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parents can have ungodly children

Parents Can Have Ungodly Children (Part II)

In the second part of our series on Parents’ Groans Over Their Ungodly Children, Lawrence begins laying the groundwork with this: it is ordinary for Christian parents to beget unregenerate children. He supports his belief via three premises:

  1. Character qualities of godly parents
  2. Character qualities of ungodly children
  3. Other instances

Character Qualities of Godly Parents

According to Lawrence, Christian parents have two motivations pertaining to their children:

  1. Godly parents are careful for the preservation of their children
  2. Godly parents are careful for the salvation of their children

Now, having said this, it is important to define what he means by the term “godly.” By this word he does not mean to say that godly parents are extraordinarily faithful or superior; we’re not talking “super apostles” here (2 Corinthians 11:5). Rather, Lawrence uses this word to refer to believing men and women who honestly seek the salvation of their children. Likewise, by the term “ungodly”, Lawrence does not mean to convey the idea of Satan worshipers or serial murderers, though that might sometime be the case. Rather, he simply refers to unregenerate children. I want to highlight this because I think the title might perhaps be a hindrance to those who believe they have personally failed in the raising of their children. Shame is such an integral part of parenting prodigals and, my fear is that struggling parents might shy away from the idea of being “godly”. But please keep in mind that the father of the prodigal son had two prodigals, not merely one. It is to our shame that we miss the legalistic sin of the older brother, focusing almost exclusively on the extravagance of the younger. I digress. In short, if your heart is broken and your faith struggles because of the spiritual state of your children, tolle lege my friend, this book is for you.

Careful for the Preservation of Their Children

Unsaved parents or “natural parents” love their children, provide for them, and seek their happiness and wellbeing. Calvin called this “common grace.”((Calvin taught that “if the Lord has been pleased to assist us by the work and ministry of the ungodly in physics, dialectics, mathematics, and other similar sciences, let us avail ourselves of it, lest, by neglecting the gifts of God spontaneously offered to us, we be justly punished for our sloth. Lest anyone, however, should imagine a man to be very happy merely because, with reference to the elements of this world, he has been endued with great talents for the investigation of truth, we ought to add, that the whole power of intellect thus bestowed is, in the sight of God, fleeting and vain whenever it is not based on a solid foundation of truth. Augustine (supra, sec. 4 and 12), to whom, as we have observed, the Master of Sentences (lib. 2 Dist. 25), and the Schoolmen, are forced to subscribe, says most correctly that as the gratuitous gifts bestowed on man were withdrawn, so the natural gifts which remained were corrupted after the fall. Not that they can be polluted in themselves in so far as they proceed from God, but that they have ceased to be pure to polluted man, lest he should by their means obtain any praise.” See John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).)) But the point Lawrence wants to make here is that believing parents operate from a different principle, a different motivator.

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.((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 [in other words, personally experienced] 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.((178))

Careful for the Salvation of Their Children

Here is where the parenting styles of believing and unbelieving parents principally depart: while unbelieving parents desire the present safety and happiness of their children, 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 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.((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).((182))

They vilified and despised them and made nothing of them.((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.((189))

Will Not Obey Their Parents

And so they are children of their parents’ sorrow and of God’s wrath.((198))

What an absolutely breathtaking thought.

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.”((New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Ti 5:4.))

Caring for aging parents is a mark of gratitude to them, 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.((204))


Reiterating his original point—that it is normal for godly parents to have ungodly children, Lawrence sets forth four examples from Scripture.

Adam and Eve

In the example of Adam and Eve, Lawrence observes that while children may be greatly beloved of their parents, it is also possible for these same children to be yet abhorred and cursed of God. Concerning Esau, three things are to be observed:

The Joy at Esau’s Arrival

Eve’s exclamation is jarringly out of sync with John’s later assessment. We are drawn from the hopeful trust of a mother cradling her tiny babe to the stark summation of his soul, that he was “of the evil one.”((New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), 1 Jn 3:12.))

“…parents are exceedingly glad for the birth of a child and call their friends and neighbors to rejoice with them; yet that sweet and pleasant babe proves the greatest torment to his parents, whichever they met with in their whole age.”((243))

His Crime

He was not restrained by love for his brother nor love for his parents. Their grief did not appear to matter to him, or if it did, it didn’t matter enough to stop him. Further, fear of God did not influence him. Lawrence’s point here is that family bonds, arguments, and/or reasons do nothing to prevail with ungodly children. They will run headlong after destruction and there is little godly parents can do to prevent it.

His Judgment

God’s judgment on his soul was so dreadful that he desperately cries out, “My punishment is greater than I can bear” (Genesis 4:13). He was cast out of the favor of God, excommunicated from the Church, and all his posterity were excluded from communion therewith. They are called the sons and daughters of men in opposition to the Sons of God—and at last all perished in the deluge of waters. Yet I say, this bloody and cursed monster was the son, the eldest son, of the two first godly parents that ever were in the world.((229))

Biblical Lineage

Lawrence points out that a simple survey of the Bible is enough to show that ungodly children are often reared within godly homes. He calls it, “one of the saddest instances of that great mystery of providence”. He’s right.

We read in Matthew 1 that Ahaz, a very wicked king, begat holy Hezekiah. And good Hezekiah begat Manasseh, who was an idolater of the highest rate, a witch and such a bloody murderer that the chronicle of his reign tells us, “Manasseh shed innocent blood very much, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another” (2Ki 21:16)— though afterwards he is set forth to be the greatest pattern of the grace of God in the Old Testament, as Paul is in the New Testament. It is no new sight to see children of the best saints in the way to hell and children of atheists and persecutors in the way to heaven. Nay, though some parents do persecute their own children for loving and fearing God, yet they cannot debauch them; when all endeavors of godly parents will not prevail to make their children hate sin and love God. This is one of the saddest instances of that great mystery of providence: “there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous” (Ecc 8:14).((290))

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