the conversation of the adults as though they were one of them. This is unbecoming, and if you will observe such children, you will probably find that they are the same ones who can’t keep their hands off what doesn’t pertain to them. They’re unrestrained. They don’t know their place. I know foolish parents who deal with their children as though they were their equals, and of course the children return the compliment. I have often seen children who for every little whim will stand outside, or out in the other room, and call “Mommie, Mommie”—-and Mommie dutifully puts down her work and goes to see what he wants. So the child treats his mother as an inferior. Such conduct is disrespectful. He ought to be taught to come to you when he wants something—-and not to interrupt you, either, but to wait till he’s recognized, and then speak. Of course it’s a different matter if he has his fingers caught in the dresser drawer, but I’m not talking about emergencies.

Children of course ought to be restrained from everything that does not pertain to them. I have seen households where everything in the house was a toy. The kids could play with everything in the house. I’ve seen a little toddler walk up beside her mother, take a pen out of her purse, and go toddling around the building with it. Well, Mama says, “There’s nothing wrong with it. They’re not hurting anything.” I tell you, it will be a wonder if they don’t hurt something, but meanwhile it’s hurting the child. Children should be told “These things pertain to you. These you can have at any time or all the time. Nothing else in the house is yours, and if you want anything else, you ask for it.” And don’t be afraid to say “No” when he asks. You know this may eliminate some dangerous situations as well as some embarrassing situations. When the kids go to the friend’s house and start pulling their plants up, or taking their dishes out of the cupboard, it can be pretty embarrassing. It can also be dangerous. We had a friend when we lived in Michigan who was “embarrassed to death” because she was calling the poison center all the time. Well, the problem was, the child was not properly restrained. I always chuckle a little when I see all these little bottles that say, “Keep out of reach of children.” I don’t have to keep everything out of the reach of my children. They know it doesn’t pertain to them, and they leave it alone. This idea of keeping things out of their reach doesn’t work anyway. Most of the children I’ve known are half monkey, and it’s pretty hard to keep things out of the reach of a monkey—-unless you keep it under lock and key, and lock the key in the cabinet with the poison. But if your children are restrained as they ought to be, you don’t have any difficulty. You can trust your children. They don’t hurt themselves. They don’t hurt your things, and they don’t embarrass you every time you take them out. The last is a small fringe benefit, but it’s worth something. A properly restrained child is an honor to his parents. An unrestrained child is a reproach.

But the spiritual gain far outweighs any of this. If we just have these two words dwelling richly in our hearts, “RESTRAIN” and “DISPLEASE,” we will do well. This is God’s prescription, and it does work. It brings about the peaceable fruit of righteousness. It teaches your child to take “No” for an answer—-to be denied, and so to deny himself. Without self-denial there is no true religion. Eli did not restrain his sons, and David did not displease his, and the result was that those sons were lost.

Now let me say one more thing for your encouragement. If you’ve never been accustomed to properly restraining your children—-for I suppose that almost all parents restrain their children to some extent—-you may think this will be a pretty hard thing to do. You’re going to have a battle as soon as you begin. Yes, you undoubtedly will, but let me tell you, it will be a whole lot easier if you restrain them than if you don’t. It will be a whole lot easier when your children know what their limits are, and know that they have to stay within those limits, than to have to be running around after them trying to pacify them and sweet-talk them, or to have to keep everything out of their reach, or to be always embarrassed by their behavior. It’s a whole lot easier to restrain your children than to take any other course. Easier even for the present. How much more for the eternal future, when that restraint bears the fruits of righteousness. It was not easy for David to weep his heart out over his lost son Absalom, saying, “Oh, Absalom, my son, my son, Absalom! Would God I had died for thee!” But it would have been more to the purpose if he had been saying, “Would God I had restrained thee.” And with that we will close.

Glenn Conjurske