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But, we may have to contend with the inward intimation, that still something more than what has been advanced is necessary to sanction the belief that a child can participate, in any real way, in the benefits of Christ's saving life and work before it is capable of performing the fully conscious act of penitent faith, because the argument so far has mainly been drawn from the old order of things. If so, then let us turn to the authority of Jesus, Himself, at a time when he had not only proclaimed, but proven Himself to be an infallible Teacher of truth. On one occasion, we are informed by the inspired Evangelists, a number of mothers followed the Saviour, desiring Him to bless their children. His disciples, with the best intentions, of course, chided these mothers for making such a request. Exactly what the disciples said to them at the time is not recorded for us; but it was, in all probability something like this: "Our Master is engaged in the vast, momentous task of providing salvation for a lost and ruined race; illuminating the world with divine truth; and preparing men for the establishment of His great and glorious Kingdom. But your children are too young to participate actively in this great work; they cannot understand anything about its fundamental principles, and, therefore, it is impossible for them to be brought into any such personal relation to Him as that which you seek; let this be sufficient to silence your appeals." Then the Saviour, hearing the disciples' deliverance upon the subject, turned to them with a gentle rebuke for attempting to stand betwen Him and the little children. He showed them that, so far from its being true that the benefit of a personal, saving contact with Him is accessible only to those who can consciously lay hold of it, His Kingdom is to be made up of just such subjects as were then before Him; that, instead of the children's having to get up to maturity of knowledge and judgment before they could have anything to do with Him, they who are mature have to come down to the children's basis before they can enter into saving fellowship with Him. Then, he did not simply say 'to the mothers: “Go
your way; your children are blessed without the necessity of any formal act to indicate it; they will go along with my Kingdom by a kind of force of inertia, until they are capable of accepting me for themselves;" but He took them up in His arms, put His hands upon them, and blessed them, although they had no more power to appreciate the blessing, or to understand the obligation which it involved, than children of the same age who may now be brought under the benediction of His appointments; nor can we imagine, for a moment, that the blessing itself which He then bestowed was any less weighty and far-reaching in its power upon the soul than that which is intended to be conveyed now by the administration of any Sacrament which he has appointed in His Church.
But yet another perplexity, of a more practical character, may urge itself upon our attention relative to this subject. How shall we dispose of the fact, that so many persons who have been consecrated to God in infancy never come to realize the grace which is predicated of the transaction, but fall away into gross impiety when they arrive at maturity, whilst, it is intimated, comparatively few of those who, by their own conscious. act, come into the Church ever lapse from their profession? Well, it requires care to avoid a serious fallacy to which that question may give rise. In the first place, if we take the whole number of those whose lives develop from the basis of consecration to God in childhood, and set them opposite to the number of those who find their way into the Church purely from the point of rational awakening to a sense of their need of Christ without any religious influence being early brought to bear upon them then compare the number who fall on both sides, our observation would differ very materially from what the common conception is. In the next place, the failure in which infant consecration issues in some instances is not inevitably to be attributed to a falsity or defect in the doctrine itself, else the transaction would have to end in failure in every case; and that is not found to be the fact, for the main stream of Christianity to-day consists of persons whose saving connection with Christ began with early childhood.
But with that well understood, it is necessary for us to ponder the phase of this subject which has just come under our notice. It is a striking thing that so many children dedicated to God fall away into impiety later on; but, unquestionably, the bulk of responsibility for the sad occurrence rests upon us who are God's conscious agents for the care of the young; it is due chiefly to the meager instruction and training which we give them with regard to their real relation to Christ. How many good, earnest conversations do we have with our children about what their Baptism means, what it is intended to do for them, upon what ground they have been introduced into that connection? And is it any strange thing, then, that when they come to think for themselves, they have no adequate conception of where they stand, or how they are to proceed religiously?
Suppose that a man with large possessions of property has a son. From his very infancy that boy is possessor of so much of his father's estate as will fall to him when he becomes of age, though, as Saint Paul says, for the period of his minority he is under tutors and governors. But during this period, we will say, he receives no manner of instruction concerning his patrimony; is not made to understand one thing about how he comes to have such a claim; what the intrinsic value of his inheritance is; how it is to be used when he gets full possession of it, in order that it may be of real account to him; what will that boy be likely to do when his estate passes into his hands? There are enough of actual instances to warrant us in thinking that, ten to one, he will simply squander the whole thing. He is not in a position to put a judicious valuation upon his inheritance; he does not know where to begin to make the thing his own in any right sense; and the most natural thing for him to do is, to let it slip away from him, or else handle it in a way which is an occasion of annoyance to any one of correct business principles who may observe it.
Many of our baptized children are in just that situation spiritually when they come to the age of consciousness. They have had little or no correct, definite instruction upon the truth,
that they have all the while been heirs of Christ in minority, awaiting the time when they are to take that inheritance under voluntary control, and appropriate it to themselves; and it is no wonder that when they get to that point, without the right discipline, many of them simply squander their heavenly estate. It ought to be said of every one of our children, as Paul declared of Timothy, that from childhood they have known the Scriptures; not known merely by rote: but through all the stages of their development they have been made to understand what the contents of the Holy Scriptures mean for them; then their evolution into full, voluntary discipleship of Christ would be as natural and effectual as that of Timothy.
This presses home to us a solemn and weighty obligation as members of the Reformed Church. If we are willing to listen to her voice, she assures us that if we bring our children to Christ He will take them into His loving arms and bless them; but at the same time she teaches us that He hands them back to us, to train and nurture in His grace until they are able to take voluntary charge of their spiritual heritage; and we must be very dull of hearing if we do not catch from Him the warning in this connection, that if we neglect the duty in any degree, our own children's blood, woful thought! may some day be upon our heads. Would that we were all suitably impressed. with this grave obligation, so that we might comply in some sufficient measure with the injunction of the Saviour; "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of heaven." We cannot be excused for slighting that injunction upon the ground, that He has not specified exactly the way in which, or the means by which, the children are to be brought to Him. There are many other things which we do in carrying out His purpose concerning us without any specific instructions from Him as to the how and why. He never gave a syllable of direction that we should observe the first day of the week as a day of rest, instead of the seventh; and yet, the whole Christian world, with but one exception so small that it is hardly worth mentioning, has
assented to the change, guided by a sanctified judgment of what the will of the Lord is in this respect.
Correspondingly, Jesus having indicated the fundamental fact, that the little children are to be presented to Him for his blessing, it follows, of necessity, that there must be some definite way in which this is to be done; and a sanctified reason ought to be able to determine appropriately from the spirit and genius of His teaching what that way is. But we must never suppose, that the presentation of our children to Christ for His blessing is our full and finished part, after which the blessing will work out its own end. Our obligation holds until our offspring have been brought thoroughly to understand and appropriate that blessing to the salvation of their souls. Having been consecrated to the Lord in their infancy, they should be made to feel at the earliest dawning of.their consciousness that His claims are upon them; that every participation of theirs in sin is, in a peculiar way, different from that of the children of infidels, a dishonoring of His name; and every virtue that adorns their character is, in the same peculiar way, a contribution to His glory. If we would only do this with fidelity, one of the reproaches which are now laid upon Infant Baptism would be forever reduced to a bare minimum, and our children, with but rare exceptions, would have no hesitancy about assuming at the proper time all moral obligation to their Lord.