True Love for the Child’s Soul—J. C. Ryle (1816 – 1900)
Bishop of Liverpool and Victorian evangelical leader, J. C. Ryle was well known throughout the 20th century for his writing on spiritual and practical issues. His great aim was to encourage serious Christian living, which included responsible child raising.
Ryle maintained that those who love children wisely will not be satisfied with the world’s curriculum. Earthly custom, fashion, and indulgence do not address the greatest of the child’s concerns, eternal life in Christ. To focus on earthly matters to the neglect of spiritual instruction is a form of cruelty.
It is a subject that concerns almost all. There is hardly a household that it does not touch. Parents, nurses, teachers, godfathers, godmothers, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters,—all have an interest in it. Few can be found, I think, who might not influence some parent in the management of his family, or affect the training of some child by suggestion or advice. All of us, I suspect, can do something here, either directly or indirectly, and I wish to stir up all to bear this in remembrance. . .1
Soul love is the soul of all love. To pet and pamper and indulge your child, as if this world was all he had to look forward to, and this life the only season for happiness—to do this is not true love, but cruelty. It is treating him like some beast of the earth, which has but only one world to look to, and nothing after death. It is hiding from him that grand truth, which he ought to be made to learn from his very infancy,—that the chief end of his life is the salvation of his soul.
A true Christian must be no slave to fashion, if he would train his child for heaven. He must not be content to do things merely because they are the custom of the world; to teach them and instruct them in certain ways, merely because it is the usual; to allow them to read books of a questionable sort, merely because everybody else reads them; to let them form habits of a doubtful tendency, merely because they are the habits of the day. He must train with an eye to his children's souls. He must not be ashamed to hear his training called singular and strange. What if it is? The time is short,—the fashion of this world passeth away. He that has trained his children for heaven, rather than for the earth,—for God, rather than for man,—he is the parent that will be called wise at last.2
J. C. Ryle, “The Duties of Parents,” in The Upper Room (1888; reprint, London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), 283.