Had a good instance of the benefit of breaking children’s wills betimes. Last night, going between decks (as I do every night) to visit the sick and to examine my people, I asked one of the women to bid her little boy say his prayers. She answered his elder sister would, but she could not make him. Upon this I bid the child kneel down before me, but he would not till I took hold of his two feet and forced him down. I then bid him say the Lord’s prayer (being informed by his mother he could say it if he would), but he obstinately refused, till at last, after I had given him several blows, he said his prayer as well as could be expected and I gave him some figs for a reward.Of this Dallimore says (and Challies agrees) "this action seems both foolish and cruel by today’s standards and it is not in any attempt to excuse it that we notice that it was in keeping with the customs of those times. ... We must deplore both the custom [of attempting to conquer a child’s will] and Whitefield’s action on the basis of it."
I was a little surprised at the quote from Whitefield, but I had to remember that in his day all adults helped to raise all children. You knew, if you were a kid, that even if your parents didn't see you do something wrong, another adult might and would just as likely box your ears as your parents would. But the real surprise was the response. It is, apparently, a given to Dallimore, to Challies, to a large part of Christendom, that it's wrong to hit a kid. While Whitefield's contemporaries assumed corporal punishment was good and wise, today's world is pretty sure that it's wrong. It's today's world that thinks that it's deplorable "to conquer a child’s will". The problem, of course, is that the argument runs afoul not of psychology or culture, but of the Bible.
It wasn't Whitefield who wrote "A rod is for the back of him who lacks understanding" (Prov 10:13). It wasn't an 18th century misanthrope who wrote, "He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently" (Prov 13:24). It wasn't a confused pastor of yesteryear that suggested "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him" (Prov 22:15) or "Apply your heart to discipline And your ears to words of knowledge. Do not hold back discipline from the child, Although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. You shall strike him with the rod And rescue his soul from Sheol" (Prov 23:12-14).
Today's "wise" folk will assure us that spanking a child will only lead to a violent child. Jeremiah spoke of "the rod of His wrath" (Lam 3:1), referencing God. While only 18 of the 50 states allow corporal punishment in school, it was the author of Hebrews that assured us, "Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives" (Heb 12:6). In other words, if disciplining children is evil, then we serve an evil God who commands such evil.
The wisdom of the day and the certainty of even a Dallimore or a Challies notwithstanding, it appears that God favors corporal punishment. Some argue that it is assault. The Bible argues that it is love. I personally think that many, many of the problems we face today in arenas like politics, education, economics, and elsewhere are direct products of our failure to agree with God on this topic, and we're paying the price. It's just a shame that someone who is generally so well written as Tim Challies has fallen prey to this error.