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condemned ? Connect with this their freedom from personal guilt ; they have not done either good or evil :-does it comport with either the Divine justice or mercy, to suppose that such are not saved whose only guilt is their unavoidable connexion with a broken covenant ? It may be added; they are incapable of future punishment; they can feel no remorse on account of sin; they cannot grieve over authority despised and mercy slighted on what in them could the second death have power ? The benevolence of the Divine character suggests also the hope of their salvation : “God is love;" “ His tender mercies are over all his works ;" “ He hath no pleasure in the death of a sinner;" yea, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life.” Is it not reasonable to suppose that the benevolence which laid the plan of human salvation, embraced infants amongst the objects of its mercy? Further, the rectitude of the Divine government warrants the hope of their salvation. They cannot be treated according to their deeds, who have neither done good nor evil: there is nothing to reward; but neither is there any thing to punish. All that is written of the final judgment of God, shews that it has respect to personal character: we read of no rewards conferred on relative holiness, nor of any punishments inflicted on relative guilt, except in the temporary dispensations of the present state. The fall was permitted to make way for the development of the Divine glory in the plan of salvation : would it be equitable to place salvation within the reach of adults who have confirmed the first rebellion by their own actual sins; and refuse it to children who are incapable of discerning good and evil? There are also many general expressions of Divine favour towards children, which suggest the hope that dying infants will find a lasting asylum in his mercy. He contemplates their advantage in the blessings he confers on mankind; and enjoins parents to obedience for the sake of their children. “ He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children ; that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born,” &c. “ Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee,” Psalm lxxviii. 5, 6; Deut. xii. 28. Can we suppose that he is thus concerned for their temporal instruction and welfare, and that he will leave them to perish everlastingly? Again, he pronounces their guilt to be aggravated who evil intreat little children, and declares his readiness to avenge their righteous cause (Jer. xix. 3—9): who can suppose that he who
avenges their cause on earth, will leave them a prey to fiercer enemies in hell? Yea, more, he assigns as a reason for sparing Nineveh, the great number of young children which were in it:“Should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six-score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?” Jonah iv. 11. Did he spare their lives, and the city in some measure for their sakes, and can we think that, had they been destroyed with the city, his mercy would not have reached to their eternal condition? There are, besides, still more special promises of favour towards the children of his people : “ The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee ;” “His righteousness is unto children's children;" “ He will bless them that fear the Lord, both small and great; the Lord shall increase you more and more, you and your children;" They are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them." Do not these promises (and there are many more of the like character) strongly impress us with the favour of God towards children?
Such are some of the general considerations which suggest hope : we advance to observe that
2. There are certain gracious declarations of the word of God which imply this truth.
The first passage to which we shall refer, is Matt. xviii. 1–14.* That this
passage, if it refer to infants at all, implies their salvation, will not be questioned : a brief examination of it will prove satisfactory as to this point. Entertaining the notion of a worldly kingdom as that of the Messiah, his disciples asked him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven ?” To correct their notions, “ Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.” The question is here raised, Is this to be taken literally; or does not our Lord rather speak metaphorically, concerning a humble disciple who receives the kingdom of heaven with a childlike disposition? The parallel passages (Mark ix. 36, 37; Luke ix. 48;) decide in favour of infants ;-Mark representing the Saviour as holding the child in his arms when he uttered these words; and Luke expressly saying,
“ this child.”
* The reader will have the kindness to turn to the passages quoted.
The reference of the whole passage to children is thus indisputably determined. Proceeding in his discourse, he says, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones, which believe in me, better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” This is a continuation of the same discourse, declarative of the special regard to be shewn to infants under the gospel dispensation. For that he does not here either speak of his disciples, is plain from the circumstance that they were at the time the persons addressed, (they are the persons spoken to, not those spoken of,) and to them the caution is given.
The design was to confirm the favourable regard to children, whose religious connexion with the existing economy of God's moral government had been established from the beginning ; and to intimate, that, to refuse to children the offices of piety and the ordinances of religion, as they are capable of receiving them, would, under the Christian economy also, be considered as the placing of a stumbling-block in the way of their salvation. The correctness of this interpretation is again questioned on account of the qualifying clause—“who believe in me.” It undoubtedly presents a difficulty: but, in a case where the reference is so plain, (viz. to infants) that no words could have made it plainer, this clause must be understood in a sense in which it is applicable to them. The question is not, whether another object of reference can be found for the words, but in what sense did our Lord use them in the connexion in which they stand? That infants are capable of receiving the principle of faith is plain; for some, as Jeremiah and John the Baptist, have been sanctified from the womb. The fact of their capacity of faith, binds the disciples to afford them all the means of faith of which they are capable; and. this is quite in unison with the fifth verse,--“Whoso shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me.” But may not the phrase be used to designate their established connexion with the divinely appointed religion ? Children were always viewed as sustaining this relation: the Jewish children were accounted worshippers of the true God, even from their infancy; (Deut. xxix. 10—13; v. 3; 2 Chron. xx. 13; Joel ii. 15, 16;) and continued to be so accounted till they renounced him. And so, under the Christian dispensation, children are viewed as believers, because visibly connected with the dispensation, and continue to be so accounted till they renounce it as their religion. In several following verses, Christ more fully declares the danger of giving offence, or creating a stumbling-block in the way of any man's salvation; and then, at the tenth verse, renews his caution with respect to children : “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say
unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.” They share in the benevolent attentions of angels : if despised on earth, they have their guardians in heaven, who dwell in the presence, have access to the throne, and incessantly gaze on the glory of your Father above. The mediation of Christ also distinctly contemplates the interests of children; for he adds, “ The Son of Man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray ? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.” The import of which seems to be, if there be any portion of the human race which appears to your pride of less importance than another, I am especially careful for that; my mission has special reference to it. Nor is this all; the purposes of God's mercy are to the same effect : “ It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven, that one of these” feeble, despised, unnoticed “ little ones, should perish.' The declaration not only binds the disciples of Jesus to concur with the merciful designs of Heaven, and labour to promote their salvation ; but also implies their final salvation, if they die in infancy. Cheering assurance !—“it is not the will of God that one of these little ones should perish.'
Another equally important passage bearing on this point is, that which is before us in the text. It records the conduct and language of Jesus, when "little children were brought to him, that he should put his hands on them and pray.” “ His disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And he took them
up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.” Had not the people known that Jesus would receive children, they would not have brought them; and had the disciples been ignorant of his will in this matter, they might have been corrected as mistaken, but would not have been rebuked as criminal in deciding against their presentation to him. This passage, therefore, seems to suppose
the former. Be this as it may, the occasion gave rise to an interesting declaration of the future condition of children. It implies, doubtless, their right of admission to the privileges of the gospel kingdom on earth : it distinctly intimates that these, as well as grown persons, are the subjects of that kingdom, and that they are interested in its privileges and blessings; and it confirms the ancient right of children to religious privileges along with their parents, and perpetuates it under the gospel. “ Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision, for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers; and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” But it looks beyond this, and implies, if it do not primarily assert, the salvation of infants. Christ would not recognise as subjects of his kingdom here, those whom he did not regard as heirs of his kingdom hereafter. The language is very emphatic : “Of such is the kingdom of God;" of such it is composed ; they constitute the chief portion of its subjects. Not of such as resemble these children in disposition, does the Saviour speak; for the practical exhortation, founded on this statement, in the 15th verse, is without force, except on the supposition that the little children themselves receive the kingdom : but of those little ones whom the disciples were ready to despise and refuse, “is the kingdom of God.” How does this view of the passage illustrate and confirm the statements elsewhere made, as to the aggregate numbers of the saved; and how does it relieve the difficulty sometimes felt in the supposed restrictedness of saving mercy! At least one half of the human race die in infancy: well is it said, “Of such is the kingdom of God." Another passage which appears
to involve this interesting truth, is, Romans v. 12—19. Whatever difficulties attach themselves to this sublime portion of divine truth, the following general and obvious thoughts will avail for our present purpose.
It places in contrast the two sovereign dispensations under which God has successively governed man: the one, at his creation as a sinless being; and the other in his fallen state, as guilty and needing redemption. The sweeping curse of the broken covenant, including in its range even the children who had not committed actual sin, is contrasted with the extended application of saving benefit, provided in Christ, the Head of the new covenant; and the one is declared to be commensurate with the other : “ As by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation, even so, by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” The atonement of Christ is a general remedy, admitting of a particular application, according to the appointment of God: and the extent of application here declared can be understood only on the supposition that all who die in infancy are “partakers of the benefit;” a conclusion which is not a little strengthened by the circumstance that when the apostle speaks of the exposure of infants to death, through Adam's sin, he