As a Little Child
When our Lord blessed the little children He was making His last journey to Jerusalem. It was thus a farewell blessing which He gave to the little ones, and it reminds us of the fact that among His parting words to His disciples, before He was taken up, we find the tender charge," Feed My lambs." The ruling passion was strong upon the great Shepherd of Israel, "who gathereth the lambs with His arm, and carrieth them in His bosom"; and it was fitting that while He was making His farewell journey He should bestow His gracious benediction upon the children.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is not among us in person; but we know where He is, and we know that He is clothed with all power in heaven and in earth wherewith to bless His people; let us then draw near to Him. Let us seek His touch in the form of fellowship, and ask the aid of His intercession; let us include others in our prayers, and among these let us give our children, and, indeed, all children, a leading place. We know more of Jesus than the women of Palestine did; let us, therefore, be even more eager than they were to bring our children to Him that He may bless them, and that they may be accepted in Him, even as we ourselves are. Jesus waits to bless. He is not changed in character, or impoverished in grace; as He still receiveth sinners, so doth He still bless children; and let none of us be content, whether we be parents or teachers, until He has received our children, and has so blessed them that we are sure that they have entered the kingdom of God.
Our Saviour, when He saw that His disciples were not only backward to admit the children to Him, but even rebuked those who brought them, was much displeased, and called them to Him that He might teach them better. He then informed them that, instead of the children being regarded as intruders, they were most welcome to Himself; and, instead of being interlopers, they had full right of access, for of children and of childlike persons His kingdom was composed. Moreover, He declared that none could enter that kingdom except in the same manner as children enter. He spoke with divine certainty, using His own expressive "verily," and He spoke with the weight of His own personal authority, "I say unto you." These prefatory expressions are intended to secure our reverent attention to the fact that so far from the admission of children into the kingdom being unusual or strange, none can find entrance there except they receive the gospel as a little child receives it.
It is pretty clear that the disciples thought the children were too insignificant for the Lord's time to be taken up by them. If it had been a prince who wished to come to Jesus, no doubt Peter and the rest of them would have diligently secured him an introduction; but, you see, these were only poor women, with babes, and boys, and girls. If it had been an ordinary person, like themselves, they would not have repelled him with rebukes. But mere children! Sucklings and little children! It was too bad for these to be intruded upon the great Teacher. A word is used about the youthful applicants which may signify children of any age, from sucklings up to twelve years: surely Jesus had worry enough without the intrusion of these juveniles. He had higher subjects for thought, and graver objects of care. The children were so very little, they were quite beneath His notice: so the disciples thought in their hearts. But if it comes to a matter of insignificance, who can hope to win the divine attention? If we think that children must be little in His sight, what are we? He taketh up the isles as a very little thing; the inhabitants of the earth are as grasshoppers; yea, we are all as things of nought. If we were humble we should exclaim, "Lord, what is man. that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou visitest him?" If we dream that the Lord will not notice the little and insignificant, what think we of such a text as this—"Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father"; doth God care for sparrows, and shall He not care for little children? The idea of insignificance must be set aside at once. "Though the Lord be high, yet hath He respect unto the lowly." But are little children so insignificant? Do they not people heaven? Is it not your conviction? it is mine—that they make up a very considerable part of the population of the skies. Multitudes of infant feet are treading the streets of the New Jerusalem. Snatched from the breast ere they had committed actual sin, delivered from the toilsome pilgrimage of life, they always behold the face of our Father which is in heaven. "Of such is the kingdom of God." Call you these insignificant? Children, who are the most numerous company in the army of the elect, dare you despise them? I might turn the tables, and call the adults insignificant, among whom there can be found no more than a small remnant who serve the Lord. Besides, many children are spared to grow up to man's estate, and therefore we must not think a child insignificant. He is the father of the man. In him are great possibilities and capacities. His manhood is as yet undeveloped but it is there, and he that trifles with it mars the man. He who tempts the mind of a boy may destroy the soul of a man. A little error injected into the ear of a youth may become deadly in the man when the slow poison shall at last have touched a vital part. Weeds sown in the furrows of childhood will grow with the young man's growth, ripen in his prime, and only decay into a sad corruption when he himself declines. On the other hand, a truth dropped into a child's heart will there fructify, and his manhood shall see the fruit of it. Yon child listening in the class to his teacher's gentle voice may develop into a Luther, and shake the world with his vehement proclamation of the truth. Who among us can tell? At any rate, with the truth in his heart the boy shall grow up to honour and fear the Lord, and thus shall he help to keep alive a godly seed in these evil days. Therefore let no man despise the young, or think them insignificant. I claim a front place for them. I ask that, if others are kept back, at any rate their feebleness may make room for the little ones. They are the world's future. The past has been and we cannot alter it; even the present is gone while we gaze on it; but our hope lies in the future therefore, by your leave, room for the children, room for the boys and girls!
I suppose that these grown-up apostles thought that the children's minds were too trifling. They are at their play and their childish mirth: they will regard it only as a pastime to be folded in Jesus' arms; it will be mirth to them, and they will have no idea of the solemnity of their position. Well! well! Trifling, is it? Children are said to be guilty of trifling! Are not ye also triflers? If it comes to an examination upon the matter of trifling, who are the greatest triflers, children or full-grown men and women? What is greater trifling than for a man to live for the enjoyment of sensual pleasures, or for a woman to live to dress herself and waste her time in company'? Nay, more, what is the accumulation of wealth for the sake of it but miserable trifling? Child's play without the amusement! Most men are triflers on a larger scale than children, and that is the main difference. Children when they trifle play with little things—their toys so breakable, are they not made on purpose to be trifled with and broken? The child with his trifles is but doing as he should. Alas, I know men and women who trifle with their souls, and with heaven and hell, and eternity; they trifle with God's Word, trifle with God's Son, trifle with God Himself! Charge not children with being frivolous, for their little games often have as much of earnestness about them, and are as useful, as the pursuits of men. Half the councils of our senators and the debates of our parliaments are worse than child's play. The game of war is a far greater folly than the most frolicsome of boyish tricks. Big children are worse triflers than the little ones can ever be. Despise not children for trifling when the whole world is given to folly.
"Ay," say they, "but if we should let the children come to Christ, and if He should bless them, they will soon forget it. No matter how loving His look and how spiritual His words, they will go back to their play, and their weak memories will preserve no trace of it at all." This objection we meet in the same manner as the others. Do not men forget? What a forgetful generation do most preachers address! Verily this is a generation like to that of which Isaiah said, "Precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little." Alas! many must have the gospel preached to them again, and again, and again, till the preacher is well nigh weary with his hopeless task; for they are like to men who see their natural faces in a glass, and go their way to forget what manner of men they are. They live in sin still. The Word has no abiding place in their hearts. Forgetfulness! Charge not children with it lest the accusation be proven against yourselves.
But do the little ones forget? I suppose the events which we best remember in advanced age are the things which happened to us in our earliest days. At any rate, I have shaken hands with greyheaded men who have forgotten nearly all the events which have intervened between their old age and the time of their childhood, but little matters which transpired at home, hymns learned at their mother's knee, and words spoken by their father or sister, have lingered with them. The voices of childhood echo throughout life, The first learned is generally the last forgotten. The young children who heard our Lord's blessing would not forget it. They would have His countenance photographed upon their hearts, and never forget His kind and tender smile. Peter, and James, and John, and the rest of you, are all mistaken, and therefore you must suffer the children to come to Jesus.
Perhaps, too, they thought that children had not sufficient capacity. Jesus Christ said such wonderful things that the children could not be supposed to have the capacity to receive them. Yet, indeed, this is a great error; for children readily enter into our Lord's teaching. They never learn to read so quickly from any book as from the New Testament. The words of Jesus are so childlike and so fitted for children that they drink them in better than the words of any other man, however simple he may try to be. Children readily understand the child Jesus. What is this matter of capacity? What capacity is wanted? Capacity to believe? I tell you, children have more of that than grown-up persons. I am not now speaking of the spiritual part of faith, but as far as the mental faculty is concerned, there is any quantity of the capacity for faith in the heart of a child. His believing faculty has not yet been overloaded by superstition, or perverted by falsehood, or maimed by wicked unbelief. Only let the Holy Spirit consecrate the faculty, and there is enough of it for the production of abundant faith in God.
In what respect are children deficient of capacity? Do they lack capacity for repentance? Assuredly not: have I not seen a girl weep herself ill because she has done wrong? A tender conscience in many a little boy has made him unutterably miserable when he has been conscious of a fault. Do not some of us recollect the keen arrows of conviction which rankled in our hearts when we were yet children? I distinctly recollect the time when I could not rest because of sin, and sought the Lord, while yet a child, with bitter anguish. Children are capable enough of repentance, God the Holy Spirit working it in them: this is no conjecture, for we ourselves are living witnesses.
What, then, do children want in the matter of capacity? "Why, they have not sufficient understanding," says one. Understanding—of what? If the religion of Jesus were that of Modern Thought, if it were such sublime nonsense that none but the so-called cultured class could make head or tail of it, then children might be incapable of its comprehension; but if it be indeed the gospel of the poor man's Bible, then there are shallows in it where the tiniest lamb in Jesus' fold may wade without fear of being carried off its feet. It is true that in the Scriptures there are great mysteries, where your leviathans may dive and find no bottom; but the knowledge of these deep things is not essential to salvation, or else few of us would be saved. The things that are, essential to salvation are so exceedingly simple that no child need sit down in despair of understanding the things which make for his peace. Christ crucified is not a riddle for sages, but a plain truth for plain people: true, it is meat for men, but it is also milk for babes.
Did you say that children could not love? That, after all, is one of the grandest parts of the education of a Christian; did you dream that children could not attain to it? No, you did not say that, nor dared you think it, for the capacity for love is great in a child. Would God it were always as great in ourselves!
To put the thoughts of the apostles into one or two words: they thought that the children must not come to Christ because they were not like themselves—they were not men and women. A child not big enough, tall enough, grown enough, great enough to be blessed by Jesus! So they half thought. The child must not come to the Master because he is not like the man. How the blessed Saviour turns the tables and says, "Say not, the child may not come till he is like a man, but know that you cannot come till you are like him. It is no difficulty in the child's way that he is not like you; the difficulty is with you, that you are not like the child." Instead of the child needing to wait until he grows up and becomes a man, it is the man who must grow down and become like a child. "Whoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall in no wise enter therein." Our Lord's words are a complete and all-sufficient answer to the thoughts of His disciples, and we may each one as we read them learn wisdom. Let us not say, "Would to God my child were grown up like myself that he might come to Christ!"—but rather may we almost wish that we were little children again, could forget much that now we know, could be washed clean from habit and prejudice, and could begin again with a child's freshness, simplicity, and eagerness. As we pray for spiritual childhood, Scripture sets its seal upon the prayer, for it is written, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God"; and again, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
Now, I wonder whether any have such a thought as the disciples' lingering in brain or heart? I wonder whether you ever think in this fashion? I should not be surprised if you do. I hope it is not quite so common as it used to be, but I used to see in certain quarters among old folks a deep suspicion of youthful piety. The seniors shook their heads at the idea of receiving children into the church. Some even ventured to speak of converts as "only a lot of girls and boys": as if they were the worse for that. Many if they hear of a child-convert are very dubious unless he dies very soon, and then they believe all about him. If the child lives they sharpen their axes to have a cut at him by way of examination. He must know all the doctrines, certainly, and he must be supernaturally grave. It is not every grown-up person who knows the higher doctrines of the Word, but if the young person should not know them he is set aside. Some people expect almost infinite wisdom in a child before they can believe him to be the subject of Divine grace. This is monstrous. Then, again, if a believing child should act like a child, some of the fathers of the last generation judged that he could not be converted, as if conversion to Christ added twenty years to our age. Of course, the young convert must not play any more, nor talk in his own childish fashion, or the seniors would be shocked; for it was a sort of understood thing that as soon as ever a child was converted he was to turn into an old man. I never could see anything in Scripture to support this theory; but then Scripture was not so much cared for as the judgment of the deep-experienced people, and the general opinion that it was well to summer and winter all converts before admitting them into the sacred enclosures of the church. Now, if any of you still have an idea in your head hostile to the conversion of children, try and get rid of it, for it is as wrong as wrong can be. If there were two enquirers before me now, a child and a man, and I received from each the same testimony, should have no more right to distrust the child than to suspect the man: in fact, if suspicion must come in anywhere, it ought rather to be exercised towards the adult than in reference to the child, who is far less likely to be guilty of hypocrisy than the man, and far less likely to have borrowed his words and phrases. At any rate, learn from the Master's words that you are not to try and make the child like yourself, but you are to be transformed till you yourself are like the child.