The great test of home-training is in discipline. When the child has disobeyed, perhaps thoughtlessly, perhaps wilfully,—that is a testing time full of meaning to both parent and child. It means most to the child, but it means much to the parent.
Here is where right birth will be found to bear some of its finest fruit. The planned birth, with no element of chance, or of anything lower entering in, removes at once a large group of the knottiest problems of discipline. All problems centering in the child's disposition, his docility of spirit, may practically be solved before birth.
Discipline is a great test of love and of wisdom. It calls for a fine tempering together of wisdom and love, firmness and gentleness, insistence upon obedience, but with a love-light in the eye. The old puritanical ideas made stern fathers. Love was sacrificed to a sense of right. Now there is a distinct and dangerous swing the other way, toward a weak laxness of discipline. Neither is ideal, but of the two the former bred stronger men. It takes a good bit of keen work to blend right and love in good proportions.
There's a fine story that comes from a New England home of years ago. It is told by one of the two boys concerned, grown to manhood as he tells the story. He said:—"Once I saved Tom from a promised whipping for leaving down the bars when he went after the cows at milking time, thus giving the young cattle left in the pasture a chance to get out, which they always improved. If they were on the back side of the lot when Tom got the cows he thought it unnecessary to put up the bars. It would be so short a time when the cows would be driven back.
"Father cautioned and reproved him several times, till finally he threatened to whip him if it happened again. Several weeks passed, and he left the bars down again. The young cattle got into the corn, doing much damage.
"The next morning father said nothing, but went about his usual work. Tom was gloomy; there was an air of depression in the house, and I was greatly troubled. I couldn't bear to have Tom whipped, nor could I blame father. At last I resolved to go and speak to him.
"The sun was shining brightly, and he was opening some tumbles of hay in the east meadow. I approached him slowly, for I did not feel sure of my ground, and stood still without saying a word. He looked up at me and said:—" 'Well, Joe, what is it?'
"'I have come to speak to you about Tom. I don't want him whipped.'
"'I do not see how you can help it, my son. I cannot have my crops destroyed in this way, and I must keep my word.'
"'Father, didn't you read this in the morning lesson: "He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities, and with His stripes we are healed.'"
"'Yes: what a boy you are to remember, Joe.'
"'Well, I will take half the blows you intend to give Tom.'
"'I can't do that, Joe. Tom is the transgressor, not you,' father answered, his face softening and his voice trembling a little. Then looking at me keenly, he asked:—" 'Did Tom send you to me?'
"'No. He knows nothing of my coming.'
"My father stood leaning on his pitchfork with both hands, looking down on the ground. At length he said—" 'Go and bring Tom.'
"I found him on the front porch with a sober face, trying to study.
"'Come with me, Tom; father wants you.'
"'I know what he wants,' turning a little pale. After a moment's hesitation, he arose, saying:—" 'I might as well go now and have it done with.'
"As we walked along I thought best to give him a little advice, for he generally did as occasion served him. There was no knowing beforehand what he would do.
"'Now, Tom, you musn't flare up or show any spunk. You must be humble and answer father's questions in a good kind of way. You mustn't talk any; only answer his questions. I don't think he'll be hard with you.'
"To this he made no reply. He evidently thought it easy for me to talk; the stripes were not coming down on my back.
"Father stood as I had left him. I can see him now, after the lapse of so many years, with his back to the morning sun, leaning forward a little on the stail of his fork, looking down to the ground, one hand above the other and his chin on his hands, and some forkfuls of hay scattered about him.
"He did not seem to see us. He was lost in reverie.
"'Father,' I ventured timidly, 'Tom is here.'
"He looked up at us both quickly, then said:—" 'Tom, do you remember these words in our Scripture reading this morning. "He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities, and with His stripes we are healed?'"
"'Yes, sir,' answered Tom, greatly surprised.
"'What do you think those words mean?'
"'That Christ suffered for us,' replied Tom, his voice unsteady and his face flushing up.
"'Well, Joe offers to suffer for you.'
"Tom turned to me with a look on his face I shall never forget, and exclaimed:—" 'No, Joe, you shall not do that.'
"Then, flinging his arms around my neck, he kissed me, and, quick as a flash, stepped up to father and held out his hand, saying:—" 'The stripes belong to me, father; I am ready.'
"Tears were now falling down father's face, and for a minute he could not speak. Then he said:—" 'No, Tom, I cannot punish anyone now. I do not think you'll ever forget this day. If you do, remember Joe's offer holds good. I love my children, and I want to do them all the good I can. But I must be obeyed, and that is one way of doing them good. You may go now.'
"Tom did not stir. He was evidently waiting for me, and yet, for some reason I could not explain, I hesitated. Stepping closer, I said:—" 'Father, I want to kiss you.'
"He caught me in his arms, saying: 'Oh, my boy,' and kissed me. Then taking Tom, who was ready, he said: 'God bless you, dear Tom,' kissing him with swimming eyes.
"Then, with a great awe upon us, we went to the house. I will add that Tom never left the bars down again." ("Home Memories," Eli Barber.)
What a blessed picture of God that father found opening up to him as he acted the part of God to his erring son! What a new motive power love put into that boy's life from that moment on!
The love of Christ constrains to earnest service, and it also restrains from sin. If we might know that great love of His better and live it more simply. For love, His love in us, is the secret of all training.