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ones, that were thus permitted to receive the benediction of the Son of God; and it may be proper to observe, that, according to the testimony of Nicephorus, Ignatius, a disciple of John, and afterward bishop of Antioch, who was honored with martyrdom about seventy-four years after the death of Christ, was one of those very “ infunts."
If, then, infants actually did receive the blessing of Christ when on earth ; were thus regarded as proper subjects of his visible and spiritual kingdom, and consequently of the kingdom of glory; it is certainly fair to infer, that they may, at this age, become the subjects of grace--may be converted-may become real Christians.
To this sentiment, supported by the text, now solicit your attention; and to prevent misapprehension, I remark, that the term infancy will be used in its strictly proper application, as embracing the first six years of life. I repeat, then, that infants may become the subjects of grace, may be converted.
1. In elucidating this truth, it may be remarked, in the first place, that there is no natural impossibility in the case. If there be any incapacity to become Christians, between the commencement of moral agency and sin and any subsequent period, then, during that period salvation is absolutely impossible, and their condition hopeless! But is such a portion of our race, who have commenced moral agency, and have sinned, rendered incapable of salvation, by not being able to comply with the terms of the Gospel? Is the remedy so inadequate to the disease ?
Moral agency in doing what is forbidden, or refusing to do what is required, supposes the existence of all that ability that is needed for a compliance with duty. Destroy this, and you sweep away, at one fatal stroke, the obligations to comply with the terms of the Gospel - the only method revealed in the Bible, in which the wrath of God can be avoided, and the soul saved.
But I would ask, why a person, who is capable of sinning, is not capable of repenting of sin? The former act is a violation of obligation, that was either known, or that might have been known; the latter implies a feeling that such an obligation has been violated. And if a moral agent can violate obligation, he can feel that he has done so. No stronger mental powers are necessary for repentance than for sinning. What is there, then, in the nature of the case, that makes the conversion of young children impossible?
2. But it may be remarked, in the second place, that infancy, or the first period of life, is the best time for piety to cominence. I do not say simply that it would be most desirable for it to commence then, but that it is the most favorable time. The word of God teaches us, that when habits of sin have become fixed, the breaking of these, in all human probability, is as hopeless as that the Ethiopian will change his skin, or the leopard his spots. And observation and experience testify the same. If, then, the principle be correct, that a continuance in sin will strengthen sinful habits, and make a change in the character and life more difficult, and consequently more hopeless, is there any time so favorable to this change as when there are the fewest sins committed, and habits of sin have not been formed ?
If it be a more favorable time to become a Christian in youth than when threescore and ten years have passed away in sin, who will say that the age of five
years is not better than that of fifteen? Upon what principle may a person spend fifteen years in the neglect of the soul, and in the service of Satan, before he arrives at the most favorable time to commence a preparation for eternity? Is the prospect brightening, as one year after another passes away, while living without hope and without God in the world? But if every additional
year in sin would render a change in the sinner more difficult, and of course his condition more alarming, then every
additional sin will produce proportionably the same effect. On this principle, the time for the commencement of piety is more favorable five years after moral agency commences, than fifty years after; and more favorable at an earlier period, than at the
years. It is easier bending the young sapling, than the sturdy oak, and easier still to bend the tender twig, than the young sapling.
But it may be said, that, during the period of infancy, or during the first six years of life, the mind is not so capable of weighing truth, of comprehending the nature and obligations of religion, as at a subsequent period. The fact is admitted; but what does it prove? That piety may not commence in infancy? or that this is not the most favorable time for it to commence ? Far from it. If the mind be more matured at fifteen years of age than at five, the guilt of sin is proportionably greater at the first named period than the last. It is a principle well established in morals, that the guilt of sin is proportioned to the light resisted in its commission. This sentiment has an illustration in the declaration of Christ, that he that knew his Lord's will, and did it not, would deserve to be beaten with many stripes. It is upon this principle, too, that the guilt of fallen angels is greater than that of men. They were not created devils, but stood, once, right where Gabriel stands, before the throne of God and the Lamb, with minds as capacious, as holy and happy spirits needed for the service of heaven. It was there, in the language of another, “ that they were schooled, and disciplined, and equipped ;” and when they were banished from the abodes of purity and bliss, they did not become idiots. No! they carried all their “heaven-taught science” with them down to hell, and they have it now, and it is this that makes them DEVILS,—that loads them with heavier chains of guilt, and will give an intensity to the pangs of hell which none but devils can feel.
If, then, our minds, and the minds of our children, are more matured, can take a wider range in the field of truth, and better weigh the obligations to penitence and holiness, at fifteen years of age than at five, it is just as certain that the guilt of sin is proportionably greater than at the early period. It is of a deeper dye, cries to heaven for vengeance with greater urgency, and deserves a deeper damnation.
Now, I ask, is there any thing in the nature of the case that renders it necessary that our minds should be thus enlarged, that we should grow up to a manhood in guilt, that approximates so much nearer the guilt of devils, before we arrive at the most favorable period to become Christians ? hearers, I tremble when I think of this wide spread, this fatal delusion ; and of the holiness of a forbearing God! Let our capacities be enlarged a thousand fold, they might still fall below those possessed by the very Prince of
devils; but, with all the additional guilt that would be contracted with such enlarged capacities, are we sure that we should be any better prepared to be come the willing servants of God than we are now ? Could we, while sinners, ascend in the scale of being to the intellect of Gabriel, we might, indeed, perceive truth far more distinctly, and better weigh its importance; but then, sin, at every gradation we ascended, would deepen in its guilt, until afforded the capacity of angels, it would make us devils. Admitting, then, that the capacity of children for comprehending truth is enlarged as they grow in years, is not their guilt, too, while they remain estranged from God, increased just in proportion to the enlargement of their capacities? I ask, then, if their capacity and guilt have been increasing for fifteen or twenty years, until they have arrived at a manhood in both, is it a better time to make their peace with God than at an earlier period? Are twenty years' capacity and guilt more favorable to piety than five ?
And are five years' capacity and guilt more favorable than two?
But is it said, that there is not that capacity to repent in the infantile years, that there is at maturer age? What if there is not? Neither is there that guilt to repent of. That man has not the capacity of fallen angels to comprehend truth, and feel to the full extent, the sorrow, which their guilt demands, is no proof that man has not the capacity to repent of his own sins. His guilt is proportioned to his capacity for knowledge, when the means of knowledge are within his reach ; and his capability for repenting always corresponds with his obligation to repent; and his obligation to repent with the guilt of sin ; so that man can always repent of all that he ought to repent, and therefore of all his guilt.
Were man required to repent of sins that equalled in guilt the sins of fallen spirits, he might need the capacity of mind, which they have, to obey; and if young children were required to repent of the sins of manhood, they might need the enlarged capacity of manhood to perform the duty; and then might there be a plausibility, at least, in waiting for riper years, as a more favorable tiine to commence a life of penitence and piety. But so long as their guilt is less, the fact, that their capacity is less, is no proof that they have not all the capacity needed for the immediate performance of all that is required to constitute them Christians.
But is it still said, that children cannot understand many of the doctrines of the Gospel ? Admitting that they cannot, does this prove that they must wait till maturer age before they begin a life of piety? There are men, and good men too, who do not pretend to be able to comprehend all the doctrines of the Gospel ; but does this prove that they cannot be Christians ? There are docrines in the Bible which man never did, and perhaps never will be able to comprehend. He may believe that the fact is just as God has represented it, and yet he may never be able to comprehend how it can be; nor is he required to do it. ' He may believe that God is eternal, while he is unable to comprehend eternity, or how it can be that there is an uncaused existence. But is the fact that man has ignorance upon some subjects with which God is acquainted, any proof that he cannot be a Christian ?
That children cannot comprehend as much about the doctrines of the Gospel
as maturer minds, is no proof that they cannot have a sufficient understanding of them for all practical purposes. The fact is, they may be made to understand the simple truths of the Bible, at as early a period as they can understand any other truth. And often has there been a tenderness of conscience in view of truth, that has surprised those of riper years and more enlarged minds. In illustration of this, I will mention two or three facts, with some of which, you may have become acquainted.
A man once took his little son to walk with him in the fields on the Sabbath, while others had gone to the house of God; and upon entering a neighbor's corn-field, from the top of the fence, the father cast his eye around to ascertain if there was any one near that would be likely to detect him; and afterward, while engaged in his work of depredation, the little son thus accosts him :-“ Pa, what made you look round so, when you were on the fence ?" “ Be still,” said the father. “ But what made
Pa?" “ To see if there was any body in sight," was the reply. “ And doesn't any body see you, Pa ?”
66 No." “ But can't God see you in the corn-field, Pa?” This was enough from the little preacher; the father left the field and his illgotten booty, and returned to his house to think of an omniscient God.
At another time, a pious mother was giving vent to the anguish of a lacerated heart, upon receiving intelligence of the death of her husband at a distance; when her little child inquired the cause of her tears. The reply was, “ To think that you are a little orphan girl.” “ But what is an orphan, Ma ?” “ Your Pais dead, my dear; you will have no Pa to take care of you any more. The little thing covered her face in both her hands for a moment, and then lifted her moistened eyes to her weeping mother, saying, “Ma, don't cry 80; is God dead too?"
I ask, now, why children cannot be made to understand all the simple truths of the Gospel that are necessary to piety? Who, with a mind ever so much matured and cultivated, could have been a messenger of sweeter consolation to a bleeding heart, than was this little one ?
I will mention one instance more. In the town of in New-England, where it had formerly been the practice to urge all moral persons to unite with the Church, lived a wealthy man, who had, in this way,
become a professor of religion, but with so little even of the form of godliness, as that he had hitherto lived in the entire neglect of family worship. On a Sabbath afternoon, after returning from the funeral of a child, where the clergyman had taken occasion to urge upon parents the necessity of faithfulness in giving their children religious instruction, and in accompanying their instructions by their prayers ; as the family to which we have alluded were sitting around the table at tea, a little daughter broke the silence, by inquiring, in the simplicity of her heart, “ Ma, did not Mr.
say at the funeral, that Christians would pray in their families, and talk to them about religion ?'' “ Yes," was the reply. Well, Ma, Pa does not do it.' And this appeal was an arrow of conviction to the father's heart, resulting in his hopeful conversion to God, and the erection of a family altar, where God was worshipped morning and evening.
In view of s'ich facts, and a thousand others that might be named, who will pretend that children-little children cannot understand enough of the truths of the Bible to feel their force and obligation, while older sinners remain unaffected? Yes ; children will feel upon the subject of religion, whenever instruction adapted to their capacities is afforded. I might press the obligations of religion upon a congregation of sinners of threescore years of age, with all the urgency of a dying man, and they probably would remain like blocks of marble; and I should have little more encouragement, humanly speaking, than I should were I to go to yonder field of graves, and preach to the dead that are slumbering there. But let me take their grandchildren from the Sabbath school, (who have, perhaps, heard scarcely a prayer but what they heard in the Sanctuary), and talk to them about God, and the sins they have committed, about Christ who died to save sinners, and the necessity of repenting if they would not be lost,--and these little ones, with quivering lip and weeping eye, will show that they feel they have done wrong, and offended God: and if they feel that they have sinned, can they not confess and forsake their sins ? and, then, is not God faithful and just to forgive their sins, and to cleanse them from all unrighteousness?
SERMON LXXXVI. MARK, 8. 14.-Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them
not ; for of such is the kingdom of God. The sentiment, to an illustration of which your attention was called in the preceding discourse, was, that young children might become the subjects of grace,-might, at this tender age, be converted.
In the elucidation of this, it was remarked that there was no natural impossibility in the case,--that this period was the most favorable time to enter upon a life of piety,--that the fact of the mind's not having arrived at its maturity, at this period, so far from being an objection to the practicability of their early conversion, is directly in favor of it, because their guilt is less than at any later period ;--that they have all the capacity to repent that their condition demands,—that they can understand the simple truths of the Bible, as easily as they can understand any other truth,--and can be made to feel their practical importance far more easily than those who have grown old in sin.
Thus far it has been my principal object to show the practicability of infant piety. I now remark, that it not only may exist, but it actually has existed. Samuel, Josiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and Timothy, are among the instances left on sacred record, to show that there is no natural impossibility of early piety--that such piety has existed : and we are warranted in the conclusion, that, through the instrumentality of pious parents, it may exist in any nation, and in any age of the world. A multitude of Samuels, and Jeremiahs, and Timothys have been consecrated to God in their infancy, in later days, who have given their first years to piety, and have gone to heaven; and many now in the church on earth, and in the Christian ministry, can look back to their infant years, as the time when piety first commenced, which has grown with their growth, and strengthened with their strength. These are facts, my hearers; and facts that are worth more than a volume of theories and specu