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There is much to be seen of the proper glory of the Redeemer in this passage of scripture-His usefulness-his attention to improve every seemingly accidental occurrence for the purpose of instruction, and his amiable condefcenfion to all who humbly applied to Him, and tender feeling for their wants and weaknesses. It appears from this passage, that the inhabitants about Jordan, where he then was, not only brought their fick to be healed, as they did in most other places, but brought young children “that " he should touch them." In Luke they are called infants; and in the latter end of the passage now read, it is faid, he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them; so that it is probable they were all of them of very early age, and some of them perhaps, literally what we call infants, who could not yet speak or walk. I fee not the least foundation for what some commentators imagine, that they might labor under some disorder, from which the parents supposed he would cure them: If this had been the intention, the disciples would not, probably, . have found any fault with it. The probability is, that the parents or relations of the children brought them, expect. ing that he would lay his hands on them---authoritatively bless them, and pray for them ; from which they believed important benefits might be derived to them. The difciples, we are told, “rebuked those that brought them,” fuppofing, doubtless, that it was an impertinent and unnecessary interruption of their master, and that the children could receive no benefit at that early time of life; and who knows but, like the human wildom of later times, they might think the attempt superstitions as well as unnecessary. However, our Lord was of a different opinion, and faid" Suífer the little children to come unto me, and “ forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God.'
Now the single subject of this discourse fhall be to inquire, Wliat is the import of this declaration? and, What we may understand our Saviour as affirming, when he says, of young children or infants, “ of such is the king. "dom of God?" After this, I will give such advices as the truths that may be establimhed shall suggest, and as they feem to me molt proper to enforce,
Let us then consider what we may understand our Saviour as affirming, when he says of young children or infants, “ of such is the kingdom of God.”
And, in the first place, we may understand by it, that children
be taken within the bond of God's covenant; become members of the visible church, and, in consequence, be relatively holy. I do not found the lawful. ness of infant baptism on this passage alone, and mean to enter into no controversy on the subject at this time ; but, as it is clearly established in other passages, it may well be understood here. At any rate so far as I have asfirmed is undoubtedly certain, that they may be admitted within the bond of God's covenant. We know, that under the Old Testament, they received the sign of circumcision, which in the New Testament, is said to be “ a seal of the “ righteousness that is of faith.” (Rom. iv. 11.) Many be. nefits may arise from this. As in the natural constitution of man, many advantages and disadvantages are derived from parents upon the offspring, so in the moral constitution of divine grace, many blessings, spiritual and tempo, ral, may be inherited from pious parents.
Children are the subjects of prayer; and, of consequence, within reach of the promise. The believer may justly hope for his feed dying in infancy, and in after life, many eventual providential mercies may be expected from that God who " sheweth mercy to thousands of generations of them that " love him."
It was usual in the most ancient times, for aged or holy perfons to bless children formally. I do not recollect in ancient history, a more beautiful, or more tender scene, than that we have recorded, Gen. xlviii. 15. of the patri. arch Jacob's blesling his grand-children, the fons of Jofeph, when he was about to die—“ And he blessed Joseph and
faid, God before whom my fathers, Abraham and Ifaac, “ did walk, the God which fed me all my life long to this “ day, the angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless " the lads; and let my name be named upon them, " and the name of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac : “ And let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the " earth,” We are told by an ancient writer of the Chris.
tian church, that Ignatius, afterwards bishop of Antioch, was one of those children thus brought to Christ for his blessing; and there is no reason, that I know of, to oppose the tradition : For fuppofing him to have been an infant, or even from 2 to 5 years of age, it would make him only between 70 and 80 at the time of his martyrdom, in the year 108 from the birth of Christ.
2. The declaration “ of such is the kingdom of God," may be understood to imply, that children may, even in infancy, be the subjects of regenerating grace, and thereby become really holy. This is plain from the nature of the thing; for if they can carry the corrupt impression of Adam's nature in their infant state, there can be no doubt but they may be renewed after the image of him that created them. Almighty power can easily have access to them, and can, in answer to prayers, as well as endeavors, form them for their Maker's service. See what the prophet Isaiah says, xxviii. 9. “ Whom shall he teach know“ ledge ? and whom shall he inake to understand doctrine? “ Those that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from “ the breasts." Samuel was a child of prayer, and dedi. cated to God from his infant years, and it is said of him, 1 Sam. ii. 26. “ And the child Samuel grew, and was in “ favor both with the Lord, and also with men.” It is an expression frequently to be found in pious writers, and among them that are far from denying the universal corruption of human nature, that some may be said to be sanctified from the womb—that is, that the time of their renovation may be beyond the reach both of understand. ing and memory; and this being certainly possible, may justly be considered as the object of desire and the subject of prayer. Few, perhaps, have failed to observe, that some children discover upon the first dawn of reason, an amiable and tractable disposition, and drink in spiritual instruction with desire and delight; while others discover a frowardness and repugnance, that is with much difficulty, if at all, and fometimes never, overcome.
3. I think this declaration implies, that children are much more early capable of receiving benefit, even by outward means, than is generally supposed. No doubt the reason of the conduct of the disciples was, that they fupposed the children could receive no benefit. In this, from our Lord's answer, it is probable he thought them mistaken. I will not enlarge on some refined remarks of persons as distinguilhed for learning as piety ; some of whom have supposed, that they are capable of receiving impressions of desire and aversion, and even of moral temper, particularly, of love or hatred, in the first year of their lives. I must, however, mention a remark of the justly celebrated M. Fenelon, archbishop of Cambray, because the fact on which it is founded is undeniable, and the deduction from it important. He says, that before they are thought capable of receiving any instruction, or
the least pains are taken with them, they learn a lan6 guage.—Many children at four years of age can speak \ their mother tongue, though not with the same accura
cy or grammatical precision, yet with greater readiness and fulness than most scholars do a foreign language
after the fludy of a whole life.' If I were to enlarge upon this I might fay, they not only discover their intellectual powers by connecting the idea with the fign, but acquire many sentiments of good and evil, right and wrong, in that early period of their life. Such is the attention of children, that they often seem to know their parents' tempers sooner and better than they know their's, and to avail themselves of that knowledge to obtain their defires.
To apply this to our present subject, or rather the occasion of it, allow me to observe, that the circumstances of folemn transactions are often deeply engraven upon very young minds. It is not impossible that some of those young children might recollect and be affected with the majesty and condescension of Jesus of Nazareth, and the impression be attended with happy fruits. At any rate, as no doubt the parents would often relate the transaction to their children, this would be a kind of secondary memory, and have the same effect upon their sentiments and conduct.
4. This declaration implies, that the earliest, in gene. ral, is the fittest and best time for instruction. This part of the subject has been treated at full length by many writers in every age, I therefore shall say the less upon itOnly observe, That the importance of early instruction is written upon the whole system of nature, and repeated in every page of the history of Providence. You may bend a young twig and make it receive alnıoft any forin: but that which has attained to maturity, and taken its ply, you will never bring into any other shape than that which it naturally bears. In the same manner those habits which men contract in early life, and are strengthened by time, it is next to impossible to change. Far be it from me to fay any thing in opposition to the infinite power and abso. lute sovereignty of God; but let us also beware of considering these as opposed to the natural course of things, or the ufe and efficacy of means. We have many warnings upon this subject in fcripture, where the recovery of an habitual and hardened finner, is likened to a natural im. pollibility, Jer. xiii. 23.-" Can the Ethiopian change his 56 sin, or the leopard his spots ? then may ye also do good " that are accustomed to do evil.” God will reserve to himself his own abfolute fovereignty, but it is at every finner's own peril if he presume upon it and abuse it.
5. This declaration of our Saviour" Of such is the “ kingdom of God!”—may imply, that, in fact, the real disciples of Christ chiefly consist of those who are called in their earlier years. The visible church of Christ is a numerous and mixed society; but his mystical body, cone fisting of real believers, I think we are warranted from this passage of scripture and others, as well as the analogy of faith, and the reason and nature of things, to suppose, consists for the most part of those who are called in infancy and youth. This is an important truth, and deeply fraught with inflruction to all, of every rank. There are fome called after a course of opposition to God, but they are few in comparison ; therefore the apostle Paul ftyles hiinfelf_" Onc born out of due time.” Perhaps experience and a cleliberate view of the state of the world, is sufficient to prove this affertion. The instances of converfion in advanced life, are very rare : and when it seems to happen, it is perhaps most commonly the resurrection