Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Sins of Parents
He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly. Proverbs 13:24
Question 129 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What is required of superiors towards their inferiors?” It gives the answer, “It is required of superiors according to that power they receive from God, and that relation wherein they stand, to love, pray for, and bless their inferiors, to instruct, counsel, and admonish them; countenancing, commending, and rewarding such as do well; and discountenancing, reproving, and chastising such as do ill; protecting, and providing for them all things necessary for soul and body: and by grave, wise, holy, and exemplary carriage, to procure glory to God, honour to themselves, and so to preserve that authority which God hath put upon them.” Last time we saw how God requires all men to respect those legitimate authorities, which ultimately God Himself has sovereignly placed over us. Today we consider how those in offices of authority must love those who are subject to them.
To be in authority over someone is to, at some level, be responsible for them. The Catechism recognizes that the level of responsibility is determined by the degree of authority and the nature of the relationship. Thus, parents would rightly be faulted for not physically placing the food in the mouths of their infant children. The nature of their relationship to their child and the degree of their authority over them demands this level of responsibility. But what would we say about a foreman who tried to literally spoon feed his construction workers on their lunch break? The nature of his relationship to his workers (assuming they are healthy) and his limited authority over them would forbid such activity, and probably get him a black eye for trying! Likewise, a prison guard would be found derelict of duty if he allowed the prisoners to go home at the end of the day, but our same construction foreman would be in trouble if he did not let his workers go home at the end of their shift! In these two extreme examples we ought to see how loving and blessing those under us will require different levels of involvement in their lives depending upon the level of authority and the nature of the relationship.
God has ordained and delegated all human authority as an extension of His own good government over all things, for He created man to have dominion over His creation (Gen. 1:28). Therefore, all authority not in conflict with the Law of God has been ordained of God and must be wielded with a view to His glory and to the good of those under it. Thus, when you find yourself in a position of authority, whether permanently, as a husband over a wife; or temporarily, as a Sunday school teacher over a group of children, you are responsible to God for the welfare of those whom He has entrusted to you. You are in authority in order to glorify God by promoting and protecting what is good and by prohibiting and punishing what is evil (good and evil as determined by the Law of God). Likewise, the actions required in promoting, protecting, prohibiting, and punishing are determined by the nature of one’s position of authority and relationship to his subjects. Thus, a general repelling a military invasion is required to take action that would be condemned as criminal in many other positions of authority.
The key to knowing what to do in a given situation is to be found in understanding the nature of your relationship and duty to God for the welfare of those whom He has placed under you. Remember, you are in that position of authority by God to punish and prohibit evil and to protect and promote good. Consequently, as you exercise your God-given authority, you must submit to those lawful human authorities who are over you. Moreover, good, evil, and lawfulness are all determined by the Law of God and not by the sinful sentiments or ever-changing morals of particular societies. If our society would simply believe God and trust to the wisdom of His Word, parents would understand that, as the Scripture at the head of this article declares, it is when they withhold spanking that they hate their children. Likewise, governments would recognize that when they forbid capital punishment, they hate human life (Gen. 9:5-6). And society would know that when they tolerate moral evil and lawlessness they hate freedom and liberty (Rom. 6:16-22). May God grant that whenever we find ourselves in positions of authority, we would fear Him enough and love those under us enough to do what the Bible says!