THE CHILDREN FOR CHRIST.
The Heavenliness of a Little Child.
'Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso receiveth one such little child in My name, receiveth Me.'— Matt, xviii. 4, 5.
THE disciples had come to Jesus with the question, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? He spoke so often of the kingdom; to them it suggested the idea of power and glory; they could not but wonder who would have the highest place. How utterly strange and incomprehensible must have been the answer Jesus gave to their question. He called a little child, and set him in the midst of them. He told them that as long as they were thinking of who would be greatest, they could not even enter the kingdom; they must first become as little children: and then in the kingdom the humblest and the most childlike would be the highest. And whoever should receive one such little child in Jesus' name, should receive Himself. The deeper the sympathy with the child-nature, recognising Jesus and His name in it, the closer and more complete the union with Himself.
How wonderfully applicable to parents is what Jesus spoke to His disciples. In creating a family, with father and mother, God sets a little child in the midst. And in that little child He opens to them the mystery of the kingdom of heaven and the spiritual world. He tells them that if they want to know about heaven, and what will prove their fitness for its highest place, they must study the child-nature. On earth they will find nothing so heaven-like as a little child, and no surer way to the highest enjoyments of heavenly dignity than in receiving little children in His name, for in doing this they will receive Himself in whom the kingdom is. These are the three lessons we parents must learn.
First, the heavenliness of the little child. Wherein does this consist? Our Saviour uses one word,' Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom.' The greatest will be he who thinks least of being greatest, because he loses sight of himself in seeking God and His kingdom. The great beauty of childlikeness is the absence of self-consciousness. The true child loses himself in that which is around him. The curse of sin is that it makes man, every man, his own centre; even when he seeks the kingdom of heaven he is still thinking how he can be greatest in the kingdom. In the true child self does not yet manifest itself; it lives and is at rest outside of itself in the parent. It loves, and rejoices in being loved; it is truthful, and trustful to all around, showing itself as it is, counting upon others to be what they appear. This naturalness and simplicity of the child, Jesus tells us is something heavenly, the thing in nature most allied to the kingdom. And the lesson we need to learn is that there is nothing a parent should seek to preserve and cherish more carefully than this heavenly childlikeness. It is the secret of that beautiful calmness and serenity which is the image of the peace and the rest of heaven.1
The spirit of the world is the very opposite; with its rivalry and its ambition, its seeking excitement and possessions, it destroys all that is so beautiful and heavenly in the child, to make way for the show and self-seeking that are its marks. Especially Christian parents who have the means for gratifying taste and pleasure at their disposal, are in danger of destroying the
1 See Note B on the value of this serenity and tranquillity in a child's character.
simplicity and tenderness of the child-life by stimulating the desires which are of the earth and draw thither. And so, in the midst of a great deal of Bible-teaching and hymn-singing, the very heart of true religion may be eaten out by the artificial and unchildlike spirit of the homes in which the children are reared.
Parents! make a study of it to find out what the thought of Jesus' heart was when He spoke so strongly of the need of being childlike, as the only path to heaven and heavenly greatness. Value the childlikeness and simplicity of your little one as its heavenly beauty; realize that the little one, in its tender susceptibility of impressions, is all alive to what surrounds it, to the fostering influence of the heavenly life, or the withering effect of a worldly life. Believe that between the Holy Spirit, who brings heaven down to us and reveals it within, and the heavenliness of childhood, there is a wonderful suitableness for each other; train your children in that holy, happy stillness which keeps the heart open to His workings.
But how shall the parent succeed in doing this? Our Lord's words have a second lesson. If we are to watch over the heavenliness of our children, we must ourselves be childlike and heavenlyminded. Christ put a little child in the midst of strong men to teach them. Parents often owe more to the teaching of their children than these to them. Our children lose their childlikeness so soon because parents have so little of it. The atmosphere of the home is so little that of simple, happy, trustful living in the Father's presence. Amid many of the proprieties of religion the spirit of the world too often reigns. To be great in the kingdom of heaven is all too seldom the object of earnest desire. To be the greatest, as Jesus puts it, by being humble and childlike, the least and the servant of all, this is hardly dreamt of. No wonder if parents, instead of maintaining and strengthening the spirit of the child and of the kingdom, hinder and quench it.
Let parents study to be childlike. There are very few studies more difficult; very few that will bring a richer reward. The little treasures entrusted to us have a higher worth than we know; their very littleness, of which we often think only in connection with their weakness, and their future value, is what to Him, who looked at things in the light of God, constitutes their greatest attraction. It is only the childlike life of the parent, living in great simplicity of truth and trust with the Father in heaven, that can maintain the childlikeness in the child too.
To this end let us take in the third lesson our Saviour has: 'Whoso receiveth one such little child in My name, receiveth Me.' Let us at their birth receive our children in the name of Jesus, in His Spirit, with His appreciation of their simplicity and humility. Let us receive them in His name, as those whom He loves and blesses, and of whom He says, 'of such is the kingdom,' to be kept and trained for Him and His kingdom alone. Let us receive them in His name, as sent by Jesus to remind us of His own childlike humility and obedience to the Father. Let us receive them day by day in His name, coming as a gift from the Father and the heaven from which He came, to draw us thither too. Let us receive them and cherish them in His name, just as He would receive them, as He did receive them, and bless them. Let us receive them in His name, just as we would receive Himself.
Yes, just as we would receive Himself. This is not saying too much, for He asks and promises nothing less. 'He that receiveth one such little child in My name, receiveth Me.' He that recognises and loves the humility, the childlikeness, the Christlikeness of the little child, and on this account receives and treasures the child, receives Christ Himself. This is the promise. With every child something of heaven and of Christ comes into the house. In many cases it is not noticed, not cared for, and all of heaven is pushed aside by the world. Blessed they who know truly to receive the child in Jesus' name, a being from. heaven, and like heaven, and for heaven—they receive Himself. He comes to such with the little one to he its and their Saviour. 'Whosoever receiveth one such little child in My name, receiveth Me.' With the child He sets in their midst He takes the parents afresh into His training, to teach them how to be great in the kingdom of heaven. He conies to make their child a blessing to them, that so they may be prepared to be a real blessing to it. He comes to bless parent and child together, and make the home what it was meant to be—the picture, the promise, the pathway, to the Father's home in heaven?
Dear parents! shall we not ask our Lord Jesus most earnestly to open our minds to take in His Divine thoughts about the heavenliness of our children, to open our eyes to see Him in them, to bring our hearts into perfect sympathy with Himself, so that our little ones may day by day be the blessed messengers that lead us to heaven, that bring to us Jesus Himself, the life and the light of heaven?
Blessed Lord! open our ears to hear what Thou speakest, and our eyes to see as Thou seest. Give us hearts to beat in sympathy with Thine at the sight of every little child; and above all, our Lord, to understand and experience how surely and how blessedly Thou fulfillest Thy promise, 'Whosoever receiveth one such little child in My name, receiveth Me.'
Lord Jesus! we do ask Thee for a childlike spirit. May the simplicity and restfulness, the love and the loveliness, the trustfulness and truthfulness, of the child-nature so dwell in us, that in intercourse with us the heavenly childlikeness of our little ones may not be lost, but cherished and maintained through advancing years. Give us to feel very deeply that we cannot truly fulfil our parental calling except as in simplicity and godly sincerity our walk with God be that of little children.
Blessed Lord! we do thank Thee that, however feeble we be, and however far short our attainments fall of what we should be, in receiving a child in Thy name we receive Thee. Thou comest Thyself to be our Teacher and our Helper. We pray Thee to strengthen us and all parents in this faith, that we may rightly understand that nowhere art Thou nearer or more ready to bless than in the home where the children are received in Thy name, to be saved by Thee, to be trained for Thee. Amen.