Our Lord tells the disciples that the gospel sets up a kingdom. Was there ever a kingdom which had no children in it? How, then, could it grow? Jesus tells us that children are admitted into the kingdom; nay, not only that some few are here and there admitted into it, but, "of such is the kingdom of God." I am not inclined to get away from the plain sense of that expression, nor to suggest that He merely means that the kingdom consists of those who are like children. It is clear that He intended such children as those who were before him—babes and young children: "of such is the kingdom of God." There are children in all kingdoms, and there are children in Christ's kingdom; and I am not certain that John Newton was not right when he said that the majority of persons who are now in the kingdom of God are children. When I think of all the multitudes of babes that have died, who are now swarming in the streets of heaven, it does seem to me to be a blessed thought that albeit generation after generation of adults have passed away in unbelief and rebellion, yet enormous multitudes of children have gone streaming up to heaven, saved by the grace of God, through the death of Christ, to sing the high praises of the Lord for ever before the eternal throne. "Of such is the kingdom of heaven." They give tone and character to the kingdom; it is rather a kingdom of children than of men.
Our Lord tells us that the way of entering the kingdom is by receiving. "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein." We do not enter into the kingdom of God by working out some deep problem and arriving at its solution; not by fetching something out of ourselves, but by receiving a secret something into us. We come into the kingdom by the kingdom's coming into us: it receives us by our receiving it. Now, if this entrance into the kingdom depended upon something to be fetched out of the human mind by study and deep thought, then very few children could ever enter it; but it depends upon something to be received, and therefore children may enter. Those children who are of years sufficient to sin, and to be saved by faith, have to listen to the gospel and to receive it by faith: and they can do this, God the Holy Spirit helping them. There is no doubt about it, because great numbers have done it. I will not say at what age children are first capable of receiving the knowledge of Christ, but it is much earlier than some fancy; and we have seen and known children who have given abundant evidence that they have received Christ and have believed in Him at a very early age. Some of them have died triumphantly, and others of them have lived, graciously, and some are here now, grown up to be men and women, who are honourable members of the church.
We know that infants enter the kingdom, for we are convinced that all of our race who die in infancy are included in the election of grace, and partake in the redemption wrought out by our Lord Jesus. Whatever some may think, the whole spirit and tone of the Word of God, as well as the nature of God Himself, lead us to believe that all who leave this world as babes are saved. Now, how do they receive the kingdom, for in the same way must we receive it? Certainly children do not receive it by birth or blood, for we are expressly told in John's gospel that the children of God are born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh. All privilege of descent is now abolished, and no babe enters into heaven because it was born of a pious father or mother, neither shall any be shut out because his progenitors were atheists or idolaters. My solemn persuasion is that the child of a Mahomedan, or a Papist, or a Buddhist, or a cannibal, dying in infancy, is as surely saved as the child of the Christian. Salvation by blood or birth there can be none, for the gospel dispensation does not admit of it: if saved, as we assuredly believe they are, infants must be saved simply according to the will and good pleasure of God, because He hath made them to be His own.
Children dying in infancy in China and Japan are as truly saved as those dying in England or Scotland. Babes of swarthy mothers, infants born in the kraal of the Hottentot or the wigwam of the Red Indian are alike saved, and therefore not saved by any outward rite, or by the mystic power of a priesthood. They are raised to the kingdom of heaven by the free and sovereign grace of God. How are they saved, then? By works? No, for they have never wrought any. By their natural innocence? No; for if that innocence could have admitted them to heaven, it must also have sufficed to save them from pain and death. If sin be not upon them in some form, how is it that they suffer? The imputed sin which makes them die prevents our believing that they claim heaven by right of innocence. They die because of Adam's fall. Sad consequences of their being born of fallen parents. Mark their appealing looks as the dear little ones look up in their suffering, as if they would fain ask why they must endure so much pain. We look at them with all the deeper grief because we cannot help them, and are made to reflect upon the mysterious union of the race in its fall and sorrow. The anguish of the dying little one is a proof of Adam's fall, and of its participation in the result thereof. The dear babes live again, however, because Jesus died and rose again, and they are in Him. They perish, as far as this life is concerned, for a sin which they did not commit: but they also live eternally through a righteousness in which they had no hand, even the righteousness of Jesus Christ, who hath redeemed them. We know little of the matter, but we suppose them to undergo regeneration ere they enter heaven: for that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and to enter the spiritual world they must be born of the Spirit. But whatever is wrought in them, it is clear that they do not enter the kingdom by the force of intellect, or will, or merit, but as a matter of free grace, having no reference to anything that they have done or have felt. In that same manner you must pass into the kingdom entirely through free grace, and not at all by any power or merit of your own. You will enter heaven as fully by grace as if you had never lived a godly life, nor had practised a single virtue.
Now we have to think of another sort of children; these who outlive the time of infancy and become children capable of actual sin, and of knowing Christ, and being converted. Many of these by faith enter the kingdom. Now, as these children receive the kingdom of heaven, so must we receive it. How do the children receive it? I answer, a child receives the gospel with humility, with simple faith, and with unworldliness. Children are not held up to us as an example in all things, for they have faults which we ought to avoid, but they are here praised in this point,—the way in which they receive the kingdom. How does a child receive it? First, with humility, He is humble enough to be without prejudice. Take a little child and tell him about Christ Jesus the Saviour, and if God blesses the telling of the story of the cross, and he believes it, he receives it without having any wrong views and notions to battle with. Many a man goes to hear the gospel with the idea that Christ is merely human; he cannot get rid of that prejudice from his mind, and therefore he does not receive Christ Jesus the Lord. Another comes to hear the word with the recollection of all that he has heard and read of infidelity, heresy, and profanity: how can he profit till this is removed? Another comes with his mind stuffed with proud self-righteousness, with a belief in priestcraft, or with a reliance upon some form or ceremony. If we could get this lumber out of the soul, there would be some hope; but all this is a hindrance. Now, the dear child, as he listens to the story of the love of God in Christ Jesus, has none of these prejudices to spoil his hearing. Very likely he does not even know that such evils have been invented by man, and he is blessed in his ignorance. He will find out the evil soon enough; but for the present he humbly drinks in the word, and prays,—
"Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look on me, a little child!
Pity my simplicity;
Suffer me to come to Thee."
Now, this deliverance from preconceived notions is what we greatly need. Just as your little boy or your little girl must believe, even so must you. There is only one way for the shepherd and the sage, the philosopher and the peasant. The little child receives Christ humbly, for he never dreams of merit or purchase. I do not recollect ever having met with a child who had to battle with self-righteousness in coming to Christ.