Chapter 1 "Feed My Lambs"
The best of the church are none too good for this work. Do not think because you have other service to do that therefore you should take no interest in this form of holy work, but kindly, according to your opportunities, stand ready to help the little ones, and to cheer those whose chief calling is to attend to them. To us all this message comes: "Feed My lambs." To the minister, and to all who have any knowledge of the things of God, the commission is given. See to it that you look after the children that are in Christ Jesus. Peter was a leader among believers, yet he must feed the, lambs.
The lambs are the young of the flock. So, then, we ought to look specially and carefully after those who are young in grace. They may be old in years, and yet they may be, mere babes in grace as to the length of their spiritual life, and therefore they need to be under a good shepherd. As soon as a person is converted and added to the church, he should become the object of the care and kindness of his fellow-members. He has but newly come among us, and has no familiar friends among the saints, therefore let us all be friendly to him. Even should we leave our older comrades, we must be doubly kind towards those who are newly escaped from the world, and have come to find a refuge with the Almighty and His people. Watch with ceaseless care over those new-born babes who are strong in desires, but strong in nothing else. They have but just crept out of darkness, and their eyes can scarcely bear the light; let us be a shade to them until they grow accustomed to the blaze of gospel day. Addict yourselves to the holy work of caring for the feeble and despondent. Peter himself that morning must have felt like a newly-enlisted soldier, for he had in a sense ended his public Christian life by denying his Lord, and he had begun it again when he "went out and wept bitterly." He was now making a new confession of his faith before his Lord and his brethren, and, therefore, because he was thus made to sympathize with recruits he is commissioned to act as a guardian to them. Young converts are too timid to ask our help, and so our Lord introduces them to us, and with an emphatic word of command He says, "Feed My lambs." This shall be our reward: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto Me."
However young a believer may be, he should make an open confession of his faith, and be folded with the rest of the flock of Christ. We are not among those who are suspicious of youthful piety: we could never see more reason for such suspicions in the case of the young than in the case of those who repent late in life. Of the two we think the latter are more to be questioned than the former: for a selfish fear of punishment and dread of death are more likely to produce a counterfeit faith than mere childishness would be. How much has the child missed which might have spoiled it! How much it does not know which, please God, we hope it never may know! Oh, how much there is of brightness and trustfulness about children when converted to God which is not seen in elder converts! Our Lord Jesus evidently felt deep sympathy with children, and he is but little like Christ who looks upon them as a trouble in the world, and treats them as if they must needs be either little deceivers or foolish simpletons. To you who teach in our schools is given this joyous privilege of finding out where these young disciples are who are truly the lambs of Christ's flock, and to you He saith, "Feed My lambs"; that is, instruct such as are truly gracious, but young in years.
It is very remarkable that the word used here for "feed My lambs" is very different from the word employed in the precept, "feed My sheep." I will not trouble you with Greek words, but the second "feed" means exercise the office of a shepherd, rule, regulate, lead, manage them, do all that a shepherd has to do towards a flock; but this first feed does not include all that it means distinctly feed, and it directs teachers to a duty which they may, perhaps, neglect—namely, that of instructing children in the faith. The lambs do not so much need keeping in order as we do who know so much, and yet know so little: who think we are so far advanced that we judge one another, and contend and emulate. Christian children mainly need to be taught the doctrine, precept, and life of the gospel: they require to have Divine truth put before them clearly and forcibly. Why should the higher doctrines, the doctrines of grace, be kept back from them? They are not as some say, bones; or if they be bones, they are full of marrow, and covered with fatness. If there be any doctrine too difficult for a child, it is rather the fault of the teacher's conception of it than of the child's power to receive it, provided that child be really converted to God. It is ours to make doctrine simple; this is to be a main part of our work. Teach the little ones the whole truth and nothing but the truth; for instruction is the great want of the child's nature. A child has not only to live as you and I have, but also to grow; hence he has double need of food. When fathers say of their boys, "What appetites they have!" they should remember that we also would have great appetites if we had not only to keep the machinery going, but to enlarge it at the same time. Children in grace have to grow, rising to greater capacity in knowing, being, doing, and feeling, and to greater power from God; therefore above all things they must be fed. They must be well fed or instructed, because they are in danger of having their cravings perversely satisfied with error. Youth is susceptible to evil doctrine. Whether we teach young Christians truth or not, the devil will be sure to teach them error. They will hear of it somehow, even if they are watched by the most careful guardians. The only way to keep chaff out of the child's little measure is to fill it brimful with good wheat. Oh, that the Spirit of God may help us to do this! The more the young are taught the better; it will keep them from being misled.
We are specially exhorted to feed them because they are so likely to be overlooked. I am afraid our sermons often go over the heads of the younger folk—who, nevertheless, may be as true Christians as the older ones. Blessed is he who can so speak as to be understood by a child! Blessed is that godly woman who in her class so adapts herself to girlish modes of thought that the truth from her heart streams into the children's hearts without let or hindrance.
We are specially exhorted to feed the young because this work is so profitable. Do what we may with persons converted late in life, we can never make much of them. We are very glad of them for their own sakes; but at seventy what remains even if they live another ten years? Train up a child, and he may have fifty years of holy service before him. We are glad to welcome those who come into the vineyard at the eleventh hour, but they have hardly taken their pruning-hook and their spade before the sun goes down, and their short day's work is ended. The time spent in training the late convert is greater than the space reserved for his actual service: but you take a child-convert and teach him well, and as early piety often becomes eminent piety, and that eminent piety may have a stretch of years before it in which God may be glorified and others may be blessed, such work is profitable in a high degree. It is also most beneficial work to ourselves. It exercises our humility and helps to keep us lowly and meek. It also trains our patience; let those who doubt this try it; for even young Christians exercise the patience of those who believe in them, and are therefore anxious that they should justify their confidence. If you want big-souled, large-hearted men or women, look for them among those who are much engaged among the young, bearing with their follies, and sympathizing with their weaknesses for Jesus' sake.
Chapter 2 Do Not Hinder the Children
Concerning this hindering of children, let us watch its action. I think the results of this sad feeling about children coming to the Savior is to be seen, first, in the fact that often there is nothing in the service for the children. The sermon is over their heads, and the preacher does not think that this is any fault; in fact, he rather rejoices that it is so. Some time ago a person who wanted, I suppose, to make me feel my own insignificance, wrote to say that he had met with a number of negroes who had read my sermons with evident pleasure; and he wrote that he believed they were very suitable for niggers. Yes, my preaching was just the sort of stuff for niggers. The gentleman did not dream what sincere pleasure he caused me; for if I am understood by poor people, by servant-girls, by children, I am sure I can be understood by others. I am ambitious of preaching for niggers, if by these you mean the lowest, the rag-tag and bob-tail. I think nothing greater than to win the hearts of the lowly. So with regard to children. People occasionally say of such a one, "He is only fit to teach children: he is no preacher." I tell you, in God's sight he is no preacher who does not care for the children. There should be at least a part of every sermon and service that will suit the little ones. It is an error which permits us to forget this.
Parents sin in the same way when they omit religion from the education of their children. Perhaps the thought is that their children cannot be converted while they are children, and so they think it of small consequence where they go to school in their tender years. But it is not so Many parents even forget this when their girls and boys are closing their school-days. They send them away to the Continent, to places foul with every moral and spiritual danger, with the idea that there they can complete an elegant education. In how many cases I have seen that education completed, and it has produced young men who are thorough-paced profligates, and young women who are mere flirts. As we sow we reap. Let us expect our children to know the Lord. Let us from the beginning mingle the name of Jesus with their A B C. Let them read their first lessons from the Bible. It is a remarkable thing that there is no book from which children learn to read so quickly as from the New Testament: there is a charm about that book which draws forth the infant mind. But let us never be guilty, as parents, of forgetting the religious training of our children; for if we do we may be guilty of the blood of their souls.
Another result is that the conversion of children is not expected in many of our churches and congregations. I mean, that they do not expect the children to be converted as children. The theory is that if we can impress youthful minds with principles which may, in after years, prove useful to them, we have done a great dear; but to convert children as children, and to regard them as being as much believers as their seniors, is regarded as absurd. To this supposed absurdity I cling with all my heart. I believe that of children is the kingdom of God, both on earth and in heaven.
Another ill-result is that the conversion of children is not believed in. Certain suspicious people always file their teeth a bit when they hear of a newly-converted child: they will have a bite at him if they can. They very rightly insist upon it: that these children should be carefully examined before they are baptized land admitted into the church; but they are wrong in insisting that only in exceptional instances are they to be received. We quite agree with them as to the care to be exercised; but it should be the same in all cases, and neither more nor less in the cases of children.
How often do people expect to see in boys and girls the same solemnity of behavior which is seen in older people! It would be a good thing for us all if we had never left off being boys and girls, but had added to all the excellencies of a child the virtues of a man. Surely it is not necessary to kill the child to make the saint? It is thought by the more severe that a converted child must become twenty years older in a minute. A very solemn person once called me from the playground after I had joined the church and warned me of the impropriety of playing trap, bat, and ball with the boys. He said, "How can you play like others, if you are a child of God?" I answered that I was employed as an usher, and it was part of my duty to join in the amusements of the boys. My venerable critic thought that this altered the matter very materially; but it was clearly his view that a converted boy, as such, ought never to play!
Do not others expect from children more perfect conduct than they themselves exhibit? If a gracious child should lose his temper, or act wrongly in some trifling thing through forgetfulness, straightway he is condemned as a little hypocrite by those who are long way from being perfect themselves. Jesus says, "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones." Take heed that ye say not an unkind word against your younger brethren in Christ, your little sisters in the Lord. Jesus sets such great store by His dear lambs, that He carries them in His bosom; and I charge you who follow your Lord in all things to show a like tenderness to the little ones of the Divine family.
"They brought young children to Him, that He should touch them: and His disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it He was much displeased." He was not often displeased; certainly He was not often "much displeased," and when He was much displeased we may be sure that the case was serious. He was displeased at these children being pushed away from Him, for it was so contrary to His mind about them. The disciples did wrong to the mothers; they rebuked the parents for doing a motherly act—for doing, in fact, that which Jesus loved them to do. They brought their children to Jesus out of respect to Him: they valued a blessing from His hands more than gold; they expected that the benediction of God would go with the touch of the great Prophet. They may have hoped that a touch of the hand of Jesus would make their children's lives bright and happy. Though there may have been a measure of weakness in the parents' thought, yet the Savior could not judge hardly of that which arose out of reverence to His person. He was therefore much displeased to think that those good women, who meant Him honor, should be roughly repulsed.
There was also wrong done to the children. Sweet little ones! What had they done that they should be chided for coming to Jesus? They had not meant to intrude. Dear things! they would have fallen at His feet in reverent love for the sweet-voiced Teacher, who charmed not only men, but children, by His tender Words. The little ones meant no ill, and why should they be blamed?
Besides, there was wrong done to Himself. It might have made men think that Jesus was stiff, reserved, and self-exalted, like the Rabbins. If they had thought that He could not condescend to children they would have sadly slandered the repute of His great love. His heart was a great harbour wherein many little ships might cast anchor. Jesus, the child-man, was never more at home than with children. The holy child Jesus had an affinity for children, Was He to be represented by His own disciples as shutting the door against the children? It would do a sad injury to His character. Therefore, grieved at the triple evil which wounded the mothers, the children, and Himself, He was sore displeased. Anything we do to hinder a dear child from coming to Jesus greatly displeases our dear Lord. He cries to us, "Stand off. Let them alone. Let them come to Me, and forbid them not."
Next, it was contrary to His teaching, for He went on to say, "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein." Christ's teaching was not that there is something in us to fit us for the kingdom; and that a certain number of years may make us capable of receiving grace. His teaching all went the other ways—namely, that we are to be nothing, and that the less we are and the weaker we are, the better; for the less we have of self the more room there is for His divine grace. Do you think to come to Jesus up the ladder of knowledge? Come down; you will meet Him at the foot. Do you think to reach Jesus up the steep hill of experience! Come down, dear climber; He stands in the plain. "Oh! but when I am old, I shall then be prepared for Christ." Stay where thou art, young man; Jesus meets thee at the door of life; you were never more fit to meet Him than just now. He asks nothing of you but that you will be nothing, and that He may be all in all to you. That is His teaching: and to send back the child because it has not this or that is to fly in the teeth of the blessed doctrine of the grace of God.
Once more, it was quite contrary to Jesus Christ's practice. He made them see this; for "He took them up in His arms, put His hands upon them and blessed them." All His life long there is nothing in Him like rejection and refusing. He said truly, "Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast cut." If He did cast out any because they were too young, the text would be falsified at once: but that can never be. He is the receiver of all who come to Him. It is written, "This Man receives sinners, and eats with them." All His life He might be drawn as a shepherd with a lamb in His bosom: never as a cruel shepherd setting his dogs upon the lambs and driving them and their mothers away.
—Come Ye Children