Do Not Hinder the Children
Concerning this hindering of children, let us watch its action. I think the results of this sad feeling about children coming to the Saviour is to be seen, first, in the fact that often there is nothing in the service for the children. The sermon is over their heads, and the preacher does not think that this is any fault; in fact, he rather rejoices that it is so. Some time ago a person who wanted, I suppose, to make me feel my own insignificance, wrote to say that he had met with a number of negroes who had read my sermons with evident pleasure; and he wrote that he believed they were very suitable for niggers. Yes, my preaching was just the sort of stuff for niggers. The gentleman did not dream what sincere pleasure he caused me; for if I am understood by poor people, by servant-girls, by children, I am sure I can be understood by others. I am ambitious of preaching for niggers, if by these you mean the lowest, the rag-tag and bob-tail. I think nothing greater than to win the hearts of the lowly. So with regard to children. People occasionally say of such a one, "He is only fit to teach children: he is no preacher." I tell you, in God's sight he is no preacher who does not care for the children. There should be at least a part of every sermon and service that will suit the little ones. It is an error which permits us to forget this.
Parents sin in the same way when they omit religion from the education of their children. Perhaps the thought is that their children cannot be converted while they are children, and so they think it of small consequence where they go to school in their tender years. But it is not so. Many parents even forget this when their girls and boys are closing their school-days. They send them away to the Continent, to places foul with every moral and spiritual danger, with the idea that there they can complete an elegant education. In how many cases I have seen that education completed, and it has produced young men who are thorough-paced profligates, and young women who are mere flirts. As we sow we reap. Let us expect our children to know the Lord. Let us from the beginning mingle the name of Jesus with their A B C. Let them read their first lessons from the Bible. It is a remarkable thing that there is no book from which children learn to read so quickly as from the New Testament: there is a charm about that book which draws forth the infant mind. But let us never be guilty, as parents, of forgetting the religious training of our children; for if we do we may be guilty of the blood of their souls.
Another result is that the conversion of children is not expected in many of our churches and congregations. I mean, that they do not expect the children to be converted as children. The theory is that if we can impress youthful minds with principles which may, in after years, prove useful to them, we have done a great deal; but to convert children as children, and to regard them as being as much believers as their seniors, is regarded as absurd. To this supposed absurdity I cling with all my heart. I believe that of children is the kingdom of God, both on earth and in heaven.
Another ill-result is that the conversion of children is not believed in. Certain suspicious people always file their teeth a bit when they hear of a newly-converted child: they will have a bite at him if they can. They very rightly insist upon it: that these children should be carefully examined before they are baptized and admitted into the church; but they are wrong in insisting that only in exceptional instances are they to be received. We quite agree with them as to the care to be exercised; but it should be the same in all cases, and neither more nor less in the cases of children.
How often do people expect to see in boys and girls the same solemnity of behaviour which is seen in older people! It would be a good thing for us all if we had never left off being boys and girls, but had added to all the excellencies of a child the virtues of a man. Surely it is not necessary to kill the child to make the saint? It is thought by the more severe that a converted child must become twenty years older in a minute. A very solemn person once called me from the playground after I had joined the church and warned me of the impropriety of playing trap, bat, and ball with the boys. He said, "How can you play like others, if you are a child of God?" I answered that I was employed as an usher, and it was part of my duty to join in the amusements of the boys. My venerable critic thought that this altered the matter very materially; but it was clearly his view that a converted boy, as such, ought never to play!
Do not others expect from children more perfect conduct than they themselves exhibit? If a gracious child should lose his temper, or act wrongly in some trifling thing through forgetfulness, straightway he is condemned as a little hypocrite by those who are long way from being perfect themselves. Jesus says, "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones." Take heed that ye say not an unkind word against your younger brethren in Christ, your little sisters in the Lord. Jesus sets such great store by His dear lambs, that He carries them in His bosom; and I charge you who follow your Lord in all things to show a like tenderness to the little ones of the Divine family.
"They brought young children to Him, that He should touch them: and His disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it He was much displeased." He was not often displeased; certainly He was not often "much displeased," and when He was much displeased we may be sure that the case was serious. He was displeased at these children being pushed away from Him, for it was so contrary to His mind about them. The disciples did wrong to the mothers; they rebuked the parents for doing a motherly act—for doing, in fact, that which Jesus loved them to do. They brought their children to Jesus out of respect to Him: they valued a blessing from His hands more than gold; they expected that the benediction of God would go with the touch of the great Prophet. They may have hoped that a touch of the hand of Jesus would make their children's lives bright and happy. Though there may have been a measure of weakness in the parents' thought, yet the Saviour could not judge hardly of that which arose out of reverence to His person. He was therefore much displeased to think that those good women, who meant Him honour, should be roughly repulsed.
There was also wrong done to the children. Sweet little ones! What had they done that they should be chided for coming to Jesus? They had not meant to intrude. Dear things! they would have fallen at His feet in reverent love for the sweet-voiced Teacher, who charmed not only men, but children, by His tender Words. The little ones meant no ill, and why should they be blamed?
Besides, there was wrong done to Himself. It might have made men think that Jesus was stiff, reserved, and self-exalted, like the Rabbins. If they had thought that He could not condescend to children they would have sadly slandered the repute of His great love. His heart was a great harbour wherein many little ships might cast anchor. Jesus, the child-man, was never more at home than with children. The holy child Jesus had an affinity for children. Was He to be represented by His own disciples as shutting the door against the children? It would do a sad injury to His character. Therefore, grieved at the triple evil which wounded the mothers, the children, and Himself, He was sore displeased. Anything we do to hinder a dear child from coming to Jesus greatly displeases our dear Lord. He cries to us, "Stand off. Let them alone. Let them come to Me, and forbid them not."
Next, it was contrary to His teaching, for He went on to say, "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein." Christ's teaching was not that there is something in us to fit us for the kingdom; and that a certain number of years may make us capable of receiving grace. His teaching all went the other ways—namely, that we are to be nothing, and that the less we are and the weaker we are, the better; for the less we have of self the more room there is for His divine grace. Do you think to come to Jesus up the ladder of knowledge? Come down; you will meet Him at the foot. Do you think to reach Jesus up the steep hill of experience! Come down, dear climber; He stands in the plain. "Oh! but when I am old, I shall then be prepared for Christ." Stay where thou art, young man; Jesus meets thee at the door of life; you were never more fit to meet Him than just now. He asks nothing of you but that you will be nothing, and that He may be all in all to you. That is His teaching: and to send back the child because it has not this or that is to fly in the teeth of the blessed doctrine of the grace of God.
Once more, it was quite contrary to Jesus Christ's practice. He made them see this; for "He took them up in His arms, put His hands upon them and blessed them." All His life long there is nothing in Him like rejection and refusing. He said truly, "Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out." If He did cast out any because they were too young, the text would be falsified at once: but that can never be. He is the receiver of all who come to Him. It is written, "This Man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them." All His life He might be drawn as a shepherd with a lamb in His bosom: never as a cruel shepherd setting his dogs upon the lambs and driving them and their mothers away.