The strongest lesson I taught my kids when I read with them the first of J.C. Ryle’s Children’s Stories was that they should never let an adult tell them that what they do doesn’t matter.
I read it to them early in the morning in the Royal National Park, and I was blown away.
J.C. Ryle (1816-1900), the first Bishop of Liverpool, evangelical, strongly Protestant and one of the clearest thinkers I know, shows real care for the spiritual welfare of children.
His Children’s Stories contrast profoundly with the thinking of our age, where we only tell children “nice stories” or the serious stories of the Bible with all the “harsh bits” expurgated.
We are so influenced by our culture of “not in front of the kids” that we distort the message of the Bible.
Ryle’s first story was called Two Bears. Not a fun tale about Goldilocks and the brown fuzzy differently-sized carnivores, but an encounter that sees forty-two kids killed:
From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking up the path, some small boys came out of the city and harassed him, chanting, “Go up, baldy! Go up, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two female bears came out of the woods and mauled 42 of the children. (2 Kings 2:23-24)
Fancy starting a book on kids’ stories with this one! Most of us think that this is one we should skip over with kids, but Ryle would say that this is exactly the kind of stories that kids must read.
From this story, Ryle had three lessons for kids:
- He taught children to never mock the word of God or God’s messengers.
- He taught them to know that sin always brings sorrow at the end.
- He taught that God takes notice of what children do.
I’ll let Ryle speak for himself:
Learn, for one thing, that God takes notice of what children do. He took notice of the "little children" at Bethel, and punished them for their wickedness. Remember, I beg of you, that God has not changed. He is still the same. He is every day taking notice of you.
I believe some people think that it does not matter how children behave, and that God only notices grown-up men and women. This is a very great mistake. The eyes of God are upon boys and girls—and He marks all they do! When they do right—He is pleased; and when they do wrong—He is displeased. Dear children, never forget this!
Let no one make you think that you are too young to serve God, and that you may safely wait until you are grown up men and women. This is not true. It is never too soon to become a Christian. As soon as you know right from wrong, you are old enough to begin taking the right way. As soon as you are old enough to be punished for doing wrong, you are old enough to give your heart to God, and to follow Christ. The child who is old enough to be punished for swearing and telling lies—is old enough to be taught to pray and read the Bible. The child who is big enough to displease God—is also big enough to please Him. The child who is old enough to be tempted by the devil—is old enough to have the grace of the Holy Spirit in his heart.
Children, however little and young you are—God is always noticing you! He notices how you behave at home, how you behave at school, and how you behave at play. He notices whether you say your prayers or not, and how you say them. He notices whether you mind what your mother tells you, and how you behave when out of your mother's sight. He notices whether you are selfish, or angry, or tell lies, or take what is not your own. In short, there is nothing about children—that God does not notice.
I read in the Bible, that when little Ishmael was almost dead with thirst in the wilderness, "God heard the voice of the boy." Mark that—God listened to the child's prayer. I read that when Samuel was only a little boy—God spoke to him. I read that when Abijah, the child of Jeroboam, was sick and dying, God said by the mouth of His prophet, "there is some good thing found in him toward the Lord God." Children, these things were written for your learning.
Now I will give you a piece of advice. Say to yourselves every morning when you get up, "God sees me! Let me live as in God's sight." God is always watching what you do, and hearing what you say. All is written down in His great books, and all must be reckoned for at the last day. It is written in the Bible, "Even a child is known by his doings."
I highly recommend J C Ryle’s, Children’s Stories (you can get it from Amazon here).
I think that he actually takes kids much more seriously by reminding them and us that God takes them seriously too.