Where do 21st century parents go for advice on parenting? One possibly surprising answer is to an Anglican Bishop born 200 years ago! John Charles Ryle was born on the 10 May 1816. He’s well known as the first Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, for his warm, plainspoken, strongly evangelical writings – including his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels and his classic Holiness. Possibly less well known is his family life – married three times (his first two wives Matilda and Jessy died young), father of one daughter and three sons and his concern to instruct other parents ‘to understand the importance of a loving, caring, and godly home… where children come to know and understand God for themselves.’
A small group of us young(ish!) mums at our church decided to study his short book Duties of Parents.Although written over 100 years ago, it has been edited into modern English by Alan Witchalls and we found it to be both challenging and inspiring in equal measure. It became known between us as ‘the scary green book’, due to J. C. Ryle’s direct style and the fact that we were often made aware of our shortcomings as parents as we studied it and discussed together. As the editor says in his foreword, ‘A number of the principles in the booklet will be hard to hear and even harder to put into practice’, but he reminded us that ‘just because something is challenging or goes against the grain of our culture does not make it irrelevant or wrong.’
However, as challenging as we found the book at times, let me encourage other parents to get a copy and read it. It is rooted in Scripture and provides a timely reminder of the importance of being our children’s ‘primary pastors’ and not being tempted to out-source their spiritual training to youth leaders and other Christians they may have contact with.
The book contains short chapters on topics including; Your children and Jesus, Your children and trusting you, Your children and idleness, and Remember to pray for them. The book is woven through with J. C. Ryle’s desire to encourage parents to love and care for their children and to point them to their greatest need, that of a Saviour. I found the chapter entitled Your children and being spoilt particularly challenging as it encouraged us not to make our children into idols and to be more concerned with training than humouring them. How tempting it is to want to please them and to say ‘yes’ to their desires because we love them, or at times simply because we want a quiet life! J. C. Ryle reminds us that we must learn to say ‘no’ to our children and ‘show them that you are able to refuse whatever you think is unfit for them.’
As a group we found the questions included at the end of each chapter very helpful in guiding our discussions and in providing extra Scripture references for us to consider. These questions also helped us to bring the content of a book written so many years ago up to date and to apply it to our present culture and experiences.
- C. Ryle’s closing words in this book show that his great desire was to see parents training their children well and to see them raised for God and this is what we were encouraged and challenged to do as a result of studying this little book:
Lastly I pray that the Lord would grant all of this so that we might have a good hope that we will indeed train up our children well: train them well for this life, and train them well for the life to come, train them well for earth, and train them well for heaven. I urge parents to raise their children for God, for Christ and for eternity.
 Duties of Parents, J. C. Ryle, Ed. Alan Witchalls, 10Publishing, 2012.