Christian Parents Can Have Ungodly Children
In part two in our series on the book, Parents' Groans Over Their Ungodly Children (available on Amazon here), Lawrence begins by laying the groundwork for his conclusion that "it is ordinary for Christian parents to beget unregenerate children." He supports his conclusion via three primary angles:
- Character qualities of godly parents
- Character qualities of ungodly children
- Other instances
Character Qualities of Godly Parents
Before we move on, I think it's important to define precisely what Lawrence means when he uses the term "godly." By this word he does not refer to parents that are extraordinarily faithful or markedly superior; rather, Lawrence has in mind believing men and women who honestly seek the salvation of their children. Likewise, by the term “ungodly”, Lawrence does not mean wild or extravagantly devilish children, though that might sometimes be the case. Rather, he simply refers to unregenerate children. This is important because
shame, an overwhelming sense of failure, plays such a large part in the hearts of parents of prodigals. My concern here is that the title of this book might perhaps pose a hindrance to those who believe they have personally failed. Seeing a title about "godly parents", they might think themselves automatically disqualified. But hear me now, if your heart is broken and your faith struggles because of the spiritual state of your kids, this book is for you.
Having said that, we move on to the primary characteristics of believing, or "godly" parents.
Careful for the Preservation of Their Children
That unsaved parents or “natural parents” love their children, provide for them, and seek their happiness and wellbeing is understood. Calvin called it "common grace". But the point Lawrence wants to make here is that believing parents operate from an essentially different set of principles and motivations.
But godly parents, in whom natural affections are sanctified and improved by grace, do all these out of a principle of godliness, as persons who have to do with God herein. They do it in a sense of their dependence on God, pray for daily bread to feed their children, and are thankful when they feel it come warm from their Father in heaven. They do it in obedience and faithfulness to God and with a design that their children may live to be born of God, to be a blessing to this world, and to be blessed in the other world. //p. 164//
Their natural affections, being now sanctified, do work in them for the spiritual good and happiness of their children: “I was my father’s son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother” (Pro 4:3-5). Solomon was his father’s and mother’s darling; their love did run out exceedingly upon this son. He tells us which way their love and kindness was expressed: “He taught me also, and said unto me, get wisdom, get understanding.” He tells us also how the affections of his good mother did work, “What my son? and what the son of my womb? and what the son of my vows?” (Pro 31:2-3). The son of her womb was the son of her vows, whom she had devoted to God. Those parents who have known both states—the state of wrath and the state of grace—and have experimentally felt what it is to pass from death to life and from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God cannot but desire that the same change be wrought upon their children. //p. 178//
Careful for the Salvation of Their Children
Here is where the parenting styles of believing and unbelieving parents principally depart: believing parents desire the eternal salvation and happiness of their children. The dynamics of parenting, for Christians, operates on this basis. This is not to say that we all do so perfectly, rather that we all wish to do it, long to do it, and exert ourselves to do it faithfully to one degree or another.
And as they who love themselves with a holy love, do take 1) God for their eternal life and happiness; and 2) Christ for their Redeemer, to redeem them from all evil and to bring them to this happiness; and 3) the Spirit for their Sanctifier, to fit them for this happiness, so they that love their children with this holy love will desire and endeavor that they be partakers with them of the same happiness. //p. 178//
The Character of Ungodly Children
Lawrence outlines a few of the driving character qualities of rebellious children and offers some notes on them.
Not Subject to Reverence Their Parents
Lawrence makes the point that reverencing parents is so important to God that He commands it in the same breath with Sabbath worship. The reason for that reverence is plain: “I am the Lord your God.”
Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my Sabbaths, I am the Lord your God” (Lev 19:3). //p. 182//
And yet, with rebellious children, it is not so. Here again, the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son comes to mind. Though outwardly he conformed to the image of the obedient and loving son, his heart was full of accusations and misconceptions concerning his father (Luke 15:29-30).
They vilified and despised them and made nothing of them. //p. 189//
Many hasten through a shameful and untimely death into a dreadful and tormenting eternity, whose wickedness first began in scorning and despising their parents. //p. 189//
Will Not Obey Their Parents
Trust and love are inextricably linked to godly obedience. Yet rebels neither love God nor trust Him. They neither love their parents nor trust them. Rebels can only be made to obey via channels of personal interest. Consider again the brothers in the story of the prodigal son. The prodigal both ran away and returned along paths of self-interest. True, he did ultimately repent, but the mechanism that triggered his homeward thoughts was hunger; it was need. Conversely, the older brother became jealous because he saw his own inheritance being spent on his profligate sibling. His anger and accusations against his father reveal a skewed view of his character and who he was as a man and as a father.
And so they are children of their parents’ sorrow and of God’s wrath. //p. 198//
Are Unthankful to Their Parents
In 1 Timothy, 5:4, Paul instructs the church to hold children and grandchildren responsible for caring for aging widows. His reasoning is twofold: first, “they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family”. Straightforward enough. But it’s the second reason that marks our focus here:
…and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. (1 Ti 5:4).
Caring for aging parents is a mark of gratitude, and it is this gratitude that is acceptable in the sight of God.
All the requital that the poor parents desire is that their children would but love and obey God, and not damn themselves. But these ungodly children are so far from requiting them that, like so many dogs and lions, they tear in pieces the hearts and bowels of their tender parents. //p. 204//
Christian Parents Can Have Ungodly Children
I sincerely wish that more modern day believers would see the truth of this. The Bible testifies again and again to the possibility of unregenerate children. The question we must ask ourselves is, why do we act as if we control their eternal destiny when Scripture continually tells us that it's not for us to decide?