What parent does not rejoice in a compliant child? Yet Christian parents need to always concern themselves with their child’s heart. The life of Robert Murray M’Cheyne is an evidence of the inner ungodliness that may reside in the heart of an outwardly compliant child. Andrew Bonar writes,
Some would have been apt to regard [Robert Murray M’Cheyne] as exhibiting many traits of a Christian character; but his susceptible mind had not, at that time, a relish for any higher joy than the refined gaieties of society, and for such pleasures as the song and the dance could yield. He himself regarded these as days of ungodliness–days wherein he cherished a pure morality, but lived in heart a Pharisee. I have heard him say that there was a correctness and propriety in his demeanor at times of devotion, and in public worship, which some, who knew not his heart, were ready to put to the account of real feeling. And this experience of his own heart made him look with jealousy on the mere outward signs of devotion in dealing with souls. He had learnt in his own case how much a soul, unawakened to a sense of guilt may have satisfaction in performing, from the proud consciousness of integrity towards man, and a sentimental devotedness of mind that chastens the feelings without changing the heart (Andrew Bonar, Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, 4).
As Bonar mentioned, M’Cheyne himself admits the outward complicity was not sourced in a converted heart but in pride. In other words, he wanted his self-righteousness displayed, rather than the righteousness of God in Christ. In a journal entry dated May 6, 1832, a 19-year-old M’Cheyne laments,
What a mass of corruption have I been! How great a portion of my life have I spent wholly without God in the world, given up to sense and the perishing things around me! Naturally of a feeling and sentimental disposition, how much of my religion has been, and to this day is, tinged with these colours of earth! Restrained from open vice by educational views and the fear of man, how much ungodliness has reigned within me (Andrew Bonar, Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, 16)!
So parents, especially Christian parents, shepherd the heart not behaviors. Let us not delight in any compliance we might be able to command from our children. Rather, let us delight in a genuine work of God’s grace that results from heart-focused, gospel-centered parenting.