Train them, remembering continually, the influence of your own example.
Instruction, and advice, and commands will profit little, unless they are backed up by the pattern of your own life. Your children will never believe you are serious, and really wish them to obey you, so long as your actions contradict your instruction. One minister I know, made a wise remark when he said, “To give children good instruction, and a bad example, is the same as pointing out to them the way to heaven, while we take them by the hand and lead them down the road to hell.” [Tillotson]
We have no idea of the force and power of example. None of us can live to himself in this world; we are always influencing those around us, in one way or another, either for good or for evil, either for God or for sin. They see our ways, they note our conduct, they observe our behavior, and what they see us do, they assume we think is right. And never, I believe, does example tell so powerfully as it does in the case of parents and children.
Fathers and mothers, do not forget that children learn more by the eye than they do by the ear. No school will ever make such deep marks on character as does the examples found in the home. The best of school teachers will not imprint on your children’s minds as much as they will pick up in your living room. Imitation is a far stronger principle with children than memory. What they see has a much stronger effect on their minds than what they are told.
Be careful, then, how you act in front of a child. It is a true adage, “He who sins in front of a child, sins double.” Strive to be a living epistle of Christ, so your families can clearly read it. Be an example of reverence for the Word of God, reverence in prayer, reverence at the Lord’s Table, reverence for the Lord’s day. Be an example in words, in temper, in diligence, in moderation, in faith, in love, in kindness, and in humility. Do not think for a moment that your children will practice what they do not see you do. You are their model, and they will copy what you are. Your reasoning and your lecturing, your wise commands and your good advice; all this they may not understand, but they can understand your life.
Children are very quick observers; very quick in seeing through some kinds of hypocrisy, very quick in finding out what you really think and feel, very quick in adopting all your ways and opinions. You will often discover that, as the father is, so is the son.
Remember the word that the conqueror Caesar always used to his soldiers in a battle. He did not say “Go forward,” but “Come.” So it must be with you in training your children. They will seldom learn habits which they see you despise, or walk in paths in which you do not walk yourself. He that preaches to his children what he does not practice, is wasting his time. It is like the old fabled web of Penelope, who wove all day, and unwove all night. Even so, the parent who tries to train without setting a good example is building with one hand, and tearing down with the other.