The resort to corporal punishment in the training of children seems to be spoken of in many passages contained in the Scriptures as of fundamental necessity. But there can be no doubt that the word rod, as used in those passages, is used simply as the emblem of parental authority. This is in accordance with the ordinary custom of Hebrew writers in those days, and with the idiom of their language, by which a single visible or tangible object was employed as the representative or expression of a general idea—as, for example, the sword is used as the emblem of magisterial authority, and the sun and the rain, which are spoken of as being sent with their genial and fertilizing power upon the evil and the good, denote not specially and exclusively those agencies, but all the beneficent influences of nature which they are employed to represent. The injunctions, therefore, of Solomon in respect to the use of the rod are undoubtedly to be understood as simply enjoining upon parents the necessity of bringing up their children in complete subjection to their authority. No one can imagine that he could wish the rod to be used when complete subjection to the parental authority could be secured by more gentle means. And how this is to be done it is the object precisely of this book to show.
In this sense, therefore—and it is undoubtedly the true sense—namely, that children must be governed by the authority of the parent, the passages in question express a great and most essential truth. It is sometimes said that children must be governed by reason, and this is true, but it is the reason of their parents, and not their own which must hold the control. If children were endowed with the capacity of seeing what is best for them, and with sufficient self-control to pursue what is best against the counter-influences of their animal instincts and propensities, there would be no necessity that the period of subjection to parental authority should be extended over so many years. But so long as their powers are yet too immature to be safely relied upon, they must, of necessity, be subject to the parental will; and the sooner and the more perfectly they are made to understand this, and to yield a willing submission to the necessity, the better it will be, not only for their parents, but also for themselves.
The parental authority must, therefore, be established—by gentle means, if possible—but it must by all means be established, and be firmly maintained. If you can not govern your child without corporal punishment, it is better to resort to it than not to govern him at all. Taking a wide view of the field, I think there may be several cases in which a resort to the infliction of physical pain as the only available means of establishing authority may be the only alternative. There are three cases of this kind that are to be specially considered.
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Possible Cases in which it is the only Alternative.—Savages.