The immediate disciples of our Lord were a highly honourable band of men; despite their mistakes and shortcomings, they must have been greatly sweetened by living near to one so perfect and so full of love, I gather, therefore, that if these men, who were the cream of the cream, rebuked the mothers who brought their young children to Christ, it must be a pretty common offense in the church of God. I fear that the chilling frost of this mistake is felt almost everywhere. I am not going to make any ungenerous statement; but I think if a little personal investigation were made many of us might find ourselves guilty upon this point, and might be led to cry with Pharaoh's butler, "I do remember my faults this day." Have we laid ourselves out for the conversion of children, as much as we have done for the conversion of grown-up-folks? What! Do you think me sarcastic? Do you lay yourselves out for anybody's conversion? What must I say to you? It is dreadful that the Cainite spirit should enter a believer's heart and make him say, "Am I my brother's keeper?" It is a shocking thing that we should ourselves eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and leave the famishing multitudes to perish. But tell me now, if you did care for the salvation of souls, would you not think it rather too commonplace a matter to begin with boys and girls? Yes; and your feeling is shared by many. The fault is common.
I believe, however, that this feeling, in the case of the apostles, was caused by zeal for Jesus. These good men thought that the bringing of children to the Saviour would cause an interruption: He was engaged in much better work: He had been confounding the Pharisees, instructing the masses, and healing the sick. Could it be right to pester Him with children? The little ones would not understand His teaching, and they did not need His miracles: why should they be brought in to disturb His great doings? Therefore the disciples as good as said, "Take your children back, good women. Teach them the law yourselves, and instruct them in the Psalms and the Prophets, and pray with them. Every child cannot have Christ's hands laid on it. If we suffer one set of children to come, we shall have all the neighborhood swarming about us, and the Saviour's work will be grievously interrupted. Do you not see this? Why do you act so thoughtlessly?" The disciples had such reverence for their Master that they would send the prattlers away, lest the great Rabbi should seem to become a mere teacher of babes. This may have been a zeal for God, but it was not according to knowledge. Thus in these days certain brethren would hardly like to receive many children into the church, lest it should become a society of boys and girls. Surely, if these come into the church in any great numbers, the church may be spoken of in terms of reproach! The outside world will call it a mere Sunday-school. I remember that when a fallen woman had been converted in one of our county-towns, there was an objection among certain professors to her being received into the church, and certain lewd fellows of the baser sort even went the length of advertising upon the walls the fact that the Baptist minister had baptized a harlot. I told my friend to regard it as an honour. Even so, if any reproach us with receiving young children into the church, we will wear the reproach as a badge of honour. Holy children cannot possibly do us any harm. God will send us sufficient of age and experience to steer the church prudently. We will receive none who fail to yield evidence of the new birth, however old they may be; but we will shut out no believers, however young they may be. God forbid that we should condemn our cautious brethren, but at the same time we wish their caution would show itself where it is more required. Jesus will not be dishonoured by the children: we have far more cause to fear the adults.
The apostles' rebuke of the children arose in measure from ignorance of the children's need. If any mother in that throng had said, "I must bring my child to the Master, for he is sore afflicted with a devil," neither Peter, nor James, nor John, would have demurred for a moment, but would have assisted in bringing the possessed child to the Saviour. Or suppose another mother had said, "My child has a pining sickness upon it, it is wasted to skin and bone; permit me to bring my darling, that Jesus may lay His hands upon her,"—the disciples would all have said: "Make way for this woman and her sorrowful burden." But these little ones with bright eyes, and prattling tongues, and leaping limbs, why should they come to Jesus? They forgot that in those children, with all their joy, their health, and their apparent innocence, there was a great and grievous need for the blessing of a Saviour's grace. If you indulge in the novel idea that your
children do not need conversion, that children born of Christian parents are somewhat superior to others, and have good within them which only needs development, one great motive for your devout earnestness will be gone. Believe me, your children need the Spirit of God to give them new hearts and right spirits, or else they will go astray as other children do. Remember that however young they are, there is a stone within the youngest breast; and that stone must be taken away, or be the ruin of the child. There is a tendency to evil even where as yet it is not developed into act, and that tendency needs to be overcome by the divine power of the Holy Spirit causing the child to be born again. Oh, that the church of God would cast off the old Jewish idea which still has such force around us—namely, that natural birth brings with it covenant privileges! Now, even under the Old Dispensation there were hints that the true seed was not born after the flesh, but after the spirit, as in the case of Ishmael and Isaac, and Esau and Jacob. Will not even the church of God know that "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit"? "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" The natural birth communicates nature's filthiness, but it cannot convey grace. Under the new covenant we are expressly told that the sons of God are "born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." Under the old covenant, which was typical, the birth according to the flesh yielded privilege; but to come at all under the covenant of grace ye must be born again. The first birth brings you nothing but an inheritance with the first Adam; you must be born again to come under the headship of the second Adam.
But it is written, saith one, "that the promise is unto you, and to your children." There never was a grosser piece of knavery committed under heaven than the quotation of that text as it is usually quoted. I have heard it quoted many times to prove a doctrine which is very far removed from that which it clearly teaches. If you take one half of any sentence which a man utters, and leave out the rest, you may make him say the opposite of what he means. What do you think that text really is? See Acts 2:39: "The promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." This grandly wide statement is the argument on which is founded the exhortation, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you." It is not a declaration of privilege special to anyone, but a presentation of grace as much to all that are afar off as to them and to their children. There is not a word in the New Testament to show that the benefits of divine grace are in any degree transmitted by natural descent: they come "to as many as the Lord our God shall call," whether their parents are saints of sinners. How can people have the impudence to tear off half a text to make it teach what is not true? You must sorrowfully look upon your children as born in sin, and shapen in iniquity, "heirs of wrath, even as others"; and though you may yourself belong to a line of saints, and trace your pedigree from minister to minister, all eminent in the church of God, yet your children occupy precisely the same position by their birth as other people's children do; so that they must be redeemed from under the curse of the law by the precious blood of Jesus, and they must receive a new nature by the work of the Holy Ghost. They are favoured by being placed under godly training, and under the hearing of the gospel; but their need and their sinfulness are the same as in the rest of the race. If you think of this, you will see the reason why they should be brought to Jesus Christ—a reason why they should be brought as speedily as possible in the arms of your prayer and faith to Him who is able to renew them.
I have sometimes met with a deeper spiritual experience in children of ten and twelve than I have in certain persons of fifty and sixty. It is an old proverb that some children are born with beards. Some boys are little men, and some girls are little old women. You cannot measure the lives of any of us by our ages. I knew a boy who, when he was fifteen, often heard old Christian people say, "The boy is sixty years old: he speaks with such insight into divine truth." I believe that this youth at fifteen did know far more of the things of God, and of soul travail, than any around him, whatever their age might be. I cannot tell you why it is, but so I do know it is, that some are old when they are young, and some are very green when they are old; some are wise when you would expect them to be otherwise, and others are very foolish when you might have expected that they had quitted their folly. Talk not of a child's incapacity for repentance! I have known a child weep herself to sleep by the month together under a crushing sense of sin. If you would know a deep, and bitter, and awful fear of the wrath of God, let me tell you what I felt as a boy. If you would know joy in the Lord, many a child has been as full of it as his little heart could hold. If you want to know what faith in Jesus is, you must not look to those who have been bemuddled by the heretical jargon of the times, but to the dear children who have taken Jesus at His word, and believed in Him, and loved Him, and therefore know and are sure that they are saved. Capacity for believing lies more in the child than in the man. We grow less rather than more capable of faith: every year brings the unregenerate mind further away from God, and makes it less capable of receiving the things of God. No ground is more prepared for the good seed than that which as yet has not been trodden down as the highway, nor has been as yet overgrown with thorns. Not yet has the child learned the deceits of pride, the falsehood of ambition, the delusions of worldliness, the tricks of trade, the sophistries of philosophy; and so far it has an advantage over the adult. In any case the new birth is the work of the Holy Ghost, and He can as easily work upon youth as upon age.
Some, too, have hindered the children because they have been forgetful of the child's value. The soul's price does not depend upon its years. "Oh, it is only a child!" "Children are a nuisance." "Children are always getting in the way." This talk is common. God forgive those who despise the little ones! Will you be very angry if I say that a boy is more worth saving than a man? It is infinite mercy on God's part to save those who are seventy; for what good can they now do with the fag-end of their lives? When we get to be fifty or sixty, we are almost worn out; and if we have spent all our early days with the devil, what remains for God? But these dear boys and girls,—there is something to be made out of them. If now they yield themselves to Christ they may have a long, happy, and holy day before them in which they may serve God with all their hearts. Who knows what glory God may have of them? Heathen hands may call them blessed. Whole nations may be enlightened by them. If a famous schoolmaster was accustomed to take his hat off to his; boys because he did not know whether one of them might not be Prime Minister, we may justly look upon converted children, for we do not know how soon they may be among the angels, or how greatly their light may shine among men. Let us estimate children at their true valuation, and we shall not keep them back, but we shall be eager to lead them to Jesus at once.
In proportion to our own spirituality of mind, and in proportion to our own child-likeness of heart, we shall be at home with children; and we shall enter into their early fears and hopes, their budding faith and opening love. Dwelling among young converts, we shall seem to be in a garden of flowers, in a vineyard where the tender grapes give a good smell.