THE CHILDREN FOR CHRIST.
Suffering Children to come to Jesus.
'But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.'— Matt. xix. 14.
HAT deep significance there is in this word,
T T 'Suffer little children to come unto Me.' We suffer, or allow, or permit that which we are not naturally inclined for, which we would prefer to be otherwise. The mothers had probably heard of the words Jesus had just spoken (xviii. 3-5), and brought their little ones to be blessed of this wonderful Teacher. Jesus saw the disciples rebuking them. They found it so hard to understand and to follow the Master: what could the little children have to do with Him? Jesus hears them, and says: Forbid them not; allow them to come unto Me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Among His disciples He loves to
have the children: they are nearest the kingdom, the fittest for it; the kingdom needs them as the teachers of the wise and the great, to show the path through which alone heaven can be entered.
'Suffer little children to come unto Me :' the word reminds us how, now still, our wisdom cannot understand that the kingdom and the little ones are specially fitted for each other. It is only as it were by sufferance that the religion and the faith of a child is borne with; a thing not.to be too much trusted or rejoiced in. No wonder that with such a spirit in parents or the Church the youthful grace is quenched, and that the child's religion becomes very much as that of the majority of older people. Let us hear the words of the Master to-day. If you cannot understand or fully approve, still do not forbid or hinder the children coming to Jesus ; just bear with it, until you see how He can bless them, until His word, 'of such is the kingdom,' has entered your heart, and you learn to receive them as He did. Then only and truly will you have right views of what child-religion is, its nature, its dangers, its needs.
Child-religion must consist of that which constitutes the very centre of God's revelationcoming to Jesus. In His own well-known words, 'Come unto Me,' our Lord spoke of the blessed rest He would give to all who came to Him to exchange their weary burdens for His loving yoke. This simple gospel is just what a child needs. Its faith is ready to believe in the unseen One, so kind and loving. Its humility finds no difficulty in confessing its sin and its need of help. And nothing appears more simple and natural than that this loving Saviour should be obeyed and followed. As by instinct it reconciles faith and works; it sees at once that trust in Him should beget obedience. But, above all, the child at once takes in what older people often cannot apprehend,—that all religion and salvation centre in a living Person: to a child, Jesus, Jesus loving and to be loved, Jesus trusted and obeyed, Jesus Himself, is religion. Would that it were so all our life! coming to Jesus in prayer, in surrender, in love, would be the spontaneous exercise of our faith. Oh, let us not hinder, but help our children to come to Jesus!
For this child-religion can be hindered. The words of Jesus suggest the thought. The child is weaker than the older disciple, is under his influence, can be kept back by him. God has given the making of the children into the hands of their elders. And the natural religiousness of the child, his simple faith and sense of love and duty to Jesus, may be terribly checked by the example and conduct of those around him. And so Jesus says, Forbid them not. The word means (as it is elsewhere translated), Hinder them not. The religion of the child is feeble, and can so easily be hindered. Christian parents are appointed as guardians, to watch and foster its growth. All growth comes from within, and depends upon a healthy life. But young and feeble growth needs to be preserved from danger from without, and to have provided for it the sustenance it demands. Often parents have been bitterly disappointed in their children: when young they could feel so deeply and speak so beautifully; they had not lived long before all was lost. It was probably because parents trusted to what was a blessed, but still only a feeble, beginning. They did not watch over the evil influences which the young plant could not yet resist. They allowed the spirit of the world, in their own religious life or their friends, they allowed company and pleasure and the enjoyment of the world, to choke the good seed. Or they failed to supply the needful nourishment. There was not, as the child grew up, any more the personal speaking of this blessed Jesus, the helping of faith and obedience by the fellowship and example of a warm, living Christianity, a living love to Jesus. The child's religion disappeared, because the parents hindered it in coming to Jesus.
How different the result is where this coming to Jesus is, in a right spirit, fostered and encouraged not only in the little ones, but in the growing boy and girl through the years that lead to maturity. We need to be kept from right - hand as well as left-hand errors. On the one side, we must beware of despising a child's religious impressions as of little value. Like all beginnings of life and growth, they may be feeble and easily lost; they are still of infinite value as the preparation for that which abideth ever. We must, on the other side, be kept from over-estimating or trusting in it. We must remember that the tender plant needs unceasing watching, and that only in the congenial atmosphere of a home holy to the Lord, and wholly dedicated to His service, can we count on its ripening fruit to eternal life.
We have already suggested what a child's religion needs. Just suffer the child to come to Jesus, and remove every hindrance. Believe deeply what Jesus says,' of such is the kingdom,' and allow this heavenly element in the child's nature to show itself, and to reach out after the Son of God. Let, in your education, Jesus and the coming to Him to be saved from sin, to have the heart sanctified and satisfied, be your chief end. Beware of coming in between the child and Jesus; let the child under your leading have free access to Jesus. Beware of hindering it by distrust or coolness. Let the warmth of your love to Jesus, your holy example of obedience, your teaching and praying,—in one word, your whole living,—be a daily help to the child to see Jesus, to live with Him, and to long for Him. Jesus Christ is meant to be our every-day friend, our every hour companion. Let all the wondrous influence you possess in forming your child and fixing his destiny be wielded for this one thing,—to satisfy the desire of the Saviour's heart, and make your child wholly His.
These words of Christ's were spoken to disciples who knew Him, and confessed Him the Son of God. They were sound in the faith, Christ's chosen friends. But they understood not His thoughts about the children: this was too high for them, because the love of childlikeness is one of the highest things in the kingdom. Many a theologian and preacher and parent is not yet in sympathy with Jesus. Dear parents! who have taken the Saviour as your only teacher in the revelation of the mysteries of Divine love, let Him teach you the preciousness of your little ones. Learn to see in them what He does; in His light your care of them will become a blessing to yourself and to them.
Blessed Saviour' again do we beseech Thee, open our eyes to see in our little ones what Thou seest; to think of them as Thou dost, as belonging to Thee and the kingdom. Make this so clear to us, that it may become impossible to do otherwise than to lead them to Thee. Let Thy claim on them, Thy love to them, be the secret principle that inspires all our education.
And we ask, Lord, for a heavenly wisdom to know how to guide them in coming to Thee, and to help them to abide with Thee. Teach us to estimate aright a child's impressions, both in their weakness and in their worth, as the seeds of the eternal life. And may our faith in Thy love to them, and in their share in the kingdom, be the power by which their young hearts are made strong.
Blessed Lord! Thou art the parent's and the children's Friend. Come unto me, is Thy one call, in every need and for every blessing. "We come now, Lord, and ask grace to enable us to bring our children. Grant us Thy Holy Spirit, that day by day, and year by year, we may possess and train them for Thee alone and for Thy glory. Amen.