The moral status of children and their relation to Christ and his church, A Sutherland

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Content: r THE JEoral (Status of hiIorm
Their Relation to Christ and His Church.
BY REV. A. SUTHERLAND. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little one*.* The Mastei
lip
Toronto : PRINTED FOR THE AUTHOR. 1876.
The EDITH and LORNE PIERCE COLLECTION 0/CANADIANA Queens University at Kingston Bell & Co., Printers, 13 Adelaide Street East, Toronto
THE moral status OF CHILDREN
THEIR RELATION TO CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH.
THE last decade has witnessed a remarkable growth of interest, throughout the Christian
world, in the religious welfare of the young. That
they constitute, in an important sense, the hope of the
Church, and have a strong claim upon her sympathy
and
help,
is
now
universally admitted ;
and
coupled
with this, there is a growing conviction that their true
relation to Christ and to his Church has not hitherto
been fully appreciated or understood. This growth
of interest is obvious in at least two directions : l, In
the efforts put forth to impart religious instruction
to
the
very youngest
children ;
and
2, The
character
of the instruction given. The establishment in our -- Sunday Schools of infant classes an institution of -- comparatively recent date is sufficient proof of a
change of view in regard to the age at which a child may be claimed for Christ ; while the character of the
teaching (dwelling less than formerly upon original
sin and total depravity, and more upon the love of
God in Christ and the universality of the atonement)
indicates just as plainly a change of view in regard to
the moral status of children, and their relation to
Christ as they enter the world.
This change of view is further indicated by a changed
phraseology. Formerly the Church was wont to ex-
press in a vague way her sense of obligation in regard
to the children, her duty to teach them, when old
enough to understand, the truths of God's Word, and
4 then " leave the results with Him ;" but now the motto upon every Sunday school banner reads, "ALL the children for Jesus? This fact is significant; for just as " the wisdom of this world " is sometimes condensed into terse, pithy proverbs, so the faith of the Church often finds expression in some brief and pointed " saying," which, in a single sentence, embodies a broad and weighty truth. If, then, the thought of the Church in regard to the children finds expression in the words quoted above, does it not imply that, back of the purpose to claim all the children for Christ, there is a conviction that they rightfully belong to Him, and that not merely by virtue of creation, but of redemption ? The importance of this view will appear further on. But notwithstanding this growth of interest in the religious training of the young, there is still much con- fusion of thought in regard to that which underlies the training, viz., the moral status of children and their relation to Christ and his Church. It is of primary importance that this vagueness should, if possible, be supplanted by a clear apprehension of the truth, since this is a matter wherein unscriptural views may lead to a kind of teaching and training by which many of " these little ones " shall be made to offend. For many years the writer felt dissatisfied with the utterances of various theological " standards " upon this subject. In fact, some of the authors seemed inclined to shirk the question altogether, while others spoke in so indefinite a manner as to leave one in doubt whether, upon this topic, they had ary clearly ascertained belief at all. Finally, he resolved to boldly face the problem, and, if possible, obtain a solution that would satisfy his own mind. He was prompted to this course by a con- viction that it was very unlikely a subject of such vast importance would be left unsettled in the Scripture. He turned, therefore, to the Word of God, and was led, step by step, to the conclusions presented in the
5
following pages. The investigation was pursued
without stopping to inquire whether the conclusions
reached harmonised with what others had written upon
the subject ;
indeed, it is
only just to
state
that, with
the exception of the first two chapters in Dr. Hib-
bard's " Religion of Childhood," the writer has read
nothing on the question outside of the theological standards before referred to. He now submits his
views, not with a desire of propounding a new theory, but with the hope that he may succeed in calling the
attention of the Church to this vitally important topic,
and thus promote a clearer apprehension of Scripture
teaching in regard to the same.
Let us now see how the question stands.
There are three leading views in regard to the moral
status of little children, one of which we may adopt,
viz., I, Special Election ; 2, Baptismal Regeneration ;
3, Universal Redemption. Those who adopt the first view hold that all chil-
dren, as descendants of Adam, are fallen, and under
the curse that God of his sovereign will and pleasure ; has elected a certain number of these to eternal life,
which life is infallibly secured to them antecedent to,
and independent of any moral change whatever.
Many further extend this view so as to embrace the -- -- notion it is nothing more that all who die in in-
fancy belong to the elect number.
Those who adopt the second view hold that chil-
dren, as such, are corrupt by nature, but that in and
-- -- through the ordinance of baptism they are regenerated born into the kingdom of God being made there-
by partakers of the divine life and nature. It is but
just to say that many who believe in baptismal re-
generation do not regard the ordinance, in itself, as pos-
sessed
of saving
virtue ;
but
they
hold
that
the
Divine
Spirit, who is the efficacious agent in regeneration,
always works concurrently with the administration of
the ordinance, and that by the Spirit and the water conjointly the child is born into the kingdom of God. Those who adopt the third view hold that while children, as such, are fallen by nature, they are all redeemed by Christ ; that the benefits of this re- --demption are co-extensive with the results of the fall the blessing co-extensive with the curse ; that through the atonement the guilt of Original Sin is so put away that no one is damned on account of it ; that, therefore, every child born into this world is to be regarded, not only as fallen in Adam, but as redeemed -- by Christ a partaker of " the free gift " which " came upon all men unto justification of life." The conclu- sion is that children, as such, in virtue of the atone- ment, belong to Christ, and are heirs of the kingdom of heaven and that this privilege and relationship ; can be forfeited only by their own wilful rejection of Christ, his salvation, and his service. Objections to this view will be considered in the proper place. The question now is, Which of these views is in harmony with the teaching of God's Word, and with the facts of human experience ? -- In regard to the first view that of special election, --it may be said that it is based upon a particular theory of redemption rather than upon any express statement of the Word of God. Nevertheless, it obtained widely in the Christian church at a compara- tively early date. From the period of the great contro- versy between Augustine and Pelagius, early in the fifth century, when the question of the moral condition of infants passed under review, the belief that infants not baptised and not elected would inevitably be lost, became a dogma throughout a large portion of the Christian world. Whatever difference of opinion there might be in regard to minor points, all were agreed on this, that infants were liable to eternal wrath on account of Adam's sin, and that " baptism, or the
decree of election, or perhaps both, was necessary to
annul the death penalty, or wash away original sin."
At the period to which we refer, the dogma of
special election was closely associated with that of
baptismal
regeneration ;
and
it
need
not
surprise
us
to find that, in an age of controversy, it was often
asserted in its broadest and most naked form. Not a
few seemed to experience a kind of savage pleasure
in pressing the dogma to its most repulsive conse-
quences, and were ready to assert with Fulgentius, a
bishop of the fifth century, concerning unbaptised
children, that, "whether they die in their mother's
womb, or after they are born, one must hold for cer-
tain and undoubted that they are to be tormented
with the everlasting punishment of eternal fire, . . .
to suffer the endless torments of hell, where the devil
and his angels are to burn for evermore." Augustine
(that greatly over-rated man) asserted substantially
the same doctrine.
Without pausing to discuss the theory of special
election in detail, it may suffice at present to notice its
practical effects in regard to child-nurture. Such a
theological tenet must, it seems to us, stand directly
in the way of all believing effort to train a child " in
the nurture and admonition of the Lord." Holding
such a dogma, there can be at best only a faint hope
that the child may be one of the elect ; but opposed -- -- to this there is the paralysing doubt that he may be a reprobate a child of the devil upon whom Christian nurture is wasted, and upon whom no covenant blessing can be believingly invoked. It may be said it
is a Christian parent's duty to train his children in the
knowledge of divine truth, and in the performance of
religious duties, without any reference to the question
whether they are elect or not ; but I wish merely to
point out that it is simply impossible to discharge this
duty in faith, so long as there exists in the parent's
8 -- -- mind an uncertainty a standing doubt whether his children have been redeemed or not. It seems to us, the prayer of such an one would not go much beyond that of a certain sceptic, who is said to have prayed, O " God (if there be a God), save my soul (// I have a soul)." That terrible IF renders faith impossible. It may be said that these observations are not in -- harmony with the facts that many who hold special election, nevertheless pray in faith for their children, and strive most earnestly to train them up for God. -- -- Doubtless this is true ; but it only proves that in some cases perhaps many those who hold special election as a dogma, practically reject it when it touches the all-important question of their own or their children's salvation for we see that they pray for and teach ; their children as if they believed that the fact of their redemption was beyond dispute. In such cases the instinct of the renewed heart outruns the logic of the creed. Again, it is manifest that special election is a theory which stands directly opposed to plain state- ments of the Word of God. It conflicts with the announcement that " God so loved THE WORLD that he gave his only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life ;" it conflicts with the assurance that Jesus Christ " by the grace of God should taste death for EVERY man," and that, " He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the WHOLE WORLD ;" it comes into direct collision with that impregnable bulwark built around the doctrine of universal atonement in Rom. v. 12-19; anc^ not ^ ess strongly does it conflict with the Saviour's loving assurance concerning "these little ones," that " of such is the kingdom of heaven." Moreover, the dogma is one which, when fully stated, conflicts with the very instincts of humanity
--
and with every reasonable and scriptural view of
divine justice and mercy. This was keenly felt even
in Augustine's day, and hence some, recoiling from the repulsive statement of the dogma so common at that
-- time, first began to imagine, and then to teach, that there was a middle place an infernus puerorum, or -- hell of infants where they would be subjected to a
much milder form of punishment or suffering than
would be inflicted upon adult sinners. This, however, -- was only an ingenious way of cutting not untying
A the Gordian knot.
theory so entirely unscriptural
was not likely to find general acceptance ;
but certain
in the Church were not slow to act upon the hint that
had been given, and so in after years, hard by the
" infants' hell " of Augustinianism, was located the
purgatory of papal Rome.
It is not necessary that we should further discuss
the point, inasmuch as in these days the notion that
infants, under any circumstances, are lost, has been very generally abandoned. We have touched upon it only in order to " show cause" why we cannot accept
the theory of special election as solving the problem
of the moral status of infants.
Let us now look at the second view, that of baptismal regeneration. On this point it is not necessary
that much should be said yet I cannot altogether ; pass it over, because I believe that the error, though
in a modified form, prevails more widely than most
people are aware of. There are some, we know, who
boldly avow their belief in the doctrine that baptism
washes away the guilt of both original and actual sin,
and that it invariably marks the date of the new birth;
in other words, that the human soul is regenerated in -- baptism, and in baptism only that the Divine Spirit
works as a regenerating power only in connection -- with that ordinance but there is another we fear --; large class who would utterly repudiate the doctrine,
\a
TO
as above stated, who are, nevertheless, largely influ-
enced by it. This appears in the anxiety manifested
by such persons to secure baptism for their children
in cases of dangerous illness or in prospect of death.
They have no idea, they say, that baptism is necessary
to save the child but yet it is evident they are influ; enced by a vague idea that, in some way, the child will
suffer serious loss if it dies without baptism. They
are not prepared to avow belief in the saving efficacy
of the ordinance but lest there might be something ; in it, they prefer to keep on the safe side, sometimes
remarking, " Well, it wcn't do the child any harm,
anyway."
Such vagueness of thought on so important a ques-
We tion cannot be justified.
ought to be ready to
give a better reason than this for the baptism of our
little ones ; and it may aid us in getting a clear appre-
prehension of the truth if we endeavour to answer this
question,
"
Why do we administer baptism
" at all ?
Some will say, " Because Christ enjoined it." Yes, but
apart from the mere letter of the command, on what
ground do we administer the ordinance ? Take, for
example, the case of an adult, who, professing to
repent of his sins and believe in Christ, desires Chris-
tian baptism : do we baptise him in order to make him a Christian, or because we believe he is a Christian ?
The latter, undoubtedly. Well, why do we baptise an
infant ? Is it in order to make it a child of God, or
Him because we believe it belongs to
already, having
been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ ?
Again we say, the latter, undoubtedly. In other
words, by baptism we do not create a fact, we only
recognise, by an expressive symbol, what we believe
to be already true. There is this difference, however,
between the two cases supposed : In the case of an adult it is only the judgment of charity, because we
cannot be absolutely sure that he is a child of the
II
kingdom but in the case of " these little ones " there ; is no room for doubt, Christ having emphatically
declared, " Of such is the kingdom of heaven."
This dogma of baptismal regeneration is a most
dangerous error. It is the modern form of the old
Judaising spirit, " Except ye be circumcised, and keep
the law of Moses, ye cannot be saved." It attributes
a magical or saving virtue to the ordinance, and shifts
the ground of our salvation from the atonement of
Christ to a mere ceremony. Nor dees it mend the
matter to say that the saving virtue is not in the
ordinance itself, but that the Holy Spirit works only
in connection with baptism, for this is presumptuously
to " limit the Holy One of Israel," by making his -- saving work to depend upon the convenience or still -- worse, the caprice of a fallible human being while ; it would leave the helpless little one, who, by no fault
of its own, had been debarred from the rite of baptism,
to perish without hope. Moreover, let it once be con-
ceded that water baptism is essential to salvation, and
(for this view will accompany the other) that to be
valid it must be administered by an ordained "priest,"
and you put into the hands of such a priesthood an
engine of spiritual despotism that will crush the reli-
gious freedom of the world. Besides all this, the dogma is without any scriptural foundation, and is
one which utterly contradicts the facts of human ex-
perience. There are thousands of baptised persons
whose conduct affords painful evidence that they are
not regenerated while, on the other hand, not a few ; are to be met with who bring forth the manifest fruits
of the Spirit before receiving the ordinance of baptism.
Let no one infer from what has just been said that
we undervalue this important ordinance of Christian-
We ity.
regard it the imperative duty of Christian
parents to dedicate their children to God in baptism ; but we desire to keep this ordinance just where we
12
-- believe Christ put it at the threshold of the visible Church. Hence we regard it not as a magical cere-
monial, working a mysterious change in the child's
inner nature, but a beautiful and expressive symbol of
the Holy Spirit's work, and the seal which outwardly
attests the child's covenant relation to God.
What, then, as regards little children, is the signifi-
cance of Christian baptism ? It is not retrospective (washing away original sin), nor immediately effica-
cious (regenerating the inner nature), but it is a present
dedication, with reference to the future training of
We one who is in covenant with God.
regard the rite,
-- therefore, as being : I, Declaratory a declaration of
our belief that our children have been redeemed by -- Christ, and belong to Him. 2, Symbolical (i), Of the -- Spirit's work the purification of our moral nature ; --(2), Of separation from the world and sin. 3, Initiatory The rite by which the child is introduced into the
visible Church, and its covenant relation recognised by the Church. 4, As a seal of God's covenant of grace with mankind.
Holding the views above indicated, we cannot accept
the dogma of baptismal regeneration as a solution of
the problem of the moral status of children. -- Let us now take a survey of the third view that of
universal redemption. Adopting this view, we hold that all men are fallen
in Adam, but redeemed by Christ; that the "free
gift " has, through the atonement, come upon all, and
-- therefore that every child born into the world is to be regarded as redeemed to God an heir of the kingdom
of heaven. Our children, born in sin because of their descent from the first Adam, are heirs of grace in virtue of their covenant relation to the second. The
benefits of redemption are real. Being subjects of
Christ's redeeming work, our children must also be
subjects of the Holy Spirit's influences, for a redemp-
f3
tion that brought no spiritual help would be no redemp-
We tion at all.
hold, therefore, that to every child is
-- imparted a principle of spiritual life not in the sense
of " regeneration," as technically understood; but -- rather in the sense of a good implanted not inherited --which it is the province of Christian nurture, under
the Divine Spirit's guidance and help, to develop and
strengthen. In a word, through the atonement the suspended contact of the Divine Spirit with the human
soul is restored, and this begins with the first dawn-
ings of that soul's existence. Hence in the Christian
nurture of children these two facts are to be kept
-- steadily in view
the fall and the redemption the ;
depravity inherited, the new life imparted. If we lose
sight of the first, we shall be baffled in our efforts and
disappointed in results, while our utter need of the Spirit's help will be but faintly realised if we lose ; sight of the second, we will be feeble in hope and
faith,
and
indirect
in
aim ;
but
if both
the
facts
be
kept steadily in view, we will toil on, in full assurance
of hope that our " labour" will not be "in vain in the
Lord."
That this view is scriptural can easily be shown.
The universal redemption of the race is asserted in the Word of God with a frequency and plainness that leaves no room for doubt. Not only does that Word
represent the provision of divine grace as all-sufficient
for the needs of the race, but it represents the former as superabounding : "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." And just as certainly, " as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to
condemnation, even so by the righteousness of one
the free gift came upon all men unto justification of
life." The "ALLS," and " EVERYS," and " WHOSO-
EVERS " of Scripture are decisive upon this point. And then as regards the covenant relation of children
to the kingdom, that surely was settled by the
--
--
'
Saviours repeated declaration, " Of such is the kingdom of heaven."
Perhaps, at this point, some thoughtful reader de-
murs, and doubts whether, after all, it is strictly true
that children, as such, belong to Christ and are heirs
of the kingdom. Well, if they belong not to Christ, to whom do they belong ? Are you willing to accept the alternative ? I am aware that not a few do theoreti-
cally accept it that is, they have a vague notion that ; for some reason children in general must of necessity
belong to the devil, for some years at least, and that
afterwards they may be " converted," and so escape
from his hands. But is the notion right ? Is it true ? Is it taught in the Word of God ? Can you find any
Christian man who is willing squarely to face the con-
clusion and accept it in regard to his own child ? I trow
not. The deep, underlying conviction of every Chris-
My tian parent is, "
child has been redeemed by
Christ, and belongs to Him ;
1 He justly claims it for his own, Who bought it with a price ;
and if it now belongs to Him, there is no reason why it should ever own another master!' If the foregoing considerations are deemed insuffi- cient, let us look at the question from another side. You believe that all who die in infancy are infallibly saved ? Yes. Well, how are they saved ? Not by a -- conscious faith they are incapable of that ; not by a process of " conversion " as technically understood they are equally incapable of that. Does death effect a moral change ? No. Is there any change after -- death ? No. How, then, are they saved ? There is, there can be but one answer, They are saved because Christ hath redeemed them. By his atonement He has entirely put away the guilt of original sin, and they have nothing to do as yet with any other. Here we
*5 have the only rational and scriptural ground on which we can confidently believe in the salvation of those who die in infancy. Nor is this all. Universal redemp- -- tion not only assures us of the salvation of all our little children if they die it also shows what their relation to Christ and his kingdom is while they live. Standing upon this immovable foundation, we can confidently challenge the world and say : "Can any man forbid water that these should not be baptised WHO HAVE RECEIVED THE Holy Ghost AS WELL AS WE?" But now the reader may ask, What about conversion ? Do you believe in the necessity of the new birth ? Assuredly I do. But allow me to ask, just here, What do you mean by conversion, or the new birth ? You say, I mean a change of heart, a change of nature. Very well but what kind of a change are ; you thinking of ? Do you mean a chemical change of a material substance ? or do you mean a moral change in the affections of a human soul and its relation to God ? You say, I mean the latter. Well, do not be startled if I now ask, Wherein does a child's relation to Christ and his kingdom need changing ? If Christ's declaration, " Of such is the kingdom of heaven," is decisive, and if it be true that adults must become "as little children " in order to enter the kingdom, what " change " would you propose whereby a child's relation to the kingdom will be made better than Christ made it ? Let us suppose a case : Here are two persons, the one a guileless child who has known naught of evil, the other a hoary-headed sinner, who has spent long years in all manner of wickedness. In the nature of things, can "conversion" mean the same thing to these two persons ? Can it be the same thing to the child that it is to the aged sinner ? Surely it cannot. The one is a responsible, the other an irresponsible being ; the child stands in covenant relation to God,
i6
cleared from the penalty of original sin, and, as yet,
-- free
from actual transgression ;
the
other stands
as
a condemned rebel one who has wilfully turned his
back on Christ, and run greedily in the ways of sin. And as these two persons occupy entirely different
ground in regard to their relationship to God, so the
necessity of " conversion," in precisely the same tech-
nical sense, cannot be affirmed of each.
But, it is again objected, did not Christ teach the universal necessity of the new birth when He said to Nicodemus, " Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God ?" In a certain sense He did, but it may fairly be questioned whether the words have
any reference to little children at all, or were intended
to include them. The new birth of which the Saviour
speaks is a change which brings a sinner into the
kingdom of God, and therefore his words fairly apply
to all who are not in that kingdom but we must ; bear in mind that the same Jesus who said " Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of
God," also said, concerning "these little ones," "Of
such is the kingdom," and that there might be no
mistake in regard to the different positions of the two classes, He said to his disciples, " Except ye " ye men -- -- "be converted, AND BECOME AS LITTLE CHILDREN,
ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."
11 But is not every child by nature fallen and de-
praved?" Undoubtedly (though I fear we often attach a meaning to such words as " fallen " and " depraved "
which the Bible does not) but why will you persist ; in looking at the fact of the fall entirely apart from the fact of redemption ? and why do you practically
ignore the glorious truth that, by the atonement of
Adam Christ Jesus, every child of
is placed in a posi-
tion, as regards the kingdom of God, entirely different
from that in which it was left by the fall ?
If the foregoing views are correct, how comes it,
n some one may ask, that children invariably grow up wicked, and if saved at all, have to be converted in the old way ? In the first place, I don't know that they do invariably grow up wicked. There are some of whom we do not hesitate to affirm that they are filled with the Holy Ghost from their very birth. But waiving this consideration for the present, there are various reasons why they often grow up in the way indicated. One reason is, they arc seldom taught to expect any- thing else. In not a few families the little ones are un- reasonably chidden and repressed. The ignorances and -- indiscretions of childhood the mere overflowings of an -- exuberant vitality are magnified into grievous moral offences, and a burden is laid upon the child's con- science that ought not to be there. From their earliest years they hear about their depravity and wickedness --about the fall and its terrible consequences ; but are seldom told, what is equally true, that they belong to Christ, having been redeemed from the fall by his precious blood. The result is, they grow up with the idea that from the very first they are out of the fold, estranged from God, the children of the devil, deserv- ing eternal wrath. What they need to be taught is, that all this would be sadly, terribly true, were it not for the atonement of Christ ; but that through that atonement they who were " far off" have been brought " nigh," and their relation to the kingdom entirely changed. Only let the heart of every little child, from its earliest years, be filled with the thought that it be- longs to Christ, that He died for it, that the design of his death was to keep it from evil all through the years, and fit it by true holiness for the life above, and then we shall have fewer complaints that children always and inevitably go astray. Another reason why so many children, even among those belonging to Christian families, grow up careless
and wicked, is because weakness of faith in regard to their covenant relation, results in weakness of effort and indirectness of aim in their religious training. So long as there is a standing doubt whether our children, as such, belong to Christ, it is impossible to labour in faith for their spiritual nurture. Under such circumstances prayer is merely asking for something that may be granted, and teaching a random scattering of seed that may possibly produce a harvest ; whereas, if we rightly apprehend the relation of the little ones to Christ, prayer becomes a confident asking for covenanted blessings, and teaching a believing effort to plant living seed in a soil where a Divine Spirit waits to water it, and cause it to spring up with abundant increase. Still another reason is, the work of religious training is deferred too long. " While men slept, an enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat," and we cannot tell at how early a period this deadly sowing begins. Let us see to it, then, that we are first in the field, filling the heart with the good seed of the kingdom, before the enemy with his tares has pre-occupied all the soil. But the strongest reason of all is to be found, per- haps, in the fact that, as a rule, we altogether under- rate the strength of opposing forces. Let us not overstate the truth. While we hold that every child has been redeemed by Christ, and is, in virtue of that redemption, an heir of the kingdom, yet their natures are not angelic. In the heart of every child of Adam there is a natural proneness to evil. The tares will grow among the wheat in the heart of a child, as well as in the broader field of the world, and it is the twofold design of Christian nurture to repress the growth of the one and encourage the growth of the other. Still further, we must remember that when a child reaches what we are wont to call the age of accounta-
*9
bility, his relation to the kingdom necessarily under- goes a change. He is no longer an unconscious and
irresponsible
being ;
he
is
now
responsible
and
ac-
countable. He has reached the point where the
mighty powers of Choice and Will come into play in determining his moral destiny. He must now for him-
self make choice of Christ and holiness on the one
hand, or of the world and sin on the other. Besides
this, as he leaves the sheltered harbour of infancy and
drifts out into the great ocean of life, he is at once
surrounded by influences which tend to separate him
from the kingdom of God. The pleasures of sense
appeal to him on every side fleshly passions clamour ;
for
indulgence ;
the enjoyments of this world
are
present and tangible, while those of the next seem
intangible and far away. Thus the bent of a nature
within, and the force of influences and example with-
out, all tend in one direction, and unless these are met
by the counter operations of divine grace, and of vigi-
lant watchfulness and Christian nurture, they will
surely carry the day, and the hapless soul will drift
farther and farther from God, until between it and the
kingdom of heaven there is " a great gulf fixed," over
which it shall never be able to pass. We are now prepared for a most important ques-
tion : Wherein does the moral state of a little child differ
from that of an adult believer ? In several respects:
1, The child is in a state of unconscious safety : The
adult believer is in a state of conscious salvation.
2, The child is treated as an unconscious and irresponsible being: The adult as a conscious and respon-
sible agent. 3, The child has reached his position of unconscious safety (an unconditional benefit of the atonement), without choice or effort on his own part : The adult has reached his position of conscious salvation (a con-
--
ditional benefit of the atonement), by the exercise of
an intelligent faith in Christ crucified.
Hence
4, The unconscious safety of the child is God's
provision to meet the necessities of an irresponsible
being : The conscious salvation of the adult believer, and the way in which it is realised, is God's method of
dealing with those who are intelligent and accountable.
If these things be so, what, as regards a child, does
" conversion " mean ? Does it mean anything ? Yes,
it means a great deal. It means that there comes a
point of time when the state of unconscious safety
passes over
into
one of
conscious salvation ;
when the
child, for himself, makes choice of Christ and his ser-
vice ;
when
he
exercises
an
intelligent
faith
in
that
atonement which all along has been his safety and ;
when the Divine Spirit works a new and more definite
work in that heart wherein He has already dwelt.
That period of choice, and of conscious spiritual en-
lightenment, marks the period of " conversion," as
technically understood. And here again it is evident
that while in both cases a real change is implied, yet
in the attendant circumstances there must be some
difference between the experience of a child and that
of an adult. Conversion is commonly supposed to
imply previous conviction and repentance but these ; exercises will differ widely in the two cases supposed.
In the case of a child who has been religiously trained
there can be no deep conviction of personal wrong-
doing, because he has, as yet, but little " conscience
of sins ;" neither can there be deep sorrow for the
past, for he has no
" past "
over which to
grieve ;
but
there may be a deep conviction of the sinfulness of his
nature, and the absolute need of the Spirit's renewing
work to fit him for God's service here, and for the
glory of his presence hereafter. In the case of an
21
adult who is brought to Christ, there will be not only
the conviction of a sinful nature, but superadded to
this a deeper and more painful conviction of a sinful Jife. In other words, the conviction of a child who
has just reached years of accountability, will have especial reference to what he is ; that of an adult will have especial reference to what he has done.
The view presented in this paper in regard to the
relation of little children to Christ, sheds clear light
upon a passage in regard to the interpretation of which there has been much diversity of opinion : "And
ye fathers, provoke
not
your
children
to
wrath ;
but
bring them up [train, educate] in the nurture and ad-
monition of the Lord!' Now, if children, as such, be-
long not to Christ to begin with, it is impossible thus
to train them with any hope of good results. Plant in
your garden a root of the deadly nightshade care for ;
it, water it, enrich the soil wherein in grows, bestow
upon
it
the
most
careful
culture ;
but no amount
of effort will make it produce wholesome fruit. To
the end of time it will remain a poisonous and
deadly thing, showing that labour bestowed upon a weed or poisonous plant is but labour wasted. And
if our children be not plants of the Lord's right hand -- planting if they are only weeds or poisonous plants -- springing up from the world's arid wastes then the command to "bring them up m the nurture and ad-
monition of the Lord" is a mockery, or worse. Such
training will result in nothing, unless, first of all, the
little ones belong to Christ. What is the conclusion of the whole matter? "Take
heed that ye despise not one of these little ones ; for I say unto you that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven." Oh ! if
-- -- these things be so; if our children have been redeemed if they belong to Christ if He has given them one
22'
by one into our charge, with the injunction, " Nurse -- this child for me, and I will give thee thy wages," if -- around " these little ones" angels watch and hover if
-- mighty forces within and without oppose our efforts to train them up for Christ surely the importance of
faithful, loving, Christian nurture can hardly be over-
stated. ,4 In the morning sow thy seed." If longer de-
ferred, some will fall " by the wayside," and the
" fowls of the air " will devour it ; some will fall " upon
a rock," where swift growth will be followed by swifter decay some may fall " among thorns," and these, ; springing up, may choke it ; but if in life's earliest hours the good seed is faithfully sown, fear not but
it will find " good ground," from which it will spring
up with a hundredfold increase. Remember! "While
men slept, the enemy came and sowed tares among the
wheat." While we sleep, the seeds of worldliness, and
selfishness and pride arc being sown broadcast ; while
we sleep, the seeds of sceptical error are being dropped
-- from book or paper into the opening furrows of the mind seeds from which the hapless child will reap a
harvest of unavailing sorrow through all the coming
O years.
ye Christian parents and teachers ! up and
be doing, before the enemy fill with rank weeds and
tares the field that God has given you to till.
I cannot leave this subject without a thought touch-
ing the little ones that are no longer with us. Some
of our children are gone. Gone where ? Thank God,
there need be no uncertainty about that. They are
gone where there is "no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying ;" they are gone where " the Lamb that is in
the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead
them unto living fountains of waters, and " where " God
shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." The lambs
are safe ; they have only been " lifted higher ;" and now in the heavenly fold of the Good Shepherd, they
23 enjoy the fulness of blessing foreshadowed in the Shepherd's words, " Suffer the little children to come unto me." Perhaps among the readers now glancing over these lines, there may be some sorrowful Rachel, refusing to be comforted because her children are not. Let me speak to thee, not in the language of sorrowful condolence, but in words of exulting congratulation. " Hail! thou that art highly favoured among women:" the Lord hath put high honour upon thee. He hath called thy little one to dwell in the palace of the king; and now, walking in the light of the Saviour's countenance, or folded in his loving arms, it rests and awaits thy coming. Walk thou softly before God. There are more eyes upon thee than thou knowest. All heaven has a deeper interest in thee than ever before. Surely the very angels of glory, speeding upon their missions of mercy, pause to smile upon thee as they pass, while they whisper lovingly to each other, "Sfo's the mother of an a?igd whom we knowT
1
Fine edition of this tract, on superior paper, 32 pages in neat cover
Single copy 12 epics for.
10 els.
,
$1.00

A Sutherland

File: the-moral-status-of-children-and-their-relation-to-christ-and.pdf
Title: The moral status of children and their relation to Christ and his church
Author: A Sutherland
Author: Sutherland, Alexander, 1833-1910
Keywords: http://archive.org/details/moralstatusofchi00suth
Published: Thu Feb 14 19:23:59 2013
Pages: 24
File size: 1.16 Mb


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