My grandparents had a great impact on my life. I grew up on a multi-generational family farm, and because of my mother’s illness my grandparents cared for me.
The extended family offered great security. We’ve had the family farm for over a century, ever since my immigrant great-grandfather settled on the Minnesota frontier. I grew up in the church where my family had worshipped for decades. The first house I lived in belonged to my grandparents: it was small and old, it lacked plumbing, and it was a couple of feet away from the tiny cabin where my great-grandfather died.
I observed how families lived together, worked together, and cared for one another. It was easy to see the requirements of 1 Timothy 5:4-8 worked out:
But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. Give the people these instructions, too, so that no one may be open to blame. If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
The modern age presents new challenges for Christian families. Few people live in extended households now. It is harder to define the role of grandparents — even though grandparents live longer, have more disposable income, and have great opportunities for reaching the next generations. How, then, can Christians replicate inter-generational family cohesion and covenantal responsibility in our age?
According to Scripture, “the righteous man leaves an inheritance to his children and children’s children” (Pr. 13:22). As stewards of the possessions God gives, Christians have an obligation to manage their estates to God’s glory and pass them on to faithful offspring. R. J. Rushdoony emphasized the importance of inheritance, showing that inheritance is essentially theocentric, and that it is a key tool for extending Christian dominion.1
Modern man, however, is hedonistic, materialistic, and self-centered. A Christian financial planner once told a group of us, “Your goal is to die at the same time your assets run out. And at the rate I am going,” he continued, looking at his watch, “I think I’ll die shortly after lunch.” He was making a joke, of course, but the mindset he described is all too common. It is unbiblical to try to exhaust one’s God-given estate. The righteous man leaves a legacy.
A friend has an excellent testimony about the future-orientation of his grandfather. A successful publisher, he created an endowment to provide for the education of his four grandsons. Three of the boys became physicians, and one a veterinarian. They were all indebted to his foresight and generosity. Christian grandparents should leave an inheritance.2
Grandparents are guardians of a heritage, providing for their descendants a sense of continuity, history, and place. Older folks are often interested in the past and become excellent genealogists and amateur historians. My father-in-law’s biographical From Pagan to Patriarch is a superb genealogical and family history. He is a little forgetful nowadays, so we are delighted to have this record. When the children ask a question about him or the family, he can always say, “I forget, but it is in the book.”
Scripture emphasizes the importance of ancient landmarks set by ancestors (Dt. 19:14, Pr. 22:28). Although the obvious reference is to property boundaries, these passages have broader implications for a family’s heritage. When Ahab coveted a family vineyard, righteous Naboth refused to give up “the inheritance of my fathers” (1 Kin. 21:3). Following the Fifth Commandment (Ex. 20:12), every generation should be zealous to preserve the family’s legacy and its ancient landmarks. Grandparents are natural guardians of a family’s legacy.
Grandparents can also contribute to the education of the next generation. One set of grandparents I know travels with their homeschooled grandchildren. They have been to Scotland and the Caribbean, simultaneously vacationing and teaching history lessons. A couple in our church takes an active role in homeschooling their grandson. Though older than traditional homeschool parents, they check out new curricula, look for teaching resources, and explore teaching strategies. Homeschooling allows them to invest in the next generation. Scripture says, “one generation shall praise Thy works to another, and shall declare Thy mighty acts.” (Ps. 145:4)
I have a mental image of retirees living in Florida, playing shuffleboard, and hanging out with the geriatric generation. The weather is nice, and there is nothing inherently wrong with relaxing. But think of what the older generation could be doing in the lives of others. Christian grandparents should develop and protect a family’s godly heritage.
Grandparents can help evangelize their descendants.“From childhood,” Paul tells Timothy, “you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Elsewhere, Paul notes the great influence of Timothy’s mother and grandmother. Paul was confident of his protégé’s character and faith because he had seen the sincere faith of Lois and Eunice. Godly grandparents should find motivation and encouragement in Paul’s charge to Timothy: “continue in the things you have learned…knowing from whom you have learned them” (2 Tim. 1:5, 3:14-15).
Parents, specifically fathers, have the primary obligation to train and evangelize children (Dt. 6:7; Eph. 6:4). But grandparents can have an impact — catechizing, reading Bible stories, and helping with Scripture memory. The things we have learned from our fathers, the Psalmist says, “we will not conceal them from our children, but tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord.” The law and statutes of the Lord will be taught to the next generation — even to the unborn generation — “that they may arise and tell them to their children” (Ps. 78:4, 6).
According to His covenant mercies, God blesses future generations with salvation. He promises to show His lovingkindness to the thousandth generation (Ex. 20:6). Every parent and grandparent can take comfort in Psalm 102:28: “The children of Thy servants will continue; and their descendants will be established before Thee.”
The Psalms offer another encouraging message, though set against the background of human mortality and death: “The lovingkindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children” (Ps. 103:17). Precisely because they are old and approaching death, grandparents can testify to God’s love and faithfulness. Parents teach us how to live; grandparents show us how to die.3 Grandparents should pass on the lessons of faith.
Grandparents can bless future generations. Genesis concludes with the blessings Jacob gives to his sons (Gen. 50) and grandsons (Gen. 49:15-16). Hebrews 11:20-21 highlights two great paternal blessings from Genesis. By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau. And by faith Jacob blessed his own grandsons. The language is dramatic and special: the dying Jacob worshipped God and blessed his grandsons by faith. I like that Biblical picture: an ancient saint, looking ahead to God’s promises and blessing his descendants.
Grandparents should think of ways to bless their progeny. They themselves are uniquely blessed of God. As the psalmist puts it, “May the LORD bless you from Zion…indeed, may you see your children’s children” (Ps. 128:5-6). Though it might startle others, grandparents might try giving a “Rebekah blessing” (Gen. 24:60). The future-oriented blessing, fully consistent with the promises God gave to Abram (Gen. 12:1-3), was that Rebekah would have descendents both numerous (“thousands of ten thousands”) and victorious (“possess the gate of those who hate them”).
Above all, grandparents must pray for their descendents. The Westminster Confession of Faith (21:4) notes that it is important to pray for future generations. Ten years ago, Rev. Rushdoony came to our home for Sunday dinner. Other families also came over, with their children. Giving thanks before the meal, Rushdoony offered an unforgettable prayer for the children: “May these children, and their children’s children, be Christians until the end of time!”4
Every Christian grandparent can give that prayer with conviction and zeal — and so be a blessing to future generations.
1. Rousas Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Phillipsburg, NJ: Craig Press, 1973), 181. Rushdoony dedicates a large section of the second volume of the Institutes to the question of inheritance — see Law and Society (Vallecito, California: Ross House, 1982), 171-222.
2. An example of how not to leave an inheritance was Cornelius Vanderbilt, the richest man in America at his death in 1877. For an excellent discussion of his weird will, his lingering final illness, his bickering and hateful heirs, and the lawsuits, see Frank Kintrea, “The Great Vanderbilt Will Battle,” American Heritage (April, 1966).
3. A friend told me about the “Old Ladies’ Sunday School Class” at church he once served. He would briefly visit the class each Lord’s Day. All in their 80s, the women would chat, give him prayer requests, and then dismiss him, saying, “Move along, we’re studying for our final exam!”
4. I liked that! Rushdoony prayed for my grandchildren, their salvation, and the salvation of my future generations.
Topics: Family & Marriage