It is a singular thing that good men frequently discover their duty when they are placed in most humiliating positions. Never in David's life was he in a worse plight than that which suggested this Psalm. It is headed, "A Psalm of David, when he changed his behaviour before Abimelech; who drove him away, and he departed." This poem was intended to commemorate that event, and was suggested by it. David was carried before King Achish, the Abimelech of Philistia, and, in order to make his escape, he pretended to be mad, accompanying that profession of madness with certain very degrading actions which might well seem to betoken his insanity. He was driven from the palace, and as usual, when such men are in the street, it is probable that a number of children assembled around him. You have the sad story told in 1 Samuel 21:10-15. In after days, when David sang songs of praise to Jehovah, recollecting how he had become the laughing-stock of little children, he seemed to say, "Ah! by my folly before the children in the streets, I have lowered myself in the estimation of generations that shall live after me; now I will endeavour to undo the mischief,—"Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord.'"
Very possibly, if David had never been in such a position, he would never have thought of this duty; for I do not discover that he ever said in any other Psalm, "Come, ye children, hearken unto me." He had the cares of his cities, his provinces, and his nation pressing upon him, and he may have been at other times but little attentive to the education of youth; but here, being brought into the meanest position which man could possibly occupy, having become as one bereft of reason, he recollects his duty. The exalted or prosperous Christian is not always mindful of "the lambs." That duty generally devolves on Peters, whose pride and confidence have been crushed, and who rejoice thus practically to answer their Lord's question, as the apostle did when Jesus said to him, "Lovest thou Me?"
"Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord." The doctrine is, that children are capable of being taught the fear of the Lord.
Men are generally wisest after they have been most foolish. David had been extremely foolish, and now he became truly wise; and being so, it was not likely he would utter foolish sentiments, or give directions such as would be dictated by a weak mind. We have heard it said by some that children cannot understand the great mysteries of religion. We even know some Sunday-school teachers who cautiously avoid mentioning the great doctrines of the gospel, because they think the children are not prepared to receive them. Alas! the same mistake has crept into the pulpit; for it is currently believed, among a certain class of preachers, that many of the doctrines of the Word of God, although true, are not fit to be taught to the people, since they would pervert them to their own destruction. Away with such priestcraft! Whatever God has revealed ought to be preached. Whatever HE has revealed, if I am not capable of understanding it, I will still believe and preach it. I do hold that there is no doctrine of the Word of God which a child, if he be capable of salvation, is not capable of receiving. I would have children taught all the great doctrines of truth without a solitary exception, that they may in their after days hold fast by them.
I can bear witness that children can understand the Scriptures; for I am sure that, when but a child, I could have discussed many a knotty point of controversial theology, having heard both sides of the question freely stated among my father's circle of friends. In fact, children are capable of understanding some things in early life, which we hardly understand afterwards. Children have eminently a simplicity of faith, and simplicity of faith is akin to the highest knowledge; indeed, we know not that there is much distinction between the simplicity of a child and the genius of the profoundest mind. He who receives things simply, as a child, will often have ideas which the man who is prone to make a syllogism of everything will never attain unto. If you wish to know whether children can be taught, I point you to many in our churches, and in pious families,—not prodigies, but such as we frequently see,—Timothys and Samuels, and little girls, too, who have early come to know a Saviour's love. As soon as a child is capable of being lost, it is capable of being saved. As soon as a child can sin, that child can, if God's grace assist it, believe and receive the Word of God. As soon as children can learn evil, be assured that they are competent, under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, to learn good. Never go to your class with the thought that the children cannot comprehend you; for if you do not make them understand, it is possibly because you do not yourselves understand; if you do not teach children what you wish them to learn, it may be because you are not fit for the task; you should find out simpler words, more fitted for their capacity, and then you would discover that it was not the fault of the child, but the fault of the teacher, if he did not learn. I hold that children are capable of salvation. He who, in Divine sovereignty, reclaimed the grey-haired sinner from the error of his ways, can turn a little child from his youthful follies. He who, in the eleventh hour, findeth some standing idle in the market-place, and sendeth them into the vineyard, can and does call men at the dawning of the day to labour for Him. He who can change the course of a river when it has rolled onward, and become a mighty flood, can control a new-born rivulet leaping from its cradle-fountain, and make it run into the channel He desireth, He can do all things: He can work upon children's hearts as He pleases, for all are under His control.
I will not stay to establish the doctrine, because I do not consider that any are so foolish as to doubt it. But, although you believe it, I fear many do not expect to hear of children being saved. Throughout the churches, I have noticed a kind of abhorrence of anything like child-piety. We are frightened at the idea of a little boy loving Christ; and if we hear of a little girl following the Saviour, we say it is a youthful fancy, an early impression that will die away. I beseech you, never treat child-piety with suspicion. It is a tender plant; do not brush it too hard. I heard a tale, some time ago, which I believe to be perfectly authentic. A dear little girl, some five or six years old, a true lover of Jesus, requested of her mother that she might join the church. The mother told her she was too young, and the poor little thing was exceedingly grieved. After a while, the mother, who saw that piety was in her child's heart, spoke to the minister on the subject. The minister talked to the child, and said to the mother, "I am thoroughly convinced of her piety, but I cannot take her into the church, she is too young." When the child heard that, a strange gloom passed over her face; and the next morning, when the mother went to her little bed, she lay with a pearly tear on each eye, dead for very grief; her heart was broken, because she could not follow her Saviour, and do as He had bidden her. I would not have murdered that child for a world! Take care how you treat young piety. Be very tender in dealing with it. Believe that children can be saved just as much as yourselves, I do most firmly believe in the salvation of children. When you see the young heart brought to the Saviour, do not stand by and speak harshly, mistrusting everything. It is better sometimes to be deceived than to be the means of offending one of these little ones who believe in Jesus. God send to His people a firm belief that little buds of grace are worthy of all tender care!