On January 9, 2013 my dear wife Sarah gave birth to our precious daughter Anna in Butterworth Hospital, Grand Rapids, Michigan. The following day Dr. Joel Beeke and his wife came to visit us in the hospital. Dr. Beeke prayed for us and gave us a book as a gift. The title of that book is The Duties of Parents. The book was originally written in Dutch by Jacobus Koelman (1632–1695). Koelman, like his contemporaries Gisbertus Voetius (1589–1676) and Wilhelmus à Brakel (1635–1711), was a leader of the Dutch Further Reformation—a movement that was similar to the seventeenth-and-eighteenth-century English Puritanism.
In chapter one of his book, Koelman gives fifteen rules for expectant parents:
- Pray to the Lord fervently and continually before entering marriage so that you do not by foolish and rash marriage get yourself entangled in many snares that can no longer be removed, or can only be removed with great difficulty later.
- Under no circumstances enter a marriage to someone who is a stranger to true religion.
- Do not marry an ungodly…worldly, vain person….Such a partner will be a hindrance to the performance of all one’s duties for good, but especially to bringing up one’s children for the Lord.
- If, contrary to your opinion and expectation, you find that your companion is not regenerate and without grace, then do your utmost to bring about his or her conversion.
- Be especially careful in a second marriage if you have children from the first. Since the love of stepfathers or stepmothers is not as great as that of natural parents, the upbringing will not be as painstaking, tender, Christian, and holy, at least if grace does not amply make up for this lack of natural affection.
- Sanctify the marriage bed by prayer.
- Now when it becomes known that the mother is pregnant, pray together seriously, not only for a safe delivery but also for the sanctification of the child, thanking the Lord in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
- Be tenderly concerned that the mother does not harm the physical well-being of the child in her body by what she eats, by emotional agitation, or in some other way.
- When the child has been born, let the mother herself breastfeed [the child], if she in anyway has the strength and ability to do so. This demands love for the child and increases mutual love between the mother and the child.
- When you receive children, be sure to bring them early to the fellowship of God’s covenant of grace and to Christian baptism.
- You only have to publicly promise before God and the church that you will bring up your children in the truth and in godliness. Therefore, bring no godparents, because that is a human institution that is not blessed by God, has proceeded from the papacy, and is very superstitiously used there.
- Be mindful that at baptism you give your children good, Christian names with a positive meaning that can incite them to pursue the virtues indicated or recalled by the names.
- Do not be satisfied with the external baptism administered in the church but continue to occupy yourself with baptism through your earnest prayers and by the renewal of the solemn promises made before the Lord and his church at the time of baptism….Pray that [God] may regenerate [your children].
- At this point and henceforth, practice your faith by attending to God’s promises concerning help, blessing, and grace for your children.
- Therefore, do not believe unconditionally that all your children are beloved by God in Christ and will certainly inherit salvation or that they are truly sanctified in Christ and already born again and in a blessed state, for that is unknown and uncertain. The Lord freely loses and loves whom he will, has compassion on whom he will, and rejects whom he will. Some he sets apart from the womb; others he regenerates and converts when they are old. You must therefore regard them as children who are still in danger of being lost, as guilty and corrupt, and who must be converted. You must therefore pray for them and instruct them in the faith and in the Word. You must bring them up in all godliness so that they themselves in their own person may consent to that covenant with God and surrender themselves to it in order to be saved.